Book Review: Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times

Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times
by H.W. Brands
Doubleday
(c) 2005 by the author

The current president likes to compare himself to Andrew Jackson, choosing Jackson’s portrait to hang in the Oval Office. Jackson is going to be removed from the $20 bill, to be replaced by Harriet Tubman. All the hubbub over Jackson has many people in a lather about him; essentially he’s seen as the Anti-Christ for his slave ownership and the “Trail of Tears”.

I thought it might be a good idea, then, to read a biography of our seventh President, and learn something of what all the fuss is about.

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The Hall of Fame and the Keltner List

It’s that time of year again – the Baseball Hall of Fame has released their annual ballot. Let the arguments begin!

The arguments typically involve analyzing a player’s statistics (which is NOT to be confused with statistical analysis!) and deciding who is better on some arcane and arbitrary scale.

There’s “Wins Above Replacement”, which exists in two versions. At Baseball Reference, you can look up Bill James’ “Black Ink”, “Gray Ink”, and “Hall of Fame Monitor”, which all assign points to various career accomplishments and compare them to players already in the Hall. Jay Jaffe has come up with his “JAWS” score, which is an attempt to combine everything into a single number by which one can easily judge a player’s Hall-worthiness.

(Note that JAWS and WAR are pretty much calculations in a multidimensional space – but more on that in a future post….)

These are all attempts to take something that is purely subjective – a player’s greatness – and treat it in an objective manner. But they still wind up being subjective in the way they assign weights and importance to their individual components. And what the heck is meant by a “half a win” above replacement, anyway?

I figure we should drop all the pretense of objectivity, and go with the Keltner List.

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The Outrage Factor

These past few weeks have seen a lot of creepy guys getting called out on the carpet for their crappy treatment of women. Harvey Weinstein got what he deserved, Kevin Spacey was outed, an accused child molester is running for the Senate in Alabama, even Sen. Al Franken got caught with his hands where they should not have been. El Presidente still has a reputation for grabbing women, and former president Bill Clinton is being raked over the coals again by some for his past personal affairs.

It’s getting so common that you can’t tell what to be outraged about anymore.

As it happens, I think I’ve come up with a formula that can help you decide what to be outraged over, and how much outrage to give it.

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BOOK REVIEW: Time Travel

Time Travel
James Gleick
Pantheon Books
Copyright 2016 by the author

If you were looking for someone who could explain all the ins and outs and forwards and sideways of time travel, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better writer than James Gleick. He’s previously tackled topics like chaos theory and the life and work of Richard Feynman. So a history of the idea of time travel seems like a natural subject for him to present to the average intelligent reader.

Gleick starts by taking us back in time to when H.G. Wells was penning “The Time Machine”. He discusses early drafts of the novel, and mentions some of the problems that reviewers noted – what happens if solid objects are in the space the Traveler is passing through, for one, and how do you account for the fact that the earth is both rotating and moving through space (the latter is one that time travelers always seem to forget).

From there, he moves forward in time through physicists treating time mathematically as a dimension, philosophers grappling with the concept of time, and even lexicographers trying to simply come up with a definition of the term that doesn’t wind up spinning in circles: “Time is what clocks measure”; “A clock is a device for measuring the passage of time.”[1]

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Investigations, Indictments, and Impeachment

There was a brief bit of excitement as the first round of indictments came out of Robert Muller’s investigation a few days ago. Some on The Left started doing a happy dance, hoping that this was just the beginning, and the dragnet would very shortly close in around the president and force the start of the impeachment process.

Well, it’s not that simple. There’s still a lot more to do and uncover, and even then it might not be enough for an impeachment. Sure, Trump’s sympathies (such as they are) are pro-Russia. But that, in and of itself, isn’t a crime. One would need direct evidence that he conspired with Russia. Or that members of his campaign team did, and he knew about it and did nothing.

Given his recent panic over the investigation, it seems as if things are hitting close to home. Perhaps he really does have something to worry about, or he’s so insecure that he cannot handle any challenge to his authority. Either way, there are two things we need to watch out for.

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On the 2017 World Series

Wow.

What a World Series! What can I say? It was an unbelievable set of games, between two amazing teams. All the games were very close and hard-fought. Even the ones that look like blowouts from the final score weren’t. Game 4, that ended with the Dodgers winning 6-2? It was tied at 1 going to the ninth inning. And even Game 7 was tighter than you’d think.

Sure, the Astros scored their five runs early. Yu Darvish is probably already getting blamed for it, but watch the replays. Springer’s leadoff double was fair by inches, and if Cody Bellinger has simply put the ball in his pocket instead of throwing it to El Monte…. Meanwhile, Astros’ starter Lance McCullers must have thought he was playing dodgeball instead of baseball against the Dodgers – he hit four of the thirteen batters he faced. But the Dodgers offense left the population of Burbank on the basepaths, dooming whatever chances they were handed.

Even so, knowing the state of the Astros’ bullpen and the overall strength of the Dodgers’ offense, there was always the hope / worry that Los Angeles would put something together and pull out a win. They didn’t really look dead until the bottom of the ninth.

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