Summer Vacation and Teachers

Somewhat predictably, a few posts about American schools’ summer vacation have been popping up on the blogosphere. Slate republished an article explaining the origins of the three-month break, and Matt Yglesias linked back to an old post discussing how the summer vacation period contributes to the achievement gap.

While both posts (and the studies they link to) focus on the effect summer vacation has on learning, one issue that I think has been overlooked is the effect such reforms would have on teachers. A recent editorial in the New York Times detailed how teachers in the United States are drastically underpaid:

At the moment, the average teacher’s pay is on par with that of a toll taker or bartender. Teachers make 14 percent less than professionals in other occupations that require similar levels of education. In real terms, teachers’ salaries have declined for 30 years. The average starting salary is $39,000; the average ending salary — after 25 years in the profession — is $67,000. This prices teachers out of home ownership in 32 metropolitan areas, and makes raising a family on one salary near impossible.

So how do teachers cope? Sixty-two percent work outside the classroom to make ends meet. […]

Imagine a novice teacher, thrown into an urban school, told to teach five classes a day, with up to 40 students each. At the year’s end, if test scores haven’t risen enough, he or she is called a bad teacher. For college graduates who have other options, this kind of pressure, for such low pay, doesn’t make much sense. So every year 20 percent of teachers in urban districts quit. Nationwide, 46 percent of teachers quit before their fifth year. The turnover costs the United States $7.34 billion yearly. The effect within schools — especially those in urban communities where turnover is highest — is devastating.

Of course, this isn’t the story you’ve been getting if you’re following politics in Wisconsin (and elsewhere), where teacher unions are being blamed for fiscal excess and have become common targets for attack by politicians. But even if you blame teacher unions for problems in America’s schools, it doesn’t mean teachers are properly paid: bargaining with cash-strapped state and local governments, public employee unions typically cause fiscal problems by conspiring with those governments to defer fiscal obligations (such as through deferred-payment pension plans) or guarantee non-monetary benefits (such as teacher tenure and other measures to improve job security). Thus, despite collective bargaining power, teachers remain underpaid–and our unwillingness to pay them more contributes to the problems of public sector collective bargaining.

This leads back to summer vacation: right now, the three-month vacation for teachers (though it’s hardly a vacation for most teachers, who continue to work in some capacity) is one non-monetary benefit that teachers get in exchange for their subpar pay compared to other professionals. I find it plausible that abolishing summer vacation may, by making school a year-round endeavor, increase the status of teaching and thus lead to higher pay.

On the other hand, looking at teacher unions’ bargaining positions (read: the way teachers seem to be targeted first for cuts), it seems equally likely that if summer vacation is eliminated, teachers’ salaries will not improve. What’s more, many teachers joined the profession under the assumption that they would have summer vacations off, potentially making the loss of that vacation worth more to them than some paltry increase in salary that may accompany it. This is especially true for potential parents, who may be attracted to teaching over other professions with a worse work-life balance.

Given that teachers are already underpaid and overworked, I lean toward not scrapping summer vacation. That being said, I see arguments for both sides. It’s very possible that the benefits to children from learning year-round could outweigh any potential drawbacks to teachers. I just tend to be sympathetic to the view that “reforms” which make it less attractive to be a teacher have negative consequences for children as well. To improve learning, you need to improve teaching.

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“Rigging” Elections

Hendrik Hertzberg had an interesting blog post today about faux-objectivity in political journalism. In particular, he quotes Jonathan Chait discussing an article in Politico about changes in election laws:

The story duly produces vast swaths of evidence of Republican legislators attempting to change electoral rules in ways that would benefit the GOP in 2012—restricting early voting, shortening poll hours, clamping down on students voting at their campus, and so on. For the sake of balance, the story must also cite Democratic attempts to rig the 2012 playing field. The sum total of the evidence of rigging on the Democratic side is the ongoing attempt to bypass the electoral college through the National Popular Vote initiative, which hopes to enlist 270 electoral votes worth of states to pledge to appoint their electors to support the winner of the popular vote in presidential elections.

Hertzberg goes on to note how the National Popular Vote proposal (a pet cause for him) is far from illegal “vote rigging” but is actually a non-partisan proposal that has good democratic credentials: what could be more democratic than electing the presidential candidate who has more votes?

I don’t have much to add, except to say that in fact, the Politico article above helps to demonstrate one of the biggest reasons why the National Popular Vote proposal is such a good idea: it’s the Electoral College, with its creation of winner-take-all “battleground” states, that makes the election law of those states such a contested issue. As Hertzberg notes, sixty-thousand votes in Ohio in 2004 could have elected John Kerry despite George Bush garnering three-million more votes.

If the President were elected according to who had the most votes throughout the country, there’d be far less of an incentive for moneyed interests to focus on stopping college students in Ohio from voting or denying the franchise to felons in Florida. As the Politico article demonstrates, it may be the only way: the Fourth Estate seems uninterested in calling Republican vote-rigging what it is–they seem far more interested in drawing false equivalences.

Value for money in the Major Leagues: the “Moneyball Cup”

I’ve had a lifetime love for baseball. Born a Yankees fan, I remember staying up late into the night watching the Yankees win the World Series in 1998, 1999, and 2000 (only to watch the Yankees’ heartbreaking collapse in 2001) with some of the best teams in baseball history. I loved listening to baseball games on mute, pretending to be an announcer with my younger brother (also a fanatic) who did the color commentary. We watched all the games, played backyard baseball, created countless fantasy teams and played countless video games, and we collected baseball cards–assembling a collection that would later make my brother a fortune on eBay. But baseball, like most things I was interested in when I was 10 or 11, eventually faded for nerdier pursuits.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis

It was about two years ago when I became interested in baseball again, following the league and discussing the game with my friends and family. My brother was still an expert, and I started living with Will, a formidable Boston Red Sox fan who I had to deal with on Red Sox Nation turf. Part of what drove my interest in baseball was Michael Lewis’ famous book Moneyball, an investigative journalist-style inquiry into baseball’s sabermetric revolution, its impact on the low-budget Oakland A’s, and Oakland’s eccentric General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt will play Beane in a Moneyball movie in 2011).

I had already been familiar with the statistical revolution that was overtaking baseball, being a statistical nerd myself, but the book sparked my interest once again: I began spending way too much of my time on Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs, and various other baseball blogs.

Part of what interested me in the statistics was how it played into baseball as a business: with the explosion of statistical sports commentary on the web, teams were constantly being criticized for their front office moves. Did an aging slugger’s statistical performance merit his new contract? Using advanced statistics, the decisions of General Managers could be analyzed not just for their contribution to performance on the field but also for their cost-effectiveness. The change had an impact on me as a fan, but it had a bigger impact on front offices: though Moneyball chronicled a low-budget team trying to catch up with the big boys, even big spending teams like the Red Sox and the Yankees began using advanced statistics to find undervalued and underrated players.

Baseball-Reference.com recently added more sabermetric stats. It's a great tool for quickly looking up players, teams, records, etc.

But what teams are doing the best job at getting value for money in the Major Leagues today? One could take a look at the standings, divide each team’s salary by their number of wins, and determine which team has paid the most in order to get where they have (and which teams have spent the most per win) but a central insight of the statistical era in baseball is that many wins and losses in baseball are due to statistical noise–in other words, luck. The statistic “batting average on balls in play” (BABIP) for example, measures how many times a batter gets a hit per each time he puts the ball in play. Since BABIP tends to be uniform in the Major Leagues for all hitters season-to-season (with slight variations for players who beat out a lot of infield hits), one can use the statistic to determine whether a hitter has been lucky (missing fielders or taking advantage of bad ones) or if his batting average is a result of higher performance.

Wins Above Replacement is a great statistic to determine how much a team’s performance is a result of luck and how much a team’s performance is a result of prudent front office decisions: the statistic measures how many wins a player contributes to his team, compared to an average player the team could have picked up off the waiver wire or Triple-A (click the link above for a fuller explanation, I’ve probably oversimplified it a bit). Overall, it correlates better with winning than most other stats, and when it doesn’t, it’s likely due to luck.

So what teams get the most WAR for the money? Baseball-Reference makes that calculation easy by providing salary and WAR information for all Major League teams. According to my calculations, the team that’s spent the least money per WAR so far this season (winning what I like to call the “Moneyball Cup”) is the San Diego Padres: spending just $1.9 million per WAR. It’s not just because they’re bargain hunters, either: The Padres are currently in first place in the NL West. Here’s the rest of the top 10:

The Padres, bolstered by a few surprises and some very talented young players, are getting the most value for money this season.

1.  San Diego Padres - $1.9 million per WAR
2.  Toronto Blue Jays - $2.9 million per WAR
3.  Oakland Athletics - $3.4 million per WAR
T-4.  Texas Rangers - $3.6 million per WAR
T-4.  Cincinnati Reds - $3.6 million per WAR
6.  Tampa Bay Rays - $4.1 million per WAR
7.  Minnesota Twins - $4.2 million per WAR
8.  Kansas City Royals - $4.3 million per WAR
9.  Cleveland Indians - $4.5 million per WAR
10.  Atlanta Braves $4.6 million per WAR

Unfortunately, as a Yankees fan, I have no bragging rights in this contest (not that I expected any): While the Red Sox are around league average at $6.5 million per WAR, the Yankees pay quite a bit more: $9.1 million.

Interestingly, it’s a little tricky to determine which team is the worst. Both the Houston Astros and the Pittsburgh Pirates have compiled negative WAR this year. What does that mean (after all, you can’t lose negative games…)? By compiling -2.2 and -2.6 WAR, respectively, the players on the Astros and Pirates have done worse than what one would expect from a team assembled off the waiver wire, the Minor Leagues, and free agency. Ouch. Both teams have thus basically wasted the money they’ve spent on payroll this season, though it’s probably worse for the Astros, whose payroll is over $91 million (the Pirates’ payroll is approximately $34 million).

Here are the rest of the worst:

5.  Seattle Mariners - $15.1 million per WAR
4.  Los Angeles Angels - $18.7 million per WAR
3.  Chicago Cubs - $39.4 million per WAR
T-1.  Pittsburgh Pirates - $34.4 million for negative 2.6 WAR
T-1.  Houston Astros - $91.5 million for negative 2.2 WAR

Of course, the Major League standings don’t mimic these standings. The Yankees have the best record in baseball (though several of the best teams are contenders, like the Rays and Rangers), and plenty of other teams use big budgets to win as well. Since teams like the Sox and Yankees have more money, their use of statistical analysis has allowed them to continually assemble competitive teams. Meanwhile, teams like the A’s struggle (still under Billy Beane, they haven’t made the playoffs since 2006). Baseball, the only major professional sports league in America that does not have a salary cap, remains a game that favors big market teams and free-spending owners (heh… go Yankees!). For everyone else, though, there’s always the Moneyball Cup!

Beyond the jump, I have the full standings.

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Google Wave: the importance of export

Google recently announced that it would discontinue Google Wave at the end of this year. For me this was disappointing news, as Wave had recently become my web app of choice for collaborative writing and editing of debate cases (I currently compete in a collegiate debate league. It’s how I met David, Josh, and Will). Since I now have to prepare for a Wave-sized hole in my life, I decided to take a longer look at some of the reasons why Google Wave failed.

RIP, Wave. You had a good run. Well, more a terrible one. (PC World)

Wave was a peculiar invention. Developed in Australia, it was billed as a rival to Twitter and Facebook and even used the hype-building invitation-only model of Gmail, but it never truly caught on. The failure of Google Wave is fascinating, if for no other reason than because it is a failure by Google, a company founded just 12 years ago that has come to a dominant position in world culture, business, and even vocabulary (to “Google” something has blown by passing a “Kleenex,” making a “Xerox,” or even grabbing a “Thermos“). That being said, it’s easy to see why Google Wave ran into problems.

According to Scott Berkun, “any software in this century that reinvents the scroll bar deserves to fail.” (thanks to Josh for the link) And he’s right that a major problem with Google Wave were its many minor idiosyncrasies – the weird new scroll bar, the strange keyboard shortcuts, the paucity of formatting buttons. But Wave had more fundamental issues that prevented it from reaching its full potential.

First, it tried too hard to overthrow everything. Google Wave arrived on the scene in 2009, at a time when Facebook and Twitter had already established themselves with loyal users. The problem with facing such well-established rivals was that Wave, like most web technologies, faced a “network effect;” that is, because Wave was a technology meant to facilitate communication and collaboration, its value was directly tied to the number of users using it.

But that wasn’t all. After all, Facebook and Twitter came to their positions by overtaking other, older technologies. What made the problem worse was that Wave was trying to be more than Google’s social networking application (that would be Google Buzz, which would confusingly come out shortly after Wave). Google Wave attempted to rival even more basic technologies:

What would e-mail and instant messaging look like if those technologies were created today rather than at the dawn of the Internet?

That’s the question that drove a trio of developers in Google’s Australia office to create a new tool that the search engine giant is calling a model for the future of online interaction: Google Wave.

Google changed the way we scour the Web for information and now with Wave seems to have grander designs on rethinking our digital experience by changing the way we work, connect and collaborate through the Internet.

The end result is nothing short of an ambitious rethinking of online communication, one that makes e-mail and instant messaging seem as stale as last night’s pizza crust.

–Matt Hartley, The Globe and Mail

Ambitious indeed. And of course, if Google Wave couldn’t rival Facebook and Twitter, it wasn’t about to remake the world built by instant messaging and e-mail.

The strategic flaws of Google Wave were amplified by its tactical errors. Wave was slow, buggy at release, and its invitation rollout, so successful with Gmail, built hype but kept people from actually using it (because no one had friends who had it). The biggest impact Google Wave made on my life was that it clogged my Facebook feed with people offering Google Wave invites (perhaps also signaling that they were one of the cool kids who had already received one*).

Recently, though, I’ve become enamored with Google Wave. It’s become faster, more reliable, and more smooth at collaborative real-time editing, making it less of a pain to work with. Because it’s lightweight, it’s a bit more fun to collaborate on than a Google Doc. I can get my ideas out (and hear feedback from others) more rapidly using Google Wave than with any other tool I use on the Internet. But at the same time, working with Wave inevitably showcases its greatest flaw: no exporting.

Google Wave is completely proprietary. Want to download a Wave as a PDF, Microsoft Word document, or just as a file to have offline? No can do. Wave doesn’t even have a print option. Being able to update a document and work on it with many people is a powerful tool–but how many documents that I work on with multiple people will never need to be accessed in a different format?

We descended from AltaVista users. They used sticks to make fire, and AOL for e-mail. (TechCrunch)

The question, “What would e-mail and instant messaging look like if those technologies were created today rather than at the dawn of the Internet” is an interesting one, to be sure. But to me, the answer has to be: fully integrated, interchangeable, and manipulable. Google had this right with Google Documents (Docs), which gives a multitude of options when it comes to exporting and printing, and Gmail, which does a great job printing e-mails. After all, Gmail is growing rapidly and Google Docs has prompted a Microsoft response. But they failed to grasp that with Wave, and it’s frustrating.

Compounding its harm to users, the lack of an export option left Google Wave in isolation, unable to interface with other applications and unable to carve out its own niche. For a technology to truly get off the ground, it needs to plan import/export as a central part of its strategy, not as an afterthought. Through those basic features, a web technology becomes a part of peoples’ lives and finds its home. Facebook will rifle through your e-mail account to search for your friends. Twitter will interface with a thousand different desktop apps that make it easy to switch over. But Wave required a new commitment, an open-ended commitment, so people weren’t willing to make the effort.

Luckily, for any of you who continue to use Google Wave, there is a workaround to the exporting problem. This could also be useful if Google doesn’t provide a method for exporting before Wave is taken offline.

Here’s how it works: You can use a Google Wave robot, Ferry, to export from Google Wave to Google Documents. Ironically, an extension that covers one of Wave’s most fundamental flaws also shows off one of its major strengths–its developer API. While it’s not ideal, it’s enough to keep me using Wave at least until the debate season starts.

*Full disclosure: I offered people invites. I never miss a chance to be one of the cool kids.

The World Cup 2010 and Facebook

The World Cup Trophy

Many Americans are paying attention to competitive soccer for the first time in years because of the prospects of this year's US team. What's in store for US soccer? (ESPN.com)

Everyone watching the US vs. Slovenia World Cup game on Friday morning knows it was a great game. Soccer is growing in popularity in the US (at least right now) because this year’s national team is a good one and has a chance to make a run into the elimination rounds of the World Cup final. But because of the time zone difference between the US and South Africa, millions of Americans are caught on the brink of committing to soccer but unable to watch the games at home on TV. This has lead to a greater focus on Internet marketing and broadcasting, allowing people to watch the games online. Some people still didn’t get to watch the game. But what the time zone difference definitely couldn’t stop was people’s commentary on the World Cup game between the US and Slovenia.

As I watched the game, I noticed that commentary on the World Cup game was dominating my news feed on Facebook. Through its chat client, private messaging, the links posted and the statuses updated in people’s news feeds, Facebook has become a ubiquitous part of our daily lives. I began to ponder after the game the massive scope of what Facebook does to connect us with other people around the world. I figured that the World Cup game was a better time than any to measure how many people’s opinions Facebook connects me to in any given day.

So I went through my Facebook newsfeed and compiled a list of all the people who referenced the World Cup in their status, commented on the World Cup, or commented on other people’s comments on the World Cup during and after the 10:00AM EST game. The list is below the fold as an Appendix (to read, click on the title of the post or click “Read more…” at the end of the post). For now, I’ll just summarize the results, since the sheer multitude of reactions I found allow me to create something of a zeitgeist with my findings:

facebook logo

Facebook is changing our lives in ways we take for granted. This morning, I received the opinions of approximately fifty people on the World Cup game I was watching.

Overall, using Facebook, I received the opinions of 37 (thirty seven) friends and 13 (thirteen) other people about the World Cup match, both while and in the first few hours after it happened. That’s a total of 50 (fifty) people. I have 601 (six-hundred and one) friends on Facebook, which means that I received the opinions of approximately 1/12 (one-twelfth) of my friends. Pretty cool. Here’s a bit of a breakdown:

Only one person cheered for Slovenia. Eleven people (22%) cheered for the United States (though most people who were complaining about the referees were certainly sympathetic to the United States more generally). One person, he recently married my cousin actually, booed the United States, but that was over their poor play early in the game.

fifa world cup soccer

One of my friends posted a picture that demonstrated why the referee's call was bad.

A lot of people complained about a controversial refereeing decision made by Malinese referee Koman Coulibaly (poor guy, it was his first World Cup finals match ever). Sixteen (32%) of my friends complained about the referees, but six additional friends made jokes about the referee, and more blamed the referee for the loss.

A significant chunk of the people just “liked” something that was posted by someone else. Facebook recently added a feature that allows users to “like” individual comments beneath statuses; however, no one used that feature to like a comment about the World Cup.

Most people in my news feed were acquaintances or family friends, but a small minority included my roommate, my immediate family, and some former debate partners. A friend of mine posted a funny video of Robin Williams’ comedy routine that featured a bit about the referees.

As you may know, David set up the StoneSoup World Cup Fantasy League last week on ESPN.com. As I like to get into some of the extreme patriotism that is so clearly wildly popular among my friends (at least according to my news feed), I believe I am the only person in the league who has picked the US to win the World Cup. As such, I am paying a lot of attention to the games – getting up in the morning on a Friday I have off was something I haven’t done for a sports event in a while. But if my news feed is any indication, it seems that plenty of my friends are just as excited as I am.

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Game 7 of the Finals: A Preview

Tonight’s the big night, Game 7 of the NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. The significance of this game — and this rivalry — to basketball cannot be overstated. This is the Lakers and Celtics’ twelfth Finals meeting against each other; the two franchises hold more than thirty championships. The Celtics seek to win their 18th championship, their second in the last three years; Kobe and the Lakers are looking to repeat, and become the first NBA team to repeat since Kobe and Shaq three-peat at the start of the decade.

Prior to the Finals, Bill Simmons wrote a preview outlining the impact this game could have on the legacies of various players. Going to a Game 7 puts a lot of these predictions in perspective. In one game, several players could move up the list of the greatest players of all time–or fail, in their last opportunity to do so.

The “Big Three” Celtics

It’s fitting that this series has made it to a seventh game, because these Celtics have gone on a remarkable run. They’ve beaten some of the best players in the NBA in quick succession: a 5-game close-out against Dwyane Wade and the Heat; their destruction of LeBron and the Cavs (with a ridiculous 29-18-13 from Rondo in Game 4); Pierce lighting up the Magic (with Nate Robinson helping out in Game 6); and a (potential) upset over Kobe Bryant’s Lakers, the long-time favorites.

All this while coming off a lethargic regular season riddled with injuries, and a championship for Boston makes the “Big Three” Celtics a true NBA dynasty, to be judged against the Spurs or Lakers as one of the best teams of the era. They’d have only two championships, to Shaq’s and Duncan’s three, but a championship this year could raise doubts as to whether Garnett’s injury last year cost them a three-peat.

Rajon Rondo

Rondo: best player on the Celtics? Best PG in the NBA? He's definitely made his mark in the playoffs.

For Ray Allen, this has been a strange series: A record-setting performance in Game 2, followed by 0-fers in the next three games. He wasn’t the reason for their loss on Tuesday, with 19 points, but a big game for Allen in Game 7 could be a game-changer for his legacy. Bill Simmons has said that Allen’s already passed Reggie Miller on his basketball “pyramid;” another NBA Championship (and possible MVP honors if he really lights it up) could propel him above even more of the greatest NBA players. Oh, and he’s a free agent after the season, too.

The impact of this game on Paul Pierce‘s legacy may be even more significant. The MVP of the Finals in 2008, Pierce had his best performance this series in Game 5, the Celtics’ triumphant final game at home. If the Celtics win the series tonight, Game 5 will be remembered as the game where the Celtics took control. If Pierce is dominant and the Celtics win, he has a chance at his second NBA Finals MVP award in three years. A performance like that would shoot Pierce way up the list of NBA greats.

Kevin Garnett‘s situation is more complicated. As Bill Simmons noted, Garnett has reinvented himself over the last year or so, becoming more of a complementary player than the dominant force he used to be. A championship definitely moves Garnett up the ranks, but Garnett’s legacy as a great player already exceeds that of Pierce and Allen.

I actually disagree with most of Simmons’ predictions regarding Rajon Rondo. Winning the Finals doesn’t make Rondo the best point guard in the NBA (though best-defending Point Guard is probably already true); nor would a championship make him “The Athlete With The Highest Approval Rating In Boston” (that title, I think, goes to Tom Brady or Dustin Pedroia). Then again, Rondo hasn’t had a great series, except for Games 2 and 5. Still interesting, though, is that he still has a chance at Finals MVP (with his big performances in Boston’s most important wins) and that two titles this early in his career could put him on a Hall of Fame trajectory (which would give this Celtics team FOUR Hall of Fame players). That being said, Rondo needs to improve his Free Throw shooting (his % has gone down in each of the succeeding playoff series this year) and his jump shooting in order to pass Chris Paul (or Nash or Deron Williams) as the best PG in the NBA.

The Kobe Bryant Lakers

Kobe Bryant

This game could put Kobe solidly in the top 10 players of all time. Or it could cast doubt on his sole championship without Shaq. Tonight we'll find out.

With Gasol, Fisher, and Artest inconsistent, the real story here is Kobe Bryant. Kobe has been fantastic, though his 30-7-4 with 43% shooting in the Finals has been worse than his performance against the Suns or the Jazz. While he got in foul trouble in Game 2, a key game for the Celtics, and he’s been inconsistent from long range, Kobe has undoubtedly been the MVP of the Lakers–and if the Lakers win the championship, he’ll almost certainly be Finals MVP.

But that’s what it comes down to. Game 7 will have a bigger impact on the legacy of Kobe Bryant than any other player on the court. A loss throws the 2009 championship into question (with Garnett’s injury keeping the Celtics out of the Finals) and may leave an asterisk on his career (*never beat the Celtics). If he wins, he’s solidly in the top-10 of all time… with no end in sight. This could be the most important game of Kobe’s career — finally on his own, series entirely on his shoulders, against the Laker’s most hated enemy.

Predictions

Interestingly, both of the two people I talk to most about basketball said the same name when I asked for predictions about Game 7, and it’s a guy whose name is not mentioned above: Rasheed Wallace.

Here are their predictions:

“Sheed plays the game of his life. Rondo breaks free. Key 3 pointers are the keys. LA’s bench chokes. Pierce will have double-digit rebounds. Boston 96 LA 90.” – Garron

“Rasheed Wallace has got to get down in the low post and make a difference. If he can hold his own in the post, the Celtics will take Game 7. If he drifts out to the perimeter and jacks up long 3s, LA is taking home the title.” – Will

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of either team (I’m a New York sports fan). I do like Ray Allen (a UConn alum) and I’m definitely interested in the potential history-making. My prediction, however, is less optimistic than my fellow Bostonians: Lakers by 10. While I wouldn’t mind seeing Boston take home another championship while I’m here, I think there’s too much on the line for Kobe. I think he’s going to show us why he deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest players of all time. LeBron James is probably the best player in basketball right now, but Kobe Bryant is close and Kobe definitely has a more well-rounded game. A clutch moment tonight could cement that in people’s minds. What’s more, without Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics will (as mentioned above) rely on Rasheed Wallace. I’m not confident the Celtics won’t get dominated inside.

But anything can happen. Odom and Gasol will need to show up, and the Lakers need to limit the damage inflicted by Artest when he starts jacking up 3s. What’s more, a return to form from Garnett or Pierce could turn things upside-down (like Game 5) even with a virtuoso performance from Kobe. For a new basketball fan like myself (or for anyone with even a marginal interest in sports), it’ll definitely be worth watching.

Our True Blood Marathon

Last weekend, my roommate Will and I embarked on an odyssey that we won’t soon forget. Over a 48 hour period spanning Friday evening to the Sunday night premiere of HBO’s hit series “True Blood,” we watched its first two seasons, each with 12 hour-long episodes. Aside from two 8-hour periods of sleep, that left us with only 8 hours of the weekend for non-True-Blood-related activities, such as eating, going to the bathroom, or watching the Celtics beat the Lakers.

We planned out the weekend hour-by-hour, in order to make sure we saw the entire series before the season premiere (our planning board is below). We also knew we’d have to stock up on snacks (and cook for ourselves) because any time we spent eating (or running to the convenience store) would be time not spent watching the show. We didn’t really look into what effect this would have on our health, though we probably should have.

our schedule for the weekend

As you can see, we set aside time for the priorities. Sleep, food, and USA vs. England.

I won’t do an episode-by-episode breakdown of the series; however, we did live-tweet the marathon. You can see our general feelings about the show there, along with a whole lot of self-promotion (we got 15 followers!) Twittering the marathon was fun. When we had problems with our Comcast Digital Cable, we threatened Comcast over that we would switch to DirectTV, which got us a quick response that (mostly) solved our issue (We’re watching you, @comcastcares!). Eventually, though, the tweets basically devolved into obnoxious random hashtags (#selfreferential).

In the end, the marathon was totally worth it. We finished the show with forty minutes before the premiere, leaving us some time to watch the Celtics gain an early lead on the Lakers. What’s more, it helped me better understand the premiere, though I was slightly delirious. This isn’t the kind of show you need to watch every episode to understand, but knowing who all the characters are and when they’ve cropped up before is helpful. Will, Josh, and the gang have been considering more marathons as more season premieres come up (Entourage, Mad Men, and Dexter have been bandied about, fire up the Twitter engines…) I’m in favor: watching a series in succession really gives one a chance to consider it as an artistic whole. 24 episodes in 48 hours was a little extreme, though.

Jason Stackhouse became our Twitter profile pic for the evening. Jason Stackhouse was our favorite character.

As for the series True Blood, I have to give it some props. The show is a lot like Dexter, and as Josh has put it, shows like Dexter can be very enjoyable, even when artistically mediocre. One may be deceived into thinking True Blood is an art series (à la The Wire or The Sopranos), with its irreverent parody of Southern culture and the gay rights movement (“God Hates Fangs”), but the show is a soap opera at heart. It does soap opera well. The constant flow of new subplots and sex scenes keep the show moving, and do a good job of balancing the light and dark comedy. It’s a great guilty pleasure, which perhaps explains why it’s one of HBO’s biggest successes since “Sex and the City.” It’s got something to offer for everyone: drinking, partying, drugs, sex, more sex, and weird vampire stuff too.

For what it’s worth, I appreciate the show even though I actually don’t think it was all that well suited for a marathon. Because it’s more of a TV-show–rather than an art-show–24 hours of True Blood began to run together and it became easy to lose my attention. It’s a fun show, but I’m sure it will be more fun now that I watch it once a week.

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