The Phillies are very early on in their season, but already the Bullpen is a huge strength for them.

On Saturday, Brett Myers gave them seven innings, giving up a few solo homers and around four runs, but the pen shut down Colorado the rest of the way, and Madsen and Lidge were again perfect as the Phillies won 8-4 after initially being behind 2-0.

People who think Brett Myers should be better than this have a fundamental misunderstanding about Brett Myers. Brett Myers’ career statistics are, that he will strike out about as many hitters as he pitches innings; that he will give up about 30 homers a year; and his ERA adjusted will be around 3.99, or around 4.00. On Saturday, he struck out 6, walked one, gave up four hits, three homers, but threw 66 strikes out of 102 pitches. In Coors Field, that was a GREAT pitching performance.

Considering how great the Phillies offense and bullpen is, that’s good enough to win. Any starter for the Phillies who gives them six or more innings and holds the other team to four or fewer runs is doing enough for the phils to win–last year they averaged better than five runs a game, scoring almost 900 runs.

On Sunday, Chan Ho Park, who I wrote in this blog should not be starting (I said it should be JA Happ) gave up five runs in less than four innings, and had to be pulled early. That was NOT a good enough starting job. I do not believe Park has what it takes to be a starter anymore.

However, the Phils bullpen, and Chad Durbin in particular, came up huge and shut down the Rockies completely–Durbin, Eyre, Condrey, Madsen (who picked up the win) and Lidge (who picked up yet another save) did not allow a run through almost six full innings, shutting the Rockies down as the Phillies mounted a seven run comeback capped off by Utley’s two run shot in the 8th and Stair’s pinch-hit two run bomb in the 9th to win the game.

At this point, with Cole Hamels basically only lobbing the ball and about to go on the shelf, Joe Blanton yet to pitch a decent game, Jamie Moyer having thrown a horrible first game, Chan Ho Park having pitched dreadfully, the Phillies still find themselves 3-3, and having won one series after losing the first.

Moreover, they got to Atlanta’s bullpen to win a big third game against Atlanta; and they destroyed Colorado’s bullpen in successive games.

In the meantime, the Phillies’ own bullpen didn’t allow any runs to either Atlanta or Colorado during those three comeback wins.

If you think about this, it’s a HUGE advantage to know that three innings into a game, even if you’re five runs down, your bullpen can come in and hold the other team at bay, and still give you a chance to come back and win.

It basically means, the Phillies are never out of any game, unless the other team scores like ten runs–and even then they’re not out of it, as they showed against Atlanta, coming back to score twelve runs to win.

The Phillies are currently 7th in the NL in runs scored–but 14th in runs allowed. Last year they were 3d in the NL in both categories.

They need to do basically two or three things to get everything turned around for April.

1) Sit Cole Hamels down for all of April. Give him the month off. Let him go to Reading or Allentown and work on getting his speed up to major league level. After all, he worked an extra month last year. The man earned a month off.

2) Let JA Happ into the rotation. The man is a strikeout machine waiting to start. Six foot six lefthanders should not be in the bullpen. He’s currently sitting on a .700 WHIP and a 3/1 strikeout to walk ratio. The man can pitch.

3) It’s ok for Chan Ho Park to be the 5th starter in April, because you can skip a lot of his starts due to the schedule and off days. Happ should be the 4th starter. Or you can vary it up depending on whether the team you’re facing has a lot of lefties (start Happ) or a lot of righties (start Park). If you’re on the west coast, it’s ok to start Park, he’s effective in Dodger Stadium, the Padres’ Park or the Giants’ Park.

4) Everyone of the Phillies is off to a hot offensive start, except for Jimmy Rollins, who is off to a very slow start. I would consider resting him and giving him a day off, and starting Bruntlett. Rollins is another guy who played an extra month last year, and then played in the World Baseball Classic. Rollins looks tired, and is not hitting like Jimmy Rollins. Rollins right now has an OPS of under .300, which is pathetic, and he looked like he was late on a lot of pitches on Sunday, fouling them off to left or popping them up, instead of pulling them to right as he customarily does. If the Phils are facing any lefties, start Bruntlett, and give Rollins a day off from time to time, and a day off once a week until he’s rested again. The man was the MVP in the league in 2007, but he’s not indestructible.

5) Chase Utley and Jayson Werth now have OPS over 1.000, and Utley at 1.275. They are on fire. Ryan Howard is hitting over .300 and OPS of .843, and had a huge bases loaded double over the weekend that just missed being a grand slam. Most important, Pedro Felize looks GREAT at the plate–he’s hitting .368, with an OBA of .435 and a Slugging Average of .526, for an OPS of .926–he’s off to a terrific start.

6) Pedro Feliz FEEDS off the lefties that teams are throwing at the Phils, and has turned into a very productive hitter. He’s learned to relax and stroke the ball up the middle or to left, and occasionally jerk the ball into the left field seats. He’s a confident, experienced hitter and a terrific glove man. The Phillies have themselves an excellent third baseman.

7) Chris Coste is NOT off to a good start. I’d like to see the Phils give their rookie catcher up from Allentown a start or two to see what he can do, although what they really need is Carlos Ruiz back.

8) They might need to look around for another backup catcher. Coste was a 34 year old rookie. He may be showing signs of age related decline, or he might just be off to a slow start.

In any event, to summarize, the Phils I thought had a good week. And they get to go to the White House tomorrow to be congratulated!

World Champions!

–art kyriazis
Philly/NJ
Home of the World Champion Phillies

I wanted to wish a Happy Easter and a Happy Passover to all.

There’s an old joke, that goes something like this. A liberal is arguing with a conservative about the death penalty. Finally, exasperated, the conservative says to the liberal, “of course I’m in favor of the death penalty–without the death penalty, there’d be no Easter and no Easter Bunny!”

While this is an awful joke, it does remain true that in the two major capital punishment trials that we know about in history, Socrates and Jesus, as best we know, both were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. I won’t even get to the OJ trial, although as we all know, the glove didn’t fit and they had to acquit.

Obviously Socrates and Jesus could have used Johnny Cochran as their lawyer.

Socrates on dying, was reputed to have said something like, I die, you live, god knows who is going to the better place. Those of us who are religious of course believe that death brings us closer to a better place indeed, but Socrates provides a flash of insight that this short life is not the only one, that there is a spiritual and inner life that transcends death. Religion ministers to the soul, or at least to our conception of the soul, and consequently it is a vital part of our lives.

The Passover story about Moses leading the chosen people out of bondage and out of Egypt is a great story, as well as being an integral part of the old testament. “Exodus” is actually ancient greek for “Exothos” or “Exit” or “Leaving”. It’s the title of the book from the Ancient Greek Septuagint. The entire point of Exodus is the story of the Chosen People Leaving, “Exothos”, from Egypt and their bondage. God frees them from slavery and bondage through Moses and a series of miracles, each one greater than the last, which are celebrated each and every Passover.

It is such an important story because it gives hope to every oppressed peoples that God will redeem every one in bondage, free them and lead them to their own Promised Land. When Martin Luther King spoke of reaching the Promised Land, it was the Passover Story he was referring to. He didn’t need to explain that to his listeners, many of whom were careful Bible readers. The African-Americans of this country understood about bondage, redemption, and being led out of bondage and to the Promised Land.

On this Passover, we should think about these matters in considering President Obama, a man who has the potential to unite many different elements of society, and perhaps finally lead a people to the Promised Land. All oppressed peoples the world over hearken to the story of Exodus.

I’ve always had a strong faith in God and I don’t doubt God’s existence. Recently there’s been a spate of books and articles by respected scholars advocating atheism and the non-existence of God. I find this to be an awful waste of scholarly time, and especially of taxpayer and endowment money. Isn’t there something important these guys should be doing on our nickel?

Richard Dawkins, who once wrote a book called “The Selfish Gene,” is one of these. He used to teach at Harvard, now teaches in England, and appears to enjoy bashing God and religion in his books. Dawkins used to be a capable biologist. In his old age, he’s turned into a menacing crank who hates old ladies who go to church and pray to the saints and God for the memories of their dead husbands.

How mean can you possible get?

You might call him “The Selfish Dean” because he really seems only to care about himself. Is this what tenure breeds? Idiotic books about atheism? Pushed on us by editors and publishing houses?

Belief in God is a personal matter, but it also means a commitment to others, and to doing things for others, without considering the personal benefit to yourself. Sitting around the table at Easter, at Seder, at any family gathering, we give thanks to our creator and Lord for family, for health, for happiness. I can’t imagine a life without God or without prayer, a life without church or without friends from church or the church community.

I’ve looked at Dawkins’ books on atheism. They are poorly written, poorly argued, and basically are rants.

It’s not a careful argument.

A careful argument, for example, would be Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles, or Martin Luther’s 95 Theses against the Catholic Church, or John Calvin’s immense work of theology criticizing the Roman Catholic Church and setting forth the tenets of Calvinism.

Those are careful and thoughtful books, which make their cases carefully, point by point.

Dawkins’ books by contrast are awful and poorly researched and poorly written. It’s embarassing to see a professor publish such awful work. Especially when he was able while younger to write such a good book on biology as “The Selfish Gene.” It’s readily apparent Dawkins’ writing and intellectual skills have sharply declined with age.

But assuming that Dawkins (and any of these other atheists) has/have any rational or reasonable points to make, I’d like to refute them with Pascal’s Wager, for one. I think Dawkins is already refuted by the Transcendental a priori arguments of Kant for God’s existence, but Blaise Pascal made a classic probability argument which is, in fact, irrefutable on mathematical and utility grounds, for God’s existence.

Pascal said you should believe in God, because if you did, even if there was only a 1 in a million chance of his existence, the benefits would be eternal salvation, whereas if you denied Him, the possible harm would be eternal damnation.

Consequently, it’s a lot like the nuclear calculus–the benefits are so great, that even if there’s only a slight chance of God existing, it’s worth going all in on God. If you win, you get eternal salvation forever. (the nukes argument goes like, if there’s a one in a million chance of starting World War III, the harm is so great, you have to avoid it, because it’s nuclear winter and the death of mankind, so the policy can’t be adopted).

If you lose the wager, you burn in hell forever. I kind of envision Dawkins burning in a really hot part of hell, by the way. The part where they keep Bernie Madoff, child molesters, child molesting catholic priests and every single convicted defendant whose story was the real basis for the plot line of a LAW AND ORDER:SVU episode. Those stories are really pretty awful. This is a digression, but it’s hard to believe that’s Jayne Mansfield’s daughter in that show, by the way. Mariska Hargitay, emmy winning actress, now approximately in her mid-40s, and still very beautiful, is the daughter of Mickey Hargitay (a former Mr. Universe) and Jayne Mansfield, the 1950s starlet/sex bomb. I think you’d have to say that Mariska Hargitay has really had a solid acting career.

As for all of those who doubt God’s existence or lack faith in God, I give you an extended discusion of Pascal’s Wager from the Stanford Encylopaedia of Philosophy.

Pascal’s Wager
By Alan Hajek, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

“Pascal’s Wager” is the name given to an argument due to Blaise Pascal for believing, or for at least taking steps to believe, in God. The name is somewhat misleading, for in a single paragraph of his Pensées, Pascal apparently presents at least three such arguments, each of which might be called a ‘wager’ — it is only the final of these that is traditionally referred to as “Pascal’s Wager”. We find in it the extraordinary confluence of several strands in intellectual thought: the justification of theism; probability theory and decision theory, used here for almost the first time in history; pragmatism; voluntarism (the thesis that belief is a matter of the will); and the use of the concept of infinity.

We will begin with some brief stage-setting: some historical background, some of the basics of decision theory, and some of the exegetical problems that the Pensées pose. Then we will follow the text to extract three main arguments. The bulk of the literature addresses the third of these arguments, as will the bulk of our discussion here. Some of the more technical and scholarly aspects of our discussion will be relegated to lengthy footnotes, to which there are links for the interested reader. All quotations are from §233 of Pensées (1910, Trotter translation), the ‘thought’ whose heading is “Infinite—nothing”.
• 1. Background
• 2. The Argument from Superdominance
• 3. The Argument from Expectation
• 4. The Argument from Generalized Expectations: “Pascal’s Wager”
• 5. Objections to Pascal’s Wager
• Bibliography
• Other Internet Resources
• Related Entries

1. Background
It is important to contrast Pascal’s argument with various putative ‘proofs’ of the existence of God that had come before it. Anselm’s ontological argument, Aquinas’ ‘five ways’, Descartes’ ontological and cosmological arguments, and so on, purport to give a priori demonstrations that God exists. Pascal is apparently unimpressed by such attempted justifications of theism: “Endeavour … to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God…” Indeed, he concedes that “we do not know if He is …”. Pascal’s project, then, is radically different: he seeks to provide prudential reasons for believing in God. To put it crudely, we should wager that God exists because it is the best bet. Ryan 1994 finds precursors to this line of reasoning in the writings of Plato, Arnobius, Lactantius, and others; we might add Ghazali to his list — see Palacios 1920. But what is distinctive is Pascal’s explicitly decision theoretic formulation of the reasoning. In fact, Hacking 1975 describes the Wager as “the first well-understood contribution to decision theory” (viii). Thus, we should pause briefly to review some of the basics of that theory.

In any decision problem, the way the world is, and what an agent does, together determine an outcome for the agent. We may assign utilities to such outcomes, numbers that represent the degree to which the agent values them. It is typical to present these numbers in a decision matrix, with the columns corresponding to the various relevant states of the world, and the rows corresponding to the various possible actions that the agent can perform.

In decisions under uncertainty, nothing more is given — in particular, the agent does not assign subjective probabilities to the states of the world. Still, sometimes rationality dictates a unique decision nonetheless. Consider, for example, a case that will be particularly relevant here. Suppose that you have two possible actions, A1 and A2, and the worst outcome associated with A1 is at least as good as the best outcome associated with A2; suppose also that in at least one state of the world, A1’s outcome is strictly better than A2’s. Let us say in that case that A1 superdominates A2. Then rationality surely requires you to perform A1.

In decisions under risk, the agent assigns subjective probabilities to the various states of the world. Assume that the states of the world are independent of what the agent does. A figure of merit called the expected utility, or the expectation of a given action can be calculated by a simple formula: for each state, multiply the utility that the action produces in that state by the state’s probability; then, add these numbers. According to decision theory, rationality requires you to perform the action of maximum expected utility (if there is one).

Example. Suppose that the utility of money is linear in number of dollars: you value money at exactly its face value. Suppose that you have the option of paying a dollar to play a game in which there is an equal chance of returning nothing, and returning three dollars. The expectation of the game itself is

0*(1/2) + 3*(1/2) = 1.5,

so the expectation of paying a dollar for certain, then playing, is

-1 + 1.5 = 0.5.

This exceeds the expectation of not playing (namely 0), so you should play. On the other hand, if the game gave an equal chance of returning nothing, and returning two dollars, then its expectation would be:

0*(1/2) + 2*(1/2) = 1.

Then consistent with decision theory, you could either pay the dollar to play, or refuse to

play, for either way your overall expectation would be 0.

Considerations such as these will play a crucial role in Pascal’s arguments. It should be admitted that there are certain exegetical problems in presenting these arguments. Pascal never finished the Pensées, but rather left them in the form of notes of various sizes pinned together. Hacking 1972 describes the “Infinite—nothing” as consisting of “two pieces of paper covered on both sides by handwriting going in all directions, full of erasures, corrections, insertions, and afterthoughts” (24).[1] This may explain why certain passages are notoriously difficult to interpret, as we will see. Furthermore, our formulation of the arguments in the parlance of modern Bayesian decision theory might appear somewhat anachronistic. For example, Pascal did not distinguish between what we would now call objective and subjective probability, although it is clear that it is the latter that is relevant to his arguments. To some extent, “Pascal’s Wager” now has a life of its own, and our presentation of it here is perfectly standard. Still, we will closely follow Pascal’s text, supporting our reading of his arguments as much as possible.

There is the further problem of dividing the Infinite-nothing into separate arguments. We will locate three arguments that each conclude that rationality requires you to wager for God, although they interleave in the text.[2] Finally, there is some disagreement over just what “wagering for God” involves — is it believing in God, or merely trying to? We will conclude with a discussion of what Pascal meant by this.

2. The Argument from Superdominance
Pascal maintains that we are incapable of knowing whether God exists or not, yet we must “wager” one way or the other. Reason cannot settle which way we should incline, but a consideration of the relevant outcomes supposedly can. Here is the first key passage:

“God is, or He is not.”

But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up… Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, you knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose… But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is… If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

There are exegetical problems already here, partly because Pascal appears to contradict himself. He speaks of “the true” as something that you can “lose”, and “error” as something “to shun”. Yet he goes on to claim that if you lose the wager that God is, then “you lose nothing”. Surely in that case you “lose the true”, which is just to say that you have made an error. Pascal believes, of course, that the existence of God is “the true” — but that is not something that he can appeal to in this argument. Moreover, it is not because “you must of necessity choose” that “your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other”. Rather, by Pascal’s own account, it is because “[r]eason can decide nothing here”. (If it could, then it might well be shocked — namely, if you chose in a way contrary to it.)

Following McClennen 1994, Pascal’s argument seems to be best captured as presenting the following decision matrix:
God exists God does not exist
Wager for God Gain all Status quo
Wager against God Misery Status quo

Wagering for God superdominates wagering against God: the worst outcome associated with wagering for God (status quo) is at least as good as the best outcome associated with wagering against God (status quo); and if God exists, the result of wagering for God is strictly better that the result of wagering against God.

(The fact that the result is much better does not matter yet.) Pascal draws the conclusion at this point that rationality requires you to wager for God.

Without any assumption about your probability assignment to God’s existence, the argument is invalid. Rationality does not require you to wager for God if you assign probability 0 to God existing. And Pascal does not explicitly rule this possibility out until a later passage, when he assumes that you assign positive probability to God’s existence; yet this argument is presented as if it is self-contained. His claim that “[r]eason can decide nothing here” may suggest that Pascal regards this as a decision under uncertainty, which is to assume that you do not assign probability at all to God’s existence. If that is a further premise, then the argument is valid; but that premise contradicts his subsequent assumption that you assign positive probability. See McClennen for a reading of this argument as a decision under uncertainty.

Pascal appears to be aware of a further objection to this argument, for he immediately imagines an opponent replying:

“That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much.”

The thought seems to be that if I wager for God, and God does not exist, then I really do lose something. In fact, Pascal himself speaks of staking something when one wagers for God, which presumably one loses if God does not exist. (We have already mentioned ‘the true’ as one such thing; Pascal also seems to regard one’s worldly life as another.) In other words, the matrix is mistaken in presenting the two outcomes under ‘God does not exist’ as if they were the same, and we do not have a case of superdominance after all.
Pascal addresses this at once in his second argument, which we will discuss only briefly, as it can be thought of as just a prelude to the main argument.

3. The Argument From Expectation
He continues:

Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and happiness.

His hypothetically speaking of “two lives” and “three lives” may strike one as odd. It is helpful to bear in mind Pascal’s interest in gambling (which after all provided the initial motivation for his study of probability) and to take the gambling model quite seriously here. Recall our calculation of the expectations of the two dollar and three dollar gambles. Pascal apparently assumes now that utility is linear in number of lives, that wagering for God costs “one life”, and then reasons analogously to the way we did! This is, as it were, a warm-up. Since wagering for God is rationally required even in the hypothetical case in which one of the prizes is three lives, then all the more it is rationally required in the actual case, in which one of the prizes is eternal life (salvation).

So Pascal has now made two striking assumptions:

(1) The probability of God’s existence is 1/2.

(2) Wagering for God brings infinite reward if God exists.

Morris 1994 is sympathetic to (1), while Hacking 1972 finds it “a monstrous premiss”. It apparently derives from the classical interpretation of probability, according to which all possibilities are given equal weight. Of course, unless more is said, the interpretation yields implausible, and even contradictory results. (You have a one-in-a-million chance of winning the lottery; but either you win the lottery or you don’t, so each of these possibilities has probability 1/2?!) Pascal’s best argument for (1) is presumably that “[r]eason can decide nothing here”. (In the lottery ticket case, reason can decide something.) But it is not clear that complete ignorance should be modeled as sharp indifference. In any case, it is clear that there are people in Pascal’s audience who do not assign probability 1/2 to God’s existence. This argument, then, does not speak to them.
However, Pascal realizes that the value of 1/2 actually plays no real role in the argument, thanks to (2). This brings us to the third, and by far the most important, of his arguments.

4. The Argument From Generalized Expectations: “Pascal’s Wager”
We continue the quotation.

But there is an eternity of life and happiness. And this being so, if there were an infinity of chances, of which one only would be for you, you would still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act stupidly, being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. It is all divided; wherever the infinite is and there is not an infinity of chances of loss against that of gain, there is no time to hesitate, you must give all…

Again this passage is difficult to understand completely. Pascal’s talk of winning two, or three, lives is at best misleading. By his own decision theoretic lights, you would not act stupidly “by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you”—in fact, you should not stake more than an infinitesimal amount in that case (an amount that is bigger than 0, but smaller than every positive real number). The point, rather, is that the prospective prize is “an infinity of an infinitely happy life”.

In short, if God exists, then wagering for God results in infinite utility.

What about the utilities for the other possible outcomes? There is some dispute over the utility of “misery”. Hacking interprets this as “damnation”, and Pascal does later speak of “hell” as the outcome in this case. Martin 1983 among others assigns this a value of negative infinity. Sobel 1996, on the other hand, is one author who takes this value to be finite. There is some textual support for this reading: “The justice of God must be vast like His compassion. Now justice to the outcast is less vast … than mercy towards the elect”.

As for the utilities of the outcomes associated with God’s non-existence, Pascal tells us that “what you stake is finite”. This suggests that whatever these values are, they are finite.
Pascal’s guiding insight is that the argument from expectation goes through equally well whatever your probability for God’s existence is, provided that it is non-zero and finite (non-infinitesimal) — “a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss”.[3]

With Pascal’s assumptions about utilities and probabilities in place, he is now in a position to calculate the relevant expectations. He explains how the calculations should proceed:
… the uncertainty of the gain is proportioned to the certainty of the stake according to the proportion of the chances of gain and loss… [4]

Let us now gather together all of these points into a single argument. We can think of Pascal’s Wager as having three premises: the first concerns the decision matrix of rewards, the second concerns the probability that you should give to God’s existence, and the third is a maxim about rational decision-making. Specifically:
1. Either God exists or God does not exist, and you can either wager for God or wager against God. The utilities of the relevant possible outcomes are as follows, where f1, f2, and f3 are numbers whose values are not specified beyond the requirement that they be finite:

God exists God does not exist
Wager for God ∞ f1
Wager against God f2 f3

2. Rationality requires the probability that you assign to God existing to be positive, and not infinitesimal.

3. Rationality requires you to perform the act of maximum expected utility (when there is one).

4. Conclusion 1. Rationality requires you to wager for God.

5. Conclusion 2. You should wager for God.

We have a decision under risk, with probabilities assigned to the relevant ways the world could be, and utilities assigned to the relevant outcomes. The conclusion seems straightforwardly to follow from the usual calculations of expected utility (where p is your positive, non-infinitesimal probability for God’s existence):

E(wager for God) = ∞*p + f1*(1 − p) = ∞

That is, your expected utility of belief in God is infinite — as Pascal puts it, “our proposition is of infinite force”. On the other hand, your expected utility of wagering against God is

E(wager against God) = f2*p + f3*(1 − p)

This is finite.[5] By premise 3, rationality requires you to perform the act of maximum expected utility.

Therefore, rationality requires you to wager for God.

We now survey some of the main objections to the argument.

5. Objections to Pascal’s Wager
Premise 1: The Decision Matrix
Here the objections are manifold. Most of them can be stated quickly, but we will give special attention to what has generally been regarded as the most important of them, ‘the many Gods objection’ (see also the link to footnote 7).

1. Different matrices for different people.
The argument assumes that the same decision matrix applies to everybody. However, perhaps the relevant rewards are different for different people. Perhaps, for example, there is a predestined infinite reward for the Chosen, whatever they do, and finite utility for the rest, as Mackie 1982 suggests. Or maybe the prospect of salvation appeals more to some people than to others, as Swinburne 1969 has noted.
Even granting that a single 2 x 2 matrix applies to everybody, one might dispute the values that enter into it. This brings us to the next two objections.

2. The utility of salvation could not be infinite.
One might argue that the very notion of infinite utility is suspect — see for example Jeffrey 1983 and McClennen 1994.[6] Hence, the objection continues, whatever the utility of salvation might be, it must be finite. Strict finitists, who are chary of the notion of infinity in general, will agree — see Dummett 1978 and Wright 1987. Or perhaps the notion of infinite utility makes sense, but an infinite reward could only be finitely appreciated by a human being.

3. There should be more than one infinity in the matrix.
There are also critics of the Wager who, far from objecting to infinite utilities, want to see more of them in the matrix. For example, it might be thought that a forgiving God would bestow infinite utility upon wagerers-for and wagerers-against alike — Rescher 1985 is one author who entertains this possibility. Or it might be thought that, on the contrary, wagering against an existent God results in negative infinite utility. (As we have noted, some authors read Pascal himself as saying as much.) Either way, f2 is not really finite at all, but ∞ or -∞ as the case may be. And perhaps f1 and f3 could be ∞ or -∞. Suppose, for instance, that God does not exist, but that we are reincarnated ad infinitum, and that the total utility we receive is an infinite sum that does not converge.

4. The matrix should have more rows.
Perhaps there is more than one way to wager for God, and the rewards that God bestows vary accordingly. For instance, God might not reward infinitely those who strive to believe in Him only for the very mercenary reasons that Pascal gives, as James 1956 has observed. One could also imagine distinguishing belief based on faith from belief based on evidential reasons, and posit different rewards in each case.

6. The matrix should have more columns: the many Gods objection.
If Pascal is really right that reason can decide nothing here, then it would seem that various other theistic hypotheses are also live options. Pascal presumably had in mind the Catholic conception of God — let us suppose that this is the God who either ‘exists’ or ‘does not exist’. By excluded middle, this is a partition. The objection, then, is that the partition is not sufficiently fine-grained, and the ‘(Catholic) God does not exist’ column really subdivides into various other theistic hypotheses. The objection could equally run that Pascal’s argument ‘proves too much’: by parallel reasoning we can ‘show’ that rationality requires believing in various incompatible theistic hypotheses. As Diderot 1875-77 puts the point: “An Imam could reason just as well this way”.[7]

Since then, the point has been represented and refined in various ways. Mackie 1982 writes, “the church within which alone salvation is to be found is not necessarily the Church of Rome, but perhaps that of the Anabaptists or the Mormons or the Muslim Sunnis or the worshippers of Kali or of Odin” (203). Cargile 1966 shows just how easy it is to multiply theistic hypotheses: for each real number x, consider the God who prefers contemplating x more than any other activity. It seems, then, that such ‘alternative gods’ are a dime a dozen — or aleph one, for that matter.

Premise 2: The Probability Assigned to God’s Existence
There are four sorts of problem for this premise. The first two are straightforward; the second two are more technical, and can be found by following the link to footnote 8.
1. Undefined probability for God’s existence. Premise 1 presupposes that you should have a probability for God’s existence in the first place. However, perhaps you could rationally fail to assign it a probability — your probability that God exists could remain undefined. We cannot enter here into the thorny issues concerning the attribution of probabilities to agents. But there is some support for this response even in Pascal’s own text, again at the pivotal claim that “[r]eason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up…” The thought could be that any probability assignment is inconsistent with a state of “epistemic nullity” (in Morris’ 1986 phrase): to assign a probability at all — even 1/2 — to God’s existence is to feign having evidence that one in fact totally lacks. For unlike a coin that we know to be fair, this metaphorical ‘coin’ is ‘infinitely far’ from us, hence apparently completely unknown to us. Perhaps, then, rationality actually requires us to refrain from assigning a probability to God’s existence (in which case at least the Argument from Superdominance would be valid). Or perhaps rationality does not require it, but at least permits it. Either way, the Wager would not even get off the ground.

2. Zero probability for God’s existence. Strict atheists may insist on the rationality of a probability assignment of 0, as Oppy 1990 among others points out. For example, they may contend that reason alone can settle that God does not exist, perhaps by arguing that the very notion of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent being is contradictory. Or a Bayesian might hold that rationality places no constraint on probabilistic judgments beyond coherence (or conformity to the probability calculus). Then as long as the strict atheist assigns probability 1 to God’s non-existence alongside his or her assignment of 0 to God’s existence, no norm of rationality has been violated.
Furthermore, an assignment of p = 0 would clearly block the route to Pascal’s conclusion. For then the expectation calculations become:

E(wager for God) = ∞*0 + f1*(1 − 0) = f1

E(wager against God) = f2*0 + f3*(1 − 0) = f3

And nothing in the argument implies that f1 > f3. (Indeed, this inequality is questionable, as even Pascal seems to allow.) In short, Pascal’s wager has no pull on strict atheists.[8]

Premise 3: Rationality Requires Maximizing Expected Etility
Finally, one could question Pascal’s decision theoretic assumption that rationality requires one to perform the act of maximum expected utility (when there is one). Now perhaps this is an analytic truth, in which case we could grant it to Pascal without further discussion — perhaps it is constitutive of rationality to maximize expectation, as some might say. But this premise has met serious objections. The Allais 1953 and Ellsberg 1961 paradoxes, for example, are said to show that maximizing expectation can lead one to perform intuitively sub-optimal actions. So too the St. Petersburg paradox, in which it is supposedly absurd that one should be prepared to pay any finite amount to play a game with infinite expectation. (That paradox is particularly apposite here.)[9]

Finally, one might distinguish between practical rationality and theoretical rationality. One could then concede that practical rationality requires you to maximize expected utility, while insisting that theoretical rationality might require something else of you — say, proportioning belief to the amount of evidence available. This objection is especially relevant, since Pascal admits that perhaps you “must renounce reason” in order to follow his advice. But when these two sides of rationality pull in opposite directions, as they apparently can here, it is not obvious that practical rationality should take precedence. (For a discussion of pragmatic, as opposed to theoretical, reasons for belief, see Foley 1994.)

Is the Argument Valid?

A number of authors who have been otherwise critical of the Wager have explicitly conceded that the Wager is valid — e.g. Mackie 1982, Rescher 1985, Mougin and Sober 1994, and most emphatically, Hacking 1972. That is, these authors agree with Pascal that wagering for God really is rationally mandated by Pascal’s decision matrix in tandem with positive probability for God’s existence, and the decision theoretic account of rational action.

However, Duff 1986 and Hájek 2001 argue that the argument is in fact invalid. Their point is that there are strategies besides wagering for God that also have infinite expectation — namely, mixed strategies, whereby you do not wager for or against God outright, but rather choose which of these actions to perform on the basis of the outcome of some chance device. Consider the mixed strategy: “Toss a fair coin: heads, you wager for God; tails, you wager against God”. By Pascal’s lights, with probability 1/2 your expectation will be infinite, and with probability 1/2 it will be finite. The expectation of the entire strategy is:

1/2*∞ + 1/2[f2*p + f3*(1 − p)] = ∞

That is, the ‘coin toss’ strategy has the same expectation as outright wagering for God. But the probability 1/2 was incidental to the result. Any mixed strategy that gives positive and finite probability to wagering for God will likewise have infinite expectation: “wager for God iff a fair die lands 6”, “wager for God iff your lottery ticket wins”, “wager for God iff a meteor quantum tunnels its way through the side of your house”, and so on.

The problem is still worse than this, though, for there is a sense in which anything that you do might be regarded as a mixed strategy between wagering for God, and wagering against God, with suitable probability weights given to each. Suppose that you choose to ignore the Wager, and to go and have a hamburger instead. Still, you may well assign positive and finite probability to your winding up wagering for God nonetheless; and this probability multiplied by infinity again gives infinity. So ignoring the Wager and having a hamburger has the same expectation as outright wagering for God. Even worse, suppose that you focus all your energy into avoiding belief in God. Still, you may well assign positive and finite probability to your efforts failing, with the result that you wager for God nonetheless. In that case again, your expectation is infinite again. So even if rationality requires you to perform the act of maximum expected utility when there is one, here there isn’t one. Rather, there is a many-way tie for first place, as it were.[10]

Moral Objections to Wagering for God

Let us grant Pascal’s conclusion for the sake of the argument: rationality requires you to wager for God. It still does not obviously follow that you should wager for God. All that we have granted is that one norm — the norm of rationality — prescribes wagering for God. For all that has been said, some other norm might prescribe wagering against God. And unless we can show that the rationality norm trumps the others, we have not settled what we should actually do.

There are several arguments to the effect that morality requires you to wager against God. Pascal himself appears to be aware of one such argument. He admits that if you do not believe in God, his recommended course of action will “deaden your acuteness.” One way of putting the argument is that wagering for God may require you to corrupt yourself, thus violating a Kantian duty to yourself. Clifford 1986 argues that an individual’s believing something on insufficient evidence harms society by promoting credulity. Penelhum 1971 contends that the putative divine plan is itself immoral, condemning as it does honest non-believers to loss of eternal happiness, when such unbelief is in no way culpable; and that to adopt the relevant belief is to be complicit to this immoral plan. See Quinn 1994 for replies to these arguments. For example, against Penelhum he argues that as long as God treats non-believers justly, there is nothing immoral about him bestowing special favor on believers, more perhaps than they deserve. (Note, however, that Pascal leaves open in the Wager whether the payoff for non-believers is just, even though as far as his argument goes, it may be extremely poor.)

Finally, Voltaire protests that there is something unseemly about the whole Wager. He suggests that Pascal’s calculations, and his appeal to self-interest, are unworthy of the gravity of the subject of theistic belief. This does not so much support wagering against God, as dismissing all talk of ‘wagerings’ altogether.

What Does It Mean to “Wager for God”?

Let us now grant Pascal that, all things considered (rationality and morality included), you should wager for God. What exactly does this involve?

A number of authors read Pascal as arguing that you should believe in God — see e.g. Quinn 1994, and Jordan 1994a. But perhaps one cannot simply believe in God at will; and rationality cannot require the impossible. Pascal is well aware of this objection: “[I] am so made that I cannot believe. What, then, would you have me do?”, says his imaginary interlocutor. However, he contends that one can take steps to cultivate such belief:

You would like to attain faith, and do not know the way; you would like to cure yourself of unbelief, and ask the remedy for it. Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their possessions. These are people who know the way which you would follow, and who are cured of an ill of which you would be cured. Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc…

But to show you that this leads you there, it is this which will lessen the passions, which are your stumbling-blocks.

We find two main pieces of advice to the non-believer here: act like a believer, and suppress those passions that are obstacles to becoming a believer. And these are actions that one can perform at will.
Believing in God is presumably one way to wager for God. This passage suggests that even the non-believer can wager for God, by striving to become a believer. Critics may question the psychology of belief formation that Pascal presupposes, pointing out that one could strive to believe (perhaps by following exactly Pascal’s prescription), yet fail. To this, a follower of Pascal might reply that the act of genuine striving already displays a pureness of heart that God would fully reward; or even that genuine striving in this case is itself a form of believing.

Pascal’s Wager vies with Anselm’s Ontological Argument for being the most famous argument in the philosophy of religion. As we have seen, it is also a great deal more besides.

Bibliography

• Allais, Maurice. 1953. “Le Comportment de l’Homme Rationnel Devant la Risque: Critique des Postulats et Axiomes de l’École Américaine”, Econometrica 21: 503-546.
• Broome, John. 1995. “The Two-Envelope Paradox”, Analysis 55: 1, 6-11.
• Brown, Geoffrey. 1984. “A Defence of Pascal’s Wager”, Religious Studies 20: 465-79.
• Cain, James. 1995. “Infinite Utility”, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 73, No. 3, 401-404.
• Cargile, James. 1966. “Pascal’s Wager”, Philosophy, 35: 250-7.
• Castell, Paul and Diderik Batens. 1994. “The Two-Envelope Paradox: the Infinite Case”, Analysis 54: 46-49.
• Chalmers, David. 1997. “The Two-Envelope Paradox: A Complete Analysis?”, manuscript, http://ling.ucsc.edu/~chalmers/papers/envelope.html (and envelope.ps)
• Clifford, William K. 1986. “The Ethics of Belief”, The Ethics of Belief Debate, ed. Gerald D. McCarthy, Scholars Press.
• Conway, John. 1976. On Numbers and Games, Academic Press.
• Cutland, Nigel, ed. 1988. Nonstandard Analysis and its Applications, London Mathematical Society, Student Texts 10.
• Diderot, Denis. 1875-1877. Pensées Philosophiques, LIX, Oeuvres, ed. J. Assézat, Vol. I.
• Duff, Antony. 1986. “Pascal’s Wager and Infinite Utilities”, Analysis 46: 107-9. n
• Dummett, Michael. 1978. “Wang’s Paradox”, in Truth and Other Enigmas, Harvard University Press.
• Ellsberg, D.. 1961. “Risk, Ambiguity and the Savage Axioms”, Quarterly Journal of Economics 25: 643-669.
• Feller, William. 1971. An Introduction to Probability Theory and its Applications, Vol. II, 2nd edition, Wiley.
• Flew, Anthony. 1960. “Is Pascal’s Wager the Only Safe Bet?”, The Rationalist Annual, 76: 21-25.
• Foley, Richard. 1994. “Pragmatic Reasons for Belief”, in Jordan 1994b.
• Hacking, Ian. 1972. “The Logic of Pascal’s Wager”, American Philosophical Quarterly 9/2, 186-92. Reprinted in Jordan 1994b.
• Hacking, Ian. 1975. The Emergence of Probability, Cambridge University Press.
• Hájek, Alan. 1997a. “Review of Gambling on God” (Jordan 1994b), Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 75, No. 1, March 1997, 119-122.
• Hájek, Alan. 1997b. “The Illogic of Pascal’s Wager”, Proceedings of the 10th Logica International Symposium, Liblice, ed. T. Childers et al, 239-249.
• Hájek, Alan. 2000. “Objecting Vaguely to Pascal’s Wager”, Philosophical Studies, vol. 82.
• Hájek, Alan. 2001. “Waging War on Pascal’s Wager: Infinite Decision Theory and Belief in God”, manuscript.
• Jackson, Frank, Peter Menzies and Graham Oppy. 1994. “The Two Envelope ‘Paradox’”, Analysis 54: 46-49.
• James, William. 1956. “The Will to Believe”, in The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy, Dover Publications.
• Jeffrey, Richard C.. 1983. The Logic of Decision, 2nd edition, University of Chicago Press.
• Jordan, Jeff. 1994a. “The Many Gods Objection”, in Jordan 1994b.
• Jordan, Jeff, ed.. 1994b. Gambling on God: Essays on Pascal’s Wager, Rowman & Littlefield.
• Lewis, David. 1981. “Causal Decision Theory”, Australasian Journal of Philosophy 59, 5-30; reprinted in Philosophical Papers, Volume II, Oxford University Press, 1986.
• Lindstrom, Tom. 1988. “Invitation to Non-Standard Analysis”, in Cutland 1988.
• Mackie, J. L.. 1982. The Miracle of Theism, Oxford.
• Martin, Michael. 1983. “Pascal’s Wager as an Argument for Not Believing in God”, Religious Studies 19: 57-64.
• Martin, Michael. 1990. Atheism: a Philosophical Justification, Temple University Press.
• McClennen, Edward. 1994. “Finite Decision Theory”, in Jordan 1994b.
• Morris, T. V. 1986. “Pascalian Wagering”, Canadian Journal of Philosophy 16, 437-54.
• Morris, Thomas V. 1994. “Wagering and the Evidence”, in Jordan 1994b.
• Mougin, Gregory, and Elliot Sober. 1994. “Betting Against Pascal’s Wager”, Nous XXVIII: 382-395.
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• Nelson, Mark T.. 1991. “Utilitarian Eschatology”, American Philosophical Quarterly, 339-347.
• Ng, Yew-Kwang. 1995. “Infinite Utility and Van Liedekerke’s Impossibility: A Solution”, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 73: 408-411.
• Oppy, Graham. 1990. “On Rescher on Pascal’s Wager”, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 30: 159-68.
• Palacios, M. Asin. 1920. “Los Precedentes Musulmanes del ‘Pari’ de Pascal”, Santander.
• Pascal, Blaise. 1910. Pascal’s Pensées, translated by W. F. Trotter.
• Penelhum, Terence. 1971. Religion and Rationality, Random House.
• Rescher, Nicholas. 1985. Pascal’s Wager, Notre Dame.
• Robinson, Abraham. 1966. Non-Standard Analysis, North Holland.
• Ryan, John. 1945. “The Wager in Pascal and Others”, New Scholasticism 19/3, 233-50. Reprinted in Jordan 1994 b.
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• Vallentyne, Peter and Shelly Kagan. 1997. “Infinite Value and Finitely Additive Value Theory”, The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. XCIV, 1: 5-27
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• Wright, Crispin. 1987. “Strict Finitism”, in Realism, Meaning and Truth, Blackwell.

Copyright © 1998, 2001
Alan Hájek
ahajek@hss.caltech.edu

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

See also, Stephen R. Welch’s page on Pascal’s Wager
old

In the Phil’s home opener, the boobirds waited all of half an hour to get on Brett Myer’s case just because he gave up a couple (ok, three) home runs early to Atlanta. In this case, those runs held up as Derek Lowe, formerly of the Boston Red Sox and the LA Dodgers, and acquired by the Braves as an off-season free agent, did his thing and limited the Phils to just one run.

However, I am extremely curious as to why it is that Derek Lowe is suddenly such an effective pitcher at 36 years of age, an age when most pitchers are usually either washed up or on the way down. He’s known for throwing a hard sinker, and right away, looking at him pitch and throwing that sinker, it really looks like a doctored pitch, either a spitter, a scuffball, an emery ball, or something put on the ball to make it dive.

The question then is, since there are two sides to every question, is there any evidence that Derek Lowe suddenly got better in the middle of his career when it looked like he wasn’t going anywhere fast? One hint is given in Rob Neyer’s Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers (Simon & Schuster, NY, 2004), where it states about Derek Lowe that he is six foot six, weighs 214 pounds, and throws “1. Hard Sinker 2. Curve 3. Change 4. Cut Fastball Note: The Cut Fastball was added or refined in 2002, when Lowe went from relieving to starting.” Id. at p. 285. Well, so Lowe added a “cut fastball.” Really.

In 2001, out of the bullpen, Lowe allowed 103 hits in 91 and 2/3 innings, gave up 7 homers, 39 runs and 36 earned runs, and walked 29 batters, while striking out 82, with an ERA of 3.53 and a park adjusted ERC of 4.31, according to the Bill James Handbook for 2009, id. at p. 172. He won five games, and lost ten, and had 24 saves in 30 opportunities.

The next year, 2002, when he started and “learned the cut fastball,” his numbers were dramatically better. Lowe won 21 and lost just 8, with an ERA of 2.58, an adjusted ERC of 2.13, pitching 219 2/3 innings, giving up only 166 hits, only 65 runs and 63 earned runs, allowing 17 homers, walking only 72 and striking out 127 batters.

The question becomes, how did Lowe get so much better?

The answer should be pretty obvious from the fact that the year before, in 2001, striking out 82 batters in 103 innings, Lowe wasn’t effective, while in 2002, striking out 127 batters in 220 innings, Lowe was terrific. LOWE COMMITTED TO THE SINKER, OR ELSE LEARNED HOW TO THROW THE SPITTER. Since Lowe is 6’6” tall, coming with a good fastball, curve and change, a spitter/scuff ball/doctored pitch that drops off the table in necessary situations is a great out pitch for him, especially since he was pitching in Fenway Park.

Alternatively, Lowe may just have started juicing. After all, it worked for A-Rod.

After that dramatic success, Lowe had another good year in 2003, winning 17 and losing 7, but in 2004 although he won 14 and lost only 12, his ERA ballooned up to 5.42 with a park-adjusted ERC of 5.31. Lowe was now 31 years old. Lowe led the AL in runs allowed in 2004 with 138. It was reasonable for the Red Sox to think he was beginning to embark on an age-related decline. So off to the LA Dodgers went Derek Lowe.

From 2005 through 2007, Lowe had almost identical seasons statistically, with ERAs around 3.60 and park adjusted ERCs between 3.50 and 3.70; in 2006 he led the NL in wins with 16, going 16 and 8 on the year. Every year he pitched around 210 innings, allowed around 100 runs, 90 earned runs, 15 homers, and struck out around 125 to 140 batters while only giving up 55 walks. He was like a machine.

In 2008, Lowe broke out of this pattern, and actually had a BETTER year—211 innings pitched, 194 hits, 84 runs allowed, 76 earned runs, 14 homers, 45 walks, 147 strikeouts, 14 wins and 11 losses, an ERA of 3.24 and a park adjusted ERC of 2.72. 2008 was Lowe’s best season since 2002, and this at age 35.

And now Derek Lowe comes out of the gate in the first ballgame of 2009, and twirls a masterpiece against the Phillies, a team that scored the third highest number of runs in the National League in 2008, and a lineup that is packed with lefthanded power bats.

Which brings me round to the topic sentences—is Derek Lowe throwing the spitball? Or is he just juicing? Because a 36 year old pitcher just can’t be this good. He’s BETTER now than he was two years ago, and pitching BETTER now than he did at any time in his career, except for his breakout year in 2002, which was a year when almost everyone in baseball was juicing.

I’m sorry for accusing a ballplayer of cheating, but we live in awful times, and I just don’t believe Derek Lowe is that good. The next question is, does Derek Lowe’s pitching profile resemble that of other spitballers? The answer is clearly, yes.

Ed Walsh of the White Sox threw a spitball, a fastball, a change and a curve. Don Drysdale of the Dodgers, also a 6 foot five inch right hander, very similar to Derek Lowe in almost every way, and who relied on the Vaseline ball, threw a fastball, a curve, a change, a slider and a spitter. Senator Jim Bunning of the Phillies and Tigers, also a spitball/Vaseline ball artist, and also a tall righthander, threw a slider, a fastball, a curve, a change and a spitter, usually a doctored Vaseline ball. Bunning threw a no-hitter and a perfect game in his hall of fame career.

Hugh Casey is another famous tall righthander who supposedly threw the spitball, although it’s claimed his out pitch was the sinker, supplemented by a slider, fastball and a curve. According to Neyer, Hugh Casey was pitching on the mound and threw a spitter to Mickey Owen in the 1941 World Series; that was the famous passed ball that led to the Dodgers losing the Series. Id. at p. 57.

Then you have Gaylord Perry, who was also a tall righthander, six foot four, 205 pounds in his prime, heavier later, a great spitballer, who also threw the slider, the fastball, the curve, the forkball/splitter and the change. Perry also claimed his spitter was a sinker, although after he retired he admitted it really was a spitball after all.

So comparing Derek Lowe to many of the famous spitballers, and their pitching repetoires, it would seem that there is a pretty good match. Derek Lowe is the same build as Don Drysdale and Gaylord Perry, and uses approximately the same pitches as they did. In sum, the circumstantial evidence against him is pretty strong that Derek Lowe probably is using a spitball, and not really throwing a sinker at all. Finally, you have the fact that pitchers like Gaylord Perry lasted long past their points of decline–Perry was winning twenty games at ages like 35 and 40–further evidence Lowe is greasing the ball.

–art kyriazis, philly/south jersey
home of the world champion Philadelphia Phillies

Two men are having lunch at Adriano’s, an expensive Bel-Air restaurant. While they are eating, Frank Sinatra and his entourage enter the restaurant and are seated at a large table in the corner. Seeing this, one man says to the other, “I’ll bet you fifty bucks that I know Frank Sinatra.” (He doesn’t.) His friend, thinking the bet would be easy money, smugly agrees. The man gets up and walks across the restaurant to Sinatra’s table. He puts one hand on Sinatra’s shoulder and offers the other for a warm shaking. “Frank!” he exclaims. “How you doing? Good to see you again.”

Sinatra rises, shakes the man’s hand heartily, and asks how he is doing. He and the man spend a few more moments in cheerful conversation before the man comes back to his table to collect his winnings from the awestruck friend.

This is a true story, and the diner’s skillful manipulation of Frank Sinatra is a classic example of the value of shmoozing. Shmoozing is the most important skill there is for a Hollywood nobody (and let’s face it — that’s what we are, those of us who fantasize about seeing our name on the credits or our faces on the screen).

In Hollywood, a résumé or a degree mean nothing. Some argue that skills and talent mean nothing. Deals do not get made because X has an MFA in screenwriting and got an A+ on her thesis, or because Y starred in I Hate Hamlet at the Winesburg Playhouse and his performance was lauded by the local papers.

Deals get made because Z is a friend of Michael Eisner. It was through his friendship with Robert De Niro that Joe Pesci secured his first film role, in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull. Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) attended college with Usual Suspects director Bryan Singer, and was asked by Singer to write the script.

It was Quiz Show screenwriter Paul Attanasio’s friendship with director Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Sleepers and the Attanasio-scripted Disclosure) that got him into the industry.

But what about the rest of us? Those who have high Industry ambitions but lack high Industry friends? Are we without hope?

Perhaps not. Perhaps there are ways to make Industry friends and influence Industry people — the skill which the man in Adriano’s had perfected. You have to strike up a conversation, make a solid impression, be straightforward. And above all, you have to talk to your subject (the shmoozee) in a way that will put the two of you on friendly terms. The key lies in the shmoozing.

Last summer, I had the good fortune to come across tickets to the MTV Movie Awards. Kevin Spacey, fresh from his Oscar for The Usual Suspects, was there and won the MTV award Best Villain for Seven. Let’s say you are in attendance, and after the ceremony you have a chance to talk to him. Spacey, now that he is rather famous, is serious player in Hollywood and can do wonders for your career, if he wants to. So what do you say to him? How do you act?

Don’t panic. Just remember these items:

— Hollywood does not make bad movies. Despite what the box office grosses were, despite what the critics said, despite even what you think of a particular film, you must always sing its praises. You never know what film your shmoozee might have been involved with. As far as you’re concerned, Spacey’s film The Ref is, in some ways (though you needn’t be specific about what those are), on the same level as Citizen Kane.

— Your shmoozee has no last name. When congratulating Kevin Spacey on his award and his performance, never say, “Congratulations, Mr. Spacey. Very well deserved.” There is no greater heresy. You always say, “Congratulations, Kevin. Very well deserved.” (Note: It doesn’t matter whether or not Kevin actually deserves his award. As far as you’re concerned, he deserves the award he got, as well as the ones he didn’t.)

— If you are fortunate enough to actually be employed by a firm with some involvement in the industry, then, as the shmoozer, your last name is extended to include your company’s name. Having worked for Premiere magazine for a time, I had the luxury of introducing myself to Kevin Spacey in the following way: “Kevin. Good to meet you. Alex Lewinpremieremagazine.” (You may wish to rehearse this in front of a mirror, as it can be quite a mouthful, particularly if you work for Bresler, Kelly, Kipperman or Donner/Shuler-Donner.) This informed Kevin that I was almost somebody — and therefore worth talking to — without my having to say so.

— Never underestimate the importance of the word “over,” as in, “I’ve been over at Premiere for two months now.” It may sound trivial, but it helps to convince Kevin that, despite the geographical largesse of Los Angeles, every company remotely involved with Hollywood is located on the same happy block, and you’re all the best of neighbors.

— If you are acquainted with person A, who is nobody, and person A is acquainted with person B, who is somebody, you are, by default, a good friend of person B. A woman I worked with at Premiere, for example, told me one day that she knew screenwriter Paul Attanasio. An admirer of his work, I eagerly asked if there was any way she might introduce the two of us. At this point, she buckled, and explained that she, in fact, did not know Paul Attanasio — she knew his brother.

“Who’s his brother?” I asked. “Anybody?”

“No, he’s nobody. But I did meet Paul once.”

A more skillful shmoozer would not have admitted so quickly that her connection to Paul was a shmoozer’s connection and not a real one. For example, when I was chatting with Kevin Spacey and the topic of Seven director David Fincher came up, I was free to say, “David did a great job with the mood of that film.” I don’t know David Fincher, but I have a friend who does. I could conceivably get in touch with Fincher if I absolutely had to, and that is what’s important. (It also helps, in talking with your shmoozee about a particular film, to refer to some vague aspect like “mood” or “tone” — terms which make you sound intellectual, but really don’t mean anything.)

I met Kevin Spacey because my good friend, Wall Street Journal film critic John Lippman, had tickets to the MTV Movie Awards and wasn’t using them. (Lippman’s actually a friend of a friend and I’ve never met him, but that’s not important.) At the party afterwards, Kevin stood at a crowded blackjack table, waiting for a space to open up. I saw my opportunity, took a deep breath, and went in for the kill.
“Kevin [offering my hand]. Alex Lewinpremieremagazine. Good to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you,” said Kevin, shaking my hand.

“Congratulations on the award. Very well deserved.”

“Thank you.”

“I enjoyed Seven a lot. Great film. Did you have a good time working on it?” (For the record, I find Seven a rather depressing and self-indulgent film, but Kevin didn’t need to know that.)

“Well,” Kevin told me, “I didn’t have a lot of screen time, so they didn’t need me around much for shooting.
Not as much as Brad or Morgan, anyway. So that was easy to fit into my schedule.”

And just like that we were having a conversation. Not the type of conversation that a gushy and excited fan typically has with his film idol, but a real conversation. Of course, one has to ask, “what is real?” if everything that came out of my mouth was based on strategy and a level of honesty that was tenuous at best. It’s all part of Hollywood. If you want to make it — if you want friends in high places — you’ve got to fit in. Just ask Kevin; he’ll tell you the same thing. Oh, and when you talk to him, be sure to mention that you’re a friend of mine.

[this was a GREAT article by Alex Lewin posted to the net a few years back. Paul Attanasio is actually a harvard classmate of mine, and we actually have the same name, I’m Athanasios Kyriazis, he’s Paul Attanasio, we’re named for the same saint, St. Athanasius….however, I’ve never been nominated for an emmy or an academy award. Disclosure was a rocking good movie, to name only one of Paul’s great screenplays, he’s a prolific, brilliant writer/producer. –art kyriazis, philly/south jersey, home of the world champion phillies]

Paris Hilton Saturday Night Live Show Transcript 2-5-05

Download .zip file

TINA FEY v. AMY POEHLER ON PHILLY v. BOSTON BEFORE THE SUPER BOWL EAGLES V. PATRIOTS FEBRUARY 2005 SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

FEY: A man identified as an NYU professor was detained at LaGuardia Airport Thursday after human remains were found in his luggage. However, he was let go when he told authorities the body parts were ‘teaching tools.’ Said the professor, ‘….teach that bitch to cheat on me.’

POEHLER: The Canadian government formally introduced a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. At which point the bill insisted on being called William.

FEY: As we mentioned earlier, this Sunday is Superbowl XXXIX, between the Philadelphia Eagles of my hometown and the New England Patriots…

POEHLER: …of my hometown…Burlington, New England.

FEY: So, we thought it would be fun to have a little hometown fans Point/Counterpoint. Amy has elected to go first.

POEHLER: Thank you, Tina. [In Boston accent] If you think your Eagles are any match for our top notch New England Patriots, you’re a moron.

FEY: [In Philadelphia accent] Okay, don’t even start, alright. Cause everyone knows New England people are a bunch of losers, you’se went down there losers, and you’re goin’ home losers.

POEHLER: Give me a break. We’re unstoppable. It’s our year – first they Red Sox, now the Superbowl. Okay, you can go cry in a pile of Philly Cheese stakes, and watch that gay movie they named after your city.

FEY: Okay, rebuttal. First of all, your whole city smells like baked bean farts. Second of all, how do you’se even have time go to the Superbowl? Aren’t ya too busy getting molested by priests and cryin’ about it?

POEHLER: Good point. Point well taken. But, uh, let me just say this. Your mother’s a whore and your father holds the money.

FEY: You dirt bag!

[end of transcript]

FROM AN ACTUAL SNL SHOW 2005 BEFORE THE EAGLES PLAYED IN THE SUPER BOWL AGAINST THE PATRIOTS.

TINA FEY IS AN EAGLES FAN!!!!

Art Kyriazis/Philly South Jersey
Home of the World Champion Phillies

The Phillies begin their World Championship Title Defense tonite, hosting the Atlanta Braves.

First, I have to get ride of one of my pet peeves, and this is the often quoted statistic that the Braves won 14 division titles in a row from 1991 through 2005.

A plain look at the statistics laid out on baseball-reference dot com shows that this isn’t so.

First of all, from 1991-1993, the Braves were IN A DIFFERENT DIVISION, the N.L. West, and the league was split into two divisions, not three. The Braves did win the N.L. West in 1991 and 1992, but they tied in 1993, and were forced to a one game playoff with the San Francisco Giants (incredibly, both the Giants and the Braves won 103 games in the regular season that year); it was only by winning the one game playoff that they earned the NL West Division title. That has to have an asterisk, right?

Next, in 1994, the strike year, Atlanta was switched to the NL East–where they finished SECOND to the Montreal Expos. The Expos won the NL East in 1994, no one else did.

That would mean, by all reckoning, that Atlanta would have to have started a new streak in 1995–and from 1995-2005, they did, in fact, win eleven straight NL East Division titles–a prodigious accomplishment by any stretch of the imagination–but not the fourteen straight titles that sports commentators often ascribe to them.

That dog won’t hunt.

Incidentally, last year, Atlanta lost 90 games and finished twenty games behind the NL East champion Phillies. Hopefully they will prove once again this year to be cannon fodder for the Phils powerful bats and potent pitching arms.

Some random notes on the Phillies as they start their season:

1) Chan Ho Park was named the fifth starter ahead of J.A. Happ. I’ve already reviewed this in a prior blog and stated that Happ should be starting. Happ is a 26 year old 6 foot six lefty who strikes out a lot of ballplayers, while Park is a righty with age-related decline issues whose ERA outside of Dodger Stadium is more than 5.00 career. Happ’s minor league stats are impressive, and his starts last year for the Phils were good, as were his spring numbers. This is just a mistake by the Phils, much like when they blocked Ryan Howard with Jim Thome.

2) I predict that Happ will eventually replace Park in the starting rotation, and that Happ will develop into a superior starting pitcher in this league.

3) Having said that, either Park or Happ is CLEARLY an upgrade from Adam Eaton or Kyle Kendrick.

4) Cole Hamels might be on the shelf for a while. I’d rest Hamels and start Park AND Happ during April. It’s April, why risk injuring your meal ticket in Hamels? Let the man have a month off. He pitched an extra month last year, and might have to do it again this year. It’s not like you need him in April, is it?

5) The Phils released Geoff Jenkins, in a puzzling move, since they still owe him $8 million salary. But they also kept Matt Stairs, who is 41 and can only play first base, and Miguel Cairo, who is about a thousand years old, and can only play second base, and can’t hit anymore. Why keep those two old fuddy-duddies, and release Jenkins, who is a legit ballplayer? This is a truly imponderable move.

6) The Phils should have kept Jenkins, and released Stairs. Jenkins can play left or right fields, he can pinch run, and he can pinch hit, plus he’s already on the payroll, and he’s a power hitter. Stairs can’t field, and Cairo can’t hit, so Jenkins is a more useful bench player than either of them. Jenkins had key hits in the postseason off the bench. He’s shown he can be useful off the bench.

7) Jayson Werth is injury prone, and the Phils will need a corner outfielder to spell him. That guy had to have been Jenkins.

8) Eric Bruntlett can spell anyone in the infield, and Dobbs can spell anyone in the outfield or third base or second base. Why keep Cairo? Cairo hasn’t had a hot hitting streak since the pyramids were built, and his fielding range is about as narrow as the Nile at that point where you can step across it. I don’t think Cairo has hit a home run since Moses led the chosen people out of Egypt right after the Passover miracle and the slaughter of the first born of Egypt. The last time Cairo took an extra base, they were filming the Ten Commandments. I’m not saying Miguel Cairo is old, but I’m pretty sure he and Edward G. Robinson used to make gangster films together in the 1930s. Miguel Cairo is so old, he has a card in my oldest Strat-O-Matic baseball game that was just cards and dice from back in the 1970s. Miguel Cairo is so old, that even his wife has forgotten how many years he shaves off his real age whenever he crosses the border and lies about his birthday to immigration officials. I’m not saying the man is old, but Miguel Cairo is the guy who recruited Roberto Clemente to play baseball. It’s not that Miguel Cairo is old, but Cairo once played minor league ball with Fidel Castro in 1950s pre-Communist Cuba. I’m not calling the man old, but Julio Franco, who retired last year at age 50, calls Miguel Cairo “Uncle Mike” out of respect for his elders.

9) Jenkins, Bruntlett and Cairo were the obvious ones to keep. Cairo’s career stats are mind-numbingly awful. Jenkins by contrast is a career power hitter. Bruntlett can field and has good sped while Dobbs is a good hitter. Stairs can’t field, he’s a dh basically and should go to the AL where he belongs.

10) The Phils made no effort to sign Garry Sheffield, but on the bright side, he signed with the Mets. I’m about 90% sure at this stage of his career, stuck on 499 homers, Sheffield only wants to get into the Hall of Fame, and is only about Sheffield, not the team, so I think the Mets have bought into a problem there. Sheffield will demand playing time to pad his stats, and even if he’s hitting .220, which is what he hit last year with Detroit, he will demand more playing time. Plus he’s another over the hill superstar, which the Mets seem to collect boatloads of.

11) Having said all this, I still think the Phils will make a good run and repeat as NL East champs and go on to win the world series yet again, for all the reasons I set forth in my earlier blog on this.

–art kyriazis philly/south jersey
home of the world champion phillies

1) Tom “Odysseus the Wise” Izzo is Italian, which means that he’s practically greek, which means he’s practically Spartan. On the way to the final four, in round two, the Spartans of Michigan State defeated the Trojans of USC. The Spartans defeated the Trojans. Funny how that battle always comes out the same, millennium after millennium. Michigan State baffled USC throughout with their famed “Trojan Horse” defense, with Raymar “Achilles” Morgan’s ally-oop, the Kalin “Ajax” Lucas’ give and go, the “Nestor” low post kickout and the “Odysseus” trick ball play. Magic “Homer Hercules Son of Zeus” Johnson sat on the coach’s side on the bench, singing their tale of triumph in fifteen syllable heroic poetic rap to all that would listen. Plus, their fans hectored the USC Trojans during the entire match, telling them to go back to Paris when they were from. Plus there was this blind guy Ty Reesias on the sideline predicting that USC would lose. Bottom Line: the Spartans could play the Trojans a thousand times, and the Spartans would always win. History is history. It’s not true that Brad Pitt was at the game doing research for his sequel to Troy, the movie. Besides which, Tom “Socrates Plato Aristotle” Izzo is one of the smartest and greatest coaches ever in NCAA history. Plus he probably has actual Spartan blood in him and he has the wisdom of a thousand greek philosophers, and can coach some ball.

2) East Lansing is a rocking college town. And Michigan State coeds are the most beautiful in all the land.

3) What in the world is a “Tar Heel”?

4) Most schools ban smoking in all buildings. At the University of North Carolina, smoking is required in all buildings. After all, tobacco pays for everything in North Carolina. In fact, babies are given their first cigarettes at age one in North Carolina per state custom. Also, cigarettes are given away at all UNC home games to undergrads.

5) “WE ARE SPARTANS!!!!”

6) Anyone who doesn’t believe the Spartans will win, is condemned to be thrown into the bottomless pit of King Leonidas.

7) Three hundred Spartans are worth two million Persians, and four millions UNC players.

8) Thermopylae save the Western World from Freedom, along with the Three Hundred Spartans, who obedient to their country’s laws, lie dead there. The Spartans of Michigan State will save the US from another Southern NCAA champion and give us a Big Ten Champion.

9) All Spartans are superior genetically, because the defective ones are thrown off the mountain at birth. This includes Michigan States hoops players.

10) The Spartans have a detailed conditioning program that starts from age four. You should see what the Michigan State Hoops players do.

11) The Spartans never lose a battle. This is well known. Michigan State hardly ever loses a ballgame that matters.

12) Michigan State is playing a home game. The Final Four and Championshiop Game are in Detroit.

13) Detroit has an immense Greek population, and many of them are Spartans. And they have a rocking Greektown. Spartans love to party after they kill their opponents.

14) East Lansing, Michigan is the coolest place on earth, and home of the Spartans of Michigan State.

15) Michigan is a sensible place full of sensible people.

16) Michigan gave us Bob Seger, Grand Funk Railroad, Kid Rock, Iggy Pop & the Stooges, and all of Motown.

17) North Carolina has given us nothing culturally, unless you want to count segregation as a cultural institution.

18) Izzo is very nearly Rizzo, Philly’s most beloved mayor ever. Frank Rizzo was cool. Tom Izzo is cool.

19) The Big Ten actually go to class and get degrees, unlike their brethren in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

20) Michigan State has beaten a series of excellent, higher ranked teams to get to the finals, including UConn, all of which are better than UNC.

21) Michigan State has a number of experienced seniors on its roster who have played together for a while. Again, this is a big advantage in this era of players leaving after a year or two for the pros.

22) This one is for King Leonidas, and also for the auto industry and the unemployed auto workers of Michigan.

23) Gov. Granholm of Michigan told the boys, come home victorious with your shields, or dead upon them.

24) The best reason the Spartans will win—they are unfraid to lose, unafraid of death, unafraid of anything, and totally playing with house money at this point.

25) Because this is America, and we root for the UNDERDOG. So what if the TAR HEELS have amassed an army of two million and the Spartans are but three hundred? What does this matter to the SPARTANS????? Did they not fight and win the moral battle at Thermopylae? Don’t they still make movies about those guys 3,000 years later?

My money’s on the SPARTANS!!!!!

P.S. What IS a Tar Heel?

–art kyriazis, philly/south jersey
home of the world champion phillies

PART ONE – VILLANOVA HAD A GREAT RUN – ANOTHER BIG FIVE WINNER FOR THE BOOKS

There is no denying Villanova had a great run in this year’s NCAA tournament, making it to the Final Four before losing to North Carolina last night. It was a hard loss to swallow, especially after watching the Spartans of Michigan State make such a statement game of upsetting UConn in the opening of the Final Four doubleheader, but Villanova shot very poorly from the three point line, and could not establish its inside game against UNC. Moreover, Villanova’s normally excellent defense failed them against UNC’s superb inside-outside attack of attacking at the low post but also kicking out to the three point line, and here, UNC shooting 50% or better from the three point arc sealed Villanova’s fate—if Villanova sagged to defense the low post, UNC simply killed them from the three point arc. When Villanova came out to play perimeter defense, UNC exploited the seams to get easy buckets inside. One final point is that UNC seemed to be taller overall than Villanova, and this seemed to make some difference on the defensive side of the ball; Villanova was not getting out in transition, and in the half-court offense, was having trouble shooting over, or matching up with, the taller UNC players.

Having said that, Villanova was by far the best Big East team in the tournament this year. They beat UCLA handily, they crushed a very good Duke team (with an RPI of one), they got past a Pitt team that had been ranked #1 at times this season, and got to the Final Four.

This year’s Villanova team was a team of seniors and juniors, experienced players who had played together a long time. I had them bracketed to get to the finals of the NCAA, not just the Final Four, because I felt that having three seniors who had played together as long as Villanova’s seniors had played together, was an incredible advantage in today’s college basketball.

In today’s college game, your best player usually leaves after one season to seek out pro contracts and a sneaker endorsement. It’s hard to find athletes who will commit to four years on campus.

But we all know why they stay at Villanova. Howie Long tells the story every week on that NFL pre-game show. It’s the nuns, the professors, the small campus atmosphere. Villanova feels like home. It’s the kind of place you don’t want to leave. For many of the kids who come to play basketball there, they will learn much more than basketball at Villanova, they will learn life skills and many other things.

Having said that, it should be pointed out that Villanova is now spending as much money on its basketball program, according to the Philly Daily News and other sources, as any other major Division I basketball program, around $5 million annually, which compares to $6 million annually spent by UConn or by UNC. And yet $5 million annually isn’t even close to the top in the Big East.

However, because Villanova does not have a Division I football program that earns a lot of money, Villanova’s sports programs run an annual deficit of around $16 million which have to be picked up by NCAA revenues, boosters, and the like. It’s hard to believe that Villanova has continued to stay committed at this level, given their size and endowment.

At the same time, we can now more easily see why Temple, St. Joes’s, LaSalle and Penn are not competing at the same level as they used to ten or twenty years ago vis-à-vis NCAA competition—it now takes $5 million annually to really ramp up a program to final four viability.

That St. Joe’s made the Final Four a few years back with Jameer Nelson and Delonte West for a fraction of that budget is a testament to the recruiting and coaching skills of Phil Martelli.

That Temple got to the elite eight so many times with John Chaney and almost to the Final Four for a fraction of that budget is likewise a testament to the recruiting and coaching skills of Chaney, a hall of fame coach.

A school that has a big time football program—like Penn State or Michigan State—should be able to afford to spend on their basketball program—and Michigan State has been successful in basketball, as has Penn State to a lesser degree (they’re doing well in the NIT this year after being a bubble team that didn’t get an at-large bid with the NCAA). Those schools don’t have to deficit spend on basketball, they can take plus side monies from football and invest them in basketball.

I think this explains why, for so many years, President Liacouras of Temple, who was instrumental in getting the Liacouras Center built in North Philadelphia where Temple Basketball now plays its home games, was so interested in putting together a Division I Temple Football program which would be a money maker. He wanted a football program that would make enough money that basketball would be able to share revenues from football, rather than having the university deficit spend on basketball.

Given today’s economics of big time NCAA basketball, this was a far-sighted view of the situation. Temple today remains in Division I football, though they’ve dropped down a conference, and can still be a profitable football team. That dream is still alive for them. Al Golden is doing a good job as football coach.

To summarize, Villanova had a magnificent run in the NCAA this year, capping off a four year run by these seniors that was nothing less than magical. Kudoes and cheers to Villanova and to coach Jay Wright. For a long time I was a Steve Lappas guy, and I always thought he got a bum deal from Villanova, and I was very slow to come around to Jay Wright, I will admit I have a bias there. At first I thought Wright was glib and not too bright, and that he couldn’t coach in tough games. He’s proven me completely wrong. He’s both a good recruiter and an excellent coach.

Art Kyriazis Philly/South Jersey
Home of the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies