Friday, March 30, 2007

Love letter in my inbox...

...this morning from John McCain's camp.

You've all heard about the controversial "emergency spending bill" for Iraq passed by Congress this week that provides $122 billion in spending but calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops starting next year.
Here's what you didn't hear or read about it in the national news:
"Last week, these pork-barrel spenders in the U.S. House of Representatives outdid themselves. Not only did they decide that they will dictate the future course of our military action in Iraq, they went even further by "buying" the extra votes necessary to pass this terrible, flawed legislation by adding more than $20 billion in wasteful spending. This bill would fund things like $74 million for peanut storage, $124 million for the shrimp industry and $25 million for spinach producers. What this funding is doing in an emergency war spending bill is a complete mystery to me!"

Mike Spence spoke out on the House floor about it. Here's his take:
"This emergency war funding bill provides for $124.3 billion in spending, all of which has been designated as some form of emergency spending so as to avoid budget constraints.

"However, only $111.3 billion is actual emergency spending for the Global War on Terror.

"The remaining $13 billion is domestic spending. This amount exceeds the $6.5 billion rainy day fund that Republicans worked so hard last year to include in the budget, and in fact most of this $13 billion will not go toward meeting true emergency spending needs at all.

"Spinach, shrimp, peanuts and shellfish? That's not a war funding bill, that's the salad bar at Denny's."

Admittedly, Republicans did nothing to get rid of earmarks when they had the power. But, Democrats beat the Republicans at their own game in November by saying they'd dial down government spending and get rid of waste. Didn't take long for them to become proven liars, did it?

John McCain is/was/and has been the strongest voice in Congress about wasteful government spending. Won't you consider joining him today?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

On Planespotting

Yesterday, my interest reached fever pitch as a mysterious private plane flew from Gainesville to Lexington in the morning and then back again in the afternoon. Was it someone going to a horse auction? Was it some random visitor? Or was it Billy Donovan's agent? There certainly aren't many private planes travelling between Lex and Gainesville. On a day when rumors were flying about contracts, hundreds of us were fixated and fascinated by this picture on our computer screens. It was like tracking Santa Claus.
Life on the message boards. Most of the conversation is pretty unintelligent, and different boards are worse than others. Some clever message board poster at The Cats Pause made this picture to sum up the intelligence of Kentucky fans on the message board:

On this map you can see the world as we see it. My favorite part is Billy Donovan's often-sighted Honda Accord rental car that is the joke every year. On the map it's still parked at a hotel in Morehead.

Today, the only thing worth noting are the increase in private flights around the country on their way to Atlanta to enjoy the Final 4.

The contract is on Billy D.'s table, all he has to do is sign. A very happy day will be when we track UK's charter plane officially picking him up!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"To Catch an I.D. Thief"

Finally saw a good television documentary that wasn't on PBS. Dateline NBC is doing a series on "To Catch an I.D. Thief," and it's quite interesting. Identity theft affects more Americans than the kidnappings and sexual predation that usually gets the media attention. The NBC series is tracking exactly what happens.

They went somewhere on IRC and observed the black market of ID thieves, selling credit card information and also "drop" locations you could have your packages delivered to. It also showed who is being scammed:

Lonely internet users who are convinced that the person they're chatting with is going to marry them and be the man or woman of their dreams.
Like this guy, Jeff Ball.
He was convinced the woman he's been shipping packages to owns several stores overseas and will not only reimburse him for the $40,000 in shipping he's paid (he's tapped out his savings) but also marry him (he already has a wife). He doesn't realize he's caught in a scam. He's slightly... off. You can read the show's transcript here.

Essentially, people are using stolen credit cards to buy online merchandise (from companies that won't ship overseas) and shipping them to his address in the name of a woman. He is re-packaging them and shipping them all over the world. He thinks it's all a legit business for his "fiance" and has no idea that it's all with stolen credit cards. Chris Hansen of Dateline bursts his bubble and next week Dateline is going to use Jeff's information to track down this mysterious "woman" kingpin of an international fraud ring.

It was sad to see the lonely people being preyed upon in the show. Several women are convinced a man in England they met in a chat room is going to marry them, so they're shipping all this merchandise he has shipped to their addresses overseas to him. It's pretty sad, but very interesting. While not as good or well-done as a PBS Frontline show, it was still pretty good. Can't wait til next week.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

An Op-Ed on Farm Subsidies

For my Economics of Government class I have to do a 1-page article review once a week. My article this week is from the WSJ and is entitled Washington Harvest (sorry, subscription required to read). This is one worth talking about. Bush is trying to do a good thing, but Congress just won't get rid of useless, harmful spending. Sorry if there are some grammatical errors, we don't have to proofread these too heavily for class. Below is my paper:

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal on March 27 criticizes congress for passing more farm subsidies, some of which appear to go right to the pockets of politicians and Washington bureaucrats who do little to no work on their farmland. Currently, farm subsidies can go to farmers who earn up to $2.5 million in adjusted gross income, meaning that some rich farmers are further heavily subsidized by tax dollars. President Bush has proposed limiting the eligibility cap to $200,000 but is facing staunch criticism from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

According to IRS data, 276 citizens of Washington, D.C. filed an IRS Schedule F stating that they received income from “actively participating” in their farms and 80 of these reported AGI of over $200,000. While the identity of these farmers is unknown, one can speculate that high-income earners living in Washington D.C. are likely part of the political establishment. Only one senator has been honest about it, and supports reform. 38,000 such farmers around the country received $400 million in farm subsidies to further supplement their incomes. The WSJ calls Bush’s proposal “reducing farm welfare for the rich.” The WSJ also points out that for cotton farmers alone, the subsidies on average equal 50 percent of the value of all cotton sold for the year. This means that cotton farmers receive a subsidy of 50 percent of their revenue in addition to profits from selling cotton.

While Democrats in congress often harp on income inequality and propose transferring money from the rich to the poor, it appears that many are transferring taxpayer money to themselves in the form of farm subsidies. The special-interest legislation of farm subsidies is intended to spread costs out widely across the population while the benefits go to a relative few. The farm lobby has successfully captured rents in Congress by lobbying politicians who own farmland. These special interest farming groups have very little interest in making the economy more efficient or income distribution more “fair.” Instead, they have created an inefficient system in which the politicians they capture are allowed to drink from the trough of subsidies that farmers have succeeded in capturing for themselves.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Wright Era

While Billy Donovan is Target #1 for Mitch Barnhardt, it sounds like Jay Wright is Target #2. While there are rumors of a strong chance of Donovan coming to UK, I think Barnhardt and UK might be better off to sign Jay Wright.

1. Wright is cheaper. UK paid Tubby an increasing scale that put him over $2 million this past year plus a retention bonus. It's going to have to shell out upwards of $3 million for Donovan once we get into a bidding war with Florida's AD. $3 million is crazy.

2. Wright will be here longer. If Donovan proves he can win at both Florida and UK, then I think he naturally has to move on to the NBA or something else.

I haven't calculated Wright's score yet in my Tapp Coaching Ratings, but his #'s won't be too bad. He's sent several guys to the NBA in the last 7 years.

Wright is qualified, and is a winner. He took Hofstra from a 10-18 record to 26-5 and 2 straight NCAA berths. He also recruited and developed Speedy Claxton there.

He's rebuilt Villanova into a force. This was a "rebuilding" season for a team that earned a #1 seed last year and sent 2 guys to the NBA in the first round.

He graduates players. Every player that's stayed for 4 years has earned his degree. Neither Tubby nor Donovan can say that.

He worked at both Villanova and UNLV as an assistant from 1989-2004. He's seen a few things and studied a few coaches.

He worked as an assistant for USA Basketball. He's got a nice network there.

His teams' Pomeroy ratings for the past few seasons look great on both offense and defense. The man recruits and the players are exciting to watch run.

He's 46 years old. Has young kids. Does a lot of charity work.

He also has an economics degree.
What's not to like?

So, I support Jay Wright as the next coach of the Kentucky Wildcats. Bring it on!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Our neighbor got shot... so, let's throw a party!

This is today's phenomenon at Blair's Cove. They ordered a DJ from 97.5 FM, some pizza from Pizza Patron, and an inflatable playpen and threw a big party. I suppose it's a big PR stunt. The DJ is announcing on the air "Come see the beautifully renovated new floor plans!" My guess is that most people in Waco read the article about the woman being shot here yesterday, and didn't notice where it happened. There are lots of new customers in the office today, and it looks like they're signing leases.

I also suppose that several people in the complex may not even know that it happened. Had I not seen the news van and checked out the newspaper I wouldn't have known someone was shot.

We would have liked to have had a flyer on our door or something to the effect of:
"The incident that occurred yesterday was unfortunate, but we would like to reassure you that we have the safety of all our occupants in mind..."

But, there will be no such statement. Instead, I got a free slice of greasy pizza and Joni was told she couldn't use the laundry room because it was closed for the party. It's too bad that the shooting victim and her son can't enjoy the fun also.

Friday, March 23, 2007

There goes the neighborhood...

A 23-year old woman in our apartment complex was shot multiple times this afternoon. Her ex-boyfriend broke in and gunned her down. She's still alive but in serious condition.

I knew something was up when I got home from work and saw a news crew here, and saw the maintenance guys replacing a window. The apartment manager looked kind of angry the news van was in the parking lot.

When we chose to move into Blair's Cove, part of the appeal was the big security gate they had with electronic keypad. Turns out the gate didn't work, and that management had no plans to fix it. It's all just for show, and they pretty much lied to us about that. Thus, the 25-year old ex-boyfriend was able to come onto property, break in, and shoot his girlfriend.

Note to any of you thinking of moving to Blair's Cove: DON'T.
*Update* The security guard that the apartment manager sometimes uses was standing at the gate all yesterday evening, providing a sense of security. In the past, he has been seen after the police have been at the complex searching for someone. He would stand there and log license plate #'s.
However, as usual, I saw him leave at 9:45pm last night. What time of day do you think the shadiest characters usually come to the apartments? (here's the answer: usually after 9:45pm).

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Who I'm rooting for tonight

I'm rooting for a tiny rural school up in the mountains called June Buchanan, playing in the Kentucky State High School Basketball Tournament in Lexington. A real life Hoosiers story. "The difference is that Pippa Passes, population 297, is even smaller and far more remote that the town portrayed in "Hoosiers." Pippa Passes has no fast-food restaurants. The nearest Wal-Mart is in the next county, 30 minutes away." June Buchanan's enrollment: 74.

"If you live in Pippa Passes, the nearest Dairy Queen is eight miles away in Hindman, and the nearest Wal-Mart is 25 miles away in Hazard. But you can find the 14th Region boys' basketball champions -- the June Buchanan Crusaders -- right next door, practicing in their home gym on the campus of Alice Lloyd College."

2 of the head coach's relatives are in the starting lineup. It's a group of undersized kids who have been in school together since kindergarten. They open tonight against the #3 rated team in the tourny, Warren Central (enrollment: 1,105) at Rupp Arena. The crowd will be in the tens of thousands. But, the team from Pippa Passes is undaunted.

"We're not nervous," said Brock Childers, 18, a June Buchanan senior who said the team considers the chance to play in the state tournament a blessing. "Before the game and after the game, we give all the thanks to Him," Childers said. There are Bibles in the locker room.
"We all have rituals," he said. "Little Bible verses to give us motivation."

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Faith of Our Fathers

(Some of this post reminds me of the arrests made at Baylor yesterday).

Barack Obama seems to currently be the most outspoken candidate as far as his faith is concerned. From a FoxNews article yesterday:

"The son of a white mother from Kansas, who was skeptical of organized religion, and a Kenyan father, Obama was raised in a secular household. He spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, where he attended a Catholic school and a public school where he took Islamic religion classes.
He explained how his spiritual journey culminated that day he walked toward the altar at Trinity in a 2006 article on the United Church of Christ's Web site, writing that as he knelt beneath that cross, "I submitted myself to (God's) will and dedicated myself to discovering His truth."

The article points out that Obama's church is quite "activist:"
The roughly 8,000-member church has often championed liberal causes, from gay rights to opposition to the Iraq war. It also emphasizes its African roots and asks parishioners to accept the 'Black Value System,' which includes tenets such as 'commitment to the black family,' 'dedication to the pursuit of education' and one critics have seized upon --'disavowal of the pursuit of 'middleclassness.'"

Here is Trinity United Church of Christ's website:
There are 12 "precepts" that I think you'll find interesting, and a "10-Point Vision" that I find interesting, particularly the phrase "working commitment to economic parity."

I first heard about Obama's UCC connection because one of my classmate's mothers is an outspoken UCC pastor. You can read more about the UCC at Wikipedia. A denomination with about 1.2 million members which, from my understanding, comes from Reformed and Puritan roots but has become sort of a left-leaning mouthpiece over the years. One of their presidents wrote this letter affirming the rights of homosexuals to be ordained ministers of the church:

All of this has helped us discover that our church's concern for the rights and dignity of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people is not a break from our past, or a departure from Scripture, but is informed by our moments of greatest fidelity to the prophetic voice of the Bible and the Gospel's embrace for those who, with Christ, have been despised."

There's now also a UCC "Coalition for LGBT Concerns."

So, now we've seen where Obama comes from in his faith. I've already written a little of what I know about Hillary's background. Anyone have any insights on other candidates?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A UK Basketball post

Another early entry into the off-season gives us a few extra weeks to think about the future. Who will Tubby's new assistants be? What recruits will we sign? Will Randolph Morris sign with an NBA team?

We'll likely sign 2 coveted recruits to go with the 2 we've already signed and perhaps also sign KY Mr. Basketball Stephfon Pettigrew as a bonus.

My question: Does this matter?
My answer: Not necessarily. Tubby has signed stellar classes in the past with mediocre results in the win column. There is a negative correlation between Tubby's classes and UK's performance.

My evidence:
'98-99, Tubby's first class:
Tayshaun Prince -McD's AA
Desmond Allison
Jules Camara
J.P. Blevins

'98-99 record: 28-9. Lost in Elite 8 as a 3-seed. This team also had 5 of our top 7 players from the '98 championship team.

Allison was expelled from the university. Camara was suspended for a season and struggled. Blevins was a decent utility PG. Prince became an All-America candidate and NBA 1st-rounder, but never again got past the Sweet 16.

'99-00 class:
Keith Bogans - McD's AA
Marvin Stone- McD's AA
Nate Knight - JUCO

'99-00 record: 23-10. Lost in 2nd round as a 5-seed. These freshmen were supposed to combine with the previous group to deliver UK its 8th championship. Nate Knight transferred at the end of the year, and Stone transferred to Louisville midway through the next season. Bogans later became SEC POY and is currently in the NBA. He never reached a Final 4.

'00-01 class:
Jason Parker - Parade AA
Gerald Fitch
Erik Daniels
Cliff Hawkins
Marquis Estill - redshirted
Cory Sears

'00-01 record: 24-10. Lost in Sweet 16 as a 2-seed. Jason Parker later tore his ACL, then lost his mind and was kicked off the team. Sears transferred. The remaining freshmen eventually combined with Bogans for an Elite 8 run in 2003.

'01-02 class:
Rashaad Carruth -McD's AA, Parade AA
Chuck Hayes - Parade AA
Josh Carrier
Adam Chiles

'01-02 record: 22-10. Lost in Sweet 16 as a 4-seed. Carruth and Chiles were kicked off the team. Hayes played crucial part in '03 season. Josh Carrier was terrible.

'02-03 class: (no all-americans)
Kelenna Azubuike
Ravi Moss
Brandon Cote
Brandon Stockton

'02-03 record: 32-4. Lost in Elite 8 as a 1-seed. Cote transferred. Azubuike left early after his junior year. Moss was a great walk-on. Brandon Stockton was terrible.

'03-04 class: (no all-americans)
Sheray Thomas
Bobby Perry
Lukasz Orbzut
Shagari Alleyne

'03-04 record: 27-5. Lost in 2nd round as a #1 seed. Alleyne transferred after junior season. You saw how the others finished their careers last week.

My point is, there is a negative correlation between stellar recruiting classes and Tubby's winning %. The "great" players either transfer, go mental, or don't deliver titles. Patterson and Lucas might not solve our problems, especially if Randolph Morris leaves. We'll be back to 1999 or 2000 again. A 2-seed or a 5-seed with "potential."

Monday, March 19, 2007

Justin Timberlake does it again...

Whoever writes or arranges his music needs to be given several Grammys. "What Goes Around" is the greatest song on the radio right now. It's my new favorite song of his, after his "My Love" hit rocked my world.

The very beginning of the song sounds like Turkish pop music. Very Eurasian intro. I think it gets back to his "Cry Me a River" roots, the sounds of a spurned man. Check out the backup vocals and hefty guitar on this track. This might be the best song of the year. I can't get enough of it. Here's a clip of him performing it live while on the piano. In Paris.

More on the "Christian Right"

This is partly for Dave Blake, because he says the religious right "makes him want to vomit," even though he's a part of it.

An AP article: Christian Right at Crossroads .
Expresses some of my thoughts and concerns and I would greatly love any comments you might have.

"Christian conservative activists are more split than ever over whether to keep the movement's focus on abortion, marriage and sexual chastity -- or scrap that approach as too narrow."

"Just this month, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and 24 other top Christian conservatives pressured the National Association of Evangelicals to silence its Washington director, the Rev. Rich Cizik. The reason: Cizik tried to convince evangelicals that global warming is real."

--This is what concerns me.-- As deluded as people on the Left are about Bush's tax cuts only being for the rich, people on the Right seem equally deluded that tax cuts pay for themselves and deficits don't matter. Some Lefties are deluded about Bush being evil for not signing onto Kyoto Protocols to reduce emissions, while many on the Right are equally deluded that global warming is all a left-wing conspiracy and are increasingly becoming anti-science.

A former Bush speechwriter seems to think that the median Christian voter is concerned about AIDS, malaria, poverty, and girls' education; issues that only Barack O'Bama seems to address. I'm not sure if that's true. The median Christian voter in my little world tends to be more aligned with Falwell/Dobson.

"'I think there is a little bit of an element of revolt against the tone of some political engagement of the religious right in the past, which seemed quite harsh,''' says Gerson, who supports taking on a broader set of issues."
-- I guess you can consider me a part of the "revolt."

However, in the end, "recent history has shown that conservative Christians generally back the Republican in the general election. Many feel they have no alternative."

I'd agree with that if it weren't for recent articles about Dobson and others refusing to vote for or endorse Bob Dole because he wasn't "conservative" enough. Dole lost, as Karl Rove says, because the evangelical right didn't get out and vote en masse. Maybe they didn't get out and vote because their leadership wasn't enthusiastic about endorsing someone who didn't have the right "conservative" credentials.

Why I *sigh* deeply...

... and shake my head. An Op-Ed by Matthew Continetti in the NY Times .

"Call me crazy, but I wasn’t expecting the crowd at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference here to devote its most passionate boos to Senator John McCain of Arizona, a conservative himself...But boo it did."

"While Mr. McCain and the conservative activists who compose the Republican grassroots share many positions pro-war, pro-life, against waste in government and for low taxes a significant portion of those grassroots just ... doesn’t ... like him."

Continetti gives some reasons, among them:
"Many refuse to accept the scientific consensus on global climate change and recoil at Senator McCain’s attempts to find a free-market solution to the problem."

"More important than ideology or personality is culture. For years conservatives have cast a suspicious eye on Senator McCain because non-conservatives find him appealing. They distrust the institutions of liberal culture — the news media in particular — to such a degree that a politician those institutions embrace must be suspect. They grow furious when they hear Senator McCain on Don Imus’s radio show but not Rush Limbaugh’s. The politics of polarization militate against a McCain candidacy. The man transcends the partisan divide — but what partisans want above all is a fellow partisan."

I have friends that could claim some of the separate issues above as their own pet peeve with Senator McCain. To me, McCain is like the absolute perfect winnable candidate. He grabs the middle in states where it matters, and he should grab the right but they just don't like him. I don't understand. Maybe people will wake up next year when it really matters.

Or maybe we're doomed.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Reason #192

Why I'm voting for John McCain. Hilarious, especially his "Log Cabin Republican" comment at the end. I would trust this man with my life.
Anyone see his cameo on Leno last night? Also hilarious.

Straight Talk Express rides again!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Income Tax Day

So, I spent this morning doing our income taxes. We're getting a nice tax refund filled with student fee reimbursements and whatnot, and end up with a total tax rate of 2.57% this year.

I was grading one of my student's papers yesterday and he wrote an extra-long piece about how free trade was bad and how we should quit giving rich people tax breaks so that we can have an even more even income distribution, and many other very Clinton-esque statements. After getting over the initial horror, I made a few remarks on his paper about not backing his points up with any data or models that would support his claims, something that I believe is very important. His thoughts sounded a lot like Lou Dobbs' column today-- one sided and incoherent.

So, who pays what % of taxes? Here's a good testimony before congress from economist Alan Viard last week. From that link you can find the full PDF that I pulled these graphics from. As you can see, the Top 1% of households with the highest incomes pay just over 25% of all federal income taxes. The top 20% of households pay 66% (two-thirds) of federal income taxes. That's a very big burden, can we agree on that?
What about the poor, the lowest quintile, or the bottom 20% of households? They pay less than 1%.
That's a progressive income tax system. The rich pay a much larger share of the burden. The effective tax rate for the top 1% of households is about 31%. (They pay 31% of their income in taxes).

Let's look at individual income tax rates (double click it to make it big):

Here we see that the federal tax burden for the bottom 2 quintiles is actually negative. That means the lowest-income households get more money back from the government via Earned Income Tax Credits and child relief credits than they pay. That's called a negative income tax, which is one of the most effective poverty-fighting tools that we have in our system.

I think there's a belief in this country that Bush's tax cuts went to the rich, and didn't help the poor. Bush's tax plan actually increased the child credit from $500 to $1000, lowered the tax rates for the lowest levels of taxable income by 5%, and increased the EITC for married couples.
Viard provides us with this data:
This is the tax burden of a single parent with two children making $17,170 a year. This type of household seems to get the most attention from people advocating a "Living Wage," or various poverty relief programs. As you can see, since the days of Reagan, the tax burden has become greatly negative for single parents w/two children. Bush's tax cuts further increased the amount they are getting from the government. It's a negative 30% income tax rate. For a below-poverty-line household of $17,170 in income, they get $5,154 from the government. When you factor in payroll and social security taxes, that number falls to $2,527, or 15%.

Still, it's a negative tax. A transfer from the rich households to the poor households. (And, by the way, that extra $5,154 or $2,527 doesn't get counted in Census Bureau data for poverty. The Census would report that this household earns $17,170, instead of the $19,697 it actually earned after tax credits, thus inflating the number of households actually listed in poverty).

Viard calculates that the Bush tax cuts saved this particular type of household 4.7% of its income in tax breaks.

So, what about tax cuts for the rich? This last graph shows the tax cuts as a percentage of income for each income bracket. The lowest quintile, as we showed above, indeed got a break, but it was the smallest as a percentage of income. This is what most Leftists point to and say "See, Bush's tax cuts helped the rich more than the poor!"
But, when you consider the fact that most of these lowest-income households are not paying taxes but receiving negative income tax maybe you can calm down and start breathing again.
The second quintile got the highest percentage of their taxes cut. They're also known as the middle class.

Tax breaks were given on interest and dividends to help encourage saving. This helps keep interest rates low, encourages investment, which leads to future economic growth and higher standards of living. Since it's primarily the upper-class who buy mutual funds, stocks, bonds, etc., this is seen as a tax break for the rich. However, the Commerce Department found it was probably the best tax break for our economy, and did more for economic growth than any of the tax cuts on lower-income individuals.
I wrote a post on that once, as Mankiw wrote an op-ed in the WSJ about it. I'll let you go find that yourselves.

So, before you start bashing Bush tax cuts, or thinking that the rich don't pay their fair share, then please reconsider the data!
Instead, bash Bush deficits and congressional earmarks, and ask your congressman to stop spending money.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

On Madness

So, my obsession has led me to hours and hours of regressions, data mining, and probability estimates to fill out my bracket.
Note to everyone inflicted with March Madness. The odds of picking a 100% correct bracket are, according to Tiernan:
"1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 times. That’s more than nine quintillion if you’re counting, or put another way, two to the 63rd power. Kind of a big number."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Project March, or How to Pick your Bracket

Want to know how to fill out your bracket this week? Want to know which team will pull the upset? We all do.

I've spent several tedious months recording data from Pomeroy to determine which factors are good indicators of tourny performance. Pete Tiernan's articles and encouragement have helped me think through how to organize my data and what to look for. I've done lots of regression analysis using E-Views and will continue to do so, looking for "gems."

So, using regressions analysis of data for every team from Pomeroy's scouting reports, here is what I've concluded and how how to pick your brackets this week:

Rule of thumb for ANY seed: 3-point shooting is the most statistically INSIGNIFICANT indicator of tourny performance. Don't factor 3-point shooting into your decision at all!

Also insignificant is the starting PG's assist-rate vs. turnover rate. (I only have data on this for 2 seasons though, so not much insight). Some of the weak little 13-16 seeds have a PG who has a very high assist rate. These teams lose in the first round and that skews the data somewhat.

For seeds #1-3:
Using Tiernan's PASE, (or how a team performed vs. the historical average for its seed) I've found the most significant indicator (p-value .013) of overperformance is forcing turnovers. This is Defensive TO% in Pomeroy's scouting report. Grabbing defensive rebounds is also important, as well as how high the guy on the team who takes the most shot's Offensive Rating is. Defensive FG% is also important, whereas offensive FG% isn't so much.

For seeds #4-6: Pick the team that does the best job of getting to the FT line (FT Rate), and has the best Defensive rebounding %.

For seeds #7-9: Same as 4-6. Also factor in how good the team's best player is. If he has a high ORtg, let that weigh slightly on your decision.

For seeds #10-12: If a team has a very low TO%, and holds defenses to a low FG% over the season, then they are a great candidate for an upset. If the team's best player is a Center or Forward, then this also helps. If he's just a 3-point shooting guard, forget it.

Well, there you go free of charge. Good luck! And remember, random events like George Mason just happen.

Friday, March 09, 2007

What you can find in the WSJ today

The Wall Street Journal has some interesting stories today. Story #1: Students in Dallas ISD have been part of an experiment in which they're paid for passing AP exams. The trusty principle of economics "People Respond to Incentives" seems to hold here. This graph shows the number of AP test takers that took the exam before and after Texas started offering incentives.

"A new initiative, aimed at encouraging careers in math and science, plans to replicate these AP bonuses across the country. Teachers get them, too -- at times, $5,000 annually or more -- for helping their kids pass AP classes in math, science and English. The money is provided by a network of private donors. Along with cash, students in Texas sometimes get gifts, such as iPods, as door prizes for attending weekend prep classes..."

Why wasn't I so lucky?

Are you a fan of The Office? Here's a story for you. NBC has a new plan for re-runs. It's going to "re-mix" them, cut some parts and put in deleted scenes so that it's like watching a whole new episode!
Get ready for the television 'newpeat.' In an unusual experiment aimed at improving ratings for reruns, NBC next week plans to air two previously seen half-hour episodes of "The Office" that have been re-edited into a new hour-long show. Some scenes will be cut so producers can weave in unaired footage that introduces a new storyline into the older episodes."

That's kind of cool.

Lastly, this article says that NBC's Friday Night Lights is a good show, a favorite of TV critics. The ratings aren't very good, but NBC might keep it in the hopes that it will eventually catch on. The Coach Taylor character has been nominated for an Emmy.

"Three more episodes remain of 'Friday Night Lights,' which hasn't had more than pallid-to-OK ratings -- as they say in the business, it hasn't found its audience yet. Whether NBC will renew the series and give it a chance to do so, isn't at all clear.
What is certain is that in 'Friday Night Lights' the network has a rare jewel on its hands and knows it, just as do the critics who heap praise on the show. It's an in-house favorite of the Entertainment Division. What the management chooses to do with that knowledge, we shall see."

(I don't want to talk about the UK game).

Thursday, March 08, 2007

On Predictions

Ah, this morning I was reminiscing about the pre-season predictions I made about SEC basketball.

In this post on November 7, 2006 I said:

"I predict it will be a 3-way race between Kentucky, Florida, and Alabama. LSU is overrated, and Tennessee will be as good as they were last year at best. (Smitty's loving that comment)."

So, Tennessee will likely get seeded lower than they were last season, but they're arguably a better team than last year. Lofton is SEC POY. Kentucky dropped out of the race early, and Florida took off with the title. Alabama's only decent win was over UK, and they have to get another one against UK today to have a chance of dancing at all. The SEC West was terrible.

At least I was right about LSU.

In this post on December 20th,
I announced that Pomeroy predicted a 9-7 SEC record for the Cats. This prediction angered David Waters had predicted we'd go 10-5. Looks like Pomeroy was right.

It's March, and so all predictions go out the window, right? Anything can happen?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Tapp Ratings Interpreted

Interpreting the Tapp Ratings as bracket seeding, here's how the tournament would have looked on January 4th (the date of my initial ratings release). Highlighted teams are those who still have the projected seed as of March 5th (see my new ratings in the post below this one). Red teams are those who are unlikely to even make the tournament now.

1 Florida
1 Duke

2 Arizona
2 Wisconsin
2 Texas A&M
2 Ohio St.

3 Butler
3 Notre Dame
3 Clemson
3 UConn (LOL!)

4 Alabama (LOL!)
4 Air Force
4 Villanova
4 West Virginia

5 Appalachian State
5 Kansas
5 Oklahoma State (LOL!)
5 Pittsburgh

6 Kentucky
6 Georgia Tech

Is it any wonder why the blue highlighted teams are everyone's favorites to go to the Final 4?

Final Regular Season Tapp Ratings (3/5/07)

Again, the formula is AP + Coaches + RPI + Pomeroy + ELO + Pure Points + Sonny Moore and this week Projected RPI is out (since season is finished) and we replace it with the Ashby Accuratings. Ashby's system is currently #2 in picking winners straight-up.

So, at the end of the regular season this is what I consider the "standings." Who got first place, second place, etc. And teams can tie for a place. First place votes in parentheses:

1. UNC (4)
2. Ohio St. (3)
2. UCLA (1)
3. Kansas
4. Florida
4. Wisconsin
5. Texas A&M
6. Memphis
7. Georgetown
8. Maryland
9. Pittsburgh
10. Southern Illinois
11. Nevada
12. Duke
12. Tennessee
13. Louisville

The top 4 of my ratings are also the likely #1 seeds if the tournament started today. I like using these as the seedings up until you get to the 4th seed. If Louisville and Duke are both 4 seeds, then I consider them overrated. We'll see how they do in the conference tournies.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Simple Steps to Save the World

So, if carbon offsets sounds a little bit too much like a fraud, or just a little too easy, then I have 2 other solutions for you that will 1.) save you money and 2.) save the environment.

Joni and I watched the documentary Kilowatt Ours last year, and it changed how we think about energy use. The film doesn't say much about global warming, but it does talk about the enormous pollution that using coal creates. I'm not so concerned about the air pollution as I am the vast destruction that lopping off the tops of whole mountains can cause. 97% of Kentucky's energy comes from coal and it's doing a lot of harm.

For some numbers, see the Mountain Justice website.

The film showed some simple ways to make a difference yourself.

1. Compact fluorescent lightbulbs. You can buy these at Wal-Mart. They last longer than regular lightbulbs but use 66% less energy. We've been using them for over a year and can't tell a difference between the light they put out vs. a normal light bulb. No one who has come to our house has ever said "Wow, your light is fluorescent." There's no difference. We've saved at least 20% on our electricity bills.

Here's the EPA's website about the bulbs for more information. "If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR, we would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars."

If every Texan were to start using compact fluorescent bulbs we would save enough energy that we wouldn't need ANY new TXU coal plants. We'd save a lot of money, too.

2. Green Mountain Energy. This is an energy company that Joni and I signed up with last year instead of TXU. I did quite a bit of research on the company before signing up to figure out if this was legit... it is. Our energy plan uses ONLY clean energy-- combining hydroelectric, wind, or biomass (harvesting gas from manure/landfills). You can learn more and sign up on their website. Companies like TXU have followed suit, and you can often select to sign up for "green energy" plans with them also. The only way to get more wind and solar farms and such built is to create a demand. The more people sign up with companies like Green Mountain, the fewer coal plants will be built.
Initially, we were paying a few dollars a month extra than we would have with TXU's cheapest plan. But, when we installed our compact fluorescent bulbs it more than made up the difference!

If you don't live where Green Mountain is, check and see what kind of green plans your own electricity provider has.

As the numbers above show, if everyone made these simple changes it would save energy, save money, and reduce pollution. My challenge to you is: why not?

Too many Christians tell me "One person can't make a difference, so why bother?" My challenge to them is show me evidence from Scripture where one person didn't make a difference (would you say that to Jesus?). I like to show them that we're all held personally accountable for our actions. If you apply the "one person can't make a difference" argument to your life then you'll also never share the Gospel with anyone and you'll never vote.

Joni and I feel great about our choice and our budget is better off for it. Come join us!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Al Gore's Carbon Footprint

So, you may have heard in the news or over at Rynoman's blog that a libertarian think-tank in Tennessee discovered that Al Gore's electricity bill is much higher than the average American's.
Al Gore's office's response is that he is reducing his carbon imprint, in part, by purchasing "carbon off-sets," something I hadn't heard of until listening to NPR yesterday.

The Wall Street Journal has an article today about carbon offsets and how they work (subscription may be required for the article).

The concept is pretty simple: You can figure out how much CO2 you're emitting by driving your car to work every day, or taking a cross-country flight, etc., and donate an amount of money to an organization building green energy facilities or planting trees in order to offset your carbon footprint. (To calculate your annual carbon footprint, go to this website.)

For example, Travelocity will tell you how much your plane trip "costs" in terms of CO2, and allows you to add a donation to the price of your bill. The donation then goes to a company that builds wind farms, buys carbon permits, etc.

One popular company is TerraPass, which funds biomass projects and trades renewable energy credits on the Chicago Exchange. I went there and calculated that 12,000 miles driven per year on my Camry creates 8,350 pounds of carbon dioxide. I can buy a $50 TerraPass that will "offset" my imprint by investing in green energy opportunities.
The WSJ article says there's a lot of fraud quickly popping up, so you just have to research carefully who you're donating to, and how much work they're actually doing.
So, this is what Al Gore does. Much of the market for this seems to be from people saying "I know global warming is bad, but how in the world can I do anything about it?" It makes them feel better to buy a carbon offset, and it's pretty convenient to just click a box on Travelocity.

Tomorrow, I'll write another post on 2 easy things that you can and SHOULD do help reduce energy consumption and contribute to future environmental stability. For now, I'll let us all think about carbon offsets.

Kentucky's improvement

There are a lot of things I want to post on, but some would require much thought and should be well-written, and thus are time consuming. So, today I thought I'd do a basketball post instead.

I started tracking where Kentucky's adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ranked according to Pomeroy on January 3, the day of the Houston game. I've been tracking our rank before and after every game, as well as tempo rank, and strength of schedule.

Going into the Houston game, Kentucky's offensive efficiency was ranked 38th, while the defense was ranked 23rd. Tempo was 115th, and RPI rank was 10th.

Over the next few weeks, Kentucky's defense declined then improved dramatically. The offense dropped all the way to 48th after the Ole Miss game, but then began improving, making huge jumps after the South Carolina blowout, the win at Arkansas, and the loss against Florida. Offensive efficiency is now back at a season-high #22 after last night's win over Georgia.
Defensive efficiency actually ranked #11 just before the first Vandy game. Our defense is now ranked #25 again. So, not much improvement in the defense since January 3, but pretty big strides in the offense.

The rankings and games are graphed above, a lower number means a higher rank.
The gap is when I forgot to record the data just before the SC game.

Tempo during this time (possessions per minute) has gone from a low of 152nd after the first UT game to 113th just before the loss at Alabama. It has now slid to 135th. But there is no correlation between tempo and winning for any team.

Our strength of schedule was never below 10. But, today Kentucky has officially played the #1 toughest schedule judged by both opponents' offensive AND defensive efficiency.

The meaningless RPI rank peaked at #4 after the South Carolina game and was never worse than 12th (after the Ole Miss game). UK is currently back at #9 in the RPI.

Make whatever judgments you like about the data.