Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Moth

Listening to The Moth Radio Hour on NPR. I never heard it before. I like it. Do you think they know that this is a secular version of Testimony Sunday?

Friday, October 28, 2011

"Some Snow In The Higher Elevations..."

We don't always get snow when the foliage is still bright.  It's a nice moment.  I wish I were a better photographer or editor, but the scenes themselves do a lot of the work for me.

A Raw Day

I heard indirectly about a man who did not recognise the phrase “raw weather.”  His wife wondered if it were regional dialect, as they come from different places.  Naturally, such questions still make their way to me, because I will care about the answer.

I find no evidence that this is strongly regional.  Places that do not have raw days – Santa Fe comes to mind – may have more people who have seldom or never heard the term, but I find examples of usage throughout the US and Canada.  I didn’t check the UK and Australia/NZ.  However, the SOED records raw, as of weather, chilly and damp; bleak.  16th C.  I'd go a little stronger than that, myself.  Perhaps that's a NH perspective.  That 16th C also suggests it's not going to be especially regional in the US.

It’s rather a sliding scale what constitutes raw weather then, isn’t it?  Not only does it vary by region, it varies throughout the year.  A raw day in October in NH might be considered an encouraging sign of spring in late February.  Part of the sense of rawness, in fact, depends on the weather being unseasonal, a bit unexpected.

Cold is involved of course, plus some wind and moisture.  Wind and rain just at the freezing point, too early in the season or lingering too late, would be classic rawness.  I suppose one could have cold and wind alone and still get away with the description, but that seeping in of unpleasantness, that invasion up the sleeves or down the neck despite adequate protective clothing must be present.  Blown snow would qualify, even if it had fallen earlier.  Greyness may not be absolutely necessary, yet…pretty close.  But a still day, even with slush or puddle seeping through the shoes, doesn’t quite get the name “raw.”

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Two From Volokh

There is always much of interest at Volokh Conspiracy, though much of it isn't so gripping if you ain't a lawyer.  The first is PETA's attempt to have whales freed from Sea World under the XIII Amendment (no slavery). The comments include a mention that the amendment was likely drafted by whale-oil light, and a wonderful extension that notes if the orcas are persons, then so are the sea-creatures they killed, so orcas should be incarcerated, and Sea World is rather ideal for it.  Fun stuff.

The second is a bit more disconcerting.  A lefty blogger declares that if OWS doesn't "work" - not sure what he means by that, but it seems to be a pretty considerable restructuring of society - then perhaps mandatory participation in government-assigned social media groups would be beneficial.  The idea seems to be that making people interact with others unlike themselves in race and orientation to solve problems will create a better citizen and be good for us all. His commenters seem to think this is a fine idea, which is rather chilling that such an idea doesn't immediately set off warning bells.

I hardly need to point out to this audience the possible problems that might arise from this, but I thought a few words might be in order.  The word "mandatory" should always wake one up and cause one to examine the proposal with narrowed gaze.  Mandatory means, ultimately, once the refusal to pay increasing fines and contempt of court charges are taken into account, that we will put you in jail for not doing this. It's worth keeping in mind.  Government should make some things mandatory, but we should be clear about exactly what, and why.  Secondly, I think I sense the liberal fantasy of "if you would just be open minded and not be stupid and a bigot, you would come over to our POV" behind this idea.  The idea that being exposed to a diverse group would be good for us and make us better citizens ultimately rests on that.  That people could be exposed to diverse (read liberal) POV's, and know some minority citizens pretty well, yet not essentially agree with them seems not to occur to the writer.  The assumption seems quite strong that we who disagree just haven't really thought about it much.

I understand that type of bias because that is pretty much what I think of liberals.  But I try to guard against it, and make sure that I've got some specific evidence to put forward every time I make such a claim.  I might ultimately just be rationalising and deluding myself, but I at least make some attempt to find evidence.


Won't last, though.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When I Fall

I think this was the first popular song that troubled Ben.  The first he mentioned out loud, anyway, that he had read the lyrics and saw the import, and wondered why no one else seemed to be noticing.  I chose this version for that reason - the audience reaction doesn't fit the song sometimes, and you wonder. Don't they know?

President Whatever

I'm thinking I don't want anyone to be president.  They're too much trouble.  Vice-Presidents seem to be a comparatively minor annoyance.  Can we have three or four of those instead?

I'd promise to be polite to them and everything.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rethinking Schizophrenia

I has already mentioned recently my great approval of including the peer-support model in schizophrenia treatment. Of course, this presumes some acknowledgement by the sufferer of some degree of symptomatology. Those with complete lack of insight, or anosognosia, will have trouble availing themselves of this resource. But it is gratifying to see some positive press for this in popular media. The Sunday NYT has Keris Myrick's story. She has found that a full schedule and challenging herself is better life treatment than low-pressure, ease-into-it jobs. She uses other coping mechanisms as well, including peer support. The video isn't that great, but the story is good.

The Neurodevelopmental Hypothesis would seem to be an opposite at first. That approach, focusing on early detection and treatment, carries more than a whiff of "once you've got symptoms, you're already screwed and it's too late" about it. But that's an inaccurate reading, a leaping to conclusions.

Sometimes antipsychotic medications do magic, and if you are lucky, the side-effects aren't too bad. But really, they are often limited in what they can do. Hence the more recent focus on prevention and managing symptoms.

Monday, October 24, 2011


Since I'm not part of the 1%, I must be part of the 99%.  As such, does anyone think I would be welcomed by the 99% Declaration Working Groups for my state if I tried to enter the discussion?  I could be a real pill of course, and call them on it and encourage all sorts of people completely unsympathetic to their ideas to sign up to be part of the Working Group discussions.

Yet though this would indeed point up their logical error, it strikes me a juvenile tactic.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Let me start with a prejudice that caught me right from the start with OWS. It's this 99% thing. It may be only a PR mistake on their part, but I suspect it is actually an attitude problem that is revealing itself in this catch-phrase. I get the point that they are trying to make, that it is a very small group of people who are ripping off the decent Americans, who may have their differences but should be able to get together and just fix this. They don't want to be opposed to everyone, they just want to alert us to the real enemy, and lead us to a solution.

In political matters, I have three immediate associations with that. First, 99% is how much of the vote dictators get in sham elections. Even if they were elected semi-reasonably the first time around, as they remain in power, the number climbs to insane percentages. It is a clear sign that the opposition is being suppressed and the nation is crazy. Secondly, this world-view that says that everything would go along smoothly if it weren't for a few evil people (plus their dupes, who may be more numerous) is a mark of paranoid thinking. The tendency to think like this precedes the identification of who those conspirators are. Thirdly, in the bad old days of communism, leftist groups would claim to be speaking for, and to represent, ever-expanding circles of the rest of the population. They represented The People. And they believed it. Those people who disagreed were people who just didn't understand and needed things explained to them; then they were dupes and agents of the oppressors; finally, they were the oppressors, and needed to be dead. This happened repeatedly. I don't think that the typical OWS protestor is anything like this. But I do worry two things: there are people among them who do indeed think like this, who will say so right out loud; secondly, the gentle, innocent people really do believe that they represent the 99% in some ways. They are not halfway to violence, but they are more than halfway to accepting one of the key arguments of the violent people. Worrisome.

You may say that they really don't believe this, but well, that's what they say. We, the 99%... What are we supposed to think? If challenged, I'm sure they have enough reasonable people on board at present to allow that no, of course not, we don't really's just that the 1%...(list of unfair and bad things follows). Well, then - don't say 99% just because it sounds cool to you. Because my contention is that it sounds cool to you for some very bad reasons you haven't recognised yet.

I will politely at least allow that it is just a PR mistake, and the number of people for whom this reveals some unattractive motives is actually quite small.

The Commentary Proper

If you pick up a newspaper or a magazine, or catch the interviews on NPR, you will come away with the impression that the OWS protestors around the country are mostly nice, frustrated young people who can't find good enough jobs, have a lot of student loan debt, and feel that something has gone fundamentally wrong with America. They believe, in the main, that corporate America, corporatism, and/or corporations, are cheating the rest of us, getting rich despite the difficulties others have. They are sure - as many Americans of divergent political beliefs have said for years - that there are lots of millionaires who pay no taxes. They contrast this with the people who they know, who don't have enough.

If you read conservative news sites, you will see an emphasis on OWS protestors saying stupid things, engaging in criminal acts, attracting nutcases and undesirables, or other negatives. Both are true, and many other slants could also be true, in that they highlight real people who are actually on site. A lot of this is still inchoate at present.

In the mainstream op-eds, there is a lot of energy being put into two narratives: One, that some people are gaming the system, darn it, and a lot of 'em are corporate and Wall St types. Even though these young people may not have all the details right and are unrealistic and overidealistic, they are essentially right about that, and we should listen to them. Their hearts are in the right place, and they are willing to make sacrifices and state their opinions, and we should be glad; the second narrative is that OWS is a lot like the Tea Party, really. The evidence for this is usually that they are both popular movements with a lot of regular people in them, that they both think America has gone wrong, and they are, they're both protests. Happening now.

Narrative One: Yes, I suppose if you think Down With Unfairness is the political POV that your people have a corner on, and the OWS protestors are against unfairness, then I can see why you would think that they've basically almost got it, and just need a little steering, and they'll be fine. This is essentially what Obama has said as well. In my view, that's essentially what American liberalism is anyway, so the MSM approval is hardly surprising. Conservatives get all bent out of shape claiming that Obama, or Democrats, or liberals are really socialists/communists, but I think that's overdrawn. We can't even make a good tough-minded socialist these days, but have all these milk-and-water versions running around. Where it turns nasty is the rather juvenile conclusion that if you disagree with them, you must therefore be in favor of unfairness.

Narrative Two: Yes, and a horse is like a fish, because they are both animals. And they have two eyes and a mouth. And you can eat some fish, and sometimes people have eaten horses. And sometimes horses go into the water. And hoof and fin both have an "f" in them. So they are pretty much the same thing, sure.

There is actually one very good connection, that both groups would come down strongly against what we would call Crony Capitalism. They might not define it quite the same way, and they might order the queue for who goes first to the public stocks somewhat, but that piece they would agree on. Other than that, I'm not seeing much similarity, and I have to wonder if the people claiming it are that unobservant, or if their is some deeper manipulation happening here.

An OWS supporter of my acquaintance sent me the link to this group, the 99% Declaration, which includes a lot of references to 99% Declaration Working Groups. I have no idea if these people are major players or just one more group in the mix, vying to have their voice heard above the noise. But I grant that this group is attempting to act reasonably, and come up with a program, invite others to discuss, work in the standard American tradition of debate and rhetoric. What they put forward is pretty much just the liberal wish list of the last forty years, but it's merely misguided, not insane. An example:
5. A Fair Tax Code. A complete reformation of the United States Tax Code to require ALL citizens to pay a fair share of a progressive, graduated income tax by eliminating loopholes, unfair tax breaks, exemptions and deductions, subsidies (e.g. oil, gas and farm) and ending all other methods of evading taxes. The current system of taxation favors the wealthiest Americans, many of whom pay fewer taxes to the United States Treasury than citizens who earn much less and pay a much higher percentage of income in taxes to the United States Treasury. We, like Warren Buffet, find this income tax disparity to be fundamentally unjust.
Do they mean this Warren Buffet? This Warren Buffet? Also, we have this generic "fairness" going again. They are sure it's all unfair somehow, and factoids will satisfy.

There are darker elements at work, worth noting. There's no indication the average earnest couple in a tent on Dewey Square approves of this, or offers any encouragement to it. What is known is that this gangster/threatening/criminal stuff happens and no one denounces it from inside. I say no one - that's unfair, there may be some I don't know about. No one gets up and says "That's enough, I'm leaving, that's not what I'm here for." Contrast this to Tea Party Rallies, where nutcases were actively discouraged or shunned. There were constant claims there were racists and dangerous folk underneath the respectable disguise, but evidence for this was elusive. Here at Occupy Boston we have evidence and no one cares. No trial, no defense, just a self-appointed Committee Of Revolutionary Justice punishing the offenders.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bigger Than We Knew?

There seems a slew of female vocalists who seem Bonnie Raitt influenced these days. Not saying I object. I just find it surprising.

Frida Surprises

Hang on through this. She has clearly had training, and could have done comic opera quite well.

Pinker's Better Angels

Steve Sailer (sidebar) has a partial review, linking to a more extended version, of Pinker's The Better Angels Of Our Nature. An excerpt, which is exactly the sort of thing I find encouraging.
A few points: the topic of violence is gigantic and Pinker's book is remarkably thorough. So, don't assume that Pinker hasn't considered, at length, the various counter-arguments. My galley copy is festooned with my notes to myself in the margin like: "A-ha! P. is ignoring X. That undermines his whole argument." But then, 400 pages later, Pinker writes something like, "You have probably noticed that so far I haven't mentioned X, which might seem to undermine my whole argument. But, I have seven responses to X."

Four From Today

I have a more reflective post about Lost Nation, NH that I will post this weekend.  But there were some nice oddments along the way that deserve short comments.

A typical trailhead, if you are hiking in the Whites in the fall.  This is Mt. Starr King trail. Thomas Starr King was a New York UU minister who wrote glowingly about vacationing in the White Mountains.  Even then, those Yankees had an eye for whatever fed the tourist biz.  Not very different from corporate sponsorships of stadiums, is it?(See also, Presidential Range.)

We are supposedly past peak foliage now, but this looks pretty good.  You don't get the sunset luminosity with my poor photography, but perhaps you can fill it in yourself.  I find the foliage just after peak to be more attractive than the declared "peak," which was last weekend.  Fewer reds, but the yellows and oranges are more dominant.

Remember those roadside cabins I wrote about in the Old Route 28 series?  Twin Mountain, NH is chockablock full of 'em.  They are going away slowly.  This batch is for sale now, and who will buy?

This painting on plaster or stucco is the sort of thing I want on my chimney. I haven't remotely go the talent for that, though.

Independent Scotland

NPR had some discussion of Scottish secession tonight.  I'm sure it's a serious subject and all that, but my first thought was "Haven't they been saying this for 300 years?"

When the Scottish Parliament reopened 12 years ago, they opened with a folksong...

Okay, some Guinness and Hard Cider came out my nose when I heard that.  Really.  Protests should have folksongs.  I've always thought "The Times They Are A-Changing" would have been good for the Tea Party, though it's too late now.  But you don't open congress with This Land Is Your Land*.

I know they've got North Sea oil - hell, we own a piddling tens shares of some o' that. (Our company seems to keep finding more natural gas, not oil.  But that's nice too.) But Scotland is currently high welfare, high services, low paying back into the UK coffers.  That's a pattern that repeats across Europe.  Flemish and Walloons, Northern and Southern Italy, Western and Eastern Germany. It's not stable.

* I take that back. I want to see videos of Maxine Waters singing that.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reunion Update

I spent more time with the people I went to elementary school with, and the people I went to summer camp and a six-week advanced studies program with, than the people I went to Manchester Central with.  Particularly with the two from Straw School, we spent almost no time talking about anything any of us had done since 1965. I don't even know the general outlines of their lives, only that they are both teachers.

We talked about the things that happened 1959-65, and what had happened to the people we knew.  I learned something of their lives then that I had not realised. We shared some tragic news, some humorous updates, and many "do you remember" stories.

There are very, very few people left in the world who have even a remote chance of recalling those events.  We clutch to them, as a reinforcement that they did really happen; that we do remember them at least approximately; that the person we were, that child we have not seen for 50 years who is ourselves really did exist.  I could have made him up, you see. We learn that even events that happened a few minutes ago have no touch-point, no reality save within our memory.  Perhaps, then, events 50 years ago have no reality at all, and we wander in a barely-populated universe. Joan Blajda and Barbara Letendre* remember a boy with my name, and associate him with me as strongly as I do myself.  They remember things about him that accord with my own story.  Perhaps I am real after all.

The connection with a circle of five friends from HS was almost an entirely separate experience.  Other faces came and went.  I tried to give each a little encouragement as they spent their six sentences on me before moving on.

*Ruth Hamilton was also there, but entirely quiet.  She was quiet then, too.  That adds to the reality, for it is not only the word-people who remember.  I am evidently not a mere construction of words who finally became real in the 1980's.

Stats Panic

In the new format, I can track the traffic to each post.  I was growing discouraged, as posts that have been up for a month are showing only 10 visitors, on average.  As I often come back to a post for corrections, and my wife reads them, and my two oldest sons (presumably), and my commenters, that would, all ten.  The sort of numbers that make one ask "What do I think I am actually accomplishing here?"

I'm glad I clicked through to "stats," which says I had had 243 pageviews yesterday.  More than ten, for sure.  I couldn't figure the discrepancy, until it dawned on me that the lower number is the clicks through to the comments.  It's the number of people who have visited the post as a stand-alone.

You might want to read the commenters more.  Some pretty smart people come through here.

Further oddities:  my most-visited posts this week include several from 2, 3, 5 years ago.  Goethe's Three Questions; Did Steven Pinker Lie; Linear Vs Circular Time.  I can't imagine what the circumstances were that led people to those. 

Chicago Cubs

Maz quote.  Theo Epstein is going to the Cubs, who haven't won since the 17th Century.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Search words

One of the search terms that brought up my site last week was  ზურაბ წერეთელი

Yeah, I looked it up and see the connection.  Still pretty funny, though.  The script is Georgian, or more specifically, Kartvelian (which I used to get confused with Karelian and thought was one of those weird distant language relationships.)


Hey, we made The Onion! For those not from heah, Penacook is a real place.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Thoughts on American War and Death

We resolved, rather gradually but noticeably, to reduce the death rate of our soldiers by fighting war more expensively.  Learning as we went about the millions slaughtered in WWII on the Eastern Front, and concluding that Americans were somehow not like that, was likely the beginning.  We lost horrendous amounts of American soldiers by current standards, but not so many by international standards.  We began to see that we cared about individual lives even more than we had a generation earlier.

We went the technology route to wage war instead, increasingly clear that we were spending this money to reduce casualties.  By the First Gulf Wat we were quite explicit in our declaration that this is precisely what we are doing.  We've lost about 4,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We lost 4400 on D-Day.  Hell, we lost 750 in a training exercise (Tiger) for D-Day.

We have spent an enormous sum in dollars, comparatively few in lives on these two very small wars we are involved in.  That is exactly how we planned it, and with 4G warfare, drones, Stuxnet, and the like, we hope to make that even more pronounced.

An odd thing happened along the way.  We view war differently.  We say truly when we claim that losing soldiers is more expensive than losing money.  One would think, then, that the country would be less opposed to wars where we didn't lose soldiers.  But the reverse has been true in America.

The cost of lives lost is mixed.  We see it as tragedy and horror, but we also see it as providing a link to the cause.  Those who lost relatives often feel a deeper commitment to the rationale for the war, not less.  I noticed it in myself when a son went into the USMC in wartime.  We don't want to think there is no value in those deaths.  We will not see them as senseless.  The more soldiers we lose, the more valuable we think the cause was.

This is true in other countries as well, where long-deceased sons pictures are still displayed prominently, even when the cause was futile or evil.  It has something to do with the idea of sunk cost, and clan loyalty, and cognitive dissonance.  We value the cause, not for its own merits but because our loved one died for it.

Now that we are spending money instead of lives, that tie is weakened.  We say that soldiers lives are a greater loss, but we get something back, some psychic benefit.  But money spent is just money gone.  We don't see that we get much of anything back.  I am speaking at the most basic level here.  We can map out on paper what we gained for the loss of money or loss of lives, and we should make that calculation with our best reasoning, not our emotions.  But we will make the judgements largely with our emotions in the end.

As we reduce casualties and increase cost - a trend I expect to continue - we will increasingly see war as nothing more than a waste of money.  Whether we are right or wrong about any individual war will matter less and less.  It will cost money, we won't get a new pony from it, and we will see it as dollars pissed away.

Think about how this trade influences the populations of our enemies. At least along those primitive lines, they are cut from the same cloth we are.  If anything, this assigning of value to cause on the basis of how many sons they have spent over the generations must be even more powerful than it is for us.  Because sons are more valuable, they are paradoxically less of a deterrent loss to a nation.

We must learn to induce them to spend their money and not their sons on war.

Grammar Rule

Which is correct, to say "Everyone except me," "Everyone, excepting me," "Everyone except I," or "Everyone, I excepted."  Or is there some other formulation that is best?

Answer in the first comment.

Double Rainbow

I'm sure you've seen this.  But references to this are part of the family culture betweeen Kyle and me now, so I thought I'd bring it out again.

Monday, October 17, 2011


I went over to Retriever's to see the iPhone 4S photos, because I knew, depressingly, that she would do far better with a phone camera than I would with thousands of dollars of equipment and an editing studio.  But just posted is a an update on the squirrels which caused 15,000 of us (our household included) to lose power this weekend.

Squirrels are evil, dangerous creatures.  If they didn't have cute, bushy tails, we would recognise them for the rats they are.  When you see a squirrel, think "rat with a cute tail," and you will not be suckered in.

Related.  Pigeons are not really birds, either.  they are rats with wings.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Etymology At Dawn

A witty etymology site Bradshaw of the Future, has a negative eval of Ryan and Jetha's Sex At Dawn: the Prehistory Origins of Modern Sexuality. The book quotes a non-expert on his opinion of how much American slang comes from African languages, such as boogie coming from mbugi, a Ki-Kongo word for "devilishly good." These just-so stories of where words come from pop up all the time, and they usually have about as much value as the urban legends of where phrases like "rule of thumb" or "get your goat" come from. He goes on to mention another bad example, Daniel Cassidy's "There's a Sach Ur Born Every Minute," which I also wrote about with some irritation in 2007. Short version: A clever person can easily make up a plausible-sounding etymology. The trick is to find evidence in the historical record that the word did develop the way you claim it does.

The blogger is annoyed that the authors of a (reportedly) well-researched book would quote something so tenuous so readily, when a relatively modest investment of time could fact-check it. That reminded me of Bill James's irritation with David Halberstam's getting the facts wrong in Summer of '49, which I also commented on about the same time. James wonders if DH's Vietnam reporting was as sloppy. I have since learned that it's even worse. Halberstam's main source for his writing was a North Vietnamese spy.

The internet: fact-checking your ass for years.  If you want to be credible in the difficult things, you must prove trustworthy on the simple ones.

I ran across Bradshaw of the Future through an older post, about the etymology of "checkmate."


Never heard of it until today, Friends from our old church sent this along. They presumably know this guy. The site where you can get one of these things. Elkins, NH is near New London. I can't tell how steep this track is, but I'm guessing not very. No, there isn't snow up here yet. We did just pass peak foliage, however, and first snow usually comes soon after. Won't stay, though.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Mal was painfully shy with girls all through highschool.  I don’t think that changed until his second year of college, his first at SC.  He was intensely focused on them, however, and liked to hang out at places where there might be girls.  Away football games were particularly prized, as we would ride on an overcrowded bus and a girl might sit on his lap.  (Even then, he was unable to initiate conversation with her.)  Girls I was going with would talk to him – none of them went so far as to fix him up with any of their friends, now that I think of it – but even that took him awhile to calm down with.  In college he dated very tall, very beautiful girls.  So he got over it, I guess.

Autumn of 1969 or 70 we were at a home football game.  Mal must have been talking with some girl and congratulating himself on that, and I must not have noticed.  I entered a conversation with that girl, cut him out completely, and after a few pleasant minutes she left.  Mal grabbed me by the lapels and said  “And the MOUSE…ran AWAY…with the CHEESE!”

Mal had nicknames for everyone and codenames for everything (see “cheese,” above).  Most of his trial nicknames were banal or clumsy, but he kept up with such persistence that he would find one that would stick.  I don’t know where most of them came from, but they each had a story attached.  By a long and uninteresting chain, my name became “Dubs,” and he called me that through highschool.  How Sarge and Hong Kong Howie got their names I don’t know, because a shortened surname was usually his first try.  He had an ability to make the name stick once he had the right one, until half your other friends called you by that name as well.  “Suds” for Sosnowski, “Corn” for O’Connor, “Jam” for Jamrog – Mal christened all of them.

Several would have been cruel if the recipients had heard them.  A one-armed supervisor at the Holiday Inn restaurant we worked at was called The Sleeve.  Mal could also imitate people’s speech, in an overdone, cartoonish way, and usually had a routine for each elementary school teacher, peppered with typical comments.  There was another boss at our first job (Anderson-Little, Bedford Mall, 1968.  They lied and took advantage of us.  Welcome to the working world, boys), but I only remember the laughing about it, not what Mal’s routine was.

Humorously insulting male banter was his specialty.  He would tell detailed stories, with great rolling of eyes and mock anger, about how friends had left him in a difficult situation, such as guarding the beer in the snow.  When he recounted the event, the temperature would always be twenty degrees colder, the wind twenty mph harder, the wait an hour longer than it actually was.  Bill Cosby was the reigning comedian then; Mal could recite whole routines of his easily, and owed a lot of his comic style to Cos.

He wanted to be athletic, and did well at many sports.  Interestingly, he was not especially fast or agile of foot, and was not strong until he took up martial arts training, but he was a legitimately good athlete.  I think it was his hand-eye coordination which was exceptional.  He pitched against Mike Flanagan and won in American Legion ball.  He learned basketball in two years at the Y with no instruction, becoming good enough to make a DII team as a walk-on freshman, and a DI team as a walk-on sophomore.  He remained annoyed that the highschool basketball coach never brought him in to work with him.  There were no other 6-7 students at Manchester Central, let alone sophomores that size.  Additional note on hand-eye co-ordination:  I believe Mal still holds the national record for highest score, first time bowling, set while he was at U South Carolina.  He had some advantage, as he had bowled a lot of candlepin and duckpin with the shot-put sized balls up here.  But still, national record – 229 or something – is pretty good.

He resisted playing basketball for years.  With his height, people always asked him if he played, and he finally consented to play one-on-one with me, just to learn the game.  At almost a foot shorter, and not particularly athletic myself, I consistently beat him badly in 10th grade.  He had no idea what traveling or double-dribble were.  But he found he liked the game, and rapidly became a good jump shooter.  Not many players, and certainly no guards, could contest his shot out there.

He was a better baseball player.  His father had been a minor league or semi-pro player, and Mal had gotten good instruction all along.  I don’t think he ever worked much on other pitches – he was a fastball pitcher with great location.  Unfortunately, he excelled most at a game for which there were no leagues, teams, or scholarships.  We called it Swift Pitch, and it had some similarities to stickball.  It was a pitcher-batter game played with a tennis ball against a wall on which a strike zone had been drawn.  Every open brick wall in the area – schools, backs of stores, even churches -- had those painted rectangles on them in those days.

The six months in which he grew six inches, though, he was amazingly clumsy, banging his head on things, knocking stuff over in restaurants.  But that was a fairly limited stretch of uncoordination.  He was the first person I knew to excel at video games when they came out.

He laughed harder and found more things funny than anyone I have known since, and I am known for that myself.  I don’t recall him being serious with more than one person present, but we did have deeper conversations ourselves when it was just the two of us.  I don’t know if that was true with his other friends as well, but he saw more of Sarge and traveled with him later on, so I’m guessing yes.  He would discuss religious thoughts and experiences, or the difficulty of being away from family, especially after his dad died.  He did not ask himself abstract or philosophical questions much, but his thinking was very straightforward and solid.  His reasoning was good, though not adventurous.  He could get to the heart of an issue quickly.

It is appropriate to reminisce about him, because he was a reminiscer himself.  He was the motive force behind the 8th grade 25-year reunion – I don’t know of another elementary school class that has done that – and the pivotal figure of the annual Swift Pitch reunions.  Even when I first met him, just before 7th grade, he was likely to talk about events that had happened to him in earlier grades, or stories about things classmates had done – good and bad.  He knew some stories of his parents’ childhoods and early adulthood and liked telling them.  He even knew something of his grandmother’s life in Denmark and showed curiosity about it when she visited.  His memory was quite remarkable, and I think he remembered because he liked visiting the past.   I had no interest in Swift Pitch – and several of the participants of those reunions, who I hope never to run into again – so I missed his later nostalgias.  Also, I had children by then.

Odd that he never developed an interest in history, as far as I know.  Perhaps he was concerned with events only when he could make a personal connection.  He read few books, but he had his hands on newspapers and magazines a fair bit.  He used to brag most of the way through highschool that he had read only one book, My Life At Bat, by Mickey Mantle.  In late highschool he started reading other sports biographies, like Jim Bouton’s.

I had a habit in the late 70’s of asking people I had not seen in awhile “What have you been thinking?” instead of “What have you been doing?”  Mal could always answer that in a flash; the question never threw him in the least.   He could launch immediately into some idea about how to make his job more efficient, or what God was steering him towards.  He had little interest in any theological questions, except perhaps wrestling with the paradoxes of omniscience or infinity, of the sort that “If God can/is this, then why is the world that?” Those are young men’s questions, not often revisited until one is old, and I don’t know if he found answers which satisfied him.

I don’t think he considered college until he was a senior in highschool.  He took general rather than college prep courses, and clearly saw himself as one of the non-academic students, the plain folk.  He greatly admired his father, who was a workingman in a technical field, and thought he might go in that direction if he couldn’t play minor league baseball.  There was an especially difficult national mathematics test in those days, the MAA.  A perfect score was around 120, and it was possible to get a negative score.  National champions seldom broke 100, and state champions usually got in the 70’s or 80’s.  Senior year Mal was encouraged by his General Algebra II teacher to take the test, and scored sixth in the school (a large school of 2000).  There were 3-, 4-, 5-, and 6-point questions.  All the hotshots and math cowboys would stupidly head for the 5 and 6-point questions, which were near impossible.  He methodically started with the threes, answered about half, and started in on the fours.  When time was up he was in the high 20’s somewhere.  The school champion had a 36.  He was amazed.  “I beat you?  I beat Kontos?  I beat Greenstreet?”  Yes, you clown, and the valedictorian, salutatorian, and half the calculus class.  I think that was when the possibility of college occurred to him: May of senior year, which is why he started at NHCollege (now Southern NH University) before heading south.

We were among the few who went any distance to go away to school.  In our class of 424, about 1/3 of which went to college, I don’t think there were more than a few other people who went out of New England for school. And those were Northeast:  Colgate, Russell Sage.  Even going to Boston was considered pretty cool and adventurous.  It was a different era, and Manchester was still a mill city.  If people visited another country, it was a once-in-a-lifetime trip.  To go to Bermuda on your honeymoon was impossibly chic: most people went to Niagara Falls, NYC, the Poconos, or the Maine coast. 

We quickly perceived that we had become different from our classmates by going away.  Much of it was probably self-congratulation about how cosmopolitan we had become, but we really did find that our old acquaintances seemed to be having the same conversations as when we left.  I hitchhiked from VA down to SC one Thanksgiving break, and he and Sarge came once to William and Mary, but we didn’t really connect about our college experiences much.  When we got together we would tell old stories and insult each other, and interestingly, we both liked puzzling over things that had happened that seemed strange at the time and figuring them out.  Perceiving that the Smyth Road School principal was an alcoholic, for example – we put those pieces together years later.

Mal and I double-dated to the Naval Sea Cadet ball junior year in HS, or more accurately, I fixed him up with a close friend and went with my girlfriend as well, because he was petrified to ask anyone.  It was required for Sea Cadets to go with a date, I think, and he needed some way out.  He had just grown out of the largest of their uniforms and was about to quit anyway, yet somehow he was convinced he had to go and I had to find him a date.  He was so entertaining and hysterically funny that his date ripped her dress laughing and had to wear a coat the rest of the evening.  When I recently told that woman that Mal had died that date was the first thing she mentioned.

I think his over-the-top (read: juvenile) humor that night was derived from his anxiety, but somehow it worked.  Most likely he mimicked the Sea Cadet hierarchy and others present.  I don’t know how he got involved with that crew.  Most likely his ex-Marine father encouraged him, and there were no Marine Cadets.

We both got involved with DeMolay as well – I’m sure that was originally his mother’s idea, and she talked my mother into it.  June was in Eastern Star, so that adds up.  Our mothers tag-teamed a lot on these brilliant ideas that were going to rescue their sons.

There may have been a time when it was cool to be in DeMolay, and when they actually contributed to building young men of character, but it wasn’t Manchester, 1969.  What a collection of bozos we were:  about 1/3 juvenile delinquents, 1/3 nerds, and 1/3 guys whose families were deeply into Masons or Eastern Star.  Unfortunately, we fit in well with all three groups.  We were supposed to learn pages of secret ritual, wear black capes with red linings, and participate in lots of meetings all over the state.  The group had just about collapsed by the time we got there – there weren’t enough guys to do all the speaking parts of the ritual so we had to double up.  Mal, true to form, developed a routine about each of the leaders, especially “Dad” Darrah, who ruled everything.  “The Dad…has SPOKEN!” was a recurring theme.  He hung on for a bit after I’d quit, and got elected to high office because there was no one else and it was his turn. 

DeMolay did give us the opportunity to be onstage escorts at the NH Junior Miss Pageant in 1969, however, and that in turn allowed us to hang around during rehearsals, attempting to be important.  As none of the young goddesses spoke to us, we were apparently unsuccessful at being suave. Connie Kotrosios was our school’s representative, Barbara-Jo Harden of Central had won the year before was present.  Michelle Cote from Immaculata – a folksinger and the older sister of a classmate of ours – was the eventual winner.  None of the four girls referred to in that preceding paragraph said even a polite word to us or could have picked us out of a police line-up after, even if the other suspects were foreign and had name tags.  So Pep Club worked better than DeMolay, at least for one football and one basketball season.

I think he reached his other leadership positions in much the same way:  being present in a small group.  He was an officer at Charlie Brown’s Basement, the teen hangout that no one came to at the Y (he did learn to shoot a good game of pool, though); we were both officers in the Pep Club, which allowed us to hang out with cheerleaders and majorettes;  I got elected king of the Winter Carnival because Mal threw all his votes to me at the last minute so that Tim Whitehead wouldn’t win.  We were the only three contestants, so Mal and I got to tromp around to different ice events with that year’s queen and her best friend, neither of whom was that pretty or entertaining.  I lit torches and had my picture taken; Mal sat in the back, making fun of Tim Whitehead.  And probably me also.

The kind way to put it would be that he (we) did best in small groups.  The more accurate description was that we had an unerring eye for what was hopelessly lame, and ended up in charge because we were the coolest of the nerds.  Our other friends at the time, Sarge and Ainsworth, fit the same description – they were also Pep Club officers, with a photo perpetuating that horror in the yearbook.  But these lame groups were a way of gaming the system of meeting girls.  Later in highschool I developed other strategies, as did Mal and the others: they were better-looking, for starters, and that eventually smoothed over a lot of 10th/11th grade dorkiness.  But early on, gaming the system in some way was the only strategy likely to work for us.  Mal found all of the lame groups listed above, I think.  Give the boy credit for persistence.

As I reread this, an unbiased observer might ask if we were so often among the dorky kids and rising to positions of prominence among them, whether we were not, in strict point of fact, the actual dorky kids ourselves.  A fair question.  It is rather like all the parents who complain that their nice kids got involved in the wrong crowd, and that’s why they went bad.  At some point, somebody actually has to be the wrong crowd. They can’t all be bringing each other down.  In our case it was partly true.  We may have shone a little brighter than the dorks, but we were not immediately recognized as being horribly out-of-place among them. 

Yet I defend us by noting that we recognized even at the time that this was lame, that we were taking a risk.  Pep Club – well, there’s a name straight out of the 1920’s for ya, eh?  Male cheerleaders.  That could get dangerously faggy in reputation quickly. We were prepared to bail instantly if things looked bad.  OK, NH Junior Miss is out, cheerleaders are now out, I think majorettes are going to be likewise.  What about Future Teachers of America?  That will be all girls, right?  You interested in teaching?  Well, we are now. Yeah, well, tell Ainsworth that unless he’s got a better idea he should pipe down.

I remember Mal telling me that he led the (then) world-record Streak at South Carolina – that must have been late 1973 or early 1974 – and made the cover of Newsweek, among the thousands of others.  There’s a legacy for you.

Once already I have encountered something humorous which Mal would have been the perfect hearer for.  In fact, he would have been almost the only person who would appreciate the gourds in 1-2-3 Penguins singing “Muffin Man.”  It was a private joke, and not a very good one, but it went by, and I wanted to steer him to it, and there’s no Mal to appreciate it.  I imagine that will happen increasingly as I age.  CS Lewis once referred to the peculiar sadness of encountering a joke for which the perfect hearer had died years ago.  I’m beginning to encounter that more, and Mal is going to be that deceased perfect hearer a lot, I think.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pinker and Anti-Pinker

I am a fan of Steven Pinker's thinking and writing.  Well, the first third of every chapter of his writing, I should say.  I don't know what happens to him, but he starts off beautifully and then becomes boring.

Pinker is in agreement with Chomsky that a good deal of the structure of language is embedded in us at birth (The Language Instinct, 1994).  There is not universal agreement with this among linguists, cognitive scientists, and others who study this, but I think the evidence is pretty strong.  Extending this idea, Pinker wrote The Blank Slate about ten years ago - it is actually a refutation of the blank slate theories of Rousseau - and did a wonderful job, really, of showing how much of human behavior is not learned but comes pre-loaded.

Now comes his The Better Angels Of Our Nature.  I haven't read it, only read his NYT article and excerpts from the considerable discussion about it at the moment.  But the argument seems to be that the dramatic decline in war, murder, and violence over the last few centuries, especially the last 60 years has been the result of ideas that have become more common.  Worse, the ideas he thinks are doing much of this good work are Enlightenment ideas - rather the heartland of blank slate thinking.

So which is it?  There can be balancing, mediating effects, and subtlety in all large ideas, of course.  We need not insist that a thinker taking a side in a discussion be always required to be at the extreme of that side, granting no sensibleness to his opponents.  But if he is going to largely switch sides, we want him to at least notice this, so he can explain his change.  Pinker doesn't seem to.  He thinks he's not very far from where he was two, or ten, or twenty years ago.  I don't get it.

Here is some of what I think is behind it.  Pinker is devoutly secularist, and believes that the Enlightenment comes from the application of nonreligious, humanist, scientific ideas to understanding humans.  Well, he's rooting for his side, whether he sees it or not.  Confirmation bias is powerful in history.  Let me root for my side, just for a bit.  I think a better case can be made that these Good Ideas can be seen growing, century by century, in every place that Christianity sits down and influences the culture.  The murder rate started dropping long before not only the Enlightenment, but even the Renaissance. 

We can't replay history and measure what would have happened if Christianity had not come to Europe.  But we can say that the growth of science, the rights of man, tolerance, and all the good stuff we take for granted in the modern world seems to have slowly grown up like this precisely once in human history, other regions falling back after progress.

Secondly, the violence of the French, Russian, and Chinese Revolutions are left off the ledger.  They are not left out of his book, but they are absent from the calculation of the ideas affecting the world.

It's curious.


Manchester HS Central, class of 1971, meets twice Saturday, for breakfast and then evening. We have about 100 from a class of 424. There are a few I am expecting, because they have been at previous reunions, and others I have wild hope for, even though they have never come. Probably only one person I am hoping is not there, and she lives over 1000 miles away now, so she's unlikely.

If you are visiting for the first time, I think you can get almost the whole sense of things with the last 30 days of posts. Except there are no ABBA, flamingo, or meerkat posts, all of which I threw in to drive up traffic over the years. Against all standards of proper late 60's freak coolness, I have become grudgingly fond of ABBA (no harm in being fond of Meerkats, I tdon't think). What started as irony has become affection.

Actually this sorta looks like meerkats at a reunion. That's me second from left.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Desteapte-te Romane

Update: Tracy requested the lyrics and translation, which are here at the link.. Beyond the first line, I can pull out only isolated words while listening, except for the phrase "Acum ori niciodata," which means "now or never." Reading the translation, it's longer, angrier, and bloodier than I remembered. Well, it's the Balkans.

I keep coming back to these. Re-re-post.

Christmas Day, 1989, the tyrant Ceausescu was finally overthrown. Congratulations, Romania. Chris doesn't remember any of the revolution. J-A was four, and remembers the crowds in the street shouting "Iliescu Sus! Ceausescu Jos!" Which turned out to be Romanian for "Out of the frying pan, into the fire," but it was a start. They have a great national anthem. If you listen to all three one after the other, you will be a little bit Romanian at the end.

We got the only two Romanians who can't sing, by the way.

These three (now four!) performances of the Romanian national anthem ("Romanians, Awake!")* will tell you everything you need to know about the culture since the revolution of December 1989. If you are pressed for time, the first one - the pop version - will tell you enough.

You have to admit, these folks put a lot into the anthem, though not with expressions we usually associate with patriotism in America. Defiance, joy, smoldering sexual display - yeah, that's them.

The Rock Version

And the national rugby team.

*What, you thought Dragostea din Tei was the national anthem? No, that would be Romania's contribution to middle-school culture worldwide.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Tigerhawk links to a huge collection of graphs about employment over at Big Picture.

Yeah, fine.  But my favorite part is his directions over the comments section.

"Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data, ability to repeat discredited memes, and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Also, be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor even implied. Any irrelevancies you can mention will also be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous."

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Too Easy

Texan99, posting over at Grim's Hall (always on sidebar) links to a WSJ article with Steve Jobs quotes. Jobs had this on the networks, though it fits well for conspracy theories in general.
When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It’s the truth.
I had to chuckle. Conspiracy theories, though they rely on arcane knowledge, have as their root the idea that if we could just get rid of a few evil people who are gaming the system, everything would go smoothly.* It is not only liberals and fundamentalists who think that way - you can find libertarians, antisemites, greens, and just about any group with a swath of people who think like that. Beware the too-simple explanation.

Interestingly, while that has always been my strongest objection to the Religious Right, even while I have one foot in it, it is the too-simple gospel of the Religious Left that has me looking nervously over my shoulder these days. They seem to believe - or at least, they put forward the idea - that their program would be really hard, but worth it to get the church to improve itself and society. Giving up material things is hard. Tolerance is hard.  Being willing to forgive is hard work. Resolving to share requires commitment. These expressions of the radical gospel, radically following Jesus, are very hard, which is why people won't do it.

No they aren't. I did that.  You get all kinds of strokes from your pals for being that guy, and the warm self-righteousness is very precious and addictive. It's not humble at all. It's narcissistic. I know. I've been there.  The religious left is wrong, not because its gospel is too radical and difficult, but because it's too easy and hackneyed. 

*Is the phrase "99%" occurring to anyone with that?  Well, it should.

Oh Foolish Galatians

We finished week 4 of thirteen today. What I have learned, in no particular order.

I am increasingly convinced the South Galatian theory is correct. Thougb Acts 15 seems at first glance to be similar to Galatians 2, that is largely a result of our love for associating narrative and the sparseness of other accounts of meetings between Paul and Peter. Acts 9 and 11 certainly make as much sense, and likely more, as the associated meetings between them. The newer theory fits better with Paul's extensive use of Hebrew scripture in his proof and discussion of the matter of Law. This has always seemed an odd tack to take with pagan converts in the mountains of North Galatia, where there were few Jews, but makes more sense if it is the southern cities being addressed, where there were more Jews. Thirdly, the harsh tone Paul adopts seems over-the-top for a small rural congregation he purports to love. It does not seem out-of-place in addressing a entire region which has been involved in a controversy which seemed settled, but now some are falling back. Lastly, it makes more sense that it is Jewish converts who might be tempted to be Judaisers, rather than a group of pagan Gentile converts.

It is not only the 1st C church which falls into law rather than faith, of course. Every modern group - evangelicals, Catholics, fundies, mainstreamers - all find their own law to slip back into. We notice other people's failings in this remarkably well.

My class shot down my idea that grace is more often found in dealing with problems in community rather than in one-on-one dealing with the Lord. I think they are right and I was wrong. Both have their place, but I think I put them out of order.

Paul's tone is much like a parent's, starting with an irate "You have brought shame upon the family...use the brains God gave you...I can't believe you were so stupid..." but moving to "I have such high expectations for you...I don't like having to yell at have done wonderful things in the past, why not now..."

Though we understand what the words slave, servant, free mean, and we know about inheriting estates that have been in the family for generations, we don't really understand this analogy of Paul's well. It is not our world, but one that we can only experience from afar. Our picture of "slave," includes cotton fields more than cooks and tutors, and "servant" conjures up English manor houses or Newport RI. Inheritance these days tends to be more liquid.


National Geographic's September issue has an article on the fertility rate dropping precipitously in Brazil.  While the increase in income leading to fewer children per woman is noted, they spend a long time talking about the powerful women on steamy Brazilian soap operas and how few children they have as a major cultural influence on the fertility rate dropping below 2.1-2.3 replacement.

Okay.  And all those other countries without steamy soap operas who show a similar decline...?  Because...?

I thought it was half a joke, or a journalistic hook as an illustration of the larger cultural trend.  Nope.  The woman writing the article clearly thinks it's the soap operas that are a big factor in creating the change. I have learned from missionaries to Brazil that the soap operas are ubiquitous and a big cultural focus, so I can see how someone visiting could get that initial impression that they are driving, rather than reflecting culture.  But when you are writing for a reportedly scientific magazine, aren't you supposed to check other countries in similar situations and just sort of, y'know, look them over for what is happening?

The question whether it is fewer children driving prosperity or prosperity driving fewer children is an interesting place to start.  One quickly learns, if you follow world demographic trends anywhere, that the two feed off each other somewhat and the question is too simple.  Limiting children occurs on the basis of people's estimate of how many children they can bring to a certain level of prosperity. If you know that nothing you do is going to make any difference in how wealthy your children will be, why not have a bunch?  They're fun to have around, if you aren't going to invest time in their future anyway, and they might provide some material benefit to you in your old age, if you have one.

But if there is a chance at the brass ring, why not focus your energy?  You can't be a tiger mother, or even a typical-upwardly-mobile-suburban-mother with lots of children so easily.

That's what the phenomenon used to be called, and it is in turn, a derivative of the mothers from some ethnic groups, especially Jews.  Jonathan and Ben were never Tigermommed, but they were full in the older version: Montessori, private school, music lessons, hours of read-aloud, etc. 

Cultural optimism tends to influence how many children one has as well.  Long ago I offered a theory on the countries that were victors, perpetrators, and victims during WWII, and their subsequent fertility rates. That was five years ago, and I still haven't seen anyone else speculate on that. 

Saturday, October 08, 2011


I should point out that I'm laying blame at Theo's feet more than Francona's.  Just for the record.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Evaluating Baseball Managers

Starting with Francona, but branching out.

Let’s break it down into component parts. What is a manager actually supposed to do? Bill James broke it into three parts years ago, but I am only partly convinced. I’m seeing four parts.

A. Sorting out who can play and who can’t. For position players, this was a Terry Francona strength. If he was convinced you could play, he stuck with you, and he seems to have proved right – see Dustin Pedroia; David Ortiz at the beginning of 2009 and 2010. This is often disguised, because the manager does not choose who gets brought in, and may have little say over it at all. For JD Drew money or Carl Crawford money, you may just have to play them, whatever your evaluation is. With the recent Red Sox, this was even more obvious with pitchers. I don’t think Tito had much input into who was there, and once you have people with contracts that dictate they will be on the roster, you have to play them. You can really only evaluate Francona on who came up from AAA or was otherwise on the margin and how much they played. Who got the spot starts, the long relief, the close games? This segues into the next category, but I’m not seeing TF as being so strong there. James mentioned that this was a strength for Dick Williams, long-ago manager of the Red Sox. This may be the most important managerial skill for a young team that is just beginning to contend. Nothing else will matter if someone in the organization doesn’t get this right.

B. Managing the games. The lineup and the batting order, day-to-day and long-term. Bunt, steal, who plays what position, who is DH. Francona was minimalist in this. He stuck with a lineup and batting order. He let people run but didn’t make them run. He seldom ran squeezes, sacrifices, hit-and-runs. When you place this under Part D, this minimalism may be wise. But Francona never displayed much skill at this. In particular, his bullpen management doesn’t show much skill. He has had the extremely versatile Tim Wakefield, who was also willing to put up with shifting roles. Even with Wake, Tito has not looked that good – without Wake, I think we can call what’s left actually a poor record.

C. Getting the most out of a player/ seeing where a player could improve. Does this player need to run more or run less? Does this pitcher need to add a pitch or drop one? Does this batter need to be more aggressive or more patient? Bill James identified Billy Martin as exceptionally good at this. I would add Ted Williams. Though he was maligned as a manager, always with the same cliché that great players can’t manage players who aren’t as good as they are because they don’t understand them, many of Williams’s players had their best years while playing for him. Sometimes that is mostly a matter of getting good coaches to work for you, but a manager deserves credit for that. Does Joe Torre fit this description? I don’t know enough to answer, but I suspect that. I think this is a Doc Rivers mixed strength and weakness. He doesn’t improve players, but he is very good at slotting them where they will do best at the moment. Note, for example a few players who left the Celtics and improved, contrasted with a few players with aging skills that Doc got the best last juice out of. Have we seen any players with surprising development on the Red Sox once they came up? Maybe, especially with the position players. But it’s not a hallmark of the organization.

D. Managing the egos. This comes up in other sports as well. People criticised KC Jones for basically doing nothing, just rolling out the balls and letting ‘em play. I think the great ones make it look easy on that score. I suspect Jones may not have been a good coach of a poor team. But for all the ink spilled about the Celtics team ethos, there were some difficult personalities there. Ainge and McHale were notorious for pissing people off. Dennis Johnson was brought in as rather a risk because of his irritability in Seattle. With Bird’s intensity, one could see that going bad in a contentious situation. Often, the very light hand is the best strategy when one gets to the very top. You have a lot of guys making big money who need to be smoothed, and the people around them need to be smoothed. They think they are bigger than the team, and at moments, they are. But a manager has to keep those moments short and infrequent.

So, think Manny Ramirez here. Manny shooting his way out of town was a harbinger of how Francona was going to handle other people being jerks. His minimalist approach got the best out of Ramirez, and kept the others from breaking ranks. But ultimately, if a person is determined to be a jerk, that approach stops working. This year, too many people being jerks. Too many balls in the air. You can see some signs of that in retrospect – always much easier. But the current position no longer played to Tito’s strengths. With the money spent, your lineup was determined, so there was very little sorting. With the egos too big, minimalism no longer works (see also, Phil Jackson).

Additional baseball thoughts.  Red Sox fans complain about being saddled with the Lackey and Crawford contracts.  But the Yankees have A-Rod until 2017 at $25M/year.  He hit 16 HR this year.  They also have Jeter for another 3 years.  This gives Sox Nation some hope.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011


Tracy and I sang this often in the car while the boys were growing up.
I learned today that a "calling-on song" comes from rapper sword-dances, more commonly found in the north of England than the south. Rappers are not actually swords, but two-handled blades used for cleaning the pit ponies that were used in the coal mines. The blades look rather like the drawknives one might use to make baskets from ashwood here in NH. The dances are much like the group sword dances of Scotland, with intricate and vigorous steps. The calling-on song is the introduction, in which the 4-7 rapper characters are introduced by being called out one at a time. The traditional characters were similar to those in mummer's plays, but gradually a set group of men purporting to be the sons of famous military men - Nelson, Napoleon - came to dominate.

Ashley Hutchings, then of Fairport Convention, reworked the Winlaton version, eventually recorded in abbreviated form by Steeleye Span, as above.

Old folkies, especially old English folkies, sing in harmony and interact so pleasantly with their audiences that one automatically assumes their relations are generally, er, harmonious. This is completely untrue. The lineup which sang this version in March had already broken up by April, some of them vowing never to perform together again. And they never did. This tends to be true of performers in general, but perhaps more so among those who are trying to do something original. One wants to be more Irish, another wants to be more Renaissance, a third pushes for more electronics, and the fourth and fifth are going through a divorce.

The wonders of the internet. We can all free ride on the enormous work that some fanatic (or unlucky graduate student) did to preserve knowledge. You can learn far more than you ever thought was available about calling on songs (also called pace-egg or peace-egg songs), rappers, and the remaining sources of knowledge about them at Free Library. Well more than even I would read. And Part II references every town in the NW of England that has ever been connected to calling on, rapper, souling, pace-egg, or hero-combat play. About 400 in all. You will note that many of the towns listed no longer exist.

Post 3200 - Voting

A comment I left over at Maggie's.  I haven't said it here in awhile.
PJ O'Rourke gets this one right. The purpose of elections is to vote the bastards out. Negative voting is not only an acceptable, but a preferable alternative. Don't ask yourself who you want. Ask yourself who you want to get rid of. When you think of it, that's been the American way since the Revolution. We didn't know what we were going to end up with for a government. We just knew we wanted out of the current arrangement.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Rob Bell - Part I

It may be all parts, not just Part I.  But just in case.

I was tempted to call the post Sniveling Sells to make fun of his book title Love Wins.  But that would not only be childish of me, it would not be accurate.  The book is at least better than that, in general.  It has moments of sniveling, and I do not think they are unfortunate stylistic accidents that a good editor could have removed, but central to Bell's style.  He is clearly young, full of himself, and not nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

He is nonetheless still more right than wrong in what he is trying to accomplish, and irritating as he is, he deserves attention.  First, the preface is excellent.  It is not flawless, but it bears a message to evangelicals that they need to hear, and it is done with kindness, and earnestness, and even a fair bit of wisdom.  If you can get ahold of the preface and nothing else, I suggest you read it and contemplate it.  My guess is that your contemplation of the legitimate issues he brings up will be more valuable than what he writes.

I think that the garden must be weeded before we can judge how this crop is doing.

Bell's style of rapid-fire questions is not merely stylistically irritating.  It reveals an unfairness, even akin to dishonesty, in his entire approach.  He does not merely question, imitating Jesus's return questions to his critics, as Bell claims.  These are different questions, not at all like Jesus's.  We have seen this before, and I have mentioned it in a post about Chesterton last year, A Note of Interrogation. Or, you may pick up the thread of this by reading Bell, not from the perspective of a like-minded accuser trying to get general evangelical authorities to listen, but from the POV of a person who is hearing the questions and attempting to answer them.  Very quickly one understands: Oh, I get it, it's not just impatience that prevents you from waiting around for attempts at an answer.  It's that you don;t want answers.  You want to tell me answers.  Got it.  I get the impression, and perhaps it is an unfair leap on my part, that from the perspective of  Mars Hill, some people get to ask questions and others don't. 

Nor is it just a device in the first chapter to set out all his questions at once.  He's still doing it by page 103.  These are not bad questions.  In fact, nearly all of them are excellent questions.  They are just not being honestly asked to elicit discussion.

Second, two psychological bits that most readers are going to miss, but need to be pointed out by the few of us who have the necessary experience (not much wisdom needed) to notice.  Bell uses an image in the preface of black letters on a page, while he and others read into the "white space."  As if that is a good thing.  It sounds like a clever image, whose only flaw might be being too clever by half.  But "reading the white space" has a very specific, and not very complimentary, meaning in the Rorschach.  It refers to a person being unnecessarily oppositional, often in a showy way.  It is one of the most accurate bits of interpretation in that much-maligned projective test.  When the psychologist tells you "He saw four pictures in the white space, three different cards," diagnoses of personality disorder begin to float into the conversation as possibilities. One, maybe, but it better be pretty offhand.  It's not a good thing.  I'm not suggesting personality disorder, much less diagnosing it, in Bell.  I am noting that he is showing one symptom.

Also in the psychological sphere is his early quote of Renee - I intentionally do not mention her last name -  who has written a book, and in it are accusations that her father sexually abused her while reciting the Lord's Prayer, and such like.  Bell clearly takes this at face value in part of his accusation of evangelicals.

How does one put this nicely?  People with Borderline Personality Disorder sometimes make accusations that are poetically true, but not literally true.  Taken that way, there are indeed evangelical children who have had their perpetrator's Christianity as an inseparable part of their victimization.  I looked up the woman's name, went to her website and read extensively of her story, and found much to like about her.  I don't doubt she experienced horrible abuse, and has done well building some kind of reasonable life out of the broken pieces.  But her romance with victimhood, and how it still rules her and gives her a club of self-righteousness to bring to her social and political beliefs, remains obvious.  It's very typical.  Setting oneself up as a defender of the oppressed is a pretty good response to one's own history of oppression.  Except you can then never see the victim as having any part in their fate, nor the "system" that oppresses them as being any sort of a balance or compromise between goods.

Why then, would I object at all?  Isn't it true enough?  (See how my questions can be sly and unfair?)  Because it's a lie, and I have seen people ruined by accusations from people with that diagnosis, who will admit when in therapy that they aren't really sure what the reality of their past is and what people mean now, and that's part of their problem, yet are still quick to accuse.  I say this as one who counts well-recovered individuals of this type as among my favorite patients, most admired people, and even sometimes friends, as much as we can allow that in this business.

It was an unlikely accusation, wouldn't you have thought?  If you were going to use it to prove your own point, wouldn't you have wondered, just for a moment, whether you should perhaps make some effort to find out if it's actually, uh, true?

Of course not.  You need the victim to be a victim.  Case closed.  So by page 7 I am not only irritated by Bell's style, but I don't trust his judgement and honesty.

And yet.  And yet there is still much in this book that is wise.  It deserves to be noted that the criticisms of Bell have often been less Biblical, and display less ability to listen, than Bell does himself.  I wish someone else had written the book.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Evolution - Creationism Series

Reposted from July 2010. Nothing new to see here, but folks might like the review.

Creationism and Politics
There are some interesting practical considerations, however, and that might be fun. (For me, that’s who.) Volokh Conspiracy recently had a thread about a 7D creationist running for political office, and whether that should be an automatic disqualifier. As an evangelical and an evolutionist, the question interests me.

Thought Experiment: Genesis and Science
If the first eleven chapters had somehow gone missing for centuries and were only recently rediscovered, it would be academics telling Christians they should accept them gladly, and the fundamentalists who would resist this most strongly.

Evolution and Young-Earth Creationism
Impressions Versus Science

If you bing, google, or yahoo up “first humans” you get a collection of estimates of upright figures who lived somewhere further than 2 million years ago. Artistic images from the Olduvai and Laetoli discoveries likewise show bipedal creatures, a bit hairier than us, heads a little different, but clearly meant to emphasise their similarity to us. They hold hands. They look off to the horizon. I will call this the National Geographic impression, as that is the popular-culture representative of the textbooks and educational videos which teach that view.

Evolution and Young-Earth Creationism 1A
Journal entries for grad student assigned to watch earth develop.
2,100,000 years. No change to report. This batch got smarter than the other apes and then stopped dead. I think we should drop humans as a study.

2,200,000 years. There might be some hints of progress here, but I'm probably imagining things because I want to see it. Hope springs eternal in the Martian gazorninplat and all that.

Evolution and Young Earth Creationism 2
It was pretty clear what I was driving at with the contrast between the National Geographic 2M+ years impression of the origin of humanity versus the Genesis impression. For 97% of that 2,300,000 years, those creatures didn’t have sophisticated language as we know it.

Rapid Language Development
There are lots of genetic and cultural foundations to language that likely developed in spurts over time. Yet some final genetic piece seems to have been a tipping point that sent communication from primitive to complex very rapidly

Founding Population
We pulled the beginning of behaviorally modern humans from over 2 million years ago down to something like 50,000 - perhaps even 10,000 years ago. But there are other objections to the Genesis account. It narrows the founding population to two people, Adam and Eve, for example

Location, Location, Location
When we compared anatomically modern humans (minimum 2M years ago) to behaviorally modern humans (max 60K years ago), I gave a hint that even stricter definitions of behaviorally modern humans might bring our definition even closer than the important dividing line of the emergence of language. Because Ice Ages forced the widely-spread peoples into now-tropical areas, we seemed to learn to interact more peacefully about 18,000 years ago.

Impossible Things
We change our thinking not because we find one impossible thing in our old beliefs, but because we find too many

To Correct Impressions
As historian Paul Johnson notes, both the Wellhausen (Critical Method, Documentary Hypothesis) followers and the fundamentalists had a comforting simplicity to their ideas: The fundamentalists that the Bible was always literally true word for word, the scholars that it never was.

Tribes Collection

Reposting the old series from 3-5 years ago. I collected all my “tribes” writing into one post for easier reference later. And now it's later. People who have been following the blog might enjoy the refresher. Newer readers might like to see what is probably my main partly-original contribution to the world's discussions. These are in chronological order, not importance or intelligence.
The Influence of Doonesbury
Trudeau inherited the mantle of righteousness from the folksingers, and became the chief exponent of the idea that conservatives were essentially stupid and had evil motives.
Early Tribes Writing
I recall going into Walmart a few years ago and thinking "There's a lot of ethnic folks here. Huh." I thought immediately after, "I wonder if that's what the people who hate Walmart are really objecting to. There are poor people here, immigrants, odd-looking people."
Types of Answers in Education
Modern study in much of the Liberal Arts and Humanities rewards students for a certain type of answer.
But "Postliberal" also gives a sense of my history and my approach to issues.
Evolutionary Psychology
Evolutionary psychologists speak of survival strategies of individuals being bound up in the survival strategies of the group.
Not Their Tribe
The Arts & Humanities crowd in America do not support OIF, or indeed nearly any war, because they do not perceive their tribe to be in danger.
Hoist On My Own Petard
John b made the claim that doubt was the defining characteristic for Episcopalians, which I scoffed at.
A Thought On Hollywood Liberals
The explanations why entertainment folks lean left usually identify two factors: they make their livings via emotion, and they aren’t very bright. That’s too facile. I offer two factors which have more explanatory power.
The Sadness of NPR Christmas
Year-round, NPR tends to the bittersweet, the witty rather than uproarious, the world-weary rather than the cynical, the poignant, the melancholy, the wistful.
C.P. Snow's Two Cultures Today
Scientist and novelist CP Snow declared fifty years ago that the educated classes were becoming two cultures, literary and scientific.
Renaming The Tribe
I have already mentioned my desire to rename what I have been calling the Arts & Humanities Tribe. While the name has the right feel to it, it does not enclose the group as neatly as I would like. It does not mention the social science folks who make up a large portion of the tribe, and it suggests a connection between the humanities and political liberalism that is permanent rather than temporary.
The Other Tribes
Science and Technology Tribe – Call it the Geek Tribe if you want, but they are gradually taking over social sciences, and making inroads into arts and entertainment, so I wouldn’t insult them too much.
State of the Discussion
Several commenters have advocated that I delineate my tribes according to cognitive styles: left-brain, right-brain; pragmatic, synthesizer.
A&H Tribe - Plodding Onward
Pew’s identified group of Liberals (19% of the population) are outliers on many issues.
Tribe, Class, and Cold Pizza
In the comments sections of one of my Tribal posts, Cold Pizza linked to a long but excellent article on the Rand Corp site about tribalism and its effect on societal development.
Arts & Humanities Clans
There are A&H subgroups, with varying degrees of adherence to the larger group’s values.
Science & Technology Tribe in Humor
All those MIT and Caltech jokes over the years - the third guy on the guillotine who looks up at it and says "Hey, I see why that thing doesn't work," for example, illustrate the S&T culture. This group often has the enormous social confidence of themselves writing most of the humor making fun of them.
How Shall The Country Be Run?
When disputants not only give different answers, but different types of answers, it is likely they are answering different questions. If they not only give different evidence, but different types of evidence, we can use this to discover what are the questions behind the questions that the various parties are asking.
Peter Leithart over at has been making frequent reference to Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, a German social philosopher who moved to America in 1932, teaching first at Harvard, then many years at Dartmouth. I had never heard of this man in any context that I remember, but he does seem to have been quite brilliant, and quite fascinating.
That Tribal Name Again
I had thought the term chattering classes was older. A Dorothy Parker term or something of that era. According to the revised OED entry, however, it dates from 1980.
Running Commentary
Robert Fulghum has a mildly interesting piece about American tribal behavior. I recall similar pieces from college sociology and anthropology texts, purporting to view America from an objective standpoint.
Sunday Mornings
The idea of having other gods is a commonplace for Christians. We hear sermons on it, read books about it, teach it to our children. We know from the examination of our own hearts that such things are not only possible, but the natural state of things. There is a spiritual Second Law of Thermodynamics that says we will move inexorably toward lesser, path-of-least-resistance gods unless organizing energy is put into the system.
Imus In The Morning
He had Chris Matthews this morning complaining about George Bush. I keep telling you, they hate him because he's from the wrong tribe.
The Long Post
It starts on family culture, ends on American Tribal Politics. I will summarize the latter soon under "Surprise #2." For those scoring at home, I am in my 50's - the uncle I write to here is 80. The Arts & Humanities Tribe may be changing in the younger generations.
The Soul of America
Conservatives complain that the left is not serious about the War on Terror, but is treating Bush and the neocons as the enemy. Put less confrontively, the left is fighting a different battle - one for the soul of America.
The Ideas, and Why They're Wrong
If we fight, we are becoming just like our enemies. Well, no. The express train to becoming like our enemies is to be conquered by them. A slower, but equally reliable train, is to negotiate with them.
The Internationalist Elite as Secular Religion
Kenneth Anderson of Washington College of Law at American University and the Hoover Institute at Stanford has an article which will be dear to the heart of those who have participated in the discussion of American tribes: Secular Eschatologies and Class Interests of the Internationalized New Class.
Why Do Intellectuals Oppose The Military?
Schooling, maintains Nozick, breeds in intellectuals a sense of superiority, and with it a sense of entitlement to the highest rewards society has to offer - not just top salaries but praise comparable to that lavished on them by their teachers.