Saturday, November 25, 2006

College football confusion.

I spent most of Friday watching games I didn't much care about, with the exception of Arkansas/LSU, about which I had mixed feelings. LSU is a team I like, and generally root for whenever they're not playing the Gators. This goes back to the days of Billy Cannon and three-platoon football, featuring the Chinese Bandits. Today, I still find much to admire aesthetically about LSU's game, featuring compact, agile players who execute a well-balanced offense and a quick, swarming defense. The Bayou Bengals occupy the same space for me in college football that the Cardinals do in my baseball universe.

Be that as it may, I had reason to want Arkansas to win. The Hogs are already slated to play Florida in the SEC championship game next week, and a win over a once defeated (and still theoretical title contender) team would do the Gators more good in the BCS standings than one over a twice defeated team. So I watched the game with my amygdala shouting "Geaux Tigers!" while my cerebrum whispered "Soo-ee-ee."

It was my amygdala that got to celebrate. Meanwhile, my cerebrum is forced, once again, to recalculate Florida's chances in the SEC showdown. I'm now backing off my previous waver, and am sticking with my original prediction of an upset by Arkansas. Losing to LSU will make the Hogs hungrier and more focused.

Today we were on the road, so I missed the Florida/Florida State game. The outcome, a 21-14 Gator victory over a Seminole team having a miserable season, will not do Florida's cause in the BCS any good. That, coupled with the fact that beating a twice-defeated Arkansas won't do them as much good as if the Razorbacks had beaten LSU, means the Gators' prospects of a shot at the national championship look to be pretty much obliterated. On top of that, we have the news from L.A. (Once again, I was rooting for the Irish, despite earlier animosity.)

Once again, consolation is provided by my alma mater showing, for the second consecutive year, their ability to upset a team ranked in the top ten. Their appearance in some minor bowl now seems assured. Ignore the hype about this meaning Rutgers still has a shot at the BCS. The Scarlet Knights beat an even worse than usual Syracuse team yesterday, and the Mountaineers aren't about to let themselves be upset twice in a row in Morgantown.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I break holiday radio silence briefly ...

... to note that Mickey Kaus has attempted to explain something that has long puzzled me (indeed, I've posted about it here, but am too lazy to look up the post), which is: how can an exception prove a rule? (Scroll down to his November 20 discussion of the "incumbent rule" and Menendez's victory in New Jersey, following this link.)

According to Kaus, an exception can "prove" a rule if the "exception" can be shown to be in some basic way distinguishable from other possible exceptions. Specifically, Kaus posits the "incumbent rule" in predicting election results, which holds that if the incumbent has less than 50% in the final pre-election poll, he or she will lose, because undecideds always break against the incumbent. He then says Menendez is "the exception that proves the rule .. because ... he had only been in office a few months, having been appointed in January, 2006 to the seat vacated by now-Gov. Corzine."

Well, as the nerds in my law school classes always said when the professor called on them, it seems to me that Menendez doesn't prove the "incumbent rule", he simply provides a basis for narrowing it to exclude those whose incumbency has been brief, or possibly all those whose incumbecy is a result of appointment not election. More importantly, it seems that the incumbent rule isn't a "rule" that can be proven (in the sense that a Euclidean theorem can be proven), but rather a theory that can be supported, though never "proved", by empirical means, and can be falsified by contrary evidence. What Kaus is really saying is that Menendez doesn't falsify the incumbency rule if "incumbency" is defined in a strict way. Of course, the "rule" would be falsified if, in a future election, someone who has less than 50% in the last pre-election poll and has held office for a full term or more, still manages to win.

So, I'm still looking for an exception that proves a rule. Anyone who can give me a satisfactory one may have my mid 1960s vintage edition of Copi & Gould's Introduction to Logic (provided I can find it).

Update: Keifus, helpful as always, suggests that an exception "proves" a rule in the sense that it tests it, rather as a new kind of car is put on a test track to prove its driving characteristics. So, what Kaus is saying is that Menendez's re-election "proves" the incumbency rule in this sense, which differs from my more formal definition of proof.

I think this is kind of like saying, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger", no?

Monday, November 20, 2006

A joyous Thanksgiving to all.

I'm taking a break from blogging for the next few days, in order to prepare for and enjoy the holiday (we'll be visiting friends in Maine). I'll leave you with this autumnal scene, taken the weekend before last, of an encampment of Civil War re-enactors on the lawn of Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims, here in Brooklyn Heights. The statue in the background is of Henry Ward Beecher, the fiery abolitionsist preacher who made Plymouth Church a center of opposition to slavery in the years preceding the Civil War.

The unit these re-enactors have recreated is the 14th Regiment, a New York militia unit formed in Brooklyn. Their colorful zouave uniforms, and their courage in battle, got them nicknamed the "Red Legged Devils". You can read more about the unit's history here.

Below is a closer view of the encampment.