Archive for November, 2012

The Washington Wizards: Setting New Standards for Ineptitude

November 28, 2012 Leave a comment

(Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

For a town with such exciting young athletes as Robert Griffin III , Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, it is only fitting, I suppose, that it would also be saddled with one of the historically worst teams in all of sport- the Washington Wizards of the National Basketball Association.

The Wizards host the Portland Trailblazers this evening, expected to lose their 13th straight game of the season- still looking for their first victory. They are the last team in the league left looking for a win. In fact, no other team has less than three.

The record we are shooting for here is 18 consecutive losses to start a season, last accomplished by the New Jersey Nets. Fans of Awful can appreciate the incredible depths of mediocrity and failure that we are so fortunate to behold here in the nation’s capital. These are the 1961 New York Mets. This is potentially historic stuff.

How bad is it?

Over at ESPN, they’re now referring to the Wizards as the Washington Generals, the team that was the perpetual doormat for the Harlem Globetrotters. Except, of course, they were designed to be bad- the Generals were supposed to be bad. The Wizards still try. They’ve lost a pair of overtime games in excruciating fashion recently.

The market for Wizards tickets says it all. If you check on Stub Hub right now for tickets to Wednesday night’s game against Portland, mezzanine level seats start at one dollar.
Several dozen more are available at $1.44, $1.69, $1.75, $1.90. Consider, for a moment, that the price for one imported beer at the Verizon Center is $8.50. Yes, you could buy SIX Wizards game tickets for the price of ONE beer.

It’s so bad that a frustrated Verizon Center employee tried to get several fans to take off the paper bags they were wearing over their heads- only to be told by his supervisors that it’s perfectly allowable as long as there’s nothing untoward written on the bags themselves. So the fans promptly placed the bags over their heads again.

It is too painful to go into the history of the team but, in a nutshell, it involves star players bringing guns into the locker room and getting season-long suspensions, lowlight reels of players going back on defense unaware their team has just gone on offense, players going for shots and accidently running into each other, players throwing the ball off the backboard, making selfish dunks and then celebrating- when they were more than 20 points behind.

There have been historically laughable trades and draft selections; just too many to bother to go into much detail on.

For hope, the Wizards can turn to the very New Jersey Nets team that set the standard for opening season futility. They are now the Brooklyn Nets. They are fighting for first place in their division against the New York Knicks and selling out their arena every night they play.

But for now, historic futility should be every Wizards fan’s fondest hope. Otherwise, failure to achieve historic failure would be wholly unacceptable and an unspeakably horrible form of failure, worse even than historic failure.

Imagine they lose 17 straight and then with glorious infamy staring them in the face, they accidently win a game and end up with the 2nd worst start in history. How truly demoralizing that would be.

Why Thanksgiving is the Bestest Holiday Ever

November 21, 2012 1 comment

(Hey, where are the minorities?)

In my book, Thanksgiving is always a great day because it combines several primal urges we are allowed to fully indulge in with one of the most beautiful human sentiments there is- appreciation.

But first, the primal joys. There’s eating! And then there’s- more eating! There’s sex, of course. NOT. So kidding. No one has ever had sex on Thanksgiving Day. OK, maybe in the morning but after noon, when the smells of the turkey are beginning to waft through the kitchen and then, of course, several hours later after having consumed the allowable mass quantities, the last thing anyone would ever want to do is have sex.

So instead of sex, there’s the third best thing in the world in November- NFL Football. There’s just something incredibly comforting about a house full of people chatting, cooking, nibbling, drinking and giggling while a couple of guys ignore them completely and take over the couch, not particularly caring about the outcome of the contest but bonded in their Thanksgiving maleness. If there is a female reading this who loves watching Thanksgiving football, may I apologize for the previous sexist remark, and possibly have your phone number?

Here are four specific food reasons why Thanksgiving is the cat’s pajamas.

Mashed Potatoes

I make the best mashed potatoes on the planet earth. You laugh? You chortle? Ask my son. Ask anyone who’s ever eaten them. They are so good they have made people cry. Their texture is perfect- not too lumpy, not too soft. After that, the ingredients and ratios cannot be divulged, but they involve perfect amounts of butter, heavy cream, olive oil and garlic salt.

Rolls with Butter

No doubt about it, Thanksgiving, to a large extent, is the butter holiday. And what better vehicle for consuming large dollops of butter, then warm rolls that have just emerged from the oven, ideally hot enough that when the butter touches the surface of the bread, there’s instant melting and fusing going on. And then when the rolls accidently rub up on the plate against the gravy that is smothering the succulent turkey meat, well, if I keep writing about this sort of thing I’m going to have to rush off to take a cold culinary shower.

The Crispy Turkey Skin

OK, I said it. I’ll admit it. I’m not proud about it, but it’s the truth and many of you out there may as well admit it too. Crispy turkey skin is insanely tasty. Never, ever leave me alone in a kitchen with a turkey that’s just come out of the oven. It’s happened a few times but I can’t get into the details because there may be children reading this.

The Wings

There is a turkey skin moment that occurs on your way to oneness with the great meal- the traditional crunchy bites of certain parts of the wing. Ask any caveman. If they are being honest with you (and cavemen have a mixed record with honesty), they will tell you that crunchy, delectable moment is one of life’s greatest joys.

I once had a Thanksgiving Day dinner with some people, among them, a man who announced at the start of the meal, after the prayers but before the eating had started, that he loved wings and would be eating them all. I was incredulous. I looked around the table. I looked at the Turkey, confirming like most birds, there were only two such wings.

I was seething. The things I was saying in my head cannot be repeated, even in front of motorcycle gangs. And he did it too. He bogarted the turkey wings. What a selfish little man. I am the eater of the turkey wings. This is how it is. It is lore. Who did he think he was? I felt very bad that he passed away before the next Thanksgiving and that I had such mean, mean thoughts about him that day. It still comes up in counseling.

The Appreciation Part

And as for the gratefulness factor of Thanksgiving- selfish wing-eaters aside, I do love the moment of unity before the meal- in fact, the whole notion of sharing a bounty that we are blessed and fortunate to receive. It’s not a cornball thing. It is always a touching, beautiful thing when we create a moment to really appreciate what we have.

When we close our eyes tightly and all the misery in this world kind of washes over you and gradually fades away into the now and that now is sitting around a table with friends and family. The wolves may be howling, but they howl outside, while protected, we eat our meal in a warm place and love one another for just a little while.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. May yours be peaceful, bountiful and succulent.

Noonan Eats Crow- Gracefully

November 9, 2012 1 comment

It is only fair to recognize that after Peggy Noonan’s November 5th forecast of a Romney victory because she could feel it through yard signs and well-attended closing rallies for the Republican candidate- the reality of what occurred on election day has hit home.

With grace and a certain amount of humor, this is the former Reagan speechwriter in today’s Wall Street Journal:

President Obama did not lose, he won. It was not all that close. There was enthusiasm on his side. Mitt Romney’s assumed base did not fully emerge, or rather emerged as smaller than it used to be. He appears to have received fewer votes than John McCain. The last rallies of his campaign neither signaled nor reflected a Republican resurgence. Mr Romney’s air of peaceful dynamism was the product of a false optimism that, in the closing days, buoyed some conservatives and swept some Republicans. While GOP voters were proud to assert their support with lawn signs, Democratic professionals were quietly organizing, data mining and turning out the vote. Their effort was a bit of a masterpiece; it will likely change national politics forever. Mr. Obama was perhaps not joyless but dogged, determined, and tired.
Apart from those points, everything in my blog post of Nov. 5 stands.

Which is to say, there’s not much left of it to stand.

My point in comparing the prognosticating approaches of Noonan and the New York Times’ Nate Silver earlier this week, also stands. And my point was an intentionally narrow one. Data analysis and empirical research trump emotion and “feelings” every time.

And by the way, what works in the world of political forecasting, also works in the rough and tumble world of political campaigning- and specifically, the art of the political ground game. Noonan is absolutely correct when she says Republicans may have been putting signs on their lawns, but Democrats were organizing, data mining and turning out the vote.

The precision and demographic targeting of the Obama campaign amounted to the most impressive GOTV (get out the vote) effort in modern political history. Because they identified their voters and then motivated them to get to the polls through personal and local volunteer interaction, they, in essence, created their own electorate.

Here’s a Time magazine piece on the Chicago bunker where the effort was centered, based always on pain-staking research and a conscious dismissal of all previous ground game assumptions.

By comparison, here are details of the Romney GOTV effort, which was supposed to have been coordinated through new technology that was never actually tested and which literally crashed and burned on election day as Romney volunteers realized their system for identifying which voters had voted and which had not, was simply not working.

The larger point here, is that information is power. Those who ignore it or fail to mine it, sift it, analyze it and understand it, do so at their own peril, whether they are trying to win elections or predict their outcome.

Nate Silver’s Probabilities vs Peggy Noonan’s Feelings

November 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Nate SIlver and Peggy Noonan

As part of the introspection that conservative partisans like Peggy Noonan are engaged in after the resounding reelection victory for President Obama Tuesday, surely one of the aspects of this exercise will be coming to the acceptance of the primacy of facts and research over emotion.

As conservatives started aiming their ire at New York Times numbers-cruncher, Nate Silver, in the closing weeks of the campaign, it is now apparent that all the froth was about what Silver was saying not the way he went about coming to his conclusions.  They were shooting the messenger.  And with every broadside, it seemed Silver would just keep upping Obama’s victory probabilities until by the final day, they had crested above 90%.   And for the second Presidential election in a row, he was spot on, accurately predicting 50 out of 50 states (presuming Florida finishes where it is now).

Over at the Wall Street Journal, former Ronald Reagan speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, seemed to be mocking Silver’s nerdy numbers approach by predicting a Mitt Romney victory based on, among other things,  the size of the Republican candidate’s closing crowds, their decibel levels, even her perception of how Romney lawn signs were outnumbering Obama’s.

There is no denying the Republicans have the passion now, the enthusiasm. The Democrats do not. Independents are breaking for Romney. And there’s the thing about the yard signs. In Florida a few weeks ago I saw Romney signs, not Obama ones. From Ohio I hear the same. From tony Northwest Washington, D.C., I hear the same.

She even magically entered the heads of the candidates at the annual Al Smith dinner in New York where she interpreted what she saw as an uncomfortable and distracted Barack Obama as someone who looked like they had just read disturbing data.

But sitting there listening to the jokes and speeches, the archbishop of New York sitting between them, Obama looked like a young challenger—flinty, not so comfortable. He was distracted, and his smiles seemed forced. He looked like a man who’d just seen some bad internal polling. Romney? Expansive, hilarious, self-spoofing, with a few jokes of finely calibrated meanness that were just perfect for the crowd. He looked like a president. He looked like someone who’d just seen good internals.

The remarkable thing about Noonan’s approach to political prognosticating, is that you’d think she’d know better by now.  She’s had her hand in the political game for nearly half a century.  Not that she’s alone in couching her hopes on imaginary factors she thinks she sees, like massive, noisy, huge campaign crowds at Republican rallies, advantages in political lawn signs, or someone’s demeanor sitting at a dais.   It’s natural- it’s human  to hope against hope.

Granted I was all of 16 at the time, but I remember feeling such hope for George McGovern in 1972.  Surely, polls can be wrong.  I mean, wow, 20 thousand people came out for him at one event or another.  How could a decorated World War II Air Force veteran with such strength of character be losing to Richard Nixon, for Christ’s sake.

Not too dissimilar, I suppose, from a conservative partisan thinking how such a good, religious, responsible family guy like Romney could possibly be losing to the likes of Barack Hussein Obama, for Christ’s sake.

Well, McGovern, of course, would go on to win  only Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. and Mitt Romney would go on to lose every single swing state in the election except for North Carolina (and again, we await Florida).

The lessons here are obvious.  Not that it really matters, of course, if pundits get their predictions right or horribly wrong- they are paid to bloviate no matter what.  But if one wants to be accurate and be taken seriously again someday- it would be wise to keep emotions out of it.

It would be essential, I think, to not let your observations be colored by your tribal leanings.  It might make sense to understand that 21st century polling, for example, is actually a science and that the study of statistical probability actually has an anchor in reality.

The trick for those who want to be in the business of predicting things, is learning to accept that the facts you see may not be what you wish they were.  It’s human, even endearing to think that wishing can make things happen.  But it’s not very professional.


What All Those Political TV Ads Could Have Bought

November 3, 2012 Leave a comment

I suppose the nation’s radio and television stations are quite happy with all the campaign cash that’s been spent with them this year, but when you consider their effectiveness- wow- what a colossal waste of cash.

I read about a study the other day that found that when a political partisan sees a negative TV ad that attacks their candidate, instead of changing minds, the commercials tend to strengthen their support for their guy.   And since undecided voters number about 3% of the population that basically means you are throwing away billions on the 97% you not only didn’t convince- but whose resolve to despise your candidate, you likely strengthened.

So…let’s break out the calculator, shall we?  According to non-partisan research group, Center for Responsive Politics, $700 million were spent in 2008 on federal elections.  This year?  After the Citizen’s United Ruling that allows anybody to spend as much as they want with no limits- federal elections will eat up $6 billion.  That’s the total spent by the campaigns themselves, the political parties and all those new limitless Super Pacs.

So what does 6 billion buy you these days?

– You could have paid about a third of all the property damage inflicted by Superstorm, Sandy.

– You could have fed 7.5 million American families for a month.

– You could have put 120 thousand people to work making 50 grand a year.

– You could have bought 300 thousand people a $20 thousand car.

– You could have purchased more than 1.5 billion gallons of gas.

– You could have bought schools 6 million, thousand-dollar lap tops.

– Instead of making people ill with your political ads you could have just bought them 1.7 million top-of-the-line Samsung 60-inch, HD flat screen TV’s.

But, no.  Instead, we have spent billions on TV commercials with grainy, black and white footage of politicians, punctuated by ominous background music as golden-throated announcers try to scare the crap out of us with doomsday scenarios of the horrible things that will happen to us the day the other guy gets elected.

Just three more days of this, folks.