Thursday, November 29, 2007

Runs Above Replacement and the Ruth/ Bonds/Williams Debate

After yesterday's foray into WARP3 and the 150 threshold, today we'll look at the three greatest players ever based on Runs Above Replacement per game (RAR/G). Baseball Prospectus keeps track of Batting Runs Above Replacement (BRAR), and Fielding Runs Above Replacement (FRAR). It also uses a stat called Pitching Runs Above Replacement (PRAR), but the metric is obviously very, very different and not useful to compare pitchers to hitters. I'm going to compare the three greatest players ever based on RAR/G. To show the differences between the players, I'll multiply their per game number by 5000 to get a total.

Conventional wisdom considers Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Steriods Barry Bonds the best three players ever. I will try to ascertain how great each player would have been without his "special" circumstances: Ruth being a pitcher for the first six years of his career, Williams fighting in two wars -- including WWII during his absolute prime -- and Bonds using the juice. Here we go.

Career Value

1) Babe Ruth - I think we all know his story. Ruth pitched primarily until 1920 (although he played a number of games in LF in 1919, his last year in Boston). Let's look at his total BRAR plus FRAR. His total RAR was 1877, which divided by his 2503 games is a RAR/G of .749 or 3750 RAR over 5000 games. That's the best ever.

Let's say we ignore his pre-Yankee seasons, then he had a total of 1648 RAR in 2139 games. His per game number was .770, and his 5000 game mark is 3852, which is almost 200 runs better than the next best player.

The problem is that Ruth's first seasons were valuable and he might have made the Hall as a pitcher. However, it's very hard to compare pitchers and batters. So what can we do to more accurately reflect Ruth's career?

Well at the very least we could give him the non-pitching RAR for his season in 1919. He played 130 games and had 115 BRAR plus FRAR for a .884 RAR/G. If we add the RAR and the games to his career totals, that bumps up his total RAR/G to .776 and 3885 over 5000 games. That's an amazing total.

What about the rest of his Red Sox career? He played 4 full seasons prior to 1919 in which he accrued 112 runs in 256 games for a per game average of .437. That's not awful by historical standards, but it way below Ruth's career numbers. We can't just assume Ruth would have put up his 1919 or 1920 numbers when started at the age of 19 in 1914, but we also can safely assume that if he wasn't a starting pitcher, he probably would have been closer to his 1919 season than his 1915-18 seasons. Since Ruth comes out head and shoulders above everyone else, there's really no reason to speculate too much. We can safely assign Ruth the spot as the best player to ever play Major League Baseball.

2) Barry Bonds - His steriod years really helped him out, but he was a great hitter before steriods and was always a great fielder. .725 RAR/G, which is 3627 over 5000 games and the second best ever. Interestingly if we only took Bonds' first 15 seasons (before we have evidence of steriod use), his per game numbers are still better than Williams'. 1494 RAR divided by the number of games he played (2143) = .697. Multiply by 5000 and we get 3486, which is still better than the mark Williams put up. Bonds probably would have played a few more seasons at less than average peformances, so his RAR/G would have dropped. Would it have gone down enough for Williams to catch him? That's the big debate. Anyway, Bonds was a HOFer before the steriods, no question about that.

3) Ted Williams - Williams was an amazing hitter who lost 5 prime years to WWII and the Korean War. He a .661 RAR/G and 3309 RARs over 5000 games. The gap between Williams and Bonds is larger than the one between Ruth and Bonds. Williams' RAR would have been higher if he hadn't missed prime seasons in the military and, as we have seen, Bonds' would have been lower if he wasn't juicing.

In fact, let's try to figure out where Williams would have been had he not served his country. He missed three whole seasons 1943-45. Those weren't just any 3 seasons; 42 and 46 were his two best years according to WARP3 and RAR. So let's assume he would have performed as well from 43-45 as he did in 42 and 46. Williams' total RAA in those two years was 277. He played 150 games in both years, so he averaged .923 RAR/G in those two seasons. Assuming he would have played 150 games in the three missing years, he would have added another 416 RAR to his career numbers giving him 1933. Add another 450 games to his career games played total and he would have played 2742 games. RAR/G= .704, multiplied by 5000 is 3525.

But we can't stop there. Williams also missed major chunks of 52 and 53 in the military. He barely played 50 total games and under weird conditions, so let's throw those numbers out. Let's perform the same experiment. In 51 and 54 he totaled 178 RARs over 265 games or .671 RAR/G. So he should have added another 178 RAR to his career. Where does that leave him? With 3007 games played and 2111 RAR for an average of .702 per game and 3510 over 5000. Still worse than juicing Bonds but better than Bonds before the steriods.

So it's safe to say that Ruth is the best player followed by Bonds and then, trailing very closely behind, Williams. Bonds vs. Williams is very close, so it depends on how much people value Williams' missing years and Bonds years on steriods.

Peak Value

Quickly, it'll be fun to compare Ruth vs. Bonds in peak value. We can't really include Williams because his peak years were spent flying fighter planes for the U.S. military. So let's take Bonds steriods seasons (2001-04) and see how they compare to Ruth's best 4 consecutive year period.

During those four years Bonds accrued 542 RAR in 573 games. That's .945 per game and 4730 RAR over 5000 games. Not bad.

What about Ruth? Ruth's best consecutive seasons are 1921-24, when he garnered 524 RAR in 567 games for a per game rate of .924 or only 4621 RAR in those years. So yes, Bonds' steriods seasons are probably the best four consecutive seasons in the history of major league baseball.

If we take each players best five seasons the equation changes drastically. Bonds best 5 seasons were 1992-93, and 01-03. In those five seasons he had a total of 691 RAR in 725 games for a per game average of .953 or 4766 over 5000 games. That's a little better than his best four steriods seasons.

Ruth's best five years, 1920-21, 23-24, and 27, are amazing. He scored 732 RAR in 750 games and his average per game was .976 and over 5000 games it was 4880. Just unbelievable.

One last thing. Imagine Williams played those 3 seasons for 43-45. If everything remained equal, he would have played 750 games over those 5 seasons and scored 692 RAR. His total over 5000 games? 4615. Not bad, but Bonds is better. So peak value we'd have to go with Ruth, followed by Bonds and then Williams.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

150 WARP3 Guys

I've been blogging less about sports recently, but the Raines post got my creative juices flowing. It's the off-season and there's nothing going on (well except the A-Rod saga, Santana being traded to NY for the entire farm system and Cano and the Bonds' indictment), so now is a good time to continue my "Derek Jeter for the Hall" series. Yes, I know, awesome.

As the season stands, Jeter has a WARP3 of 99.8. Remember WARP3 measures wins over replacement player and adjusts for position, ballpark, and era. So basically it's a very comprehensive stat.

Now 99.8 isn't that good. If Jeter retired today, I'd say he would be a borderline HOFer. But let's assume he plays 7 more seasons, or until he's 40. Right now he has played 1835 games. So his WARP3 per game is .0543 (which, by the way, is higher than every single player on the list I provided yesterday). Jeter has been a pretty healthy guy, and has only played less than 148 games once. So let's assume he plays 145 games per year over the next 7 seasons, which is 1015 games. If he plays at the same rate he's played until now, he would add 55.2 WARP to his total, which would leave him with a clean 155 wins above replacement player for his career. If he played only 140 games per year he'd only add another 53.3 WARPs, and he'd end up with 153.1.

The question now is how many players in the history of baseball have accumulated a 150 WARP3. 150 is a pretty high threshold, and there are a number of guys who are in the HOF who never came close. Sadly, I can't find a list of 150 WARP3 players, and I don't have the patience to go through every single player in the Hall to see their WARP3.

So let's look at the guys from this list. The list contains the top 40 Win Shares Above Bench players in history. Obviously Jeter doesn't compare to anyone in the top ten. The only player who didn't finish with a WARP3 over 150 is Mickey Mantle (149.1) but he only played 2401 games and has a .062 WARP3 per game, which is substantially better than Jeter. 8 of the next ten also topped the 150 mark, with only Gehrig (148.9) and Eddie Mathews (145.4) coming very close.

Certainly there is something to be said for finishing one's career with a WARP3 higher than Mickey Mantle and Lou Gehrig. While those players' careers were shorter and they were certainly better than Jeter, the very fact that he is in the conversation is meaningful.

The third group begins to drop a bit. Jimmie Foxx's WARP3 was 132.6. Pete Rose is over 150 (158.7), but Joe DiMaggio (122.4) is not. None of the other 7 players between 20-30 or any of the players from 30-40 even come close. So from the top 40 players in history based on WASB, only 18 passed the 150 mark. When we look at the players from 40-80, we don't find many more players who topped 150. Wade Boggs is close at 148.5. The only guy who beat the 150 mark was Cal Ripken.

So that's 19 players. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that WSAB is similar enough to WARP3 that someone who finished in the top 80 in WSAB probably finished in the top 20 in WARP3.

Now certainly there are a few players on the list who are active and either will top the mark, or have a shot. There are seven active players in the top 80 in WSAB: Barry Bonds, A-Rod, Manny Ramirez, Ken Griffey Jr., Gary Sheffield, Mike Piazza, and Frank Thomas. Bonds is already in the group of 19. I think we can safely say that A-Rod (138.1) will make the list. Mike Piazza (96.2) and Frank Thomas (127.7) have no shot because of age and frailty. So that leaves Manny, Sheffield, and Griffey. Manny, despite his ridiculous numbers, has practically no chance since he's at 106.2 right now and has already seemingly begun his decline. It's hard to imagine him picking up the requisite 44 points. Even if he plays 5 more seasons (until 40) at his career average, he'll only end up with 141.6. Not gonna happen.

Sheffield seems ageless, but he's only at 116.9 and is 38. He'll need a Bonds-like revival to have any chance. Griffey is therefore the best bet. He's at 134.1 and if he can stay healthy and play three more seasons at 7.0 (his mark in 2007), he could do it. The problem is that's a huge assumption for a player who has only played more than 140 games twice this century. And he's not getting any younger.

So even if we are charitable to Griffey, that would make Jeter the 22nd player in the history of Major League Baseball to top the 150 WARP3 mark.

Obviously there are other players who were better over the course of their career who didn't make it, like Mantle and Gehrig. But there is something to be said for playing long enough to pass that threshold. It's not absurd to argue that when everything is said and done Jeter will be one of the top 40 players in baseball history. Not bad for someone who is overrated, huh?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Should Tim Raines Make the Hall of Fame?

Today the list of first-time HOF candidates was released, and no one seems to be a first-ballot HOFer. Or at least that's how the list is going to be perceived. In reality, there's one name on the list who should make the HOF without question: Tim Raines.

I'm too young to have watched Raines in his prime, but I did get to see him play for the championship Yankee teams of the late 90s. Although he was no longer a star, he was serviceable player who split time with Daryl Strawberry to give the Yankees a solid, but not spectacular, left field platoon.

When I saw Raines' name on the list today, I decided to look up where he stacked up against some of the LFers in the Hall. In order to compare I am going to use EQA, WARP3, total Runs Above Average (RAA) and OPS+ (just so I don't get accused on using BP exclusively). I am going to include RAA and WARP3 per season and also per game, as I think the latter is probably a better indicator than the former. I will also try to use Hardball Times' Win Shares and Win Shares Above Bench when possible.

Here are Raines' career numbers. .307 EQA, 123.9 WARP3 (5.38, .049), 564 RAA (24.5, .225) , 390 WS and 203 WSAB and a 123 OPS+. He averaged around 24.5 runs above the average left fielder for his career. These are very solid numbers, but LF is one of the least valuable positions, so the bar is higher. The best way to determine the propriety of his candidacy is to compare him to the players already in the Hall.

There are two LFers who were substantially better than Raines: Ted Williams and Stan Musial. These players are in a different league and frankly only a select few major leaguers in history even enter the conversation with these guys.

The tier-two LFers are much more comparable. Let's make a list in no particular order:

1) Willie Stargell. 312 EQA, 100.4 WARP3 (4.78, .042), 491 RAA (23.38, .208), and a 147 OPS+. Stargell made about 800 less outs, which is not a trivial amount, but that's why his EQA is 5 points higher. But Raines' WARP was 23.5 wins higher. And Stargell's RAA per season was only 23.3, so Raines has the edge. Stargell also had 370 WS which is less than Raines, but had 204 WSAB, which is one better. I think the Stargell/Raines debate is a good one, but even if Stargell is better, Raines is very close and Stargell is a clear-cut HOFer.

2) Lou Brock. A good comparison because Brock was also a great basestealer, and actually beat out Raines 938 to 811. But otherwise the two players were not really comparable. 282 EQA, 88.2 WARP3 (4.64, .033) 226 RAA (11.9, .086) and a 109 OPS+. Not even close.

3) Goose Goslin. Goslin only played 18 seasons to Raines' 23, so his numbers are worse overall. .294 EQA, 426 RAA (23.1, .186), 103 WARP3 (5.72, .045), 182 WSAB, 355 WS and a 128 OPS+. A lower EQA by a double digit amount, with a higher OPS+. But Goslin produced one less run relative to an average LF, and his WARP3 was 21 points lower (although his 5.7 WARP3 per season beats out Raines' 5.38). Raines, of course, wins the WSAB battle simply by being around longer. Raines also had better WARP3 and RAA per game. Another favorable comparison.

4) Ralph Kiner. Kiner only played 10 seasons, but was great for most of the time. 319 EQA, 362 RAA, 74.5 WARP3 and a 149 OPS+. Kiner's 36.2 RAA (.245) and 7.45 WARP3 (.506) per season dwarfs Raines' numbers.

5) Joe Medwick. 304 EQA, 454 RAA (26.7, .228) 98.6 WARP3 (5.8, .049) and a 134 OPS+. Raines had the EQA advantage, and Medwick had the advantage in runs and wins per season and per game. Fairly close.

6) Al Simmons. 297 EQA, 107.9 WARP3 (5.395, .048), 461 RAA (23.05, .208) and a 132 OPS+. Raines has a 10 point advantage in EQA, a slighly higher WARP3 per game, a higher RAA per game, and a 9 point disadvantage in OPS+. These two players were very close.

7) Billy Williams. Honestly I know very little about Williams, but he was pretty good. 299 EQA, 113.7 WARP3 (6.31, .045), 535 RAA (29.7, .215), and a 133 OPS+. He also had 374 WS and 181 WSAB. Williams was arguably the better player overall, while Raines was the better hitter based on EQA and RAA and WARP3 per game.

8) Dave Winfield. Everyone who grew up in the 80s or 90s remembers Winfield. 300 EQA, 130 WARP3 (5.9, .043) 526 RAA (23.9, .176), a 130 OPS+, 189 WASB and 415 WS. Raines has a sizeable margin in per game stats.

9) Carl Yastrzemski. This guy played in a tough offensive era, when pitchers dominated. .295 EQA, 563 RAA (24.47, .170), 133.5 WARP3 (5.80, .040) 129 OPS+, 231 WSAB and 386 WS. His WSAB is the 27th highest in major league history. Pretty gaudy numbers, but right around where Raines is.

I picked these 9 because they are the most famous HOF LF. There are other guys, but frankly I don't have the time to go through everyone and I believe these 9 out of the 20 LF in the Hall are a pretty good sample.

Ok so let's review. Raines is 3rd in EQA, WARP3, and WSAB and 1st in RAA. When we look at per game stats he's tied for 2nd in WARP3 and 3rd in RAA, and the only two guys ahead of him or tied in either are Medwick and Kiner, the latter having played only 10 seasons. Raines is lower in per season numbers, but I believe per game stats are more meaningful because players play varied amounts of games in different seasons. He also has one of the lowest OPS+ on this list (only better than Brock) because he didn't have the power many of the other guys had, but OBP is more important than SLG and EQA bears that out.

Basically I think a case could be made that Raines is one of the best LF to ever play the game and is better than anyone on the above list. If that's not a HOFer, I don't know what is.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Age of the Universe and Literalism

I've been arguing from time to time with a commentator called Oshea on Harry Maryles' blog about the age of the universe. Here's the most recent thread. I've decided to write a post about.

I understand his essential argument this way: evidence of an ancient universe is insufficient to shift the interpretation of the text from literal to allegorical because the evidence does not really contradict the text. The universe was created, according to Chazal, not to look brand new, but rather to appear old. Since Adam was created as an adult and trees were created grown, the universe must have exhibited some form of age at its initial outset.

Even if the universe appears ancient, that fact does not contradict the literal meaning of the text. It actually fits quite well with the text, because the text implies that the universe would look old. Therefore the empirical evidence is incapable of generating the need for an allegorical approach because it actually coheres with the literal meaning.

This argument, from what I understand, has nothing to do with the Rambam or Rav Saadiah. Their methodology dealt with conflicts between the Torah and other disciplines (mainly philosophy), but the current science/Torah conflict regarding the age of the universe is not really a conflict since science actually fits with the Torah's account.

I believe this is a very good argument, and really makes a proponent of the allegorical approach do some serious work. First he must show that science and Torah actually conflict. If the empirical evidence fits with the literal reading, then there is no conflict. He must further prove that someone like the Rambam would have allowed reinterpretation based on a conflict between Torah and empirical science. All we have right now is arguments that the Rambam allowed the literal meaning to be trumped by philosophy. How do we know he would have allowed reinterpretation based on modern science? On top of that there's also a presumption of literalism in interpretation of the Torah. All together that's a tough hurdle to pass.

I also want to note that I don't believe Oshea considers the non-literal view to be kefira. Designating a view apikorsus is a very strong statement and can have very serious repercussions. Since Judaism has a long tradition of pluralism in interpretation of texts (especially non-Halachic texts) arguing that the view is kefira or even just not allowed (the view of some of the Slifkin banners) shifts the burden to the opponents to prove that only the recognized interpretations are legitimate. The presumption of literal interpretation does not, in my mind, fulfill that burden given how many non-literal interpretations there are in the corpus of Torah.

Ok, on to first issue, the argument that the science/Torah conflict on the age of the universe is merely illusory. That argument assumed that the evidence of an ancient universe does not conflict with the literal meaning and actually comports with Chazal's view that the universe was created already looking old. The biggest problem with that argument is the evidence is very different from what we would expect from Chazal's view. Sure, the world had to look older than it really was, because otherwise it's hard to imagine how Adam could have existed in that climate. Trees were already grown, food was available, etc. But did it have to look billions of years old? Is there any reason to expect it to look billions of years old? Why are there dinosaur bones? Cave paintings? Fossils of human-like creatures that date tens of thousands of years old? Why did scientists recently find an eight-foot long scorpion? Unless we can prove (not just assume because of the Mabul) that our dating methods are way, way off, in what way does this evidence conform to Chazal's view of apparent age?

I believe the disparity between what should be expected by the Torah's account and the actual world that we see is vast enough to generate a conflict. And since the idea of an ancient universe is not required by the sources, I believe the burden is properly shifted from the proponents of the non-literal account to the supporters of literalism to show that only the literal approach is acceptable.

Onto the second issue. Would the Rambam or others allow allegorizing because of a posteriori rather than a priori reasoning? That's a difficult counterfactual question and is hard to answer. But I think the more important issue is recognizing that the Rambam's views on this matter were clearly influenced by the philosophical constructs that existed at the time. Would the Rambam have still postulated the argument from contingency if he had read W. V. Quine? Would Rav Saadiah still consider a priori reasoning paramount if he had lived during the time of the Empiricists or the modern Foundationalists (a school of though that believes that experiences are the foundation of all knowledge)? It's anachronistic to ignore the development of philosophy and especially the philosophy of science when asking these questions.

Instead we should take the essential structure of their theories and try to strip them of their medieval trappings. The fundamental aspects of the Rambam's methodology was to allow other disciplines to influence our interpretation of the Torah. Now, we shouldn't claim the Rambam would allow reinterpretation willy-nilly because he wouldn't. But if I am correct that the appearance of an ancient universe does pose significant problems to literalism, then perhaps the Rambam's essential theory would allow reinterpretation.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Little Too Blind

Haaretz's editorial today compares Likud to Hamas because both are unwilling to make important compromises at Annapolis. I guess that's true, but it's like saying that Hitler and Mother Teresa are similar because both ate breakfast in the morning. I don't need to explain the differences between Hamas and the Likud, as they are patently obvious.

Haaretz's rationale for supporting Annapolis is that,

[a]t Annapolis, Israel has a partner. It may be weak, it may represent only part of the Palestinian people, but finally there is another side that sees eye to eye with most of the people in Israel, a side that opposes using terror to achieve political goals and is willing to give up some of its original aspirations to reach an agreement.
Even if true, much of the opposition to Annapolis is based on the idea that Abu Mazen barely controls only part of the Palestinian people. He has no authority and little support in Gaza and it's not even completely clear he can control the West Bank.

Haaretz's editors don't care. They argue that

The Annapolis conference is an opportunity to forge an agreement with people who are willing to sign it, while hoping that the entire Palestinian people follows suit.
I'm not completely opposed to the idea of working with leaders and then hoping that the subjects will follow suit. That idea underpinned Oslo. If Arafat would agree to a deal, the positive benefits would manifest themselves in a way that would change the minds of the average Palestinian. If his lot improved and he had a measure of freedom from Israel's occupation, he would view Israel more favorably and the conflict would end. Basically the idea is that a peace process would jump-start a shift from hatred on both sides, to a more congenial acceptance of each other's existence.

Ok, that idea might have worked in 1993 or 2000. It's one thing to make a deal with a Palestinian leader like Arafat who enjoyed immense support (certainly early on) and could implement the agreement. It's totally another to negotiate and sign an accord with a leader with a minimal amount of support even in the area where he's supposed to reign supreme. Is anyone willing to assert with confidence that Abbas enjoys the support of 50% of Palestinians? Does he even supremely control his own security forces? If not, how exactly is he supposed to make the future benefits of the peace deal a reality?

Israel can't just negotiate with anyone. If the Palestinians can't get their act together, what kind of deal is worthwhile when it won't be worth much, if anything at all?

Update: Israel's intelligence agencies seem to agree that Abbas is a powerless leader.

A recently exposed joint document by the General Security Service (Shin Bet), the Mossad and military intelligence states that "even if understandings are reached in Annapolis, the chances of implementing them in the field are almost zero."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fun Game

This game purports to judge whether a person's religious beliefs are internally consistent. I got hit once and bit two bullets. I completely disagree with how the test uses the word "rational" but nothing is perfect.

Check it out.

Authority and Bias

Jak Black, semi-frequent commentor on Haemtza, posed a good question (here and here) about Harry's Daas Torah post:

We all have personal biases. How can a person know if his choice not to listen to the decision of a gadol is not simply based on some bias? Once you establish that the words of a gadol are not truly binding, what worth are the words of a gadol at all? Essentially, it seems to me that they have become (again, for all intents and purposes) meaningless.


However, if the decision really has grave spiritual impact (schooling, shuls, etc.), and a person simply cannot decide which house to purchase because he is having difficulty balancing the various spiritual factors, and a rav says that clearly one is superior, I cannot fathom why he shouldn't heed that advice (unless perhaps the question changes, i.e. a new element comes into play.)

Perhaps you ask questions about every subject under the sun. Which tomato do I purchase - the Roma, or the vine? If so, then I can see why you don't feel an obligation to listen. But I only ask questions to which I truly do not know the answer. Therefore, regardless of the true status of such advice, it seems to me obvious that it should be personally binding.

I think bias can be overcome, but not always. Jak's example about judges recusing themselves is right on point. Judicial ethics require a judge to recuse himself when he has a personal stake in the case. Surely a judge who is the majority owner of a corporation that is in court should recuse himself. But the canons of ethics do not require a judge who owns a few shares or a judge whose son happens to go to the school that is being sued to recuse himself. That's because bias is everywhere but we assume that bias can be overcome in some cases, but not others.

Jak's suggestion about making a Rav's advice binding is far from the only solution and probably not the best. If a person is truly worried that his biases are influencing his decisions, he could consider his wife's views binding. If the sole problem is that biases blind and other people who do not share the same bias are more objective, then why ask a Rav at all? Why not get a therapist or someone else trained to deal with identifying biases in people? We can solve the bias problem by appointing anyone as an authority.

So why choose a Rav? The answer must be because the Rav is more likely than other people in question to get the answer to the question correct. As Joseph Raz would say, we accept an authority because he is more likely to determine what right reason demands than the subject. In some cases a Rav is clearly most competent in figuring out the answer. Since Rabbanim tend to specialize in Halacha, his opinion should be granted great weight. But I'd demur against making his authority preemptive, because no one but the questioner is ever completely capable of understanding his situation as well as the person himself. Language and other factors are a barrier to transmitting information efficiently, so it becomes impossible for the Rav to fully comprehend the issue at hand in its entirety. People, even biased people, should be willing to evaluate the answer and weigh it against other factors.

This is an epistemological problem and one not easily solved. From a practical perspective, I'd suggest a person accept a Rav's psak unless he feels the psak is completely wrong. In that case, he should follow the procedures laid down in Halacha and ask another Posek of "greater" stature and inform him of the earlier Posek's ruling. So basically when it comes to personal psak for a single individual we don't disagree in practice, only in theory.

The difference is when it comes to global pronouncements or advice not of the Halachic nature. Let's focus on the latter issue, because I'd rather not get into the whole Askanim problem that Harry properly brings up. When the issue is not Halachic, it is less plausible that the Rav is more likely to come to the correct conclusion than the person asking the question. So the Rav's opinion should be given less weight. What about bias? It's a problem. But at this point it becomes a question of weighing factors. The Rav might be more objective, but he is less qualified to answer the question. So the individual has to make the decision for himself. If it's an important issue he seek advice from a number of sources, preferably from people who are aware of the problem, but also from people who are detached. I believe different perspectives will illuminate the underlying problems and expose biases.

Not considering a ruling or opinion binding does not render it meaningless, even practically. Imagine someone goes to a doctor and is told he has a fatal illness and only treatment A will save his life. Further imagine that treatment A is risky. Now, most people respect their doctor's medical advice and don't frequently reject the advice out of hand. But in such a case, most people would look for a second opinion. Why? Because doctors, like other experts, might be wrong.

Jak is essentially arguing that advice is meaningless because people will decide what they want to do with or without the advice. But that just isn't true. The patient will speak to other doctors, do his own research, etc. But his decision will be at least partly based on how much he respects the first doctor, and the odds that the doctor is right. I believe that if the person had spent months researching the issue and never spoken to the doctor, he might have come to a different conclusion or at the very least would reach that conclusion differently.

Torah U'Madda at its Clearest

"It is clear that the hours spent studying in the college will take away from time spent learning Torah, but, on the other hand, such study will give a student much more breadth, and a better hekeif of the whole world in general. In a certain sense he may lose out, because he’ll have less time for learning Torah, but secular studies grant a student a greater depth. Torah is not just a collection of dinim. When a person learns Torah, it should put the entire world in context. If a person has a real understanding of secular knowledge, then that, together with the Torah, will give him a better perspective on life."

-- Rabbi Herschel Schacter

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Oh Really?

Barry Bonds has promised to refuse an invitation to the Hall of Fame if his record-setting ball is entered with an asterisk. Here's his rationale:

"I don't think you can put an asterisk in the game of baseball, and I don't think that the Hall of Fame can accept an asterisk," Bonds said. "You cannot give people the freedom, the right to alter history. You can't do it. There's no such thing as an asterisk in baseball."

Perhaps Barry hasn't been introduced to a guy named Roger Maris, who some of you may know broke the single-season home run record in 1961, but his record was recorded with an asterisk until McGwire shattered it in 1998. Bonds isn't much a student of the game, huh?

Claire and the Dolphins

I have to give props to TMZ for showing this video. TMZ is one of those awful paparazzi news groups that follow celebrities around all the time. They even have a TV show at 6:30 on Fox-5.

Here they found a news report about how Japanese fisherman kill approximately 23,000 dolphins a year. A group dedicated to saving the dolphins went out there and tried to stop the slaughter. Hayden Panettiere, who plays the regenerating cheerleader Claire on NBC's Heroes, is a member of the group and was interviewed.

Animal rights and all, I don't understand what motivates someone to fly all the way to Japan and swim into danger just to save dolphins. I understand how the West views dolphins differently from other water dwelling creatures (except maybe whales), so I can see why people are appalled by dolphin killing. But aren't there more important issues in the world? There are homeless people all over the place. If someone has the time, wealth, and energy to go all the way to Japan just to save dolphins, she can certainly muster up the strength to volunteer at a food kitchen. It's less glamorous but much more meaningful.