Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Mixed Signals 

From USAToday:
Baseball's relocation committee is leaning toward recommending one of two proposals from the Washington, D.C., area to be the Montreal Expos' permanent home.

The committee is split on whether the District or Northern Virginia should get the team.
But later, the story quotes Bud Selig:
One of the main topics of conversation today is expected to be Selig's concern for putting a team in the Washington area and the impact that would have on the Baltimore Orioles.

Selig believes baseball made an unwise decision when it allowed the Kansas City A's to relocate in 1968 to Oakland, across the bay from the San Francisco Giants.

"That was done without assuming what it was going to do to San Francisco," Selig said. "The leagues were more concerned about having a rivalry with each other than doing the right thing. As a result there's been a fortune lost in those cities over the past 36 years."
There are the tea leaves. Can you read them?

A companion piece by Hal Bodley provides a useful list of advantages and disadvantages for each contender. Bodley ranks the Northern Virginia site first, ahead of DC. But the Vegas bid (3rd) - with a privately financed, $400m stadium proposal - looks intriguing. Monterrey (5th) could expand international interest by hosting the team while Vegas builds a stadium. Apart from that I give it no shot - Mexican League baseball is dying on the vine. Norfolk (4th) and Portland (6th) seem outsiders to me, but who knows? To my mind, history says DC, but the future says Vegas.

"The Stadiums that Didn't Save Pittsburgh" 

Pennsylvania is about to enter the racino game, by legalizing slot machines at 12 racetracks and standalone casinos throughout the state. The state's rake will be big: the current bill provides for "up to $1 billion a year for school property tax relief ... [and] would create a new statewide economic development fund of up to $2 billion." Pittsburgh-area officials had a list of "specific priorities" for their share of the funds:
$44 million to help finance a new convention center hotel, $20 million to defray the convention center's annual deficit, another $20 million to finish construction of the convention center, $80 million for infrastructure needs in smaller Allegheny County towns, $60 million to retire the debt of the Pittsburgh Development Fund, and a slim possibility of funds for a new hockey arena in Pittsburgh.
While it might seem odd that public officials would earmark funds for deficit and debt relief, Pittsburgh has been in a financial bind. The reason? According to the Allegheny Institute, an "economic development initiative" centered on the construction of stadiums for the Pirates and Steelers had, ahem, failed to develop the economy, and left the city in a financial crisis.

A new hockey arena doesn't rank high on the list of a city burdened with substantial debt from earlier projects. But Penguins owner Mario Lemeiux has played the relocation card, declaring the team will be a "free agent" following the 2007 season, when its lease at Mellon arena expires. Having met resistance at the local level, the Penguins appear poised to benefit from what the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette calls "Slots bill tinkering."
State legislators pushing slot machine legislation are putting their faith in Pittsburgh's Sports & Exhibition Authority.

Rather than directing that slot machine revenue go toward Pittsburgh's convention center, as an earlier version had done, the slots bill nearing a Senate vote tonight will leave that decision up to the city-county sports authority...
They operate an unfinished convention center burdened with debt. But how do you think the "Sports & Exhibition Authority" will choose to spend its slot-machine windfall? I'm betting on a sweet stadium subsidy. But do they have the nerve, given the record in Pittsburgh, to justify the investment on economic development grounds?

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

On tuition subsidies 

The superintendent at Cold Spring Shops comments on a USAToday story which examines college tuition subsidies. Government funds to higher education are being increasingly placed in the hands of consumers, in the form of vouchers, rather than university administrators, in the form of outright grants. What is missing from Stephen's otherwise excellent commentary is the positive incentive effect that this has on university administrators. They're being taken off the dole, and are now forced to compete. More than before, at any rate.

Blast from Cuban 

Mavs owner Mark Cuban has a thing or two to say to reporters - and perhaps an owner or two in the case of Antoine Walker - regarding trade rumors and contract offers. In his sights are "Joan Rivers" Vecsey and "Sam the Sam" Smith, and he nails them.

"Angelos, Selig Last Men Standing in D.C.'s Way" 

Recent events often make tepid history, and the 3rd installment of Steve Fainaru's "Last Cartel" series is certainly less potent than the first two articles. But it's still incredibly interesting, despite errors and mis-characterizations that plague the piece.

Fainaru continues to err in his characterization of the franchise monopoly game - playing off locations in a bidding war of public subsidies - that is played by MLB. For the 3rd article running, the writer states that the root cause of the problem lays in baseball's antitrust exemption. The exemption may be unique, but the problem exists in all major N. American sports. Need I mention the names of Bud Adams and Art Modell, who spurned their former towns for new mistresses in Nashville and Baltimore? Once public funding was secured for new stadiums in Houston and Cleveland, the NFL dutifully returned, thanks to a cool $1 billion in franchise fees to divide between 30-odd already wealthy men. Did Fainaru have his head in the sand when this was happening? All of our leagues play the franchise monopoly game.

Antitrust enforcement has occasionally expressed concern over franchise location (i.e. in the "Raiders case"), but the monopoly leagues have never been challenged on their strict control over the number of franchises. While limits are necessary, the mechanism to select who qualifies to compete is totally divorced from the question that matters: competence on the field of play.

Fainaru mentions several aspects of Selig's tenure as commissioner, de facto and official, since 1992: integration of the two leagues into a single unit, concentration of decision-making power in the hands of the commissioner, and more extensive revenue sharing among the teams. These are all discussed in terms of the cartel model. But by taking baseball closer to a unitized economic structure, Selig was simply copying the NFL's recipe for growth. More complete integration of erstwhile independent units can yield a better, more successful, and more profitable product without crossing the line of monopolistic practices. Much of what Selig has accomplished in his term as "CEO" - and history will show there's quite a bit - falls into the non-monopolistic category of productive integration.

But while the article does not deliver the punch of the first two installments, Fainaru does what reporters do well - gather facts. The piece focuses on the decision to relocate the Expos, and the efforts of Baltimore owner Peter Angelos to keep the team as far from his franchise as possible.

Fainaru notes that "Baltimore, ironically, was opposed" to the 1971 relocation of the Washington Senators to Arlington, Texas. Ironic indeed, but the economic basis behind the switch is simple: media revenue. Media revenue is the biggest change in the financial structure of sports in recent decades, and Baltimore's games are broadcast in DC, Virginia, and even North Carolina. All of the potential mid-eastern locations - DC, Dulles, and Norfolk - would take a chunk out of Angelos' TV revenues. Local rivals were useful in earlier years. Now they are pests to be exterminated.

The article closes with an interesting set of facts:
Baltimore [has been] quietly accelerating efforts to turn the Orioles into a regional franchise. During this past offseason, the word "Baltimore" was scrubbed from the home dugout roof at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Auxiliary scoreboards displaying an in-game linescore -- which once represented the Orioles as "BAL" -- now designated the home team as "O'S."

The team's broadcasters had been told in recent years: "We don't refer to [the team on the air] as Baltimore. We refer to it as the O's or the Birds," said Michael Reghi, the team's television play-by-play man until last season.

Even the club's news releases no longer carried a Baltimore dateline and uniformly began, "The Orioles announced today."

The fans who entered Camden Yards -- the thousands who came from the District and Virginia and suburban Maryland to see the Birds -- all were hard-pressed to find any mention of the Orioles' home city.

To those around the team, the message was unmistakable: Angelos was claiming Washington.
Is Washington being used to hike the price in Portland?

Monday, June 28, 2004

Stat of the day 

From Brendan Koerner's The Trillion-Barrel Tar Pit in July's issue of Wired:
[R]ecent improvements in mining and extraction techniques have cut heavy oil production costs nearly in half since the 1980s, to about $10 per barrel, with more innovation on the way.
Even at $30 per barrel of crude, there's plenty of rent in the tar pit. Alberta has 300 billion barrels of the stuff that are accessible using current methods, and another trillion-plus barrels for which promising technologies are being developed. For perspective, consider that the princes and sheikhs of the Middle East control 685 billion barrels.

Koerner's excellent article describes the "alchemy" of processing sticky dirt into refinable crude oil, and the companies and investments involved. Recommended.

"Pawn of Selig" 

Part two of Steve Fainaru's salvo at Bud Selig is up at the Washington Post. There's plenty of red meat in the story, which focuses on the tale of woe that is the Montreal Expos. Under Bud's watch, the Expos have been transformed from a team that drew 2 million fans a year into the story's headline: "Pawn of Selig."

Other tidbits: a three-way franchise transaction referred to as a "bag job," meetings at MLB headquarters where participants were forbidden to take notes, and Selig being likened to "Johnny Soprano" by a Florida politician. It's a lengthy article for a newspaper. So read it when you've got some time to spare, and as the late Doug Pappas would say, draw your own conclusions.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Antitrust inquiry focuses on ESPN 

Looks like an exclusive dealing complaint may be in the works: "The investigation, the executives said, may be examining the practice of warehousing, under which ESPN televises only a small portion of the games it has acquired from a conference, then restricts the conference from making deals with any other television entities. "

"The last cartel" 

Steve Fainaru writes in the Washington Post on baseball's franchise monopoly game: Selig Plays Hardball on Stadium Deals. It's the first in a three part series, which should be required reading for any public servant involved in putting together a "private-public partnership" that is a stadium deal.

The first installment is lengthy, but gripping, focusing on the negotiations to build Miller Park in Milwaukee. Commissioner Selig does not come off well. The views of people involved in negotiations with the Brewers are not kind to the financial or political integrity of the operation. It's fair to say that many of them believe they were fleeced.

The carnage left behind is full of remorse and bitterness. Former Governor Thompson has vowed to "never step foot again in the park he helped build." During the stadium campaign, two other Republicans shed any pretense of a conservative approach to public finance. Radio personality Charlie Sykes made "an exception to the principle that you don't raise taxes for corporate welfare," and "used up a lot of my credibility" broadcasting support for a deal "that turned out to be not real." In a late night drama at the capitol, Rep. George Petak from Racine switched his vote at the last minute, allowing the stadium bill to pass. His constituents held a special recall election and voted him out nine months later.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

BALCO & the Keystone Cops 

Sally Jenkins has the story.
Here is an example of the kind of job USADA is doing in its inquiry into Jones's ties to BALCO. Several weeks ago, Jones met with a trio of USADA officials, including Madden. They presented her with a calendar that purported to be her BALCO doping schedule. It bore several notations and the initials MJ.
'That's not my calendar,' she said.
'Then why does it have your sprint times on it?'
Jones replied evenly, 'If those are my sprint times, then I just shattered the world record by a second.'
The sprint times on the calendar could not have been those of Jones, or of any woman. They were too fast. The USADA representatives didn't even recognize the difference between the sprint times of a male and a female.
You get an uneasy feeling from watching USADA's bumbling zealots. You get the feeling they'd waive the U.S. Constitution if they could -- which is a pretty unsettling thing to feel about an organization that is funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars and a grant from the White House.
I got "an uneasy feeling" when I read that the U.S. Senate had subpoenaed the records in the case. Then they end up in the hands of fools like these....

Smarty will have a nice new home 

Smarty Jones will stand at Three Chimneys Farm, the former home of Seattle Slew. Folks there have a well deserved reputation for the care they give the horses, and the accomodations they make for visitors to the farm. The latter was one of the conditions sought by the Chapmans in the contract negotiations.

The Chapmans retain a 50% interest in Smarty, and control all racing decisions, including whether to race as a four year old. The contract also limits his book to 110 mares (poor fellow) and precludes shuttling between hemispheres to squeeze in more stud fees. Judging by these details, the Chapman's are more concerned with Smarty's legacy and well being than their own riches. They are doing right by the horse. God bless 'em.

Misplaced prioities 

Henry Winter finds that the English FA's investments are not optimally allocated:
Sir Trevor Brooking has noted this alarming trend. The Football Association's far-sighted director of football development seeks to persuade the government to invest in a 60 million pound, Clairefontaine-style National Football Centre at Burton [ed.: to train England's most promising youth]. Whitehall and Downing Street point discreetly to the huge sums floating around football.

The FA are committed to the 757 million pound Wembley, shamefully putting the building of an admittedly magnificent stadium ahead of the building of a team. Mark Palios, the FA's chief executive, and his predecessor, Adam Crozier, have driven through the construction of a home fit for heroes while not investing sufficiently in the moulding of heroes.

Without a Burton ameliorating teenagers' technique, the English will carry on conceding possession, carry on failing to direct a stationary ball 12 yards into a net. Even Portugal's goalkeeper took a better penalty than England's captain.
On the penalty kick issue, showed slow motion footage broadcast by the BBC yesterday clearly showed the ball rolling forward as Beckham's plant foot hit the ground. But Beckham's comments show that he knew - the entire team knew - that the ground around the spot was quicksand. The fault lies in failing to adapt to the conditions of the spot, as the Potugese clearly did.

Friday, June 25, 2004

That's sporting 

From "There was consolation, however, for those who had bet money that Campbell would score.
The William Hill betting agency will pay up for those who bet on Campbell to score at 8-1 and those who took 33-1 odds on him scoring the last goal of the match - which it almost certainly would have been if allowed.
'Like virtually every England fan and neutral observer we were convinced that Campbell's goal was perfectly legitimate,' spokesman Graham Sharpe said. 'So we have decided to make our feelings public by paying out.' "

Probably good business too.

Rob Smyth does not like negative tactics 

Nor do I. Here's his punch line. England's coach, Ericksson, must go:
It may seem harsh to criticise Eriksson, who has taken England to back-to-back quarter-finals, but he has much greater riches at his disposal than previous England managers. Beckham only has one more major tournament left before he is finished at the top - if he isn't already - as do Scholes and the awesome Sol Campbell. Eriksson, like Nasser Hussain with the English cricket team, stopped the bleeding - but he can take this team no further. He transparently does not trust his players to outplay top-class opponents. It is time the FA found somebody who does.

Monitoring performance 

Prozone measures the movement and location of football players throughout a match. I've always wondered how the data were collected. Here's a description from a story on Wayne Rooney.
The ProZone figures are compiled by putting sensors around a pitch and on boots to pick up how much distance and which areas the players run into.

The figures show that 31 per cent of Rooney's game is played in the central attacking zone, 22 per cent in the centre of the pitch but also that nearly ten per cent of his game is spent defending.

But it can also pick up that Rooney's top speed is 9.7m per second which also sets him out as a super fast sprinter.

They are staggering figures which set him out as a hard-working, superfit player who covers an incredible amount of ground for the benefit of the team.

In fact, Rooney covers so much ground that Nike has developed their new boot, the Air Zoom Total 90 III, with their Everton and England striker in mind.
The article compares the distance Rooney runs in a match with other players:
On average, Rooney covers up to 1,500 metres more than his striking rivals as he can run up to 11.82km in a match which makes him one of the hardest working players in the world.

That is up to 1,200m more than Portugal superstar Luis Figo, who would be expected to cover more ground from his position on the right of midfield.
Interesting. Figo didn't do anything yesterday to suggest he likes to get around much. Rooney, by the way, was called for a foul by Swiss referee Urs "Hole" Meier when a Portugese defender stepped on his foot, breaking his metatarsal bone. It was an early sign that this fellow wasn't seeing things from the English point of view.


The Mirror's headline was easy to predict, as the English tabloids are amazingly consistent.

England's coach Sven-Goran Ericksson was more diplomatic, but it does appear that he gave the referee a piece of his mind after the game:
"You ask were we robbed," Eriksson said at a farewell press conference: "That's a very strong word. There were mistakes but all people in football make them.

"My opinion hasn't changed, I thought sitting on the bench it was a goal."

Eriksson did admit that he had a conversation with the referee about the match.

"I went to the referee's dressing room after the match and said what I had to say and that will stay between him and me," he said.

Thursday, June 24, 2004


A game for the ages. 2-2 after extra time, Portugal advance, 6-5 on penalties.

England adopted a defensive posture after scoring in the third minute. But as often happens when using negative tactics, England succumbed late to Portugal's unrelenting pressure.

The decision was cruel, and would have been so if Portugal had been knocked out too, such was the game.

Sol Campbell's "winner" for England, in what must have been the 90th minute, seemed perfectly legitimate, but was disallowed by a referee who should never again judge a significant match. [Ed: that's a bit over the top isn't it? Skip: well, at the end of normal time the ref mouthed the word "push" several times and motioned as such. Now the story seems to have changed. Even so, John Terry had every right to be where he was, and should not be required to strap his left arm to his side if a keeper is floundering about the six yard box.]
[T]he referee decided that John Terry had an arm across the shoulder of Portugal's keeper Ricardo which prevented him getting to a ball that had bounced off the bar.

Campbell and Terry were both near Ricardo at the decisive moment but England's players were adamant there was no infringement. "I certainly don't think it was a foul and I've no idea why it was disallowed," said Terry. "I certainly didn't foul the keeper and nor did Sol."

Terry's Chelsea club-mate Frank Lampard added: "We had a fair goal taken away from us which would have finished the game. The lads were obviously knackered but we came back into it and then got beaten on penalties. There was nothing wrong with Sol's goal. The linesman actually gave it and he was running back to the halfway line but the referee disallowed it."
Extra time brought terrific goals by Rui Costa and then Frank Lampard.

Penalty kicks followed. Beckham blew it with the very first kick, despite knowing that the pitch on the penalty spot was in terrible shape. Given his tendencies, he could have tapped it in to the keepers' left, where he aimed, instead of blasting it over the bar.

Portugal's penalty takers - with the exception of Costa - took a more measured approach, hitting soft but solid strikes, rather than risking blasts over the bar. Still, three of England's spot kicks were down the middle, and Postiga's kick for Portugal was a simple, soft chip into the heart of the goal. It appears that penalty takers - save Beckham perhaps - have made adjustments. If England's keeper had stayed put, would they have made the semi-final?

As Paul Hayward writes, this is a trauma of a recurring nightmare. I first saw England play at Wembley in 1973 (maybe 74, but I'd have to check my scrapbook). Why is it that after all these years of frustration - more penalty shootouts that you can imagine - I still believe that England can win a major tournament, and pay more than ever to watch in hopes that they will?

England fans sing "God save the Queen," but I say "God bless Sol Campbell." He deserves much better. Am I right, Tottenham?

Change the College World Series? 

Dennis Dodd reports that the Big Ten - who have not sent a team to the CWS since Michigan in 1984 - wants to play it in July, and to ban games prior to March 1st. The current schedule favors southern schools, who get an earlier start to the season. "Twenty percent of the country controls the national championship," Ohio State coach Bob Todd said this week. "It's not fair. It's time we make a stand."

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney states that "We need some competitive equity in a sport that has none." It appears that Delaney's sense of equity means forcing schools in the south to play games in the heat after the students have gone home for the summer. That's thoughtful of him! On the football side however, it's tradition that matters to commissioner Delaney: "We believe in the bowl system and the Rose Bowl. We do not believe in a college playoff.... we believe in the bowl tradition." Hmmmm, ok Mr. Delaney. We can discuss these things when you adopt a consistent set of principles for athletic competition.

Fay Vincent's oral history of baseball 

Murray Chass has the story in the NY Times.
Vincent, who resigned under pressure in 1992 when the owners were gearing up for a labor fight with the players, began his project about five years ago, funded by the investment banker Herbert Allen.

"I heard tapes of the Larry Ritter interviews with players who played at the turn of the century," Vincent said in reference to Ritter, who turned those interviews into the acclaimed 1966 book, "The Glory of Their Times." "What he did was spectacular,'' Vincent said of Ritter, who traveled 75,000 miles in a five-year period to get his interviews on reel-to-reel tape recorders. "I wondered if anyone was doing anything with more recent players."

Vincent said he has interviewed about 35 players and executives, using videotape. Larry Doby, the first black player in the American League, was Vincent's first interview; his most recent was Don Baylor, the Mets' new hitting coach, whom he interviewed yesterday.

...Vincent said he envisioned people 50 years from now going to the Hall of Fame and watching the tapes. "Push a button," he said, "and see Marvin Miller talking for three or four hours. That's precious stuff."
I imagine the tapes will be edited down for the masses, but for historians of the game they'll be a great legacy.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The mighty fall again 

The carnage at Euro 2004 continues. Spain out. Italy out. And now Germany have been knocked out by the Czech reserves. The last time the Czechs beat the Germans in a competitive match was in 1934.

Who gathered the most points during the group stage? No, not France. The Czech Republic, who won all three matches (against Latvia, Holland, and Germany).

The quarterfinals start tomorrow: England v. Portugal. Game on.

Abramovich's yacht 

Roman Abramovich is the Russian oil baron who bought Chelsea Football Club last year. Many visitors to this weblog are apparently looking for a picture of his yacht, Pelorus. Curious, I found a gallery of photos here. It's one hell of a boat. This guy would make Donald Trump look a pauper.

Update:Apparently the fuss over the yacht is driven by stories like this from Euro 2004:
If you’re a football-mad billionaire you can afford to travel to the season’s hottest sporting event in style – like Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovitch.

The Russian businessman, whose fortune is estimated to stand at around £7 billion, currently has two of his state-of-the-art-vessels moored in Lisbon harbour in advance of the upcoming European Championships in Portugal.

The £66 million Pelorus, which is staffed by a crew of 40 and costs around £6 million a year to run, is snuggled up on the quay alongside Roman’s £60 million Grand Bleu. With its smaller yacht and two helicopter pads, the latter makes a perfect base from which to nip over to the various matches being held around the country during the coming month.
This shot of Pelorus doesn't quite do it justice - its 377 foot length makes it the 5th largest yacht in the world - but it fits in my space unlike the more spectacular pics linked above. Still, it's the sort of thing you'd expect to see in a James Bond film.

Changes looming in NBA draft 

From Sports Business News:
"NBA commissioner David Stern would like to call this class, 'the last group of teenagers to enter the league.'

Stern has been outspoken about his desire to implement a 20-year-old age limit for the next collective bargaining agreement and/or expanding the NBDL to include players who have no desire to set foot on a college campus.

He has a keen interest in the developments of the court case involving former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett. Clarett challenged the NFL's rule that players must be three years removed from high school to be eligible for the NFL draft. In April, a federal Appeals Court issued a stay siding with the league, denying Clarett draft entry.
NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik said the league submitted an argument in support of the NFL during the case, and it is believed that the rule will stand up. If it does, legal experts contend the NBA could be cleared to unilaterally create an age restriction.
'I think the door is open,' said Gary Roberts, the deputy dean of Tulane's law school and noted sports expert. '[Stern] would have no worries about legal challenges.'

But Stern said he wants input from the National Basketball Players Association when the two sides discuss the next collective bargaining agreement this summer. Ever since Spencer Haywood struck down in 1971 the rule against drafting players before their college eligibility expires, the NBA has required only that a player's high school class has graduated.

'It could just as easily be after three years of college, like in the NFL,' Stern said, recently. 'I think some place in between would be fine.'

The union appears to be split on having an age limit. But it may be willing to accept one if they are offered concessions such as higher minimum salaries for veterans or a higher percentage of revenues. "
The NBA may be in a precarious position though. With the growth of the game in Europe, foreign competition for talent could limit the effectiveness of an NBA ban on teenagers. If next year's LeBron James signed a contract to play in Italy, would the NBA ban be doing him any favors?

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

"The new Pele" 

He's exciting all right, but if I were England's coach I'd ban the use of the word "Pele" when discussing 18-year-old Wayne Rooney. Using the term himself is almost indefensible.

That the papers in England have gone mad is understandable. Rooney's pair of goals in the 4-2 victory over Croatia booked a place for England in the quarter-finals of the European Championship.

Rooney's been spectacular thus far. But he's a marked man now, and the defenders will close down the space around him. It will be up to his teammates to pick up the slack if England are to make the semis for the first time on foreign soil. Portugal stands in the way, playing at home with an extra day's rest. England have looked the better side thus far, but their defending on free kicks has been abysmal. Should be a great match.

Monday, June 21, 2004

A memo to Tiger 

Sally Jenkins rips him, and shows no mercy. As is apparent in the article and in Tiger's recent comments, he's not taken kindly to his critics. Ms. Jenkins' piece is the most scathing criticism yet.

Stadium doings - Trojan horse? 

An interesting article on Patrick Desmond Hobbs, dean of Seton Hall Law School, and chair of the commission evaluating Newark's plan to build a new arena for the NJ Devils: One man on hot seat over arena in Newark.

Across the river, things are heating up on the Jets/Javits stadium/convention center combination. Who will control it? The Jets and their $800m investment, or the city with their $600m? Perhaps today's hearing in Manhattan will clear that up. Andrew Zimbalist states in the article that the Javits Center is "a Trojan horse to justify the stadium." Might be.

I know building sites in the city are scarce, but you'd think the Jets could build themselves a nice home with their $800m check, and just hit the city up for a permit and a building condemnation or two. Just a thought.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

The fable of the bees 

The "Fable of the Bees" - by Cheung, not Mandeville - is one of my favorite papers in economics. The paper punctures the myth that externalities inexorably lead to failure in markets for apples, which benefit from pollination provided by bees, and honey, which benefit from the presence of apple blossoms. Beekeepers and farmers do in fact write contracts which the originators of the myth, James Meade and Francois Bator, assumed they were incapable of. Contracting around the alleged externality leads beekeepers to place their hives where they are most valuable, contra the market failure claims of Meade and Bator.

Subsequent work by Randy Rucker and Wally Thurman documents that the market for pollination services is quite well developed indeed. In the U.S., bee hives are packed on semi-trucks and follow the blooming season around the country, with payments between beekeepers and farmers varying according to the relative values of their inputs. When summer rolls around, the bees on the western circuit are trucked into the northern plains states. "There the hives remain and the bees visit sunflower, clover, basswood trees, and other nectar sources, producing honey for consumption by the hive and extraction for sale by the beekeeper."

Lest champions of Meade and Bator regard the work by Rucker and Thurman as quantitatively insignificant, let the record reflect the facts from this unfortunate incident:
BOZEMAN, Montana (AP) -- A tractor-trailer overturned on a curve on a highway, spilling its load of hundreds of bee hives and unleashing some nine million angry honey bees.

The bees buzzed furiously as driver Lane Miller, his arm scraped to the bone, struggled to flee his rig after it overturned Monday in Bear Trap Canyon west of Bozeman. The truck slid across the highway before coming to a stop between guardrails.....

The state road was closed for 14 hours as crews and beekeepers cleaned up the 512 hives Miller was hauling from Idaho to North Dakota.
One tractor-trailer. Nine million honey bees. Any questions?

The Greeks "don't give a damn about the Olympics" 

So says a Greek sportswriter at any rate. They're all cranked up about Euro 2004.
After the team's victory over the host nation in Porto and their dogged rearguard action to clinch a draw against Spain, the players have been deified by the media as the modern-day gods of Mount Olympus, while headline writers have raided the words of the Greek national anthem to articulate the sense of national pride. Talk shows and news programmes in Greece are dominated by one subject.

Meanwhile, the prospect of bringing the Olympic Games back to their birthplace in Athens in two months' time is all but forgotten. "People don't give a damn about the Olympics at the moment," said one Greek sports writer. "My only worry is how it is all going to end. There's going to be a terrible let-down if the Greek team are badly beaten."

After a history of under-achievement - it is 24 years since Greece last appeared at the European Championship finals and their victory over Portugal was their first in a major tournament - it is understandable that pessimism still lurks beneath the euphoria, though a draw in Faro tonight in their final Group A clash against the already eliminated Russians is all they need to make sure of their place in the last eight. Even if they lose, only a victory for Portugal over Spain can halt their progress into the knockout phase.
An appearance in the quarterfinals seems in the cards. Making the semis would be a major achievement for Greece.

What does this mean? 

The Telegraph reports from Portugal:
The 12,000 Russian supporters in Portugal for Euro 2004 are not the only ones lamenting their team's early exit from the tournament. Georgi Yartsev's men may be propping up Group A but the fans are top of the league when it comes to spending. In the Algarve, where most of the Russians are staying, local businesses have enjoyed a bumper week catering for their expensive tastes.

While Chelsea's billionaire owner Roman Abramovich has been cruising the Portuguese coast in his £72 million yacht Pelorus, his countrymen have also been revealing the depth of their pockets by dining in the finest restaurants and booking rooms in the most luxurious hotels. One Russian family has been staying in a 3,000 euros-a-night suite at the five-star Vilamoura Marine Hotel.

"They are very, very wealthy," reports a delighted Jose Dias, an executive board member of the Algarve Tourist Board. "They like to party a lot but they prefer to keep themselves to themselves. They don't tend to come out to the bars like the English but they have their own parties within their hotels."

One lavish reception attended by Dias was hosted by the president of the Russian Football Federation last week, when 250 guests tucked into vast quantities of cavier and vodka and were entertained by traditional Portuguese fado singers and Russian ballet dancers. "I'm very impressed," he says. "They drink a lot but they behave very well. They are very friendly."

Joakuim Cabrita Neto, president of the Algarve Hotel and Restaurant Association, is equally taken with the free-spending visitors. "As far as we know, the Russians staying in the Algarve are spending a lot of money," he says. "They seem to like the good things in life. Put it this way, they are not eating omelettes. They are eating the best food and drinking the finest wines. Some have even had their own limousines driven down from Russia."

Even the local property developers stand to profit from the Russian influx. "I hear that some of them have been turning up at estate agents looking to buy villas and apartments," says Cabrita Neto.
Why are Russian football fans richer than their European compatriots? I'm all ears.

Taking responsibility, with humor 

Billy Koch stunk as the White Sox' closer, and as a result was sent packing to the Marlins. I think Koch's reaction to the trade is worth noting. As the Sun-Times headline reads, Koch closes Sox stint with class:
''I never dropped my ERA more in one day in my whole life.''

The Marlins are banking on a fresh start resurrecting Koch's career as a late-inning force. The Sox also realized a fresh start was probably the only way Koch could get out from under a cloud that hung over him for most of his career in Chicago.

''It will help the Marlins because it is a different scenario for him,'' manager Ozzie Guillen said Friday, a day after Koch was dealt to the Marlins for minor-league shortstop Wilson Valdez.

''Since he got here, he didn't do the job. But the way he acted when we told him yesterday, he showed me something. He is a class act.''

Koch said he told Ken Williams he knew the Sox' general manager gambled when the right-hander was acquired in December 2002 in a trade that sent closer Keith Foulke to the Oakland Athletics. Foulke is now one of the top closers in baseball, pitching for the Boston Red Sox.

''I told Kenny: 'It's a shame you put your neck out on the table for me and I didn't get the job done,''' said Koch, who was 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA and eight saves in 11 chances.
Billy's a former Clemson pitcher, so I'm by no means impartial, but don't you think a stand-up guy like him deserves to get his A-game back?

Friday, June 18, 2004

High school competition 

USA Today has a set of stories by Erik Brady and MaryJo Sylwester on competition in high school sports. The cover story focuses on the relation between school wealth - more precisely, income in the surrounding area - and success at winning state championships. Not surprisingly, wealthier schools win more titles. Unless increases in wealth are associated with changes in tastes, the greater opportunities afforded would give wealthier schools an advantage.

Two articles accompany the main story. One examines Ballard High in Louisville, a "wealthy" school that wins more than its share of championships. A second takes brief note of three relatively poor schools that won multiple championships in the sample.

How does wealth produce championships in a public education system which mitigates differences in school expenditures? My sense is that a form of social capital is responsible for the correlation between wealth and success. Parents in the wealthier districts spend more time monitoring their kids participation, and donate more cash to the cause. Facilities are better as a result. Their kids are expected to participate in extra training at camps in the summer, so their skills and experience increase. In addition, two critical ingredients are mobile, and will tend to locate in wealthier districts, all else constant. Better coaches will seek complentary inputs (facilities, support, and talent), as will better athletes, rich or poor: "many top athletes are recognized at an early age and recruited to private schools and travel programs for kids as young as 8 and their expenses are taken care of."*

Finally, a puzzler: school wealth is a more important factor in girls sports. My hunch is that the social capital explanation is relevant here too. Whereas pre-teen boys commonly play sports on their own, girls tend to play only in organized leagues (soccer & softball). You'll find more of these leagues in wealthier areas, giving these girls a head start which pays off in high school. Just a hunch though.

*A somewhat odd quote, in that top athletes are well known to be recruited to public schools as well.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

The mighty have fallen 

It's the year of the work ethic. Fresh in our memory is the Pistons outworking the star-studded Lakers. A few days earlier, the upstart Lightning & workman-like Flames battled it out for the Stanley Cup.

The trend is global. In Spain, Real Madrid's "galacticos" fell apart late in the season, and could finish no better than fourth to Valencia in La Liga. In Germany, perennial titans Bayern Munich were beaten convincingly at home by Werder Bremen in the title decider for the Bundesliga. In England, Manchester United, the world's richest franchise, lost their crown to Arsenal in the Premier League. It's been a good year in sports for the work ethic.

Good writing on sports at TNR 

The New Republic wants to bring "the magazine's argumentative sensibility to the world of sports," and is increasing its coverage of the topic, particularly where sports and politic issues intersect. They've also initiated a policy where blogs like this can link to articles normally accessible only with a subscription. Here are two good ones.

Jonathan Chait celebrates the triumph of the Pistons, arguing that "they culminate a reformation of the culture of the NBA." I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it's a very interesting essay nonetheless.

Aaron Schatz is back with "Tale of Two Cities." The piece contrasts LA's "we know you need us" approach to the NFL with DC's Mayor Anthony Williams, who "has fallen all over himself in his bid to attract a baseball squad." This passage on economic impact is particularly good:
The idea that a new stadium will attract tourists is perhaps the easiest to refute, especially in the case of Washington. Does anyone think that a family considering a vacation in the nation's capital might decide that all the museums, monuments, and historical landmarks aren't quite worth a trip, but then be lured by the chance to catch a baseball game--which you can do in practically every other American city? As for the idea that a stadium will attract more entertainment dollars, people may decide to spend a night at the ballpark instead of a night at the movies. But since the entertainment budgets of local families remain the same, the new stadium just moves spending around instead of increasing it.
As Schatz discusses in the article, a fair number of the relevant politicians get the point. I applaud them.

And by the way, in keeping with the TNR's standards, these guys can write about sports without mocking or shouting about their subjects. Ah, fresh air!

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Three left for Smarty Jones? 

Smarty Jones may retire after this years Breeder's Cup. Such is the regrettable state of horse racing economics: it's too costly to campaign the horse that puts the sport back on the map. Smarty is a more valuable asset in the breeding shed than on the track, and insurance premiums to race skyrocket - to $1m a year - as a result. On account of both explicit (insurance) and implicit costs (foregone stud fees) of racing, the profit-maximizing decision for the Chapmans is to retire Smarty Jones to the breeding shed.

Racing needs to fix the economics of their sport. Industry funded insurance for champions like Smarty Jones is a simple, and pretty cheap remedy. One could offer racing insurance as a bonus to any dual classic winner (or Triple Crown winner) should they continue to race as a four year old. Such a bonus attacks the explicit cost part of the problem, which is relevant to ordinary folks like the Chapmans, if not the Sheiks and Princes of the racing world. I understand the Chapmans' thinking - if I were asked to bear expenses of $1m to offer racing fans the pleasure of seeing their hero compete, I'd think twice before parting with that much cash. Particularly if the alternative (the breeding shed) was more lucrative anyway. The insurance part of the problem is one that the industry can fix, rather simply I think. It's not a complete solution, but it does lower the price of goodwill on the Chapmans' part.

The NTRA was selling hats like hotcakes two weeks ago, all adorned with the Go Smarty Go! logo. The cry has now changed to Run Smarty Run!

Remember Chris Brown? 

Chris Brown was a huge talent whose career in MLB was shortened by injury. An all-star in his third season, he never made it to free agent status where he could rake in the big bucks. He's now driving a truck for Halliburton in Iraq.
One day he was driving his 18-wheeler, hauling diesel fuel from a depot to a military base, when his long fuel convoy drove into a sandstorm. When the sand lifted, Brown was alone and spotted a man in a face mask off to the side of the road, pointing an AK-47 at him. He swerved, and a bullet pierced his windshield. In April he was about a mile behind a convoy that was ambushed; seven Halliburton drivers and security guards disappeared in the attack.

Brown's one-year contract is up in September, and although he is lonely and many of his co-workers have gone home early, he will not. He calls home to talk to his wife and children. He looks at digital pictures on e-mail messages, "so I can see the expression on my kids' faces, and how they're growing."

A few of his co-workers know he played pro baseball, that he hit a double in the 1986 All-Star Game, but he never talks about it unless asked. "I'm not ashamed of it," he said, "but if I were to raise it, I would look at it as bragging on myself."

I asked him if, based on his reputation in pro sports, going to Iraq was in any way an effort to prove something to others. Or to himself. "I know who I am," he said. "I would never do nothing to prove myself to anybody. I'm here providing for my family and for our future. Isn't that what a man's supposed to do?"
From a nice article by Michael Sokolove in the New York Times.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Lightning strikes twice for Pistons owner 

Two weeks, two titles, for Bill Davidson, who owns the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Detroit Pistons. Not too shabby! Judging by this story, Davidson is a sportsman and businessman with an eye on the long term:
[The Pistons] only raised playoff prices by $5, while some raise them tenfold or more.

"What we wanted to do is take that out of the equation, we want to have them come back (next year)," Wilson said. "(Fans) spend a whole year following the team, and, for sports fans, this is their life, and to get to the Finals, and you can't afford it? We have a lot of blue collar fans and you're going to hit them for $400 or $500? We would certainly like to avoid putting people in that position."

While price rollbacks and restraint on ticket price increases may seem foolish in business terms, Wilson, who's been with the organization 26 years, said it's foolish if you're thinking short term, but not if you have a long-term perspective as he and his teams do.

"We're bringing fans in and growing our fan base," Wilson said, noting a 26-year tenure in professional sports, in any capacity, is rare. But, he added, it gives him perspective and allows him to think past tomorrow.

"(The fans) are young, but in five years they'll be a little older, have more money and want better seats. We're investing in our future, and these will be loyal fans."
Congratulations to the Pistons!

Hitchens on Michael Moore 

From the transcript of Scarborough Country:
But speaking here in my capacity as a polished, sophisticated European as well, it seems to me the laugh here is on the polished, sophisticated Europeans. They think Americans are fat, vulgar, greedy, stupid, ambitious and ignorant and so on. And they've taken as their own, as their representative American someone [Moore] who actually embodies all of those qualities.
Hitchens can be wickedly funny. Penn Jillette and Bianca Jagger were on the same program, suggesting it might be worth a look. Here's Jillette: "I want to go way back. I‘m carny trash. My background is carnival. And when you compare Michael Moore to P.T. Barnum, I get very upset."

Friedman's charts 

Last Friday I mentioned Milton Friedman's appreciation of Ronald Reagan in the Wall Street Journal. At the time, the online version of the Journal did not portray Friedman's charts showing Reagan's influence on a) non-defense spending and b) regulation, as indexed by pages added to the Federal Register. A picture is worth a thousand words:

Economic impact 

From the Daily Telegraph's Essential guide to Euro 2004:
[T]he equation equals boom time for brewers and bars in Portugal. 'Our beer sales have tripled... last Friday they drank us dry.' And Unicer, producer of Super Bock, the country's most popular brew, claimed yesterday that they expect to sell an extra 2.5 million litres (650,000 gallons) during Euro 2004.
Burp. I hope the plumbing is in good shape.

Is this tackle football? 

Incredibly, Dutch striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy scored a magnificent goal on this play, with his right foot on the volley, back to goal, being mugged by the German defender. As the golf ads say, "these guys are good."

The result: Germany 1 - 1 Holland, leaving Group D up for grabs in Euro 2004.

Two student-athletes 

Let's give credit where credit is due. Richard and William Barker just finished their careers as tennis players at Rice University.
Richard maintained a GPA of 3.82 while majoring in mathematical economic analysis and managerial studies. William held a 3.83 in economics, managerial studies and sports management.

William and Richard ended their collegiate career ranked second in doubles and were recently named the Intercollegiate Tennis Association's national doubles team of the year for the second time. The duo produced a 33-3 record over the course of the year, including a perfect 20-0 mark in dual-match play. The Barker brothers also earned all-America honors for the second-straight year.
Bravo to the Barker brothers, student-athletes in the best sense of the term.

Analysis of tempo 

William S. Krasker at Football Commentary has posted an analysis of tempo - should a team run a slowdown or "hurry-up" offense? The principle behind the choice is not strategic (the choice doesn't affect relative abilities) but rather optimal time management given relative abilities and the game situation - whether to extend or shorten the game. A general characterization is that "underdogs should use a slowdown tempo unless they trail by a sufficient amount, and the favorites should use a hurry-up tempo unless they lead by a sufficient amount." See the article to get a sense of the magnitudes.

I found Krasker's final comment intriguing:
Coaches are often reluctant to use strategies that conflict with conventional wisdom, due to an aversion to being second guessed. For the strategies described here, there is an additional impediment: One of the coaches would have to admit, in effect, that he's coaching the inferior team. So we shouldn't expect to see teams following this prescription any time soon.
Innovation is most profitable when conventional wisdom is blind to it, and as the post below suggests (also this post which mentions Bill Belichick's use of economics), analytical methods are being increasingly employed by NFL teams. Hence, perhaps Krasker should be more optimistic about his conclusions being adopted, at least by a few teams. Second, an implicit admission that "he's coaching the inferior team" is not uncommon - soccer coaches at all levels adopt defensive strategies as a matter of routine when they know they are outclassed.

NFL number crunchers 

Here's an interesting column from the Sporting News about the use of statistical methods in the NFL. Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil was one of the early adopters, apparently influenced by the late George Allen. And add another economics major to the list of analytical coaches, Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz:
Schwartz, who received distinguished economics graduate honors at Georgetown, where he played linebacker for four years, has spent some of his free days this offseason doing regression analysis studies on when to accept or decline penalties, when to take safeties and the significance of sacks. He has networked with Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta, a cum laude graduate of Harvard who is a leader in baseball's statistical movement, and Internet stats geeks. His references include a probability study by a Rutgers statistician and a dynamic program analysis by an economics professor from Cal, as well as Moneyball, the book about Beane's unique reliance on statistics.
'I've spoken with (NFL) general managers about Moneyball and some of them have read it, but they don't know what to do with it,' Schwartz says. 'Football people don't have the mathematical side. A lot of it runs counter to traditional NFL thinking.'"
Schwartz would appear to have the benefit of both traditional and analytical thinking. A coach to keep an eye on, perhaps?

Monday, June 14, 2004

Game theory and Barthez' penalty save 

One of the subplots in yesterday's tempest of a match between France and England was Barthez' acrobatic save of Beckham's penalty in the 73rd minute. England were up 1-0 and a second goal might have put the game to bed.

Beckham is a world-class striker of the ball, and he hit the penalty shot crisply. But Barthez was at his right post in a flash and pushed the ball to safety - he'd guessed right, gotten lucky. Or did he? France reveal penalty plan, reports the BBC:
France defender Mikael Silvestre has revealed that team-mate Fabien Barthez had watched videos of David Beckham's penalty-taking prior to Sunday's win.

Barthez brilliantly saved England captain Beckham's second-half spot-kick to keep France in the game at 1-0.

"We had a look at all the penalties he took and he was always taking them this way," said Silvestre after France's last-gasp 2-1 win.

"So Fabien did a good job. He went to his right and it was a great save."
Full credit to Barthez and the French. It would appear though, that Beckham could have profitably traded the time it took to get one or two of his nine tattoos for a short lesson in game theory.

Why we watch 

Ten days ago, Kenny Mayne & Co. were asking each other, who was the lock of mortal locks, the Lakers in the NBA Finals or Smarty Jones in the Belmont? Well, Smarty got beat, and after last night, the Lakers are on life support and not expected to recover. You could have gotten odds of 300-1 in Vegas on a Birdstone-Pistons parlay.

Shocking results were in plentiful supply this weekend. At Churchill Downs, Colonial Colony took the $1m Stephen Foster Handicap by a nose from Southern Image at 62-1. Colonial Colony had not won a race since the winter of 2003. Southern Image had been not been beaten since then, and had taken four Grade I races on the trot. Go figure.

Euro 2004 kicked off with Greece toppling the hosts Portugal in a stunning upset, 2-1. It was the first victory for Greece in a major competition - "their best ever win" - and it came at the expense of one of the most talented teams in the tournament. Yesterday, it was not France’s 2-1 victory over England that stunned a nation, but the manner in which it was achieved. England led 1-0 through 90 minutes before the furies swept in. "Within touching distance of Nirvana," England left the field not in triumph, but in tears. They had been slain in injury time by two lightning bolts from Zinedine Zidane, one of the best players ever to lace up a soccer boot. Incredible.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

The bureaucracy of sport at its funniest 

Unlike the US, where sports leagues govern themselves, European Leagues generally operate under the watchful eye of an independent governing body. In England for example, the Football Association determines rules under which both Premier League and Nationwide League teams must operate. The FA's drug testing program is an example where this method of governance, separated from short term economic interest, seems beneficial.

But these agencies are bureaucratic to the core, and some of the rules they make and enforce are patently silly. In Holland, there is a rule requiring that club managers be certified. This rule got in the way of one of the top five soccer greats of all time, Johann Cruyff. Apparently, being told "you can't do this" was regarded by Cruyff as a challenge.
"I only decided to become a manager when I was told I couldn't.''

It is a sentiment that has a familiar refrain throughout Cruyff's playing and managerial career. He was told in his early teens he would never be big enough to be a great player. And after retiring at the age of 37 following a successful swansong at Feyenoord - he left his beloved Ajax because he was told he was too old to go on playing - went to Barcelona because the chairman of Ajax wanted him to go to Madrid.

He then returned to Ajax to pursue a managerial career because the Dutch Football Association told him he didn't have the necessary coaching qualification.

"They couldn't see beyond the paper, almost as though I had never played in two World Cup finals or been a part of the best-ever international side apart from the Brazil team of 1970," he said. The Dutch federation wanted him to study for six years for his piece of paper.

"I know everything about playing the game, the technique, the tactics, but I don't know the physical or the medical, how long will that bit take?" he asked. "Seven months," they explained, and after his period of study he joined Ajax as technical director.

Three times the disciplinary committee hid in trees and bushes around the training ground with film cameras trying to prove he was coaching. Each time he explained that he was only passing on instructions to the qualified coaches standing alongside him. In the end they gave up, which was just as well as he went on to win the European Cup-Winners' Cup in 1987. When finally he was told he could call himself a coach, he smiled and explained that he was rather fond of his old title.
Six years' study to become a coach? Silly rule - particularly in its application to Cruyff, who had been studying the game for a lifetime. Disciplinary committees in trees? Bureaucrats at their best, enforcing a nonsensical rule nonsensically. Sadly though, the episode illustrates how elusive good governance can be - the incentives to create and operate an agency for "the good of the game" appear too weak to produce good governance of sport.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Milton Friedman's appreciation 

In today's WSJ ($), Milton Friedman writes a brief appreciation of Ronald Reagan. Friedman is as revered by economists as Reagan is by conservatives. Here are the main points in Friedman's piece, for those without access to the Journal.
I first met Ronald Reagan in 1967, shortly after he had become governor of California. We talked about his plans for higher education in the state. He clearly understood the economics of higher education -- a system in California whereby the residents of Watts subsidized the college education of the children from Beverly Hills -- and was determined to do something about it.

I first realized what a truly extraordinary person he was in early 1973 when I spent an unforgettable day with him barnstorming across California ... Gov. Reagan talked freely about his life and views. By the time we returned to our final press interview in Los Angeles, I was able to give an enthusiastic yes to a reporter's question whether I would support Reagan for president. ...

President Reagan [had] extraordinary success in changing the course of non-defense spending. The trend before Mr. Reagan is one of galloping socialism. Had it continued, federal non-defense spending would be more than half again what it is now. Mr. Reagan brought the gallop to a literal standstill. He did so in three ways:

First, by slashing tax rates and so cutting the Congress's allowance.

Second, by being willing to take a severe recession to end inflation. In my opinion, no other postwar president would have been willing to back the Volcker Fed in its tough stance in 1981-82. I can testify from personal knowledge that Mr. Reagan knew what he was doing. He understood that there was no way of ending inflation without monetary restraint and a temporary recession. As in every area, he stuck to his principles and looked at the long term.

Third, and in some ways the least recognized, by attacking government regulations. ... The Federal Register records the thousands of detailed rules and regulations that federal agencies churn out in the course of a year. They are not laws and yet they have the effect of laws and like laws impose costs and restrain activities. Here too, the period before President Reagan was one of galloping socialism. The Reagan years were ones of retreating socialism, and the post-Reagan years, of creeping socialism.

To Mr. Reagan, of course, holding down government spending was a means to an end, not an end in itself. That end was freedom, human freedom, the right of every individual to pursue his own objectives and values so long as he does not interfere with the corresponding right of others. That was his end in every phase of his remarkable career.

We still have a long way to go to achieve the optimum degree of freedom. But few people in human history have contributed more to the achievement of human freedom than Ronald Wilson Reagan.
I'll buy that, but it doesn't hurt to have people like Milton Friedman in your corner either.

Reagan and leadership - a tale of two tax bills 

Steven Pearlstein opines on Tax Legislation Worthy Only of The Trash Heap, a bill that we discussed last month. Pearlstein contrasts the current legislation with one of the "greatest achievements" of President Reagan, the 1986 Tax Reform Act.
The goal of the landmark bill was to make the tax code simpler and fairer while boosting economic efficiency. Loopholes were closed, tax rates were reduced, and all sorts of distinctions were eliminated so that individuals and companies with the same income or profits were required to pay roughly the same tax.

Those principles, however, are violated on nearly every one of the 930 pages in the recently passed Senate tax bill and the 398-page draft released last week by the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Bill Thomas (R-Calif.).
This year's bill is 398 pages of tax breaks for special interests. It's not too late to stop it, but doing so would require a courageous act of leadership. Pearlstein offers up a fanciful suggestion:
This may well be the worst piece of tax legislation to come along since 1986. If Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) wanted to steal the Reagan mantle, he would make plans now to return to Washington from the campaign trail and, Jimmy Stewart-like, lead a protracted Senate filibuster of the final bill. From his final resting place, the Gipper would be cheering him on.
I would too, but that would be completely out of character for Kerry. Nor, given the 94-5 vote that passed the bill, does a Bush veto seem in the cards. The country misses Reagan's vision, purpose, and leadership. Rather badly, I think.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Two books on sport from the social sciences 

The Economist magazine ($) briefly notes the arrival of two books: The Economics of Sport: An International Perspective, by Robert Sandy, Peter J. Sloane and Mark S. Rosentraub, and The Meaning of Sports: Why Americans Watch Baseball, Football, and Basketball and What They See When They Do, by Michael Mandelbaum. Here's a snippet:
The authors of “The Economics of Sport” ask their readers to consider the following signs of obsession, and to guess which sport they are describing: athletes' pay running at ten times that of a doctor or a lawyer; promotional symbols and motifs festooning cups, lamps and fans' homes; and huge profits arising from the ownership of the rights to players.

An account of soccer today? Actually, no: it is instead a description of the gladiatorial games of Roman times. In this unusually readable economics tome, the authors offer a reminder that money has never been far from athletic exploits. ...

For readers who can't bear to have their favourite games reduced to mere dollars and cents, Michael Mandelbaum, who usually pens books on weightier matters of foreign policy, offers a scholar's view of the history and sociology of American sport in “The Meaning of Sports”. ... At its best, Mr Mandelbaum's book is an intriguing history of America's spectator sports. Readers who know nothing of the country's peculiar ball games will enjoy the comparison of basketball with European football. Thankfully, the author refrains from indulging in the sort of hagiography that marks so much sports writing, which makes this a great book for educated non-fans and recent initiates to American sports to kick off with.


The BCS is a broken system. It makes plenty of money alright. But it's method of cashing in - the creation of a string of prime-time TV games without contemporaneous competition - obliterates tradition and fails in its alleged task of determining a credible national champion in college football. The yearly "fixes" to the selection process - oops! controversy! let's add a computer-based strength of schedule index ... oops! controversy! let's reduce the influence of computers - is an ongoing farce that undermines the credibility of the sport. Given the available alternatives, on the face of this evidence, one can only conclude that college presidents prefer a system which fails to produce a legitimate champion.

Ivan Maisel reports that in its latest metamorphosis, the BCS is poised to adopt the "piggyback system." One of the four existing BCS bowls will host a 2nd game each year, the BCS championship. The purpose of the system is to a) avoid a lawsuit by making it more likely that a non-BCS school will play in a BCS bowl, and b) avoid diluting the revenues earned by the four bowl games that currently constitute the BCS. That's all you need to know to evaluate the plan. Now ask yourself, would satisfying these two objectives result in any meaningful improvement in the structure of college bowls?

I criticized the "flower boys" of the Rose Bowl in yesterday's post, but now I see their objections were on the mark. The "piggyback system" reduces the value of the four major bowls. This dilution is offset within the BCS by the 5th game. But for the game overall, it's a step backwards.

Maisel notes that BCS representatives prefer the term "double-hosting" to "piggyback system." I find the latter term rather apt.

Update: reports that it's piggyback time, and it looks like it's the presidents who are responsible.
[Oregon's President] Fronhmayer said the university presidents rejected the so-called plus-one model, which would have matched the top two teams after the four BCS bowls, because it would a step toward creating a playoff system. He said there was "adamant opposition" among presidents for moving the BCS in that direction.
Either they can't count (see the update section from yesterday's post), or as stated above, they prefer not to have the champion determined on the field. I think these guys and gals are showing themselves to be poor stewards of the game.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The "Freddy Krueger of sports-arena projects" 

So says Newark's Manuel Lavin of plans for a downtown arena to house the New Jersey Devils, a hockey team with an uncertain future. The NY Times' Harvey Araton has the story. I agree with 90% of what he says here. But with the important exception of Ralph Nader, Araton is no less of a windbag than the "windbags" dissed in the piece.

I have my share of windbag moments too, but Araton and I certainly differ in one respect. Araton states that "In the interests of disclosure, I happen to be a resident of the same Essex County that includes Newark, but not one who reflexively opposes all public sports expenditures." Count me as one who does. I love sports, but there is no public need to line the pockets of rich men who own sports teams.

Thanks to Offwing Opinion for the link. By the way, Eric posted a cool pic of the Lightning celebrating their Stanley Cup triumph. They look like a happy bunch, and to me at least, their victory was richly deserved.

Sacremento principal and interest 

Greg at The Sports Law Blog notes that in 1997, the city of Sacremento loaned the NBA's Kings - aka the Maloof brothers - "$70 million to help [them] overcome financial difficulties and remain in the city. In addition, the city made a second loan to the team, to assist it in paying back the first loan. ... Due to this odd structure, the team has only made a dent in the amount owed, having paid back only $1.5 million of the principal." As reported in the Sacramento Bee, local taxpayer advocates are grumbing about this. Greg ruminates thus: "I can only imagine Prof. Sauer's reaction as he reads this."

Well, as a card-carrying member of Keith Olbermann's Constitutional Amendment Against Corporate Welfare Supporters Club, I've come completely unhinged! Heh, not exactly. As the article in the Sacremento Bee makes clear, the Maloofs have fulfilled their obligations under the contract. If and when Sacremento subsidizes a new arena and forgives the debt owed on the old one, I'll join the call to arms. But collecting interest payments on a $70m loan is small potatoes in the world of sports subsidies, and probably worth it to the citizens of Sacremento.* But it's worth it to the Maloofs too, as it allows them to employ their limited capital more profitably, as they morph from successful Albuquerque beer distributors into the grand poohbahs of The Palms Casino. Hmmmm, could there be plans in the works for a basketball arena at The Palms?

* My chief problem with the structure of US pro sports is that strict entry control by the league allows teams to make credible relocation threats. These threats spawn subsidies which are likely to be excessive. But given the threat of relocation, subsidies are the expected political outcome, and the Sacremento case does not seem very costly.

**Note also that private finance of stadiums is commonplace in England - Arsenal's recent 400 million pound project being an example - where leagues lack entry control and relocation threats are rare. While England's soccer clubs are less vauable to their owners as a result, they are more valuable to their communities. And that's where the bottom line should be.

New BCS format 

This - BCS Moves Closer To Altering Format - is big news. We could soon have a national championship game in college football.
The commissioners of the six conferences that make up the Bowl Championship Series moved closer yesterday to finalizing a plan in which one of the four BCS bowls -- the Fiesta, Orange, Rose or Sugar -- would host two games each year, the second being for the national championship.

The model could be firmed up by the end of the week, Kevin Weiberg, the commissioner of the Big 12 and the incoming head of the BCS, said yesterday.
This would also imply that the chance to break in to the BCS cartel has gone for the Cotton, Peach, and Gator. The latter consequence could be a factor in yesterday's announcement that the Cowboys have withdrawn their stadium subsidy proposal. Part of the pitch was upgrading the Cotton Bowl's status in order to land a BCS game for the new stadium.

Update: Not so fast, Skip. Ivan Maisel reports that the Rose Bowl wants an agreement that excludes non-BCS conference teams from playing in its game, and that this may kill the "piggy-back" plan.

Ah, for a moment there was hope. Thanks, flower boys. And to the cretins who claim that college presidents will balk at extending the season for one more game, there's a simple solution to that. Add the title game as the 5th bowl, and eliminate two or three meaningless pre-season "classics." That would reduce the number of games, at least in the minds of people who can count. Now, as for those cretins who happen to be college presidents themselves, I have no answer for that.

The economics of pot 

Professor Stephen Easton of Simon Fraser estimates that the market value of marijuana produced in British Columbia each year is worth over $7b. What does he make of it? Government policy is foolish - it wastes resources in a futile attack on marijuana growers and foregoes the opportunity to realize over $2 billion in potential tax revenue. Why is the attack futile? As reported in The Globe and Mail, it's simple nuts and bolts economics:
"Police resources should be deployed elsewhere," the Simon Fraser University economics professor contended yesterday.

"Marijuana is too easily produced . . . and the return on investment sufficiently great that for each grow-up demolished, another takes its place. There is a perpetual, lasting supply of people willing to do it [grow marijuana]." ...

[A] "modest," 100-plant grow-op ... should produce 13 kilograms of marijuana sold in pound blocks "out the back door" at $2,600 a pound, amounting to a harvest of close to $20,000, he said.

"With four harvests per year, gross revenue is nearly $80,000."

He set production costs at about $25,000, yielding a return on investment of around 55 per cent.
BC police spend resources destroying about 3,000 grow-ops per year, but the legal consequences for offenders are minor: only 13 per cent of offenders are charged, and 55% of those receive no jail time. The consequence: grow-ops can be found in just about any area of BC, including "posh neighborhoods" in Vancouver. You can obtain a copy of Easton's report, "Marijuana Growth in British Columbia," here.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

More on China's growth & autos 

From the WSJ ($), we find some interesting figures on car sales in China:
Total sales grew 36% last year to about 4.5 million vehicles -- still steamy, but down from an estimated 80% growth pace in 2002. ... The frenzied auto buying reflects monumental change unfolding in China's cities. The average resident earns a little more than $1,000 a year, but the country is quickly developing an upper class that splashes out for Mercedes or BMWs and a middle class able to save for a VW Santana under $10,000. ... Altogether, auto makers are planning to boost capacity in China to about seven million passenger cars a year by 2009.
Much of the article is brow-furrowing commentary on the possibility that automakers are over-investing in capacity in China, and the attempts of China to "cool its overheated" economy. But the long run direction seems pretty clear - dramatic change is taking place.

To put these figures in perspective, US auto sales are currently running at an annual rate of 17.8 million units, according to this BBC story. But many of these are replacement vehicles; virtually all of the new cars sold in China are surely new additions to the stock of cars. There's no reason to panic, but I wouldn't mind sitting on an oil well or two right now.

Tom & Tony 

The Washington Post has great columnists on the sports page - the NY Times doesn't come close. Today Tony Kornheiser writes on the two coaches in the NBA Finals, Phil Jackson and Larry Brown. He's known both of them for more than 30 years. His column combines personal knowledge with observation based on years of experience, leavened by a little good humor:
I've spent my adult life as a sportswriter trying to figure out what makes Larry leave. If you want to talk about it, pack a lunch.

Larry understands the game better than anyone. But he's tortured by players' lack of effort and lack of discipline -- which makes the modern NBA the worst possible place for him. One of the reasons Larry moves around so often is because players get sick of him in just a few years; they see him as too rigorous. It's just as well, because Larry usually hates half the players the day he gets there, and the other half by the end of the season. Larry really should be coaching high school; I think that's where he'll finish up. He's a teacher first. The pros don't want to be taught; they think they already know everything. And college kids stay just long enough to be pros.

With his laissez-faire attitude, Phil Jackson is coaching in exactly the right setting, and with his obsessive perfectionism Larry Brown is coaching in exactly the wrong one. But for the different roads they have taken, they've ended up in the same place -- they're the best in the business. Phil succeeds because he knows exactly when to say something to his players. Larry succeeds because he knows exactly what to say to his players. But enough of this high-falutin' objectivity. Get out of here; I've got to paint my face Pistons blue for tonight's game.
That's the punch line, but there's much more; read it all.

Tom Boswell is not so funny in this column, on the NHL's impending demise. Demise may be too strong a term, but lets face it - the players and the owners are playing a classic game of "chicken," and tragedy awaits if neither side blinks. Boswell is an astute observer, and identifies the problem that the American sports scene poses for the NHL:
The NHL needs to understand that, if it goes away for a year, the sports public -- which has so many games, seasons and athletes -- may discover it prefers a world with far fewer pro hockey highlights on TV or NHL stories in newspapers and magazines.

With a year to think about it, we might ask whether we really needed to know so much more about the NHL than we do about women's golf or college lacrosse or pro soccer or NASCAR or who knows what?

Why, we might ask, is the NHL covered like a major sport? What's so important about it? If few missed it when it was gone, why treat it as a major sport when it comes back?

So, NHL, do you feel lucky? Go on, take a season off.

Make our day.
Greg at the Sports Law Blog sees the problem in similar terms.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Post Smarty Depression 

That was Ken Rudolph's term, while covering the races yesterday at Hollywood Park, as the public address director played the blues over the sound system all afternoon. Pat Forde's depressed too, and wants the Triple Crown system changed. Does it have to be that tough? (Yes, I think it does).

Joe Drape thinks everything is hunky dory, and argues that Jockeys Solis and Bailey served their function as "gatekeepers of greatness" by sacrificing their horses in premature challenges to Smarty Jones. Funny, if I owned Rock Hard Ten or Eddington, I'd rather have my horse ridden so he might have a chance at getting the distance. I'd have fired them - or the trainer if they were just riding to the trainer's orders - on the spot (harupmh harumph).

I agree with the views of trainer Bobby Frankel - Smarty would blow the doors off of Birdstone with the benefit of a month's recuperation - and writer Gary West, who gets the last word: "This Triple Crown was all about Smarty Jones. Charismatic and seemingly indomitable, he proved vastly superior to his rivals. As it turned out, however, not even Smarty Jones was superior to the demands of the Triple Crown. But he didn't devalue himself in defeat. He's still the most exciting and talented 3-year-old to come along in years. So don't litter the countryside with what-ifs; instead, plant a few what-nows."

Exactly. I can't wait to see "Little Red" run again. The hype may die down (good), but this horse's greatness is still in the making.

The cost of the games 

When I put on my Athens 2004 Olympics hat I recall pleasant memories. I went to Greece two years ago with my son, and we ran on the ancient track at Olympia, site of the original Olympic games. What a glorious place. Bringing the Olympics back home is a noble idea - in an important sense, they belong to the Greeks, after all. But will hosting the games be worth the price to Greece?

Here's a sobering editorial in Greece's Kathimerini, pointing out that cost overruns of about 4 billion euros - almost double the initial estimate - will be a strain on the economy for years to come.
The trademark steel-and-glass roof for the main Olympic stadium slid into place last week, fueling hopes that Athens will eventually fulfill the commitments made in its bid for the Games. However, there remains a crucial aspect on which Greece has departed from its earlier promises - save that this aspect is of no interest to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the foreign teams, and the visitors who will flock into the capital: The cost of the Summer Games is expected to verify the most ominous forecasts and hover at 8.8 billion euros (3 trillion drachmas) - by far exceeding the official projections of 4.7 billion euros (1.6 trillion drachmas).

The government's decision to resort to emergency borrowing worth 5.75 billion euros (regardless of questions about the way in which these were contracted) is a sign of the mammoth-sized economic burden that Greek taxpayers will have to shoulder because of the Games.
To put these figures in perspective, Greece's GDP in 2002 was 141 billion euros. Greece is thus spending 5 1/2 to 6% of its GDP in order to stage a two and a half week event. It is indeed a "mammoth-sized" undertaking, and debt-finance is the only way it can be managed. Satisfying the creditors without steep tax increases in the next few years will be critical to Greece's economy. With public debt already about equal to GDP, Greece is well outside the EU guideline of 60%. They are in much better fiscal shape than ten years ago, but still have a tricky problem to navigate. Good luck to them.

Bud v. Miller, rounds XXVII and XXVIII 

The Beer wars are heating up, and going intercontinental. On the domestic front, the dueling political ads are certainly entertaining. SABMiller's success in obtaining an injunction that Anheuser-Busch cease using the term "South African Breweries" - shortened to SAB after South African Breweries purchased Miller from Phillip Morris in 2002 - is rather comical itself. It hasn't stopped the Clydesdale from telling the donkey that the Miller candidate is ineligible to run for president since he's from South Africa.

The gloves are off in China too, where phase one of the contest between the two giants is coming to a close. This story in the Economist ($) offers a glimpse into SABMiller's fight plan. They are apparently poised to sell their stake in China's Harbin Brewery to Anheuser-Busch after failing to persuade the company to collude with a chief competitor:
America's Anheuser-Busch, launched a $720m counter-offer for Harbin earlier this week that was recommended by Harbin's management. SAB's relationship with Harbin has soured since the London-headquartered brewer bought a 29% stake in the Chinese group last year. SAB failed to persuade Harbin to end a fierce price war with its rival in the north-east, China Resources Breweries (CRB)—which is 49% owned by SAB.
What's in store for phase two? More price wars! Now that Bud will be running Harbin, low prices at CRB make sense to SAB.
According to insiders, SAB will use the proceeds from selling its stake to Anheuser to help CRB undercut Harbin's already dirt-cheap prices.
That doesn't strike me as a profitable investment of the proceeds, but it does make for an interesting fight.

Stat of the day 

From The Economist: "Emili García-Berthou and Carles Alcaraz, two researchers at the University of Girona in Spain, have found that 38% of a sample of papers in Nature, and a quarter of those sampled in the British Medical Journal (BMJ)—two of the world's most respected journals—contained one or more statistical errors."

Sunday, June 06, 2004

The agony of defeat 

Smarty Jones ran an exceptionally fast mile and a quarter in yesterday's Belmont Stakes - two minutes and one half second. But the race was a mile and a half, and the final quarter found him running on empty, allowing Birdstone to pass him in the final stages. What went wrong? Andrew Beyer argues that the problem lies in Smarty's genes -- he's a natural miler, and found the distance too far.
Elliott said after the race that, for the first time this spring, Smarty Jones wasn't relaxing in the early stages of the race. "I thought if I could get a clear lead, maybe he'd relax," the veteran rider said. "I was planning on getting away with an easy eighth or quarter [of a mile], but it didn't happen."

Servis saw it the same way, and manfully accepted the blame -- deflecting any potential criticism of his rider. "I worked really hard to take the edge off him, but it obviously didn't work. If he had settled, we would have had a Triple Crown winner."

The films of the race seem to confirm Servis's interpretation. When Elliott went to the lead on the backstretch, he wasn't pushing and shoving aggressively; Smarty Jones wanted to go, and Elliott had little choice but to let him.

If anybody's failing cost Smarty Jones the Triple Crown, it was not Elliott and Servis, but the beloved horse himself. Smarty Jones had accomplished his triumphs in the Derby and Preakness by overcoming his pedigree; he is the son of a miler, and his female family is dominated by sprinters and milers.
This is true, but its not a complete explanation. After all, Smarty had successfully controlled his speed in the prior two classic races. This time he didn't.
"I knew when we turned on the backside that we were in a little bit of trouble," Servis said. "He just wasn't settling as nice as he had in the previous two races. He was dragging Stew out of the saddle. I had a bad feeling. You can't do that and get a mile and a half."
My view is that Smarty was undone by the tactics of his primary challengers, Eddington and Rock Hard Ten. Jockeys Solis and Bailey rode their mounts with one objective: to beat Smarty Jones. To do that, they had to keep him under pressure in the middle half of the race. The result: a suicidal middle half mile. The first half was run in a modest 48.65 seconds, the second half in 46.59 seconds. Of the racing writers I reviewed this morning, only MSNBC's Mike Brunker states the obvious.
Smarty's reputation as one of the strongest Triple Crown candidates in years worked against him, as both Rock Hard Ten and Eddington pressured him in the early stages of the 1 1/2-mile marathon, the longest of the three Triple Crown races.

"We thought the only way we could beat Smarty Jones was to bring the race at him," said Mark Hennig, trainer of Eddington, who finished fourth, a dozen lengths behind the winner.

The tactic worked, though not for those who employed it. Smarty Jones withstood challenges from Eddington and Rock Hard Ten after he stuck his nose in front halfway up the backstretch, then he put them away turning for home.

But there was no rest to be had in the last quarter mile to glory.
Birdstone got the perfect trip, sitting behind the premature duel that Elliot and Servis wanted no part of. But short of Elliot standing up on Smarty, nothing could be done about it. Elliot did not start working on Smarty until the final 3/8 of a mile, when he was slowing down and needed it. Smarty got the penultimate quarter mile in 25 seconds, and the final quarter in 27.2.

The tactics of Rock Hard Ten and Eddington showed that Smarty Jones can be beaten at 1 1/2 miles. But not without ruining their own chances in the process - Smarty left them 11 lengths in his wake. He won the race within the race, but not the one that counted. Racetrackers have a term for this: the "race fell apart," and Birdstone picked up the pieces. Birdstone is a good horse and deserves credit for capitalizing on the situation. But Smarty Jones will be back, and I'm looking forward to it.

Update: Bill Finley at ESPN has an excellent column, "What else could Elliot have done?" The column gives a proper scolding to writers who have criticized Elliot's ride. He bluntly states: "There were some jockeys out there, Jerry Bailey among them, who seemed to be riding to beat Smarty Jones and not to win the Belmont." TV interviews with top trainers at Hollywood Park this afternoon also echoed this view, with several marvelling at the game performance turned in by Smarty Jones, given the challenges he faced.

Quote of the day 

Jockey Jerry Bailey, who rode Eddington in the Belmont Stakes: "Birdstone? I wouldn't have picked Birdstone after watching the replay."

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Belmont scenarios 

All these are people who follow the game closely, so their opinions are worth considering. Steve Haskin asks "Who can beat Smarty?" Jennie Rees' similarly titled story "Can Smarty be beaten?" gets the money quote from trainer John Servis:
The pace comes into play a lot more dramatically than it would in any other race," Servis said. Because we have a bull's-eye on our back, more than any race this is where Stewart's really going to have to shine. There are eight other horses in there that really don't have anything to lose and a lot to gain.
When (and when not) to move is the paramount question for Smarty Jones and jockey Stewart Elliot in this race.

The Belmont's web page at NYRA has a lengthy but very interesting transcript from Servis' press conference yesterday, combined with token quotes from competing trainers at the end. And finally, Rick Bozich captures the mood perfectly in his interesting and informative "Anticipation." Let's hope the mood is one of satisfaction and not heartbreak this evening.

Skip's Belmont Handicap 

In post position order (morning line odds in parentheses).

1. Master David (20-1)
Chances: Slim
Skip's Odds: 30-1
Comment: Trained by a master, Bobby Frankel. Finished very well from far back in Purge's Peter Pan. Could be sitting on a big race. Would not be surprised to see him finish in the money.

2. Purge (5-1)
Chances: Slightly better than slim
Skip's Odds: 12-1
Comment: Will be on or close to the lead. His performance in the Peter Pan confirmed his quality. Upset potential, but was dusted by Smarty in Arkansas, who has made just as much, if not more progress since then.

3. Caiman (50-1)
Chances: None
Skip's Odds: 500-1
Comment: Lacks the quality of the others.

4. Birdstone (15-1)
Chances: Slim
Skip's Odds: 75-1
Comment: A good two year old, had a disappointing spring. Unlikely, but not inconceivable.

5. Rock Hard Ten (8-1)
Chances: Serious threat
Skip's Odds: 7-1
Comment: Like Purge, lightly raced with every right to improve. Awesome physical specimen, training brilliantly. Made a good move on the turn in the Preakness before Smarty kicked sand in his face and drew off. Should close the 11 1/2 length gap with a better trip today, and is bred to get the 1 1/2 mile distance. Might possibly be able to match strides with Smarty if he can keep him in his sights.

6. Royal Assault (20-1)
Chances: Between slim & none
Skip's Odds: 99-1
Comment: Can get the distance, but too slow for these.

7. Tap Dancer (50-1)
Chances: Closer to none than slim
Skip's Odds: 250-1
Comment: Gaining when beaten 3 lengths by Royal Assault in the Sir Barton. So what?

8. Eddington (10-1)
Chances: Slim
Skip's Odds: 45-1
Comment: Admirers have jumped off his bandwagon, but to his credit, he's managed to finish third in Graded Stakes company in his last three races. Trainer Mark Hennig has been working on his apparent laziness and indifference, and rightly so. Indifference won't get the job done against Smarty Jones. Question of the day: will he refuse to run the entire a mile and a half, or will the longer distance allow him to recover from one of his mental lapses?

Chances: Strictly the one to beat
Skip's Odds: 2-5
Comment: An amazing horse. Rival trainers have been gushing about him since the Derby, which is unheard of. Normally they think they have the next contender to knock off the Derby winner. If he gets the trip, he'll win by open lengths again. But the mile and a half distance is uncharted territory for these. An odd pace scenario, an ill-timed move by Elliot, a crazy challenge which unnerves Smarty and winds him up too early, any of these could quash the dreams of millions. But Smarty & Co. have done everything right so far, and you gotta have faith.

My call: Smarty will coast, move when called upon, open up and win by 6 lengths. Cheering will erupt in bars, betting parlors, and living rooms from coast to coast.

My bet: Smarty Jones on top of Master David and Rock Hard Ten in the exacta.

Dueling ads in NY City 

A few days ago I noted some sniping from the mayor's office about an ad opposed to the $800m subsidy for a stadium/convention center in Manhattan. In today's NY Times, Charles Bagli discusses a new commercial that supports that project.
ON THE SCREEN The commercial opens with an aerial view of the Empire State Building, dissolving to a view of the far West Side of Manhattan as a graphic alerts viewers to "important economic facts." The words "18,000 construction jobs" and "6,900 permanent jobs" flash on the screen as images of schools, a construction site and a police officer are interspersed with animated images of the proposed stadium. The advertisement ends with a dramatic animated view of the stadium from the water, with fireworks exploding overhead.
Bagli notes that
It is far from clear how many construction workers will be employed and for how long, but "6,900 permanent jobs" appears to be aggressively optimistic. Giants Stadium in New Jersey, the Jets' current home, has only about 95 permanent employees; another 935 people are brought in 20 times a year for football games. And the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center employs the equivalent of 920 full-time workers.
If you've been reading this blog, you know that I share Bagli's skepticism. But even taking the claims at face value, an $800m subsidy & 6,900 permanent jobs equates to an investment of $116,000 per job. That's a costly way to "develop an economy." The stadium investment should be considered on its own merits, not on an alleged contribution to the local economy.

Reading tea leaves on China's economy 

Here are two signs that capitalism in China is taking root: Anheuser-Busch and SABMiller are fighting, and one will probably overpay, for control of China's Harbin Brewery. And ruminate on this interesting quote:
``I've never seen one before. They're really beautiful,'' said Miao Wenchang, a Shanghai office worker. Beaming with pride, he said, ``China really has a lot of rich people now.''
Miao was standing outside the new Ferrari Showroom in Shanghai.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Belmont Past Performances 

You can get the Daily Racing Form's past performances for the Belmont Stakes here. Smarty Jones is drawn outside in post 9 and is the 2-5 favorite in the morning line. He'll probably be bet down to 1-5 or 3-10. To make a profit at 3-10 odds, the probability that the horse wins must be .77 or higher. That's not a bad estimate of his chances -- the Triple Crown is not in the bag yet. The competition is keen. Smarty & jockey Stewart Elliot will probably face a challenge of some sort - Purge, Rock Hard Ten, and Eddington are the realistic threats - and they will have to do things right to win. I think they will, but there's a saying in racing: "There's not a man alive, who's paid off the mortgage at 2-5." Have fun, and hopefully a toast to a deserving Triple Crown Winner!

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

One more try 

I'm off on a boat for two days, attempting to catch a cobia before they leave the inshore waters of South Carolina for the summer. This guy was bitten by the boat bug rather badly. The result is a colorful story with riffs on buyer's remorse and the perils of surfing on Ebay.
This time of year tends to bring to mind memories of Summer Camp and of lazing in the warm sunshine listening to the gentle slap of the river against the bottom of a boat. In my daydreams, I am back on the river, back in a boat, enjoying the company of good friends and cool beverages.

Now, I'm not the type to daydream anything half-way. I need to feed my daydream. I need to make it a little more concrete and detailed. I need a specific boat to include in my little mental painting. This leads me to eBay, the site where daydreams become reality.
Heh. It's quite a tale. Anyway, I hope reality has a nice fish on the line for me this week. I'll be back for the big race.

Belmont roundup 

Smarty Watch reports that the big horse "will be treated like a visiting head of state today when no fewer than three state police departments assist in his transport from Philadelphia Park to Belmont Park." Shoot, as indicated in the post below, why not make him our own head of state?

For the historically minded, trainer Jon Veitch reflects on Alydar's battle with Affirmed. Rick Cushing notes that trainer John Servis was watching closely when Seattle Slew was preparing for his victory in the Belmont Stakes. Jim O'Donnell makes the obligatory comparisons to Secretariat, aided by observations from Big Red's owner Penny Chenery.

Three horses have a chance to ruin Saturday's expected coronation. Horses can progress quickly in the spring of the three year old season, and anyone expecting to beat Smarty will have to have improved a ton since the Preakness. Rock Hard Ten put in a brilliant workout on Monday, and has been getting better handling himself at the gate in the morning. Trainer Mark Hennig has been trying to get Eddington more focused, with encouraging results. Both of these horses are have had racing enthusiasts drooling over their potential this spring, and may be about to show it. In addition, Purge was just learning the game when dusted by Smarty in Arkansas, and his impressive performance in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont two Saturday's ago shows he's come a long way since then.

But so has Smarty Jones. For today's last word, we go to Smarty's trainer, who made an interesting off-the-record comment on the eve of the Derby.
One day in Louisville, talking with a reporter he trusted, Servis said he'd level if the tape recorder was turned off. That's when Servis said: "In three races, they're going to be talking about a colt who's very, very special."
Wish I'd been a fly on the wall for that!

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The extent of my politics 

From You-know-who's store:

Click to enlarge

The decline of the Mexican League 

Baseball in Mexico is in horrible shape, according to this story in the Arizona Republic. "In Mexico City, population 20 million, about 800 spectators took in the two-time defending champion Red Devils game against the Yucatan Lions on a recent Friday night. There were so few people in 25,000-seat Foro Sol Park that vendors waited individually on fans and Yucatan players cringed at unobstructed insults about their mothers."

Baseball was once the dominant sport in Mexico, significant enough that Americans would cross over the border to play on a Mexican League team. Salaries of foreign players are now capped at $10,000 per season, and the best Mexican players "seldom make more than $20,000." Why the decline? The story mentions several factors. The main culprits appear to be limited discretionary income, and an increase in the popularity of soccer.
Manuel Martinez , a publicist for the Tigers, said professional baseball faces a stark reality.

"The average Mexican makes 70 pesos ($6.25) a day, and we have 54 home games a year," Martinez said. "There will be a home soccer game once every two weeks. They will save for the 60 pesos to go to the one soccer game, but there's not enough money to go around for so many baseball games. We've tried everything we can think of, like nights when women get in free, 20-peso ticket nights and many other promotions, but we're running up against the economic realities here."

Nesting since 9/11 

Travel has decreased since 9/11. So how are people using the funds saved by taking fewer vacations? This story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch suggests that people are pouring money into the ground. An in-ground pool, that is. "National figures show the number of backyard pools has increased by about 20 percent in the past five years." Pools aren't cheap though. The article reports costs of $40,000 and higher. Pools are estimated to increase the value of a home by 8 to 15%, so for higher-priced homes they may be a sensible investment for people who like to swim.

Causes and Consequences of the Oil Shock of 2004 

That's the title of a short essay by Professor James Hamilton, who wrote the seminal paper on the effects of oil shocks on the economy. It's a succinct and sober analysis of the present situation in the world oil market, and belongs on the commentary page of a major newspaper. The major points: 1. This is not a classic supply shock: oil production has increased, but not sufficiently to offset increases in demand driven by economic growth, particularly in Asia. 2. Current oil prices look ominous in comparison to prices last fall, but are only 15% higher than prices last spring. Price "spikes" such as this have not led to significant downturns in the economy in the past. 3. US policies on the supply side need to change (a view that I share): "The reduction in the number of refineries and the proliferation of legally required gasoline formulations raise costs and greatly reduce the competitiveness of individual markets, making the gasoline price mark-up over crude costs unacceptably vulnerable to small supply disruptions. Easing the rules for new refinery construction, as proposed in the energy plan that President Bush submitted to Congress in 2001 but on which the U.S. Senate has yet to act, and agreeing on a single nation-wide standard for gasoline formulation, are clearly important steps that need to be taken."

That's the bottom line, but I recommend you read the entire essay. Thanks to Ron Johnson for the link.