Friday, November 17, 2017

Chesterton on not taking yourself too seriously

SERIOUSNESS is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice, It is really a natural trend or lapse into taking one's self gravely, because it is the easiest thing to do. It is much easier to write a good Times leading article than a good joke in Punch. For solemnity flows out of men naturally, but laughter is a leap. It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.


From "Orthodoxy".


As an aside I used to read Punch, the great British humor magazine which expired a few years ago, when I was in high school. I already loved British sports cars, and was coming to love British writing. Later I got into GK Chesterton, Agatha Christie, CS Lewis, and PG Wodehouse. Thus an Irish Catholic became an Anglophile



Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Roy Halladay, 1977-2017

A few thoughts on the career of Roy Halladay, who died piloting his plane yesterday. (Halladay had just taken delivery of the ICON A5 amphibious plane a month ago. It is the second fatal crash for the "sports car with wings" this year).


First I wanted to note that Halladay had a well-deserved reputation as a good guy. He was heavily involved in charitable work in both his Blue Jays and Phillies years. He was a multiple finalist for the Roberto Clemente Award, given to players with exemplary records for humanitarianism.


As a pitcher, Roy had few equals in his era. He won 203 games, threw a no-hitter for the Phillies in the 2010 playoffs, and is rated the 42nd best starting pitcher of all-time by the JAWS metric.


The most similar pitcher to Roy by Similarity Score is Zach Greinke of Arizona, another pitcher who will likely end up in the Hall of Fame. (Interestingly enough, the most similar pitcher to Greinke is Roy Oswalt, who with Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee formed the historic "Four Aces" rotation of the 2011 Phillies, who won 102 games).


Halladay never won a World Series, having arrived in both Toronto and Philadelphia a little too late for either team's championship years. But in 38 innings of excellent post-season work, he bettered his regular season ERA by a full run.


RIP to a good man and a fine athlete.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

What remains


Some thoughts for All Saints Day, from our old friend GK Chesterton:


"You cannot deny that it is perfectly possible that to-morrow morning in Ireland or in Italy there might appear a man not only as good but good in exactly the same way as St. Francis of Assisi. Very well; now take the other types of human virtue: many of them splendid. The English gentleman of Elizabeth was chivalrous and idealistic. But can you stand still in this meadow and be an English gentleman of Elizabeth? The austere republican of the eighteenth century, with his stern patriotism and his simple life, was a fine fellow. But have you ever seen him? Have you ever seen an austere republican? Only a hundred years have passed and that volcano of revolutionary truth and valour is as cold as the mountains of the moon.


"And so it will be with the ethics which are buzzing down Fleet Street at this instant as I speak. What phrase would inspire a London clerk or workman just now? Perhaps that he is a son of the British Empire on which the sun never sets; perhaps that he is a prop of his Trades Union, or a class-conscious proletarian something or other; perhaps merely that he is a gentleman, when he obviously is not. Those names and notions are all honourable, but how long will they last? Empires break; industrial conditions change; the suburbs will not last for ever. What will remain? I will tell you the Catholic saint will remain."


'The Ball and the Cross.'

Friday, October 27, 2017

The case against football

I don't mean to sound like a sports prude, if there is such a thing, but if you're an NFL fan, these guys are suffering catastrophic brain injuries so you can be entertained. How can you be okay with that?


On various other blogs I've been issued screeds about football-why the teams aren't really trying to win (they make money regardless), with the result that the sport is basically just a hugely successful TV show. Or about how the sixteen game season's small sample size makes it all kind of pointless anyway. Not to mention the degree to which the game's success is linked to all the free publicity it gets in the media, or how the hype to thrills ratio is pretty skewed given that there may be five or six exciting plays (lots of "three yards and a cloud of dust" skirmishes) in a dreary three hour TV show.


But those are simply matters of taste. Much more important is that we now know much more about how risky the game is, which may be why kids' participation in the sport is declining-America's parents have the good sense to protect their kids.


Dr. Bennet Omalu, whose pioneering research into football's dangers was actively resisted by the league, says kids under eighteen shouldn't play football at all. He has the same opinion, it should be added, about other contact sports-they are simply too risky for the developing brain.


For the NFL'ers themselves, Omalu says no equipment can prevent the injuries caused by huge guys moving at great speeds. Far too may become suicidal, or zombies.

Of course there are other arguments against the game-the current kneeling idiocy, the fact that so many of the players are, well, thugs.


But the safety issue is the big one.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Trump approval-down 5.9%

That is, Trump's current approval rating with registered/likely voters of 40.2%, according to the Real Clear Politics average of recent polls, represents a 5.9% drop from his election popular vote percentage.


That 40.2% compares unfavorably with his 42% figure the last time I checked this on September 21. Will a stronger economy and a grownup foreign policy push these numbers higher, or will Trump's hyper-ventilated reactions to all criticism continue to blot out his considerable achievements to date? I have no idea.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Category error

Pandora thinks ultra high energy jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson and pop trumpeter Herb Alpert are "similar artists". I have a certain not entirely rational affection for The Tijuana Brass, but that's like calling Charlie Parker and Kenny G "similar artists" because both are saxophonists.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

By the numbers

We are knee-deep in the baseball playoffs, which look to be yielding a potentially classic Yankees/Dodgers World Series. The games have been good, if rather long-averaging about half an hour longer than the regular season...in fact no game has been less than three hours (ALCS game two was exactly three hours).

Here, though, I wanted to talk about some regular season questions. We baseball fans like numbers. We argue about which ones matter, when if ever they should take second place to intangibles like the evergreen notion of the "veteran clubhouse presence", and whether "statheads" are universally guys who couldn't play (in my case, yes).




I just wanted to take a quick look at a few correlations between wins (ranging from the Dodgers' 104 to the Giants' and Tigers' 64), and factors like payroll, batter age, pitchers' strikeouts, etc. Nothing too sophisticated here. And yes, correlation is not causation. This is quick and dirty stuff. Anyway...


The highest positive correlation I found was between wins and pitcher strikeouts per nine innings: 0.76. Think teams like Cleveland, the Dodgers, Houston. Baseball is more and more about power arms, and numbers like this one will only encourage the trend.


The highest negative one was between wins and runs against per game, not surprisingly, at -0.86. The correlation for runs scored per game was 0.72.


There is a decent sized positive correlation for pitcher age, at 0.32, and a tiny negative one for batter age. The former figure would seem to contradict the number above on the value of young flamethrowers.


And with modest-payroll teams like the Astros and Diamondbacks making the playoffs, it's not a shock that while payroll is an important factor in success, it isn't necessarily central-the positive correlation here is 0.37

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Hitler or Hefner

This quote from Malcolm Muggeridge seems apt:

"If God is dead, somebody is going to have to take his place. It will be megalomania or erotomania, the drive for power or the drive for pleasure, the clenched fist or the phallus, Hitler or Hugh Hefner".

RIP Hugh Hefner.

Chet

Below is a poem I wrote a while ago about the great jazz trumpeter Chet Baker-


Found his way to Birdland,

Valhalla of the jazzmen.

Played his horn like an angel whispering,

Not a warrior bearing his weapon.


All the beauty was on the stand,

Darkness all else.

But if your darkness be light,

O, how great the light!


Sought by Hollywood in his youth,

James Dean's worthy heir.

Killed himself more slowly,

But we were no less fascinated.


The standard songs with the standard changes,

Conventional to the last:

His 50's gospel, the sated man of alley and bandstand,

The perfect fix, the perfect note.


"Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy":

A better tale than a triumph,

In a world that lives out its woes,

One song at a time.



Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The bizarre ritual (anti-ritual?) of anthem protests

The phrase has a strange ring to it-"anthem protests". Who would protest the playing of their own national anthem? The anthem, after all, and the displaying of the flag, and any other civic ritual you could name, aren't some sort of declaration that a nation is flawless.

We celebrate America, or at least acknowledge its worth, as a sort of truism of shared values-that a people, with a given set of civic beliefs, have created and sustained a nation in line with those values. But what happens when those values are no longer widely shared?



I don't intend to wade into all the political controversies that have me convinced we're a nation in name only. I'll just mention that we have a founding document that establishes the rules of the civic game. Increasingly that document, and the laws that operate under it, are seen as just so many words on paper, when one side is unhappy with the results. When such a point is reached, where the consequences of a long-established democratic process are "illegitimate" because the wrong party wins or the wrong policy is instituted, we are in the process of rejecting what made America succeed. The entire system is based on the idea that the results of our political process are by definition legitimate.

The essential orientation of America-as a nation organized towards the promotion of freedom and prosperity-is now rejected by half the nation. Freedom is dicey because people can use it for purposes not tending towards "social justice". Prosperity-the creation of new wealth, with the ultimate purpose of starting and maintaining families-is irrelevant. Redistribution of existing wealth (with the exception of Silicon Valley's vast hordes of same) is paramount. The fact that greater redistribution doesn't yield greater economic equality is irrelevant.


So we have one side wishing to maintain the old order, and another rejecting it entirely. What the latter would establish may still maintain some of the forms of democracy, but they will be toothless relics. Whatever means necessary to get to nirvana will be acceptable.


UPDATE: Miriam has some interesting thoughts on what was intended to be a cost-free exercise in virtue-signalling.

FURTHER UPDATE: A further reason not to watch the NFL-an appalling percentage of these guys are thugs. Here are detailed NFL arrest records. 

ONE MORE UPDATE: "The brontosaurus in the room": Roger L. Simon on the lie behind the protests-the notion that cops are what's wrong with the black community.


AND FINALLY: No matter how you play with the numbers, it is black men who are doing most of the killing of black men.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

I haven't read what you wrote, but I know you're an idiot

The New Atheists aren't, shall we say, a group of intellectual heavyweights.

Edward Feser is, by any reckoning, a heavyweight, and here he decries the NA's who assail his book Five Proofs of the Existence of God without, of course, having read it.

Good God.

In denial?

Those of us who, as either scientists or laymen, believe that we cannot know, now, or possibly ever, what the climate will be like in fifty or a hundred years, let alone whether changes will have disastrous effects-we are called denialists. We get this fun epithet largely because it is alleged we deny that climate is changing, not just that long-term predictions are a fool's errand.

For the record-we deny nothing....at least regarding the idea that the climate can ever be ENTIRELY stable, one way or the other.


The Earth's temperature, as best we can tell, is today 0.5 degrees C above its 1979-2000 base. 


But those predictions are fact dicey propositions. As this piece argues, while the climate is a "non-linear chaotic system", it in fact is prone to long periods of relative stability-it has been quite stable over the last ten thousand years (post the last Ice Age).



The shoe seems to be on the other foot, so to speak-the alarmists need to make a case that small changes in carbon dioxide (relative to those seen in geological history) will have effects that override this stability, and that, given that predictions of chaotic systems call for full knowledge of small-scale conditions ("The Butterfly Effect"), that they know conditions well enough to make such calls.

I deny this possibility.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Links-mostly controversial

It looks like Obama spied on Trump and his campaign, as he also apparently did on reporters like Sharyl Attkisson. There should be outrage from all sides on this, but we're past the point where anything but results matters to the Left.

A fun little plaything-CodePen chord progression arpeggio generator. I've wasted hours with this.

Ray Fair, an economist famous for his election models, shows you here how fast you'll decline in chess and sports as you age. It's not pretty.


Buying the iPhone X-an exercise in irrationality. 

Want to know exactly what Bob Dylan played on his XM Satellite and Sirius XM radio shows? Now you can, or at least "the Best of".


Cardinal Dolan wants liberals to like him a little too much. Bending over backwards to avoid the dreaded label of "Islamophobia" doesn't show much spiritual leadership, but then again most of our American bishops act more like administrators than spiritual leaders.

Trump tracking-down 4.1%

In the Real Clear Politics average of RV/LV, Trump stands at 42% approval.

This is down 4.1% from his election popular vote percentage, but up from 40% last time I checked this on September 13.


I track this not only because because I'm interested in this figure, but because I track all sorts of stuff-health numbers like blood pressure and resting pulse, twitter tweets per follower, a wide variety of baseball stats, etc. I do love numbers.

Chesterton on not taking yourself too seriously

SERIOUSNESS is not a virtue. It would be a heresy, but a much more sensible heresy, to say that seriousness is a vice, It is really a natur...