Thursday, June 26, 2014

In Which We Learn I'm Not American Enough for Ann Coulter's Tastes

Yesterday I saw a headline that read, "America's Favorite National Pastime: Hating Soccer." I didn't read it, because I was pretty sure I knew the type of ignorant criticism it contained.

Not that all criticism of soccer is ignorant, mind you. I can understand if you just like a different type of action in the sports you watch. For instance, some Americans have a problem with soccer's typical low scoreline. If scoring is what you think makes a game exciting, then soccer will not be that exciting to you. And that's fine.

I also get it if you have a problem with affected soccer fans. I get that. I have a Facebook "friend" (is it redundant to specify it's a Facebook connection and still place the word "friend" in quotes?) who refuses to call the sport anything but "football." While he's not a foreigner, he does currently reside overseas (though his Facebook posts couldn't possibly be for local consumption, as his nation of residence blocks Facebook access). If fan affectations bother you, that would make watching soccer with soccer fans annoying. And that's fine.

But with the increased interest in soccer comes a number of people who are criticizing the game from their own ignorance. This reminds me of when I was reading blog posts from a relatively-new viewer of American football with recommendations on rule changes and player tactics. It takes quite a bit of hubris to say, "Hey, I've been watching you for a few minutes now do that thing I didn't used to know about that you've been doing for years, and I have a few tips for how you can improve." This was what drove the Wall Street Journal article last week regarding "writhing time." Yes, soccer has a problem with injury embellishment, and knowledgeable commentators have talked about penalizing faking ("simulation," it's called) more harshly. But noting that players removed by stretcher later returned to play is ignorant.

Soccer has a running clock. A player who needs medical attention needs to receive that attention off the field. How do you get a player off the field before he feels well enough to stand and walk (in which case, he wouldn't have to leave the field anymore)? You carry him off. Once off, the game resumes and the trainers try to evaluate him quickly because his team is disadvantaged playing the game with fewer players. He is either subbed out or returns to action. People who say, "Oh, he couldn't walk a moment ago and now he's fine," are showing their ignorance. Perhaps he could have walked but didn't want to until a trainer made sure his injury wasn't a break or a tear of something. Perhaps his injury hurt quite a bit, but now that time has passed (and he's been sprayed with that stuff), he feels better. Has no one ever been hurt, spent some time in pain, and then moved on with his life? This type of ignorance is baffling; ignorance of the intricacies of soccer can be excused a person who has not paid attention to soccer before, but ignorance of how the human body responds to pain is pretty lame.

Even if they aren't faking the extent of their injuries, some criticize soccer players for how easily they get hurt. These critics are showing ignorance, as well. Players wear shin guards that guard the shin. Not the ankle or the top of the foot. They are kicking balls at speeds up to 80 mph (I'd link to that stat, but the webpage had a creepy picture of a guy with super buggy eyes); if they miss the ball and get your foot, you're going to have a bad time.

Sometimes players fall from getting bumped. This is not necessarily simulation. Muscles cramp with little provocation sometimes; my left calf cramped terribly after eight miles of my most recent marathon, and I believe it was from getting hit by a pebble kicked by a runner behind me. It ruined the rest of my race.

So these are my reasons for not reading the article.

Later in the day, I saw a tweet of a soccer commentator, responding to a question about "the Ann Coulter article." I Googled it, and saw that Coulter was the author of the article attached to the headline I had read earlier. So I decided to read the article. And while I was reading the article, I got an e-mail from sometimes-reader Craig (whose wife is a more-regular reader, Alanna), asking what I thought of it.

I think most of Coulter's arguments are of the ignorant type. Nowhere does she say, "I know this about soccer and I don't care for it." Instead, she says things like, "Individual achievement is not a big factor in soccer." This shows she is unaware that major tournaments award a Golden Boot trophy to the top goal-scorer, that she is unaware that Cristiano Ronaldo recently won World Footballer of the Year, that she is unaware of the existence of Lionel Messi. She writes that no one receives blame, showing she is unaware of the death of Andrés Escobar. She asks, "Do they even have MVPs in soccer?", a question she could have answered with a two-second Google search. (My search is a Bing search because I've been boycotting Google since last Easter.)

Most of Coulter's criticism is of low-level youth rec-league soccer, not professional soccer. She shows not only her ignorance of professional soccer's competitiveness, but of all rec-league sports in America today. Ann, everyone gets a ribbon in every sport these days. Your problem is with modern pedagogy, not soccer.

Many of Coulter's criticisms are really just personal tastes. Thus, she thinks an 11-minute game that takes four hours to play is "more exciting" than a 90-minute game that takes 90 minutes to play. Okay, if that's what you're into. But don't tell me this is fact. It's just taste.

I get that opinion writers don't do nuances. I have been an opinion writer before. Even if you have room in your 500 words for the words "I think," you should drop them. Opinions written as facts are stronger and make for better reading. But opinion where no objective fact could ever exist is just being a blowhard.

Finally, Coulter goes from annoying to offensive.

I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time.
Of my four great-grandfathers, one was born in Czechia and one was born in Greece. In Coulter's estimation, I'm a "new" American (and my English ability is suspect). I have ancestors who have been in America since the 1600s, who fought in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the First World War, the Second World War, and the Vietnam War. The American-ness of my roots is beyond question.

Nor should it matter. Since when does it take four generations for someone to become American? I was under the impression it took a commitment and an oath. And the fact that Ann Coulter is a fourth-generation New Yorker does more to undermine her conservative credentials than the birthplace of my great-grandparents could ever undermine my perceived patriotism. If Coulter doesn't want to be evaluated by the chance location of her ancestors' births, neither should she so evaluate me.

In all, I was a big fan of Coulter's until I read her piece. Now I am offended by her casual dismissal of my ancestry, and I'm concerned about how ignorant she can be about something without prudently keeping her mouth shut (or fingers from typing). She should have watched a little more soccer before deciding she knew enough to write its take-down.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Moving Soon

Because our kids' swimming lessons have been on Mondays, we've been holding Family Night on Tuesdays. So last night we started Family Night with a review of our upcoming events. And that review covered our first weekend in China. That is sort of crazily soon.

Since we don't live in our own place, I can tell you when we're going to be out of town without inviting robbers. So our upcoming travel looks like this:

  • July 11: Marion OH, Canton OH, Cleveland OH, Kirtland OH, Pittsburgh PA
  • July 12: Pittsburgh PA
  • July 13: Clarion PA*, Seneca Falls NY
  • July 14: Palmyra NY, Buffalo NY, Niagara Falls NY, Hamilton ON, London ON
  • July 15: Saginaw MI
  • July 16: Detroit MI, Windsor ON, Toledo OH

Those plans are set. The drive to California is still more fluid, but is shaping up this way.

  • July 25: Mammoth Cave KY
  • July 26-27: Saint Louis MO, Kansas City MO
  • July 28-29: Lawrence KS, Max NE
  • July 30: Casper WY
  • July 31: Preston ID
  • August 1: Reno NV
  • August 2-3: Red Bluff CA
  • August 4: Ventura County CA

Then August 20 we fly to Beijing.

* = I was excited about eating the world's largest hamburger, but it's in Clearfield, not Clarion.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Daily Show Badge of Honor Is Not an Honor

I follow a blog called Economists Do It With Models, the work of a PhD candidate in the Boston area named Jodi Beggs. I don't know Beggs, but from reading her blog, I'd say she spends most of her time reading Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, filming herself drawing supply-and-demand diagrams, and watching The Daily Show.

Ah, The Daily Show, the easiest way for an American to feel really smart (without going to a Walmart). Remember the waiter at the beginning of Mitt who tells the guys from the Romney campaign that he gets all his new from The Daily Show? Not, like, some, but all?

Others have written more eloquently (as if that's even not possible to do) about Jon Stewart's weird "I'm not really a journalist" journalism thing. I don't have that much of a problem with that. Late-night talk show guys interview famous people all the time, and no one really expects "hard-hitting" questions from them (which is why the president deals exclusively in talk show interviews). But not everyone who watches these shows knows they're not getting actual journalism.

In this post about David Brat, Beggs shows the dangers of a Daily-Show-centric news diet. She cites Brat's master's and doctorate degrees, then notes, "The above facts imply that the Tea Party isn’t entirely terrified of intelligent and/or educated people. (Yay!)" So the Tea Party is somewhat terrified of smart people? What poll shows this? Here one of the (many) educated Tea Party supporters in this country breaks through Beggs's self-imposed cone of ignorance, and he's seen as an aberration. The fact is that Tea Party supporters are more educated than the average American. But even though that story might have made it through the ignorance cone since it appeared in the New York Times, Beggs acts like it's not true. So David Brat's doctorate is a weird thing that can be used for a sardonic dig at the Tea Party. (Yay!)

She finds it "potentially worrisome" that "none of the economists I talked to had any idea who David Brat was before this event." Why worrisome? There are millions of economists in this country. Sure, economists should know most of the highly-influential, but why would we expect David Brat to be among the highly-influential? His comparative advantage in economics is not so large that he bypassed a quixotic run for Congress. I'd be more surprised if his CV contained an article I had heard of. This is why Ronald Reagan became president and Cary Grant didn't.

Beggs ends by saying "I do think that he's better than the Tea Party label suggests." But she's already shown her ignorance of what the Tea Party label actually means. All she's saying here is, "I've been told the Tea Party is stupid, and Brat's not (that) stupid." So instead of questioning her priors, she decides to throw out Brat as an outlier. This post reveals more about Beggs's Colbertification of her news consumption than anything about David Brat.

On Transsexual Respect

The Republican primary for Virginia's 7th congressional district featured an economics professor defeating the House Majority Leader. The professor, David Brat, has written about the work of Deirdre McCloskey, another economics professor. McCloskey was born male and transitioned to female in 1995. (I have no idea if I'm using the correct terms; "transitioned" is what her Wikipedia page says.) Brat evidently referred to McCloskey as "Donald-Diedre McCloskey" in writing, which began a discussion of LGBT respect on Marginal Revolution. So I come to you with a post about respecting transsexuals.

When I was deciding where to attend graduate school in economics, University of Illinois-Chicago was on my short list (meaning they accepted me; anyplace that accepted me was good enough for my serious consideration). I knew McCloskey was on the faculty at UIC, and I knew she used to be a man. I was unsure how I would react having to interact with her. Lots of issues went into my deciding not to attend UIC, but at least a minor one was avoiding what I feared would be a weird situation.

But guess what? McCloskey is friends with a bunch of professors at the school I ended up attending, and she's great friends with my dissertation adviser. So I've ended up meeting and interacting with her a lot.

Here's all I know about being transsexual: it's really, really hard. So if someone undertakes a transition, that person must really, really need to do it. And who am I to judge such overwhelming needs?

I don't know what the right response is to transsexual children. I'm just incredibly grateful that (so far, knock on wood) I haven't had to deal with the issue as a parent. But as someone with no stake in the game, the least I can do is respect the decisions of those who are overwhelmingly compelled to make such socially-unaccepted decisions.

Monday, June 09, 2014

It Turns Out That God DID Make Little Green Apples

O.C. Smith is not singing a list of things that actually happen. That would have been helpful to know before.

Here's how we ended up taking a two-day trip to Indianapolis. My second son, Jerome Jerome the Metronome, loves African wild dogs. Our local zoos didn't have any (although Cincinnati is getting some later this month), so we looked around on the Internet and found out that Indianapolis has some. So for his birthday in January he got some money from his non-local grandparents to go to Indianapolis Zoo and see the African wild dogs.

"But that's just a one-day trip. Why was your trip an over-nighter?" Well, my wife and I needed to check off Indiana.

We drove to Indianapolis on a Friday. It rained off-and-on during the drive. Once we got to Indianapolis (and drove past a terrible traffic jam caused by a sneeze--the second trip in our last three trips to Indiana that involved a burned-out semi truck), we stopped at the Lego Store. When we were leaving, we were pelted with sizable hail. Then we went to see the Indianapolis Indiana Temple.

Next we went to Crown Hill Cemetery, where it was surprisingly difficult to find the grave of Benjamin Harrison, our 23rd president.

My favorite Benjamin Harrison story is when he tried to attend a Stanford baseball game and the student body president, Herbert Hoover, didn't recognize him so he wouldn't let him in for free. Actually, that's my only Benjamin Harrison story. As George Will recently wrote about his own imagined administration: "Mine will be a success if, a century hence, Americans remember me as dimly as they remember Grover Cleveland...." Benjamin Harrison has met the Willian standard of success and then some.

Next, we checked in at our hotel, a Hyatt Place. It was great. I don't usually rave about hotels--two beds and a TV is nothing to blog about. But our room was the first we've had in a long time that fit all of us, and it did it quite comfortably. Breakfast was great and the employees were nice. We're Hyatt Place fans now.

We had tickets for a baseball game. The Indianapolis Indians are the AAA-affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, my favorite team. They were playing the Pawtucket Red Sox, the AAA-affiliate of my wife's favorite team, the Boston Red Sox. But with torrential rain coming and going, it was unclear if we'd see the game at all, or if we'd just get wet and frozen. We stopped to eat supper on our way downtown, and took a picture of another hailstorm outside the restaurant window.

If Ernie Banks had been there just then, I would have slapped him across his lying face.

We went to the park and the rain stopped. It didn't rain anymore all evening.

The Pirates' top prospect, Gregory Polanco, was playing right field, just a few yards away from us.

The Indians' starting pitcher was Pirate regular Jeff Locke on a rehab start. He went seven innings and only gave up one hit (which the second baseman maybe could have caught had he tried harder). Locke left with the Indians ahead, 3-0. Then the Red Sox scored five runs, including an inside-the-park home run that featured a ball stuck under the bullpen bench in front of us and Polanco trying to convince the umpire to call it a ground-rule double. Going into the bottom of the ninth, the Indians trailed 5-3.

(That kid in the salmon-colored shirt is not in our family.)

Aside: children today. It seems what passes for teaching your kid manners is to teach them to say respectful things while doing disrespectful things. Because our seats were on the rail with professional ballplayers right in front of us, we were surrounded by kids from neighboring sections who would come down to the rail and demand baseballs from the players. But they addressed their demands to "sir," so they'd bark out, "Sir, give me a baseball! Sir! Sir! Give me a baseball, sir!" A relief pitcher would stand up to start getting loose and the kids would demand his baseball. Like he's going to warm up with an imaginary ball? The ballplayers wanted to make the point that they weren't jerks, they just didn't yield to terrorists, so they gave a baseball to our youngest, The Screamapilar.

Okay, bottom of the ninth. I turned my cap inside out, as science dictates. And, like most other bits of science, it worked. The Indians scored three runs for a walk-off 6-5 victory.

The next morning we went to the Indianapolis Zoo, where it was evidently Central Indiana Meth Users' Family Day. The tickets were a little high for a zoo, but they assure you that it's because they take no government money. So none of the animals have to get the HPV vaccine or do Common Core math worksheets. Which is nice for the animals, I guess. But bad for my wallet.

Articulate Joe loves dolphins, and admission included tickets to a dolphin show. (It should have included my own freaking dolphin, given the prices. But I digress.) Jerome Jerome the Metronome loves African wild dogs. Plural. Because it's a pack animal. Here's Indianapolis Zoo's "pack" of wild dog.

Nevertheless, Jerome and his pet wild dog, Brownie, enjoyed watching the obviously-hung-over wild dog "pack" occasionally lift its head as if to say, "Wait, I'm still here?"

We finished at the zoo and went to drive past Indianapolis Motor Speedway. My oldest son, Articulate Joe, has become a fan of "motor sports," meaning he spends hours watching guys on TV do what, when I do it, bores him. "How much longer?" he asks on every car trip, and I ask during every NASCAR race. Since we were in Indianapolis, we figured we'd take him to see the racetrack. But since no one else in the family cares, and we didn't have all the time in the world, we weren't going to go in for a tour or anything.

It turned out that, because we were there a week before the Indianapolis 500, drivers were running qualifying laps. When we got to the speedway, you could hear the car engines from inside. The grandstand was not monolithic, so I dropped him and my wife off to look through the openings in the stands while we circled the block.

This is the saddest looking picture in the history of parents taking pictures of kids. I come off like a jerk in this picture. "Here, kid, stand outside the place you really want to go. But you can't go in! Ha ha!" It's like that "Deep Thoughts with Jack Handey" where he says he took his nephew to a burned-out warehouse and told him it was Disneyland. In one of the pictures my wife took, he was hanging on the fence, like he was trying to climb in.

The truth was, he was okay with it. And not "okay with it" like a kid from a 40s movie who is okay with supporting his widowed mother with polio, I mean really okay with it. We had told him we could only see the outside, so being able to see cars on the track was a bonus. And right when I dropped them off, it started raining and they shut down qualifying for the day, so there would have been nothing to see inside, anyway. He was happy he got to see a car go past a few times, and he got to see the giant jet-aircraft-engine dryer trucks go past, too.

Then, the part of the trip everyone was really waiting for: driving to Danville, Illinois, and back! I got the last seven counties I needed in Indiana. Indiana is my tenth completed state (Utah, Arizona, Missouri, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey, and Indiana). My wife took this picture to commemorate the moment.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

A Finished Book Series

About six years ago, I got a book from the library to read to my son. That started us on a path that culminated in having a former classmate now living in Australia send us a book unavailable in the United States.

My boys really enjoy the Jack Russell: Dog Detective series by Darrel and Sally Odgers. Last night, we finished reading the last book, The Ham Heist. It was a long process (because we had to start over when we had another kid who wanted to hear them).

Next up, the six-book Pet Vet series. And my daughter tells me the Odgerses' website advertises a new series starting soon. We might need our former classmate to mail us a few more books (or we could realize my post-China dream plan and just move to Australia ourselves).

In Which Our Blogger Creeps You Out With Charts and Math and Whatnot

I was looking at news stories on Yahoo (I've written before about how this is a bad habit I developed in the wake of the September 11th attacks), and one headline promised to show me a funny text message conversation between a cuckolded man and his ex-girlfriend. Like most headlines promising something funny, it didn't really deliver. But what it did do was take me to Huffington Post. That's how I know I've taken a wrong turn on the Internet, when I end up on Huffington Post. But a sidebar story there took me to FiveThirtyEight, one of these newfangled news/culture/politics/entertainment websites that debuted in the past few months. And that's where I found this graph:

What's the deal with the drop for old people? Notice the question is "have you ever," not "do you now." And 90% of men in their 60s say they've masturbated at least once in their lives, but only 80% of men aged 70 and over say they have. Which means only one thing: at-least-once-masturbators are more likely to die than never-masturbators.

According to this website, there are 4.4 million men in the U.S. in the 65-69 cohort, and 3.9 million men in the 70-74 cohort. So about 11% of the men aged 65-69 can expect to die before reaching 70. But of the 3.96 million at-least-once-masturbators aged 65-69, only 3.12 million of them will make it, which means 21% of them die. Therefore, masturbation is deadly for seniors.

What's more likely, I bet, is that men born over 70 years ago were more-effectively indoctrinated against masturbation than men born more recently. But that's not as cool as imagining old dudes killing themselves with horniness.

While I'm disturbing you, let me just drop this here: the TV network Lifetime is going to have a show about ladies giving birth by themselves outside. (When we lived in Lawrence, a college town full of creepy granola ladies that buy Diva Cups, somehow my wife heard the story of a nature-worshiping lady who built a "birthing hut" in her backyard. Which, according to the doctor quoted in that Entertainment Weekly article, is even more crazy-ass deadly than masturbation.)

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Home Technology Issues, and I Love Big Brother

My wife has a new computer and she is transitioning files and programs to it. The new computer is not yet connected to the home network in a way that allows me to access its files from my computer. That means I have to go to her computer and e-mail them to myself. Ain't nobody got time for et cetera, so I have yet to wrangle up the Indianapolis pictures that I want to include in my post about our trip. And so the post continues to be delayed. And the longer it's delayed, the more anticipation builds, so the more acute will be the disappointment when you finally read the post. (It was fun, but it wasn't two weeks in Bali.)

Meanwhile, to tide you over, I share with you the ramblings of a paranoid economist in China. Keep in mind, though, the sage wisdom of Kurt Cobain: just because you're paranoid don't mean they're not after you.

I know I'm going to be an employee of the Chinese government in a few months, and that I'll probably be under even tighter restrictions regarding what I can and can't say about the Chinese economy. And I'm fine with that. I'm not going to China to expose the "truth" about the economy, I'm going to teach high school kids how to draw supply-and-demand diagrams and optimize under a constraint. As long as the ChiComs don't have a problem with the Lagrange multiplier, we should get along just fine.

It might seem strange that I am adamantly opposed to the rise of American tyranny while agreeing to live under a Chinese version that, in some important ways, is more onerous. But here are some important distinctions:

  1. I'm American, not Chinese. When I take a stand on issues of American governance, I'm fulfilling my civic duty. Were I to take a stand on issues of Chinese governance, I'd be meddling.
  2. America promises more freedoms than it delivers, and it's reducing freedoms every day. China promises no freedoms, so whatever it delivers is a nice surprise.
  3. I'm not becoming a permanent resident. I'll be there for under two years. Even if we love it and stay longer, we'll always have a visitor's mentality. There's a big difference between spending the weekend at your friend's house and following his parents' crazy rules, and your parents adopting crazy rules.
  4. Not only would it be improper for me to voice any views I have on Chinese governance, but it would be improper for me to have them. How China and its citizens have decided to interact with each other is not my business. I don't pretend to know what system of government works best for billions of people I don't know. People who go around the world judging governmental institutions by how closely they resemble those of their home home country cause more problems than they solve.

I hope to have an interesting and event-free stay in China.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Repeated Words

I'm intrigued by the times in English when a word follows itself, like, "I had had three dogs at that point," or, "I thought that that dog was the best." I've noticed a weird construction I've been using lately (which seems incorrect to me) that goes like this: "What porridge is is oatmeal's homely step-brother."

This morning I came across Luke 22:37, which reads, "For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end."

This looks like the type of instance where we could see a triple word. What if, instead of talking about this thing that was written about Him, Jesus was talking about that thing that was written about Him? Then it would read, "For I say unto you, that that that is written must yet be accomplished in me...."

A triple word. Awesome.

Does this next usage sound absolutely crazy? "I want to promise you that that that that person said is false." Is a quadruple word possible?