The war in Iraq has killed somewhere between 8,000 and 194,000 civilians

So the authors of a survey on Iraqi casualties go ahead and estimate that the war has killed about 98,000 civilians.

Since the number of casualties must be nonnegative, I'm going to guess that the probability density function for their estimate is very bottom-heavy instead of being Gaussian.

Using statistics for support, not for illumination

Jacob Luft complains that the Sox beat the Yankees and won the World Series this year only by emulating the Yankees' free-spending ways. In response, I sent him this letter.

Dear Jacob,

Your column "Red Sox are the new Evil Empire" selectively misuses facts and statistics in several ways.

First, you claim that "The Red Sox have the largest payroll -- $120 million -- of any team ever to win a World Series." However, without adjusting for annual inflation of player salaries, this statistic is meaningless.

Second, you claim that of the Sox' 25-man World Series roster, only Trot Nixon and Kevin Youkilis qualify as homegrown players. However, Derek Lowe, Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek played the vast majority of their careers in the Red Sox organization. Ironically, Lowe and Varitek may be with other teams next year because they may have priced themselves out of the Sox' bidding range.

Your characterization of the Red Sox as a band of highly-paid free agent mercenaries is inaccurate with regard to many other players as well. Pedro Martinez also spent most of his career with the Sox. The Sox got him from the Expos for Carl Pavano, one of their minor leaguers who himself may become a premier pitcher. Pedro too may be gone next year if the price is wrong.

David Ortiz was cut by the Minnesota Twins. Sure, he was cut as a cost-cutting measure, but the Sox have to be given credit for recognizing his talent when other teams didn't.

Mark Bellhorn is probably not the kind of "mercenary" you have in mind, given that he makes less than $500,000 a year. Ditto for Bronson Arroyo ($330,000).

Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar are a bit more expensive -- $2.1 mil and $3.3 mil respectively -- but pretty close to the average player salary. Basically, they're the perfect Moneyball players.

The only players on the Sox who could really be considered high-priced mercenaries are pitchers Curt Schilling (acquired for a couple minor-league players) and Keith Foulke, and outfielders Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. However, a significant fraction of top pitchers on top teams are mercenaries, because there are so few premier pitchers to go around. I'd venture a guess that within the last 15 years, only the 1995 Braves, 2002 Angels and 2003 Marlins managed to win without leaning heavily on high-priced free agent pitchers. Plenty of top pitchers on the other playoff teams this year were free agent pickups, too -- Jason Isringhausen, Roger Clemens, Bartolo Colon, Mike Mussina and others.

And how many teams can say they traded away a homegrown superstar in order to make their team better?

The Sox spent $127 million this year, second to the Yankees' $184 million. The Yankees' payroll is 45% more than the Sox payroll. Meanwhile, there are eight other teams that were between $90 and $100 million.

The Yankees' roster includes Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez, Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi and John Olerud, all of whom were free agents or acquired without sacrificing much in trade, and all of whom make $7 million or more per year.

Sure it sucks to be the Royals or the Devil Rays, and some revenue-sharing plan is definitely needed for the long-term health of Major League Baseball. But the Sox have to be given a lot of credit for spending wisely and getting the most out of their team.


How to beat the markets

Apparently being a US senator helps, since they have inside information on various pieces of legislation that may help or hurt various companies.


That's "ho" like your mother, Alex

A few nights ago on Jeopardy:

Ken Jennings: Tool time for $200.

Alex Trebek: This term for a long-handled gardening tool can also mean an immoral pleasure seeker.

Ken: What's a ho?

Alex: No.

(massive laughter)

Alex: Whoa...whoa...whoa...they teach you that in school in Utah, huh?

Other guy: What's a rake?

Alex: A rake is right.

For the record, Ken won that game.


Presidential debate goes head-to-head with baseball

The government will learn the hard way what the Oscars learned in 2001: they can't win.

Here's hoping that the Fox crawl provides updates on the debates during the baseball games.



Always look on the bright side of life

The Yankees' ace and bullpen give up 7 runs in 2 innings in their own building in a game that by all rights should be out of reach? I like the Sox' chances, with or without Curt Schilling. (And really, is a hobbled Curt Schilling any better than, say, Derek Lowe?)

Manny Ramirez's play in left field left something to be desired. In the first inning he had a chance to stop Hideki Matsui's ground ball through the gap; he let it go through for the extra base, and Matsui scored on Bernie Williams's single the next at bat. In the bottom of the 8th he ran far too long with his head turned to the side while attempting to track down Williams' fly ball; it landed past him for a 3-run triple.


Wangari Maathai wins Nobel Peace Prize

I had no idea who this person was until about an hour ago.

Apparently she planted lots and lots of trees (several million) in Kenya.

She has also gone on the record as saying that AIDS is a biological weapon designed to exterminate the people of Africa. Now keep in mind that she used to be a professor of veterinary medicine in Kenya and once held a visiting position at Yale. This comment is not being made out of pure ignorance.

Iraqi pharmacist decapitated

Zeyad from Iraq reports that the Iraqi pharmacist who was recently beheaded was an acquaintance of his.

Apparently selling pharmaceuticals to the US army is a capital offense.

After reading things like

"These people deserve beheadings. They are traitors. If they work with the Americans they should face beheadings and be cut into little pieces," said Abu Omar, a labourer from the fiercely anti-U.S. rebel stronghold of Falluja.

"Anyone who cooperates with Americans or foreign companies should be killed. Iraq is under occupation."

I wonder what will be done about the hornet's nest of terrorist activity that is Fallujah.

Government bonds for guns

That's what's happening in Baghdad right now. Let's just hope the government doesn't end up defaulting somewhere down the road...


Square peg, round hole

Who was it that thought Bill Callahan and his West Coast offense would be a good fit for the Nebraska Cornhuskers?


Well, at least they weren't using butterfly ballots

Apparently a mix-up at some polling stations in Afghanistan has some subset of the fifteen presidential candidates opposing Hamid Karzai calling foul. (WSJ link, requires subscription) (CNN link)

Somehow some people ended up getting multiple voter registrations. Election officials ended up having to mark voters' thumbs with permanent ink to prevent them from voting multiple times, but at some voting stations the permanent ink got mixed up with the regular ink used to mark the ballots.

Interestingly enough, a candidate must claim a majority of the votes in order to win. I wonder what the run-off procedures are.

Oh, heck. I'm guessing none of the fifteen challengers has much chance of winning anyway (although the fact that an Uzbek general is apparently one of the leading challengers is rather unsettling). It's time Afghanistan learned the virtues of a two-party system.\end{sarcasm}

In other news, allied forces and Sadrites appear to be reaching the beginnings of a truce in the Sadr City slums of Baghdad, according to this report.


Let's go Yankees

Why do I want the Yankees to beat the Twins and face the Sox in the ALCS?

1. Although the Yankees are more talented than the Twins, familiarity has a way of evening these things out.

2. The Twins' home-field advantage (the Metrodome) is ridiculous.

3. The Twins' pitchers (ok, Johan Santana) are much more likely to dominate the Sox than the Yankees' pitchers are.

Brilliant non-move by Terry Francona

Tony Gwynn and Rick Sutcliffe kept insisting that Terry Francona pinch-run for David Ortiz in the bottom of the 8th inning with Ortiz on first base, two out and Francisco Rodriguez pitching.

Hmm. Seems like way too little reward (hoping that you can score a man from first with two out against K-Rod, with Troy Percival still available in the Anaheim bullpen) for the risk (losing Ortiz's bat, should the game last another 3 innings). Indeed, Francona left Ortiz in the game, K-Rod eventually wore down, and Ortiz won it in the bottom of the 10th.

Props also to Derek Lowe, who wriggled out of a jam (two lucky infield hits leading to men on 1st and 3rd) in the top of the 10th. Ah, the ultimate irony of playoff baseball -- a pitcher who isn't good enough to start is good enough to hold a tie in extra innings.


What's the point?

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is lecturing us on proper election procedures.

That's all well and good, but no one has ever found a cure for incompetence.

Ron Gardenhire pulls a Grady

Bringing Joe Nathan out for a third inning of relief pitching wasn't necessarily wrong, but not having someone warming up in case he started sucking was.


In their handy-dandy analysis of why George Bush Is Wrong On All Points Of Catholic Doctrine, Catholics for Kerry publishes this little nugget:

2. How will we protect the innocent in our midst~innocent unborn children? How can our nation not turn to violence to solve some of it's more difficult problems~abortion to deal with difficult pregnancies; the death penalty to combat crime; euthanasia and assisted suicide to deal with the burdens of age, illness, and disability, and war to address international disputes?

RIGHT: Kerry opposes the use of the death penalty in all cases except convicted terrorists.

Right: John Kerry supports social programs which give women the choice to have their babies.


Shoe's on the other foot

Yet another ridiculous comparison of Bush's America with the Third Reich:

Cars owned by Eagle County resident Gunther Schmidt and his daughter, which carried Bush/Cheney bumper stickers, have also been targeted. While the damage was light — the bumper stickers were scratched off and the cars scratched — Schmidt said it’s not the extent, but the principle of free speech that matters.

“If you are for the Republican party, it seems to me that the Democrats take all kinds of measures to destroy your signs,” said Schmidt. “I thought we lived in a free country where you could express your opinion in a non-violent way, without being punished for it.”

If someone wants to make a statement, they should go to public meetings and the polls and make it there, Schmidt said.

“I think this is like going back to Hitler,” said Schmidt. “You should be able to voice your opinion without becoming a target of violence. Maybe those people should go back to those countries that don’t have free speech.”

Hey, wait a second...

Another Nobel for MIT

MIT physics professor Frank Wilczeck, David Gross and David Politzer have been awarded the
2004 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on the strong force (the force that holds quarks together to form protons, neutrons and other interesting creatures).

According to quantum field theory, the fundamental forces of nature are mediated by exchange particles. The electromagnetic force arises from the exchange of virtual photons between charged elementary particles. (These virtual photons sometimes turn into real photons, i.e. light.) The weak force is mediated by W and Z particles.

What are the exchange particles for the strong force called? Gluons. No kidding.


Fire up

If the Red Sox win the World Series, I'm driving down to New York to riot.


2004 Ig Nobel prizes awarded

Among the winners:

Steven Stack and James Gundlach (medicine), for establishing and studying a correlation between country music airplay and white suicide rates.

Jillian Clarke (public health), for investigating the five-second rule about the safety of food on the floor.

The Vatican (economics), for outsourcing prayers to India.