Monday, October 23, 2017

The Captain Class

This book won me, lost me, won me back, lost me again, won me at the end.

Short version: Sam Walker's The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates The World's Greatest Teams is onto something about leadership in general, though for most of the book he expresses it entirely in terms of sports. He goes awry when trying to nail it to the floor by relating captain behavior to social science research. Sometimes it's plausible, sometimes its a stretch, and sometimes the research he is leaning on isn't that good. I suppose he needed to include it, as he ties it all in at the end to a theory of leadership in many circumstances, and the research references provide a bridge. When he discussed at the end how this type of leadership is disappearing, because people think it is obsolete, messy, over-rated, he was most convincing. None of the dynasties he spent the book describing, nor the near-dynasties that just missed the cut, exhibited the newer-fashion leadership.


The secret to winning is not what you think it is.
It’s not the coach. It’s not the star.
It’s not money. It’s not a strategy.
It’s something else entirely.

He makes a very good case that a particular type of captaincy, that sacrifices its own glory for the good of the team - private, extremely dogged, doing the little, humble things, taking risks against management and popularity for the sake of teammates, using emotion and edge-of-the-rules behavior in calculated fashion, underlies every single one of the dynastic teams he examines. All of those teams had good players, at least decent coaches, and fortunate circumstances in order to play at highest levels of competition - but plenty of other teams had those things as well.  Those latter teams won some championships. Some of them were good for short periods.  But the sixteen dynasties he evaluates had only one thing in common - a captain of the sort Christians would call a servant leader. 

I disagreed at the margins with his criteria for inclusion in the greatest dynasties of all time.  I would have dropped a few, included several he didn't, but as he doubled back at the end to discuss many of the near misses, identifying that most of them had similar captains as well, it didn't end up hurting his overall premise. Sometimes the captains were the best players on those teams: Bill Russell, Tim Duncan; just as often their names are seldom remembered: Carla Overbeck (US, women's soccer),  Ferenc Puskas (Hungary, men's soccer). Pele was not the captain who brought the championships; Michael Jordan's teams did not win unless one of those types of captain was in place.

Walker relates this exceptional captainship back to other professional sports teams, who didn't even make his second-tier category, and then to other types of leadership in business, military, research. I wish he had spent more on this, that such an approach not only makes great teams elite, but makes bad teams mediocre, and mediocre ones good. You can plug it in anywhere and improve things.

I am not a leader, I often say, and I was about to let it go at that as I finished the book, when I remembered there was a time I had led in very much this way. I was transferred out of one dysfunctional team into another, but I needed very, very badly for this new team to do well, in order to illustrate that I had not been the cause of the previous dysfunction. I was lowest or second-lowest in official rank, replacing a person who had been fired for stealing from patent accounts. The psychologist and social worker disliked each other openly; the psychiatrist was new, and gentle; nursing was in rotation and in personality conflict of its own; rehab staff was just out of school; line staff was demoralised. And yet it was easy.  Pouring myself into it, we became very good, very quickly.  I would say humorously "We're the best in the country.  Really, we are.  Oh, there's a psych admission team in Iowa that wins the award every year, but they're just running on reputation.  We'll get 'em next year." It was fun.

Remembering that caused me to see a few other instances over my lifetime - never for any length of time, because the time and emotional commitment went to my family instead. Then I thought: family. It's partly true there as well.  I am talkative, even noisy, and noticeable in social situations, so one would never link me with any sort of self-effacement. Yet I think I can claim some anyway, surprising even myself. I put time into the small notoriety of this site, but that is since the first four children graduated highschool. Until just now I had said I was the coach, setting my wife and children up to go out into the world to do things and be noticed. I don't lead things - I pushed them into that. I exaggerate.  I have been on church committees, taken some active worship or teaching roles, but most often as a fill-in, someone to hold the fort until a real preacher or teacher can make it to the scene. My jack-of-all-eldering abilities have been useful in that role. My hobbies are at-home hobbies, only rarely something all my own, until very recently.

Most traditionally, people can look back and see that their mother filled that role in the family: the one who made everyone else a player, keeping in communication with all, praising and correcting, always on duty. That's the stereotype, though husbands with star wives, and fathers with star children were always in the mix even when American society was supposedly more rigid and stratified than that. I knew many families like that, looking back.

After reading this, it may not be coach, but captain in that specific sense that has been my role. I am also a participant and not just an observer, after all. Had this book been out years ago I might have been better at it.

The Queen of Oversharing

Joyce Maynard was my year at another highschool in NH. I remembered everyone then, and knew kids from all over the state through camps, speech competitions, and St Paul's ASP program. I was vaguely surprised when her first book came out that I had never heard of her. I later learned that my friends from Oyster River very much knew her. (As a Phillip's Exeter student, Joyce would not have been eligible for ASP.) One rather hinted that she was not impressed.

A college girlfriend handed me Maynard's Looking Back when it came out in 1973. She must have mentioned pretty quickly that this girl was living with J D Salinger, as our relationship was just about at an end and we wouldn't have discussed it after. Where Anne had learned this extra bit of gossip I didn't know.  I decided that was an urban legend when Maynard resurfaced in the 80's - resurfaced in terms of NH, anyway - and nothing was ever mentioned about that.  It turned out to be true, as I only learned much later.

I loved, loved, loved the first few chapters of Looking Back, but never finished it. I don't remember why. When the Concord Monitor focus came to her as local-girl-does-good, she wrote about friends, girl issues, life, and I always had the same response.  Intrigued and admiring at first, never finishing, even a short essay.  I decided there was something infuriating about her, but didn't care enough to figure out why.

All the later adventures and scandals I never knew until today.

She's still at it, and I think the essay in the Atlantic, the Queen of Oversharing, captures it all pretty well.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


One of the pieces to a Mental Status Exam - that's a formal, standard version of what a psychiatric clinician does when she's trying to figure out what's up with you and put it in a form other clinicians can understand - is asking the subject to say what a proverb means to them.  It is introduced in something of an offhand way to reduce anxiety "They mean different things to different people. What do you think it means?" There are recommended favorites.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the street.

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

Then, a more complicated, abstract one is offered.

People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. I learned early that while most people get the meaning of that somewhat, it's hard to put into words quickly when one is in a pressured, timed situation. That's part of what's being examined, of course. How good is your abstract understanding?

The Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) - that's what they are going to give you to see if you are dementing* - includes a clock face drawing exercise.

These are standardised tests, but these elements are obsolete for young people now. I had Big Brother Bob Emery on Boston TV to teach me the meaning every day at noon
Oh, the grass is always greener in the other fellow's yard.
The little row we have to hoe - oh boy that's hard.
But if we all could wear green glasses now, then it wouldn't be so hard
To see how green the grass is in our own back yard.
But I'm not sure it's quite as familiar now. 18-year-olds have to stop and think to work out a clock face now, likely because their parents and grandparents sill like the looks of them as decor.

Most proverbs aren't about everyday objects anymore.  A stitch in time saves nine. Knowable, but more remote.

*Just in case you want to brush up on the questions now, when you're at full strength, to delay them putting you into a home later.

Proper Apology

File under: Oh that liberal bias.

I should be more gracious, accepting of someone having a change of heart and coming around to my point of view.  Former NPR CEO Ken Stern certainly ran a fair experiment, at significant personal inconvenience and risk of embarrassment when he resolved to spend a year among "the other side."  That other side sort of includes me, but non-liberals are a pretty varied bunch, and embedding with all types would take more than a year, so I suppose I should be happy he got anywhere near many of the constituent parts.

But the linked article just made me furious.  Oh, so now you think you should check the premises you've been operating on for half a career, contributing to the demonising and destruction of others. All those voices over the decades saying "Hey, you know you guys are sort biased...That story you ran there, it's not really fair...the people you work for, they seem to leave out some important stories and highlight less-important ones...How is that different from just calling people names?... Decent people have been damaged by what you're doing...there's considerable evidence that you aren't reporting this fairly..." And, having decided that you had missed a great deal and been unfair while in positions of power, you still have to point out that those people still have their demagogues, and their current representative is Demagogue-in-chief. I suspect there is something of a desire to show that he is still balanced, can still see both sides, in order to maintain credibility with people he would now hope to persuade. Probably so.  Probably wise in the long run. I am ungracious, as I said, and likely a bad strategist to boot.

Yet a proper apology goes like this. I did this wrong. I am sorry. I will try not to do it again. What can I do to make this better for you?

It is not an unusual situation when we have to apologise that we think the other person still has done a lot wrong as well and we would like to point that out to him yet again.  That is in fact nearly always the case. But that comes later.  First, you have to clear your own slate.

Perhaps he has.  He has a book coming out this Tuesday Republican Like Me: How I left the liberal bubble and learned to love the right. We'll see. I wish him well, I suppose.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Intelligence and Mental Illness

First off, I don't think I see the phrase "mental illness" as most people do. My mind immediately says schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, psychotic disorders, Bipolar 1, severe depression, and the intense forms of PTSD/borderline personality disorder. If one says "How about anxiety disorders, other personality disorders, adjustment disorders, ADHD, etc" I sort of shrug and acknowledge that those count under the official definitions, and certainly cause pain and have a large impact. Having had episodes of mild depression (and one that was probably moderate), plus obsessive-compulsive disorder I am aware that even these cause suffering. Yet when I see research about "mental illness," part of me says "those aren't the same."  This is likely because people soldier on through those somehow, lives impaired but not ruined.  A percentage of people manage to carve out lives with the more serious disorders too, but the numbers are worse and it's very difficult. If you know any, congratulate them often.

I had to dig back through multiple news articles to get to this study reported in Science Direct about a correlation between intelligence and mental illness.  Interestingly, the news articles all focused on the greater incidence of anxiety disorders (20% vs 10.9% in the general population) rather than on mood disorders, which had stronger numbers  (26.8% 9.5%). Bethany will be pleased to see that the confidence intervals are displayed prominently. 

There were also elevated rates of environmental allergies, food allergies, and asthma. The article gives a nice summary of some recent related research and a description of the hyper brain/hyper body theory they offer as an explanation. Also of interest: the incidence of professionally-diagnosed autism spectrum disorders was only slightly higher than the general population, but the self-diagnosis rate was high. FTR, I think relationships are going to show among autism, anxiety, OCD, and probably a few other things, but those aren't nailed down yet and I keep autism separate in most discussions.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Rehabilitating Mao

I did tell you they went all-in for controversial opinions at, but Mao Reconsidered: One Hundred Percent Good is a load, even by their standards. Just so you know, Roberts got an EdD at Umass-Amherst in 1973, and the rest of his internet presence is about how to make money after you've retired to Thailand on Social Security check. Health care?  Not to worry, because he thinks anything is better than the most corrupt healthcare system in the world in the US.

In the late 70's and early 80's there was a Marxist professor in the Masters In Human Services program at New Hampshire College (now SNHU) who must have taught a lot of this, as so many of his students, who worked at my hospital quoted "Marcel" as saying similar things. The iron control and horrible punishments were necessary with a country like China because they started out so backward and there were so many of them that there just wasn't any other way.  About two years later the "so backward" part was left out in favor of China's obvious superior traditional wisdom. It's hard to keep up sometimes.

There are over three hundred comments, and some of them get the main criticisms - like all those dead people and the famine - explained clearly and succinctly.  What surprised me was the number of commenters who agreed with the article.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Give Me Jesus

One of my favorites.  The simplicity is mesmerising.

Imagined Conversations

I dislike the genre that purports to be a conversation between people who are long dead and modern figures. The author can always dictate the result of the debate and make the loser look bad.  I recently saw one at Aleteia between GK Chesterton and white nationalists.  Guess who won? I don't doubt that GKC would have held his own quite nicely against any number of such figures, but the exchange was frankly not-credible.  Chesterton would say this, you see, and the the white nationalists would say that, which GKC would counter with this. They would attempt to catch him up along the lines of A, which he would have to  agree with, being deeply respectful of national cultures, but he would see them coming and make a distinction B that they hadn't anticipated and finally rout them entirely by pointing out C.

I didn't actually read the article.  I'm betting I came close.

Things are a bit better with imagined conversations between contemporaries, but that's not going to be ultimately fair either. I have loved Peter Kreeft's Between Heaven and Hell, A Dialogue Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, CS Lewis, and Aldous Huxley (who died within hours of each other in 1963). Kreeft tries very hard to be fair, but he clearly favors Lewis, and CSL does seem to carry the day at the end, though Kreeft doesn't rub it in or get triumphalist. Huxley finishes second, I think. I still recommend the book, even if you are one who would prefer someone other than Lewis win, because Kreeft really works at being fair, as I said. But don't consider the final implied victory a done deal.  Plus, the book's short and cheap.  That's nice.

His second work, about Socrates discussing abortion, is less successful, I think because it has that ancient-modern mix that is more inherently unfair.

I know these imagined conversations don't turn out to be true because I have been having them in my head for sixty years, forever arguing with hundreds of other people.  He'll say this and I'll agree that it's partially true but point out that, to which he will respond with this claim and this one, this one, and that one, but hahahaha! I will then say Fourscore and Seven Years Ago, and To Thine Own Self Be True, and They-sewed-fig-leaves-together-and-made-themselves-aprons! He will be dumbfounded.  Overwhelmed.  He will gape, and gasp! 

Then I will actually have the argument and the other person says nothing like that at all. They will pursue a line I had not expected.

Precocious Canadian

I am fairly familiar with cognitively and verbally advanced five year olds.

The comments attributed by Tama Ward to her daughter are complete fabrications. "How Can I Raise An Enlightened Child?" is an embarrassment, and if you run across anything by this author again, you should disbelieve it on sight.(HT: Steve Sailer)

Richard B. Spencer, et al.

I have read plenty of essays and comments over the past 6-12 months that extremist groups, left, right, and whatever, would not have so much power if people just ignored them. Richard B. Spencer is speaking somewhere and they expect not only protests, but protests that turn violent. I don't know much about him, BTW. Sometimes such figures make relatively mild comments that get over-interpreted and made into monsters.  But as I haven't read anyone coming to his defense, except a defense of his right to speak, I have to assume that whatever he says it must be legitimately offensive. Correct me if I'm wrong on that.

I have written in favor of the "just ignore them" strategy for years, though I haven't had to do it much... because folks were actually mostly ignoring them. But the cry has gone up from many corners this year. Stop paying them any attention. Their numbers are small. I keep telling myself, well, they just can't ignore them.  They can't let it go for some reason. They have to show up to say "shut up." Some people are just convinced that there's whole lots of dangerous folks out there.

They don't want them to go away. They believe there are thousands or millions more in hiding, waiting to come out and wreak violence on the republic. I have a brother who essentially believes that.  Because he is convinced that there are plenty of quiet racists spread about like dry tinder among the population, people who could be ignited at any moment and cause a lot of destruction, he is also convinced that antifa and black groups organising to be ready for violence just in case is understandable, and maybe even justified, though he is not a violent person himself.

I don't know what we say instead, but "just ignore them" is no longer likely to work, if it ever was.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Mark Twain, Huckster

How Not To Get Rich: The Financial Misadventures of Mark Twain, by Alan Pell, Crawford.

Haven't read the book.  Fun review.

Tomorrow's News

Let me write tomorrow’s news for you:

President Donald Trump will send off some really offensive tweet or comment, which is demeaning to the office of the presidency and is an embarrassment to America.

Meanwhile, things of actual historical importance will happen, many of which would torque off the people upset at Trump’s tweets, if they had only been paying attention.

I don’t know if Trump planned this as a strategy. But I’ll bet he’s noticed that it sorta works.

I rejoice whenever I see liberals distracted by Trump's continuing, unchanging, publicity flaws, because I know they are wasting their energy drumming up outrage.  Many of them likely do it because their media jobs or fund-raising efforts depend on constant outrage, but it's a long-term loser.

I despair whenever I see non-Trumpster conservatives get distracted by these things. I get it that they believe they have to demonstrate their a) we-have-standards-dammit cred (as if repetition will ever convince those who aren't listening) or b) this-isn't-real-conservatism cred. You're right, it isn't, but it's got some overlap, it's what you've got, and you are wasting an opportunity by posing.  Many Trump supporters are indeed being unreasonable and insulting, basically acting like the worst of liberals in their brittleness, humorlessness, and intellectual laziness. I read the same comments sections you do. Yes, they refuse to read NRO because some of those writers dare to criticise Trump, and some of them don't even like him and say so! Quelle horreur! They are like that. And no, I don't think they can be rationally dissuaded from that position, no more than SJW's.

So what.

How are we going to get from Point A to Point B?  Ask yourself that every time your fingers touch a keyboard.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

NFL Protests

Bethany has her usual "How To See More Clearly" post on current events, in this case, how people feel about the NFL protests and the fallout.  Key phrase
As is often seen with contentious issues, there is a 10 point swing when changing the wording.