Friday, July 31, 2009

Cargo Cult Moneyball?

In re: Jack's post below, I think I see the twilight of the current Pirates squad similarly: Tentative hope that the minor league prospects they've gathered in exchange for basically all of their experienced major league talent will amount to something in a few seasons; some wistfulness at seeing stalwarts like Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson go; a sense that the big-league Bucs themselves are going to be excruciating to watch for a couple years while they send in the Bixlers and, presumably, hope that the economic clime depresses the going rate for a veteran free agent middle infielder. (I mean, by all accounts their current starting second baseman, and I mean this with all possible respect to Delwyn Young, isn't actually a second baseman.)

One of the depressing-er things about following the Pirates through years like this one and last is that for about the last two-thirds of the season the only news about the team worth following are the kinds of roster transactions that fans of good teams only have to subsist on during the offseason. (Go Steelers signing Heath Miller to a contract extension wooooo!) You end up having to root for the team's front office executive and a network of coaches, scouts and other talent evaluators whose number and roles you only dimly understand, since their evaluation of the talent of various prospects completely trumps anything that the actual team is doing; not fun.

I had this whole thing ready comparing Pirates GM Neal Huntington's current enterprise to Richard Feynman's concept of "cargo cult science", a good stretchy analogy (it's at least been extended to software engineering too, awfully aptly in my experience) for organizations mimicking the superficial appearance of a process without understanding or applying the principles that actually make that process work. In this case, the process would have been that of trading away all the current veteran players for prospects in order to enrich the minor-league system and organically produce a talented, young big league team around say 2011. But I think Huntington and his people get the process. What I actually worry about, especially because "his people" apparently are basically the same network of scouts and talent evaluators in place under the previous, objectively terrible management team, is that the Pirates organization doesn't have the chops to select and develop players well enough for this plan to work. So I'm thinking that Pirates Reboot 2K9 is less like a cargo cult building an airfield and possibly more like, say, an Eastern Bloc state circa 1970 producing consumer goods. I guess there's still the possibility that the team's ownership is acting cheaply and in bad faith but that wouldn't be any fun to contemplate at all. In the here and now, meanwhile, the Pirates' series this weekend against the Washington Nationals -- who are in even laster place than last-place Pittsburgh -- should help clarify whether or not the best roster you can buy for $30 million is the worst in Major League Baseball. I see ominous signs of a 2006 repeat.

Incidentally, you can add John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny to the list of present or past major leaguers in the Pirates organization who have been traded since the article Jack linked to went up. Those who don't recognize those names at all can continue to wonder why we care in the first place...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I think we all knew this day was coming, but damn, it really sinks in that the Pirates are rebuilding in earnest again. That is one thin-looking lineup while they wait for the double-A kids to grow up.

Incremental Veggie-tism

This Washington Post article (by Ezra Klein) lays out a really cogent case for avoiding meat on environmental grounds and -- more interesting to me, in a way -- an argument for incrementally eating less meat that I don't think you see that often. I don't follow the issue all that closely, but my sense is that vegetarianism is usually fit into this much less negotiable moral framework, where you have to go all-out, or at least where cutting out one meat-meal a week doesn't have a lot of value.

Of course, I've already started cutting back on meat seriously but partially, and there's nothing not to like about a moderate behavioral-policy proposal that you've already checked off of your list.

Remind me some time to look up relatively how much energy eggs and dairy involve; I still plow through eggs and dairy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Lookin' Good

Over dinner this evening at The Place (since 1971 -- out in Guilford -- outdoor fire-pit seafood joint in a somehow secluded spot across Route 1 from the Wal-Mart) with work friends Carmel and Joe among others, a photographer snapped some photos for potential use on the Connecticut department of tourism's website. Which is unremarkable, except that she had us sign a Model Release Form, which cracked me up slightly. Model Release Form! Did I think I would ever sign one of these? Especially on a night where I hadn't even put my contacts in? I think I get to technically call myself a "model" now, even after having that Butterfingers sundae at Friendly's right afterward. Hell, you could be looking at the possible future face of Connecticut tourism, for all I know.

The larger point is that you should order the clam special.

* * * * *
Less happily, I read this thing about people texting while driving today and am I angry about it, by which I kind of mean people in general. I haven't lost this much faith in humanity since I figured out who Jon and Kate were. Which was like three weeks ago, so it's a good thing I've had all this vacation time to keep me happy.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Speed Scrabble

Julia (Stu's wife) taught this at the game night I hosted last night. Better than regular Scrabble, I think! And it's more flexible: works really well with 5 or 6 players, play as long as you want, don't need the board, can succeed without BS two-letter Scrabble words, etc.

1. Everyone takes seven letter tiles, face down in front of them. You don't need the board.

2. All other letter tiles are placed face down on the table.

3. At the word "go," everyone turns over their letters and tries to arrange them such that all the letters are used.

4. The first player to accomplish this says "go" again; everyone takes an additional letter; repeat.

5. You can rearrange all of your letters at any time, but you can't trade anything in.

6. When no letters are left in the center, the first player to use all their letters says "done."

Scoring is easy: you want fewer points, and you get one point for every unused letter you have left. There's a minus-two-point bonus for consensus pick of best word on the table. (Other scoring variations are easy to come by -- bonuses for longer words is the one Julia mentioned.)

Woohoo, game night. Now it's on to Narragansett for the weekend!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Vacating the Premises

To further a pattern of summery blog quietude, I'm leaving early tomorrow for a long weekend in San Francisco with Kyle, where sights will be seen, friends will be visited, and the temperature should be noticeably lower than in suddenly 90-plus degree Portland. Should be a good time; I'm looking forward to another mini-trip that I can put off blogging about until I forget all the details.

I don't feel like wracking my brain to figure out how to work in a reference to "Goodtime Slim, Uncle Doobie, and the Great Frisco Freakout", so I'll just put a link to the Simpsons Archive page for the relevant episode. Goodtime Slim, Uncle Doobie, and the Great Frisco Freakout.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Egad, a Cabbage Feed

Since I just ate it for dinner, I'll note that this New York Times recipe for stewed lentils with cabbage has been a reliably delicious go-to for Kyle and me over the past half-year. Other than the fact that eating it never makes us want to eat less of it in the near future, the most magical part seems to be how savory the stew turns out despite the short list of stuff that goes into it -- onions, garlic, lentils, potatoes, bay leaf, chili. It keeps well for a couple of days (though we haven't tried freezing it) and is easy enough to throw together on a weeknight, so: Highly recommended. If you like to eat animal products and want more caloric content I further recommend Kyle's innovation, which is to top each serving with an ounce of freshly grated Romano cheese. It's habit-forming stuff.

(The NY Times link above requires registration, so here's a link to the recipe on Epicurious that doesn't.)

Sunday, July 12, 2009


My college friend Tom gets his picture in the paper. America needs more civic morse-code proofreaders!

Rendezvous with Turkey Rama

Kyle's pad continues to lack Internet access but we're here in one of Newberg, OR's fine coffee shops getting our caffeine and web fixes simultaneously. This has its advantages (tasty Mexican mocha), disadvantages (have to get properly dressed and go there), and vantages that are not obviously ad- or dis- (one of the nattering teenagers sitting directly behind Kyle declaring, "I don't get excited when people I don't know have babies because then I would be excited all the time"), but on balance it's a comfortable enough way to pass a Sunday morning. Or Sunday afternoon if you go by the clock rather than the number of hours that have passed since you woke up.

Anyway, the centerpiece of this weekend was McMinnville's 49th annual Turkey Rama, which boasts the world's largest turkey BBQ. And it must be noted that barbecued turkey is extremely moist and delicious. Kyle and I have been trying to freeze more of our fertile home region's agro-bounty this summer in order to have it around through the rainy drudgery of winter, so our main reason for going was to pick up three barbecued half turkeys which we picked apart and put in eight-ounce increments into freezer baggies once we got home. The event itself, held at a small community park, is a pleasant enough way to spend a little bit of Saturday as well: The turkey meals served with preprocessed sides on paper plates, picnic-style; the community music and entertainment; the work-release prisoners in orange jumpers unloading the Safeway truck behind the BBQ area. The entertainment in particular defined the mood for me. When we got there a mostly gray-haired community band was playing the usual mix of pop / showtune / patriotic song medleys, which given my formative years in marching and concert bands kind of speaks to me; at any rate, compared to Kyle, I have a reasonably well developed ability to recognize the tune of (say) "Strike up the Band" or suss out the melody of "This Land Is Your Land" from a heavily Sousafied arrangement. The band was followed by a short Matrix-themed demonstration by a local children's martial arts group (the kids defeated the black-suited agents pretty handily), then a loose but pretty good jazz trio consisting of two [sic] teenagers ("Due to a miscommunication on my part, our bassist is not here"). Kyle and I ate our turkey meals, we took a stroll past the playground area and through the frisbee golf course, I described a weird dream I had about a hyperintelligent bees' nest communicating through spookily precise geometric arrangements of insects; typical date. Good times. Lots of turkey was had by all.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Montréal Place-Name Addendum

Sarah reminded me that the large commercial thoroughfare we spent time on is St. Lawrence Boulevard; or, to the Frenchophones, Boulevard Saint-Laurent. (Further info via Wikipedia.) The longtime smoked-meat shop is called Shwartz's. Also, we had lunch there with Sarah's cousins, not family friends. And, while I'm at it, we borrowed a Toyota Camry for the trip, not a Corolla.

Phew! Blog is back to 100% accurate now.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Poetry-Related Criticality

I review I wrote of a book of poems is up on the Florida Book Review website. Enjoy.

(I'm still on vacation mode, so don't expect a whole lotta stuff from me for the rest of the month.)

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Buggin' Out For The Holiday

Like most of this blog's humble contributors and following (read: my immediate family) I'm departing very shortly for the family homestead in Pittsburgh for a slightly lengthened long weekend. So I'll sign off for Independence Day, very briefly, with... Giant ant's nest! Awesome!