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October, 2002:

More on aggressive baserunning

I wrote that last post in a bit of a hurry, so this morning I’d like to spend a bit more time with the subject of aggressive baserunning and risk/reward ratios. Of the three aggressive baserunning decisions the Angels made last night when the game was still within their reach (Palmeiro legging out a double, Eckstein going from first to third on Salmon’s single, Eckstein scoring on the wild pitch), the most defensible one is Eckstein going from first to third on the single. There are advantages to having that runner on third with less than two outs. One out is generally considered the optimal time to try for third on a single – the adage is “never make the first or last out at third base”.

What all of these situations have in common, though, is the risk of an extra out for an extra base. That’s true even for the wild pitch where Eckstein scored. Had he stayed put, the Angels would still have a man on third with less than two outs and their 3 and 4 batters coming up. They’d even be out of the doubleplay sitation, since Salmon advanced to second on the play. You’ve got to like youir chances to score there.

It’s the risk of the extra out that requires a high probability of success. Take a look at the run expectation chart in this ESPN article by Michael Wolverton of the Baseball Prospectus. In 2002, the expected value of runners on second and third with one out is 1.358 runs. The expected value of a runner on second with two outs – the result if Eckstein is thrown out – is 0.322 runs, less than one fourth the value of staying put. That means that Eckstein needs a better than 80% chance of scoring in order to break even.

Aggressiveness has a much better case for it when you’re not risking an extra out. Two situations from the 2000 playoffs illustrate this. In the divisional series between the Mets and Giants, the Giants had Armando Rios on second with one out. The batter hit the ball into the hole between third and short. Rios ran, shortstop Mike Bordick threw to third, and Rios was nailed. The Mets went on to win the game, and Rios was roundly criticized.

Problem is, by any reasonable definition, Rios made a rational decision. The math works out such that he needed only a 15% chance of being safe for it to be worthwhile. The reason for the shift in the odds is that if Rios stays put, Bordick throws to first and the out is recorded anyway. Rios is risking a base, but not at the cost of an out. Joe Sheehan explains it as follows:

I know some of you may disagree, but I don’t think there’s any way that Rios had less than a 1-in-6 chance of being safe. I’ll concede that there were two good defensive players involved, and that the situation could possibly have called for a conservative approach. Still, if you look at the big picture, it’s not a bad play.

If anything, Mike Bordick made the riskier decision. If he goes to first base, no one says anything. But if he one-hops the throw or hits Rios with it, he’s got a shot to be Bill Buckner. OK, with knees.

And I guarantee this: had Bordick hit Rios with the throw, or Rios’s foot kicked the ball out of Robin Ventura’s glove, leaving the Giants with first and third and one out, all we would have heard was about “putting pressure on the defense” and Dusty Baker’s aggressive attitude rubbing off on his players. Those things that sportswriters love to talk about, speed and hustle and forcing teams to make plays? That’s what this was. The Mets made the play, won the game, and now get to be Bird feed.

The key is that now it’s the defense that’s risking an out in order to prevent an extra base. Playing with the house’s money, as Rios was doing here, is always a good bet. The fact that this particular gamble didn’t pay off doesn’t change the fact that it was still the right move to make.

An almost identical situation came up in the World Series. The Mets had runners on second and third with one out. They were down by a run and the infield was in. The batter hit a ground ball to the second baseman and the runner at third held. Here’s Joe Sheehan again:

The Mets had second and third with one out in the ninth when [Timoniel] Perez hit a two-hopper to Jose Vizcaino at second base. Todd Pratt held at third base, Perez was out at first base and the Mets didn’t score in the inning.

This is ground well covered, but even granting that Pratt moves slower than campaign finance reform and Vizcaino was in on the grass, the contact play has to be on in that situation. There’s virtually no downside–the worst-case scenario is first and third with two outs–and the upside is a run and the potential for more.

Holding Pratt was a needlessly conservative move. A nod to Tim McCarver, who was all over this one.

At least this time the announcers understood the proper strategy.

Baseball is a long-run game. Teams that look for and exploit small advantages win more games over the course of the season. (It’s a lot like bridge in that regard.) Outs and bases are the currency, and needlessly risking one for the other is almost always a bad idea. It’s amazing how often in a short series this gets forgotten, especially when the result is against the odds. David Eckstein will get lauded for his hustle while Armando Rios got criticized for his. Maybe results are all that matters. I’m just saying that going with the odds is usually the best way to get those results.

Aggressive baserunning

So I’m watching Game Five of the World Series. It’s the top of the fifth and the Giants are leading the Angels 6-0. The Angels lead off with pinch hitter Orlando Palmeiro, who hits a one-hopper off the wall in right. Palmeiro, running aggressively, chugged into second for a double. A good throw might have had a shot at him. David Eckstein then singled, and after a sac fly Eckstein went from first to third on a single by Tim Salmon, just beating the throw from Kenny Lofton.

Eckstein then scored on a wild pitch, again just beating the throw from Benito Santiago to pitcher Jason Schmidt. That’s Angels baseball, scratching out runs. Both runners’ aggressiveness looked good when Garrett Anderson struck out – it would have been second and third with two outs and only one run in otherwise.

Of course, Troy Glaus then doubled off the wall in left, just missing a home run, to drive in Salmon. Had Eckstein run the bases like Mo Vaughn, he still would have scored. Go-go baserunning is fun and can certainly pay off, but I’m the kind of stodgy grump who believes in not risking outs on the basepaths when you’re down by more than two runs. Tim McCarver praised Eckstein for his aggressiveness but never noted either the risk involved (the Angels would have been held to one run had Eckstein or Palmeiro been erased) or the fact that Glaus’ double made the whole exercise moot. That’s a pet peeve of mine – announcers never do that sort of thing, which in my mind always skews the perception of the risk/reward ratio.

OK, enough crotchetiness. Back to the game.

CNN on Ron Kirk

CNN says Ron Kirk has the buzz, though they say his campaign is the hare to John Cornyn’s tortoise:

At a recent fund-raiser in the affluent Dallas neighborhood of Highland Park, Kirk worked the crowd of mostly wealthy, white Republicans with a master’s touch. His smile beamed; he seemed to know everyone and was in a constant motion of handshaking and backslaps.

When he was Dallas mayor, Kirk won firm support from these white Republicans who helped Bush when he was governor of Texas. And that is what has Republicans worried. “All the excitement is on the Kirk side of this election,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

He said Cornyn was a solid candidate who was likely to win, but “none of the sizzle is on his side of the equation.”

“This is one of the more high profile races in the country simply because there is a highly qualified black candidate who is within striking distance of winning this race,” he said.

I just hope their fairy tale analogy is wrong. Via Mac.

Enron grand jury eyes Kenny Boy

From today’s Chron:

The Houston federal grand jury investigating Enron has heard from several witnesses this week about the personal finances of former Chairman Ken Lay.

The witnesses are the first indication the grand jury is considering the possibility Lay engaged in insider trading when he sold $70 million in stock last year as the share price spiraled steadily downward. Federal investigators, however, indicated months ago they would look into Lay’s stock trades.

[…]

In November 2000, Lay and other Enron executives began taking advantage of a new rule allowing options to be exercised and sold regularly year-round as long as it is done on a plan approved by securities regulators.

Almost every workday, Lay exercised a fixed number of options and sold the same amount of stock on the market, netting the difference. From Nov. 1, 2000, until early February 2001, Lay exercised about 4,000 shares per day; from February to April 2001, the amount dropped to about 3,000; and from May 1 through Aug. 21, the amount went back up to 3,500.

Lay began these programmed sales shortly after Enron stock hit a peak of more than $90 per share in August 2000. He continued on a similar pace as the stock began dropping in February 2001 and throughout the year.

Programmed trading has yet to be tested as a defense against insider-trading charges.

Investigators are likely, however, to be interested in several sales outside the programmed schedule that netted Lay as much as $70 million. In each of those transactions, Lay sold about $4 million worth of shares back to Enron. His attorney previously explained that they were used to pay off loans to various banks that were secured with Enron stock.

The first such transaction was on Dec. 28, 2000. Others came in February, April, May (two), June (six), July, late August (four) and early September.

“Between June and August 2001, the pattern of Lay’s insider trading was substantially inconsistent with his prior trading behavior, inconsistent with rational behavior assuming Enron’s shares were fairly priced by the market but consistent with rational behavior assuming Lay had a reasonable expectation that the price of Enron’s shares was inflated,” the report said.

The report concluded there was only “remote chance” the sales were not related to his knowledge of information relevant to the company’s stock performance.

Start practicing your perp walk, Kenny Boy.

Webhost problems

Couldn’t get logged into Movable Type until now due to CGI errors. My web host still hasn’t answered my email, but at least the problem is solved. Let’s hope it stays that way.

RIP, WSRT

I’m really sorry to see that Ginger Stampley has apparently retired from blogging. I’m sorry to see it because Ginger is a fine writer with a strong voice and is knowledgeable on many topics. Her writing will be greatly missed.

On a personal level, Ginger is a good friend of mine and the person most responsible for getting me started as a blogger. I’d been reading the blogs that Slate linked to in their old “Mezine Central” feature – it was basically Kaus, Postrel, Josh Marshall, Andrew Sullivan, and a new guy named Reynolds – and one day Postrel had a link to something Ginger had blogged on. I followed the link and was surprised to see that she’d been doing this for awhile. I read through her archives, followed a few of her links, and decided that this looked like fun. I talked to her and Michael about it the next time I saw them and a few days later I was publishing.

I’m sad that my blog has outlived hers. The Heights Area Axis of Left-Leaning Bloggers salutes you, Ginger. Take care and be well.

Another music venue to close

Damn, damn damn. The Fabulous Satellite Lounge will soon close its doors.

Soon, for the first time since 1977, the storied 3600 block of Washington Avenue will be without a live music venue. Among others, Rockefeller’s and Club Hey Hey have come and gone, and now, after ten years as a mainstay on the Houston rock/roots/country scene, it’s the turn of the Fabulous Satellite Lounge. Landlords Hank and Marilyn Zwirek, who run nearby Star Pizza and own the buildings that house Rockefeller’s and the former Leo’s, have given Satellite manager Dickie Malone an April 15, 2003, deadline to vacate the premises, and Malone says he doubts he will stay open even that long.

I don’t go to the FabSat very often, as the lack of seating, concrete floor, and proximity of the speakers all play havoc on my old and decrepit self. But I do have some great memories there of seeing Brave Combo, where the lack of seating is mitigated by the fact that it’s un-American and damn near impossible to not get up and dance throughout one of their performances, and Marcia Ball there, and I just get depressed on general principles when a great old venue like that goes away. It was bad enough when neighboring Rockefeller’s (where I saw a performance by the Blue Oyster Cult that had my ears ringing for a week) closed down.

I hope a deal can be worked out that allows the FabSat to exist in some form somewhere. It won’t be the same, but at least the owners have no plans to tear it down. Meantime, I’d better check their schedule and look for a good last show to catch there.

That other nuke-seeking Axis of Evil member

William Burton has posts on why North Korea is a bigger threat than Iraq, why unilateral action in North Korea has a better risk-reward ration than Iraq, why we really need to keep nukes out of Kim Jong Il’s hands, and how he would go about accomplishing all that. Go check it out.

Sheep and donkeys, living together

Scott brings my attention to this excellent story about sheep and donkeys:

Thanks in part to a benevolent farmer from Maryland, Old City Park now has a full complement of sheep.

And for their protection, a “guard donkey” – 8-year-old Mary Kate – has been moved to the area where the sheep are kept at night.

[…]

The two sheep are examples of a breed known to have thrived in North Texas in the late 19th century – an important point in an exhibit that strives to meticulously re-create a farmhouse of that era.

Victoria Owens, a park employee, said the sheep are doing well despite the mishap, and both were hits with school groups that visited the farmhouse over the weekend.

“Floppsy did little tricks, like sitting up and begging – not that that’s historically accurate,” Ms. Owens said.

I love Texas.

New trends in political advertising: COPS outtakes

This has been such a serious year, I’m glad to see a little low comedy:

Calling all cars, please check out disturbance on Texas’ broadcast airwaves. We have a report of state politicians attacking one another using police cruiser dashboard videotape.

New commercials in the governor’s race and a state Senate race in Austin use police video from traffic stops to portray Republican Gov. Rick Perry and Democratic Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos in a less-than-favorable light.

Experts say these ads may mark the first time in U.S. political history that the relatively new technology of police dashboard video has been used in negative campaign advertising.

“I can’t think of another one,” said University of Texas political scientist Bruce Buchanan. “It’s potentially very powerful.”

Democrat Tony Sanchez’s commercial features Perry when he was lieutenant governor in video shot from a Texas Department of Public Safety patrol car. It shows Perry urging a trooper to “let us get on down the road” after an aide driving Perry was stopped for speeding.

Another commercial features video of state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin, hopping on one leg as he failed a field sobriety test last year. Barrientos pleaded no contest and received a year’s probation.

Hey, at least they were both wearing shirts. There’s more comedy gold at the end of the article:

Meanwhile, retiring U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, is using his campaign account to pay for a radio commercial supporting Perry’s election.

Gramm praised the governor for his small-town upbringing and dedication to Republican principles. Gramm also blasts Sanchez for spending millions of dollars of his own money on the race for governor.

“Tony Sanchez is spending his family fortune trying to buy what Rick Perry’s earned,” Gramm says.

“There’s some things that are not for sale. My dog’s not for sale, and neither is the governorship of Texas.”

Phil Gramm has a UPC code stamped on his forehead, and he’s talking about how “some things are not for sale”. Maybe he’s aiming to follow John McCain onto Saturday Night Live.

Early voter turnout up

Early voter turnout in the state’s 15 largest counties is up 91 percent over 1998, bolstering Democratic hopes in the statewide races.

The three biggest increases occurred in urban counties with long histories of Democratic voting — Bexar, Hidalgo and Travis — according to early voting numbers released Tuesday by the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

Early voting also is up in Republican counties — especially Montgomery and Fort Bend in suburban Houston and Collin in suburban Dallas — which did not start early voting until Monday.

Time for my standard Chron complaint. The print edition has a nice table that shows the actual voter tallies for these 15 counties. After all, a 100% increase means a lot less in this context if we’re talking an increase from 5 voters to 10. Naturally, the online edition doesn’t have the frickin’ table. Here’s a sample, from me to you, Just Because I Care:

County 1998 2002 Change
Harris 15,846 20,621 +30%
Dallas 5,133 9,799 +91%
Bexar 4,740 14,430 +204%
Tarrant 7,732 15,889 +106%
Travis 4 ,705 12,974 +176%
El Paso 3,220 4,374 +36%
Hidalgo 1,701 4,969 +192%
Nueces 2,415 5 ,185 +115%
Collin 1,520 3,589 +136%

Montgomery and Fort Bend counties, both Republican strongholds, were also both up over 100%, but in much smaller absolute numbers: 1,147 to 2,818 for Montgomery County and 490 to 1,170 for Fort Bend. Only Galveston County, which dropped nearly in half from 3,283 to 1,610, had a decrease. Williamson County replaced Lubbock in the top 15 and has a total of 3,903 so far (no 1998 number was given; Lubbock’s number for 1998 was 853). Overall, the total went from 56,873 to 108,532.

1998 was an aberrant year in several ways. Dubya, who was already being talked about as a Presidential nominee, ran basically unopposed. There was no Senate race in 1998. The extreme weakness at the top of the Democratic ticket had an effect on several down-ballot elections, where John Sharp lost to Rick Perry by less than 70,000 votes in the Lt. Governor race and Carolyn Keeton Rylander squeaked by in the Comptroller race by 20,000 votes. Just the fact that there are viable, high-visibility candidates for Governor and Senate should at least help bring Democratic turnout back to normal levels. Where they go from there is going to be the key.

Trackback

Inspired by this article in the MIT Technology Review (sadly, only a preview is available here), I’ve finally decided to enable Trackback. If a fellow MT user would care to ping me so I can verify I’ve done this correctly, I’d appreciate it.

Will Hispanics vote for Tony Sanchez?

Josh Chafetz has questioned some of my implicit assumptions in the comments on this Matt Yglesias post. I had expressed my skepticism of the recent DMN poll that gave a 10-point lead to John Cornyn over Ron Kirk and a 15-point lead to Rick Perry over Tony Sanchez.

Josh makes the following assertion about Hispanic voters and the likelihood that they will vote as a monolithic bloc:

Or, to look a little closer to home, consider the 2001 Houston mayoral race. There, conservative Hispanic Orlando Sanchez lost by less than 1.5 percent to incumbent Lee Brown. And, as the Houston Chronicle article I just linked to notes, “Sanchez cobbled together the same coalition of conservative whites and Hispanics that put Bob Lanier in office in 1991.” Lanier is white — suggesting that Sanchez wasn’t simply attracting the Hispanic vote because he himself is Hispanic.

It’s true that the Democratic Party doesn’t have a lock on Hispanic voters, in Texas or elsewhere. President Bush is quite popular here with Hispanic voters. It’s true that Tony Sanchez has had to fight some early disinterest among Hispanic voters in the race – some 44 percent in a Houston Chronicle poll taken in September had “little interest” in the race.

But it’s also true that the Orlando Sanchez example is exactly what Tony Sanchez is hoping for. Here’s an excerpt from a Chron story written on November 26, 2001, by Lori Rodriguez, a few days before the runoff between Orlando Sanchez and Lee Brown:

And on Nov. 6 in Houston, Orlando Sanchez , a first-generation immigrant from Cuba and a Republican, drew more than 60 percent of the mainly Mexican-American and historically Democratic Latino electorate in his bid to be the city’s first Hispanic mayor.

From the venerably Mexican-American barrios of the east side to the more integrated Latinos in middle-class enclaves, a majority of Hispanic voters shrugged aside partisan ties and political ideology to cast a vote for ethnic pride, for “La Raza.”

“Some of them considered the politics, saw the last name and said `that’s good enough for me,’ ” says University of Houston political scientist Adolfo Santos.

“Sanchez certainly let everybody know that he’s a Republican and conservative.”

[…]

In the first flex of Hispanic muscle in the early 1970s, Mindiola served as Harris County chairman of La Raza Unida, a political third party forged from the ranks of disgruntled Hispanic Democrats. For decades, he has monitored the community’s political maturation via exit polls in key races; the most recent was District I, Houston’s first Hispanic -majority council seat.

Of 233 Hispanic voters in the district surveyed on Election Day, 62 percent voted for Sanchez , 25 percent chose Brown and 11 percent went with Councilman Chris Bell, who was eliminated from the runoff. More tellingly, in a city where the mostly Mexican-American Hispanic political establishment energetically opposes Sanchez , 72 percent of Hispanics voting for Sanchez identified themselves as liberal or moderate Democrats.

“District I tells us that party loyalty doesn’t mean a damn thing when you get to vote for one of your own,” says [Tatcho] Mindiola, [director of the University of Houston’s Center for Mexican-American Studies]. “It tells us we don’t care what our leadership is doing, we’re going to vote for a cousin.

If Hispanic Democrats disregarded party and ideological identity to vote for the potential first Hispanic mayor of Houston, is it hard to imagine the same thing among Hispanic Republicans and the potential first Hispanic Governor of Texas? I don’t think so.

Obviously, Tony Sanchez will need a much higher percentage of the Hispanic vote than Orlando Sanchez got. I believe the hope is for 75%. Given that more Hispanics are Democrats to start with, that’s a smaller hill for him to climb.

Again, I’m not saying this will happen. I’m saying it’s what Tony Sanchez is trying to make happen. If he drives the turnout, he’ll reap the reward.

Wallace and Gromit are back!

Woo hoo, a new Wallace and Gromit short film is out, with a full-length feature due in two years! Via the Donk.

Wimmin playin’ f’ball

Texans, schmexans. Houston already has a championship football team. And their owner plays cornerback. Take that, Jerry Jones!

Robin Howington awakes on a Saturday, makes a pot of coffee, turns on the VCR and studies a game film for the third time in a week.

Howington plays defense on the Houston Energy, the two-time national champions in the Women’s Professional Football League — and undefeated again this season.

The Dallas quarterback mostly throws slants to the right, Howington notes as she sips her coffee. And the receivers don’t run patterns out to the sidelines. Her job as a starting cornerback will be easy — even for a rookie.

Satisfied with her observations, Howington turns to her more challenging role on the Houston Energy — as owner.

Howington has been chief cook and bottle washer for her team, which she’s run at a loss since the WPFL doesn’t have a whole lot of fans or any kind of corporate sugar daddies. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have some things in common with the better-known sports leagues:

The first two years as owner were rough, so overwhelming she didn’t have time to play the game. Howington changed her coaching staff early in the first season, parting ways with former Houston Oilers wide receiver Haywood Jeffires.

Meanwhile, she dealt with the invariable problems of leading 60 people. Players complained they weren’t playing enough, others demanded money or special perks for their talent. One even hired a lawyer to make Howington pay for her Super Bowl ring.

I assume the writer meant “inevitable” problems, but whatever. Howington has spent $100,000 of her money on the team. I wish her luck in getting funding for the future.

Another Dem endorsement

Amazing. The Chron has endorsed Kirk Watson for Attorney General, meaning that they went with the Democratic candidate in three out of the four big statewide races. And they threw in an endorsement for Debra Danburg in her State House race against Martha “No Thong” Wong (see the comments here for the etymology of the nickname) for good measure.

The Chron has endorsed very few Democratic candidates in major races in the past decade or so. Some of that was, admittedly, due to a lack of good candidates at the state level in recent years – the last serious Democratic candidate for Senate was probably Lloyd Bentsen in 1988 – and some of it was not. This is the strongest top-to-bottom slate of Democratic candidates in awhile, and I’m pleased and more than a little amazed to see the Chron recognize it.

Now if only their crappy election section had some info on early voter turnout…

North Korea confesses additional misdeeds

The Noose has the scoop:

PYONGYANG — Following on the heels of last month’s admission that his country had kidnapped Japanese nationals, and last week’s extraordinary revelation that North Korea possessed a secret nuclear weapons program, leader Kim Jong Il disclosed on Monday that his nation was guilty of additional malfeasance.

“We sank the Lusitania,” Mr. Kim admitted. “Also, we shot down Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. We killed J.R. We stole Fizzy Lifting Drink.”

You read it here first, folks.

When will the home version be available?

Scott points me to some cool news:

Seattle-based computer maker Cray is collaborating with Sandia National Laboratories here on a new, faster supercomputer – Red Storm – that will be seven times more powerful than the federal weapons lab’s current supercomputer.

Red Storm, expected to go into operation sometime in fiscal year 2004, will have a theoretical peak performance of 40 trillion calculations per second.

Excellent. I didn’t know Cray was still in business, what with Seymour Cray’s death and all those advances using parallel PC processors. Nice to see they’re still around and making headlines.

Here is the text of a speech Seymour Cray gave in 1996. Here is a slide show overview of the man and his computers. Here is a 1995 interview with Seymour Cray.

Sandia’s Jim Tomkins and [Sandia’s director of computers Bill] Camp were the architects of the Red Storm design, which Sandia said was strongly influenced by the successes of the Cray T3E and ASCI Red supercomputers.

Tomkins said Red Storm could be upgraded to 60 trillion calculations per second, and the system architecture is designed to scale up to hundreds of trillions of calculations per second.

Cray was just talking about cracking the teraflop (one trillion floating point operations per second) boundary in 1996. This machine will be fairly close to doing petaflops (1000 teraflops), something that Cray thought would be another 20 years off.

Fastow mansion sold

Sometimes snarkiness is no substitute for the actual text of a newspaper story:

The River Oaks mansion of former Enron Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow has sold for $3.9 million to another local energy company CFO.

Thomas Hook, the CFO of privately held Hilcorp Energy, purchased the home at 3005 Del Monte with his wife, Laura. The 11,493-square-foot home was on the market for about $4.3 million through Greenwood King agent Karen Garrett.

Pause for a moment to marvel at how many times your own house could fit into 11,493 square feet.

Federal prosecutors claim Fastow built the home with laundered money, according to court documents, so the proceeds will be turned over to the U.S. Marshals Service until a judge rules on whether it was looted from Enron Corp.

Hmm. We may be onto a way to combat the federal budget deficit here.

Hook, the son of former American General Corp. Chairman Harold Hook, previously worked for Goldman Sachs in New York and in the Houston office of accounting firm Arthur Andersen.

Man, Enron and Arthur Andersen just go together like Denny’s and La Quinta, don’t they?

The house was built with the finest materials, but about $300,000 worth of work remains to be done before the house is finished, said Martha Turner of Martha Turner Properties.

The three-story house has six fireplaces, Italian blue flagstone flooring, a state-of-the art security system, museum-quality lighting for artwork, a large outdoor pool with whirlpool, a screened summer house and an oversized three-car garage with living space above.

Never would have guessed that the deed restrictions in River Oaks allow for garage apartments. Maybe they list it as servants’ quarters.

The Fastows still live in a Southampton home worth $700,000.

Life’s a bitch, ain’t it?

Volunteer opportunities

If you’d like to do something that has real value and actually can make a difference, may I suggest the volunteer opportunities that Sisyphus Shrugged linked to recently. Progressive action without all that icky intifada stuff! What more could you want?

Divestment idiocy comes to Texas

There are days when you just want to chuck it all and spend the rest of your life watching TVLand and eating junk food. Today is one of them, now that I’ve read this appalling article in the Chron about the brain-dead movement to “divest” from Israel that has now infested the University of Texas. While I give the author some credit for skepticism, I nearly choked when I saw who was quoted as the “dissenting voice”:

“This is an anti-America movement and has solidarity with terrorists, which I consider very dangerous,” said David Horowitz, a leading university radical in the 1960s who has since become a prominent critic of student and faculty leftists.

“It’s a movement to destroy Israel, and there are always unwitting people who go along and believe slogans,” said Horowitz, who has started an ad campaign to try to debunk the divestment movement in college newspapers.

I’m not sure which is the more horrifying prospect: That one could come away from this article thinking that David Horowitz is in some form a voice of reason, that David Horowitz is once again trolling for student newspapers to reject his ads so he can cry “Censorship!” to every talk show host in America, or that I’m forced to be on the same side of an issue with David Horowitz. Whatever the case, I need a shower.

Texas universities were noted for a dearth of student activism even during the tumultuous 1960s, and there was little activism in the state during the South Africa divestment movement.

“Progressive students are afraid to speak out in Texas,” said Kathy Goodwin, a University of Houston student who heads a campus National Organization for Women group.

A petition drive has not been started at UH, but Goodwin and several Muslim students interviewed who oppose Israeli policies said there is no reason that one could not.

I don’t think progressive students are any more afraid to speak out now than they were back in the 80s when I was a student and nostalgia for the “good parts” of the 60s was still fresh. Maybe progressive students are choosing their battles more intelligently today. Maybe it’s not “progressive” to align oneself with people like Ali Abunimah. Maybe progressive students get just an eensy whiff of anti-semitism from this movement, despite all the “aggressive” denials from Hussein Ibish and the like. Shall I go on?

Sigh. It’s Ho-Hos and a Brady Bunch marathon for me today. Wake me tomorrow when things are looking better.

A few words about polls

First, go read what Dr. Limerick has to say about margin of error. Next, consider the following excerpt from this article from the Wilson Quarterly about polls:

Although the public displays no overt hostility to polls, fewer Americans are bothering to respond these days to the pollsters who phone them. Rob Daves, of the Minnesota Poll, says that “nearly all researchers who have been in the profession longer than a decade or so agree that no matter what the measure, response rates to telephone surveys have been declining.” Harry O’Neill, a principal at Roper Starch Worldwide, calls the response-rate problem the “dirty little secret” of the business. Industry-sponsored studies from the 1980s reported refusal rates (defined as the proportion of people whom surveyors reached on the phone but who declined either to participate at all or to complete an interview) as ranging between 38 and 46 percent. Two studies done by the market research arm of Roper Starch Worldwide, in 1995 and 1997, each put the refusal rate at 58 percent. A 1997 study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found statistically significant differences on five of 85 questions between those who participated in a five-day survey and those who responded in a more rigorous survey, conducted over eight weeks, that was designed to coax reluctant individuals into participating.

Much more research needs to be done on the seriousness of the response-rate problem, but it does seem to pose a major challenge to the business and might help to usher in new ways of polling. (Internet polling, for example, could be the wave of the future–if truly representative samples can be constructed.) Polling error may derive from other sources, too, including the construction of samples, the wording of questions, the order in which questions are asked, and interviewer and data-processing mistakes.

I’ve seen poll numbers all over the place for various candidates. Right here, we’ve got polls showing Ron Kirk and John Cornyn in a tight race and polls showing Cornyn with a ten point lead. I look at the number of people surveyed, and while I know that it’s sufficiently large to be a representative sample, I have to ask: What assumptions are the pollsters making about turnout? Are they taking into consideration extra efforts in the candidate’s hometowns? Is there an axe being ground somewhere?

Fortunately, I have MyDD to tell me about the demographics of the DMN poll as well as the biases of various national polling companies. And it’s not just liberals who have been complaining. Conservatives have made many of the same points about sampling error, nonresponsiveness, and pollster bias.

The only poll that really matters is the one taken on Election Day. Early voting has begun. You know what to do.

(Temporary) new home for Atrios

Atrios is having some trouble posting to his blog, so he’s (temporarily) moved to this new spot. Hope you can get the glitches worked out, dude.

Hometown paper obit for Red

My mother informed me tonight that our old hometown paper, the Staten Island Advance, published an obituary for my grandmother which includes a couple of paragraphs from my own tribute. Apparently, my dad got in touch with a writer at the Advance that he knew and tipped him off to what I’d written. It sure reads as if they’d interviewed me instead of cribbing from my writing, doesn’t it?

I’m going to return the favor and copy the obit here, so I’ll have it after it rotates off their page.

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Native Staten Islander Ann Abbruzza Visco, 85, of Kirkland, Wash., a retired business owner, died Oct. 14 in the Evergreen Vista Rehabilitation Center, Kirkland.

Born in Ann Carasaniti in Sunnyside, she moved to Kirkland in 1999.

She married her first husband, Russell Abbruzza, in 1939. The couple owned and operated the former Russell’s Beauty Salon and Barber Shop in Sunnyside for more than 20 years.

Mr. Abbruzza died in 1961. Ten years later, she married Nicholas Visco. Together, the two owned and operated an Italian restaurant called Pasta Galore in Mays Landing, N.J., until 1982.

She was know for her flaming red hair for which she had garnered the nickname, “Red” by family and friends. Her eldest grandson Charles Kuffner III has fond memories of his grandmother.

“I was her first grandchild. When I was born, she started saving the tips she got [from the salon] for my college fund,” he said. “Every Christmas I’d receive a big plastic container full of coins, representing a year’s worth of gratuities for perms and cuts. My siblings got to share in this when they arrived, but I got the best of it for getting there first.”

Mrs. Abbruzza Visco was an accomplished knitter. “Sweaters were her specialty,” her grandson said. “When my mother’s brother, Russ, remarried and produced two grandsons, it was a new lease on life for her, and she knitted with a vengeance. I don’t think either of those kids needed a store-bought sweater for the first few years of their lives.”

Mrs. Visco was the past president of the Richmond County Hairdresser’s Association. She enjoyed Italian cooking, and was an avid fan of the New York Yankees.

She also enjoyed caring for plants and creating outdoor gardens and was the past recipient of a Lynne Robbins Steinman Foundation award for outstanding garden displays.

Her second husband, Nicholas, died in 1998.

In addition to her son, Charles, and her grandson, surviving are another son, Russell Abbruzza; a daughter, Carol A. Kuffner; a brother Frank Carasaniti, and five more grandchildren.

A private funeral was arranged by the Green Funeral Homes, Bellevue, Wash.

I’ll add one correction, one observation, and one oversight: Red had two children, my mom and my uncle Russ. She had a son-in-law named Charles (that would be my dad), but no other son. To the best of my recollection, the restaurant in Mays Landing was simply called Visco’s. At least, I recall “Visco’s” being spelled out in large cursive letters on the side of the restaurant. It’s possible there was a “Pasta Galore” somewhere, I just don’t remember it. Red also had two great-grandchildren, my niece Vanessa and my nephew Jack.

DMN poll favors Goodhair and Cornyn

A Dallas Morning News poll taken last week shows a double-digit lead for Rick Perry and John Cornyn. The Lt. Governor race is a dead heat, it says.

Make of it what you will.

Chron on Howard Dean

Attention, Howard Dean fans (and you know who you are): Today’s Chron has a nice profile of your man.

He has no national organization, little staff and no real campaign Web site, yet enthusiasts are comparing Dean to former President Jimmy Carter and Republican iconoclast Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Less optimistic but still positive comparisons also can be made of Dean to defeated former presidential candidates Bruce Babbitt and Bill Bradley — Democrats outside the mainstream who attracted limited but fervent support.

“I think there are some similarities between me and Bill Bradley,” Dean said, “although I am shorter.”

A 53-year-old physician whose wife is also a physician, Dean wears corny ties and gives windy, detailed answers to questions about his cornerstone issues — children, health care and balanced budgets. When he travels, he stays at the home of a local supporter or party activist, where he dutifully makes his bed.

But in an early field already crowding with slick, moneyed, Washington-insider candidates such as Sen. John Kerry from Massachusetts and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Dean’s earnest and quixotic candidacy is generating a familiar sort of buzz.

“I picked him out as my candidate after seeing him a number of times on C-SPAN,” said George Appleby, a Des Moines attorney who is helping Dean locally. “The first time I saw him speak, I thought, `Here is the quintessential Democratic wonk, someone who wants to do the right thing.’ ”

What a concept.

Goodbye, punch cards

The electronic voting system eSlate, which has been used in early voting for the past couple of elections here in Harris County, is being rolled out to all voters this year. All eyes will be on County Clerk Beverly Kaufman, who led the drive to replace punch card ballots with the new system.

There are some concerns about how eSlate handles straight-ticket voting and some questions about how cozy a relationship Kaufman has with the eSlate vendor, but I’m not too worried about that. I’ve used the eSlate machines before, and I think they’re reasonably straightforward. (Of course, I am an IT professional. I’d have to turn in my decoder ring if I got discombobulated by a voting machine.) If they have as many volunteers to show people how to use the machines as they have in the past, there shouldn’t be too much confusion.

No, what bothers me (as I’ve mentioned before) is the lack of a hard copy of your vote with eSlate. I’m really worried about how a recount will be handled. The Harris Votes web site deals with this question in its FAQ as follows:

Q: Computer experts claim that there is no way to audit the vote without a paper trail? Does this system have paper backup?. What is Plan B if the equipment doesn’t work as intended? What is your worst case scenario?

A: Actually, this system provides voters with much better confidence that their vote will be counted as they intended. First, the voting device provides each voter with a summary of all their votes, alerting them to any races they missed, and allowing them to make changes until they are satisfied. They have visual confirmation that they voted exactly as they intended. To ensure those votes are recorded correctly, the system programming is tested and validated before and after the election – in the presence of witnesses – to ensure that votes are counted and reported as they are cast, through a process known as logic and accuracy testing. There are many other security features both in process and in equipment and software built into the process. And while a paper printout could be added to the equipment, it isn’t necessary to ensure secure and accurate elections. Such a step also would introduce new security concerns and add unnecessary complications and costs to the process.

Which is to say “Don’t worry your pretty little heads about it”. I know one of the computer experts who testified before City Council about this. His argument, which I find hard to refute, was that the eSlate vendor never gave him or any other outside auditor a look at their security code, so we have no way of objectively evaluating their claims. Microsoft says that its software is secure, too, you know.

Beverly Kaufman says that she will be judged by the success of eSlate. She’s right, and the judging won’t end after this election. I just hope she’s judged a success.

Chron endorses Kirk

The Chron endorsed Ron Kirk for Senate today. I’m surprised. Hell, I’m shocked. I’d have laid odds on Cornyn getting the nod. I would have thought that the pro-Bush angle would have been more than enough for them. I’ll have to think about this.

Every little bit helps

If John Sharp wins the Lt. Governor’s office by one vote, he can thank me for that vote.

Be sure to read the comment that I left regarding former City Councilwoman Martha Wong, by the way.

Answering my own question

Just got a knock on the door from a couple of Tony Sanchez campaign volunteers who were passing out a flyer for an Early Vote Rally and Barbecue being held downtown. Bad day for it, unfortunately, as it’s been raining on and off most of the day, but it’s nice to see some activity. The sponsors of the event are listed as State Senator Mario Gallegos, State Rep. Jessica Farrar, City Controller Sylvia Garcia, City Councilman Gabriel Vasquez, the Southwest Voter Registration & Education Project, and the Inner City Learning Centers, both of which are “501(c)(3) non-profit, non-partisan” organizations.

Where are the Hispanic voters?

This Chron article says that Tony Sanchez’s efforts to recruit and energize new Hispanic voters has fallen short of its goal, which in turn may cost him in November. I’m not convinced that it’s a fatal flaw, on the grounds that Hispanic voters historically have turned out in lower numbers than black and Anglos (at least in Texas). Sanchez will be working to get more of those already-registered folks to turn out this year. Though it’s admittedly not clear how successful that effort will be, this article gives no indication of where that effort now stands. I’m a bit surprised that R.G. Ratcliffe failed to note the Sanchez campaign’s claim of having rented every van in the state, a claim I’ve also seen reported in the San Antonio Express-News.

There is some good news for Democrats in this story:

The bright spot in the state coordinated campaign organization, said some Democrats who did not want their name used, is that state Rep. Terri Hodge of Dallas has developed a strong get-out-the-vote effort for black voters.

In the Democratic primaries, Kirk pushed U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen of Houston out of the runoffs with a surprisingly strong showing among Dallas black voters. Kirk won the runoff over schoolteacher Victor Morales.

There’s some excellent coverage in this thread at the MyDD web page.

Kirk v. Cornyn, the debate

Ron Kirk and John Cornyn took part in a televised debate here last night. Both came out swinging, with Enron being a particular point of contention:

“You basically served as in-house counsel for Enron,” Kirk told Cornyn, the state’s attorney general, who has received thousands of dollars in Enron-related campaign donations during his political career. “The bad news is the people of Texas were paying you at the time.”

Cornyn, noting that Kirk’s Dallas law firm did work on behalf of the former energy trader, asked Kirk, a former Dallas mayor, whether he felt he could still work in the public’s interest.

“What I think the people of Texas want to know is how you can stand here and attack me on Enron when your law firm took $180,000 from Enron,” Cornyn said.

[…]

Central to the exchange over Enron, Kirk took Cornyn to task for a ruling that allowed Enron to keep financial information secret as it pursued business in the state’s deregulated utility market.

Cornyn’s opinion was issued just weeks before Enron’s finances began publicly unraveling.

Noting that Cornyn accepted $193,000 in contributions from the company and its employees, Kirk said the attorney general’s ruling “rewarded them well” for the political support.

Cornyn responded that his ruling was in compliance with law, and that he subsequently recused himself from handling any aspect of investigating Enron.

They debate again in Dallas on Wednesday.

Chron endorses Goodhair and Sharp

The Chron gave its endorsements for Governor and Lt. Governor today, going with Governor Goodhair and John Sharp. Neither of these comes as a surprise to me. Sharp is exactly the kind of fiscal conservative/social moderate that the Chron generally likes, while Rick Perry is a Republican running for Governor, which has been sufficient for every Chron endorsement since at least 1990. If you think I’m just being a bitter partisan, read the following paragraph:

But the point is that Perry has experience and a record he is willing to defend. As a member of the Texas House, as the state’s agriculture commissioner, as lieutenant governor and as governor since December 2000, Perry has a long track record and knows how the state Capitol works.

and ask yourself how they can square it with their endorsement of zero-experience zero-record outsider Clayton Williams over long-track-record-in-state-government Ann Richards in 1990. However balanced they may be in other endorsements, the Chron simply likes Republican candidates for Governor. Period.

Federal judge to rule in Burdine case

Federal judge David Hittner will decide by next week whether or not Calvin Burdine should be represented by his appeals attorney in his murder retrial, or if he should let stand Judge Joan Hoffman’s ruling that Burdine should be represented by an appointed attorney. It’s highly unusual for a federal judge to intervene in a case that is still in progress. Hittner is actually ruling on whether or not he has the authority to intervene, which is just a tad bit convoluted to me, but whatever. For sure if he rules that he can step in, he will rule that Burdine should get the lawyer of his choice, as anything else would make the whole exercise pointless. Time to set a precedent, Your Honor…