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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Mavericks

Last night, my wife and I went to the Mavericks show at the Iroquois Amphitheater. The 9-piece band sounded terrific and it was a beautiful night for outdoor music. The band included not only standard guitarist, drummers, and keyboard musicians, but also men who played the accordion, sax, upright bass, and two trumpets. Two!



Singer Raul Malo is very talented. Back in the day, he could have replaced the lead singer of virtually any given Americana or alt-country band -- and improved their sound.

Strangely, despite these strengths, the entire top section of the venue was nearly empty. This could have been because Louisville is a week out from the Kentucky Derby and there are many competing events all over town.  Yet, I suspect the Maverick's history and set list played a part.

The band was at its peak in the 1990s, so their fans are starting to age out of concerts. The crowd was definitely old for a rock show and few people were singing along with the songs -- very different from how the crowd behaved at the Old Crow Medicine Show performance we attended last year in the same venue. Granted, OCMS was performing Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, but the crowd knew the band's songs too when they eventually played some hits.

Trampoline, which may be the Maverick's best recording, was released 20 years ago. Within a few years of that recording, the band took a hiatus for about 7 years. Raul Malo had a solo career and sang as part of Los Super Seven. Oh, yes, I have their fantastic Heard it on the X CD -- but all these facts likely made it tough for the Mavericks to sustain a fan base.

The band's set list was kind of strange as well. They apparently had some top 40 (country) hits back in their heyday, but I'm not sure they had a specific single that everyone knows and associates with the band. I recognized most of the songs last night, but I have three of their CDs and am a fan.

The crowd did know (and sing along with) the handful of covers the Mavericks played -- including songs written or made famous by Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, the BeeGees and the Drifters. See this, this, this, this, and this. These songs tended to highlight Malo's voice and some were played acoustically with minimal backing from the rest of the band.

Prior to the show, I talked to a number of people who were unfamiliar with the Maverick's music, so I started thinking about how to describe their eclectic sound. I finally ended up with Roy Orbison meets the Buena Vista Social Club. Los Lobos might have sounded like the Mavericks if they had been from Miami instead of LA.

So, about those empty seats: What a Crying Shame! 


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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!

University of Kansas basketball fans (me included, of course) are excited that this year's team has made the Final Four of the NCAA tournament. For KU, this is a familiar spot. Per Wikipedia, Kansas has previously participated in the Final Four in these years: 1940, 1952, 1953, 1957, 1971, 1974, 1986, 1988, 1991, 1993, 2002, 2003, 2008, and 2012. I started watching Kansas basketball around 1970, which means they've made the Final Four about once every five years during my lifetime as a fan. None of those appearances occured during my four years at Kansas, 1979-1983.

Kansas won the NCAA tournament in 1952, 1988, and 2008, but the school also claims two "mythical" championships from the era prior to the NCAA tournament: 1922 and 1923 (the "Helms championship"). Since the Jayhawk is a mythical bird, rest assured that many other schools count mythical championships awarded by the Helms Athletic Foundation, including Purdue and Stanford.

Meanwhile, University of Kansas students also have a strong history participating in the intercollegiate National Debate Tournament (NDT). Indeed, late Monday March26, the team of seniors Quaram Robinson and Will Katz won the 2018 national championship. This was the sixth time a team from Kansas had achieved this feat, having previously won the NDT in 1954, 1970, 1976, 1983, and 2009. Yes, I was on campus for the 1983 title.

Here's a picture of the latest winners:



Congratulations to these students!! I attended the 2017 NDT in Kansas City last year and met both of them during a reunion hosted by KU. Their accomplishment is truly impressive and undoubtedly reflects a tremendous amount of hard work. Congrats also to coach Scott Harris!

Incidentally, this was the 16th time a Kansas team had been in the Final Four of the NDT: 1948, 1954, 1959, 1970 (2 teams*), 1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1983, 1994, 1999, 2009, 2016, and 2018. The NDT allowed 2 teams per school for many years. It now allows three.

So, it appears 1971 was the only other year Kansas had teams in the Final Four of both basketball and debate. It's a rarity that should be celebrated. More on 1971 below.

Even more rare would be a double victory. The NDT has been won 15 times by Northwestern, 7 times by Harvard, and 6 times by Dartmouth. Neither Northwestern nor Harvard has ever appeared in the NCAA Final Four. Dartmouth did twice, in 1942 and 1944, but lost in the championship game both times. Those appearances occurred before the NDT existed.

Thus, my quick perusal of the list of past winners of these tournaments yields these findings:

In 1962, Ohio State won the NDT, but lost the NCAA tournament championship game.
In 1989, Michigan won the NCAA tournament, but finished 2nd at the NDT.
In 2000, Michigan State won the NCAA tournament, but finished 2nd at the NDT.

Based on my quick perusal, it appears UCLA in 1971 is the only school to win both tournaments in the same year.

Kansas has an opportunity to duplicate that feat this weekend. Rock Chalk!



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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Snow day

The region was socked with about 7 inches of snow last night. The public schools and University of Louisville were both closed. This morning, I tweeted this photo of our back deck -- look at the depth of the snow piled on the railing:


This afternoon, I tweeted a picture of Jim Patterson Stadium as it never is on March 21:


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Monday, March 12, 2018

Robey

In December 2016, our dog Robey (nickname for Darrowby), was diagnosed with bladder cancer. The veterinarian noted that he was in good spirits and fairly good health, but that the prognosis was likely 6 to 18 months of remaining life. Given his age and the nature of the disease, surgery or other potential treatments did not seem like good options.

It's been 15 months since that initial diagnosis and Robey's health has definitely declined. He's much thinner now -- partly a result of the flu bug he and his sister Paddy contracted last summer at the kennel. There was a particularly horrible day in the first week of their quarantine when I feared he would not survive the flu. However, an emergency trip to the veterinary hospital provided an infusion of fluids and drugs that helped him turn the corner and recover much of his strength. His sister recovered much more quickly from the illness and is now far more energetic and healthy.

For the last few months, we've battled his occasional mild incontinence with a male doggie wrap lined with baby diapers. His mood has been good and I think he really enjoyed recent visits from our two daughters.

Sadly, the last two weeks, Robey has shown much less enthusiasm for his daily walk. About 10 to 12 days ago, he walked very slowly several steps behind me as his sister Paddy charged ahead as she almost always does. He has repeated that lethargic behavior on several other walks since then. Yesterday, my wife cut the walk short for him and I took his sister for a longer stroll around the neighborhood. He was walking so slowly that we caught up before they made it back home.

Robey has also stopped eating regularly -- effectively skipping breakfast on most mornings the last week or so and sometimes barely touching dinner. Twice in the last few days we have served him canned dog food at night, which he really enjoys and he has quickly consumed it mixed with the typical dry food. The past few days, however, he has had trouble keeping any food he consumes down. This morning, he vomited his medicines and it was obvious that last night's dinner had not been digested.

Twice over the weekend, he remained indoors behind the dog door when I parked the car in the garage in the alley and entered the backyard from there. Paddy was outside at the garage door to greet me, as she always is, but her brother clearly decided to continue resting indoors on the floor 75 feet away.

In sum, Robey is ticking all the boxes for a dog near the end of his life. He has been a great dog and we're going to miss him very much when he's gone. This is a photo from this morning -- after a freak March snow shower in Louisville last night:




Update: Robey stopped going on walks and stopped eating. RIP old friend.
~ July 4, 2005 to March 16, 2018.


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Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Trump on War: Korea edition

I'm compiling some statements and tweets from President Donald Trump concerning various alleged threats to US (or international) security.

This post focuses on North Korea. I may add to it as I find additional material. Note: I'm not currently compiling all the stories based on leaked reports, which claim the administration has seriously considered war with North Korea. The administration withdrew its choice for ambassador to South Korea, reportedly, because he was opposed to so-called "bloody nose" strikes against North Korea.

This is from Trump's remarks prior to a briefing on the Opioid crisis, August 8, 2017:
Q    Any comment on the reports about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities? 
THE PRESIDENT:  North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States.  They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.  He has been very threatening beyond a normal state.  And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury, and, frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.

More from Trump's speech to the UN on September 19, 2017:
North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles threatens the entire world with unthinkable loss of human life. 
It is an outrage that some nations would not only trade with such a regime, but would arm, supply, and financially support a country that imperils the world with nuclear conflict.  No nation on earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals arm itself with nuclear weapons and missiles. 
The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.  Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.  The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary.  That’s what the United Nations is all about; that’s what the United Nations is for.  Let’s see how they do 
It is time for North Korea to realize that the denuclearization is its only acceptable future.  The United Nations Security Council recently held two unanimous 15-0 votes adopting hard-hitting resolutions against North Korea, and I want to thank China and Russia for joining the vote to impose sanctions, along with all of the other members of the Security Council.  Thank you to all involved. 
But we must do much more.  It is time for all nations to work together to isolate the Kim regime until it ceases its hostile behavior.
The President spoke in Seoul, South Korea on November 7, 2017. The speech sounded much like the ones George W. Bush used to give about Iraq back in 2002. This is a long excerpt, but it is telling:
The North Korean regime has pursued its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in defiance of every assurance, agreement, and commitment it has made to the United States and its allies. It’s broken all of those commitments. After promising to freeze its plutonium program in 1994, it repeated [reaped] the benefits of the deal and then — and then immediately continued its illicit nuclear activities. 
In 2005, after years of diplomacy, the dictatorship agreed to ultimately abandon its nuclear programs and return to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation. But it never did. And worse, it tested the very weapons it said it was going to give up. In 2009, the United States gave negotiations yet another chance, and offered North Korea the open hand of engagement. The regime responded by sinking a South Korean Navy ship, killing 46 Korean sailors. To this day, it continues to launch missiles over the sovereign territory of Japan and all other neighbors, test nuclear devices, and develop ICBMs to threaten the United States itself. The regime has interpreted America’s past restraint as weakness. This would be a fatal miscalculation. This is a very different administration than the United States has had in the past. 
Today, I hope I speak not only for our countries, but for all civilized nations, when I say to the North: Do not underestimate us, and do not try us. We will defend our common security, our shared prosperity, and our sacred liberty. 
We did not choose to draw here, on this peninsula — (applause) — this magnificent peninsula — the thin line of civilization that runs around the world and down through time. But here it was drawn, and here it remains to this day. It is the line between peace and war, between decency and depravity, between law and tyranny, between hope and total despair. It is a line that has been drawn many times, in many places, throughout history. To hold that line is a choice free nations have always had to make. We have learned together the high cost of weakness and the high stakes of its defense.
America’s men and women in uniform have given their lives in the fight against Nazism, imperialism, Communism and terrorism. 
America does not seek conflict or confrontation, but we will never run from it. History is filled with discarded regimes that have foolishly tested America’s resolve. 
Anyone who doubts the strength or determination of the United States should look to our past, and you will doubt it no longer. We will not permit America or our allies to be blackmailed or attacked. We will not allow American cities to be threatened with destruction. We will not be intimidated. And we will not let the worst atrocities in history be repeated here, on this ground, we fought and died so hard to secure. (Applause.) 
That is why I have come here, to the heart of a free and flourishing Korea, with a message for the peace-loving nations of the world: The time for excuses is over. Now is the time for strength. If you want peace, you must stand strong at all times. (Applause.) The world cannot tolerate the menace of a rogue regime that threatens with nuclear devastation. 
All responsible nations must join forces to isolate the brutal regime of North Korea — to deny it and any form — any form of it. You cannot support, you cannot supply, you cannot accept. We call on every nation, including China and Russia, to fully implement U.N. Security Council resolutions, downgrade diplomatic relations with the regime, and sever all ties of trade and technology. 
It is our responsibility and our duty to confront this danger together — because the longer we wait, the greater the danger grows, and the fewer the options become. (Applause.) And to those nations that choose to ignore this threat, or, worse still, to enable it, the weight of this crisis is on your conscience. 
I also have come here to this peninsula to deliver a message directly to the leader of the North Korean dictatorship: The weapons you are acquiring are not making you safer. They are putting your regime in grave danger. Every step you take down this dark path increases the peril you face.
And Trump's State of the Union address on January 30, 2018:
North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland.
We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening.
Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation.  I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position.
We need only look at the depraved character of the North Korean regime to understand the nature of the nuclear threat it could pose to America and our allies.
Otto Warmbier was a hardworking student at the University of Virginia.  On his way to study abroad in Asia, Otto joined a tour to North Korea.  At its conclusion, this wonderful young man was arrested and charged with crimes against the state.  After a shameful trial, the dictatorship sentenced Otto to 15 years of hard labor, before returning him to America last June — horribly injured and on the verge of death.  He passed away just days after his return. 
Otto’s Parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, are with us tonight — along with Otto’s brother and sister, Austin and Greta.  You are powerful witnesses to a menace that threatens our world, and your strength inspires us all.  Tonight, we pledge to honor Otto’s memory with American resolve.
Some key tweets, arranged chronologically:





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Friday, March 02, 2018

Oscars for 2017 Films

Rialto Theatre, Edmonton
Source: Provincial Archives of Alberta
The Academy Award ceremonies are Sunday night and my wife and I have again been spending some of our leisure time viewing nominated films and acting performances. Regular readers may recall that we actually managed to see three of the films nominated for best picture during the 2017 calendar year. That was partly because two nominees were out in the summer and were not year-end releases. Still, thanks to various bad weather days in January, we saw six of the nine best picture films prior to the announcement of the Oscars -- all of them in the theater except for one of the early-year movies!

Even though I have seen a fairly good sample of the films and performances, I will as usual update this post as we watch more of these films. Note for future readers: Films and performances shaded in yellow below will indicate additions/edits after the Oscars are awarded (and the original blog posting).

Moreover, as I do each year, I'm going to rank-order the films and acting performances. Obviously, this is my completely subjective perspective -- and hardly an ideal way to think about art. Plus, obviously, I can only rank the performances I watched.

Keep in mind that these are not my predictions about winners in each category. Go to the Hollywood Stock Exchange or other sites if you want predictions based upon betting markets. Spoiler Alert: The Shape of Water is a slight favorite for Best Picture and its director (Guillermo Del Toro) seems to be one of the biggest favorites in a major category.  In other categories, Darkest Hour star Gary Oldman and Three Billboards star Frances McDormand are strongly favored to pick up best acting awards. Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards) and Allison Janney (I, Tonya) are also now highly favored in the supporting roles.


Best picture

The Shape of Water **
Lady Bird **
The Post **
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri **
Dunkirk **
Get Out
Darkest Hour **

Call Me by Your Name
Phantom Thread

Comment: I would have put "I, Tonya" in this category as it was an excellent film. My oldest daughter saw "Call Me By Your Name" and really liked it. My spouse and I think "Phantom Thread" looks like a rental at home.

Best director

I saw four of these films prior to the Oscar announcements:

“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan **
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig **
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro **

“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson

Best actor in a Leading Role

Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour” **
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”

Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”

Comment: This actually seems like a weak crop compared to the women. Day-Lewis and Washington are frequent contenders in this category, but neither of their 2017 films made a big splash. Washington's film is on DVD, but we watched "The Florida Project" and "Mudbound" when facing the choice recently.

Best actress in a Leading Role

Remarkable, especially when compared to last year, I also all of these performances prior to the Oscar announcements! This is one tough category as I could see a case for any of these women:

Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water” **
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” **
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird” **
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya” **
Meryl Streep, “The Post” **

I'd probably vote for Hawkins because she gave a remarkable and fearless performance that included very little dialogue. Yet, I knew exactly what she was communicating at all times.  McDormand was very good, even excellent, but she's virtually always very good. She won an Oscar for "Fargo" in 1996.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” **
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water” **
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” **
Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”

Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”

I'm not sure about how well Rockwell's character was written, but he was excellent in his performance. Harrelson and Jenkins were also very good, as was Dafoe. This is a strong category.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Allison Janney, “I, Tonya” **
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird” **
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water” **
Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”

Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”

Both Janney and Metcalf were fantastic playing mothers of young women coming-of-age. After seeing "Lady Bird," I was convinced Metcalf was a lock for this award. Then, I saw "I, Tonya." Wow.

Best Documentary Feature

I failed to see any of these before the Oscars:

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Faces Places
Icarus
Last Men in Aleppo
Strong Island

Comment: Netflix had Icarus, Last Men in Aleppo, and Strong Island available to stream prior to the Oscars and Abacus is on Amazon Prime. This is a category that I should have given more attention weeks ago.

Best Foreign Language Film

And I haven't seen these and none seem to be streaming for free on Netflix, Hulu, or Prime:

“A Fantastic Woman” (Chile)
“The Insult” (Lebanon)
“Loveless” (Russia)
“On Body and Soul (Hungary)
“The Square” (Sweden)


** I saw these films or performances in the theater.



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Monday, February 12, 2018

Senator Schumer at UofL

I went to the campus talk by NY Senator Chuck Schumer this morning. I was not sitting very close, so my photos didn't turn out very well. I posted a Twitter thread about the event:








The Department Twitter account posted a photo of the Senators with our new department chair Jasmine Farrier:



Did I mention that my term as chair ended and I'm on sabbatical through 2018?

Oh, I snapped this shot from my seat prior to the event (sorry it is blurry, but you were warned above):







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Saturday, February 10, 2018

More on Athletic Salaries at Louisville

University of Louisville Interim Athletic Director Vince Tyra cut his own salary this past week -- from $1.2 million a year to "only" $850,000. Sports columnist Tim Sullivan notes that this might make him more likely to land the permanent AD job. Readers may remember I commented about the $1.2 million salary already.

In any case, that first linked story above included Tyra's reasoning for slicing his own salary to $850K:
Tyra said that in examining the athletic department's costs, he looked up the salaries of the other athletic directors in the ACC and averaged the top three, which generated $854,000. As a result, he said he asked to have his salary lowered from $1.2 million to $850,000.
Today, I had a back-and-forth discussion with Sullivan on twitter concerning Tyra's status and pay:
When the University was increasing faculty salaries a couple of years ago, no one was paid a new salary obtained by averaging the three highest paid comparable position salaries in the ACC. For one thing, UofL salaries were far under baseline school comparisons and the increase only resulted in salaries that were slightly better than before. Faculty in Arts and Sciences are still paid well below their peers -- especially compared to the highest paid ACC faculty, which tend to be at the private schools. And of course those were the last raises faculty received unless they were promoted in rank -- or managed to get a competing job offer.

Sullivan also pointed out that my thinking didn't account for Tyra's business experience. He asked, via twitter, "If Bill Gates wanted the job, would you pay him as an entry level employee?"

I replied:

Sullivan replied to my first question by linking to a 2010 NY Times article noting that a number of schools have hired ADs from business.

As for the market value of the ADs, I found this:
So $850,000 per year for a novice AD still seems outrageous to me. I know the data is 4+ years old, but consider this quote from the article: "many of them are paid like CEOs, with many making salaries in the high six figures. A handful even make more than $1 million a year."

Again: Many paid like CEOs. Many in high 6 figures. A handful over a million.

Yet, that has been Vince Tyra's starting salary level.

College Sports at UofL remain broken.


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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Dynasty baseball

Jim Thome's election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame has me reminiscing about my dynasty-league fantasy baseball championship teams of the late 1990s.

In a 24 team league, the Louisville Sluggers lost in the World Series in the 1996 B season. The OBFLB divides the season every year at the All-Star break. The Sluggers won its first championship with Thome at third base in 1997 A. The team repeated in 1998 A, 1999 A, 2000 A, 2002 B, and 2003 B. There was also a runner-up finish in 1999 B. That made 6 championships and 8 World Series appearances in 8 years, covering 15 possible World Series. There were some playoff losses in there too: I found a file for 2000 B, but seem to be missing other data from the early 2000s.

The team has had some success since then, but not as sustained as that dynasty.

I found an old file with my mid-year roster of retained players from 1997. Below, I've highlighted in yellow the players subsequently elected to the Hall of Fame:

Louisville Sluggers 
15 (14 + 1 DL) Players

 C:Mike Sweeney         R 97    (KCR AL)
2B:Roberto Alomar       R 91    (Bal AL) 
3B:Jim Thome            R 93    (Cle AL) 
3B:Kevin Orie           D1897   (ChC NL)
IF:Edgar Alfonzo        D1797   (NYM NL)
OF:Rich Becker          R 97    (Min AL)
OF:Shawn Green          Rm95    (Tor AL)
OF:Darin Erstad         Rm95    (Ana AL)
OF:Jeromy Burnitz       D1997   (Mil AL)
SP:Pedro Astacio        Rm96    (LAD NL)
SP:Greg Maddux          R 91    (Atl NL) 
SP:Pedro Martinez       R 94    (Mon NL) 
SP:Shane Reynolds       Rm94    (Hou NL)          DL
RP:Mike Fetters         Rm94    (Mil AL)
RP:Mariano Rivera       R 97    (NYY AL)

The following off-season, in February 1998, I traded Mariano Rivera and Kevin Orie for SS Derek Jeter (plus "TPs," which are points used as cash). Jeter will one day be in the HoF. 

The R or Rm designations reflect when a player was first retained in the league (D## indicates drafted round and year). I inherited Greg Maddux when I received my team in 1992. Pedro Martinez was a trade acquisition prior to the 1994 season. According to one of my old files, I got him for two guys who together had over 30 saves in 1993 -- P Jerry DiPoto (Cle) and P Gene Harris (SD)! Martinez himself had been a relief pitcher in LA prior to that 1994 season in Montreal.

Jim Thome was probably  also a trade acquisition, though a year earlier -- after the 1992 season. He had hit 3 HR in a small number of plate appearances prior to his 1993 season as a Slugger. I cannot find the details. 

A few moments searching reveals that I traded Jeff Cirillo and Marc Newfield for Robbie Alomar in February of 1997. He was not a member of the 2002 and 2003 teams, though I cannot find the  details explaining why.  

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Anyone want a job paying at least $100K per month?

Today, the Louisville Courier Journal tweeted this story:

From my personal twitter account, I replied:

That sort of set me off...but I started replying from my professional account:



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Saturday, January 20, 2018

Truth Decay

By Master Steve Rapport (Tax March SF) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Some highly respected scholars are warning that the public sphere is under serious threat -- from the shallow nature of social media, intentional foreign misinformation campaigns, lack of public agreement about basic facts and information, the blurring of the lines between opinion and fact -- and the persistent lying of Donald Trump.

Indeed, the Rand Corporation recently released a report warning that "truth decay," the term they adopt, "poses a direct threat to democracy." Rand authors assert that truth decay can cause "the erosion of political and civil discourse, political paralysis at the federal and state level, and increased risk of individual disengagement from political and civic life."

Next, consider the points recently made by Tom Nichols of the Naval War College, author of The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters. Among other concerns, he sees real trouble in the rise of social media and state actor (especially Russianbots:
“There is always a market for conspiracy theories, and social media reduces the barrier to entry for people who want to peddle them to near zero,” Tom Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and author of The Death of Expertise, told ThinkProgress. “Twitter, especially, is amenable to this, because you can mimic expertise in short bursts, and pretend to know things you could not possibly know, in a way you would never be able to sustain — or that would reveal the utter ludicrousness of your argument — if you had to make your points at greater lengths in a coherent, single article.... 
The negative effect here is that cynicism about information sources will increase as each of these waves [of conspiracy theorists] passes through,” Nichols said. “I think that’s actually the goal of some of the state actors dumping misinformation on the net: to exhaust the readers into paralysis, so that they believe nothing.”
Additionally, consider the following claims from Allan Lichtman, an American University History Professor who earned a measure of fame in fall 2016 for predicting that Donald Trump would win the presidency. In 2016, even as he was making his prediction, Lichtman warned that Trump posed a danger to America (and potentially to the accuracy of his prediction system):
[Trump]'s a bit of a maverick, and nobody knows where he stands on policy, because he's constantly shifting. I defy anyone to say what his immigration policy is, what his policy is on banning Muslims, or whoever, from entering the United States, that's certainly a factor. But it's more his history in Trump University, the Trump Institute, his bankruptcies, the charitable foundation, of enriching himself at the expense of others, and all of the lies and dangerous things he's said in this campaign, that could make him a precedent-shattering candidate.
Lichtman noted at the time that "the two candidates have been repeatedly fact-checked by independent sources, and his lies vastly outnumber hers [Hillary Clinton's]." Indeed, Lichtman predicted at the time that Trump would be impeached in office. He has subsequently authored a book The Case for Impeachment outlining 8 possible reasons for Trump's impeachment.

More recently, the scholar has extended his critique: “He [Trump] has shattered reality itself,” said Lichtman, the American University professor. “There is no such thing as reality in the world of Trump.”


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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Films of 2017




As I note every December, I watch a lot of movies, though most are viewed on my television -- on DVD, from DVR recordings, or streamed from Netflix or Amazon Prime. Because I have not yet seen that many new films in the theater, I cannot yet write a credible post on the best movies of 2017. Most of the highly touted films are released in December, a very busy month. Eventually, of course, I will see them.

Again this year, I missed several of the summer blockbusters as well.

Indeed, the best films I saw this past year were movies that I originally missed in the theaters in prior years. I saw many late 2016 Oscar-bait films in theaters earlier this year. Again, I'll surely see most of the 2017 Oscar-bait films early in 2018. I tend to discuss those films in my posts about the Oscars.

To make this abbreviated 2017 list (in other words, to jog my memory), I scanned the top grossing movies of the year, as well as IMDB's most popular titles for 2017. I also consulted Metacritic.

In rank order of my preference, these were the top 2017 films I saw this year, as best as I can recall:

Lady Bird **
Dunkirk **
Baby Driver **
The Big Sick **
Get Out
Columbus
Wind River

** I saw these films in the theater.

There are some serious Oscar contenders there, I think. I suspect Laurie Metcalf will deservedly receive a nomination for best supporting actress (Lady Bird) and I would not be surprised if Saoirse Ronan (best actress) and Greta Gerwig (direction) are also nominated. It is difficult for a comedy director to receive this kind of accolade, however, which also likely hurts the film in the Best Picture category. Still it is an excellent coming-of-age movie that I highly recommend.

Dunkirk is the kind of war movie based on real events that often does well in the Best Picture category, but the ensemble cast may be hurt in the acting categories. The well-done heist film Baby Driver seems likely to receive technical nominations. It was very entertaining and perhaps the last memorable Kevin Spacey film for awhile.

I also really enjoyed The Big Sick and recommend it highly. Get Out has already been receiving a lot of great press for its comedic and critical use of the horror genre to reflect upon a major social issue (racism, and white privilege, in this instance). That's my kind of horror film!

Did you miss Wind River and Columbus? Check them out! The former is a crime drama set on native land and the latter would make a good double feature with Lady Bird as it addresses similar themes. The female protagonist is coming-of-age, has a complicated relationship with her mother, and is ambivalent about a future away from her local community.

The bulk of the my 2017 list consists of genre films -- comedies, action flicks, and science fiction. They are not ranked very carefully, though I think that the ones near the top are superior to the ones near the bottom.These were all OK, but flawed films:

Logan Lucky
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Okja
Colossal
I Don't Feel At Home in This World Anymore
Landline
The Lovers
The Meyerowitz Stories
The Incredible Jessica James
War for the Planet of the Apes
It **
Logan

Documentary

 I Am Not Your Negro

Only a couple of these films are doing well in end-of-year critic lists, but virtually all of them are worth watching. Even the ones at the bottom are likely fine for fans of traditional horror and Wolverine.

Logan Lucky has been described as a hillbilly Ocean's 11 and I'm a big fan of heist movies. It was especially funny when Daniel Craig was on the screen. It could have used a tighter edit, however.

The sci-fi Guardians 2 was also over-long and I get bored with comic-book battle scenes (whether involving spaceships or hand-to-hand combat), but the dialogue was a notch above the norm.

Okja was really entertaining and funny until the plot got very serious about the way meat is mass produced in America. That final portion of the film made this black comedy not-so-funny. Actually, a similar point could be made about I Don't Feel At Home in This World Anymore and Colossal. Colossal's message about gender was less clear than the racial message of Get Out, which is unfortunate because it had a strong hour of entertainment.

The family dramas The Lovers and The Meyerowitz Stories are worth your time, but neither is easy to watch. Jessica Williams showed a lot of promise in The Incredible Jessica James and I recommended this film to others right after seeing it.

The latest Apes film was OK, but it didn't really have an important social message and was mostly a technical marvel. The Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now comparisons seem like a stretch to me.

When I'm physically exhausted and/or mentally tired (and sitting in the dark), I sometimes nod off during even the best documentaries. I'm afraid that happened during my viewing of I Am Not Your Negro. I saw 90% of it, but the film deserves another viewing and perhaps elevation to the upper list.

Here's the annual list of 2017 movies that I intend to see in the future (hopefully in 2017):

Films of 2017 to see:

1922, Alien Covenant, All the Money in the World, American Made, Atomic Blonde, Ballad of Lefty Brown, Battle of the Sexes, Beguiled, Berlin Syndrome, Blade Runner 2049, Buster's Mal Heart, Call Me By Your Name, Catfight, Darkest Hour, Death of Stalin, Detroit, Disaster Artist, Downsizing, Florida Project, The Founder, Foxtrot, From Nowhere, Gerald's Game, A Ghost Story, Girl With All the Gifts, Girls Trip, God's Own Country, Good Time, Happy End, Headshot, The Hero, Hostiles, Hounds of Love, I Daniel Blake, I Tonya, Ingrid Goes West, It Comes at Night, John Wick: Chapter 2, Killing of a Sacred Deer, Kong: Skull Island, Land of Mine (Under Sandet), Little Hours, Lost City of Z, Marshall, Moka, Molly's Game, Mother!, Mudbound, Norman, The Party, Personal Shopper, Phantom Thread, Polka King, The Post, Professor Marston & the Wonder Women, Quiet Passion, Salesman, Sense of Ending, Shape of Water, The Square, Star Wars The Last Jedi, Stronger, Super Dark Times, Survivalist, Sweet Virginia, T2 Trainspotting, Their Finest, Thor Ragnorak, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, To the Bone, The Trip to Spain, United Kingdom, Wakefield, Win It All, Wonder, Wonder Woman, You Were Never Really Here.

Keep in mind that I didn't get around to seeing many 2016 movies from last year's wishlist:

13th, 20th Century Women, Above and Below, All the Way, Allied, American Honey, April and the Extraordinary World, Autoposy of Jane Doe, Band of Robbers, Barry, Bleed for This, Born to be Blue, Captain America: Civil War, Cemetery of Splendor, Certain Women, Christine, Creative Control, The Dark Horse, Deepwater Horizon, Denial, Doctor Strange, Don't Breathe, Elle, The Family Fang, Fences, The Fits, Florence Foster Jenkins, Francofonia, Glassland, Hacksaw Ridge, Hitchcock/Truffaut, Hologram for the King, Imperium, Indignation, The Infiltrator, The Intervention, The Invitation, Jackie, Krisha, Last Man on the Moon, Little Men, Louder than Bombs, Love & Friendship, Loving, Maggie's Plan, Meddler, Miss Sloane, Money Monster, Neruda, Notes on Blindness, Patriots Day, The Phenom, Queen of Katwe, Sausage Party, Silence, Snowden, Southside with You, Take Me to the River, Things to Come, Tickled, Time to Choose, Toni Erdmann, Tower, Under the Sun, Valley of Violence, Where to Invade Next, The Witch, and Zero Days.

Virtually all of those films are now readily available -- as DVDs at my University library or as recordings on my DVR. A few are on Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, etc.


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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Books of 2017

Source: National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers & Studies
As I have annually since 2005, I am posting a nearly complete list of books I read in the preceding year.

Please allow me to repeat the ground rules: First, I generally do not list academic books that I reviewed unless the review was published. In my academic job, for instance, I read a number of books competing for a $100,000 award exhibiting the best "ideas for improving world order." The winning 2018 entry was actually a finalist last year, which means I read it in 2016 (but did not list it in my blog entry): Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Leadership, and Genocide in Modern Africa by Scott Straus. It's a terrific work, well worth your time. Straus seeks to determine if genocide can be predicted, an essential precursor step to prevention or early effective intervention.

Of course, since I'm an academic, I read multiple chapters and large sections of many books pertinent to my research and teaching. However, I'm not going to list those here unless I read them cover-to-cover. Save for the books I use in class or read for review, I often skim over some portions even of outstanding books. It's a time/efficiency issue.

So, what did I read this year, mostly for pleasure? (a few of the recommended books include a link to Powell's books; the blog receives a 7.5% commission on sales that begin via my Powell's links). I posted short reviews of most books at Goodreads (migrating from Shelfari years ago). 

Non-fiction

The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Bullpen Gospels by Dirk Hayhurst

Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby

Smart Baseball by Keith Law

No Impact Man by Colin Beavan

Sex, Drugs and  Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman

Game Over by Dave Zirin

The 37th Parallel by Ben Mezrich

I also read just about every word in Baseball Prospectus 2017, but not in cover-to-cover fashion. The 2017 book was edited by Aaron Gleeman and Bret Sayre. I'm already looking forward to the 2018 edition, likely due in February.

The works by Nate Silver and Malcolm Gladwell you probably know. These are interesting books worth your time, though Gladwell's book is a lot less convincing given the author's tendency to select cases on the dependent variable. Silver left me worried that the stock market is overpriced and headed for a disappointing decade, among other lessons.

Hornby periodocally releases his previously published book reviews. He's a very talented writer and fun to read in this format (though his fiction is even better).

The Dirk Hayhurst book is also entertaining. It's always interesting to gain perspective on professional baseball from a fringe major league player. Keith Law's book on contemporary baseball analysis was OK, but I didn't learn much that I didn't already know from decades of reading Bill James, Baseball Prospectus, etc.

Colin Beavan's book is based on a gimmick, but it's quite well-written and credible, especially when compared to the disappointing works by Dave Zirin (which seemed like short magazine articles pieced together haphazardly) and Ben Mezrich (a series of vignettes that do not convincingly add up to anything, ordered almost at random). Chuck Klosterman's book was not especially memorable, unfortunately. 

Fiction

As I traditionally do, I place the best works of literature at the top of the list, then the genre fiction (though there are some books that could be placed in either category). The least interesting or entertaining books are listed last in each section.

It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

Nobody Move by Denis Johnson

Echo House by Ward Just

Rhino Ranch by Larry McMurtry

I didn't read a lot of literature this year, but Sinclair Lewis's classic was the cream of the crop -- if frightening in the age of Trump. Larry McMurtry's last Duane Moore book was fairly disappointing given some other excellent books he produced in the series. This Denis Johnson book is a short and very well-written crime story. It would make a good movie.

And now the much longer list of genre fiction:

Journey Into Fear by Eric Ambler

Miernik Dossier by Charles McCarry

Agent in Place by Helen MacInnes

The Seventh by Donald Westlake (as Richard Stark)

From Doon With Death by Ruth Wendell

A Morning for Flamingos by James Burke

The Chill by Ross Macdonald

A Stab in the Dark by Lawrence Block

Nightmare Town by Dashiell Hammett

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

A Most Wanted Man by John le Carré,

G is for Gumshoe by Sue Grafton

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

 A Savage Place by Robert Parker

 The Empty Copper Sea by John D. MacDonald

 Goldfinger by Ian Fleming

Nobody's Perfect by Donald Westlake

Motor City Blue by Loren Estleman

The Ax by Donald Westlake

Inferno by Dan Brown

House Dick by E. Howard Hunt

Blockade Billy by Stephen King

This proved to be a pretty good year for classic cold war (or even earlier) spy novels. The books by Charles McCarry, Eric Ambler, and Helen MacInnes were well-done and the books by John le Carré  and Ward Just were fine. All were better than the more famous 007 book I read this year. Literally, Ian Fleming devoted more pages to a rigged game of canasta and to a round of golf between James Bond and Goldfinger than he did to a complicated heist involving a nuclear bomb.

I again read a  prominent science fiction work this year that true fans of the genre probably finished years ago (long before they were my age). Actually, I saw the film for Fahrenheit 451 while in high school, but don't remember reading the book even though I know I read some other works by Bradbury.

11/22/63 was also (historical) science fiction and it was fairly entertaining, so long as one didn't think too seriously about the main plot points. King was making a point about life and love, which almost got lost in the 100s of pages devoted to thinking about Lee Harvey Oswald and his murder of JFK. And the idiosyncrasies of this particular time travel portal.

Hammett's book is a collection of short stories. Some are very good, others are not.  

Thanks mostly to Bookmooch and PaperBack Swap, I continue to read books by a diverse array of (mostly) hard-boiled crime story authors. These writers typically develop a single main character across a long series of books: Parker's Spencer, Stark's Parker, John MacDonald's Travis McGee, Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, Burke's Dave Robicheaux, Block's Matthew Scudder, and Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer. All of these were good to very good. Spencer, Archer, and especially McGee are more-and-more confronting their position in life.

I was saddened to learn within the last 48 hours that Sue Grafton has died. She was one of the most famous graduates of the University of Louisville. I believe I met her once years ago in a local park while I was walking my dog. However, at that time, I had not read any of her books.

This year, I read the first books in Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series and Ruth Wendell's Inspector Wexler set. I liked both stories enough to read the next book.

Several of the books near the bottom were quite disappointing -- I found fairly weak plots or mediocre writing by really talented writers Donald Westlake and King (the baseball book this time, not 11/22/63).

I read Inferno just as I finished an August vacation. It's a beach read. 


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Friday, December 15, 2017

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Sunday, December 03, 2017

Nash-Vegas

My family and I traveled to Nashville for Thanksgiving 2017 -- meeting my sister and her family there. It's an interesting travel destination and my spouse and I have visited several other times in recent months and years. Because of the multiple recent visits, we did not return to the Johnny Cash museum (which we previously enjoyed) or the bars along Broadway (which we sometimes didn't enjoy)..

This trip, we stayed in a chain hotel near Vanderbilt University and walked Wednesday to the Parthenon in Centennial Park. The large statue of Athena was worth seeing, but odd in some ways.

Friday night, we went to the Grand Ole Opry:


Ashley Campbell (daughter of Glen) sang a nice version of "Gentle on My Mind" and I enjoyed Sierra Hull's bluegrass performance. Charlie McCoy's harmonica playing was simply phenomenal -- he played "Orange Blossom Special," which our wedding band also performed back in 1991. I have never been a fan of final act Restless Heart. William Michael Morgan had a good voice, but needed more interesting songs.

Saturday, we visited the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, It held up well compared to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which we visited on an Oberlin trip back in 2012. I was not that interested in many of the most recent exhibits, but the roots section was especially interesting and the video about country musicians on television was quite good. Why didn't Wanda Jackson become a bigger star?

Sunday morning, before we all departed, my oldest daughter ate this waffle:



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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Climate change political update

The new issue of Sustain magazine includes my brief article "Global Politics of Climate Change."  I submitted it in late summer, so it includes some analysis  of the remarkable G20 statement by 19 of the member states that vowed to remain committed to the Paris Climate Accord even though President Trump announced just prior to the G20 meeting that the U.S. would withdraw.

With that link, interested readers can also view other pieces in the "Political Will" themed issue. The issue includes articles by my colleague Melissa Merry (on framing environmental communication), activist-writer Bill McKibben, Environmental Defense Fund's Fred Krupp, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.



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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The "young, low level volunteer named George"

The title of this post comes from one of President Trump's tweets earlier this morning.

A post shared by President Donald J. Trump (@realdonaldtrump) on

George Papadopoulos is third from left in this picture, seated a few feet away from Donald Trump. Yesterday, it was revealed that Papadopoulos had pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with representatives of the Russian government. The photo was posted by Trump on his Instagram feed on March 31, 2016 with the caption  "Meeting with my national security team in #WashingtonDC." Current Attorney General Jeff Sessions (then-head of the national security team) is seated at the opposite end of the table.

The FBI guilty plea agreement says Papadopoulos first met with an alleged Russian intermediary on March 14:
...defendant PAPADOPOULOS met the Professor for the first time on or about March 14, 2016, after defendant PAPADOPOULOS had already learned he would be a foreign policy advisor for the Campaign; the Professor showed interest in defendant PAPADOPOULOS only after learning of his role on the Campaign...
Additionally, Trump mentioned Papadopoulos by name as an advisor in The Washington Post on March 21.  Thus, the picture above isn't some random photo opportunity showing Trump with a campaign volunteer or celebrity.  During at least a few weeks in March 2016, Papadapoulos was meeting with Russians who allegedly had dirt on Hillary Clinton -- and Donald Trump knew him by name and sat with him at a table of national security advisors. He apparently stayed with the team for 7 to 11 months.

On August 14, The Washington Post had a story about Papadopoulos and his efforts to connect Trump and Russia. Lots of people in the story tried to play down the importance of these efforts even as senior officials like Sessions and Jared Kushner actually later took meetings with Russians. For lots of interesting links and assessment amidst some conspiratorial speculation, see this September 22 Twitter thread from Professor Seth Abramson. Continued here and here. All 100 tweets are also on Facebook.

Note:

The photo is also here, in case the Trump team takes it down. Fox had an informative news bit about investigator interest in the meeting in late September, 2017.


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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

2017 B Louisville Sluggers

The Louisville Sluggers are again participating in the World Series in the Original Bitnet Fantasy Baseball League.

I've participated in the OBFLB since 1991. It's a 24 team fantasy baseball online league that plays two seasons during each major league season. The second (half) season begins after the all star break and typically features 9 weeks of head-to-head competition by teams in three 8 team divisions. This year, however, we lost 2 owners at mid-season and didn't have sufficient time to find replacements. Thus, we had 2 divisions of 11 teams. There were not enough weeks to play a complete round robin, as we usually do.

In any case, the Sluggers won the Clarkson division with the best record in the league: 115-65. It was actually 110-60 with 10 ties. We have 10 categories and it is not uncommon to have ties in pitcher wins, saves, home runs, or stolen bases. Two other teams shared the best record, but the Sluggers held the tiebreaker based on better week-to-week performance against all the other teams in the league.

In this league, teams submit lineup cards to prioritize 9 hitters (at 8 defensive positions, plus DH), 5 starting pitchers (minimum 4), and 4 relief pitchers (minimum 2). Through the week, the teams compete in 10 categories, including the 4 mentioned above plus batting average, plate appearances, runs produced average ((R+RBI-HR)/ABs), innings pitched, ERA, and WHIP. We award 2 points per victory, with each team receiving 1 point for a tie.

The winners of the divisions play against a wild card team in an initial playoff round during the next-to-last week of the regular major league baseball season. Then, the winners of those head-to-head matchups play each other in the final week of the regular season to determine the World Series champion for the B season. The Sluggers beat the Arizona Young Guns 13-7 in last week's playoff. Arizona was managed by another long-time owner.

In the World Series, the Sluggers are matched up with the Southern Hemispheres, owned by an emeritus academic from western Australia.  We're both old-timers in the league and met in person once years ago when he was traveling across the States and stopped in Louisville. In fact, this is a rematch of  the 1996B, 1997A,  and 1998A World Series! Southern won the first of those prior matchups, the Sluggers won the next two.

The Sluggers are 8-2 in all prior World Series; Hemispheres are 4-5. Reminder: there have been over 50 World Series titles during the 26 years I have been in the league.

This is the lineup I'm using in the Series, with notes about acquisition of each player (the 8 players retained before the mid-season draft are in red):

C: Ianetta ARI (drafted round 27)
   Hedges SD  (round 19)

1B: Votto CIN 
     Olson OAK (free agent July 24)

2B: Merrifield KC (round 14)
    Escobar MIN (round 20)

3B: Arenado COL
    Escobar MIN
    Hernandez LAD (round 22)

SS: Escobar MIN
     Russell CHC 
     E. Hernandez LAD

OF: Benintendi BOS
OF: Buxton MIN
OF: Kiermaier TB (round 24)
    Phillips MIL (free agent September 25)
    Kepler MIN (round 16)
    Acuna ATL

DH: Olson OAK (injured and presumably won't play)
      Phillips MIL
      Kepler MIN

SP: Archer TB
SP: Bauer CLE (round 15)
SP: Greinke ARI (trade August 28)
SP: Duffy KC (round 9)
SP: Cobb TB  (round 11)
   Gonzalez TEX  (free agent July 17)
   Biagini TOR (free agent September 11)
   Foltynewicz ATL (round 12)
   Keller PIT (minors) (free agent August 28)
   Nelson MIL(mlb and OBFLB DL) (round 10)

RP: Bradley ARI (round 18)
RP: Greene DET (trade August 28)
RP: D. Hernandez ARI (round 26)
RP: Lorenzen CIN (round 23)

Players no longer with the team:

SP Pineda NYY dropped July 17 (Tommy John surgery)
Round 13 M Smith TB traded August 28 for Greinke
Round 17 Renfroe SDP traded August 28 for Greinke
Round 21 Buehler LAD traded August 28 for Greinke
Round 25 Duffey MIN traded August 28 for Greene
Round 28 Choi NYY dropped July 24

I'll post results in a few days. The stats we use include Monday September 25 through Sunday, October 1.


Update 10/1/17: Southern wins 12-8. Sluggers win steals, plate appearances, ERA and WHIP decisively. The team needed 3 more hits to win batting average.
     
 BAHRSBPARPINNERA
WHIP
W
S
Spheres
0.310
9
1
164
0.283
47
5.5532
1.5957
3
4
12-8
Sluggers
0.293
8
6
184
0.240
35.33
3.8208
1.3302
2
2
8-12


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