Friday, April 29, 2005

Friday Musings

1) The Washington Post site is acting strange again. It welcomes me but then asks me for a password when I try to go to an article and then asks me again and again and again. Last week it was working fine.

2) I paid $14.95 to Major League Baseball to listen to games and I am only getting through about 1/3 of the time. I keep getting a message that says "server error." Four e-mails and one phone message to their help desk have received no reply. This is disappointing since the Orioles are doing so well; on the other hand, since they are doing so well and I haven't been able to listen, baseball superstition dictates that I not get this fixed.

3) For various reasons I did not love living in Boston during the two years that I lived there. This was contrary to the expectations of nearly all Bostonians. One of the umpteen things that I didn't like was the Boston Globe. I found the writing pretentious, the need to always find a local angle annoying, the sense that Boston was the intellectual capital of America a bit overblown. But--and perhaps you will think less of me for saying so--what really drove me nuts was that the comics were in a different place nearly every day. The comics were not the only things that migrated around the paper: obituaries could show up in the classified ads; national news in the local section; sports scores in the business section. As one of the three people under the age of 40 in America who like to read at least one actual newspaper in print every day, this drove me bonkers. There are sections I like to read over breakfast and sections I like to read on the bus. But with the Boston Globe you never knew which section would have which features on any given day. Imagine you are sitting on the T and you want to read "Get Fuzzy" and "Doonesbury." But you grabbed the magazine section and today the comics are in the classified ads that you already put in the recycle bin. I finally dropped my subscription to the Globe; subscribed to the New York Times and started going on-line to look at comics.
Why am I reliving this now? Because the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has decided to revamp its daily pages and they have made some odd decisions. To my mind, the oddest is moving the editorials and the op-ed page to the local section. Yesterday or the day before I noticed the obituaries in some section other than local news (I don't remember which). So far the comics are always in the same place and I haven't had to leave the sports section to find the baseball box scores, but I have to say I'm worried: if they can be consistent with placement of features, I can manage under this new regime. But if they are going to start moving things around, we have the Boston Globe problem redux. Further cause for worry: the new(ish) P-G editor is former Washington bureau chief for the Globe. I know he's a Pulitzer Prize winner and all (n'at?) but if he can't put the comics and the box scores in the same place every day, he may lose another reader under 40.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Population Figures

Much hand-wringing in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette over continued population decline in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, and the metro region.

I agree: Pittsburgh has some big problems.

But we’re not alone in terms of urban core areas slowly losing population:

the first figure is the 2004 estimate; the second figure is the 2003 estimate:

Philadelphia County, PA 1,470,151 1,476,953
Middlesex County, MA 1,464,628 1,466,561 (this is the biggest of Boston’s suburban counties)
Allegheny County, PA 1,250,867 1,259,176
Cuyahoga County, OH 1,351,009 1,361,933
San Francisco County, CA 744,230 751,908
Suffolk County, MA 666,022 676,299 (this is Boston proper)
Baltimore city, MD 636,251 643,304

What’s growing in these metro areas: all the suburban counties in the Philadelphia area, the DC area, and the outlying parts of the Boston area.

What’s growing in the Pittsburgh metro area: nothing--so yes, we’ve got it worse.

DC itself (not counted as a county) is also apparently down although DC officials dispute this (see this report in the Washington Post: (Mysteriously and with no action on my part, my ability to read the Washington Post on-line has returned. The Baltimore Sun site is still acting crazy.)

Massachusetts is apparently the only state to suffer a population decline overall from 2003 to 2004--see here:

My point: some places like Pittsburgh haven’t solved the post-industrial riddle. Other places have, but haven’t solved the problem of sprawl. Either way, central cities and inner-ring suburbs are losing relative to their outlying areas and older metro areas are losing relative to new ones in the south and west. While Pittsburghers are busy trying to solve the problems of this region (there are many), we would be wise not to forget that we have a national problem that may require national solutions. In another post, I will try to outline why I think this is, in fact, a problem. And someday I may think up a solution.
Keep checking back with me for that.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Baseball Records since 1954

Earlier this week, I noted that in the early to mid 1980s, I had heard that the Orioles had the best record in baseball since 1954 (the year they moved to Baltimore from St. Louis). I had wondered if this were still the case. (See below: it turns out never to have been the case). Alas, it’s not. Here are the win percentages for all teams 1954-2004 with a winning record.

1. New York Yankees .563
2. Philadelphia/Kansas City/Oakland Athletics .545
3. Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers .542
3. New York/San Francisco Giants .542
5. Cincinnati Reds .526
5. Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins .526
6. Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves .525
7. Boston Red Sox .523
8. Baltimore Orioles .522
9. St. Louis Cardinals .520
10. Chicago White Sox . .514
11. Arizona Diamondbacks .507

I used the raw data under team pitching statistics at If you really care about this, you should probably check my math. And a statistician might also point out that the differences between the Reds, Twins, Braves, Red Sox, Orioles, and Cardinals are not statistically significant. (A statistician might also point out that this is an entirely pointless exercise.)

Then I wondered. Was my mid-‘80s memory correct or just a bit of Orioles mythologizing? Here’s the same check for the period 1954-1984. The Orioles look a lot better but apparently I was wrong. All those good years in the ‘50s were still carrying the Yankees and the Dodgers over the Orioles.

1. New York Yankees .563
2. Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers .556
3. Baltimore Orioles .550
4. Cincinnati Reds .540
5. Kansas City Royals .523
6. Detroit Tigers .520
7. Pittsburgh Pirates .518
8. New York/San Francisco Giants .517
9. Boston Red Sox .516
10. Chicago White Sox .515
11. St. Louis Cardinals .514
12. Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves .511

Also note that the Pirates and the Royals are on the 1984 list and drop of the 2004 list. Remember Willie Stargell and George Brett? The Pirates just missed the 2004 cut-off at .499 and the Royals slipped to .494. The newcomers on the 2004 list were the Twins and the A’s who went from .477 (Twins) and .460 (A’s) on the 1984 list.

(By the way, if you want to see all records going back to the end of the 19th century, check here: Saddled with the legacy of the St. Louis Browns, the Orioles don’t do so well on this list.)

Lessons learned:
--Memory is slippery.
--The A’s win “most-improved” since 1984.
--Since 1954, only 10 teams of the ones that have played the entire time have winning records.
--The Diamondbacks are the only post-1954 team with a winning record.
--You just can’t beat the d*** Yankees.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Some new blogs on the link list

I just added three new blogs to the right. "Accommodatingly" is by Steve Burt and Jessie Bennett. Steve is an accomplished poet and literary critic and a friend from high school; Jessie is an accomplished web designer. "Pittsblog" is by a law professor at Pitt who works on intellectual property law; this blog is of interest to me for the comments on life in Pittsburgh. (If intellectual property law is your thing, his other blog, linked from "Pittsblog" looks interesting as well.) I found "Pittsblog" via "Creating Text(iles)" which is by an English professor and medievalist at Duquesne. I have no interest in knitting but otherwise this looks like an interesting blog. Check out her recent post on what might shape up to be a kind of anti-plagiarism vigilante movement.

Monday, April 04, 2005

More on baseball

I forgot to add a link to another comment on being on the sidelines of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. I can't endorse the profanity but I can agree with some of the sentiments.

Opening Day Thoughts

Opening Day holds great significance for me: it's the day I stop wearing winter coats (my wife thinks I'm a little nuts especially since the introduction of the wild card has moved opening day back to the beginning of April) and it's the day I start reading the Sports section first when the morning paper arrives.

So here are my thoughts for the day:

I am a once and future Orioles fan (the Senators left DC the year I was born and my father was a Baltimorean anyway). I used to take great pride in the Orioles as one of the elite teams of the American League and used to rattle off the statistic that the Orioles had the best record of any team since 1954.(This was true as of the mid-80s. I wonder if it's still true today. Probably not.) I didn't pay much attention to the Yankees until the late 90s when they got good for the first time since the early 80s. Then, of course, I started hating them. And I rooted for the Red Sox to beat them--I'm married to a Bostonian after all, they had my sympathy of course, and as the fan of one of the other non-Yankee AL East teams I felt a sense of solidarity.

But lately all the Yankees-Red Sox hype has me feeling like a Princeton football fan. (If you're not a fan of Ivy League football, you should know that Yale and Harvard have a football rivalry; Princetonians think it's a 3 way rivalry, but it's not. Yale fans and Harvard fans just don't care that much about Princeton.)

But here's the rub: baseball is not college football! It's not about the "big game"; it's about playing day in and day out, the slow (some would say boring) pace of each game, of each week, the cumulative won-loss record and the cumulative individual statistics. Baseball teams play each other three or four times in a row and in five and seven game series because it's the cumulative effect that matters. Yes, the Yankees and Red Sox play each other every year. But guess what? The Yankees and the Red Sox also play every other American League team every year. In other words, baseball shouldn't have "rivalries"--let's leave that to football (I would make an exception for teams sharing a hometown: Mets/Yankees, Cubs/White Sox, Giants/A's, and even Nationals/Orioles. Whoops: I forgot the Dodgers and Angels--how curious.)

But I can't swim against the tide of history (in baseball matters, I am a conservative): the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is here and it's real and I think the reason it exists is because of the amazing run of the last eight years in which the Red Sox have finished second to the Yankees every time. I'm hoping this is cyclical and one of these days the Orioles will push past third place, but I'm worried the imbalance is going to stay until there's a salary cap or a massive collapse of the economy in New York and New England.

Meanwhile I had decided when I moved to Pittsburgh that I would root for the Pirates in the National League and in the World Series (unless they play the Orioles again. I'm dreaming of a 1971-1979 rematch and yes, I know I will keep dreaming). When I lived in Philadelphia I rooted for the Phillies (who, along with the 76ers, got a lot better when I left town, but that's another issue).

The Orioles mediocrity since 1997 is partly due to economics but mostly due to the combination of bad luck and bad decision-making; the Pirates' recent run of losing seasons (since 93) has much more to do with economics. The usual plaintive cry among Pittsburgh baseball fans is that people here care so much about the Steelers that they ignore the Pirates. But it's hard to muster enthusiasm for a team that's destined to lose. (The Steelers are apparently destined to lose but not until the AFC championship game.)

In case you haven't figured it out, I am a proponent of a salary cap. (I didn't say I was a free-market conservative in baseball matters.)

Finally, a word about the Nationals. I saw a fellow DC-bred Orioles fan of my generation in New York yesterday, a soon-to-be resident of Wisconsin. We compared notes and had similar mixed feelings: nice to see baseball back in DC but we have both been in the process of developing interest in our local NL teams.

Meanwhile, the Orioles are already 1/2 a game out of first because of the outcome of the Yale-Harvard game last night.

Weekend Update

Back from a nice weekend in Jersey City and NYC. A family wedding Saturday night in Jersey City, followed by a quick trip into Manhattan (with fewer panhandlers than Squirrel Hill) to visit some friends.

Quick notes from the trip:

--We don't have cable at home so when I'm in a hotel room I obsessively flip through TV channels. This mean that rather than spending Saturday afternoon before the wedding meditating, studying Torah, or crocheting, I watched parts of "Beverly Hills Ninja," "Midnight Run," and a lot about Pope John Paul II.

--Apparently some bartenders (okay one bartender) agree(s) with me about the superiority of gin over vodka. The one I spoke to is planning to start a marketing campaign with the tag-line "Gin: the New Vodka."

--We have a nice tradition going in my family: since my mother's cousin came from New Jersey to the University of Maryland in the 1970s, we have had a number of relatives go to college where an older cousin lives. One of my cousins is going to UPenn next year where I'll be a research fellow in the fall. So we can keep this going at least for one semester.

--Typical conversation around the table at the wedding: real estate, the comparative advantages and disadvantages of various places of residence and hometowns, start of the baseball season, how dear and wonderful are the bride and groom, which fish are okay for nursing mothers and pregnant women (we were the "older of the younger" cousins and friends table). Less typical conversation (instigated by me when I found out that one of my tablemates works for the NY Federal Reserve): the overlapping jurisdiction in bank regulation between the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve system.

--The frequency of PATH trains on a Sunday leave something to be desired.

--I don't care how gentrified, yuppified, and mall-ified it is, the Upper West Side is the only part of New York I like.

--I very much enjoy having relatives and friends tell me how cute my children are.

--An acquaintance in NY tells us that he and his wife might move to DC and will probably live in the Dupont Circle/Adams Morgan/lower 16th street area. But within the next few years the question of schools and backyards will arise. They've heard of an "up and coming Jewish area" in the city called Shepherd Park. When I burst into laughter and point out that Shepherd Park has been a Jewish area since the 1950s (at least), he responds that he meant that apparently the congregations are aging and that few families with young children have moved there recently. He's probably right and I certainly applaud those Jews who are making their home in DC. My father was on the losing side of a battle to keep the JCC and the new Jewish day school in the city --actually in the Shepherd Park/"Gold Coast" area--in the 1960s. They lost and the institutions moved to Rockville. I'm partly amused and partly offended by what I see as a typical attitude of newcomers to DC: the belief that the area is "transitory" and has no locals. My sense is that in other metropolitan areas the newcomers make themselves at home by "going native" to some extent (this might explain my interest in the Steelers) but that in DC the newcomers use a myth of transience to establish themselves by ignoring the natives.