Saturday, November 30, 2013

My annual "What's wrong with Duke?" post

I could just repost every Duke post I've ever written as an explanation for why they lost just about any game. Coach K has the same issues every year. For all his greatness, he has several blind spots that get exposed by good teams or bad match-ups. Their two losses this year haven't been bad losses like we've seen in the past. And the team is built a bit differently than most recent Duke teams. But even their wins have exposed some serious problems for this team. In short, Coach K doesn't value rebounding enough and falls in love with his "scorers" even when they aren't shooting well. Let's look at the 3 close games they've played so far to see how this plays out.

First, the way this team is different than previous years is that Duke finally has not just one, but two very talented small forwards in Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. This position has been a black hole for production recently. So Coach K is justifiably excited about those two guys and wants to play them together as much as possible. That's smart. But he's putting them at the wrong positions when they play together. Parker tops out at probably 6'9 and isn't very wide or muscular. Hood is about the same size, but probably a bit thinner and not was wide.

They are fairly prototypical small forwards. But Coach K puts Parker at power forward and Hood at small forward instead of Parker at small forward and Hood at a shooting guard. This forces Parker to play more around the basket than what is probably natural for him. He's talented enough to do it offensively, though posting him up in order to get him the ball slows down the offense. Defensively he can hold his own at times. But he has trouble moving bigger guys around, instead relying on his athleticism to make up for it. Why is this a problem?

Duke is 211th out of 351 in total points given up per game. That's terrible regardless of what pace the offense is playing, which is probably pretty fast considering they are 19th in total points scored per game. They gave up 90 points to Vermont at home. That shouldn't happen, even against good teams. Vermont only made 4 threes and shot 30% from three. But they shot 75% on 2 point FGs. It wasn't a rebounding problem. They just flat out couldn't stay in front of the ball and keep them from getting good shots. Kansas shot 56% overall and out-rebounded them 36 to 21. Duke's two big men combined for 3 rebounds in 54 minutes. And that's their only role on the team, to play defense and rebound. The only legitimate center on the team, Marshall Plumlee played 3 minutes. He played only 1 minute against Arizona last night. And to my knowledge he is healthy. So I have no idea why he doesn't play more.

Consider the Arizona game last night. Hairston and Jefferson, Duke's "big men", got a combined 7 rebounds in 39 minutes. Arizona's Aaron Gordon had as many rebounds in 8 fewer minutes. I'm focusing on rebounding because while we don't do a great job of guarding the ball, we are only allowing teams to shoot 45% against us, 27% from 3. So aside from Vermont, it's not like every team is getting layups against the defense. The problem is that we are 294th in total rebounds. So when the other team misses a shot on offense, we aren't getting the rebound often enough, thus giving them another opportunity to score. And when we miss a shot on offense, we are letting them get the ball too often, thus giving them more opportunities to score.

When the offense is playing well this isn't a big deal. But when we aren't scoring well it makes it even harder on the offense because they aren't going to get the ball as often as they should in order to make up for inefficient shooting. And that brings me to Coach K's other flaw aside from not valuing rebounding enough, and that's deference to the "scorer". Jabari Parker is this year's "scorer". He's the Kobe Bryant of the team. He can "create his own shot". The problem with this traditional thinking is that it often ignores how efficiently the "scorer" is shooting. Michael Jordan wasn't a great offensive player because he took a ton of shots like Kobe or Carmelo Anthony do. He was great because he made half the shots he took, whereas guys like Kobe and Melo only make about 45% of their shots.

When Parker is playing well offensively he can be efficient. But being a freshman, he doesn't always have good shot selection, forcing up difficult shots that will likely not go in and end up in the hands of the other team. When Coach K lets Parker take inefficient shots he is not only making it harder on the defense because of the other team getting the ball without us gaining points, he's taking away shots from other players. And when Rodney Hood is on your team, it's a bad thing when he isn't allowed to take a more efficient shot than the ones you're letting another player take. Hood is shooting 62% on the year. That's insane, especially considering he takes almost 3 three-pointers per game, of which he's making an insane 63% of. Hood shoots that well in part because he's good at driving and getting a shot close to the basket, which is the most efficient shot on the court, depending on how well you can shoot the 3. He can do this because he's more athletic and stronger than many of the players defending him. So when Parker isn't shooting well or taking bad shots, it's not like Coach K doesn't have other options.

So what should Coach K do different in order to avoid the problems the team has had so far? The thing he has the most control over is who is on the court and at what time they're there. I think Marshall Plumlee has to play more, assuming he's healthy. He isn't as athletic and strong as his brothers were. But he's very tall. And while you don't have to be really tall (in relative basketball terms) to rebound well, it certainly helps. It's worth a try considering Hairston and Jefferson hasn't shown the ability to do it. Though, while I don't love those two players, I would still play them a significant amount of time, but mostly at their more natural power forward position instead of at center. At PF they won't be at as many size disadvantages as they are at center. If for some reason Plumlee just sucks, then I'd play Hairston and Jefferson at the same time more often, placing more emphasis on rebounding instead of playing so many guards and small forwards at one time.

This would allow Parker to move to his natural small forward position and Hood to shooting guard when he'd have an even bigger advantage than he does at SF. This would also keep the very inconsistent Sulaimon and Thorton off the floor more often. Neither has a consistent shot and I don't think they're that good defensively. So my main players who get full time minutes would still be Parker, Hood and Cook. But I'd give Plumlee at least 20 minutes a game (more depending on how well he plays) and I'd cut down on Sulaimon and Thorton's minutes. I think this would directly improve our rebounding (it can't get much worse) and overall defense and indirectly improve the offense by giving it more opportunities to hopefully not let Parker jack up bad shots.

But if Coach K doesn't do this or figure something else out this team will continue to struggle against both good overall teams and teams that can rebound well. And that will lead to another good but disappointing season for Duke, one which largely wastes the talent of a very good player in Jabari Parker. The weird thing is, Coach K should have already learned this lesson when, during the middle of the season, he started playing the 7 foot Brian Zoubek more. Once Zoubek got more playing time the team immediately began playing well and rode it all the way to the national title. I'm not sure Marshall Plumlee is as good as Zoubek. But we won't know until he actually plays.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Contraception coverage will go to Supreme Court

I've been retweeting some good questions that news of the SC deciding to hear a case about mandated contraception coverage by employer-provided health insurance. The basic story is that a corporation like Hobby Lobby thinks it's a violation of its religious freedom to have to provide contraception in the health insurance they give their employees. The questions I've been retweeting deal with what could happen if the court agrees with Hobby Lobby and lets any corporation do whatever they want based on their religious beliefs:









We could go on and on with these types of questions. And that's because you can claim anything is your "religious belief" and try to claim protection for implementing that belief under the 1st Amendment. I somewhat jokingly tweeting that it's my religious belief that incomes over $1 million shouldn't pay under 60% in income taxes. Seriously though, why isn't that a "religious belief" in the same way Hobby Lobby is claiming opposing contraception is their "religious belief"?

The pope actually wrote recently about how the rising inequality being fostered by economies around the world is bad and that we should be doing more to help the poor. So if I were still catholic (or even if I'm not), couldn't I legitimately claim that my religion dictates that high incomes can't be taxed below a certain level because God mandates that we have to give X amount to the poor?

I doubt the court will address the question of what dictates a religious belief and what doesn't. It will probably just address whether a corporation is entitled to the same 1st Amendment religious protections as an individual. And even though many of the conservatives on this court are Tea Partiers in disguise, I think at least Kennedy and the liberals will rule that corporations don't get 1st Amendment religious protection. It's uncertain, though. And that's scary because if the court rules in favor of the likes of Hobby Lobby it could have huge ramifications for a number of issues and the sanctity of the 1st Amendment.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Being a man and being a feminist

Ta-Nehisi Coates had a typically great post about the appropriateness of certain words. For the most part he talks about the word "nigger". I don't have anything to add to that discussion. But TNC mentions the word "feminism" in the post and then addresses it more at length in the comments:

To pick this up, I have no issue with the word "feminist." I think people who try to get cute and pretend that if we invented a new word, sexism would be easier to confront are delusional. Feminism has the connotations it has because it is a movement opposed to people with power. This is not a naming issue.

But I also think it's important for people to have a space of their own. I don't really have to be in that same space to agree and sympathize with the movement. Susan B. Anthony and Ida Wells are heroic to me. I'm suspicious of a need to obviate the differences in who we are in order for me to say that.

And those differences are important. If I am honest, I must admit that a significant portion of my brain is on "How you doin...." time. A good part of my work in attempting to be an honorable person is making sure I don't interact with women from that space--that I see everyone as whole and complete human beings, not simply as attractive bodies. That's my fight. It's part of who I am. It feels somehow false to stand in a space and speak on my belief in liberation, while half of my brain is...what, shall we say, carnal?

I don't think women should have to deal with that. And maybe, more honestly, I don't want have to deal with that. I know my heart. It is not clean. There something about calling myself a "feminist" that feels mad self-congratulatory. Truthfully, whenever I see heterosexual male writes calling themselves "male feminists" alarm bells go off. That may not be fair. I don't know. I know dudes. I know what I am.

My support for reproductive rights really comes out of that knowledge. It comes from knowing my own impulses and imagining what I might do if there were no break on those impulses. I don't know much about intersectionality. But I believe empowered women--actually empowered, not "strong women" cliches--are essential to a democracy. I'm sympathetic to feminism, not out of any bleeding heart sentimentalism, but because I think that it is imperative that women have power to protect themselves from men. And I don't just mean "those men over there." I'm a man. I am part of what women need protection from. Given absolute power, I have no idea what I would do. Calling myself a "feminist," just feels pretending away something that is very real.

Women should have spaces where they are free of my BS. I don't need to be everywhere to be in sympathy.

That's where my brain is as well. The impulse seems natural. How we choose to act seems very socialized. Whatever guys want to call themselves, it's on us to not define women purely sexually. It's a battle. But it's one that can and should be won.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My favorite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Can't believe I hadn't thought of doing this before I saw this ranking of every episode from Buzzfeed: http://www.buzzfeed.com/louispeitzman/ranking-every-episode-of-buffy-the-vampire-slayer?bftw I'm not going to rank every episode, just list some of my favorites.

Tabula Rasa

"Randy Giles? Why not just call me Horny Giles or Desperate for a Shag Giles?" The shot of all the gang screaming when they open the door to a few vampires is one of the best shots of the series.

Fool for Love

Spike backstory is always gold. Love the interaction between him and Buffy at the end.

Lover's Walk

Spike returns to Sunnydale after Dru cheated on him, looking for a love spell. Reminiscing about killing a homeless guy is disturbingly funny. I don't care about the Buffy/Angel relationship. But it was fun to hear Spike tell them the truth about their relationship. If Spike is anything he's honest.

Passion

Angel watching Buffy and Willow get the phone call that Ms Calendar was dead is brutal. And an important episode beyond the feelings because killing her made things more intense and legitimized the threats to Buffy and the gang.

Band Candy

"Blow it off. I'll write you a note." And Snider still kind of being Snider, but younger. And of course young Giles, who apparently had sex with Joyce.

Pangs

"You made a bear. Undo it! Undo it!!"

Becoming, part 1

They had already killed Ms Calendar by this point. So we knew they weren't screwing around. Heavy stuff is going to happen and they aren't afraid to knock off important characters. But damn, these two episodes really go for the gut. Kendra wasn't loved but she was important in the context of the scene. With her dead, Giles is taken, Willow is unconscious and Xander is beat up pretty good. Great cliffhanger.

Becoming, part 2

Obviously heartbreaking to watch Buffy have to kill Angel, even though at this point I hated Angel and wanted him to die. Even more powerful than that moment to me was when Buffy breaks down talking to her mom about being the Slayer and what that sacrifice has meant for her life. She doesn't always wear the reluctant hero on her sleeve. But we're reminded of what it takes out of her and what she gives up when she kills Angel.

But my favorite scene in this episode and one of my favorite in the series is when Spike confronts Buffy to ask for her help defeating Angel and everything after that until Spike and Joyce sit in the living room together, sharing uncomfortable silence until Joyce asks if they've met before.

The Body

A sledgehammer to the heart. One of Anya's best moments. Dawn falling to the ground is the most brutal thing ever.

The Gift

The ultimate hero moment for Buffy. She was already a great hero before sacrificing herself. But this solidified her status right up there with the likes of Batman for me. And seeing Spike break down and the gravestone was so beautiful.

Chosen

I loved the nostalgia of this episode. Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles having a typical Buffy conversation for one last time. Buffy again gets to be the hero, overcoming being stabbed. Spike finally being a hero sacrificing himself. And then fully realizing the main theme of the show, allowing women to realize their inherent power.

The thing about Buffy is that it's great at both the individual episode level and on a season by seasons and overall series level. And beyond being great in and of itself, it's an important show for me personally. I started watching during season 3, at which point I was a bit younger than Buffy on the show. I couldn't really relate to Buffy or anyone since I went to an all guy catholic high school. But I realized that I was watching something different. The hero was a girl, the dialogue was different, and the story was more emotionally stimulating than anything I had experienced before.

Buffy opened the door to a whole new way I experienced tv, and eventually all media. In a way, it also helped me change my view of the world. Part of that is just being exposed to Joss Whedon and then following the rest of his work. But seeing a show that subverted so much of what I had previously seen coincided with my questioning of the rest of the world. Even after the show ended I would come home from class in college and watch reruns to the point where I've seen every episode almost as much as I've seen Seinfeld. Like Seinfeld, it became such a reference point for everything that it's become part of who I am.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Government reopens, but for how long?

Democrats finally used the leverage they had (by benefit of holding the presidency and a majority in the Senate) and waited for Republicans to realize they wouldn't cave to their ridiculous demands. For future reference, Democrats, that is how it's done. Please repeat as necessary. And sadly, I think it will be necessary sooner rather than later. A fairly short term continuing resolution was passed during the last big shutdown in 95. A deal wasn't worked out and there was another shutdown. It was only the second time when Clinton refused to give into all of Newt Gingrich and the GOP's demands that they came to an agreement. I think we're likely to see the same thing happen.

Let's start with what Republicans want, because they are clear about it. They want to cut as much spending from just about everything (maybe not defense, but even then I'm not sure since they seem to be accepting the sequester cuts). If they could do anything they wanted, they would at the very least enact something similar to Paul Ryan's budget proposals. Those proposals include such things as ending Medicare by giving people vouchers to buy health insurance on their own and cutting Social Security benefits, among many other ridiculous things. More than any of that, Republicans want to cut taxes on rich people and corporations.

I'm less sure about the specifics of what Democrats want. But they obviously don't want to cut taxes on the rich. If anything they want to raise their taxes, or at least keep them at current levels. There's always talk about "closing tax loopholes" from both sides. But there's no way Republicans will endorse whatever that looks like in actual policy if it raises taxes on the rich at all. At best, it will involve some technicality that just moves money around but doesn't actually raise any more revenue. At worst, Democrats will cave and give the rich more defined benefits through the tax code.

Some Democrats say they don't want to cut Social Security and other entitlements. But others, such as Obama, seem very open to "entitlement reform", which is just code for cutting benefits. Democrats already cut Medicare spending in one of the few places that wasn't a direct benefit cut (payments to doctors). And Republicans screamed bloody murder when they did it. So I doubt Medicare will be part of "entitlement reform". That probably leaves Social Security and chained CPI, which amounts to a benefits cut. There's just no way Republicans will agree to anything but cuts. And for some reason, Democrats seem open to this. Unless something changes and Democrats decide to make a stand on not cutting entitlements, I think a deal is likely to lead to chained CPI. And unless Republicans rediscover their love for defense spending, I think the current spending levels will remain in tact. We'll get a bare bones budget that drags us and the economy along until the 2014 elections.

Is there any way to avoid that scenario? Well, Democrats will continue to have leverage in the fact that nothing can pass the Senate and be signed by the president without their approval. But they will have less leverage than they did these last few weeks because Republicans probably won't be asking for something ridiculous like defunding Obamacare, thus fewer people will blame a shutdown or debt limit breach on them. But I think if Democrats can negotiate effectively, they can minimize the damage Republicans can do. The first thing I think they need to do is ask for a lot of stuff initially; stuff like infrastructure spending, a reverse of the sequester cuts, a 3% increase in income taxes on incomes $250k and up, and the complete elimination of the debt ceiling.

They won't get any of that. But if you ask for that and gradually back off some of those demands it makes it look like you're negotiating and conceding things to Republicans. I don't really know if I'd raise taxes on those incomes if I could because I don't care about the short term deficit. But starting at a 3% raise, backing down to 1.5%, and then making a "huge" concession by saying you'll abandon the tax increase completely in favor of something like not doing chained CPI is worth trying. I'm not very confident this will happen. Obama in particular seems to have a negotiating strategy that involves starting with the minimum of what you want and conceding from there, offering to do accept things you don't want, thus making Republicans ask for more. If that happens like it did in 2011 this deal will end up being pretty bad, assuming we get a deal at all.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Government shutdown

A quick analogy to highlight how ridiculous Republicans are being: imagine Romney won the presidency in 2012, Republicans gained control of the Senate, but lost House control to Democrats. Then imagine that instead of passing a budget or a continuing resolution, Democrats in the House (where spending bills have to originate) say they will let the gov't shut down unless the Senate and Romney agree to very strict gun control policy. That would be ridiculous. What's beyond ridiculous and a lot more dangerous is threatening to not raise the debt ceiling while advocating the same policy.

And that brings me to a point Matt Yglesias made today in regard to negotiations (I'm too lazy to link to his post. If your interested go to my twitter page.) He says that Dems and Obama shouldn't just sit back and wait for Republicans to cave and inevitably pass a "clean" CR, meaning it contains nothing about defunding or delaying Obamacare. He thinks their stance should be to also raise the debt ceiling, or actually, to get rid of the debt ceiling all together since it doesn't really serve any good purpose. I certainly agree with that as policy and as a negotiating tactic.

If I were Democrats and Obama I would think about going further and telling Republicans that I won't support a CR that doesn't get rid of the sequester cuts that were implemented as part of these same negotiations (or really, hostage taking) last year. Democrats don't like the sequester cuts because they hurt important programs they care about. Republicans also don't like the sequester cuts because they hurt important programs they care about. That was the point of the sequester, to force both parties to come to an agreement so that they could avoid something no one wanted. That didn't work and both parties seem to have rationalized maintaining the cuts. But even if Democrats aren't serious about getting rid of the sequester cuts I think it might not be a bad negotiating strategy.

Say Obama comes out in a speech talking about how bad this shutdown is and trying to convince everyone to blame Republicans for it and lays out what he wants as part of a negotiating tactic. He says at the very least he wants a "clean" CR. There will be absolutely no deal without that. The second thing he wants is what Matt says, a raise of the debt ceiling and an abolishment of it forever so that we don't default on our debt and create big economic problems. And the last thing he wants is to remove the sequester cuts from the CR because they are hurting the economy and important gov't programs.

If Obama were to spend the first round of negotiations pushing really hard for all of those things Republicans likely wouldn't budge at all and would likely try to get the press to blame him for asking for too much, thus extending the shutdown. The press may even play along and cast Obama as the main person to blame. Obama could then go back to the negotiating table and say that he'll accept a "clean" CR and debt ceiling raise but not the sequester cuts so that they could end the shutdown. Then Obama could say he's the one making concessions for the good of the country. And if Republicans don't agree to his concessions, he could try to shift the blame to them.

The problem with trying to move the debate to the left by demanding more than you would actually agree to in the end is that you have to convince Republicans that you are making a legitimate demand and you have to appear to be willing to hold out until you get it. I'm not sure Obama can convince Republicans of those things. And I'm not sure how willing they would be to getting rid of the debt ceiling once and for all. They were successful last year in using it to get something they wanted. So they would probably view getting rid of it as a concession instead of just a thing we as a country are obligated to do. All of these problems are why I only say this negotiating strategy should be considered. I'm not sure it would work. But it's at least worth thinking about.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Polling on the deficit

Kevin Drum points us to a NYT/CBS poll, specifically a question about the deficit and whether people approve of the way Obama is handling it:

54 percent of the public disapproves of Barack Obama's handling of the deficit. And yet, as the chart on the right shows, the deficit is shrinking dramatically. Last year it dropped by $200 billion, and this year, thanks to a recovering economy, lower spending from the sequester, and the increased taxes in the fiscal cliff deal, it's projected to fall another $450 billion.

Bottom line: It's unfortunate that the deficit is falling so fast. It's a headwind against the recovery that we don't need. Nonetheless, the deficit is falling fast, and no one seems to know it yet. The chart above is one that deserves much wider distribution. Be sure to show it to your conservative friends at every opportunity.

I strongly suspect Kevin is right that most people are thinking about that question in terms of cutting the deficit. So while I disapprove of how Obama is handling the deficit (it shouldn't be falling, at least that rate, we need to be spending more to help the economy) and think everyone should agree with me, the vast majority of that 54% very likely aren't disapproving because it's falling too fast.

I went to the actual poll to check the wording and what other questions they were asking. What I found was several questions about the deficit that prime people to think of the issue purely in terms of cutting it instead of increasing it. For instance, here are some of the questions under the section heading "The Budget Deficit":

Overall, what do you think is the best way to reduce the federal budget deficit?

Cut federal spending 33%
Increasing taxes
Combination of both 60%
Don't know/No answer

If you HAD to choose ONE, which of the following programs would you be willing to change in order to cut spending ?

Medicare 20%
Social Security 14%
The Military 49%
Don't know/No answer 17%

The first question assumes that the deficit should be cut. They don't even ask if people think it should raised or kept at the current level. Maybe this is why so many people think the deficit should be cut, that's all they ever hear from politicians and the media. Perhaps if people were asked a question like, "Would you support a deficit increase if the spending could help the economy grow faster?" they might not just assume the deficit always has to be cut.

In general, do you think it is acceptable for a President or members of Congress to threaten a government shutdown during their budget negotiations in order to achieve their goals, or is that not an acceptable way to negotiate?

Acceptable 16%
Not acceptable 80%
Depends
Don't know/No answer

Notice how this one pins the idea of threatening a shutdown on both the president and congress. In reality it's Republicans in Congress that are threatening a shutdown if Obamacare isn't defunded, not the president. And they don't even ask the more important question, whether Republicans should threaten not to raise the debt ceiling. This whole thing is a mess. Not only do most people not have a great understanding of these issues, they are being asked skewed questions while not being asked other questions that would be relevant to the issue. We should never put too much stock into any given poll. But we should especially not put much of any in this one and any like it.