28 June 2010

On Championships

Thirty two teams qualified to compete in South Africa. Half of those, including Italy and France, were sent home after three matches. Of the sixteen survivors, all but one will go home with something to regret.

A championship is the product of talent and hard work and not a little luck.

27 June 2010

Tournaments Part 2

I entered the FIFA "Power Index" for the 16 teams advancing out of the group stages and used those to run the simulation. The differences in the power index clearly don't accurately represent the relative differences between teams; it is absurd to think that the US would win the World cup 5.9% of the time. It's chances are (er, were) non-zero, but closer to 0.59% than to 5.9%.

Obviously, we know some of the results, but that doesn't necessarily mean if you could re-contest the matches that the results would be the same. Unfortunately, I failed to grab the betting lines before the start of the matches; that would have been instructive. Rather than fiddle with the FIFA ratings, I'll probably just make up values until the tournament results seem reasonable to me. But not right away; after watching the two teams I know best go out in succession, I want to take a break from football.


For what it's worth, here are the values I had used:

Tournaments (Very Wonkish)

I wrote a simulation of a tournament consisting of sixteen participants.

In the first simulation, each team was assigned a probability of winning 50% of its matches against any of the other teams. I ran 100,000 tournaments; you'd expect each team to win the tournament about 6,250 times, and that's what happened:
[6180, 6179, 6101, 6361, 6163, 6289, 6270, 6259, 6248, 6170, 6278, 6274, 6372, 6282, 6331, 6243]

In the second simulation, the first team was assigned a probability of winning 67% of its matches against any of the other teams. I was too lazy to do the math, but it turns out that the favorite wins the tournament about three times as often as if it were on even footing, with those extra wins taken from the other teams according to how early in the tournament their paths cross.
[19611, 4193, 4883, 4920, 5144, 5345, 5408, 5195, 5641, 5755, 5637, 5578, 5707, 5521, 5718, 5744]

Even though there was one team twice as good as any other team in the tournament, it still won the tournament less than 20% of the time. Even the unlucky team to meet the favorite in the first round (and thus eliminated immediately two-thirds of the time) still manages to win the tournament 4% of the time (compared to 6.25% when all are even).

I increased the favorite to being 75% to win, and it still wins the tournament less than one-third of the time.
[31696, 3135, 3869, 3884, 4560, 4511, 4435, 4442, 5002, 4847, 4953, 4878, 5013, 4907, 4914, 4954]

These models would be fairly simple to calculate instead of using a simulation, but I'm planning a follow up. My point here is that while elimination tournaments excel at producing a champion, they're not completely reliable at identifying the "best" team (if there even is such a thing; though certainly there is often a team that is best on the day).

As an aside, this is one of the reasons that I don't care that there is not a Division I NCAA Football Playoff.

25 June 2010

Three Lions

England strangely expects at once the best and worst from their team.

Equally strangely, they often get both.

I am happy that both teams advanced; I will cheer on both teams as long as they remain alive.

20 June 2010

Bra 2-0 Civ

Early in the second half from the crown room. Univision (commentary in Spanish). I can't tell what they're saying but that was a flagrant

Group C Table (revised)

But for three blunders, the table might instead look like this:
--- G W D L S A GD P
Eng 2 1 1 0 1 0 +1 4
USA 2 1 0 1 3 3 +0 3
Alg 2 0 2 0 0 0 +0 2
Svn 2 0 1 1 2 3 -1 1
By the way, has any team ever imploded the way France appears to be?

Ready for camp

Sent from my iPhone

19 June 2010

Goofy Grin

Self portrait after today's race. The bad news is that my stamina is woeful. I walked a lot after mile four. The good news is that I posted a PR by about a minute in spite of that (1:02:26 by my watch).

I am flying to England tomorrow, so training may not happen for a few days. I'll bring shoes and hope for the best.

18 June 2010


I won't talk about the disallowed goal. Great spirit to fight back from down two goals, and if we can win on Wednesday we advance. Given that our country outnumbers Slovenia by a ratio of something like 155 to 1, our per capita football quality is shameful. Anyway, a loss would've been a little harsh on Slovenia after their first half. Which brings me to...

I have generally defended Bob Bradley. Most of the criticism I have heard doesn't ring true. For the most part, I think he has selected the best of the available squads, and the charges of nepotism are preposterous. His son is unequivocally the best American central midfielder; it's not even close.

But too often we concede an early goal. I'm glad that the team has often shown the confidence to fight back, but at some point, I think Bradley should have to answer the question. What is it about our nerves or tactics that leads to us looking up at 0-1 at the thirty minute mark of so many matches? Maybe we're starting too aggressively. Or too tentatively. Or maybe it's just bad luck, but that last explanation seems less and less likely as the evidence mounts. Or as my confirmation bias cherry-picks the results to convince me that I'm right.

17 June 2010

Global Warming

It is astonishing how many people still deny that the planet is getting warmer. Then there are some who claim that while, sure, if you go by "facts" it is warmer, but there's no proof that humans are responsible.

Fiddling while Rome burns.

16 June 2010


I hadn't been paying attention to the calendar and recently noticed that there is a 10k in Roswell this weekend. I haven't been training very hard, but it's supposed to be a flat race (and the hills in my neighborhood kicked my butt this weekend). It'll probably be a pretty small event, and it's a much shorter drive than the other races I've entered.

I don't think I'll improve on my time from April, but it's not much longer than the training run I was planning for this weekend. Hopefully I won't hurt myself.

14 June 2010

Blame (again)

Mark Mykleby, whose letter is reproduced in this Thomas Friedman article (and also below) hit the nail on the head.

I’d like to join in on the blame game that has come to define our national approach to the ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. This isn’t BP’s or Transocean’s fault. It’s not the government’s fault. It’s my fault. I’m the one to blame and I’m sorry. It’s my fault because I haven’t digested the world’s in-your-face hints that maybe I ought to think about the future and change the unsustainable way I live my life. If the geopolitical, economic, and technological shifts of the 1990s didn’t do it; if the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 didn’t do it; if the current economic crisis didn’t do it; perhaps this oil spill will be the catalyst for me, as a citizen, to wean myself off of my petroleum-based lifestyle. ‘Citizen’ is the key word. It’s what we do as individuals that count. For those on the left, government regulation will not solve this problem. Government’s role should be to create an environment of opportunity that taps into the innovation and entrepreneurialism that define us as Americans. For those on the right, if you want less government and taxes, then decide what you’ll give up and what you’ll contribute. Here’s the bottom line: If we want to end our oil addiction, we, as citizens, need to pony up: bike to work, plant a garden, do something. So again, the oil spill is my fault. I’m sorry. I haven’t done my part. Now I have to convince my wife to give up her S.U.V.
--Mark Mykleby

13 June 2010

Cheap Gas

Good article on why gas is too cheap. I like paying as little as possible as much as the next guy, but while it's politically impossible, significantly raising gas prices is the right thing to do. This is where democracy fails.

12 June 2010

Glen Beck Hates Soccer

Not surprising, really. His job is to provoke, so he takes extreme stances regularly. He seems threatened by the success of anything that didn't originate on these shores. His position is absurd, and factually incorrect, but he should be used to that by now.

He is not alone. He never is; he is a populist after all. Regularly I find comments in soccer articles where the commenter feels obliged to share with the world their disdain for the beautiful game. The article will be about something specific, but the comment will be something along the lines of "Soccer is stupid and so is anyone who watches it." Why do they bother to comment about it? I think because of this same xenophobic distaste for other cultures (except, of course, when they copy us).

Anyway, I'm delighted to add soccer to the list of things that Mr. Beck and I disagree about. He is a fool.

11 June 2010

World Cup

I started following footie four years ago. With the World Cup in Germany, the US matches could coincide with a late (and long) lunch. With all of two goals scored in three matches, it was a poor result from a difficult group: Italy, Ghana, Czech Republic, and USA. Still, the excitement was infectious, and watching the matches with knowledgeable friends helped. Since then, I chose a club to follow and have watched most of the televised US matches.

There are a handful of sporting events which combine spectacle with compelling entertainment. March Madness is probably the best domestic event. The Super Bowl always delivers spectacle, but often a poor game. Not this year, of course. The NBA, NHL, and MLB championships are all decided in a best of seven series; any individual result is not that important. College football has a bizarre bowl format about which the less said the better.

Cricket, rugby, and ice hockey, have devout followers, but only in some countries. Basketball has grown in stature, but the NBA overshadows, eclipses really, all other domestic leagues, which diminishes the sport. Tennis has the Grand Slam, Golf has the "Majors", but these are individual sports (and there are four championships per year). The Olympics are infrequent, spectacular, and offer compelling competitions, but there are many sports competing for attention.

None of these, I think, compares to the World Cup. Most of the best players are usually represented. Unfortunately, circumstances and disposition have excluded some brilliant players (Giggs, Rush, Schuster, Best, Di Stéfano, Cantona). The finals can disappoint, but for the next 30 days there will be plenty of spectacle and as much football as a person can handle.

07 June 2010


For a couple of reasons, i've never set up a Facebook account. Lately, though I've been getting invitations from complete strangers. At first, I assumed that these were phishing scams, but I opened one this morning, and I'm pretty sure that they're really from Facebook. Strange.

04 June 2010

Running, June edition

The Peachtree is just four weeks away and I'm not ready. I've made the conscious decision not to try to post a PR in this race. Between the crowd, the course and the weather, I would probably struggle to post a good time even if I trained hard. So I'm not going to try. I'm in wave F, which starts 25 minutes after the seeded racers: the invited runners will be finishing around the time I cross the starting line. I've started to increase my runs so that at least I'll be able to finish, hopefully around the same time the last wave (X) starts.

Since I've found training motivation easier when I'm worried about a race, I've registered for the Atlanta 13.1. From the descriptions it appears to be a heavily produced event, which I'm not sure I'm crazy about. Also, it's a few weeks earlier than I'd like, so I'll have to start serious training before the weather cools off, but I like having a scary challenge (and halfs still qualify as scary to me) in the not too distant future.

03 June 2010

Crimes Against Cocktails

Last week in Prague we found our way to the James Joyce Pub, formerly Molly Malone's. While it pretty much looked like a regular sort of pub, there were a few troubling notes.

One, the music was pop music from YouTube videos streamed through a laptop. The sound quality was poor, and the selections seemed to be being made by a patron well in his cups.

Two, there was a somewhat disturbing painting on the wall, which I failed to record. Just take my word for it. Not "keep you up at night" disturbing, but a little creepy nonetheless.

Three, as part of some inexplicable Louisiana celebration, there were drink specials. Full marks for listing the Hurricane, which is the signature abomination drink at Pat O'Brien's. There's no vodka in a properly prepared Hurricane, but I guess you could put some in if the normal recipe were somehow not alcoholic enough for you. As I've written previously about the Sazerac, you might have noticed that this cocktail contains neither whiskey nor Campari. Absinthe abounds in Prague and yet they couldn't spare any for their Sazeracs? Finally, the French 75 is not a particularly New Orleans or Louisiana drink, though it is a pretty good one and it does have "French" in the name.

As for the pub: Three of us had Guinness; Elmar ordered a glass of red wine that he found so unpleasant that he left it on the bar essentially untouched. For the second (and final) round of almost-pints (0.4l), Elmar had a Guinness, too. The room in the back is non-smoking; it might not be a bad place for fish and chips.

Another Departure

Adios Rafa. I have mixed feelings. His man management was awful, and many of his buys were poor. On the other hand, he had Liverpool punching above their weight in Europe in four of his six seasons. He was loved for Istanbul, but the truth is that Liverpool were ten minutes from not even advancing out of the group stage that year. They got past Chelsea on a disputed goal. His other silverware came a year later in the FA cup, again from a penalty shootout and only after Gerrard put in a stoppage time goal to take the game into extra time. Some of his buys were good but too many were rubbish.

If it weren't for some luck, Steven Gerrard, and hated American owners, Merseyside would have lost patience with him a long time ago. In spite of all of that and even though he's left the team in a mess most of which was his own doing, I still don't dislike him. I only hope that Dalglish and Purslow can find a replacement who is an improvement.


In a fantasy baseball league a long time ago, I traded Yankee first baseman and recent MVP Don Mattingly for a rookie and a draft pick. In '85 and '86, Mattingly was one of the best hitters in the game, and though '87 wasn't as good a year, it was still solid: he hit .327 (5th in the AL) and was 7th in the league in both On Base Average and Slugging Percentage. Working in my favor was the fact that he was also known for things that aren't so important in fantasy baseball: winning an MVP, defense and avoiding strikeouts; his reputation was better than his value. In any event, he was a good player, certainly worthy of a early round fantasy pick, and I traded him for a guy who (and I am not certain of the timing) may not have actually played a major league game yet. Even on the day, though, I knew I got the better of the trade.

Yesterday, that rookie retired (though to be honest, it was probably five years after he stopped being an above average player). Plenty is being written and said about Griffey, who was an outstanding player, but for twenty years, whenever his name has come up I've thought about the best trade I ever made.

02 June 2010

World Cup

Giuseppe Rossi was left off the Italian World Cup squad. Born in New Jersey to Italian immigrant parents, Rossi qualified to play for either the US or Italy. He chose the Azzurri, and he featured in last year's Confederation Cup squad (scoring twice against the US). Had he chosen differently, Rossi would be an automatic starter for the US; instead he missed making the 23 man squad for Italy. Italy, while defending champions, are not considered favorites to win the tournament (personally, I have $20 in Vegas on England).

The US is ranked 14th by FIFA, and that might be about right, but we are a long, long way from being a top team: Beyond Howard and Donovan, I'm not sure any other member of the American squad would merit consideration for the English team.

01 June 2010


There is a widely held belief that BP is to blame for the Gulf oil spill. To be sure, it happened on their watch, but this spill will cost BP far, far more than they could have ever hoped to earn in profit from the platform. All of the oil companies hire the same kinds of managers and engineers and marketers. They have the same kinds of standards and practices. They use the same techniques and suppliers. It happened to BP, but it could have just as easily been Shell or Exxon.

Nine years ago, it was Bin Laden's fault. Five years ago, it was the Army Corp of Engineers.

Our culture is desperate to blame somebody, because the alternative is much harder to swallow. That we are all responsible. That we can mortgage our countries future to pay for Medicare and Social Security (rather than spending on bridges and levees). That we can postpone indefinitely the inconvenience of weaning ourselves off big cars and relatively cheap foreign oil. That a price of success might be resentment. That a policy of extending sovereignty might alienate allies and embolden enemies.

We want someone (else) to blame, so we can resume our blithe ignorance.

I am reminded of Cassius: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves..."

Even though I'm American, I do know that in context the quote means something else; consider it blogger's license.