by Chris Burfield in

First off, if you haven't watched "The Wire" what are you doing reading this blog? Drop what you are doing and go watch it, the best TV show in the history of mankind is more important than whatever I have to say. I'll wait.

Now that you're back remember State Senator Clay Davis? Well he wants to teach you how to curse just like him. 

It is Friday, enjoy a laugh. (Hat tip to The AV Club for posting this first)

Baseball's New Commish Can't Have Both

by Chris Burfield in

If you want to improve pace of play you don't want more offense in the game of baseball. More offense takes time by bringing more batters up to bat and it means more pitching changes. Someone should tell the new commissioner of baseball, Rob Manfred, of these basic facts.

Bud Selig, God knows, had his faults. So, I was hopeful when in the first time in forever we will have a new commissioner of the sport. Now I am pining for the old days of Selig after this most recent interview with him.

The transcript:

Ravech: If you had a broad brush, and the goal was to be as radical as you can be with regard to the way the game is played on the field, what would you do? 

Manfred: Well, I think that … I would think about two sets of changes. The first is the set of changes we just talked about in, in terms of the pace of the game. And I would be aggressive about using the clock over the long haul. I think it's a helpful thing in terms of moving the game along. I think the second set of changes that I would look at is related. And that relates to injecting additional offense in the game. For example, things like eliminating shifts. I would be open to those sorts of ideas. 

Ravech: Forward thinking, Sabermetric defensive shifts? 

Manfred: That's what I'm talking about, yes. 

Ravech: Let's eliminate that? 

Manfred: Uh-huh. 

Ravech: So do you then draw lines by which your second baseman -- 

Manfred: Well, I think you need -- 

Ravech: … needs to stand or you can't go to the left side of the bag? 

Manfred: I think it's the latter. You got to have somebody -- you know, you divide the number of players who have to be each side of second base.

He reiterates bringing a clock to the Major League level and he then proposes something new, banning the use of defensive shifts. For the uninitiated, radical defensive shifts most often occur when the bases are empty, a left handed hitter who almost always hits the ball to right is up to bat, and the shortstop moves over to the right hand side of second base with the second baseman moving into shallow right field. The third baseman then often moves over to the traditional shortstop position and leaves a giant defensive hole on the left hand side of the field. This is an easily defeated strategy if one really wants to try, just bunt the ball towards third base or do your best to hit the ball to the left side. Why left handed hitters don't consistently do this is somewhat beyond me, I guess they value a home run to right more than a single hit to the opposite field.

Either way, you shouldn't be punishing teams who study the opposition and are willing to employ a risky strategy with a ban. Baseball since the beginning of time has been about developing new strategies, adapting, and countering with still more new strategies. We just happen to be in a period of time when defense and pitching is dominant. We are already seeing teams adapt to more contact hitters and speed guys with fewer and fewer teams willing to invest in power hitting lugs. Let the evolution of the game continue, don't impose artificial constraints to "boost offense" when teams are in the process of trying to adapt.

Besides, defensive shifts are not the sole reason offense is down in the last few years. More aggressive pitching changes, less patient hitters (strikeouts are way up), and less steroid using hitters are also contributing factors. 

Let's hope the new commissioner gets some sense knocked into him, preferably by a pull hitter hitting a ball to the opposite field.


Economic Freedom and Tolerance

by Chris Burfield in

The type of economics which seeks to figure the growth path of GDP or which attempts to measure the natural rate of unemployment is all well and good, in my humble opinion. The economics which intersects with human life and the big picture questions is when you get into the realm of the truly great research, again in my humble opinion :-). 

So, when one of the most prolific economists out there provides a review of the research into the intersection of economic freedom and tolerance in a mainstream publication it is well worth sharing.

Tyler Cowen, economics professor at George Mason and blogger at Marginal Revolution, in the NY Times Upshot blog:

Since the Enlightenment of the 18th century, for example, it’s often been assumed that when you trade with other people you tend to become more tolerant of their differences because mutual understanding increases with greater contact. Furthermore, tolerance is in most people’s individual self-interest because the truly intolerant forgo economic benefits — losing the chance to hire the best workers and to sell to all available customers. For those reasons, as commerce increases and economies grow more sophisticated, discrimination and prejudice should diminish, or so it has been thought. 

But is any of that true?

He provides a short review, summarizes some of the problems with the research, such as teasing out the true causality from the data, and closes on a good point. Read the whole thing.


"Boyhood" Review

by Chris Burfield in

"Boyhood" if nothing else is a masterpiece of planning and filmmaking. It was shot over the course of 12 years by Richard Linklater from when the titular boy, Mason, is 6 until his first day of college. It stars Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as the parents, Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater as the kids.

It works as both a time capsule for what it was like to grow up in the 2000's, as there are little pop culture references throughout to mark the passage of time, and as a general statement for what it is like to grow up. From the innocent years to the terribly awkward middle and high school years, from the first date to the first breakup, it is all there. 

So I've already praised the filmmaking, but does it work as a story? Absolutely. Just the sheer ability to tell a single story with the same actors over 12 years, to see the characters progress physically, emotionally, and mentally is amazing. Not one character stays the same from beginning to end. I am purposefully holding back specific plot details because in the end they don't really matter. What matters are the broad arcs of each character, the passage of and the effects of time.

Along with "Birdman" this is a heavy favorite for Best Picture. It has already won Golden Globes for Best Drama, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress. In my mind it is so good that it is causing me to waver on "Grand Budapest Hotel". Though that just might be because I just finished watching it and am writing the review so shortly afterwards. I have plans to re-watch Budapest soon since I saw it in theaters when it first came out. That might swing me back to its side, we'll see.

Two more Best Picture nominees left on my list.

"The Imitation Game" Review

by Chris Burfield in

"Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine."

Much like with Stephen Hawking and "The Theory of Everything" I did not know much more than the basics about Alan Turing before going into "The Imitation Game". I saw it this weekend and reduces my count of Best Picture nominees yet to be seen to three ("Whiplash", "Boyhood", and "Birdman").

Until recently Turing was one of the great unsung heroes of World War 2, creating a machine which was able to crack the Nazi Enigma radio code thus saving countless lives and shortening the war. While the film tells more than just the story of building the machine and the wartime years this is its primary focus. It flashes forward to the years when he was investigated for homosexuality and backward to his childhood at various points.

Benedict Cumberbatch does yet another remarkable job in playing Turing and is up for Best Actor as a result. Other work done by Tywin Lannister, aka Charles Dance, and Keira Knightley is also good, with Dance playing the main antagonist during the war years.

Some have criticized the film for not touching on Turing's homosexuality and subsequent prosecution enough. I don't quite know what more they could ask for though. Much time is spent on what living as a homosexual during those years was like, the constant fear of prosecution, the possibility of submitting to a fake marriage in order to keep up appearances, and what the effects of chemical castration were. What the British government did to him, regardless of his wartime contributions, was barbaric and the film does not shy away from depicting that.

Even if this film were not up for Best Picture it would be worth seeing. You get to see one of the best actors of this generation doing outstanding work, and you will learn about a true World War 2 hero and how he made possible the modern computer as we know it.

It still does not knock off "Grand Budapest Hotel" as my favorite though.

Overcast Review

by Chris Burfield in

I have been listening to podcasts before it was cool to listen to them. Seriously. I first remember listening to them back in 2006 when they were just getting started, Leo Laporte and the TWiT network being one of the main pioneers of the format.

You used to be able to download them and they would be available as a genre on your iPod. With the advent of iPod Touches and iPhones Apple soon saw the need to release their own podcast app. And it was terrible. Thankfully, there were other programmers who did a better job and I quickly migrated to using Downcast and have been using that for years.

Recently, I began to hear of another podcast app called Overcast. I wasn't in the market for another podcast app since Downcast was working just fine but then I realized Overcast offered some cool features. The two big ones, which can be activated through an in-app purchase of $5 are "Smart Speed" and "Voice Boost". The former is an audio engine which efficiently speeds up the playback speed by eliminating short silences between sentences and words and at the same time does not make it sound choppy, like every other playback accelerator I know of. The latter helps to equalize the volume and sound quality since podcast recording equipment can range from the professional, think NPR, to a laptop microphone from an amateur.

While I have not gone back to the Apple podcast app since those terrible early days I have heard it has gotten much better. So, if you're going to charge for a podcast app you need to offer superior features and Overcast does that. I highly recommend it for the "Smart Speed" capabilities alone. Being able to listen to more, faster, and without choppy playback is worth the price tag alone. 

There is only one feature in Downcast which is not available in Overcast, streaming playback over a cell phone data network. However, this is supposedly coming soon. I only rarely used this feature myself so the temporary loss is not big for me. Otherwise, standard features such as syncing progress on your podcasts across multiple platforms, such as your iPad and iPhone, seems to work fine for me so far.

So, if you're curious about podcasts or are in the market for a good podcast app then I recommend Overcast. Good, starter podcasts to get your feet wet in the medium are NPR's "This American Life" and Grantland's Sports and Pop Culture podcasts. Subscribing to them within the app is easy, painless, and free. And if you'r not sold on the features of Overcast it allows you to try them out for 5 minutes for free. 

The Clock Is For Lesser Sports!

by Chris Burfield in

Major League Baseball is experimenting in its minor leagues again. They aim to reduce the length of games by introducing a pitching clock in AA and AAA stadiums. 

This is a terrible, horrible, no good idea.

While I agree that the pace of play and length of games is an issue which MLB needs to address, there are far better ways to do so. One way is to simply enforce the rule on the books,

Rule 6.02 (d) states:

(d) The following rule shall be in effect for all National Association Leagues:
   (1) The batter shall keep at least one foot in the batter’s box throughout the batter’s time at bat, unless one of the following exceptions applies, in which case the batter may leave the batter’s box but not the dirt area surrounding home plate:
     (i) The batter swings at a pitch;
     (ii) The batter is forced out of the batter's box by a pitch;
     (iii) A member of either team requests and is granted “Time”;
     (iv) A defensive player attempts a play on a runner at any base;
     (v) The batter feints a bunt;
     (vi) A wild pitch or passed ball occurs;
     (vii) The pitcher leaves the dirt area of the pitching mound after receiving the ball; or
     (viii) The catcher leaves the catcher's box to give defensive signals.

How many times have you watched a game and seen the batter leave the box for none of the reasons listed above, often stepping out of the box to adjust his batting gloves even when the bat has never left his shoulder? 

There has never been a clock in baseball and God willing there never will be, I pray. Let those lesser sports be governed by the merciless clock, keep baseball pure and simple.

Photo by David Lee/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by David Lee/iStock / Getty Images

The Ethos of This Blog

by Chris Burfield in

Seth Godin is a talented writer and marketer. He can say more with fewer words than any other blogger out there. On Monday he published a post that has long been the driving force behind what I share on Facebook, and since I have moved all that activity to here, the driving force behind this blog.

From the End (link to article):

Sharing an idea you care about is a generous way to change your world for the better.

The culture we will live in next month is a direct result of what people like us share today. The things we share and don't share determine what happens next.

As we move away from the top-down regime of promoted movies, well-shelved books and all sorts of hype, the recommendation from person to person is now the most powerful way we have to change things.

It takes guts to say, "I read this and you should too." The guts to care enough about our culture (and your friends) to move it forward and to stand for something.

Photo by banarfilardhi/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by banarfilardhi/iStock / Getty Images

The Faith and Love of Dr. King

by Chris Burfield in

Martin Luther King Jr. Day provokes a lot of writing about the revolutionary preacher from Georgia. Unfortunately, not much of it tends to focus on his faith and theology. So when I see an article at a major publication which does I have to share it. 

Do read the whole article, but from Vox and author Brandon Ambrosino, a quote from the middle:

Because of King's subversive vision, West has described him as an "extremist of love." To understand why West believes King's love to be truly radical, you have to understand what exactly love means to King.

Modern notions of love, says Carter, "cannot bear the weight of what King was talking about." Much different than impassioned affection or sentimentalism, the love King preached and practiced was lifted straight from the New Testament's teachings on agape, the Greek word used for the love of God, which King defines as "an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return."

"King's love talk came out of what it means to love your neighbor," says Bradley, referring to Jesus' injunction in the Gospel of Mark. To Jesus, he says, loving your neighbor means loving a Samaritan; it means loving a Gentile, if you're a Jew. Loving your neighbor, says Bradley, "means loving people that don't love you back, because God commands love as a means by which the world is completely turned upside down."

Photo by Pgiam/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Pgiam/iStock / Getty Images

"Theory of Everything" & "American Sniper" Review

by Chris Burfield in

It is my goal to see every film nominated for Best Picture in the Academy Awards. Prior to this weekend I had seen "Grand Budapest Hotel" and "Selma", and this weekend I saw "American Sniper" and "The Theory of Everything". Below are my reviews of the latter two.

"American Sniper", directed by Clint Eastwood, tells the story of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who enlisted after the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. He deployed to Iraq for 4 separate tours and  during that time became the sniper with the most confirmed kills in US history, 160 to be exact. Much of the movie revolves around these tours of duty, with brief moments shown at home during his time in the States. Bradley Cooper does an excellent job, both putting on lots of muscle to look like a SEAL and doing a very good Texan accent. Also, the movie set records this weekend, becoming the highest grossing opening weekend for a wide January release.

I have two minor complaints. One, Sienna Miller, who plays Kyle's wife is not given much to do other than look distraught during moments when Kyle calls home from a warzone or complain that he "be present" when he is home. And two, the politics of Kyle and of the film in general are rather one note, simplistic, even anachronistic. If that is truly how Kyle viewed the war then fine, otherwise it seems almost like propaganda for a rather unpopular war in which there are no clear good guys or bad guys. The only reason this is not a bigger issue for me is because this is not the point of the movie.

"The Theory of Everything" is about Stephen Hawking, the British physicist who was diagnosed with ALS at 21. If you are looking for a serious treatment of Hawking's contributions to physics then you will not find it here. Instead, you will see his relationship with his first wife Jane Wilde blossom from courtship into marriage and then its dissolution. Eddie Redmayne does an excellent job of portraying Hawking. The point is driven home at the end of the movie where key scenes are played in reverse, rewinding back to the beginning of Jane and Stephen's relationship and showing just how much change has occurred. Redmayne is nominated for Best Actor and he will almost certainly win it. I learned a lot about Hawking and some of his more popular works, such as "A Brief History of Time" are now on my "to do" reading list.

Overall, both movies are well worth your time. However, neither one is able to knock off my personal favorite "Grand Budapest Hotel".