Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Chesterton, Paradox, Life Lessons From Sports

Chesterton was a cricketer, and as a thinker was likely to step back and look at the big picture that others missed.  I therefore fancy that he would have been fond of such sports observers as the baseball statistical analyst Bill James or the crew at 538. He looked at the conventional wisdom of a hundred things and asked "Is it true?" In asking, he often discovered that not only was the accepted cliche not true, but its opposite was truer. A madman was not one who had lost his reason, but one who had lost everything but his reason: proportion, generosity, insight, humility. Father Brown was not sheltered from the seamy side of life - he had heard confessions for thirty years.  James looked at  cliches such at "pitching is 90% of baseball" and followed that through.  Does any team pay it's players as if that were true?  Does the team with the best pitchers win more championships than the team with the best hitters or fielders? Do the best hitters or the best pitchers create more variation in an individual at bat, a game, a series, or a season?  Do teams fall apart more losing their best pitcher or their best hitter?

Bill James insisted, taking one thing with another, that not only was pitching not 90% of baseball, it was 35% of baseball. I insist that Chesterton would have loved this. Not what is supposed to be true, but what is true.

Politics is built on suspect cliches.  This is even more true of sports. Right now we are in the midst of discussing the draft of both the NFL and the NBA. There is no reason for any of you to be interested in my opinion about any individual player or any team's overall strategy.  There are ten thousand people who know more about such things than I do. However, sometimes in listening to a dozen sports guys I can pick up a consistent mistake that many of them are making. If a player is loved by some evaluators and disliked by others, sports analysts are likely to split the difference.  That is unlikely to be how it plays out.  Those who are not sports fans may nonetheless find the more general lesson interesting. If 4-5 teams, spread over the 30 in the league, think a player is one of the top ten in the draft, while the other 25 teams think he is overrated and not willing to draft him until the second round, he is not actually going to be around in the second round, even though most teams think he should be. Some team that likes him is going to take him way before that.

Think about it.  If 80% of women think a particular man is irritating and unattractive, but 20% find him charming and attractive, he will not languish, even though most women will think he should.  Some woman who rates him highly will scoop him up. Cars, recipes, employees, religions, dogs, or musicians: if most people hate them but a few love them, they will get chosen.  Yet if any one of those is only everyone's fourth choice, they might get chosen in due time, or they might sit on the shelf endlessly. Even if almost everyone likes them better than  some more controversial choice.

The elephant in the room.  I would expect that a sports figure like Bob Kraft, entering a political discussion, could be counted on to apply cliches at double the rate of ordinary knuckleheads.  Bob Kraft is a nice man.  He seems very intelligent in many ways.  But when he goes to an NFL owners meeting and complains that "no one is talking about the elephant in the room," you can count on two things: it's not an elephant, and virtually everyone is already talking about it.  The supposed elephant is players taking a knee during the national anthem in protest before NFL games. Gee, I think I have actually heard some people talk about that, haven't you? Everyone, in fact.  It is one of those Tim Tebow issues where everyone believes they have not been heard, and so keep talking endlessly.

There is an elephant in the room, but the kneeling is not it. Elephants are big things, and quiet NFL protests are small ones. Yes, the protests are irritating and inappropriate to some people, and that gets them upset, which gets other people upset at them, which gets other other people upset at the second group, and so on indefinitely. But it got large because the first group is ignoring the actual elephant in the room (which is what torqued the second group off so much). In protesting the police treatment of black people, the NFL players are ignoring 3 large creatures in the room.  Whether you think they are elephants, rhinos, or wapiti elk is largely a matter of taste. First, some police officers treat a lot of citizens badly, regardless of race, and those don't really count in the racism question.  They're just pricks. Second, the rate of serious violence is ten times great among African-Americans.  Not 10% more, 10x more, and overwhelmingly against other AA's.  So that's a much higher percentage of black mothers and fathers and sisters and cousins and neighbors and teachers going to funerals. And you accuse me of not caring? Thirdly, the general group that very likely does get hassled by the police disproportionately more for small things is - golleee, the group that athletes, black, white, hispanic, are drawn from.  And their friends. How convenient to want the police to lay off you and your pals, while all those aunties go to funerals. How noble of ya.

When you hear a sports cliche applied to the rest of life's lessons, ask immediately if the opposite is true.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Japanese Rent-A-Family

Fascinating article, sent to me by my son. There are so many directions to go with this that I don't know where to start.  It seems to simultaneously provide evidence for opposites: that our real relationships are not much more than rentals, because we are artificially constructed, and that we are wired to make even rental relationships real, being human.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Reposted from 2013

Tom Paxton wrote songs that everyone wanted to cover.
Johnny Cash covered songs and made them his own.
Best of both worlds here.
I used to sing this at coffeehouses, but never this well.

Thursday, April 19, 2018


Well, we've had a lot of seriousness here.  Let's have a song!

Hierarchy of Thinking

I don't know if they still teach Maslow's Hierarchy of Need, a theory that seems commonsensical but doesn't quite explain the behavior of many people. Fine as an approximation, perhaps. I wonder if something similar isn't happening about reason and logic.  Perhaps the foundational needs have to be in place first.  You believe what gets you food and shelter, then can move on to believing what you need to be accepted socially, and only after that is in place can one apply true/false tests rigorously, accepting ideas that go against the group. Personalities vary, and some have a better ability to stand alone than others.

This is at least a possible explanation of why people who are able to reason - which we know because we have observed it in other venues - come up with only lame cliches on some issues. It is not just that they disagree with me, and I thus conclude their reasoning is poor. (there may be some of that.) The obvious counter would be that perhaps it is they who are reasoning nicely and I who have gone off the rails. Yet I know people who disagree with me whose arguments are moderately to extremely strong.  I am not thinking of those presently. I am referring to those with significant credentials - math degrees from  Ivy League schools and subsequent careers requiring precise thinking; forensic psychiatrists with rather stunning abilities to weigh one factor against another. I know some amazingly intelligent people. Yet some of them spout whatever the New Yorker or the alphabet network consensus is peddling this week.

Nor does it seem to be that they just default to the tribal line on many issues because they haven't the time to examine everything, but apply shrewdness and wisdom to the subjects they invest more time in.  These are, if anything, more party line than their - ahem - less educated brethren.  This is New Hampshire, and one can easily find Democrats who think that liberals are badly wrong about one or two issues, yet choose them on balance. The worrisome ones who have got me thinking - those who I suspect of having to have their social status and situation nailed down before they can move forward and think - are doctrinaire. And they are legion.

I have commented before that I believe liberalism is spread socially rather than logically,* that social signalling and social enforcement takes up a lot of a liberal's energy. It may be that their social insecurity is greater, so that they can never let down their guard. They sense (correctly?) that they could be cast into the outer darkness at any time. They are intelligent enough to talk themselves into whatever is necessary.

I have little doubt that it is only by the grace of God, via CS Lewis, that I am not fully among that number. My families of origin have many who are still consumed by it, and I was entirely of that mindset throughout school.  It still whines at the door. (Okay, that's a bizarre mixed metaphor. Mindsets are not mammals.)  But Screwtape, That Hideous Strength, and especially "The Inner Ring" were powerful warnings at a formative time. I find the mirror version, and the mirrors of mirrors, quite easily upon reflection. The approved culture has a special sweetness, but so does the counterculture, and the counters upon counters. Fortunately I haven't the discipline and focus to think about it long, and content myself with having a whack at whatever dragon seems nearest at the time.

Liberals are far better at reading social cues, and reading between the lines. But this strength becomes a weakness when it is relied on to the exclusion of more important virtues. I am asserting all this strongly, because I have had a dozen examples in my mind as I wrote this.  Still, I might be missing an entire chapter here.  Could you do me the favor of trying this theory on in your imagination about your more intelligent liberal friends, even if historical and long since gone?

*Nor is conservatism always spread logically.  Its weak side is that it often relies on emotion and sentimentality.  The accusation that it relies on the emotion of fear is misplaced.  That's projection.

Not Eating Their Own

Conservative outlets are highlighting all the blue on blue arguments and SJW's who are condemning older leftists. The thought seems to be that this bodes well for their political opponents of all stripes.

Let me go on record saying Ich glaube das nicht. They have levels of disapproval, and even hatred.  Historically, it hasn't played that way.  Maybe this time it will, but I wouldn't count on it. I often sense that a lot of the screaming at other liberals is mostly for show, or angling for power within the ruling tribe.

Update: James's comment prompts a continuation.  Yes, red on red is very common, and I think much more so. There is a difference in that the people of the right are more likely to follow through, either staying home or voting third party. Call it principled, purist, stubborn, uncooperative, or whatever you please.  That may be why the conservative outlets I mentioned above find blue on blue so significant.  They may be projecting. Hell, if I were that angry I'd never vote for that SOB again. So they assume liberals think the same way.

Mini Mental Status

I turn 65 tomorrow, so Medicare started for me the first day of this month.  My PCP suggested we use my Welcome to Medicare appointment as this year's physical. The surprise was when the nurse taking my vitals and setting me up asked me the date and where I was; then told me she was going to say three words and repeat them back to me, and then ask me to repeat them again a few minutes later; then to draw a clock and put the hands at 11:15.  There were a few other things that were all too familiar.  She's giving me a Mini Mental Status Exam. Huh.  Well of course.  Medicare. I was amused, but oddly, I felt a bit of pressure and anxiety about it. It's going to be a red flag if I don't get this cold. 

So perhaps the day will come when I don't score well, but from long-term memory remember that this is a bad sign.  Will I accept that information then, or make immediate excuses?

One advantage of not taking care of your body very well is you are less likely to have your mind go first. Not 100% true, as there are bad habits that hasten or perhaps activate Alzheimer's. Still, it's way more true than not.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Liberations of Age

I take walks for exercise, and have become fond of listening to podcasts. I downloaded the free samples from the Great Courses and have my eye on a few of the longer courses. I listen to basketball and football analysis, and sometimes general sports shows.  This is always humorous, as I don't have TV and never watch games. Nor can I bear to listen to games for extended periods of time on the radio. I see clips and highlights, and read the box scores and analysis afterward. I can speak knowledgeably nonetheless, mostly because others are knuckleheads and many things are obvious.

You're waiting for the liberations part, I know. I'm telling a Grandpa Simpson story.  Happening more these days. 

However, I have never been able to keep up with actual knowledgeable people, such as my second son, because of the lack of uh, seeing any games. It's a bit of a limitation. Because of podcasts and long walks in semi-retirement, however, I now get lots more analysis and am even better. Because thinking statistically is second nature, I now know more than an even greater percentage of fans. And I still couldn't tell most players apart in a lineup. Skill is fun, and I am enjoying going into the playoffs with some reasonable idea what to look for. Er, listen for. Ummm, imagine when I am reading box scores and looking at 10 second highlights while the game is in progress. You get the idea.

Where was I?

It adds to the pleasure. For those who like this sort of thing, I recommend Zach Lowe and Doug Gottlieb for basketball; Bill Barnwell and John Middlekauff (sorta) for football; The Ringer is best and worst for general sports, choose carefully. I downloaded a podcast by Adrian Wojnarowski, a knowledgeable person and an inside scoop sort of reporter.  Should be fun. Oh, and he's interviewing coach Dwayne Casey of the Raptors, a smart guy. I shall add to my store of knowledge. 

He starts off asking Casey about living in Canada, which doesn't have school shootings because of gun control, and what does he tell his kids...what does he think about what's happening in the US...

Whatever basketball knowledge they may have is not worth it to me.  I can turn it off. I listen for my pleasure, and I just don't have to. Ahh. I have always been free to turn it off, and have done so most of my life.  Yet it's easier every year. It's not just that Woj is wrong, not having done the simple arithmetic of noticing that Canada has about 10% the population of the US, nor that he is arrogant, believing that such an important topic means that now more than ever sports people need to share their wisdom with us. He's being an ass, and however much he might teach me about basketball - even if he were the bestest of the best - I don't have to listen.

Easier every year.

Bruno Sammartino

...has died. I don't recall ever seeing him wrestle on TV. On Saturday afternoons there was mostly Roller Derby, WWII movies, and Big Time wrestling. I caught a little of each, but was never a fan as some of my schoolmates were. My knowledge of him came mostly from posters like this:

I was impressed by Bobo Brazil, risking brain damage like that for the sake of show biz, but I didn't really understand then about what people had to put up with in order to put food on the table. I can't say I liked him - just impressed. The jobs they told us about at school all had happy people waving at children in them, and even in books where the family was poor and the lives of the parents were described as hard, there wasn't a lot of detail about what "hard" meant.  There was plenty of that around most of us, I suppose. It was a very American idea at the time that you were going to go on to adulthood and things would be better for you.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Shall and Will

Lose yourself in the discussion for a bit. First person, second person; British/American; prescriptive vs common usage.

Just don't ask lawyers and bureaucrats.  They really like the idea of "shall" as a command and imperative when they are writing up contracts. Only they think so.


Small sample size - though I was in LAX, Anchorage, and Sea-Tac for hours each - but I saw much more politically and socially aggressive clothing in Seattle than elsewhere.  Hats, T-shirts, and sweatshirts usually fall into benign categories: pro teams/colleges/geographic, or bars/ads, or brands.  Seattle was more in-your-face, with bumper-sticker style one-sentence politicising. Environmentalist, feminist, racial and native, and immigration.  I don't think many were for anything, they were against things, most especially people. Not what I would choose for travel, where one might quickly offend a seatmate or someone in line with you, but I suppose the joy of being a billboard for a captive audience in the larger airport compensates.


Looking at the genealogy of Jesus - Matthew's for example - one has to wonder if God has some preference for boldness and intelligence, even over moral qualities.  This shows up very clearly in the women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba*, but once you notice the pattern you can see it in the men as well. It's not just that sinners are in Jesus's ancestry, though many sermons have been preached on that topic.  The specific sins are rewarded. It's disquieting.

*Side note.  It was extremely unusual for women to be mentioned in genealogies at all in Jewish and other Mediterranean cultures. Matthew is making a very strong point about their importance here.

Monday, April 16, 2018

No Coins, Please*

I recall someone coming on afternoon TV - Merv Griffin or something - before 1970, advocating that we get rid of the penny. Everything could be rounded up or rounded down. People's objections were mostly irrational, believing that the pennies they had thrown into jugs, or obtained by children for returning soda bottles, or found on the street, would somehow no longer be honored, and society would collapse. For no reason that is not easily answered in fifteen seconds, we continue to have pennies. 

Whoever Merv was interviewing then was right. Since that time, inflation has made dimes worth just about what pennies were then.  So pennies, nickels, and dimes should be gone.  No one uses dollar or half-dollar coins, generally, so we have already demonstrated we could do without them.  Yes, the Brits have a coin worth a pound, and somehow they have adapted and we theoretically could as well, but somehow we haven't.

That leaves the quarter.  We have logically eliminated the need to use the other coins. So,  is it worth still having coinage if there is only one type of coin? Maybe. But with machines reading dollar bills and parking meters accepting your credit card, I'm going to go out on a limb and say we no longer need coins.

*Kiddie Lit reference. Every children's book by this author recommended.


I apologise up front for linking to Twitchy, which is actually a great example of the "telling the selected truth and commenting deftly" phenomenon they are reporting to here. But I assume the actual Loretta Lynch tweet is accurate. She sure ain't standin' by her man here. So ignore the site's commentary on Lynch throwing Comey under the bus.

Who's lying? is the cry from the conservative sites. As we never know which incident is going to be the tipping point in the demise of the Republic I don't want to fault them for an essentially accurate question, but really, it's oversimplified and calculated to rile up the base.  They know better. At least, those conservatives who have read C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, The Screwtape Letters, and "The Inner Ring" know better. Comey and Lynch are survivors of the highest levels of bureaucracy, with skills honed over many years.  No one says things, because one can be quoted, pinned, destroyed.  Yet things are understood. So Comey met with Lynch many times, but never-did-he-ever disclose his suspicions, she says. Sure. She had no idea what he was thinking.  A complete surprise. You have to go to the second level to ferret out about lying as a precise term. She says he never said, he says he did say; the most likely explanation is that they both understood, allowing that both understood imperfectly, exactly what was up. It's not only dangerous, it's also sort of gauche to be direct.  It shows you don't understand the real rules, you aren't to be trusted, you might blow things up.

It's part of why Trump strikes stark fear into them.  He lies in a completely different manner, not by talking in code or demonstrating an elaborate Tea Ceremony, but by just blowing things out his ass, some of which turns out to be true and some not. (The usual answer is partly true, may or may not be technically true, but in complete disregard of Washington codespeak, which is unforgivable.  His comment about the riots in Sweden last year is a great example of this.)

So the who's lying? approach has no answer.  Both, almost definitely, but which one more?  Which one technically, which one in spirit? That is not necessarily ever going to be clear. The people who speak their language slowly lose the ability to translate it into the everyday categories the rest of us use.