The FEMA* of news-reporting racial stereotypes

This is from an e-mail that was forwarded to me, so it might be all over the internet in 20 minutes, but: here's a couple news photos from Yahoo News. Take a look at the photos, and try to tell me why these people are depicted "after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store," while this guy is shown "after looting a grocery store."

*FEMA because it comes out when there's an emergency, not because it has, by some accounts, a large and serendipitously-placed mole on the shaft of its penis.

The Rasputin* of Sports-Related Racial Stereotypes

So Major League Baseball and Chevrolet do this thing where they identify 6 qualities that Chevy trucks and some baseball players could be said to have in common. Then each week they nominate 6 players who they think best embody that week's quality, and ask fans to vote on which one should win.

This week's quality is "durability". The MLB site explicitly equates durability with "toughness", noting that, "you can't succeed in the Major Leagues without toughness, a quality that endears you to your manager, your team-mates, and your fans." Then it tells you the 6 nominees, and they are all white, even though only 63% of all players are white.

In sports, for some reason, only white guys can be tough.

*When I say this is the Rasputin of sports-related racial stereotypes, I mean because it's very hard to kill. Not because it helped precipitate the fall of the Romanov Dynasty, or because it had, by some accounts, a large and serendipitously-placed mole on the shaft of its penis.

Well so here, kind of astonishingly, are a few pages from Alan Moore's script to Watchmen. If you haven't thought about Watchmen since you helped bake a cake to celebrate my excitement at the release of the final issue c. 1986, be aware that it has remained in print in a paperback edition, has become recognized as a classic of the superhero genre, and is constantly on the verge of being made into a movie. Largely forgotten is the disappointment that we felt about the ending (which, bear in mind, we'd been waiting years for -- maybe it holds up better when you read it all in one gulp).

So: some thoughts re: Alan Moore, prompted by this incredible document:

1. In comics scripting there's two basic methods: the DC way and the Marvel way. Under the DC way, which was the dominant way until the early '60s, the writer scripts the entire comic, then gives the script to the artist to realize. In the Marvel way -- pioneered by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on the first issues of Fantastic Four -- the writer writes a plot; the artist breaks it down into panels (a process in which most of the unique genius of the comics medium occurs); the writer adds the dialogue (and, in the case of Lee and Kirby, takes all the money).

Moore is the DC way taken to its ne plus ultra. "Over more towards the left, down at the bottom of the picture, we can see the old and worn metal of the drain cover with solid darkness visible between its slats...." Moore is famous for his clockwork plotting, his zingy dialogue, and his lyrical prose, but it turns out that his imagination is deeply visual.

2. You can understand why Bill Sienkiewicz, confronted with endless pages of similarly minute instructions, begged off Big Numbers after two of the proposed 10 issues. The fact that he did, though, is probably the biggest missed tragedy of modern comics. Big Numbers -- about the erection of a shopping mall in Northampton -- was going to be Moore's farewell to superheroes and hello to real-life drama. Those first two issues are astonishing. Instead, he started taking Aleister Crowley too seriously, began calling himself a magician, ruined the end of From Hell, took up performance art, and went back to superheroes. Because Moore has done some first-rate comics even recently (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, obviously, but also Top 10, which I really wish he'd continue) I think we overlook the extent to which his career is a wasted opportunity -- almost as much as Dave Sim's.

3. Also, if you haven't seen it, here's Moore's post-Watchmen proposal for a Crisis-style DC-universe-wide crossover maxiseries, Twilight of the Superheroes. A radical reinvention of just about every DC character ever, crammed into a plot that could have been a four-page Future Shock or Time Twister strip in 2000AD.


Luckily There's Nothing Else Going on Right Now in DC Part Deux

Here's a good post explaining why John Roberts, despite being very precise in his use of language, is still a wanker.


Luckily There's Nothing Else Going on Right Now in DC

I had sort of been thinking that the whole John Roberts thing hasn't really generated much actual news so far, and isn't likely to until the hearings actually start; and that reporters assigned to it must be kind of bored and frustrated. This confirms my suspicions.

Google Update Part Trois

This is sort of funny. When I called Google for my patent story, their PR guy insisted on approving any quoted material for publication, so I gave up.


Another thing I think about in bed...

...is the inadequacy of the ERA (earned run average) statistic as a predictor of a pitcher's future performance. The obvious problem is that it doesn't measure baserunners, so if a pitcher strands alot of runners, he keeps his ERA low. But by the law of averages, allowing alot of baserunners is going to catch up with him. It's true that certain guys are good at "pitching out of jams", but in reality, pitching with men on base requires the same basic skills as pitching with the bases empty. In other words, with rare exceptions, a guy who allows a lot of baserunners is sooner or later going to be a guy who allows alot of runs. It's the getting hitters out that's the pure test of the pitcher's skill.

The easiest way to think about this is: Pitcher A gets 2 outs, then gives up a single and then a home run, then gets the third out. So he's charged with 2 earned runs. Pitcher B gets 2 outs, then gives up a home run and a single, then gets the third out. Although he performed identically to Pitcher A in terms of the aspect of his job that he can control (the pitcher-hitter matchup), he's charged with only 1 earned run, because he stranded a runner on base.

So the point is, a guy who, over the first half of the season, had allowed alot of baserunners but a low number of earned runs, because he had frequently pitched his way out of jams, would not be a guy who one would expect to be successful in the second half of the season.

So what you need is a stat that measures hits and walks, and also that further penalizes a pitcher for surrendering extra base hits (which generally result from an objectively worse pitch than do singles, making them a relevant indicator here). The best way to do this, I think, is a Bases Per Inning (BPI) stat, which charges a pitcher 1 point for giving up a single, an unintentional walk, or a hit by pitch, 2 points for a double, 3 for a triple, and 4 for a home run. (Forget about what the runners do once they reach base, whether or not they score, etc. Focus only on the pitcher vs. hitter contest.)

Then, rather than doing it per nine innings, like the ERA, divide that by innings pitched. Nine has become sort of arbitrary because pitchers rarely pitch a complete game any more. So a dominant pitcher might have a BPI of 1 or a little over, meaning that in an average inning he'd give up just one single or walk. A bad pitcher might have a BPI of 3. The average would probably be around 2.5, I'm guessing, although the median would be lower.

The drawback here is that BPI doesn't account for situations that do genuinely test a pitcher's skill but don't necessarily involve hits or walks. So with 1 out and a man on third, a good pitcher will get a strikeout or short pop-up which prevents the runner from scoring. A bad pitcher will more often surrender the sacrifice fly ball that lets the runner score, but isn't counted as a hit. In the "crude" BPI system, he wouldn't be charged for that. But maybe you could fix that by treating a run-scoring flyball or grounder -- or a case where the hitter intends to advance the lead runner and succeeds -- like a single.

It'd be interesting to see how this would change how we rate pitchers. I'd guess that Pedro Martinez, who this year has a very good but not spectacular ERA of 2.86, would fare even better under a BPI system, because frequently this year he has gone thru stretches where he retires 10 or 12 hitters in a row, but then has given up clusters of hits, allowing runs to score. Another Met pitcher, Victor Zambrano, seems to have pitched out of a lot of jams this year, and I'd bet his BPI would be comparatively worse than his (already relatively poor) ERA. But that could be wrong. In a later post, I'll use existing stats on hits and walks and innings pitched to figure out some crude BPIs for a few pitchers (the more sophisticated version would be impossible to tally from existing stats unless you went thru all the box scores, which would take forever), and see how they compare to ERAs in terms of the pitchers' rankings against each other.

By the way, I'm defintely far from the first person to be thinking along these lines. I'd bet that general managers, at least since Bill James, have been much more interested in hits per inning (or some version thereof) than ERA in trying to gauge a pitcher's future performance. Some version of this thinking is probably in Moneyball, which I keep meaning to read.

Update Part Deux

I read both those NYT Google pieces and without knowing too much about the subject, I sensed that there was something a bit off about the Rivlin thesis, and also that Pogue's might have been intended as a bit of a riposte. Satisfyingly, the new issue of the Washington Monthly has something to say on this too.



Pogue is making fun of Rivlin here, I think.


The difference between sour grapes and just complaining about something that sucks

Interesting NYT front-pager pushing a Google-is-the-new-Microsoft thesis that I think is totally wrong.

Gary Rivlin cites two reasons why Silicon Valley is down on Google: (1) Google is moving into too many markets, which makes life worse for anyone else who wants a slice; (2) Google is hiring all the good programmers, driving up salaries.

I'm not denying that people complain about Google along those lines -- I've heard them do it myself. But when you examine them, the two points add up to sour grapes: I want a piece of the [local search/messaging/whatever] market, but Google is competing for it! And they've got money and skills! How am I supposed to compete with that? In any industry without a gold-rush mentality, this would be laughed off the court.

So how is this different from the Microsoft-bashing that's been a feature of the industry for decades? The complaints about Microsoft certainly include the two cited above, but they're supplemented and legitimized by a couple of others: (3) Microsoft makes crappy software; (4) Microsoft uses its desktop monopoly to establish its crappy software as standard, preventing superior products from getting a foothold and forcing programmers to work within the ugly, clumsy, bloated Windows framework.

In other words, programmers (as opposed to entrepreneurs) hated Microsoft because it made the software environment massively worse. Google is making the environment better. (Just three examples: (a) Remember pre-Google search engines? (b) Try comparing Google's web apps, like Google Maps and Gmail, with competitors like Mapquest and Hotmail. (c) Most telling of all: right below the jump of Rivlin's article is a piece on Google's new IM software, which uses the open-source Jabber standard. For Microsoft to do that would be a 180-degree reversal of their business model.)

To sum up, here's one programmer's take on Google and Microsoft:

Google is much more dangerous to Microsoft than Netscape was. Probably more dangerous than any other company has ever been. Not least because they're determined to fight. On their job listing page, they say that one of their "core values'' is "Don't be evil.'' From a company selling soybean oil or mining equipment, such a statement would merely be eccentric. But I think all of us in the computer world recognize who that is a declaration of war on.


Shafer vs. Posner, Roth vs. Kinko's

Jack Shafer makes exactly the point about Richard Posner's ridiculous NYTBR piece that I would have made if I still had wireless Internet access at home and hadn't been forced to go to Kinko's* to get online. (He also makes a bunch of others too.)

When Posner declares that media competition has pushed the established press to the left, he gives only one example: Fox News making CNN more liberal. Has Posner lost his cable connection? The success of Fox News convinced CNN of the opposite. CNN realized that the demographic that has the time and interest to watch a lot of cable news tends to be older and more conservative, as this Pew Research Center report indicates. If anything, the one-worldist CNN of founder Ted Turner has been vectoring right in recent years. Lou Dobbs, for one, now blabs a Buchananesque position on trade and immigration five nights a week. Over at MSNBC, which dumped overt liberal Phil Donahue in 2003, they've given every nonliberal listed in the Yellow Pages a show in hopes of boosting ratings (examples: Michael Savage, Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson, Jesse Ventura, and now, Rita Cosby).

What the fuck kind of CNN has Posner been watching? I guess not this kind.

* On the Kinko's thing, I'd be interested to know how that place stays in business, even post-Fedex buyout, when it continues to offer perhaps the poorest quality of service this side of the Khazakstan Patent Office, which recently ran out of paper, no joke (and also just sounds like it would probably not be all that efficiently run). I don't have the heart to catalogue all of the various transgressions I've witnessed, not just at the W.72nd St. branch, but at others across the eastern seaboard. The other day they told me they didn't have a single pair of scissors in the store. But there's this one woman who works there who 's clearly the only person there who cares even a little bit about doing a good job, and you can just tell how miserable she is all day, and I just always feel so bad for her. A couple weeks ago I saw her there in the evening, in regular clothes so no one would bother her, on one of the computers searching job listings. (I also saw her walking down my street with her boyfriend once, and they looked happy, and he seemed nice, so, you know, she's probably okay on the cosmic scale.)

Kate will be mad but...

...Sometimes I feel like Matthew Yglesias is the only sane person in the world.