The anonymity of the good, and the good of anonymity.

There’s a current trend in culture and politics. Or perhaps it’s not current, I merely haven’t noticed it before. Who knows?

Anyway, for reference, consider Luke 18:9-14:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

I’m not here to talk about what kind of social or political activity is good or evil. I have my thoughts on charities, civil rights, civil liberties, separation of church and state and all of those things, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about most of the people talking about them.

In the parable above, you can see the core idea is that, no matter how righteous you are, no matter how good you are, you shouldn’t be constantly rubbing it in others’ faces. You know how we all hate those “holier than thou” people? That extends beyond simple religious code, but to general public behavior.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that activity X is a good, moral thing. And let’s say you engage in activity X. Great! Good on you! And feel free to tell your friends, if it’s relevant. But don’t tell your friends if the reason you’re telling them is because you to feel good about yourself; what you’re doing is saying “I’m good for doing X, and if you don’t do X, well, you’re not so good.”

Worse, if someone doesn’t say they’re doing X, even though a bunch of people around them claim to be, that person starts to stand out. It’s not that they’re not doing X, it’s that they’re not telling anyone they’re doing X, regardless of whether or not they are.

What you wind up with are a bunch of people pressured to claim (and possibly lie) that they’re doing X, even when they’re not. And you wind up with people who are good, moral people doing X who, since they’re not saying they’re doing X, are assumed to not be doing X, and so are treated as though they’re less moral.

Frankly, that’s a tragedy; it forces the revelation of activity one might wish to be quiet about, for social or political reasons. Just because something is Good doesn’t make it socially or politically acceptable, and just because something is socially or politically acceptable doesn’t make it Good.

The Moneyball Election — How Statistics are Important (And how they aren’t)

I originally published this on November 9, 2012 at fireflythegreat.livejournal.com.

Much has been made of 2012 as the moneyball election. It has been an election where statistics, data mining and algorithms all take on a new and increased importance—not only for “armchair political scientists” who follow Nate Silver, but also for the candidates themselves, and Obama and his team proved far better at moneyball than Romney and the GOP. Many GOP pundits were impressively, spectacularly wrong this year, as anyone who witnessed Rove’s near-meltdown on Fox News can attest. Now, Karl Rove is a smart guy, and he employed some shrewd strategies back in 2004, but he didn’t seem to see this one coming at all.

Karl Rove and a protestor with handcuffs

I told you, AFTER the broadcast…

I’ve been following “moneyball” and sabermetrics for the past year, not in relation to politics, but in relation to the Chicago Cubs, whose new owners fired general manager Jim Hendry after a trio of disappointing seasons in 2009-2011 (which had followed, in turn, on the heels of 2007 and 2008′s back-to-back division titles). They hired a new general manager, Theo Epstein, who had applied the moneyball strategy originated in Oakland to the larger payroll of the Boston Red Sox and broke an 86-year World Series drought for that franchise.

One of the initial hallmarks of sabermetrics that is emphasized in the book and film Moneyball is the importance of getting on base. While baseball’s marginally autistic fans have always loved to recount any given player’s batting average, sabermetricians emphasize that a walk is as good as a hit in getting men on base. Since the ability to draw walks was undervalued by most teams, Oakland was able to get some good deals on guys who got on base more often than their batting average indicates.

Now, that’s great news for the 2002 A’s. But what a lot of people who watch Moneyball might not realize is that, from where we sit ten years later, everybody and their brother is looking at on-base percentage. In 2012, you can’t just pick up some guys who takes walks, pat yourself on the back and say LOOK MA, I’M DOING SABERMETRICS.

Baseball board game
There are numbers and everything!

OK. Back to Karl Rove a moment. In 2004, Karl Rove was a master of demographics. He focused on exurbs—upper-class, outer-ring suburbs like Rochester, MI or Loudoun County, VA—as the keys to constructing Bush’s 2004 victory.

In 2012, Fox News Channel literally zooms in, again and again, on Loudoun County, VA as a key to that state and the nation.

LOOK MA, I’M DOING DEMOGRAPHICS.

The ideas aren’t bad—they really did work, in the past. But they fail to account for current conditions.

Cats at a sliding door
One of these times, this door will lead into summer.

It’s not that one side is using statistics and the other isn’t. Sure, Peggy Noonan might not be quoting you the latest poll numbers—because she’s a speechwriter. But everyone has stats guys—including the GOP.

But, look, RBI is a stat. wRAA is a stat. They both measure a player’s offensive output. They’re both imperfect stats. But one of them is better than the other.

In the end, though, moneyball isn’t about any particular stat, or set of stats, or algorithm, or anything you can put your finger on. It’s about staying three steps ahead of the competition, information-wise, and even more importantly about maintaining an organization that can turn on a dime and put that information to use.