Friday, January 31, 2014

Bastiat On Baseball

We are in the closing weeks of the Hot Stove League with pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training in just three weeks and THC has neglected to make HSL posts.  Let's remedy that with a post combining baseball and economics.

Courtesy of a post on EconLog last summer, THC ran across a brilliant piece on Fungoes, a St Louis Cardinal sabermetrics blog.  The brilliance is not so much in the conclusion, pointing out that the sacrifice bunt is often not a wise strategy but in the author tying it directly to Frederic Bastiat's 1850 essay That Which Is Seen And That Which Is Unseen, a work that is legendary in the field of economics.
Bastiat was a French economist who did not play baseball but his essay is best known for the parable of the broken window which the author of the Fungoes piece describes:

While at first glance, a shopkeeper’s broken window appears to a be boon to the economy, insofar as it gives the glazier work (that which is seen), the reality is that the shopkeeper could’ve spent his money on something that left him materially better off (that which is unseen).

In Bastiat's essay he goes on to point out the in repairing the window the shopkeeper has spent six francs "and has neither more nor less than he had before, the enjoyment of a window" and then if "we suppose the window not to have been broken, he would have spent six francs on shoes, and would have had at the same time the enjoyment of a pair of shows and of a window".

Therefore society "has lost the value of the broken window" leading to the general conclusion that "society loses the value of things which are uselessly destroyed . . . to break, to spoil, to waste, is not to encourage national labour".

In Bastiat's example it is the shoemaker who is unseen and suffers and his point is that we need to take adequate time to see both what is unseen, which often is more subtle and takes more time, as well as what is seen.  In particular, his essay lays out the problems with public policy when the unseen is not taken into account.  

So, what's this have to do with the sacrifice bunt?  As Fungoes points out:

. . . one of the reasons that it’s difficult for fans and managers to see any problem with it is that they focus on that which is seen: in the event of a “successful” bunt, a runner moves one base closer to home  
(Mike Matheny, Cardinals Manager)
The problem with the bunt isn’t that it might marginally improve the team’s situation. But rather, it’s the opportunity forgone, since that advancing doesn’t happen in a vacuum or without cost. And it’s the cost that is the unseen part  . . . the reality is that outs are a precious commodity. When a team sacrifice bunts, it virtually guarantees an out

This means that the team forgoes the possibility of something better happening, such as reaching base. In the case of Jay, who has a career .352 OBP, those odds are decent — or at least more decent than the sure odds of a sac bunt. And that’s the reason why no sacrifice bunt by the Cardinals this year has positively impacted the team’s win expectancy.  
It was only with the development of the analytic tools of sabermetrics since the 1980s that the unseen aspects of the sacrifice bunt have become clearer and quantified.

So let's play ball and apply some sabermetric thinking to public policy.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Making Stuff

Some entertaining gifs from Twisted Sifter.  Below you can see pop tarts, though if you go to the site you might find that the making of hot dogs may not be to your taste.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Train Kept A Rollin'

Time for a little Rock n Roll archaeology.  Until very recently, THC assumed The Train Kept A 'Rollin by The Yardbirds (1965) was a cover of an old blues tune (also later covered by Aerosmith in the 1970s.). The tune was originally written and performed by Tiny Bradshaw and his band in 1951 as a rhythm and blue songs but sounds much different than the version by The Yardbirds.  It turns out there is a missing link - a completely new and revolutionary, for its time, arrangement by Johnny Burnette and the Rock 'n Roll Trio in 1956.

If you are not familiar with the history of rock it may be hard to appreciate just how different this recording sounded for its time.  With the aggressive vocal and, more importantly, the thundering bottom and the fuzz tone sounding guitar, there was simply nothing else like it with the combination of rockabilly and blues.  And just guessing here, but THC does not think the song was really about a train.

The song was released as a single from the Rock 'n Roll Trio's debut album to an unreceptive audience and failed to hit the pop charts.  Maybe it was just too far ahead of its time.

Let's do a little more archaeology and carry the story backwards and forwards.  Tiny Bradshaw had a long career as a bandleader until his death in 1958.  In 1934 he provided the young Ella Fitzgerald with her first big singing opportunity.

The trio consisted of Johnny Burnette and his brother, along with a friend whom they met when they were all amateur boxers.  The Burnettes were from Memphis, like so many of the pioneering rock musicians, living for awhile in the same housing project as Elvis Presley and his parents. The failure to generate any hit singles led to the breakup of the band in the fall of 1956 and Johnny went off to California to seek fortune and fame in the music business.

Burnette struggled, finding his only success, with the teen pop hit You're Sixteen in 1958, a song which became a hit for the second time when covered by Ringo Starr in the 1970s.  For years, he tried to find a follow up hit but his quest was cut short when he died, at the age of thirty, in a 1964 boating accident on a California lake.
You're Sixteen was not written by Burnette.  The composers were Robert and Richard Sherman, best known for their songwriting for Walt Disney as they created most of the songs for Mary Poppins, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Jungle Book and the Disney theme park tune which still triggers dread for many a parent, It's A Small World (After All).

Monday, January 27, 2014

Bernie Mac

Comedian Bernie Mac Dies at 50
In 2000 THC and THC Jr went to see The Original Kings of Comedy, a concert film directed by the often irritating, frequently infuriating, and occasionally brilliant (sometimes all at the same time) director, Spike Lee (for the brilliance, see Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X, He Got Game, Inside Man, 25th Hour), which showcased four comedians, none of whom THC was familiar with at the time.

THC came away, and remains, a fan of Steve Harvey and Cedric The Entertainer but the guy who, for me, towered over everyone was the closing act, Bernie Mac.  When he started THC was a bit taken aback by the language but then got into the character he was playing and the laughs started coming.  Both in his live act and in The Bernie Mac Show, a wonderful TV series which ran for 5 seasons (2001-6) on Fox, much of his humor was based around his raising of two young nieces and a nephew abandoned by his drug-addled sister (though the language was cleaned up for TV!).  No matter, how rough and tough he blustered you knew that love was behind it. Like Ralph Kramden but with kids.

Bernard Jeffrey McCullough was born on the South Side of Chicago in 1957 and raised by a strict mother until she died of cancer when Bernie was 16.  In 1977 he married his high-school sweetheart, Rhonda (and stayed married to her) and they had a daughter.  Bernie worked a lot of jobs while pursuing his dream of a career in comedy, finally beginning to achieve some success in his early 30s.  With growing success at comedy clubs, at Def Comedy Jam and with the Kings of Comedy his career took off and expanded to movies (appearing in 30, including Ocean's Eleven and its sequels and one of my favorites, Guess Who, in which Bernie plays a father who is horrified to find his daughter has brought home a white boyfriend) and TV.  Chicago remained his home throughout.

Unfortunately, Bernie Mac had a chronic lung disease, sarcoidosis, which was in remission for several years before returning and he died of complications from the disease and pneumonia in 2008, at the age of 50.  The death of entertainers, even those THC is a fan of, rarely effects me, but I was greatly saddened by Bernie Mac's early passing.  There was something very warm, very sincere and very human about him.

Here's a little taste of Bernie from I Ain't Scared Of You:

Below are some clips from The Original Kings of Comedy, The Bernie Mac Show, Ocean's 11 and we'll start with Bernie's appearance on the Chris Rock Show.

From The Original Kings of Comedy:
In the Bernie Mac Show, Bernie would close by talking directly with America.  You can watch here, here and here.
And finally,  a little Ocean's Eleven, that is, if it doesn't interfere with your social agenda.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Where Are All The Uninsured?

(Latest Post in the Healthcare series)

That's the question Megan McArdle asks in a recent post, noting an analysis concluding that 65 to 90% of the 2.2 million buying health insurance on the exchanges to date were previously insured, with most of them losing their coverage due to the provisions of Obamacare.  In other words, very few of the newly covered are the uninsured we heard so much about from the proponents of the legislation with some estimates that the percentage of previously uninsured signing up is only 11% of the total to date.  So, when you hear the Administration trumpeting the total number of policies purchased on the exchange keep in mind that it consists primarily of people who lost their coverage in the first place due to the Administration's policies.  Under different circumstances this would be called a "scam" and the perpetrators prosecuted for consumer fraud..

As a side note, it turns out there is a new wrinkle that will cause many to lose their existing coverage.  If you are a small family business with a group plan covering your family members it is now non-conforming and will be cancelled even if it meets every other substantive requirement for coverage under Obamacare and you will be forced onto the individual insurance market.  So much for helping family businesses!

Megan speculates that there are two possible explanations for the missing uninsured:

That leaves us with two possibilities: First, would-be applicants may simply be waiting until March. They’ve gone without insurance a long time; why not wait a few more months and save on premiums?

The second possibility is more troubling: There may be something seriously wrong with our understanding of who the uninsured are, and what they are willing and able to buy in the way of insurance. I don’t know exactly what the fault may be in our understanding. But if the numbers stay this low, I’d say we need to reassess the state of our knowledge about the uninsured -- and the vast program we created to cover them.

I lean towards the second explanation because of what we already know about the insured.  The number is notoriously hard to pin down but most estimates are that it is between 40 and 50 million.  But what is more important are the component parts of that estimate.

According to most analysts the uninsured fall into four roughly equal (about 25% each) buckets:

  • Illegal immigrants.
  •  People already eligible for Medicaid or CHIP (children's health program) but who, for unknown reasons, have failed to sign up.
  •  People, mostly young adults, who can afford insurance but have chosen not to purchase it.

  • People who want to be insured, cannot afford it or otherwise obtain coverage and are not otherwise eligible for Medicaid or CHIP.

And one other wrinkle; the calculation of the number of uninsured includes those who at any time during a calendar year did not have insurance, even if they later obtained it.  It is believed that a substantial portion of the total uninsured are only temporarily uninsured.

In other words, the number of uninsured that most of us are concerned about may be less than 25% of the bigger 40-50 million number that has been thrown around for years.

That something is drastically wrong with the uninsured estimates is shown by the experience with the high-risk pools.  You'll remember that one of the claims about the urgency for Obamacare was the number of people who lost coverage through job loss or other circumstances and could not get coverage due to pre-existing conditions, a number estimated in various places at between 2 and 4 million.  Because of the perceived urgency Obamacare established a high-risk pool immediately, rather than waiting till 2014 when the rest of the legislation kicked in.  THC has looked and found different figures on this but even the highest show that only about 225,000 people enrolled in the high-risk pool (though the per person cost turned out to be double the Administration's estimate!).  Where were the rest?  Did they really exist?

Has this entire fiasco been triggered by bad estimates abetted by the misuse of those estimates to create a crisis atmosphere to justify passing a law under which the Department of Health & Human Services estimates that up to 93 million Americans may lose their existing insurance, and, in many cases, end up spending substantially more out of pocket for their new coverage and possibly losing their existing doctors?

If it is true that the real number of long-term uninsured is somewhere less than 10 million here is my proposal.

  • Budget $5,000 for coverage per person or $20,000 for a family of four.  That's $50 billion a year.
  • The 2013 Federal budget is approximately $3.6 trillion.
  • Appoint THC as a one-person commission to cut $25 billion from defense spending and $25 billion from non-defense spending (1.4% of total) to pay for the $50 billion in coverage.
  • Repeal Obamacare in its entirety.
  • Focus on targeted reforms to create uniform tax treatment for health insurance and open up competitive markets for catastrophic insurance and create transparency in all medical pricing.

Friday, January 24, 2014

On The Beach

From our recent trip to Florida.  This is on the beach on Captiva Island looking at the sunset on the Gulf of Mexico.  Captiva and Sanibel are off the coast by Fort Myers.  We stay at the Tween Waters Inn just across the road from the beach.  Below the video is a shot of the pulsating beach scene during the day.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Leonardo's Resume

As part of its continuing commitment to improve the career prospects of its readers, THC Management Consulting LLC presents the latest installment in its management and career series.

Below you will find excerpts from the resume of the 30-year old Leonardo da Vinci as submitted to Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan, in 1482.LeonardoResumeLarge.jpg(Courtesy of Leonardo3 from Hoepli edition 1894-1094 –

Some excerpts (for the full transcript see

“Most Illustrious Lord, Having now sufficiently considered the specimens of all those who proclaim themselves skilled contrivers of instruments of war, and that the invention and operation of the said instruments are nothing different from those in common use: I shall endeavor, without prejudice to any one else, to explain myself to your Excellency, showing your Lordship my secret, and then offering them to your best pleasure and approbation to work with effect at opportune moments on all those things which, in part, shall be briefly noted below.

1. I have a sort of extremely light and strong bridges, adapted to be most easily carried, and with them you may pursue, and at any time flee from the enemy; and others, secure and indestructible by fire and battle, easy and convenient to lift and place. Also methods of burning and destroying those of the enemy.

2. I know how, when a place is besieged, to take the water out of the trenches, and make endless variety of bridges, and covered ways and ladders, and other machines pertaining to such expeditions.

7. I will make covered chariots, safe and unattackable, which, entering among the enemy with their artillery, there is no body of men so great but they would break them. And behind these, infantry could follow quite unhurt and without any hindrance.

10. In times of peace I believe I can give perfect satisfaction and to the equal of any other in architecture and the composition of buildings public and private; and in guiding water from one place to another.

As the blogger at Cenedella comments:  

What a fantastic piece of personal marketing! There’s none of his famous backwards-mirror writing here — this letter was intended to be read and to persuade.

You’ll notice he doesn’t recite past achievements. He doesn’t mention the painting of the altarpiece for the Chapel of St Bernard; he doesn’t provide a laundry list of past bombs he’s built; he doesn’t cite his prior employment in artist Andrea di Cione’s studio.

No, he does none of these things, because those are about his achievements, and not about the Duke’s needs.

Instead, he sells his prospective employer on what he can do for him.

Now imagine being the Duke of Milan and receiving this magnificent letter / resume from the young wunderkind of Florence. The specific descriptives paint a wonderful picture (that is, if you’re a Renaissance Duke) of siege engines and bombardments and mortars and trench-draining and bridges to defeat the enemy. You can almost imagine the scenes that ran through the Duke’s head as he held this letter in his hands and read through Leonardo da Vinci’s bold statements of capabilities.

So take a tip from Leo and sharpen up that resume! 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Golden Brown

"Never a frown, with Golden Brown"

From The Stranglers (1982) featuring lead harpsichord and an unusual, for rock, varying time signature of 6/8 and 7/8.  The song was a hit in many European countries, though not in the U.S.  The Stranglers started as a UK-based punk band in the mid-70s and are still making music today.  Here is the band looking rather dissolute and dissipated in their video.

The song was also featured on the sound track of Guy Ritchie's entertaining 2000 film, Snatch, featuring many British actors with unintelligible accents, a great cameo by the late Dennis Farina and Brad Pitt stealing the show as a Gypsy boxer who does not say an understandable word (his dialogue not even rising to the level of unintelligible) during the entire movie.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Via Dark Roasted Blend:

Spectacularly located on a cliff side in northeast Turkey near the Black Sea, today Sumela is an abandoned relic of 2500 years of cultural history and fifteen centuries of religious heritage.  The Greek Orthodox monastery, founded in the late 4th century AD is about 25 miles from the port of Trapezus, as it was known in classical times, Trebizond, as known during the centuries of Byzantine rule and today as Trabzon.History, Travel, Culture, Photography Greeks first came to the Pontic shores, settling Trapezus, in the 6th century BC.  By the first century BC the area was under Roman rule.  As Christianity became recognized as the official religion of the Empire in the 4th century AD, monasteries began to be established.  Sumela went through many cycles of construction, decay and renewal in its history.  The first major reconstruction was at the direction of Belisarius, the leading general of the Emperor Justinian who had led the reconquest of North Africa, Sicily and Italy during the brief Roman revival of the western empire during the mid-6th century.

Its most famous period, and the one from which most of its buildings date, was during the Empire of Trebizond (1204-1461).  When the Fourth Crusade went awry in 1204 and the Western Crusaders sacked Constantinople instead of reconquering Jerusalem the Byzantine Empire was splintered with the Latin Crusaders occupying Constantinople and three Byzantine successor states arising of which Trebizond was one.Even though the Empire of Nicea succeeded in ousting the Latins from Constantinople and then absorbing the Despotate of Epirus it was never able to subdue Trebizond which finally fell to the Turks in 1461, eight years after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople.  Even after the conquest, the privileges and rights of the Sumela monastery were preserved under the protection of the Ottoman sultans and most of the Greeks who inhabited the south shore of the Black Sea remained under their rule.

The Monastery continued to operate and preserve a vibrant religious heritage for the Greek population of Trebizond until the early 20th century.  It was only in the wake of World War One that things changed.  Turkey was defeated and under the Treaty of Sevres in 1920 it was partitioned with the Allies occupying Constantinople and large "zones of influence" being granted to Italy, France and Greece.  A new Turkish nationalist movement arose under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Attaturk which was implacably opposed to the terms of Sevres and began mobilizing an army of resistance.  At the same time the Greek government decided to attempt toHistory, Travel, Culture, Photography reestablish a Greek hegemony across Asia Minor and its armies advanced from its zone on the Aegean Coast of Turkey onto the central plateau almost reaching Ankara.  The Turkish armies under Attaturk counterattacked and forced the Greeks to retreat and then threw them out of their zone of influence.  The other Allies lost their appetite for fighting to retain their zones of influence and today's Turkey was created by the Treaty of Lausanne (1923).  Under the terms of the Treaty there was an exchange of populations between Turkey and Greece with one and a half million Greeks leaving Turkish lands where their ancestors had lived for twenty five centuries and 500,000 Turks being expelled from Greece.  As part of the exchange, 350,000 Greeks left Trebizond and the Sumela Monastery was abandoned.

The departing monks were not allowed to bring any possessions and buried their most precious icons which were rescued during a secret 1930 visit by one of the monks - they now reside in Greece.

In 2010, for the first time since 1923, the Turkish government allowed the Orthodox liturgy to be performed at Sumela and the government is now funding restoration work for the site which has become a tourist attraction.History, Travel, Culture, Photography