Sukkot 5778

I love decorating and covering the sukkah with plants grown on site.

After the ingathering from your threshing floor and your vat, you shall hold the Fest of Booths [Sukkot] for seven days. You shall rejoice in your festival… for the Lord your God will bless all your crops and your undertakings, and you shall have nothing but joy (Deuteronomy 16:13-15).

Chag sameach!

 

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Baseball’s wild cards strike again

The 2017 Major League Baseball season offers a strong indictment of the current format of two wild card teams. I rarely see or hear criticism of the new format; the consensus of the writers and talking heads seems to be that adding the second wild card has been a masterstroke, simultaneously making division races more meaningful and creating exciting races for each league’s last slot.

This year’s final standings come up short on those aspects, and more importantly, on another that has concerned me ever since the format was adopted.

This season, we do have some very deserving division winners. Two AL teams (Astros and Indians) have over 100 wins, as does one NL team (Dodgers). Another NL team has 97. However, if the selling point of the format is that it makes races exciting, this season did not deliver so much. Most of the second half of the season, it was fairly clear who was going to get nine of the ten postseason slots. In the AL, the second wild card was more up for grabs, as a bunch of mediocre teams (including my favorite team) vied for the slot. In the NL, most of the season, the two eventual wild card winners were close to one another, but far ahead of the pack. Only a late winning streak by the Diamondbacks and a slide by the Rockies let the Brewers back in and made the race for the second wild card somewhat interesting at the end.

Now look at the wild cards. The gap between the two winners in the AL (Yankees over Twins) is six games. In the NL it is also six (Diamondbacks ahead of Rockies). In both leagues, then, we will have single-elimination games pitting teams whose regular-season finishes were not even close.

It is fundamentally unfair in baseball to give a team so decisively surpassed during the regular season one shot at dethroning the team that bested it during the 162-game schedule. If it happens in a best-of-5, or preferably a best-of-7, well, that’s the way it goes sometimes; a series is a fundamentally fairer way of giving a lesser team a shot and is what has made the postseason compelling ever since divisional play was introduced in 1969.

The wild card is also a splendid idea. It prevents one of the league’s top teams from missing the postseason entirely despite having a better record than one or more division winners. But as soon as that postseason starts, one unlucky game can end the superior team’s season at the hands of the inferior team. This year, one of the wild card teams has the same record as one of the division winners. Yet the Cubs would not be eliminated until they lose three games (and it would be to a team with a better regular season record), while the Diamondbacks would be eliminated if they lose only one (to an inferior team). This is fundamentally bad institutional design.

The design of institutions is something we care a lot about here. There must be a solution to the problems I have identified in the current MLB playoff structure. I still prefer my previous proposal of “two divisions, two wild cards” (2D2W) wth or without the “asymmetric series” that I also proposed. However, when I made the 2D2W proposal, I was arguing for keeping the number of teams advancing to the postseason at four rather than the new format’s five. Even if MLB recognized the improvement my plan offers over the status quo, it is highly unlikely the number of teams making the postseason would ever be decreased.

So, we need to work with five teams advancing, while satisfying my criteria of not having a single-elimination game that might pit teams with substantially different records against one another, and also preserving the current principle of some reward for winning a division rather than a wild card. (Ideally, also enhancing the odds of the team with the best record getting to at least the LCS, or at least not reducing those odds.) I have tried to game out (so to speak) postseason formats that would balance these goals. I have failed. Maybe someone can come up with a plan.

As I said in my 2015 version of this complaint, whatever the outcome, October ball is almost here, and even dumb institutional design can’t ruin that!

Reader survey

Are you ever curious about who reads F&V, how often, and what the readers like? I am. At the suggestion of JD Mussel and Henry Schlechta (whose names many readers will recognize due to their frequent posts here), there is now a Readership Survey on line. It is anonymous and will not take much time to complete. So please consider completing it.

(This post is a “sticky” and will remain up front for a while; please scroll for new content.)

Yes, all is well

It has been a long time since a post, so I thought I should confirm that I am indeed still here. And all is well.

I blame the inactivity on the fact that APSA is coming up. Plus a trip to see the total eclipse!

Regarding the eclipse, I don’t have photos of the totality itself–that really takes skills I don’t have–but I may post some of the period just before and after, which is itself interesting. The whole experience was amazing in one of those “no words” kind of ways. We were able to view the total eclipse from Prineville, Oregon. And we also were able to avoid crowds! (Some heavy traffic on the way back, but not too bad, and none getting into the area.)

I hope to be back with things to say in September. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of August!

If there’s anything current going on in the Fruits & Votes field, feel free to use this as an open thread.

Shasta, 2015 and 2017

First photo is from March 20, 2015. Second is from April 20, 2017, from roughly the same spot. Note how the snowpack on Mt. Shasta is obviously deeper and the snow level is lower, even though the 2017 photo is from a full month later in the year.

Mt Shasta, from Hatchery Ln, near Old Stage Rd.

Yes we have had some rain

After years of little more than an occasional storm, we had quite a series of storms, and they were big ones. The Sacramento River is mighty once again!

riverfront-homes

The view is from Old River Road, which is usually high above the water level. So are those houses. Now they are really riverfront properties in a perhaps overly literal way.

The river does not flood its banks, however, due to a remarkable piece of 1916 engineering called the Sacramento Weir and its manually operated gates. Last week was the first time this had been opened in over a decade.

Sac_weir

(short video; click to open in a new window and play)

sac-weir-and-sn-rail-tracks

That is Old River Road running over the Weir, and parallel to it, the Sierra Northern Railway.

When the river reaches a certain level, the gates of the Weir are open and the overflow spills into the vast tract of low land known as the Yolo Bypass.

yolo-bypass

The levees around the river and the bypass protect not only houses, but farmland. For instance, this recently planted nut grove (walnuts, probably) that is directly across Levee Road from the bypass. grove-beyond-levee

Below is a photo of the Sacramento River looking upstream. Those trees are growing on the steep bank of the normally dry levee.

sac-river-upstream-view

The Sierra Northern crosses another section of the bypass that is fed by a weir farther upstream. Here it is on a trestle that is normally high above the wetlands. A road runs through there, but at ground level, which is, for now, now well below water level. (View from the I-5 causeway.)

sn-railway-trestle

 

 

 

 

Tartu Torah

[replanted from 5777/2016]

tartu-torah-rolled

Today at sundown begins Shemini Atzeret, which I alluded to in my earlier entry. In communities that mark one day of Yom Tov, this holiday is merged with Simchat Torah. In two-day communities (meaning non-Reform congregations outside Israel) the holidays remain separate. Or, more accurately, second-day Shemini Atzeret is the day on which Simchat Torah is observed. While I am more of a “one-day” person, this is the holiday(s) for which I make something of an exception. Both Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah deserve their day in the sun (or in the rain, as the case may be).

In honor of Simchat Torah, I am sharing two photos of an amazing experience from Tartu, Estonia. The experience occurred more than six years ago, but for whatever reason I do not think I have ever told it (at least not on line). Tartu to the hometown of Rein Taagepera, and we were visiting him during one of this extended stays back in his original university home. We enquired about Jewish communities and history.

Estonia never had as large a Jewish community as nearby lands, but most of it was destroyed due to the Nazi occupation. We were able to meet with two women, one young (and English speaking) and another much older with memories of the war period. So we heard the stories of what was, and what little is. One of the more remarkable things we were told was that the University of Tartu library had a Torah scroll from the pre-war era.

With help of locals, we were able to get a librarian to retrieve it from the archive. It took a while to find. It probably had not been opened for a very long time. We unrolled it. What a beautiful scroll. I hope it can be used by a community again some day, or at least put on display. The Torah never deserves to collect dust in a basement. It is part of the cycle of life, and on Simchat Torah, we end. And we begin.

tartu-torah-open