Sunday, April 23, 2017

Retracted Research

Cancer research retracted because of fake peer reviews.  Bethany over at Graph Paper Diaries is going to get that Jack Sparrow look in her eyes, because it not just science in general, but her specialty they are messing with here.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Bottle Dancer

I was a bottle-dancer in "Fiddler" when I was 20. Not a very good one.

John Wesley Donaldson

While looking up some other bit of information about a Negro Leagues player, I saw a passing mention of John Donaldson, who a SABR researcher thought should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  I had never heard of Donaldson, which was a blow to my ego. I'm not an expert on black baseball, but I have read more than most, know the broad outlines, and should have at least heard of someone of that caliber.

The Pittsburgh Courier had a poll of players in 1952 of who were the greatest black players* of all time. I put a lot of stock in such things. Players can be biased in favor of guys they liked, and regional biases can push good players into greater prominence or obscurity than they deserve. At an individual level, players and fans can both be swayed by a few key moments in memory, when Oscar Charleston beat your hometown team three times in one season, or mighty Casey struck out. However, such things even out over large samples. Observation tells us one thing, statistics tell us another. By observation, players regarded him as a first-team starting pitcher.  All the others are in the Hall of Fame: Smokey Joe Williams, Satchel Paige, Bullet Rogan, Bill Foster.  Better-known pitchers Cannonball Dick Redding, Don Newcombe, Leon Day, and Luis Tiant Sr are on 2nd-5th teams.  OTOH, Hilton Smith, who is in the Hall of Fame, isn't mentioned, so maybe the players don't always get it right.

Donaldson has statistics. 400 wins, 5,000 strikeouts, including an 18-inning, 31 strikeout game. Multiple no-hitters and one-hitters.  While much of this was against inferior opposition as he was barnstorming in the Midwest, those are still very big numbers. He was almost a generation older than Satchel Paige and played in an era when major and minor leagues were more mixed. It isn't the same as baseball since 1940, when the best players moved automatically to MLB.  The Pacific Coast League in the 1930's may have been the equal of the American and National Leagues - several PCL teams undoubtedly were. When Donaldson came into organised baseball in 1908, even the better-paid white players didn't make a lot, nor enjoy national reputations. The major leagues were known to have most but not all of the best teams.  Good players were even more widely scattered. Professional baseball didn't pay so well that you'd want to drop everything and do that, leaving family and friends behind, so even some of the best players stayed home and played semi-pro.

John Donaldson toured with Satchel Paige's All-Stars in 1939 when he was 48.  I'm thinking that in itself suggests how good he was. There is brief vimeo footage of him pitching.

*The Negro Leagues were only part of the story.  There were about a half-dozen of those leagues beginning around 1920, most of them short-lived.  Donaldson would have already been 29 by then.  Black players mostly played on barnstorming teams that were part of no league until the 1930's, and by 1952 when the survey was taken a few had already made it to the majors.

Friday, April 21, 2017

"Yeah we did that. That was totally us."

Ion Mihai Pacepa claimed that the KGB was behind Oswald's assassination of JFK. 
Pacepa said that "among the leaders of Moscow's satellite intelligence services there was unanimous agreement that the KGB had been involved in the assassination of President Kennedy", and that KGB fingerprints are all over Lee Harvey Oswald and his killer Jack Ruby.
In 2007, Ivan R. Dee published Pacepa's book Programmed to Kill: Lee Harvey Oswald, the Soviet KGB, and the Kennedy Assassination in which he asserts that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev ordered the assassination of Kennedy, then changed his mind but was unable to stop Oswald. The work was said to rely heavily on the work of the Warren Commission, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and Edward Jay Epstein.
Those of us who have grown tired of grassy knolls and conspiracy theories tend to reject this sort of thinking with a wince and a shaking of the head. Something in us just says Look, Oswald acted alone and he was going to do this anyway.  Whatever contact he had with the KGB was not the deciding factor.  They are just claiming this after the fact, puffing out their chests that they caused it.  Easy to say now. Yet really, how do we know?  Our tiredness is not relevant data.  Might they have been slightly responsible?  The idea was to take the pressure of Castro in Cuba, and that seems to have happened.  If they encouraged him at akey time, a vulnerable moment, might their intervention have been decisive?  We can't replay history.  We can't know. We lean against because it just seems ridiculous, not right.

In the taking of Jerusalem during the First Crusade, both sides seem to have subsequently overestimated the number of defenders killed by a factor of two, or even three.  Why? Well, the Christians invading wanted to intimidate with what powerful, unstoppable dudes they were.  The defenders wanted to portray them as heartless slaughterers of innocents.  So both exaggerated.  Yeah, we did that. This has an echo in more modern times of the CIA claiming to have installed the Shah in Iran in 1953.  Yeah, we did that.  That was totally us. Puffing out of chest, warning shot across the bow to other nations who might want to think twice before messin' with US. The opponents of the Shah agreed, and resented it, harboring that anger for decades and holding it against America to this day.

Yet when you look at the actual events, they weren't much.  Paid for some cartoons in newspapers already sympathetic to the Shah.  Funded some rent-a-mob action in protests. So...both sides agree that this was enough to topple a government?  That it might not work 99 times out of 100, but in the hands of skilled subversives like the CIA, putting pressure in at just the right time and place worked?

I think if you allow for the possibility of the CIA cleverly playing its cards in 1953 you have to at least allow for the possibility that the KGB accomplished a much smaller act of persuasion in 1963. We might decide that one is true and the other false on other grounds, but the foundational idea, on which 99% of Americans base their opinion, should be the same flowing each way. However, 99% of Americans would agree with one and reject the other. Yet when you burrow down, that seems to be largely feeling, impression. We have piles of new information since the original opinions were formed, but that hasn't moved the dial an inch.

You know how I feel about that.

I use this to set the table for an interesting essay about Gramscian Damage.  I would have read it as recently as ten years ago with nothing but contempt.  Don't be ridiculous.  Those things were going to happen anyway.  Powerful intellectual currents had been moving for decades, based not only on prejudices but on real information. If KGB disinformation had never occurred we would have ended up in the same place. Academics came to those ideas because they are essentially right, essentially more solid than the jingoist fantasies of grade-school textbooks. Well, I still have an initial reaction in that direction, because my intellectual training taught me to scoff at this ages ago.  CPUSA and other groups affected nothing, they were just hapless dreamers - and half of them were FBI informants anyway. Yet let's take this out one circle farther.  Shall we say that communists in general, marxists of any stripe had no effect on mid-20th C Western thought, descending down to the present day?  Well no, it would be hard to claim that with a straight face.  Even academics who don't consider themselves at all marxist subscribe to a great many ideas Raymond lists.

So if disinformation agents did exist, and some recognisable names in the academy trace to them, was there some effect?  I would have thought the encouraging on non-representational art in public spaces in order to undermine patriotism* to be one of those wild ridiculous theories of cranks, suitable for those Russian guys who wore bad suits and stupid hats in the Cold War, thinking they were Big Kahunas in the intellectual world when they were just cranks.  It's a crank theory.  It just feels that way.

Inconveniently, however, that is how things turned out.

So, see if you can get to normal in evaluating Eric Raymond's essay.  Is there anything to it?  Did the KGB exert some influence on Western thought in these ways?  5%, 25%?  Would everything have been just the same without them, and the communist thinkers in the West that they funded and encouraged?

Here's what I've learned in the past decade that leads me to give more credence to this unlikely-looking idea than I would have: we know a lot more about how irrational we all are in how we reach opinions for social reasons, and defend them for psychological ones.  I have repeatedly claimed that liberals are far more suspect on the former (I think liberals and conservatives are about even-up on the latter.  Hell, that's really a human-nature downfall, says I).  Academics have never been unanimous in their opinions, but they have in the main been greater slaves of fashion than the readers of Vogue. The rest of us aren't much better, so we needn't give ourselves much credit.  Evangelical Christians have certainly had their fashions and been swift to punish those who didn't get the message that hats are in this year. Trumpism has elements of being the fashion that is out-of-fashion, so stick it, I think for myself!

Well, that's another day.  For the moment, I'm looking at the influence, by many paths, of intentional disinformation on our current thought.

*The Soviets didn't use non-representational art, BTW, and they seemed to stay aloof from revolution for decades, defying economic gravity.  Perhaps irrelevant.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Shrewd Manager

The Parable of the Shrewd Manager

Luke 16: Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ 3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ 5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “‘Nine hundred gallons[a] of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ 7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels[b] of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ 8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.

 The Clintons are well known for this after they left the White House.  Now it's the Obamas.

I suppose the Bushes already had money and rich friends and didn't need to.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Murray's Numbers

Charles Murray's views are back in the news because of an experiment run on professors showing that his views are actually rather centrist. We have seen this ebb and flow over the decades.  I am familiar with arguments criticising Murray because IQ is not what he thinks it is, or complaints about his methodology.  There are also the more suspect arguments that such things should not be studied because of their possible consequences, or that evil and racist people in the past have subscribed to versions of his idea.

Does anyone know of a criticism of Murray that stems from the claim "I have better numbers?"


The default view among Christians is that if unbelievers think better of Christians, they will be more likely to become believers themselves.  It certainly sounds more plausible than the opposite formulation, that how they view us is irrelevant to their eventual decisions about Jesus Christ.

And yet I have to wonder, as the result of this is that Christians naturally gravitate to getting people to like us, or our churches, or at least not hate us or think us entirely unreasonable - rather to think better of Christ. - whether this does not miss the mark fairly thoroughly. CS Lewis wrote in several places about First and Second Things - that if we aim for the lower goal we get neither, yet if we aim for the main thing we get all the secondary gains thrown in. But seek first God's Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well. 

One possible response would be doing nothing but good works and holding camp meeting revivals.  We scoff that this would of course be ridiculously ineffective.  Yet this used to be the model for the early Wesleyans, and later the Salvation Army. Did that work?

Saturday, April 15, 2017


I keep coming back to CS Lewis's essay "Membership" in The Weight of Glory. I have gotten far from the lessons it teaches and I want to hammer them back into myself, that I may repent and head in the right direction again. I have read it aloud to myself as well as rereading it a few times. We'll see if that trick works.

I send along this quote not because it fits my own problem - that would involve de-emphasising not only current events but even medium and long-term trends, all of which capture me too easily - but because it is simply interesting.  There is a way of looking at the individual, his value, and his rights that we get into the habit of accepting without question.  It ain't necessarily so.
I believe in political equality. But there are two opposite reasons for being a democrat. You may think all men so good that they deserve a share in the government of the commonwealth, and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice. That is, in my opinion, the false, romantic doctrine of democracy. On the other hand, you may believe fallen men to be so wicked that not one of them can be trusted with any irresponsible power over his fellows. That I believe to be the true ground of democracy. I do not believe that God created an egalitarian world.

Polling For Skepticism

Or perhaps "Trolling For Skepticism."  Related to my post two weeks ago about people not really believing that anyone is going to declare martial law but not wanting to look like they are being taking in, I think that should be in the background not only for all polling, but for all entertainment-value commentary as well. A ridiculous number of Democrats appeared to believe that Bush, or Mossad, or the CIA, had something to do with causing 9-11.  Lots of Republicans were revealed to believe that it was at least possible that Obama was born in Kenya.  It's the "at least possible" part that makes for all the fun. People with good imaginations can imagine a lot of things.  Cynical people can easily believe that other human beings are at least capable of terrible deeds.  Sometimes these people aren't so good at evaluating whether they are likely.  They assign some small percentage, so as not to get caught unaware later.

However this can be played in reverse as well.  Because there is a non-zero chance for just about everything, ridiculous ideas can be floated along the lines of "Well, we can't rule out the possibility that..." As Lawrence O'Donnell recently explained to Rachel Maddow
It’s “impossible,” fellow anchor Lawrence O’Donnell told Maddow on April 7, to rule out that “Vladimir Putin orchestrated what happened in Syria this week – so that his friend in the White House could have a big night with missiles and all of the praise he’s picked up over the past 24 hours.” (Full story here.)
Well sure. It's impossible to rule out the possibility that Adele is channeling John Lennon, or that Barack Obama is actually a space alien, but that doesn't mean that any sensible person subscribes to the idea.

It's a dishonest formulation.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Quick Hitter on Sean Spicer

Holocaust Studies were a focus of mine some decades ago, even before I had even heard of this other David Wyman. I don't entirely know why, and I doubt the rambling comments I might make on that would be of interest.  My take on Sean Spicer bumbling and stepping on his own dick might be a little different than others, then.

I have longstanding objections to the generally accepted narrative, the knee-jerk response which every person who "gets it" is supposed to recite when they hear the word Holocaust.  These include:

1. Failure to appreciate distinctions among work camps, death camps, forced-labor factories, and executions outside the concentration camp system.  It gets messy and complicated, which is why journalists, liberal-arts majors (I am one), and other superficial students of history* avoid thinking about it. Jews were killed in large numbers outside the death camps. People other than Jews were killed in large numbers. Roma. Slavs. Jehovah's Witnesses. Confessing Church.  Disabled. Homosexuals - not as many as is claimed today, but some, sure.

2. Stalin killed more Jews than Hitler. Maybe 30% more. It is in one sense not unfair to regard the Nazi extermination policy as something qualitatively different from Stalin's more general everyone-who-might-be-unreliable policy, and the manic intensity of execution by Nazis late in the war was dramatic deserving of special attention.  But in the end, numbers matter. Stalin executed Jews over many years, and each one of them had a family, and friends, and a profession, and a place in the world. The fact that we feel differently about it because of the greater theatrics around the Nazi Final Solution doesn't get around the grim, basic facts of more widows; more orphans; more trauma; more fear and despair.

People read point #2 and think "Oh yeah, I knew that, sure. Worth mentioning."  They don't realise how controversial this has been and how great has been the effort to keep this out of their consciousness.  Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.  Look over here instead.  Shiny! Shiny! Yale historian Timothy Snyder's book Bloodlands came under criticism because it dared treat all atrocity, execution, and trauma in the lands between Hitler and Stalin 1933-1945  as similar. How dare he!  Everyone knows that Hitler was the ultimate evil and the events under Stalin were just rather excessive and sort of unfortunate!  Snyder is not remotely conservative, BTW.  His critics were not Jews incensed by having specialness taken away from them except insofar as they are liberals who retain disguised sympathy for communism. (Note:  I overgeneralise here. But not a lot.)

So.  So. Spicer's comments were not inaccurate, but when he talks about "Holocaust Center," like it was some sort of museum he betrays instantly that he doesn't talk about the Holocaust in the same manner that the right people do. It made me shudder, worried that he was going to go to some Holocaust Denial place.  But he didn't.  He got the base fact of enormous execution of Jews by Nazis right, unprompted.  I still think he's a jerk, because reading the tone of the national conversation is uh, his job, right? But other than clumsiness, what is he getting wrong here?  You can say he doesn't get the seriousness of extermination by the gas Zyklon B, so his "didn't use chemical weapons" statement is hollow.  (It wasn't hollow when Chris Matthews said it, apparently). I don't reject the point, but don't believe it rises to the magnitude of the objections I raised above - which most of Spicer's critics screw up repeatedly.

I submit that as much as Spicer's comments were objectionable,the energy directed against him is back to our old friend in the liberal playbook - social rather than intellectual acceptability.

*This includes, unfortunately, some professional historians.