Thursday, February 28, 2013

Joy cometh in the morning...

According to KDKA's Andy Sheehan...well, hold onto your butts.

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is expected to make a major announcement today concerning his family and his future, KDKA-TV has learned.


We're getting an NBA team? Aliens have landed? THE OLYMPICS ARE COMING!? 

Sources tell KDKA Investigator Andy Sheehan that the mayor may hold a news conference sometime this afternoon. At that time he could announce that he will finish out his term, but not run for re-election and retire from politics.

Sources say the mayor could also announce that he is stepping down under the strain of the current federal grand jury investigation of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. In addition, sources say the mayor is also feeling personal strain over the fact that his mother was recently diagnosed with cancer.

Wait...so we're not getting an NBA team?
Just last week, the mayor was called in for questioning by the FBI and reporters have drilled the mayor about the investigation — including the fact that his security officers had debit cards to a police slush fund.
End of the line, dude. Mayor Dudeface's violations of the public trust and abuses of the power afforded to his position are well-documented, as is his incorrigible childish behavior. If we had felt compelled to change the name of this blog after Tank Carter was released from prison, we would have called it Fire Boy Mayor. I'm glad we didn't change it then, because now we'd be in the position of having to change it again.
We're glued to Twitter for the rest of the day.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

There are no bad ideas, Lemon, only great ideas that go horribly wrong.

From the Pittsburgh Bureau of Enormous Civic Mistakes:

It would take a huge financial commitment and a massive building program, but Pittsburgh will review whether to submit a bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.

Good. God.

Pittsburgh was among 35 U.S. cities to receive letters Tuesday from the U.S. Olympic Committee to gauge whether they have interest in preparing a bid for the games. The committee will review bids in about two years and decide whether to recommend one to the International Olympic Committee, which is expected to chose a host city in 2017.

Okay, nobody freak out just yet. We're just one of 35 cities the USOC has selected to see if the interest is there. Obviously, there are cities in this country that are more financially and spatially capable of pulling off an event like this. I just hope there are cities more enthusiastic. The Post-Gazette's piece on this development, linked above, addressed the issue from a very grounded place, addressing only the facts. The Tribune-Review is not interested in such level-headedness:

Imagine the world's best athletes marching through Heinz Field to the national anthem as the Olympic flame burns at The Point.

Heinz Field? Really? Heinz Field has a maximum capacity of about 68,000. That’s what it can hold for an outdoor hockey game, with seats on added onto the field. Olympic Stadium in London, constructed exclusively for the 2012 summer games, has a capacity of 80,000. It didn’t even matter that Wembley Stadium, which opened in 2007 – the year they broke ground for Olympic Stadium — already had a maximum capacity of 90,000.

Olympic Stadium cost £486 million ($741,733,200) to build, and it has zero other practical uses. I'm sorry, that’s so dismissive. I take that back. London’s Olympic Stadium will play host to the 2015 Rugby World Cup, the 2017 IPC Athletics World Championships, and the 2017 IAAF World Championships in Athletics, and maybe West Ham United Football Club — a team that plays a game you Yanks call so adorably call soccer.

Do you think Pittsburgh’s Hypothetical Olympic Stadium — which we’d probably wind up naming after Jerome Bettis, so for the purposes of this argument, we’ll just call The Bettis — would have even the slightest hope of attracting anything that anyone would give a rat’s ass about beyond the summer games? At least London is home to 14 professional soccer clubs, more than 80 amateur leagues, and some 41.6 million rugby and cricket squads. What would we use that building for? High school football playoffs? An MLS team? Does it come with a $5 billion marketing plan to get Allegheny County residents super-invested in track and field? The Bettis Stadium has zero uses, practical, hypothetical, metaphorical or otherwise.

So when you’re imagining the year 2024, with all of the world’s best athletes walking around Heinz Field as the Olympic Flame burns at the Point, what you should be imagining is a brand new Three Rivers Stadium — only twice the size of the original and built entirely of glass, biodegradable plastics and recycled cardboard — in an area likely somewhere out past, oh, I don’t know, the West End Bridge. Meanwhile, the Olympic Flame that’s raging on at the Point is actually a shale gas well that exploded and is now raging out of control. It’s surrounded by barbed wire fences, has caused the Ohio River to turn bright green, and most civil engineers say that letting it burn long enough might be our only hope of ever demolishing the perpetually bankrupt, hummus-colored Downtown Hilton.

But please, go on…

Though it may seem farfetched, city and county leaders can envision that.

I can, too. It looks like Darren Aronofsky’s film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.”

“Pittsburgh is on the map,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said. “We've hosted major events before. It's definitely something we should take a look at.”

Look. By all means, look. But don’t touch, and don’t spend a goddamn dime.

Ravenstahl said he would not dismiss the idea outright.
“Certainly, there would be extraordinary obstacles and challenges to meet in putting a bid together,” he said. 
How about the extraordinary obstacles you are totally unable to overcome in the day-to-day operations of a city? Just off the top of my head:

·         The pension crisis
·         The police bureau
·         Act 47 state financial oversight (which we aren’t ready to come out from)
·         The police bureau
·         The police bureau

And you want to talk about hosting the Olympics? Perhaps my memory’s a little foggy from the rage, but I feel like we had some international thing here a few years ago that might have caused some controversy. But again, I could just be making this up.

Ravenstahl said city officials “welcome opportunities to tell our comeback story to the world. It wasn't long ago that we hosted a safe and successful G-20 summit.”

Oh yeah, the G-20 summit! Well that went swimmingly, didn’t it? I guess security ceases to be a logistical issue if you’re willing to gas, beat and arrest everyone. Remember when the city was ostensibly on lockdown for three days, and if you so much as left your house to go out for milk or bread, you wound up in the clink with five of your neighbors and 65 teenagers from Seattle? SO GREAT! The only positive to come out of the G-20 was how Pittsburghers reacted to the protesters:


The letter from committee CEO Scott Blackmun outlines a host city's infrastructure and venue requirements — some that might be difficult for Pittsburgh to meet. The Olympics would require an operating budget of more than $3 billion, not including costs for venue construction and infrastructure improvements.

Three billion dollars? Well, surely, we’d make all of that back and then some, right?

“The great majority of cities end up spending more money than they take in,” said Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College in Massachusetts, author and expert on the economics of major sporting events.
Host cities typically spend billions of dollars on stadiums, roads and other infrastructure, and continue for years to pony up millions of dollars in maintenance for underutilized facilities, he said.
You don’t say! So in addition to spending a lot of money we don’t have, this would put the city into an even deeper financial hole than the one it’s not even finished crawling out from? This sounds EXACTLY like the kind of thing Mayor Dudeface would use TIFs to advance.
Bakery Square? TREAT YO’SELF!
PNC Tower? TREAT YO’SELF!
2024 Olympic Games?
Jimmy Sacco, director of stadium management at Heinz Field, said the football field — with its view of Downtown, Point State Park and the city's three rivers — would be an ideal setting for opening ceremonies.
“I think it would be great,” Sacco said. “We proved ourselves to the world with the Winter Classic and how Pittsburgh opens its arms to the world. Yes, we could handle it.”
You turned a football stadium into a football stadium with a hockey rink in the middle and added 6,000 folding chairs. You “proved [y]ourselves to the world” about as much as a high school prom committee. Not only that, but the turf at the football stadium where you “proved yourself” is nationally renowned for being perennially and epically shitty.
If the over/under on the number of Olympians who would suffer career-ending injuries walking around the field during the opening ceremonies was 45 percent, I’d take the over.
Thankfully, we haven’t completely run out of reasonable people in this town.
Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitPittsburgh, doubts Pittsburgh is big enough to seriously consider making a bid.
With those words, Craig Davis pulled ahead of Jerome Bettis in the race for my non-existent vote for the completely fictitious FTC Pittsburgher of the Year Award.
“You could go up to Erie, down to West Virginia, (but) I would suspect that Pittsburgh is just too small,” Davis said.
No. I don’t want this meaningless sound and fury anywhere near Pittsburgh. I don’t even want them to have it in Washington County. Let LA have it — they haven’t had a good catastrophe in a while. Isn’t Dallas just crying for something like this? Jerry Jones could pay for the whole thing out-of-pocket. Or, in my wettest of dreams, Philadelphia. If the IOC gave the games to Philadelphia, not only would the natives light the whole place on fire, the U.S. would win the Never Invited Back Award and would be permanently absolved from ever hosting the Olympics again.
The U.S. committee has about two years to decide whether to bid for the games and choose a city.
Hunker down, people. This ain’t over.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Coming soon

Monday, February 4, 2013

FRANCO is unhinged

I don't mean to scare you, but I'm ready to strangle the next person who uses the word momentum to describe the course of a football game.

First, some back story.

This guy, Brian Burke runs a very credible site called Advanced NFL Stats.  He also contributes to the New York Times, and put up this blurb before the big game.   In it he says that the 49ers are the safer pick, simply because they're the better team and there isn't much to sustaining game-to-game hot streaks, or "momentum"-- contrary to what Ravens' backers would prefer to think.  His theory didn't pan out, but his methodology remains valid.  Specifically, I call your attention to this bout of reasoning:
I might be going off the deep end here, but I think fans and analysts alike are susceptible to the idea of momentum because our brains are geared to detect patterns from nature. Football teams and their win-loss records are very, very abstract constructions, but our brains aren’t built for such abstractions.
Boom.

As for his theory being in tact, I would say he makes allowances for things like special teams play being a game changer, he just refuses to account for it in predictions due to its flukey nature.  Baltimore fails to pick up the 108 yard return at the beginning of the second half, and it's SF lifting the trophy.  Baltimore fails to run one back on the Steelers in the regular season, and my parents never meet, I'm never born, you're reading a better blog right now.  Special teams are flukey!

So anyhow, Brian Burke's talking about making predictions week-to-week, and discounting hot streaks as an indicator of future things.  How about using momentum as a point of analysis inside a game?  This is where I'm going to take over.

Momentum is mass times velocity.  It's some physics shit that says my bowling ball is going that way in a hurry because it's heavy and I rolled it.  You could use the word to describe the physics of a football game.  "That fatty is running at that other guy really fast, and when he hits him it's going to hurt because of all that momentum!"  It is NOT some abstract quality that shifts back and forth to whichever team is putting together a good drive at the moment.

Well why not, FRANCO? 

I'll tell you!  Because as soon as we start using the word to mean whoever looks good at the moment, then it's completely meaningless.

But what about lead changes, FRANCO?

What about them!  They're changes in the lead, not "shifts in momentum."  If you want some perspective on how ludicrous this phrase sounds, try using it to describe the weather.  "This snow storm sure has a lot of momentum!  It's going to keep snowing until there's a shift in momentum and it stops snowing."  If that somehow enhances your understanding of meteorological patterns, may I recommend you do your sudoku's in pencil.

Back to the Super Bowl.

I spent the first half on the road, so the game was brought to me over the radio.  Boomer Esiason was the color guy, and he must have said "momentum" a dozen times.  He also maintained that the 49ers were going to come back and make the game very exciting.  On this point, I agreed completely.   Not because Baltimore was going to somehow lose their mental toughness or because San Francisco was going to be psychologically healed, but because the 49ers are fucking good at scoring points.  They're playing in the damn Super Bowl because of this!  If I was a science man, I might think of this as likely regression.

Anyway, the Ravens do their fake field goal thing, it fails, but the 49ers are pinned on their own 6 yard line or something.  Boomer talks about how all the momentum is back on San Fran's side.  49ers go 3-and-out.  Then more instances of this, which I won't document here.  Beyonce comes out, the momentum is on her side, then it shifts to Destiny's Child, then she retakes the momentum to finish strong.  Then the second half starts, and Boomer tells me that he strongly believes the 49ers are ready to go, that they're about to steal the momentum.

11 seconds later, and he is telling the world that he is stunned.  No kidding.

Hey! Then the power goes out!

Around this time, I get to my destination, which is my aunt and uncle's house, where I meet up with them and my parents.  They're watching the game, which has just resumed, and they're talking about...wait for it... momentum.

I'd like to brag that I'm related to smart people, but last night they were not bringing it.  My aunt was going on about how she was sure the 49ers were about to take over the momentum, and my dad thought that was a pretty convincing analysis.  Always on the ready, I whipped out my laptop and showed them a live WPA graph of the game, pointing out that Baltimore had reached a solid ~95% of winning the game after the special teams TD.  I went Joe Namath on these poor people, guaranteeing everything and trying to lick everyone.

Then SF scored two TDs and everyone was like "See?? Momentum!"  And you know.  I did my thing: I  pointed to a fucking graph, talked about regression not being enough to overcome the odds, muttered something about Nate Silver wanting to see all of you burn in hell.

Hey, what do you know.  Math was ultimately right.  It got dicey there for a minute, but when you're looking at ~95% odds of something happening, it's a pretty good vantage point for making guarantees and not giving a shit about abstract shifts in aura or feel.

So I complained a bit to Nils, and then went to bed confident that we have the technology for a better world, but not the population to employ it.  Woke up this morning, ready to get on with my life.  That's when my aunt greeted me with "Now do you believe in momentum?" She then brandished her New York Times, which I now understand to be a liberal claptrap. 
In a sporting event that has had spectacular finishes as well as an infamous wardrobe malfunction during a halftime performance, the electricity at the Superdome stole the show on Sunday night, interrupting the third quarter for more than a half-hour and seemingly shifting the momentum of the game in a dramatic way.
 The equally leftist and untrustworthy Yahoo! Sports was also on board with this nonsense. 
But it's hard not to intertwine the blackout and the complete momentum changed that happened afterward.
Oh my god, people, it's so easy to be reasonable about this!!!  First of all, I do believe halftime and the blackout helped the 49ers.  Jim Harbaugh is a smart asshole, and with his team getting the shit beat out of it, he needed every extra minute he could buy to regroup, analyze, and make strategic adjustments.  No one mentioned how an intermission or two could, in this specific way, be an advantage to the team needing to make the adjustments. 

Secondly, we need to look at this momentum shit again.  Just because the 49ers scored points did not change their likelihood of winning by much.  If we wanted to use the M word correctly, we could posit that the Ravens had built up enough momentum in their likelihood to win, that the 49ers were incapable of stopping it, even if they managed to slow it down.  (I feel dirty.)

Hey, look at a graph.  I'm not embedding it here, but go back to Advanced NFL Stats.  That charts the likelihood of Baltimore winning the game after any given play.  Being as possessed by math fury as I am this morning, I averaged all the little points on the graph before the power surge and again after.  Baltimore stood a 74.7% chance of winning before the lights went out, and an 80.6% after they came back on.

We all love to think that anything can happen in a contest.  That's why we watch.  But sometimes shit gets insurmountable.  Regression is not momentum.  Regression is regression.  Momentum is some physics shit.

Next up on FTC: how to use the word "surreal" correctly.