Fantasy Draft Completed

This is the first fantasy draft I’ve been involved in over the past few years.  I went very heavy on KUBIAK this time around, and I’m hoping it gave me the advantage I need.  We had a real buy-in and each add/drop or trade is $1, so there probably won’t be many changes.

I drafted 3rd in this league.

QB – Peyton Manning (2), David Garrard (10)
RB – Ray Rice (1), Ronnie Brown (3), Jamaal Charles (5), Arian Foster (8), Tim Hightower (12)
WR – Roddy White (3), Wes Welker (6), NYG Steve Smith (7), TJ Houshmanzadeh (14)
TE – Zach Miller (9), Chris Cooley (13)
D – Dolphins (11), Seahawks (16)
K – Jeff Reed (15)

I’m really happy with most of this team.  According to KUBIAK, I pulled down 3 of the top 10 (including 2 of the top 5) and 5 of the top 15.  After that, it’s not quite as good—8 of the top 50 and 12 of the top 100.

In retrospect, I should not have picked the Seahawks defense.  I was happily surprised to see them available in the 16th round, but they have the same bye week as Miami.  Oops…  So probably I’ll make a trade and try to go D + TE for D + TE (a better TE than Miller:  my KUBIAK list had 4 guys and Miller was in a virtual tie with Vernon Davis).

As far as backups go, Garrard was a great choice:  Peyton Manning’s off week has Garrard playing Kansas City.  I should be able to pick Foster in a few games that are really tough for Brown or Charles, and Hightower should get some good receiving yardage.  I haven’t decided on Miller vs. Cooley, but Miller’s off week has Cooley vs. Philadelphia, and Cooley’s has Miller vs. Kansas City.  I’ll probably just play the matchups there.

In The Papers: Institutions, Do They Matter?

Yeah, it’s a silly question, but Ying Fang and Yang Zhao ask, Do Institutions Matter?  Estimating the Effects of Institutions on Economic Performance in China (PDF available here).

Abstract:

This paper estimates the effects of institutions on economic performance with the cross-city data of China. We argue that China’s ongoing reform belongs to the long historical transition from antiquity to modern society, which started one and half centuries ago. Learning from Western countries is a central aspect of this historical process. The influence by the West at the early stage of this transition has persisted into current reform. We use the enrollment in Christian missionary lower primary schools in China in 1919 as the instrument for present institutions. Employing the two-stage least squares method, we find that the effect of institutions on economic performance in China is positive and significant. The result survives various robustness tests with additional controls, such as geographic factors and government policy related variables.

The conclusion is fairly easy to understand:  there is a positive and significant effect of Western institutions on Chinese growth (3).  The authors argue that Chinese growth should be looked at as a long-term phenomenon, going back at least 150 years.  In this sense, Mao’s crippling of the Chinese economy was an aberration and Deng’s subsequent reversal closer to a return to the status quo ante than many people realize (6-10).  What’s very interesting about this paper is how they measure Western institutional growth:  by the number of elementary school students who attended Protestant-run schools.  They noted that the numbers are significant enough to provide an answer, but that these students themselves did not have a direct effect on the Chinese economy—students who attended these schools were no more likely to found businesses or move up the rungs of the business world faster than people who went to other forms of elementary school.  So they are a good proxy for the inculcation of Western values and institutions without causing a serial correlation problem.

The authors note that the protection of property rights is a key to explaining economic performance (10).  Even without national protection of property rights, certain areas had better protections than others.  The rest of the paper describes this performance increase, and also checks to make sure that geography is not the real explanatory factor.  For example, they note that the distance to the coast was not significant after taking institutions into account (and, because the Protestant schools were not solely in coastal areas, and instead spread well into the mountains of western China, there was a way of measuring the differences in these effects) (17).  Furthermore, latitude and other geographic variables were not significant (19).

Is Madden 11 freezing? Here’s your answer!

So, the other day I start up my second season of Madden. I notice the game freezes on the loading screen every single time. I poked around the Interwebz and found my problem. Apparently, if you make too many changes to your gameplan, eventually it will get corrupted. Deleting the game plan will fix the problem. This is kind of annoying, but it’s not crippling, and apart from that I’ve had no technical difficulties.

In seasons two and three, I got into the playoffs and went one and done, after winning a Super Bowl in my first season. The difference? Going from Pro to All-Pro. I’ve tweaked the settings a bit and found something fairer than All-Pro, since as designed it makes things much harder for you while leaving the CPU alone. So far it’s pretty good.

I’m not thrilled with my last draft — I got a really great DT and a couple of acceptable guards (with bad strength — about 82 and 85) and then a whole bunch of dreck. Worried about Colt McCoy — he wants a shit ton of money, but he’s honestly not that great. He’s got 78 power and 99 accuracy. The trouble is I have no real alternatives. I think I’ll tag him next season and hope to get a kick ass QB in the draft.

In The Papers: Legal Certainty

Over the past couple of decades, the importance of good legal institutions has become more apparent in the world of economics.  Hernando de Soto (the economist, not the conquistador) put the focus on the informal economy and the importance of well-defined property rights.  But Ofer Raban argues that it is important not to confuse certainty in action with legal certainty, in his paper entitled The Fallacy of Legal Certainty:  Why Vague Legal Standards May Be Better For Capitalism and Liberalism.

Abstract:

It is often claimed that legal rules framed in clear and unambiguous language are essential for capitalism and liberalism, because they allow for the certainty and predictability that these systems of economic and social organization require. This paper argues that these claims are mistaken, and that the certainty we actually care about is often better-achieved by vague and indeterminate legal standards. The mistake consists in identifying people’s ability to predict the consequences of their actions with lawyers’ ability to predict the consequences of applying the law. But rules that are very predictable in application can produce surprising results for those whose actions they govern. Legal rules exist side-by-side many other social norms that are often more influential than the law in shaping people’s expectations; and these non-legal norms are often couched in vague and indeterminate terms that are not reducible to bright-line rules. As a result, vague and indeterminate legal standards would often better track the actual expectations and predictions of people. This realization should have important consequences for the work of legislatures, lawyers, and judges, who too often assume that vague standards should be avoided because of the uncertainty they entail.

Raban’s main point is that clear legal rules may affect lawyers’ abilities to predict how judges will rule in legal proceedings, but this is not the same thing as the ability for actors to be able to understand, before the fact, the legality of their activities (3).  Raban argues that a number of philosophers and economists have, in some fashion, mistaken the concept of legal certainty with the concept of actor certainty, including Max Weber, who argued that legal security was necessary for the acquisition and effective deployment of capital goods (4).  He also notes that FA Hayek was not entirely clear in this distinction either:  Hayek’s idea was that knowledge of rules allows for the formulation of plans and maximizes individual freedom (6), but Raban notes that we need the predictability of a rule’s results, not its application (7).  This subtle difference is elaborated in an example Raban provides:  the plain meaning of a legal document may actually differ from what both parties expected going in, and Raban’s argument is that we should go with what both parties expected rather than the document, even if both parties misunderstood the clause or decided to agree on a point differently than the paper’s meaning (9).  Furthermore, there are cases in which a clarification of the rule simply entails muddying the next layer.  He uses rape as an important example:  we have a pretty good notion of what rape is, but no clear legal definition.  Creating a legal definition—such as a requirement for verbal approval for sexual activity—just muddies the waters:  you then have legal problems figuring out the interpretation of verbal and non-verbal cues, guard against repudiation, etc. (11-12).  You might even get to the point where the end result of a clear legal definition entails strict governmental oversight or arbitrary activity by actors with differing results.

The problem is that we see legal rules but don’t really remember that they compete in a world with non-legal norms, including moral, religious, and social norms (14).  These non-legal norms are often at least somewhat vague and indeterminate, potentially contradictory, and difficult to enforce in a positivist legal world.  Furthermore, as noted above, not all subjects lend themselves to clear rules (17).

Raban’s fix is to include more leeway in judicial decision-making, by allowing evidence which contradicts the plain meaning of the law to come into play and perhaps even overturn the plain meaning when there is a conflict between the two.  My problem, which Raban notes in the last paragraph but kind of brushes off (20), is that doing this creates incentives for judges to engage in arbitrary political behavior.  We already have a number of judges who think they can write and decide the law based on their political beliefs, and this kind of move would strengthen their power.

In The Papers: The Southern Economy

I previously featured a paper by Art Carden, so when I saw his name pop up again, I downloaded the paper.  This time, his topic is a history of the economy of the southern United States, with a focus on the antebellum period.

Abstract:

This essay surveys some of the key themes in Southern economic history and traces the development of the region through the colonial and revolutionary eras, the antebellum period, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the post-bellum period, and the modern period. In particular, I highlight the findings of economic historians on the economics of slavery and focus on the development of Southern institutions in light of the antebellum slave society. The resurgence of the Southern economy is examined in light of recent hypotheses about technological change, policy, and productivity growth.

Carden starts off by noting that the US South is one of the few true slave societies—along with Rome, the Greek city-states, and a few others (1-2).  By this, he means that slaves were more than simply a part of the way of life of denizens (as they were in most of the pre-abolition world); they were essential to it.  Furthermore, the south “was not a market economy,” despite its per-capita income being fairly high (3).  How is this so?  Because a large percentage of southern value was in the value of slaves.  Carden notes estimates of the asset value of slaves at $2.7-3.7 billion dollars around 1860—this is the same as the north’s manufacturing and railroad asset values (7).  Slaves were vital to the way of life of the south, and this provided benefits, but also had its costs.  For example, Carden argues that slavery prevented the development of entrepreneurs, especially black entrepreneurs.  The reason is that literacy and education were forbidden or constrained for slaves (8).

So how exactly does a slave economy work?  If you look at economic theory, you would think that a plantation would be ripe for principal-agent problems, not to mention the purposeful depredation of human capital.  But because of close monitoring, very specific tasks, and very large plantations (and economies of scale), they were able to do it (10).  Furthermore, government intervention propped up the slave culture (18-19).

Carden, in addition to writing about the slave economy, also discusses the war and post-war periods.  He notes just how destructive the war was—it would have been cheaper to buy every single slave in the south, give them 40 acres and a mule, and provide some additional benefits for slaveholders rather than fight the war—and how financing the war by printing up money was a big mistake for southern states (27).  But in the post-war period, “within the constraints set…markets were efficient” (30).  The problem is that these constraints included capricious law enforcement and judiciary personnel (31).  Furthermore, the labor market was so segmented that the labor market integrations between the north and south were weaker than those between the north and Europe (35).

But after a few decades of reconstruction and stagnation, there was major growth from the 1950s on.  With the modernization and mechanization of cotton, southern states could finally get away from the system of plantations, patronage, and political control (39-40).

Revenue Sharing

The Sports Economists have a post on revenue sharing in the MLB.  They also point to leaked financial statements hosted by Deadspin.  Checking out those balance sheets, I admit that I have to change my mind:  I used to think teams were walking out with big profits after taking revenue sharing, but aside from Pittsburgh’s $29 million in two years, it doesn’t look like many teams are making all that much.

Incidentally, I really dislike the idea of a salary floor in MLB.  One of the unintended consequences of revenue sharing is that you do run into people like Carl Pohlad, who would take the money and run.  But wasting the money on guys like Derek Bell (who is still in Operation Shutdown) and Graeme Lloyd (boy, I’m really placing myself here, aren’t I?) is a bad idea.  I actually like the way Pittsburgh is doing it:  build a minor league system and develop talent that way.  It has worked for small-revenue clubs like Minnesota and Tampa (as well as for medium-revenue teams like Cleveland and Atlanta), and is much more sustainable than having owners bid up the price of low- or mid-range free agents just to reach a floor.

Return of the Penguatroll (featuring Reviews You Can Use [tm]!)

It’s been a long time, comrades! Having just recently pried the Lady Penguatroll (she took a nap) from the computer since we got the Internets back, I am now able to post.

Quick Hits

– I’ve finally reached complete catharsis. Long time readers may remember my earlier column on LeBron. However, I could not help being enraged when he did leave. All in all, I’m somewhat pleased he didn’t leave for more money, which often happens with Cleveland sports heroes (see Thome, Jim), since the Cavs could offer him the most money, if I understand the NBA system correctly. Bosh, D-Wade, and LeBron on the same team will either win another championship for the Heat or be a complete disaster. This should be the ultimate test case for team chemistry — I don’t know that there have ever been three All-Star level players on the same team, and all in their prime.

– We cancelled our cable (after it first cancelled us), but I think we can still get most of our shows through Hulu. It may mean no Monday Night RAW, but until the Lady Penguatroll gets a job, that’s just what we’ll have to deal with.

– A Wii is finally on my list of things to purchase. I’ve never owned two consoles concurrently, but the chance to catch up on the Nintendo games I missed (the last console I owned was an NES, I did play most of the games I wanted to on an SNES emulator) and relive my favorites. This will probably be a Christmas-type item, unless I get a good chunk o’ cash between now and then.

The Reviews! Two for the Price of One!

These will be a bit shorter than normal and more free form — I’ll sum up my points at the end of each one and go a little more into plot (where appropriate).

Madden 11 (PS 3)

I have been a fan of the Madden series for years. I have often worried about the quality of the games from year to year, but usually end up having worried in vain. This year was no different, and with the same result.

I keep saying that each Madden is the best one yet (since Madden 09, anyway), and again, 11 is no exception. There were two major new features this year (one they advertised and one they didn’t) and both work very well.

First, we have Gameflow. Gameflow is like a super-powered Ask Madden, but with user input through the Gameplan, which lets you weight plays for each situation, delete some, and add others. The game then calls the appropriate plays at the appropriate times. It greatly picks up the pace of games while simultaneously making the game flow more smoothly.

Second, Auto-Sprint. This is such a great idea that I can’t imagine why they never did it before. The CPU is pretty good at picking when to sprint, so you can focus on evading enemy tacklers, finding holes, and so forth. This is even better than Gameflow.

The addition of Gus Johnson makes each individual game much more exciting, just because he’s in it. It’s very noticeable during the pre and post Super Bowl packages, and EA really makes it feel special now. The game has a little story for each team (it may or may not change on subsequent Super Bowls) and its history with the Super Bowl. In fact, it specifically mentioned I had erased The Drive and The Fumble and brought glory to Cleveland, which was totally sweet.

Franchise mode is about the same, which was disappointing. They did fix rookie contracts — they’re no longer completely out of whack and you won’t pay $12 million a year to a rookie running back, no matter how good. Good coaches are harder to find, another welcome development. I still can’t fire coaches in mid-season, but I’ll probably never see that fixed.

My only complaints are relatively minor. I DESPISE the new strategy pad. It’s nice having everything in one place, but I call a lot of audibles and hot routes and it’s simply impossible on defense. There’s just no time to react, since I also have to waste time remembering how to do things. It’s not as bad for offense, since you control the snap, but it drives me nuts on defense.

The pump fake button is not very responsive on the PS 3. Sometimes I have to push it twice to get it to work. Pass rushing finally seems to be fixed, but I still generally have poor sack numbers. It may be because I have one good D-lineman and a bunch of crap.

The Extra Point is completely worthless now. It’s identical to last year, down to the wrong sponsor (Sprint instead of Verizon… oops…). I miss EA Sports Radio and the Newspapers.

On the whole, another great product from EA. I know some people think the NFL license has killed football games. I do acknowledge some minor flaws, but for the most part EA has done a solid job with making sure that each game is better, if not radically so.

Pros:

– Still the best football game on the market.

– Gameflow and Auto-Sprint make each game drastically better and smoother.

– Best graphics and music yet (Crazy Train FTW!)

Cons:

– Extra Point is moronic.

– Franchise mode relatively untouched.

– I still want to make examples of coaches and fire them indiscriminately.

Red Dead Redemption (PS 3)

GTA with horses. I do not mean this as an insult — not at all. But this is just the best short hand description of the game for the casual reader.

You play John Marston, a reformed (?) outlaw who is forced to hunt down his old gang mates by the government. The government is holding his family hostage until he does. Carnage ensues.

The game takes place in New Austin (NOT Texas) and later on, Mexico. It takes place before WWI, and the game stays very true to this earlier period. The dress is all spot on, as are the weapons. Travelling by horse is easy and fun, and a waypoint system will let you skip particularly long journeys by camping or taking a stage coach.

The missions advance the story nicely. As usual for a Rockstar game, there are plenty of interesting characters, from a grave robber to a snake oil salesman to Mexican revolutionaries. Most missions feel unique, and none are overly repetitive. Stealing a train from the Mexican Army is glorious, and makes use of a stealth mechanic that is sadly underused throughout the rest of the game.

However, the missions are by no means the only thing to do. There are TONS of side missions, including horse breaking, blackjack, Texas Hold ‘Em, Liar’s Dice, night watch jobs, and a version of GTA IV’s friends mechanic. At certain points, a ? will appear on your map. These people have mini-missions for you, generally much simpler and sometimes offering real options to improve (or detract from) your honor. Some of them are really heartwarming, others creepy, still others very profitable.

The Honor System really helps make the game interesting. You can be a son of a bitch or a kind and gentle soul, and townsfolk will react accordingly. The law isn’t a huge threat (at least for a nice guy like me), but the bounty system replaces the old “if you die or get arrested, you lose everything.” If you’re killed, you have almost no repercussions except for failing whatever mission you were on. Getting arrested is more tricky. Each crime determines a bounty — as you get more famous or honorable, some crimes are cheaper. You can either pay your bounty off ahead of time or use a pardon letter to cancel them all. These bounties are cumulative until you get arrested. If you get arrested and can’t pay your bounty, they take all of your money.

Money is very dear in the game, and sticks roughly to the prices of the time, $750 for the best horse in the game, for example. I’m also a gambler, so it may just be me. Bounty hunting missions can be very lucrative, especially if you capture your victims alive. The later in the game, the more valuable they become, which let you buy better weapons and other stuff.

The dominant mechanic is “Dead Eye.” If you’ve played Gun (which called it Quick Draw) or Max Payne (Bullet Time), you can probably guess what is it. Everything slows down, giving you time to make impossible Wild West style shots (shooting through the rope of a victim being hanged, shooting a man’s hat off). Later on, you can mark multiple victims, and kill five or more people with one round of Dead Eye. You can purchase various goods to restore your Dead Eye, which naturally regenerates over time and with non-Dead Eye kills.

The weapons are very well done. I prefer the rifle, but you have standard six shooters in a variety of flavors, shotguns, a sniper rifle, dynamite, and a lasso. Lassoes in particular are useful for capturing live criminals, breaking horses, and are required for some missions. Your horse is perhaps the most dangerous weapon of all, and you’ll spend A LOT of time on horseback.

Horse riding is straightforward — hold X to keep a constant speed (great with companions around) or tap X to increase it over time, at the cost of the horse’s stamina. Too much stamina drainage and you get bucked off. You can use items to replenish it, but monitoring it is often the best solution.

Each region is very different. The game’s one major city, Blackwater, is unavailable until the end. Most of the towns you visit have a unique and distinct feel, from Armadillo to Thieves’ Landing to various towns in Mexico. Most citizens have names, although you only hear them during poker or in specific missions. Dialogue is occasionally repetitive, but usually entertaining.

The music is appropriately epic, as befits a Western. I think Gun’s is better, particularly the opening theme, but again each region has different music as well. The sound is very well done — no major stars signed on for this game, but all the actors are appropriate for their roles. Red Dead Redemption has a bit more gritty feel than GTA and is much more real. The tongue in cheek humor is there, but it’s not a highlight of the game. Marston clearly has a conscience, unlike Tommy Vercetti in GTA Vice City, for example.

The only drawbacks are a few glitches. In one mission, you need to burn a small boat, but the docks seem to be covered ice, causing a lot of slippage and death. Horses can often be stupid when you whistle for them — sometimes they ignore you altogether and other times they run into walls over and over again (the first may be intentional, but the second is not). The AI is not especially impressive until late in the game, and even then you’ll rarely die from bullet wounds in most missions.

If you like sandbox type games, Red Dead Redemption is a perfect fit. The story is engaging, much more so than some earlier Rockstar games (I’m looking at you, GTA 3). It’s a bit more serious than earlier entries, so this may deter some gamers, but the controls are all very intuitive and responsive, making it a must buy.

Pros:

– HUGE world, plenty to do.

– Rich and well developed story and characters.

– Very authentic feel for pre-WWI.

Cons:

– Dumb AI.

– A bit too easy at times.

– Not as light-hearted as earlier Rockstar games.