36 Chambers – The Legendary Journeys: Execution to the max!

February 29, 2008

In Defense Of Apathy And Cynicism

Filed under: Curmudgeonliness, Keeping Cool With Coolidge — Kevin Feasel @ 6:48 pm

There was a, uh, slightly disturbing portion of a Michelle Obama speech last week. Here is the portion:

Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.

This sounds like a call for a cabinet-level Department of Cynicism Reduction. Either that or a loose cannon of a woman who doesn’t have a clue about the way that government works. There is a reason why people are cynical of politicians: because they ought to be. The political sphere, by its very nature, is a realm of horse-trading and less-than-appealing compromise. Why is this the case? Because you’re talking about several hundred Congressmen representing 300 million vastly different people, combined into many different and sometimes-overlapping interests. Even if every Congressman were entirely clean, without a trace of corruption, the end result would still leave plenty of scope for cynicism as the activists want to do more and blame “entrenched interests” for not getting their way; meanwhile, the inactivists kvetch about how things are going to pot because the government has infringed on this or that liberty and there are only so many left.

If you take her at her word, Mrs. Obama sounds like she is calling for the arrest of anybody who doesn’t vote or who has better things to do than talk about politics. Unfortunately, she seems to be of that group which believes that everything important originates from Washington DC and nobody could possibly do anything meaningful or valuable without some kind of political effort. Not only is this almost entirely backwards, but it is an early warning of what kind of problems an Obama presidency would indicate: a bigger, more powerful, and more intrusive government. And then, when that bigger government fails to amount to what its supporters imagined, it will be the fault of those who just didn’t believe hard enough, those who failed to shed their cynicism, those nasty business interests who gummed up the works*. In fact, you can say that I’m quite cynical about their cynicism-reducing techniques.

Now, if you take her at her word, that’s kind of a scary proposition, once you start thinking about the enforcement mechanisms necessary to pull something like that off, and I’m not talking about going around and giving fluffy speeches about hope and change.

* – For a note on this mentality, read My Favorite Quotation From Liberal Fascism.

February 28, 2008

A thought for all to ponder

Filed under: U-S-A! U-S-A!, Zombies — Tony Demchak @ 5:45 am

Zombie Ronald Reagan – great zombie, or the greatest zombie?

February 27, 2008

The Passing Of A Great

Filed under: Curmudgeonliness — Kevin Feasel @ 8:37 pm

William F. Buckley died today.  I was young enough that my first knowledge of Buckley’s existence came from William F. Buckley, III—the cat from Clarissa Explains It All.  Thankfully, even though I was too young to watch Firing Line or see him at his best, I still had the opportunity to learn through his magazine, and his magazine it shall remain even in death.

For some heartfelt condolences and memories, scroll through The Corner.

Did I call it? Find out in a month!

Filed under: Sports, Television and/or Movies — Tony Demchak @ 4:17 am

I decided I’m going to call the WrestleMania card. Read it if you want to (most people don’t). You can find out in a month if I was right or not, when I update the post. Without further ado:

24 MAN BATTLE ROYAL TO FACE CHAVO GUERRERO FOR ECW TITLE

A whole bunch of people are in this; I think Kane will win, simply because he hasn’t gotten a title shot in a long time and a face needs to get the title off of Chavo. This will give CM Punk something better to do.

ECW TITLE: KANE VS CHAVO GUERRERO (C)

See above.

WORLD TAG TEAM TITLES: SANTINO & CARLITO VS HARDCORE HOLLY & CODY RHODES (C)

This is a shot in the dark; I’m not even sure either tag belts will be defended, but this is the only real match they’ve had any build to. Given that we’ll see four other title changes (if I’m right), I pick Holly and Rhodes to retain.

Update: Carlito is now part of MITB, so this match won’t happen.

ECW TITLE MATCH: CM PUNK VS CHAVO GUERRERO JR. (C)

Given that Punk has totally owned Chavo at every turn, I expect this match (as yet unannounced) to be a Punk victory. The only way Punk would lose is if he’s going to Smackdown, and I think even then he won’t lose. Punk is way too popular and Chavo is a stopgap champion at best.

UPDATE: They’re going with the whole 24 man battle royal thing, and since CM Punk is in Money in the Bank, this match can’t happen. Unless Punk wins and cashes in the chance. Which he won’t.

US TITLE MATCH: MVP (C) VS MATT HARDY

Another unannounced match I fully anticipate happening. Hardy has to win the match or this feud, as awesome as it has been, will be completely deflated. We need a payoff, and provided Hardy is healthy, I think we’ll see at WM. Could be the scene stealer of the night.

UPDATE: MVP’s in MITB, too. Matt Hardy is currently not on the card; some suggest he’ll be the unannounced 8th man. Who knows?

BUNNYMANIA: CANDICE MICHELLE ASHLEY & MARIA VS VICTORIA MELINA AND BETH PHOENIX

I don’t even remember who’s in this match and it has been announced; that’s how little I care. Maria will win because she’s in Playboy.

Updated: It’s Melina, not Victoria.

Update to the update: Candice got hurt, so Ashley’s taking her place.

BRAND SUPERIORITY: BATISTA VS UMAGA

This will be an awesome match, if I’ve guessed right on who Smackdown has picked. Batista currently has nothing to do, and I highly doubt he’ll be in Money in the Bank. I really, really hope they’re kidding about Paul Burchill taking Umaga’s spot. He’s been on RAW for like two weeks. Anyway, Batista wins this match, but it’ll be a hell of a fight.

Updated: In the words of Stephen Colbert, nailed it!

FLOYD MAYWEATHER JR. VS BIG SHOW

Big Show will win. I love the build but I’m uncertain about the match.

CAREER THREATENING MATCH: SHAWN MICHAELS VS RIC FLAIR

Flair will either win and retire or lose and retire. I wish they’d built this match a bit more; have HBK pretend he won’t do it, let him draw a little heat, then decide the week before he’ll do it. I think Orton v. Flair would have been better, but HBK is money at Wrestlemania and I think he’ll do well. My gut says Flair loses, but puts on a hell of a fight. This is the toughest call of the night; it could easily end with a double count out or DQ.

Update: HBK did an AWESOME job on 3/24 RAW turning heel. Will he stay that way or is this a one match thing? We’ll find out!

MONEY IN THE BANK: MR KENNEDY VS JEFF HARDY MVP VS JERICHO VS SHELTON BENJAMIN VS CARLITO VS CM PUNK VS JOHN MORRISON

I don’t care if the last two are RVD and Kane (although I would mark like a little bitch if it were RVD and Kane); Jeff Hardy needs to win a big match and this is where he’ll do it. Kennedy’s a dark horse.

UPDATE: There is a chance Matt Hardy will show up; I doubt he will win, though. I’m going to do a column on this later; suffice it to say, I think Punk will win and take his step forward.

FINLAY VS JBL

Finlay. He’s way too over with the fans and given how JBL treated Hornswaggle, there’s no way Finlay will lose.

WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE MATCH: UNDERTAKER VS EDGE (C)

Edge would become a legend in one night if he beat Taker cleanly; ending The Streak would permanently put him over. I’m not sure Edge needs the rub, but if he gets it, he’ll be even more insufferable. I’m going out on a limb; there are too many other obvious title changes, and somebody needs to retain a major title; I think Edge will do so here. Maybe he’ll win by DQ, preserving his title and the streak. I’d be thrilled if Taker won, but he’s not going to be around forever and I’m not sure there’s another superstar would benefit more from the rub than Edge. Edge wins, either by DQ or cleanly, but he wins.

WWE TITLE MATCH: JOHN CENA VS TRIPLE H VS RANDY ORTON (C)

I really, really, REALLY wish Orton had a snowball’s chance in hell at retaining, but he doesn’t. Orton has been built well, but not well enough that he could win between Cena AND HHH. Weirdly, the champ is by far the underdog. I don’t think they’ll put the title back on Cena so soon; it’s going to HHH, probably by pinning Orton. Although if Taker beats Edge, Orton’s chances go from 0% to 1%.

I don’t think I’ve missed anything. I really hope they don’t go with a Celebrity Battle Royal. It’s possible Miz & Morrison could put the Tag Team Titles on the line too, likely against Jesse & Festus. I think, if Edge retains, the Edgeheads will get the gold, but not for a while yet. I reserve the right to make updates for additional matches and if the matches I have called don’t happen, but I will not change my predictions.

February 26, 2008

My Favorite Quotation From Liberal Fascism

Filed under: Economics — Kevin Feasel @ 7:02 pm

I finished up Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism the other day. I noticed that the last chapter or so became a bit more polemic than the earlier chapters, but all in all, it was a detailed and serious look at the topic. The parts I had known about before-hand matched up with what he said, and the remainder seemed, for the most part, a reasonable argument.

Here is my favorite portion from the book, discussing the nature of interaction between politicians and businesses.

Most businesses are like beehives. If government doesn’t bother them, they don’t bother government. If government meddles with business, the bees swarm Washington. Yet time and time again, the liberal “remedy” for the bee problem is to smack the hive with a bigger stick. There are hundreds of medical industry lobbies, for specific diseases, specialties, and forms of treatment, each of which spends a fortune in direct and indirect lobbying and advertising. Do you know which medical profession spends almost nothing? Veterinary care. Why? Because Congress spends almost no time regulating it. Why do pharmaceutical industries spend so much money lobbying politicians and regulators? Because they are so heavily regulated that they cannot make major decisions without a by-your-leave from Washington.

This is, as they say, both obvious and true. When John Marshall wrote that “the power to tax is the power to destroy,” he could just have easily as said that the power to regulate is the power to destroy. The more power Congress has to regulate specific industries or—even more clearly—firms, the more you will see firms and organizations representing (generally the largest firms of) industries lobbying Congress.

What Goldberg and I are saying does not mean that Congress should never regulate industries. Instead, I like to defer to FA Hayek and the Freiburg school on these cases: a government strictly limited in its scope but with a lot of power within that scope is the best feasible form of government. The problem is that Congress and executive bureaucracies have gone well beyond that level, and one of the signs of this is that, in the last 50 or so years, a lot of companies now have fully-staffed political offices in Washington in an attempt to shape Congressional and executive regulations.

February 25, 2008

Missile Defense Works

Filed under: Kablooey!, U-S-A! U-S-A! — Kevin Feasel @ 7:35 pm

There was a rather successful test of the US anti-ballistic missile system late last week, in which a Navy cruiser was able, on the first shot (or so they say), to intercept a satellite in a decaying orbit. The link says that the satellite was as big as a school bus, but it was actually 7′ long and about 4′ wide, making it an even better test.

Perhaps the best part about this is that it also gives the US anti-satellite technology. Certain countries—China, Russia, and North Korea to name three examples that I know about—have teams of people who attempt to compromise foreign computers and relays. This, as a Belmont Club poster notes, may be a signal that we have additional ways of succeeding, ways which they don’t have.

February 24, 2008

You Don’t Have To Choose Between Hope And Change!

Filed under: Curmudgeonliness, deep philosophy — Kevin Feasel @ 11:12 am

All my life, I had assumed that politicians could only bring hope without change or change without hope.  I had never thought that a politician could combine the two and bring hange—hoping for change (which is totally different from chope, a changing of hope).  Thank you for opening my eyes to the world, Barack Obama!

Do You Believe In Miracles?

Filed under: Sports, U-S-A! U-S-A! — Kevin Feasel @ 10:22 am

Tony is the one who ought to bring this up, given that he is the hockey fan of the group, but yesterday was the 28th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice. Beating the Soviets at anything was nice; beating them at their own sport was sublime…

February 23, 2008

Efficiency Wages And Congress

Filed under: Economics — Kevin Feasel @ 8:21 pm

Paul Mirengoff (coming from Dick Meyer) had an interesting idea a while back about Congressional corruption. Basically, pay Congressmen enough money to let them feel rich and you will cut down on corruption.

In the world of economics, this is called the efficiency wage, coined by Joseph Stiglitz (as I recall). There is an economic phenomenon called the principal-agent problem. Basically, the principal hires an agent to work for the principal’s benefit. This can be an owner hiring an employee, an owner hiring a manager, a manager hiring an employee, Tony hiring kids to mow his lawn, etc. In the literature, there is usually one action which the principal would like the agent to take, but this action is costly to the agent. Tony wants the kids to mow his lawn properly, to the right height, and in smooth lines. The kids, meanwhile, just want paid and would like to do the least amount of work necessary to get the job done. Thus, they will cut corners, shirk, and avoid additional work. In a lawn-mowing example, this might not be as easy to see as, say, an officeplace where employees spend half their day surfing the internet.

That is the primary dilemma in the literature, and there are a few solutions, but these are generally “second-best” solutions. For example, Tony could personally oversee the lawnmowing work and make sure that the kids aren’t goofing off and are doing everything correctly. He could also hire somebody to do that work (but then we have another PA problem cropping up…). He could spend money installing cameras or use other technologies to monitor the employees. This, however, is a costly activity. If he has to sit there and watch the kids, he has less time to sit around in his underwear and play video games.

Stiglitz came up with an interesting idea to get around this problem: the efficiency wage. He would tell Tony to tell the kids, hey, if you want to slack off and do a bad job, I’ll pay you what you consider a crappy wage (but is actually equal to the market wage). On the other hand, if you work hard and dedicate yourselves to your jobs, I’ll pay you above-market wages. But if I catch you slacking off after giving you the higher wages, I’m busting your chops back down to the low wage or firing you. In either event, if you take for granted what I’m offering, you won’t get it back.

So to put numbers on it, we can say that the kids would receive $5 an hour for mowing his lawn and they take one hour to mow the lawn. When Tony gets his lawn mowed, he realizes $6 of intrinsic value if the kids do a poor job but $9 if they do a good job. The monetary value of the additional effort which these kids exert is worth $2. Stiglitz is saying that Tony would receive $3 in value if the kids work hard and do a good job, and because the cost of effort is less than $3, Tony can pay them $2 and some change and he still gets between 1 and 99 cents of additional value from this transaction (depending on exactly where they negotiate this higher wage). But if the kids slouch, they’re back down to $5 an hour, permanently. The important thing, though, is that you have to have some kind of way of quantifying or recognizing when the kids are working hard. To make educational examples easier, professors generally assume that harder work leads to a higher percentage of success or a greater quantity/quality of output, and although this is not entirely true, it works well enough in most cases that you can use it as a first approximation.

On its surface, it seems like a smart idea. Mix it in with some monitoring (likely random to reduce the cost) and you have a potential solution. It’s beautiful, simple, and unfortunately, there is a big problem with it: once you bring in other firms, it no longer makes that much sense. Let’s go back to the lawn-mowing example. Tony offers the efficiency wage contract because he benefits from it. We can assume that anybody who is willing to pay the market price for those kids ($5 an hour) must value the kids mowing their lawn at $5 an hour. Some of these people—like Dan—might not care that much whether the kids mow their lawns well or not, but some people will. So you will have other people willing to offer either the same or a similar contract structure to Tony’s offer. But now that the kids have multiple opportunities for high-value contracts, they have no incentive to work hard for Tony. If Tony pays a kid $7.50 and the kid shirks, even if Tony does end up firing the kid, all he has to do is go to another place and mow that person’s lawn, getting the $7.50 (or something like it) there as well. And because we are not talking about differences in quality between groups of individuals, but instead about the behavioral choices of a person who can choose either to work hard or to slack off, the next employer will have a tough time finding out that he shirked at his previous job, especially if it was in the same industry and the two firms are competitors.

This is my major problem with the idea of efficiency wages: if it makes sense for one firm, it should make sense for all firms. But as soon as it makes sense for all firms, the efficiency wage ought to be the market wage because there is no reason to pay less. If I can get better performance and a better bottom line by paying certain employees more, why am I not doing it already? And even if I don’t want to, once my competitors start doing it, I have to follow along or I won’t get the same benefits and will fall behind.

For Congress, however, we have a slightly different scenario. Congressmen still have opportunity costs, but there aren’t any competing Congresses around anymore for them to go to. Thus, you have a stronger case for efficiency wages potentially applying. I am not convinced by this argument, however, because I think that it doesn’t really hit at the reason for the problem. There might be some Congressmen who want to live the high life but are constrained by their salaries (though this does not include benefits, such as congressional staffs, travel stipends, etc.). However, the thing which many Congressmen want is to get re-elected so that they can maintain their perks and keep living that life. $1 million won’t swing many Congressional districts, so they still need to raise money, and once you go down this road, corruption is almost inevitable, be it the William Jefferson or Duke Cunningham style of taking cash directly or the Jim Murtha style of taking campaign contributions in return for political favors later. This, incidentally, is my second-biggest problem with McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform: they see the problem but strike in the wrong direction. Instead of trying to limit the corruption money (which will flow no matter what rules you put in place; people are clever enough to understand how to skirt the rules, especially when some of those people are the ones who made the rules in the first place), limit the value of corrupting a Congressman. Right now, giving the right Congressman a $50,000 contribution can net you millions of dollars in kickbacks. Take away or drastically limit the power of Congressmen to offer such kickbacks by reining in Congressional scope of authority and tightening the available budget and you end up with a less valuable Congress and less desire from companies to buy Congressmen. That, rather than efficiency wages, is probably the best bet to limiting Congressional corruption, at least to the extent which you can limit it.

February 22, 2008

NCAA 08: The official “Review you can use [tm]!”

Filed under: Reviews you can use [tm]!, Sports, Video Games — Tony Demchak @ 9:14 pm

Having completed my first full season on dynasty mode, I now feel comfortable giving my official review of NCAA 08 for the PS 3. Enjoy!

Graphics - A. The animations are pretty vanilla, but everything looks very crisp. My only complaint is that the football disappears on field goal kicks because there’s not enough contrast between the football and the background. Still, gang tackling looks very solid and the hits look like they hurt (something I cannot say for Madden 08). The players look fine; they’re essentially carbon copies, but then, there are way too many players in the game to model to have too many different looks. I played a game in the snow; it was horrendously awesome. The snow was so thick you couldn’t see the endzone; it took a couple of minutes to realize which way I was going. All the other weather effects are terrific. The stat presentations are wonderful; I’ve been pining for hurries and pressures in a video football game and I’ve got them now. Take a cue, Madden!

Sound – B. The fight songs are all excellent and easily recognizable. There are nice touches in the actual crowd sounds, too, like hearing “O-H! I-O!” at OSU. The crowds actually sound different; in my dynasty season, I’m the Akron Zips, and it’s much quieter than, say, OSU-Michigan. A very nice touch. Why a B rating then? Well, if your game isn’t televised, you get the PA announcer. This is nice but boring; all the big teams have all the games televised, so you’ll never notice unless you choose a smaller school. My big problem is with the commentary if your game IS televised. Kirk Herbstreit is all right, and the guy who isn’t Herbstreit or Corso is unobtrusive. Lee Corso is hideously annoying though. I hate his stupid sound effects and how cheery he is all the time. When you’re losing, he’s very easy to loathe because he rubs it in. I know he’s part of the team, and I like him on TV, but it’s very irritating in the game to have him say “What a dumb move by the QB!” as you get picked off. I do like how the announcers interact; I know it isn’t the Madden style, but John and Al never seemed to interact nearly as much in the games as they do on TV.

The in game sound effects are excellent. It sounds like a game of football, and the fight songs are always present. My only minor complaint? As a former marching band member, I know that schools play lots of shorter songs during the games that aren’t the fight song. I’d like to hear the home team play some more songs. Some of this is probably copyright issues (like “Crazy Train”), but it would be nice to hear “Hey Baby!”

Gameplay - This will be broken into three categories; Legend, Dynasty, and the actual football itself.

Legend - A+. You can read my thoughts on Legend mode here; I won’t repeat anything about this here. It’s an absolute blast, even better than MLB: The Show’s career mode.

Dynasty - A-. Dynasty is the Franchise mode for NCAA. First off, I LOVE the new recruiting system. It’s really in-depth and gives you something to do besides play the games. For fans of the Madden off season (like Kevin and I), it’s like having the off season and the regular season at the same time. The in-game video helps a little bit, but it’s not immediately intuitive. After your first season, you should have a handle on things. Essentially, you call the recruit and make pitches on a variety of areas. The game tells you the pitch (“Championship Contender” or “Proximity to Home”, for example) and how you’re rated. Some of these change over time; some of them don’t. You have two options for the first pitch, “Find pitch” and “Hard sell pitch.” The first lets you gauge the recruit’s interest, the second pitches your program to the recruit. You can hard sell first, but you run the risk of alienating the recruit by pushing something he doesn’t care about. You also get a third option, “Sway pitch,” once you know the recruit’s opinion. If it’s low, you can try to adjust it. By making pitches, you increase a recruit’s interest. Some will be interested from the start, others won’t give you the time of day. You can offer scholarships (you have 25), schedule campus visits, and in the off season, visit recruits. It’s very complex, but satisfying.

There are obviously hundreds of possibly recruits; there’s a robust search feature to narrow them down. You can add 35 to your recruiting board, but you won’t get to them all in a week. You have only 10 hours to talk to recruits per week, and some take longer.  You know some basics (things like bench press, 40 time, and squats), the caliber of a player (1-5 stars) and his position (including “Athlete,” who are good at a few things; you can select a position if you sign them). You also know hometown, which is crucial; it’s basically your best pitch if you have a small school, until you get better and win games.

Some recruits will sign in season, but most don’t. At the end of a season, you can make promises to recruits (No red shirt, a national championship) that can influence recruits to come to your school. Meet promises and your integrity goes up; break them and it goes down. If you have high enough integrity, you can offer the more influential promises. You don’t have to promise anybody anything to sign them; most will sign without them, but it can help you draw a 5 star player to your school). The initial interest of a recruit in you is based on a number of factors, but for smaller schools, don’t expect a five star player to care. You can theoretically make any recruit interested, but some won’t sign. They generally stick closer to home, but it’s not a given; I made it into the top 3 of a 5 star athlete from Texas (who turned me down to play for the Longhorns).

Other features of dynasty mode include school prestige (which draws recruits; if you win a lot you can even go into other conferences and increase prestige), your coaching prestige (you can leave your school and go to another school; you can also be fired if you stink. There are usually a few goals each year), redshirting players, rivalries, and the ability to make your own schedule. It’s ridiculously addictive and great fun. My only complaint is that recruiting is so complex but so poorly explained; the video helps, but the manual is very sparse. Poor recruiting, especially for small schools, cripples you. The BCS is also rigged, but that’s just the game being true to reality, not a fault of the game. (11-1 and I get stuck in the Motor City Bowl against Arkansas State with a 6-6 record…)

Football: B -. Now, there are some differences between college and pro football; college is faster paced with more big plays. This is not where I penalize NCAA 08. It plays a fairly solid game of football, for the most part. There are lots of plays to choose from, about 700 for Akron, with them split about evenly between offense and defense (bigger schools might have more or less; I’m not sure). I love the play calling system; you can call plays by formation, type, player, or ask Lee (who gives you 16 choices. Some schools have specialized plays, like Boise State, who has the Hook and Ladder and Statue of Liberty. You can customize packages pretty efficiently. Audibles are less involved in this game than in Madden; this could be intentional, because most schools don’t rely on audibles, or not. It’s kind of disappointing, but not a serious blow.

Big plays abound, both run and pass. Defense is a little harder than in Madden; the AI will use trick plays and mixes things up pretty well. The biggest and most frustrating problem in NCAA 08? TURNOVERS. There are way, WAY too many of them. Fumbles and interceptions are really common, to the order of about 10 or so a game (total, not per side). Bad QBs are REALLY bad. They will overshoot wide open receivers and invariably get intercepted. In one game, I had three consecutive drives end with fumbles.

It is nearly impossible to stage really big upsets. Appalachian State (not in the game, by the way) would never get within a TD of Michigan. As Akron, I’ve been blown out by OSU by more than four TDs. A small school can beat a slightly larger school; I beat Texas A&M pretty easily.

One nice feature is that for bowl games and championship games, the AI is slightly better and games are more exciting. However, the games get more lopsided as they get longer; defenses seem to fall asleep during the fourth quarter. The whole game is slightly pro-offense; hail marys work fairly often.

Overall: 8.5/10 (to randomly change scoring systems). It’s a really deep and addictive game, and it’s the best game of football on PS 3. The actual game play needs some tweaks, and Lee Corso is annoying as hell, but it’s overall probably my second favorite PS 3 game behind Assassin’s Creed.

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