Sunday, 19 December 2004

Homeland Insecurity

Steven Taylor’s latest print column looks at the new frontier of municipal pork: Birmingham suburb Hoover’s addition of a new “Department of Homeland Security and Immigration,” complete with a $110,000-a-year director’s job. They’ve gotta protect the SEC baseball tournament from terrorists, after all… (þ: PoliBlog, of course.)

How can 60 million people† be so wrong?

Blatant fabrications by their leading media outlets might be part of the explanation. (þ: OxBlog)

Home field advantage

The Steelers pulled out a nail-biter yesterday and the Boston Globe is writing about the significance of home-field advantage in the playoffs. The Patriot fans are apparently quite concerned about this, but it doesn’t seem to matter:

Since the inauguration of the cap, home-field advantage in the conference championship games has been of little or no statistical importance. Since 1992, when the cap went into effect, there have been 24 conference championship games. In the AFC, half have been won by the visiting team. In the NFC, five of the 12 games have been won by the visiting team. Thus, in a statistical sense, at least, the advantage of home field as it relates to a Steelers-Patriots showdown would be minimal.

Since the dawn of the new millennium, it’s been the same story. The visitors have won a trip to the Super Bowl in half of the eight conference title games, including the last two in the NFC. Perhaps more significant, the Steelers are a lowly 1–3 in AFC title games since 1992, despite hosting the game four times—1994 (lost to San Diego), ‘95 (beat Indianapolis), ‘97 (lost to Denver), and 2001 (lost to Patriots).

What is clear is that home-field advantage throughout the playoffs meant a lot more in the conference title games prior to the advent of the salary cap, hinting that increased parity has changed considerably the disparity of talent between top teams.

From the first year of the AFL-NFL merger to the final year without the cap (1978–91), home teams dominated the 28 conference title games. In the AFC, the home team was 11–3, the only losses coming in 1980 when the Raiders beat the Chargers in San Diego, 1985 when Raymond Berry’s Patriots upset the Dolphins in Miami, and in 1986 when the Broncos needed a 98-yard John Elway-led drive to beat the Cleveland Browns as time was running out in old Cleveland Stadium.

FWIW, I think Eli Manning did well yesterday and it was nice to see him have a kind of “coming out party”; if he hadn’t been playing the Steelers, I probably wouldn’t have seen it.

Statistically it might not matter who has home field advantage in the playoffs, but the Steelers team that the Patriots faced in 2001 lacked the confidence, I think, that the current team has. The game against the Giants should serve as a wake-up call—they’re not unbeatable.

On an unrelated subject, Cass has started blogging again at Villainous Company. I’ve been remiss in not blogrolling her and bookmarking her. That has now been fixed.

Extend this

Cool Mozilla Firefox extension of the day (at least for Windows): ForecastFox. Under Linux, the GNOME Weather applet is more generally useful, although ForecastFox has the advantage of taking up otherwise-useless space in the Firefox status bar.

Michael Kinsley, revise and resubmit

Apparently the blogosphere has gotten the better of Michael Kinsley, in this round anyway. He plans a more detailed response for next week’s WaPo, but this week is simply a concession that some bloggers got the better of him, i.e. made him think twice about dissing Social Security privatization. Here’s a quote:

That conference was the last straw. Last week, to vent my frustration, I sent an e-mail to some economists and privatizing buffs saying, look, either show me my mistake or drop this issue. Refute me or salute me. Disprove it or move it. Or words to that effect.

As an afterthought, I sent copies to a couple of blogs ( and What happened next was unnerving.

A few days later, most of the big shots hadn’t replied. But overnight I had dozens of responses from the blogosphere. They’re still pouring in. And that’s just direct e-mail to me. Within hours, there were discussions going on in a dozen blogs, all hyperlinking to one another like rabbits.

Just so I don’t sound too naive: I am familiar with the blog phenomenon, and I worked at a Web site for eight years. Some of my best friends are bloggers. Still, it’s different when you purposely drop an idea into this bubbling cauldron and watch the reaction. What floored me was not just the volume and speed of the feedback but its seriousness and sophistication. Sure, there were some simpletons and some name-calling nasties echoing rote-learned propaganda. But we get those in letters to the editor. What we don’t get, nearly as much, is smart and sincere intellectual engagement—mostly from people who are not intellectuals by profession—with obscure and tedious, but important, issues.

I always thought Kinsley was fundamentally decent, and regardless of what he has to say about SS privatization, I’ll probably continue to think so. Welcome to instant fact checking, Mr. Kinsley.

On a somewhat related note, I thought I remembered a quote by JFK, about the WaPo no less, regarding getting in a fight with people that buy ink by the barrel. Turns out it was Clinton:

Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.
Kinsley has a similar statement in his column:
You can send your views electronically to a blog in less time than it takes to find a stamp, let alone type a letter.
It’s a good column. RTWT, and I’ll be looking forward to next week’s installment.