Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron on last night’s two-inning save by St. Louis Cardinals’ closer, Jason Motte:

By not just saving Motte for the ninth inning, Matheny is deploying his closer as a legitimate relief ace. He might be a rookie manager, but this is what good October bullpen management looks like.

I have to admit, despite often lobbying for use of the best reliever at the most important point of the game, I wasn’t a fan of the move at the time. I was wrong. The whole idea of closers and what a save should look like is so ingrained in fans’ heads, that we often can’t wrap our minds around something new or different. Matheny probably doesn’t plan on using Motte like this every game (or in the seventh inning, if need be), but I applaud him for having the balls to do it here.

Jason Zinoman on the ties between comedy and horror:

...the line between horror and comedy has long been blurry. Alfred Hitchcock called “Psycho” a comedy. Tobe Hooper expected people to laugh at “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” In a similar fashion, comedians are famously dark and obsessed with death.

This is a tie that I’ve been wondering about for a long time. Why do we laugh (after jumping) when the little girl comes out of the TV in the Ring? Why do we cover our eyes when Michael Scott gives one of his cringeworthy speeches in the Office?

My guess is because fear and finding something funny come from the same place: the unexpected.

Speaking of Amazon’s latest Kindle announcements, lost in the updates from the day is something that may have an interesting impact on the book market if it catches on:

In addition to the Kindle Fire HD and the Kindle Paperwhite, Amazon introduced a subscription book format at a press conference in Los Angeles Thursday. These books, called "Kindle Serials," will be released in segments instead of in their entirety. Updates, or "episodes," automatically appear at the back of the book as they’re created or released without extra charge.

Think of a novel as a full-length movie, with these serials like TV episodes. If the quality of these are high, it could be something that I really get into.

Most people know that I’m a huge movie/TV nerd. I find myself better able to sit down and watch five hours worth of TV episodes more easily than five hours worth of movies. I think this is because it’s easier to digest five chunks of smaller stories rather than two chunks of larger stories. Kindle Serials could be the thing that finally gets me reading more than 10-12 books a year.

(via Sarah Kessler of Fast Company)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos espousing the newly created “Amazon Doctrine”:

Above all else, align with the customer. Win when they win. Win only when they win.

Amazon wants to make its money off selling content, not selling hardware; it sells its hardware at cost and makes it money off selling customers its content. This will only work if they can make profit off of content (something that even Apple hasn’t really been able to do), but it may very well turn out to be a genius move and here’s why:

It’s really early in the game, but it’s starting to look (and perhaps more importantly, feel) like Apple’s lead in the tablet market may be insurmountable. If this is true, making money off hardware sales of any non-Apple tablet is near impossible. By effect, some would say that Apple’s hold on the content market is also insurmountable. I’m not so sure. The important part of content is, well, the content. Within reason, no one cares if they’re reading a book on a Kindle or an iPad. The important thing is consuming the book. If Amazon’s goal is to sell content and not hardware, then Amazon wants to give consumers the ability to access that content from any device. This is evident from Kindle and Instant Video being available for all major platforms.

If selling content is its goal, why is Amazon even entering the tablet market? Two reasons: first, it needs to lower the cost barrier for buying a tablet (and the $159 Kindle Fire does that very nicely) and second, it locks those who do buy Amazon hardware into the Amazon ecosystem (does anyone really think Apple will be putting iTunes on the Kindle Fire any time soon?).

If a movie is available for the same price on both iTunes and Amazon and said movie can only be played on Apple devices (and Windows) if purchased from iTunes, but from any platform if purchased from Amazon, why would anyone buy the movie from iTunes? Being able to access content from any device is a clear win for consumers.

Amazon is doing what Apple did years and years ago: if you can’t win, it’s time to change what you’re playing.

Greg McKeown writing for the Harvard Business Review:

Why don't successful people and organizations automatically become very successful? One important explanation is due to what I call "the clarity paradox," which can be summed up in four predictable phases: Phase 1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success. Phase 2: When we have success, it leads to more options and opportunities. Phase 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts. Phase 4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place. Curiously, and overstating the point in order to make it, success is a catalyst for failure.

McKeown primarily focuses on jobs and jobs searches, but the bigger picture is more interesting. The more we keep clutter in our lives, the tougher it is to obtain success. Everyone may recongize that the bigger something is, the tougher it is to wield, but most can’t separate what’s truly important from what doesn’t matter.

via Daring Fireball

Alex Tabarrok and John Sides (via the Economist) on Chris Hayes’ claim that ”It is undeniably the case that racist Americans are almost entirely in one political coalition and not the other”:

...identification with the Democratic Party tends to decline, and identification with the Republican party tends to increase, as attitudes toward black become less favorable—at least when attitudes are measured with two different racial stereotypes. However, the relationship is far from deterministic: substantial minorities of those with unfavorable attitudes toward blacks identify as Democrats.

Reihan Salam (also via the Economist) comments on this study:

[F]or many of the people “in my world”—that is, professionals who attended selective colleges and universities in the English-speaking world—the notion that racist Americans are almost entirely in one coalition (the center-right coalition) is an article of faith that is really central to center-left political identity. Those of us who do not share this view thus find ourselves arguing from a position that is seen as intrinsically morally suspect.

But perhaps most interesting is the Economists author’s take on his libertarian view of racism/sexism:

Racism and sexism have come to matter more to me in that I have come to see them in terms of the political value that matters most to me: liberty. And so I have become much more sympathetic to policies that would limit individual liberty in order to suppress patterns or norms of behaviour that might pose an even greater threat to freedom. So I've become fairly friendly toward federal anti-discrimination law, affirmative action, Title 9, the works. I have found that this sympathy, together with my belief in the theoretical possibility and historical reality of structural coercion, releases me almost entirely from the liberal suspicion that I'm soft on racism (even if I do wish to voucherise Medicare). Phew!

I’ve been trying to articulate this for a long time. Two parts to this:

1) The problem is that people refuse to weigh issues; any violation of any belief is unacceptable.  If I hate racism and I hate government legislation, but only government legislation can get rid of racism, I have to make a choice of which I hate more. [1. I know there’s a point where this isn’t true, but anything can be taken to extremes. If carrots are getting stolen from the grocery store, one way to prevent that is for the grocery store to stop carrying carrots.] (racism, in case you’re wondering) I may have to violate my political beliefs, but isn’t it worth it?

2) But if the opposite is true (legislation to decrease racism actually makes it worse), I would be considered morally suspect to come out against something that is perceived to solve for racism. No one would ever admit to it, but some people consider the perception of solving an issue just as good as solving the issue. Oddly enough, there may be an argument for that.

All of us have biases that prevent us from seeing the larger picture. Sometimes these biases are good; most of the time, they’re bad. You may end up exactly where you started, but before giving a knee jerk reaction to something, consider why you think that way and why someone else thinks otherwise. You may find yourself staying quiet or– gulp–on the other side of the road more often than you think.

Astros General Manager (and former Cardinal Scouting Director) Jeff Luhnow on the Astros current season:

Since [May 25] we have underperformed everyone's expectations, including our own. We ran into a combination of bad luck, injuries and a lack of depth that led to our deteriorating record through the midsummer months. We want the Houston Astros to be a winning franchise that can compete for division titles year in and year out and ultimately bring multiple championships to the city of Houston and to Astros fans across the globe. Our promise to you as a fan is to work as hard and as smart as we possibly can to achieve this goal quickly. We have made significant progress towards this objective in 2012 and that progress will accelerate in 2013.

Luhnow once said that running a baseball team is like basic strategy in blackjack: the best way to win is to play the odds for long enough. (Nevermind that even with playing perfect basic strategy, the house will still win in the long term) It’s refreshing to see such a forward-thinking and honest general manager. He’s got the right ideas, let’s just hope he can get the edge on the house.

Dalton Caldwell on his latest creation, App.net:

App.net is a different kind of social platform. We're building a real-time social service where users and developers come first, not advertisers. ... We believe that advertising-supported social services are so consistently and inextricably at odds with the interests of users and developers that something must be done. Help us create the service we all wish existed.

It’s no secret how much I love Twitter and what it does. App.net looks to do a similar thing, except this time you pay up front for it.

There’s essentially two routes of monetizing something on the Internet today:

1) You pay an up-front fee for the service or product.

2) You access the product for free with the understanding that you will see advertisements at some point.

I like the first model better. Not because I hate seeing advertisements, but because what seeing advertisements implicitly means. Everything that is sold is slave to to who or what is paying the money for it. If I pay, that means the product is slave to me. If advertisers are footing the bill, it means the product will adhere to what the advertisers want.

In the instance of using ad-supported products, what the user wants and what advertisers want are inherently at odds. Users want to enjoy the product. Advertisers couldn’t care less about that; they’re more interested in you buying what’s being advertised. Because advertisements without people seeing them are useless, it then becomes the job of the product providers to strike the right balance. Within reason, product providers are going to first look to the needs of who or what is providing the funding.

I want to be explicit here: some people don’t like advertisements because they don’t like being the product sold. This doesn’t particularly bother me. Yes, I understand that Facebook and Twitter essentially advertise products that they think I’ll buy based on personal information that I’ve given them. I’m saying I’m OK with that as long as Twitter and Facebook put my wants and needs above those advertisements. The problem is that this is not the world in which we live.

There are a ton of arguments against App.net. (The one that worries me the most is that the majority of people won’t buy in, thus rendering what makes Twitter great–its ubiquity– null.) But, if I truly like the first model better and I feel a well-designed Twitter-like service is something that adds value to my life, it’s my job to fund it.

You’ve got about 17 hours to throw in your $50.

Update: I assumed the App.net alpha would be private for those who funded it early, but it looks like you can join anytime.

Supr Good Co. on why they created their Kickstarter for the new Slim Wallet:

We believe that all you really need in your wallet are your essential cards. Slim was created with this in mind - to be a super-thin card-carrying over-achiever.

I couldn’t figure out why I’d been looking for a slimmer wallet, but this is why. With smart phones being near ubiquitous, we’re way past the time where you need to carry anything in your wallet but cards and occasionally cash (even that’s becoming rarer and rarer). Why do we still need to carry bulky wallets?

No brainer funding on my part (and picked an extra one up for my brother).

via Kenton Glass

Recently defeated Kansas State Senator Tim Owens:

I'd say that maybe 80 percent of country are middle of roaders. They're not always fired up enough to go and look at what impact government has on them. The people who play close attention, it seems, are so passionate against everything. And so the middle of the roaders don't want to be anywhere close to that. Until we turn back to the middle and get balance, we're in trouble. That will bleed over into opinions people have of Kansas. It will bleed over into opinions people have of us internationally.

Terrible headline, great interview by David Weiss of Slate.

via Ben Gaskins

I’ve heard from some people that they were disappointed that not that much happened in last night’s Mad Men premiere. I admit that while I thought the episode was stellar, I was looking for more plot than the subtext we got. But the more I thought about it, we witnessed a bean ballet that even Peggy would have been proud of. I have two important takeaways:

First, my expectations were too high about the amount that would happen. I’d forgotten that this is a show of subtle shifts, not major ones (which is why the biggest shift on the show–the move from Sterling Cooper to SCDP–was so memorable). Weiner loves to mess with expectations, so it makes perfect sense for him to have what feels like a middle-of-the-season episode as the premiere after an 18 month layoff. What better way to screw with people than to satisfy them with exactly what they’re least expecting? Don’t be surprised if you see something major happen next week solely because we don’t expect it.

Second, I think the subtle shifts we were supposed to take out of this episode are all about power dynamics. We’re used to seeing Don and those in the office being in charge of everything, but they’re being accosted on two fronts: by the civil rights movement and by the Beatles’ generation.

The civil rights movement was the more obvious of the two as they’re now being forced to change by backing themselves into a corner on hiring an African American. My guess is that a good amount of the plot tension will arise from here this season.

But, Mad Men has never been about the plot (or at least, it’s never been a plot-driven show). This leads to the second area and it plays into the relationship between Megan and Don. We all assume that Don is firmly in control of that relationship, but is that what’s actually happening? She had no trouble standing up to him on almost everything. The best example of this is Don’s birthday party. I’m sure all of us watching thought the party was a terrible idea and that Megan’s song and dance routine was cringe worthy (at best). But you know who seemed to enjoy it in a non-ironic way (I’m sure the SCDP folks loved it just to see Don embarrassed)? Megan’s younger friends that were there. The SCDP folks are our proxy, so we identify with them and their reading of the situation, but wouldn’t it be interesting to see that this season’s “bad guy” is the Beatles’ generation? They’re a direct assault on the button-up conservatism of Sterling Cooper Draper Price.

If that’s true, that’s immensely interesting because we already know how it turns out: our heroes lose.

So I know that 2010 was a good year for movies, but looking back, most of that was based on the fact that you had three top-flight films (Social Network, Inception, Toy Story 3) and a bunch of really good “second-tier” films. I’m not sure if 2011 has any that will be as memorable as Social Network or Inception, but there’s an insane number of “first-tier” films from this year. As a reminder, this is a list of my favorite films from 2011, not a list of the best.

20. Horrible Bosses Yeah, I know they didn’t stick the ending with this one, but man, those first 45 minutes were hilarious. Plus, Charlie Day is doing Charlie Dayish things. That’s a winner in my book.

19. The Muppets It hits everything you’d expect it to, just as well as you’d expect it. How perfect was choosing Brett McKenzie for doing the music? I mean, if you get rid of all the sexual allusions (which, admittedly is 80% of it), Flight of the Conchords songs are essentially Muppet songs. Tell me that “Man or Muppet” didn’t sound like some of the best FOTC songs. Throw in that you get an encore of the original Muppet movie’s Rainbow Connection and you’ve got yourself a near perfect soundtrack.

18. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 This was a great movie. Now, I want to talk about something else. If you were J.K. Rowling do you think you could resist writing another Harry Potter book or twelve? George Lucas couldn’t (twice!). Peter Jackson couldn’t. Francis Ford Coppola couldn’t. I fully expect in ten years or so to see some adult fiction Harry Potter (think Dan Brown meets the Ministry of Magic). Don’t give me that “it’s perfect as is” crap. You know we’ll all be right there in line buying it. Just like were were with the Star Wars prequels, Indiana Jones 4, the Godfather part III and how we will be for the Hobbit.

17. The Tree of Life I really struggled with where to put this one. I recognize the achievement and the quality of this film, but it just didn’t resonate with me like it did with some people. The fact that (I think) I get what Malick was doing (if anyone can get Malick was doing…) means I can’t place this higher without that feeling that it was absolutely the best thing I’ve ever seen.

16. Meek’s Cutoff You’re going to hear a lot about Rooney Mara’s performance as Lisbeth Salander in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as being the gold standard for feminist performances this year. Nothing against Mara (she was incredible and Oscar worthy), but Michelle William’s performance in Meek’s Cutoff is tops in this area for me. The movie itself is how I would imagine it was like to travel the Oregon Trail. Because of that, it has its flaws as a film, but you can’t deny the natural drama and tension that arises from the situation.

15. The Help Hey, I’ve got an idea. Let’s get every great actress working today and put them in the same movie! Don’t be surprised if you see the Academy Awards for Best Actress (Viola Davis) and Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer) come out of this film. Davis has some competition with Meryl Streep, but Spencer’s a shoe in. While the performances are undoubtedly what makes this movie, give credit where credit is due, the material can’t be total fluff for the performances to be as good as they are.

14. The Ides of March What I liked most about this film is its relativity. Sure, every character does something bad, but each one would tell you that it’s entirely explainable why they did it and why it has to be considered relative to the greater good (whether that be the “real” greater good or the “I want power” greater good). It’s the classic “do the ends justify the means” argument. Take a look at where you are right now in your life and where you want to be. What if someone told you there were two paths for getting there– one slow and good, the other quick and bad? What if you weren’t sure which path you were going to take until you’d already taken it– would you still do it? These are the things that Gosling’s character has to wrestle with (at least earlier on in the movie). Perhaps the most soul crushing occurrence of the entire film is the internalization of the realization that Gosling’s character is going to get to where he wants to go, but not in the way he wanted to do it. What should he do now? What can he do now?

13. The Guard Who would’ve thought that this year’s greatest action hero would be a 60ish small-town Irish cop that’s defensive of his favorite prostitutes and witnesses a car crash only to hurry over so he can search the victims for drugs he could use? And yet, Brendan Gleeson instills Sgt. Boyle with a human sense and huge amount of humor that turns The Guard into a film everyone will like.

12. Another Earth It doesn’t happen often, but you know how you can look back at certain choices you make and see how they’ve defined your life? Sure, some of them are big ones (like where you go to school, where you take your first job, who you marry), but some smaller ones have just as profound an impact. What makes Another Earth stand out is that it takes a note from the TV show, Fringe, and literally makes it possible to explore different choices. Though, that begs the question: would you even want to know if “your” life was better elsewhere?

11. Bridesmaids Remember what I said last year about Jon Hamm being in a movie automatically vaulting it to the top 15 of my list? Well, Jon Hamm is in this movie. You’ve heard over and over at how this is the “female” Hangover, but that doesn’t really do it justice. To me, that says that this movie wouldn’t have been successful without the Hangover, which is ridiculous. There are two things that are important to making a movie like this good: 1) Was it funny? and 2) Does Melissa McCarthy poop in a sink? Yes and Yes.

10. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy I’ve read a few of John Le Carre’s spy novels, but never this one. Honestly, I would have thought it impossible to fit any of Le Carre’s densely packed novels into a two-hour movie, but here we are with Tomas Alfredson (who you probably remember from the Swedish vampire film, Let the Right One In) mostly accomplishing it. Yes, you’re lost about half the time, but instead of that discouraging or boring you, it pulls you further into what Alfredson and Gary Oldman are going for: a web of information and deception that could lead to anyone being the mole. If you like your spy thrillers without the hand holding, this is the one for you.

9. Moneyball It’s a baseball movie… about advanced statistics… that don’t exactly work for a team that had no choice but to rely on them… that somehow turned into the feel-good movie of the year. (Cue the West Wing Theme) Thank you, Aaron Sorkin.

8. The Artist After finally seeing this, I’m little puzzled by the best-picture buzz it’s getting. The performances (both in front and behind) the camera are top-notch, but you can’t help but feel like it’s missing something that those top movies have every year. Despite all that, it’s supremely enjoyable and takes what basically amounts to a gimmick (for those who don’t know, this is a silent movie) and makes it feel integral to the film. Absolutely one of the year’s best, but a little too slight to be in that top tier. Of course, that’s exactly what I would have said about the King’s Speech last year…

7. Melancholia If you’ve ever wanted to watch a Lars von Trier film without being completely horrified at everything that’s going on, here’s your chance to see one and only be 80% horrified. There are very few filmmakers who know how to frame the appropriate emotion for the end of the world, (hint: Armageddon’s use of “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” is not it) but von Trier is one of them. I know this is late, but see this in theaters if you get a chance; I think I lost some of the ending’s effect from watching it at home.

6. Midnight in Paris I know we’re clearly out of the golden age of Woody Allen movies, but I’ll be damned if this didn’t feel like it could have been stuck right back with Manhattan, Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters. That may mean very little to some of the more modern film watchers (I’m firmly in that camp), but it’s a return to Woody Allen’s wheelhouse of emotionally whimsical and endlessly entertaining.

5. Nader und Simin (A Separation) Isn’t it interesting that despite layers and layers of cultural differences, there’s emotional resonances that we all feel? Calling Nader und Simin (English Title: A Separation) a foreign film is an understatement in some ways and unfair to it in others. Foreign implies a non-native experience, but if that were true how does this film create such an emotional connection? Sure, this film wades through the beginnings of a divorce in Iran; sure, it’s totally in Persian; and yes, it deals with a legal system that’s unfamiliar to westerners, but despite all of that, if this was truly a foreign film, how is that you can be devastated by the consequences of the choices of the characters? Nader und Simin may be foreign in origin, but it’s decidedly native in nature.

4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo This is the third time I’ve consumed this material (book and Swedish version of the film) and needless to say, no one, not even the author, can do this like David Fincher. This is your quintessential book adaptation: it stays true to the source material without feeling the need to be tied down by it; plot points are changed and characters are shuffled around, but the heart of the original story is there. Only then do you have to add on the fact that no one can do suspense like Fincher. This is the guy who made a movie about a nerd making a website come off like Silence of the Lambs. When you give him actual suspenseful source material, you know you’re in for it and it doesn’t disappoint. Go see this and then tell me you weren’t literally uncomfortably wriggling in your seat.

3. Martha Marcy May Marlene One of the best years for female performances in recent memory may be capped off by one of the Olsen sisters (thankfully, not Mary Kate or Ashley). Maybe what I appreciate most is that it never feels like Elizabeth Olsen is “acting”. While her sanity is clearly in question, it never turns into one of those over-the-top, totally-withdrawn performances. It feels authentic and original. What higher praise could you give? Sean Durkin’s directing and screenplay is light years beyond what you would expect from a first-time effort; some will be upset and find it gimmicky the way he plays with time and attempts to shift reality, but it feels very natural with Olsen’s performance and the flow of the story. As for John Hawkes, he’s doing his normal awesome John Hawkes stuff. One of these years, the Coen brothers or Tarantino will cast him and he’ll win an Academy Award.

2. The Descendants Thankfully, I have very little experience with grief. That doesn’t mean I’m not affected by it when I see it, but I just have very few personal feelings to pull from. And while the bulk of this movie focuses on the concept of grief and how to deal with it, the ultimate thing I pull from it is what it takes to become a better person. Some people can change with a major event occurring: a loss of job, a loss of a relationship, a loss of someone close to you; while others know themselves well enough to change when they want (think about the people who make New Year’s Resolutions and actually keep them). I think I’m more like George Clooney’s Matt King. Matt wants to take his wife’s accident as a catalyst to be a better father and husband, but over the course of the movie realizes that it’s the fall out that shapes you as a human being. It’s not about becoming a better person in one fell swoop; it’s taking those bits and pieces of wisdom and experience you get over the course of your life and realizing how they all fit together to make you the best person you can be. Sure, that’s cheesy and may be a bit trite, but it doesn’t make it any less true. For my money, this is this 2011’s best picture, though it’s doubtful it’ll beat out the Artist for it.

1. Drive It’s nearly impossible to tell you why I like this movie so much. But, to save you some rambling about atmosphere, tension and action, I think what it comes down to is style. This movie has it. It’s a nasty world it creates, but somehow I want to live in it. The other piece of this movie is Gosling. I’m not sure there’s anyone else working today who could pull this role off. Maybe Clooney ten years ago. Gosling’s nameless character (The Driver) is the Clint Eastwood of Westerns, the Roland of Gilead of Stephen King’s Dark Tower. What you see is what you get. You get no back story; his entire existence is defined by what you see on screen. Somehow that draws you in even more.

I’m betting that most people who’ve seen this place it at or near the top of films from 2011, whether you’re a critic or just someone who happened to wander into the theater because the name Drive sounded cool. I’m also betting that when I go and read the reviews for this movie, that anyone who’s attempted one finds themselves equally at a loss for words. How good can a movie be if you can’t describe how good it is? If Drive is any indication, pretty damn good.

Apologies to: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, 50/50, Contagion, Super 8, War Horse

Still need to see: Hugo, The Adventures of Tin Tin, Shame, J. Edgar