Friday, January 26, 2007

Render unto Caeser

There's an article in today's Economist, 'Render unto Caeser', (sadly a subscription article) that I fully disagree with, perhaps unsurprisingly. It relates to the furore about Catholic adoption agencies standing up and saying that these rules will force them to do something Scripture forbids, and hence the agencies will be forced to close, lest they break the law in continuing to not put kids into the care of gay couples.

For once a good example of Christians standing up for Scripture, and not capitulating into our "anything goes" liberal-minded culture. There are limits, we are made in certain ways. If we start thinking it's ok to do these kind of things, what comes next? This is a tired argument liberals always despair over, but it is true. Once society becomes used to one thing that used to be taboo becoming normal, they look to the next thing they can attack.

However, God made the world, and made us in particular ways. Even if you don't believe that, you have to believe men and women are different; they just are. There are absolutes, and there always will be, and at times we have to discriminate based on them. For Christians, this is one.

So well done to the Catholic church. It's worth emphasising that despite the strong words used by Paul in 1 Corinthians, cited below, the Christian church does not shut out homosexuals, just as (thankfully) it doesn't shut out those that have sex outside marriage, those that do the many other things that make them sinful. Else I'd have no chance of getting right with God, and no-one would. Thankfully Jesus did engage and accept these people, and even died on the Cross for them (us) - though not without warning them what following Him meant.

Here's my letter I just whacked out to send to the Economist, for whatever it's worth:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing in response to the article ‘Render unto Caeser’ in the Economist, 27th January 2007. It goes without saying that the use of the title is quite inappropriate, in that Jesus was referring to paying taxes and not whether or not a Christian should submit to the law when the law is openly contradictory to Scripture. For example, 1 Peter says ‘Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men’. Now if that same New Testament also says in 1 Corinthians 6:10: ‘Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? ‘Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God,’’ then how can the Bible believing Christian abide by a policy forcing him or her to put children in the care of any of the people described in this verse?

To argue that views will change in time is a very weak argument to attempt to coerce Catholic organisations to put children in the case of gay couples, not least because the areas listed are irrelevant. The Christian is not compelled to lend without interest. While the Old Testament did prohibit it, Jesus came to fulfil the law, and hence particular parts of it have been superceded. In contrast to homosexuality, there are no New Testament commands relating to the taking of interest. With black people, this is not a policy that was ever supported by Scripture. If Christians went along with societal prejudices against black people, this was plain wrong, not least from James 2, which says in verse 1: ‘My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism’.

When Christians are forced, as this law will introduce, to choose between obeying the law and obeying the Bible, their clear instruction is to do the latter. Is it discrimination? It is, in the world’s eyes, but then those eyes have large planks in them. Our world discriminates on the basis of nationality every single day as just one example, and discrimination will continue to be a huge part of this fallen world until the day Christ returns.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Thinking about betting again...

...not to mention Christianity and econometrics, I'm not convinced any more by my arguments of earlier about betting, and whether it's right as a Christian.

My point earlier was that if I could identify clear inefficiencies, then there may be a case where betting on an outcome is not an unwise use of money. However, my work at best will identify inefficiencies in the betting market compared to my model, not compared to the actual probability of a goal being scored. Without being able to see the future, it's impossible to assess truly whether or not betting markets are efficient.

However, I'm finding it a lot of fun modelling, or trying to model, goal arrival in football matches using duration models. I'm not making a lot of progress, as I've had to try and get my head around Stata, but hopefully I'll make some progress soon.

Another point I've been pondering on a little, and was given a little insight yesterday on, was that of econometrics assuming everything is random. Well, the assumption that we model everything as a random variable. This does not conflict with the idea that there is a God behind it all, and that in fact outcomes happen with a probability one as far as God is concerned, because He intends them all. To us, as they unfold, they can appear probabilistic, and it is the best way to model them, both in economics and econometrics, as random variables. In econometrics, some true underlying data generation process is always assumed, which we aim for but can never know whether or not we achieve it.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

The Christianity bit...

...never mind the econometrics bit, has been a bit lacking of late in this blog, with the success of Oldham Athletic.

Naturally, however, I thank God for the success of Oldham, in particularly for providing a manager who appears in so many respects perfect for the job right now; it's great that Oldham fans can enjoy just how effective a manager John Sheridan is proving to be on so many levels by comparing him to other managers in the club's recent history.

I'm also very thankful that this blog's name at least has provided a link with a vicar in Chadderton, known to Latics fans on the internet as TheChaplain, who is an evangelical Christian and a Latics fan, and that there's a group of Oldham fans in his church in Chadderton, which I've attended once on my very infrequent visits home.

Something that perhaps requires a little bit of explanation is why am I investigating the efficiency of the betting market at the moment? Isn't betting a bad thing, and shouldn't I be steering well clear of it?

Well, I fully subscribe to the view that betting is generally an unwise use of money, of the resources God has generously blessed us with. Gambling can lead to terrible social problems, and plays on our desire for something more, our insatiable desire to accumulate, and get a bit more than what our neighbours have. It certainly does not accord to that state of mind Paul described in Philippians 4:12: "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."

I'm investigating the betting market more out of my general fascination for football, this immense game that God has provided us through man's imagination to begin kicking a spherical leather object around over a century ago. Furthermore, I'm not intending on betting myself on the back of any results I establish, unless I can establish clear inefficiencies in betting odds. Even then I might take some convincing, but clear inefficiencies based on a well grounded statistical model providing probabilities of goal arrival would provide clear ways to make money.

It would not be an unwise use of money if one could put some money on a particular bet, knowing you will become better off after the bet, any more than it is unwise to put money in a bank that offers a rate of interest on money held there.

That last statement obviously shows that there is a line to be drawn somewhere with regard betting, as there is on holding shares in the stock market and so on. I think one has to decide prayerfully and after reflection whether or not use of the money on a bet or share is a wise use of the gifts God has blessed him or her with.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Wolves 2-2 Oldham

Sitting at a family friend's house on the outskirts of Wolverhampton, I'm reflecting on Oldham's 2-2 draw at Wolves today in the FA Cup 3rd Round.

Latics had to contend without three of the team that demolished Nottingham Forest on New Year's Day, as Sean Gregan, defensive stalwart, had gone back to Leeds after his loan move, and Chris Porter didn't travel due to a family bereavement, and Chris Taylor picked up an injury warming up. The latter two I had no idea about, and neither did anyone in the crowd as the game kicked off. To add to confusion, the Wolves PA man announced that Porter was playing, yet he blatantly wasn't on the pitch.

Anyhow, despite being shorn of their standard defensive set-up, and without their normal attacking line-up, Latics didn't start all that badly against their higher division opponents. Wolves had a midfield, which was one difference from Nottingham Forest the previous week, and it showed, as Latics couldn't just waltz through and create chances as they had done on New Year's Day.

Nevertheless, after not long, and general midfield tedium, Oldham took a quick free-kick on 19 minutes, Wellens (was it?) delightfully playing in Paul Warne through a gap in the defence as the Wolves players clearly weren't prepared for a quick free-kick (and perhaps weren't resolved to the fact it was a free-kick - for the second week in a row, Latics appeared to be favoured by the referee). Warne took the ball in his stride and turned the ball nicely past Murray in the Wolves net to give Oldham the lead.

This naturally sent the 3,000 Oldham fans into raptures, and left the half empty rest of Molineux very quiet. The family friend I went to the match with commented he'd never seen the ground so empty in 50 years of following the Wolves.

However, general midfield tedium resumed, with Latics closing the Wolves down reasonably well, and equipping themselves well. But before they could become too confident, Wolves equalised, as for once Latics gave the Wolves far too much room to play in, and after one shot rebounded off the post, the rebound was forcefully hit home. This sent the Oldham players into a bit of a panic, and suddenly they lost all ability to find their own men, and even Pogliacomi in the Oldham goal found he could no longer kick the ball properly. It all added up to a fretful last ten minutes of the half. Latics entered half-time losing 2-1, and it could have been worse, as they simply lost all ability to play football.

Wolves' second goal was a cracker though, their winger Ricketts sent a great cross in after a good run, and it was headed home emphatically by Craig Davies.

The second half began with Latics clearly having been given a stern talking to by John Sheridan at the break; they'd recomposed themselves, and remembered that the point was to pass to a blue, and not a gold, shirt. They didn't do an awful lot of threatening however, but then neither did Wolves. The odd free-kick caused some action in the Wolves area, and although Oldham weren't creating chance after chance, they were exerting pressure on the Wolves, and playing like they can do, passing well, and mopping up the loose balls as they fell in the midfield area.

With twelve minutes left however, Latics hit the jackpot. Only minutes before, Wolfrenden, on his league debut in place of Porter, had been replaced by Chris Hall, a player who makes a habit of scoring FA Cup goals. With twelve minutes left, he did it again, heading home a glorious free-kick delivery from Andy Liddell, again sending the Latics contingent in the 14,000 Molineux crowd into pandemonium.

Stefan Stam then did his utmost to gift Wolves the win, taking too much time on the ball as the second last man, and being robbed of the ball by a Wolves player. Thankfully for the Oldham defender, and all the Oldham followers and team in the ground, the Wolves player sent in the clear managed to screw his shot wide of goal.

Latics managed to play out the remaining 12 minutes with little concern, and a replay is lined up now for the 16th January at Boundary Park. It should be interesting, as Latics have generally been unbeatable at home this season, with the exception of the times they've been beaten. But those were in the first home game of the season back in August, since which nine wins have been recorded in the league, and three draws, with many goals scored in the meantime, and few conceded (apart from to Leyton Orient, who have scored half the goals conceded at Boundary Park since the first game of the season in August). Sadly, I'll be way down in Oxford by next Tuesday, and not watching how the mightly Latics fare in the replay.

We'll find out tomorrow (or Monday, not sure) who either Latics or Wolves will face should they win the replay, and next Saturday (my birthday, hussar!) sees Latics travel to league leaders Scunthorpe, and victory there will put Latics top of the pile. That would be a nice birthday present...

Thursday, January 04, 2007


...high time I found a good bit of Latics action on youtube:

Having missed the majority of these matches, it's good to see a compilation of the goals so far this season!

Ok, I saw seven of the forty odd goals in this clip (Cheltenham away and Forest home)...

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Back to work..., two days after most of the rest of the world. But only two days until the weekend, when I go up to Wolverhampton and watch Oldham play Wolves. And in the meantime I can work on football related bits of my Ph.D, which always helps when I'm not feeling overly motivated.

Today I'll spend a good portion putting together a dataset of match details from Premiership and Championship matches going back to 2002, in order to base a model of goal arrival on this dataset. First I hope to replicate some results from another paper (Dixon and Robinson) by using their model, a Poisson regression model, and then I hope to use a slightly different type of model to estimate the probability of goal arrival at any point in a football match. The aim is to access the efficiency of betting markets, and with Karen Croxson, who has tons of data on betting markets, I intend to do this. Should be fun.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Some more reflections on a great day...

...since I'm a Ph.D student and hence I have the time to slack for a bit...

Understandably, the Forest fans were very disappointed and infuriated. Even if both penalty decisions were correct (as I naturally think they were), it's pretty galling to have two penalties given against you in one match, and to have that compounded with two sendings off is a pretty bitter pill to swallow.

Check out this generally very good blog, where the guy clearly sounded off on getting home from the match. If only I could do trackbacks on this thing, and even knew what they were, I'd do one here - I like getting publicity for my site - I got about 100 times my usual site traffic yesterday after putting a link on the JKLatics discussion forum... but to the blog, I think I'd have done the same had I driven over 50 miles and seen my team lose 5-0. When Jack Lester came on, it reminded me of being driven (by Jack Scott actually!) to Grimsby over ten years ago now, when Lester scored a very quick hat-trick and Latics lost 5-0. Thankfully he didn't do the same yesterday.

Considering the various statements knocking around on discussion forums and blogs, I'm inclined to still say pretty much what I said yesterday, which I think most Forest and Oldham fans would agree with: Oldham would have won without the two sendings off and penalties. Forest were shocking before the referee's decisions hampered their cause.

But can they even begin to blame the referee? If the ref is faced with a very bad, red card-able offence early in the game, is faced with two clear fouls inside the penalty area, the latter denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity, he has to make the same decisions again that he made yesterday. It's frustrating, I'd have hated to be on the other end of it, but that's what happened. It's pretty improbable that all those things happen in one game, but when it rains it pours I guess, and it's a bit of a downpour for Forest right now. But they have the quality to fight back, and I'm sure they will end up in one of the two promotion spots come May. I hope we're in the other one!

Before I stop though, it's nice to read all the various reports (especially ones that aren't just copy and paste jobs from some press release...), so (apologies to Forest fans...), PFA website (Calderwood fails to note we dominated before the sending off too), Oldham Athletic mad (a great website that helps me a lot with my attendance model), Manchester Evening News, and finally the BBC report, which appears to think the 43th minute came in the second half...

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Oldham 5-0 Notts Forest

I've just got back from just about the best Oldham match I've ever watched - the team destroyed Nottingham Forest 5-0 to enter the automatic promotion spots for the first time all season.

Granted the referee helped somewhat - we were awarded two penalties, and Forest had two players sent off, but I think all four decisions were about right. The first, some Forest defender called Clingham elbowed Will Haining. The Oldham defender looked like he was pole-axed. It could have been a good bit of acting, but either way, Oldham had done enough to frustrate Forest totally by that point - Oldham had already hit the woodwork twice, while Forest had done nothing. Admittedly the first of the two woodwork hits had been flagged offside, it showed Oldham's ability to pick apart Forest with ease. After the sending off, Oldham scored a glorious goal, with Eardley laying the ball wide nicely for Liddel to fire in the perfect cross for Warne to head into the bottom corner of the net, giving the goalkeeper no chance. It was the least Oldham deserved, as they were the only team in the match.

It wasn't long before the second goal arrived,Liddel hitting an excellent volley from just inside the area after yet another cross had been half-cleared, and after the volley was parried by the Forest goalkeeper, Porter was on hand to hit the ball home for his 17th or 18th goal of the season. It's rapidly turning into a too-good-to-be-true season, and today was quickly becoming a too-good-to-be-true day, and that impression was only enhanced when with a couple of minutes to go before half-time, Taylor burst into the area, and before he could fire in another of his excellent crosses, he was clipped and clearly fouled. The only issue was whether or not the foul was inside or outside the area. To my joy, inside the area was the referee's judgement, and Liddell had a penalty to convert to complete an amazing first half for the Latics. He duly did so, and Oldham went in 3-0 ahead.

The second half continued in a similar fashion, Forest didn't look much like doing anything, and Oldham kept threatening. Before long, a lovely ball from Liddell set Porter clear, and he was hauled down, another obvious penalty. The referee pointed to the spot, and the question was, red or yellow card? It wasn't possible to tell from the other end of the ground where I was sat whether or not the Forest defender was the last man, but the referee showed the red card: another penalty, Oldham already 3-0 up, and Forest down to 9 men - dream stuff! Liddell converted the penalty, and Oldham were 4-0 up.

Keep-ball by the confident Oldham team against the tiring 9-man Forest was only going to see one outcome, and while Forest did have one offside goal disallowed, and have a valid shot on target after Tyson and Lester were introduced, Oldham looked the more likely scorers as they continued to totally dominate the match. Just as the rather fed-up Forest fans were singing 4-0 to the referee, a pass by an Oldham player bounced inadvertently off the referee to Liddell, whose shot was saved, but the rebound fell to the substitute Rocastle to complete Forest's misery with Oldham's fifth goal.

Simply amazing, dream stuff for any Oldham fan. Oldham go ahead of Forest into 2nd place, and face in two weeks time Scunthorpe, the league leaders, at their ground. It's bound to be a superb game, sadly I won't be able to make it from Oxford. But I'll be there next week when we take on Wolves in the FA Cup. Bring it on. Now it's time I left to get back to Oxford.

Oh, and my prediction was way out for the attendance: finally football fever has gripped Oldham - 9,768, with 8,000 of those Oldham supporters. I don't mind being wrong if more fans are coming through the gates. It'll present a nice problem for my forecasting model, trying to capture this effect!