All About Josh

Saturday, June 29, 2002

THE MEDIA'S ISRAELI COVERAGE: ""There is a culture of stars, whether it's Dan Rather for CBS who lands in Israel and didn't know what Temple Mount was, or Christiane Amanpour who arrives with her safari jacket as if she's on a military mission. It's hard to control them."

-- from the Jerusalem Post's story on CNN's alleged bias against Israel

Friday, June 28, 2002

BASEBALL AND BLOGGING: There have been several dismissive, derisive pieces about blogging -- the new trend in news punditry -- in several newspapers lately, regarding them as merely the flavor of the month and a fad whose time will pass. Blogs, which allow anyone to post their commentary on a website, are becoming extremely popular and oft-cited in the mainstream press as well. Yet the vast majority of the traditional media have laughed at these upstart bloggers. They should look at the Baseball Prospectus for a lesson.

The Baseball Prospectus, now a highly popular baseball analysis book, was similarly derided by the mainstream press upon its publication. Peter Gammons, who now routinely cites statistics such as OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average) on his "Baseball Tonight" appearances and ESPN columns, used to ridicule these numbers as for stat lovers only. In March of 1997, Gammons wrote in his Boston Globe column:

"Maybe the computer people should watch Robbie Alomar instead of running programs. Alomar is the best defensive modern-day second baseman and has made the most brilliant, far-ranging, and creative plays to his right of any second baseman in this era. Yet some computer printout says he doesn't get to enough balls to his right? Who does, Wil Cordero? There has never been a valid way to evaluate range statistically."

Just five years later, you'll see Gammons spouting off about range factor and zone rating routinely in his column -- the very statistics he once pooh-pooed. What the BP did was spur radical changes in the way many beat reporters and baseball general managers evaluate players. It started in very blog-like fashion. Many of the book's original authors had corresponded about baseball on Usenet newsgroups, challenging many hard-held assumptions about baseball evaluation. They were inspired by Bill James, who was the pioneer in what was once called the "stathead" movement. As the story goes, several folks on the "" newsgroup who had been corresponding online for years, decided to produce a annual baseball guide -- a player evaluation book. It was called the Baseball Prospectus, and now receives vast accolades from many general managers and even Gammons himself in 2001 called the book indispensable. Heck, ESPN -- Gammons's employer -- now publishes articles from BP authors as part of the baseball content on their website.

Before the book's publication, it was commonplace for reporters and general managers to be misinformed when it came to player evaluation. Just eight years ago, most organizations emphasized aggressive hitting in their organizations -- thinking walking was an irrelevant skill. That couldn't be farther from the truth, and because of the BP's hard work and success, most organizations now insist on teaching plate discipline from the minors on up.

The same trend appears to be taking place in the blogosphere. Laziness or liberal bias -- whichever you prefer -- has been prevalent in the news media just as "media idiocy" was ubiquitous in the sports media. Sure, the analogy doesn't hold entirely. Sportswriting is much more trivial than hard-news reporting. Whether or not the US fights Iraq has a lot more importance than Jeff Kent fighting Barry Bonds in the Giants' clubhouse. But the concept is the same. Lazy sportswriters were constantly criticized by many ordinary non-journalist people, whose only tools were a computer and a modem. Ridiculously bad reporting and illogical analysis were common factors in papers from New York to Kansas City. ESPN's "analysts" routinely made so-called "stat-heads" cringe in their seats every time Baseball Tonight was aired because they were factually -- mathematically, actually -- incorrect. Yet whenever these new statistics and methods of evaluation were brought to these sportswriters' attention, they received implicit ad-hominem attacks like Gammons wrote, calling them "computer people" and urging them to watch a game instead of staring at a computer printout.

This is the same kind of attack Alex Beam viciously spewed, ironically, from the same Boston Globe where Gammons wrote his invective five years earlier. In attacking the web-logging movement, Beam mockingly writes: "Welcome to Blogistan, the Internet-based journalistic medium where no thought goes unpublished, no long-out-of-print book goes unhawked, and no fellow "blogger," no matter how outre, goes unpraised." The whole article is a list of uninformed ad hominem attacks. The San Jose Mercury News' Alex Cassidy opines: "Blog. Blog. Blog. There, I said it. For a year now, I've tried to avoid it. I've never been an early adopter. So when I saw story after story about this blog thing and started hearing people using the noun as a verb, I tuned out." Again, dismissive commentary. I guess Cassidy hasn't read Charles Johnson's "Little Green Footballs," which copiously documents and gathers information the Middle Eastern press and the hate spewing from these Arab totalitarian regimes. He hasn't read Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit, a University of Tennesee law professor, who provides a plethora of links to both mainstream news sites and commentary from the best of the blogging world.

But the tide may be changing. Eugene Volokh, a respected law professor at UCLA who also runs a blog devoted to Constitutional issues, has been quoted extensively in the mainstream press regarding the pivotal court decisions on vouchers and the pledge. Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, Josh Marshall -- all among the blogging pioneers -- are regularly cited by Howard Kurtz in his daily Washington Post online media column. Many of the stories that have been broadcast on the network news and covered in print began as items on blogs. Most notably, the anti-Semitic violence by Palestinians at San Francisco State was meticulously covered by bloggers Meryl Yourish and Joe Katzman. Days later, the Washington Post and network newscasts began to run stories about the incident -- in no small part due to the pair's blogging. The New York Sun, a paper created in large part to protest the blatant liberal agenda and advocacy of Howell Raines' New York Times, has been modestly successful in the Big Apple, and the Los Angeles Examiner -- a competitor to the dominant LA Times -- will be debuting soon, with the backing of former popular LA mayor Dick Riordan along with blogger Matt Welch.

Just over five years ago, the nature of baseball analysis slowly changed because of some intrepid Web "analysts" who sought to change the century-old stereotypes of player evaluation. Runs batted in, while still routinely flashed during baseball telecasts, are now understood as team-dependent stats and unimportant indicators of player ability. Coaches now understand that high pitch counts for young pitchers are likely to cause injury -- and now handle their pitchers differently, in a way that years ago would be called "babying." Many general managers -- the good ones -- now understand evaluation tools that allow them to compete and win on modest budgets despite the so-called "competitive imbalance" in the league. The same types of analysts that emerged in the late 1980s and 1990s that popularized a revolution of sorts through the baseball world are remarkably similar to the "WarBloggers" that are emerging today in the self-named Blogosphere. Critical thinking, analysis and refutation of long-held misconceptions are staples of much of the Blogosphere. While much of the establishment media dismisses these bloggers as "the flavor of the week," I wouldn't be so sure. Just look at Gary Huckabay's Baseball Prospectus and the changes it initiated into a similarly traditionalist, inflexible baseball establishment.

We'll see who has the last laugh.

SAT CHANGES UPCOMING: I'm going to post more extensively tomorrow on the changes implemented to the SATs, but here's a basic multiple choice questions for all out there in WebLog Land.

1) Which of the following does not measure achievement?

a) grade point average
b) extracurricular activities
c) SAT (as presently constituted) scores
d) take-home essay for colleges

The answer, of course, is C. The SAT is essentially an aptitude test. You know, like the IQ test, it measures how bright you are. Didn't take a day's worth of Algebra 2, or got a C in the class because you never did that redundant homework? Don't worry -- you'll probably do fine on the SAT if you're intelligent and pick up concepts easily. Now, whether you believe testing aptitude should be a valid factor for college admissions is irrelevant. What is relevant is that the College Board butchered the SAT, and has now made it an achievement test, ridding itself of analogies (which are a combination of logical and vocabulary tests), adding advanced math questions (which hurt inner-city kids who have never taken Algebra 2) and adding a writing component, which consists of a 25-minute essay which inevitably requires test-takers to write about some grand philosophical issue in five paragraphs.

If this is supposed to help the minority kids, don't bet on it. In Virginia, barely 35% of high-schoolers passed the state standardized Algebra 2 test the first year it was implemented. And, the worst scores came from the minority students. All these changes do is make it harder for the occasional bright student who may have underachieved at a poor high school but has college-level abilities.

My prediction: this will be a disaster for the College Board -- scores will drop, and minorities will still lag far behind their white and Asian counterparts on the test.

THEY START THEM YOUNG: When you dress up babies under the age of a year as suicide bombers, replete with the explosive-laden outfit that these homicidal murderers don, you know something's wrong with your culture. Words don't describe how sickening this picture is.


Why does the left support the Palestinians against Israel?

The question is rarely asked. It is simply taken for granted that the left -- Europe, the Western news media, the universities, the liberal churches, the arts world -- supports the Palestinians and the larger Arab/Muslim worlds in their war against Israel.

But the question does need to be asked. For it is completely inconsistent with the left's professed values to side with Israel's enemies. Just about every value the left claims to uphold Israel upholds and its enemies do not.

The left speaks about its passion for democracy ("power to the people"). Yet it is Israel that is a fully functioning democracy, as opposed to all of its Arab and Muslim enemies. Yasser Arafat is precisely the self-aggrandizing, corrupt dictator-type that the left claims to hold in contempt.

The left claims to have particular concern for women's rights. Yet it is Israel that has as highly developed a feminist movement as that of any Western country. It is Israel that conscripted women into its armed forces before almost any Western country. At the same time, the state of women's rights among Israel's Muslim enemies is perhaps the lowest in the world.

The left's greatest current preoccupation is with gay rights. Yet it is Israel that has annual gay pride days, while Egypt and other Arab and Muslim countries arrest homosexuals.

It is Israel that has an independent and highly liberal judiciary. It is Israel that has a leftist press. It is Israel that has been governed more by leftist, even socialist, parties than by rightist ones. Israel's enemies have none of this.

So, why isn't the left out there leading pro-Israel demonstrations?

Read the full column here.

Thursday, June 27, 2002

YOSSI KLEIN HALEVI: one of the most skillful writers covering the Middle East. In the upcoming New Republic, he writes about the Israeli psyche and how Israelis perceive of their standing throughout the world. I had the honor of listening to HaLevi speak in Jerusalem when I was in Israel last winter, and he is one of the most cogent observers of the Israeli society out there.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

A PICTURE IS WORTH 1,000 WORDS: Comments don't do these pictures justice. Just for some context, they come from the Palestinian Authority schools. And, this is why I've always insisted that the first step the Palestinians need to make is reforming their corrupt school system, which inculcates hate against the Jews equal to the anti-Semitic fervor the Nazis concocted.

The problem isn't occupation, it's the hate coming out of these pics.

Monday, June 24, 2002

MEMORIAM TO VICTIMS OF TERROR: CNN put together a heart-wrenching memorial to all the victims of Palestinian suicide bombings. When I was reading the biographies of all the lives lost, I felt a mix of rage and sadness. There was Ariel Zana, an 18-year old who looked like he was straight out of my old JDS yearbooks. There's Michael Altfiro, who was tragically murdered at his job as a guard because he traded shifts with a friend to watch the Israeli soccer team. Orly Ofir, 16 a high school soccer player, who was blown up when eating lunch at a Haifa cafe.

Often times, these victims are reduced to mere numbers. CNN, to their credit, puts faces to the statistics.