Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spring Sports Update

A mere few weeks into the Atlanta Braves season, and we're already seeing some patterns emerge. "Patient" is the word one day, as in hitters are too eager to swing at the ball. Then it's "depth", looking at whether the bullpen can sustain enough innings. (This was a horrible issue last year.)

Everyone's always said baseball is a game of statistics. It used to be benign things like ERA and batting average. Within the past few years, OPS has become a staple of analysis. That stands for on-base plus slugging percentage, and it somewhat intuitively gives a picture of total offensive power of a player. However, whenever the formula to calculate a statistic includes "hit by pitch" not once but three times (see Wikipedia if you don't believe me) then it's far too complicated. Now, with the advent of the internet, we've got wonderful things like "this guy has a .402 average with runners in scoring position when there are less than two outs and his team is playing a night game at home." Utterly ridiculous.

That being the case, I'll stick with things that make sense. Braves starters are among the league best in ERA and home runs allowed, but among the worst in innings pitched. That shows that we need to get more innings out of these guys... and more innings out of Smoltz and Glavine and Hudson is never a bad thing. Oh, and how about this Jair Jurrjens guy? Before the season started, the only thing I knew about this guy was a particularly insightful comment from my mom, who pondered whether Jurrjens might be Dutch. (He's not; he's from the Islands, but that probably means he has some Dutch in him somewhere.) Now he's one of the team's most promising starters. And is there any way this guy can pitch more?

An announcing theme I've had to sit through lately has been "feast or famine", as in, why is the offense so wonderful during wins and so horrendous during losses? That may not seem like any huge insight, but it is remarkable how a team that scores seven runs one day and gives up four can score two runs the next--and still give up four.

Finally, speaking of announcing, I really miss Skip Caray. He's only on the radio now (except for a slim few on Peachtree TV), and seeing as how I always watch the games on TV, I never get to hear Skip anymore. This move toward "neutral broadcasting" is complete crap. If he's my team's announcer, he gets to root for my team, plain and simple.

Last weekend, I went to see the T-Game, which is the traditional spring football game for Georgia Tech. It was rough. I want to say a dozen fumbles, but that might be an exaggeration. Or, it might be a conservative estimate, because I was hiding my head in my hands so much. The first half had about ten points scored in it, total, which has both positive and negative implications. Of course, it speaks well to the defense; the very best thing I saw was the defense, true to Tenuta's legacy. Michael Johnson looked wonderful and had some excellent plays. But can this offense score points?

More critically, is it interesting to watch? There's a bias in the viewership of football in general against running offenses. We want to see pass plays, exciting Calvin Johnson-style ones. "Three yards and a cloud of dust" is just not that much fun. That's not what our new coach, Paul Johnson, uses per se, but I'm afraid that's what it might turn into. And that's not to say that the running game can't be exciting. Lucas Cox, Mike's younger brother, looked decent. Dwyer is underrated. But we just don't have Tashard anymore, and that's going to hurt.

And that touches on the biggest problem that Tech football is looking at in 2008. Our best players all graduated, with the exceptions of Johnson and Dwyer. But look who's gone... Tashard Choice, who netted thousands of yards for Tech. Mike Cox, one of the best college fullbacks I've ever seen. Durant Brooks, the nation's best punter last year. Travis Bell, a solid kicker for Tech for several years. Philip Wheeler, an all-around amazing linebacker. Let's hope we can scrape together some talent and whip it into a respectable team.

Currently listening: "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", the Beatles

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Plan for Local Government

I'm a big advocate of local government. I believe that one of the reasons so many people are so down on government is the fact that someone, somewhere who is supposed to be representing your interests does not care about you. They care about their parties, about their special interests, and about keeping their job. What really ought to be a government "by the people" is now government from the government; "consent of the governed" is in many cases "apathy of the governed". By straying away from the representative-constituent system, we now have untold layers of bureaucratic nonsense. That's something anyone can disagree with, regardless of your dot on the Nolan chart.

Two options exist here: either wipe the slate and make a new system, or re-energize people about their local government, and demand that control be returned to somewhere resembling "the governed". The first is clearly non-practical. But I think there's a decent shot at the second.

The term "county" was originally the demesne of a count, just as a "kingdom" belonged to a king and a "duchy" belonged to a duke. My plan is simple: reinstate the office of count. Some counties have commissioners, some have chairmen, some merged city-counties might have mayors. Who actually knows who their commissioner is? I consider myself reasonably well informed about politics at all levels, and I have no idea who the chairman of the board of commissioners of Gwinnett is. Under this proposal, not only would everyone in the county know who the count was, they'd have a sworn allegiance to him or her.

One clarification: the count is an elected position. I'm advocating federalism with a local emphasis, not feudalism. The populace elects its count and can get rid of him when it so chooses. It can use two means to accomplish this: a simple vote of no confidence, or a march on city hall with picks and shovels. If it uses the latter, the populace can then install its choice for count immediately and pillory the old count in the stocks outside city hall.

What are the duties of the count? A lot of administrative stuff, of course. But also to rally his constituents around him. If the county government wants to get something done at the state or federal level, it's up to the count to get the people to support it. That means making a circuit around the county, showing up to and organizing meetings, and delivering impassioned speeches defending his actions.

The count would have a symbol of office, a cape, that he would have to wear when conducting any official business.

Most entertainingly, and most likely to rally the masses, is the way the count deals with inter-county disputes. Under the current system, if Gwinnett and Dekalb have a fight over some trees, they bring their cases to the state government, some surveyors get sent out a few weeks later, and an appellate judge draws lines on a map, along with the aid of some civil engineer. Yawn.

Under the count system, things would be drastically different. It would be up to the count to defend both the interests and honor of the county. This means a duel with the disputant count. Rapiers, first blood wins the day and the dispute.

If this won't get people enthusiastic, I don't know what will.

Currently listening: "Desecration Smile", Red Hot Chili Peppers