11 March 2016

The legacy of Ted Williams

There is a famous story about the legendary Ted Williams and his last at-bat in the major leagues, a home run, the 521st of his career. But that's not what makes the story famous.

What makes the story famous is the fact that he refused to come out of the dugout to acknowledge the cheers of the Fenway Park faithful that day.

As described in the essay by John Updike "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu", the fans cheered for many long minutes, and even chanted "We Want Ted! We Want Ted!". But he never came out of the dugout, on the last at-bat of his entire career at the ballpark he called home for 22 seasons.

This illustrates very succinctly the complicated relationship Ted Williams had with, well, nearly everybody.

But before we judge him for not being as cute and cuddly as we'd like, there is a side of Mr. Williams that might help us understand him a bit better. A side, perhaps, that is not as well known.

In addition to being one of the top two hitters of all time (along with the Babe), he was an ace fighter pilot in the Marines, and a world-class fisherman. To say he was a man of many talents is to understate his legacy by a wide margin.

His military life started in May, 1942, and rather than accept a cream-puff Naval baseball gig, he volunteered to be a pilot.

Because he is Teddy Ballgame, he expected to excel at it. And he did.

In fighter pilot training, he was excellent at dogfighting, the best in his class, according to his future teammate Johnny Pesky, who was in the same class. Pesky, who didn't qualify for the advanced fighter pilot training, on Ted's talents:
“I heard Ted literally tore the 'sleeve target' to shreds with his angle dives. He'd shoot from wingovers, zooms, and barrel rolls, and after a few passes the sleeve was ribbons. At any rate, I know he broke the all-time record for hits. ... From what I heard. Ted could make a plane and its six 'pianos' (machine guns) play like a symphony orchestra. From what they said, his re­flexes, coordination, and visual reaction made him a built-in part of the machine."
Which is not surprising. Because it's Ted Williams we're talking about here.

He served for nearly four years during WWII, mostly as a flight instructor, and then for about 18 months during the Korean War. He was united with John Glenn, future astronaut, on about half his 39 missions in Korea.

In addition to his piloting prowess, he was recognized as a fly fishing expert as well, and was elected to the International Game Fish Association Hall of Fame in 2000. Again, he is Teddy F'ing Ballgame, and we're not.

Ted Williams was one of those men who knew exactly who he was and why he was here, and what he did well and what he did not. And so he did those things better than just about anybody else. Without apologies.

He paid a price for this, to be sure. His relationships with fans, the media, and others were sacrificed on the altar of the Teddy Ballgame persona.

So he was not universally loved, but he was universally respected, and for some people, that is more important. He was pretty damn good at three things that very few people can do even one of: hitting a baseball, and flying fighters, and fishing. For this he has my eternal respect and admiration.

This quote by Richard Ben Cramer seems to sum up his life quite well: "He wanted fame, and wanted it with a pure, hot eagerness that would have been embarrassing in a smaller man. But he could not stand celebrity. This is a bitch of a line to draw in America's dust."



Stuff to read

Gender insanity even at a Jesuit university like Marquette: Marquette's Gender Regime - Mickey L. Mattox, First Things

Wrote this one year ago (plus two days), on March 9 2015, and it seems pretty much spot on, even today: Hillary Clinton's bullshit and the puzzling question of why Americans line up to buy it.

08 March 2016

Mercury and vaccines

Several years ago I wrote up a couple of things about this topic in various places - see here and here.

I'm still not convinced that mercury in vaccines is completely, 100%, fault-free in higher diagnosis rates of autism over the last 20+ years. It seems to me there is some pretty compelling evidence that it is at least a factor, and might even be the primary factor, and none of this means or implies that it "causes" autism.

First, stop using the phrase "vaccines cause autism" - it's a gross over-simplification of the facts. From that first link above, about causation arguments, which are used much too often in any context:
Causation arguments require a very high burden of proof. To say A “causes” B is to make a very strong statement: the presence of A, and A alone, is sufficient to make B happen. I doubt that is truly what any of the proponents of the vaccine–autism link are claiming.

The theory behind the vaccine – autism link that appeals to logic and the surrounding facts is this: that the amount of mercury we purposely inject into our kids at a young age via vaccination contributes greatly to whatever mercury they’ve already ingested. And in some cases, this can be enough to trigger a variety of autism-related disorders. Especially if the child has a depressed immune system when receiving the MMR vaccination. I.e., if they have a cold, or the flu, or other forms of a depressed immune system. Which, of course, is the typical anecdotal evidence brought by parents of PDD children.

In fact, when you dig a little bit deeper here, the symptoms of autism are remarkably similar to the symptoms of mercury poisoning.

And since mercury is sometimes found in the food we eat, and sometimes the air we breathe, and can be passed to children in the womb or via breast milk, it is possible that this accumulated amount of mercury, from all sources, and in some circumstances, can be enough to push some kids into a toxic state of mercury poisoning.
Note all the qualifiers: “possible”, “accumulated”, “from all sources”, “some circumstances”, “can be”, “some kids”.
So I'm on board with the "vaccines do not cause autism" argument, because I think that grossly misrepresents the scientific, fact-based, analytical discussion at hand.

But I could be wrong.

Then there is this, from that second link above:
(1) There was no known safe level of exposure to the type of mercury used in thimerasol.

(2) [...] Even the FDA admits that some kids were exposed to toxic levels of mercury for the kind of mercury they think they understand, but that kids were not exposed to. This (nearly) guarantees that some kids were exposed to toxic levels of ethylmercury unless ethylmercury is much less toxic than methylmercury.
It's a bit confusing so I'll try to restate for clarity. The immunization schedule for children during the 90s was deemed safe for methylmercury - but thimerasol contained ethylmercury, for which there was no known safe exposure level.

Stated more simply, we placed an unwitting bet that ethylmercury was less toxic than methylmercury, without knowing if that was true or not, and then we experimented on our children with it.

That's my reading of it, anyway, I could be wrong - I just haven't seen anybody refute these very specific arguments before.

So, until I do, I will believe that our government was pushing the medical profession, and parents, to inject babies with a vaccine with a type of mercury for which there was no known safe level at the time. And to blithely ignore that seems a bit too much like dancing in the end zone after you fumbled at the 3 yard line.

07 March 2016

"Voting self-interest" -- you're kidding, right?

Some people claim that you can take a bunch of demographic data and decide who is -- and who is not -- voting for their "self-interest", whatever that might mean, based on that data alone.

Several questionable implicit assumptions are built in, such as that people would always want government handouts over the freedom that comes with economic and personal liberty. Or that people are rational actors 100% of the time - is there anybody that really believes that everybody lives their life logically, all the time, with no emotions driving anything? That’s laughable.

They might as well come out and say "I've analyzed things I can measure about you and now I know more about what is good for you than you do."

Shorter version: “I'm smarter than you, because you’re a dumbass.”

This is patently stupid on its face, and immensely troubling for the following reasons, and probably more I haven't thought of yet:
  1. It is dangerous to assume you can derive somebody's self-interest given a bunch of demographic data. We are more than the sum of things that the Census bureau and tele-marketers know about us. 
  2. It is dangerous to assume a priori that everybody wants handouts over economic and personal liberty. Not everybody likes dependence on others - the history of America comes to mind.
  3. It is dangerous to assume you can build accurate models of human behavior from measuring things ... that we measure ... because we can measure them. Which leaves out things we don't measure. Because we can't. Self-select much?
  4. It is dangerous to assume that voters pay much attention to policy - because they quite clearly do not. Who gets to decide what an individual's self-interest "should" be? What does that even mean? Voters respond in various emotional ways to voice, manner, appearance, all kinds of things that have nothing to do with policy. JFK got millions of women's votes because he was dreamy … and Nixon was Nixon. Was that in their self-interest, or not? I don’t know, and don't care. Is a woman voting in her self-interest if she, contra the "experts", loves herself a dreamy JFK for president and couldn't care less about economics or any stupid b.s. because, hey, look at him! This is not news. People vote with their gut a lot more than we’d like to think, which is probably not ideal, but there it is.
  5. Likewise, Obama got millions of votes because he is "well-spoken" as his running mate famously said. Whose self-interest was met there? The people who like well-spoken black men, apparently. Also, whites feeling racial guilt. And blacks, who turned out almost 100% for the guy. Those black voters got to live to see a black president. This is an accomplishment, at least for them, no? Even though, objectively speaking, that is just as racist as whites voting only for whites, the fact remains, for lots of black folks, that’s all they cared about in 2008. This would meet the criteria of satisfying their self-interest, by definition. Even if others don’t understand it.
  6. Even if you could properly model behavior based on all the crucial factors, and collect and organize all of that, then what? You've got a 40-way (or 4000-way) matrix with a bunch of tiny numbers in it. Yay! All cleared up now, right? Some things are just not measurable, and determining whether others are voting in their own self-interest is surely one of them.
I have this same disagreement with baseball stat geeks too.

People who are obsessed with numbers fall into a couple of traps: just because we can measure something does not mean it is more important than something we can't measure, or that the thing we cannot measure is not a factor; and a belief that we understand completely what drives our behavior so that we can build accurate behavioral models from things we can currently measure.

If all of that were true, we should stop researching it, shouldn't we?

04 March 2016

Technology is a wonderful thing, except when it's the worst

If you're wondering how many naked pics teens are sending back and forth on their iPhones, the answer is A LOT

Lives of the Selfie-Centered

For those who are blissfully unaware, lots of young people use their smartphones to take pictures and videos of themselves in various states of undress, and send them to others. 

That's flirting today: "hey ur hot, here's a d!ck pic" and "do you like my b00bs?"

Yes it's gross and immature and we raise them to know better, blah blah blah, but they're doing it. Because they can. This mode of self-expression was always there, bubbling under the surface, and it took technology that allows instant sharing of photos and videos, away from the prying eyes of parents, to allow it to bloom. Thanks for that.

And it encourages younger females to bare even more skin than they already did -- and it seems like a race to who can look the most like a hooker, sometimes -- in the uber-competitive race for male attention and social advantage that they already obsess over. 

A race to the bottom in who can degrade themselves the most, by leveraging technology, doesn't seem so wonderful to me. 

This epic advance in civilization is brought to you exclusively by smartphones and the Internet. Just keep that in mind next time you hear somebody talking about the wonders of technology.