Eric's Daily Weblog

Vidor and Chopin

Here is the best version of this old chestnut for organ I have heard in a while.  

And my present favorite piece by Chopin.

Mencken on education

It warms my heart whenever H. L. Mencken is cited in a modern publication, as he was today in an article in the Star-Tribune. 

Alzheimer's study

Here is a more local twist on Alzheimer's research, reported in the Crookston Times. 

The problem with most, if not all, of the research findings thus far: The scientists are finding correlation, not causation. So, just because there are certain sticky proteins on the brain doesn't mean those proteins cause the disease; it merely could mean they are a symptom of the disease. Breaking down those proteins, which some new drugs attempt to do, won't necessarily stop the progress of the disease. 

If you read every new study carefully, it eventually becomes apparent that mere correlation is all that is proven. "Coffee may prevent dementia," to use a hypothetical headline, usually breaks down upon closer examination to "coffee drinkers have been shown to develop dementia later in life," with no proof that the coffee addresses the cause of the disease. Instead, the onset of dementia might cause people to drink less coffee. 

Vitamin and quack cure magazines jump on correlations to push their scams; doctors and scientists have to maintain a higher standard. Many people get furious with doctors for not jumping on quack cure bandwagons. The difference between causation and correlation usually explains their reluctance. 

The study of early-onset families is very important, as researchers can know for sure that they are going to develop the disease at a certain age and can measure if their treatments actually delay or prevent onset.

It might seem awful to know in advance that you are going to get Alzheimer's disease, given the horrors of the disease––but I have met some people who, knowing they have the gene for a particular disease, have put themselves in research programs. They report great satisfaction and a sense of purpose at helping do something about their malady over the long-term, even if they themselves may not benefit.  

The problem with Ted Cruz

I have yet to hear any objections to the presidential candidacy of Ted Cruz based upon his most obvious vulnerablity: He was born in Calgary. He is not a "natural born" American citizen, at least by the definition used by defenders of the Constitution who alleged, falsely, that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. If Cruz is able to serve as president, the arguments against Obama's "natural born" status become moot. 

I will patientliy await for the defenders of the Constitution to set upon Cruz with the same vigor they showed in attempting to paint Obama as an alien. If they don't, then it would be obvious that they did so, not out of a love for the Constitution, but to exploit Obama's unconventional skin color and name for political gain. And we know that couldn't be the case. 

Twins 5 A's 0

It is fun to have the Twins back, and I love the late night games on the West Coast. The Oakland Coliseum is sort of a relic of the 1970s. Oakland's public address announcer is of the old, booming understated bass school, not given over to the screaming hype of Target Field and most everywhere else. With the TV hooked up to the stereo system in the living room, the stadium noises fill the house. (Lance goes in his office and shuts the door). 

Jack Morris is filling in for the vacationing Bert Blyleven. Morris is a superior broadcaster. Self-effacing, articulate, yet calm. His observations are original, not trite and cliche-ridden. His only problem is his voice is a bit muffled and doesn't cut through the other noise. However, I think Morris tones down Dick Bremer's shrill, overwrought amazement at some stupid statistic the guys in the truck dug up. "I mean, if you eliminate the start against the Orioles in late June, you could make a plausible argument that the best right-handed starter in the Central Division since May 7, with the possible exception of Chris Sale, is Mike Pelfrey." Or Kyle Gibson. Or whomever. Doesn't matter. My eyes glaze over. 

Bremer provides analysis as the play unfolds, which is just irritating. Dozier hits a home run. Before he hits the dugout, Bremer declares, "This is the most electric moment in Target field in years!" That's something you say the next day, not as the moment unfolds. As the moment unfolds, you simply describe. 

These factors seem superficial, but these are the little things that create memories. I remember the summer late-night games in the mid-1970s when I put on the stereo headphones while everybody else slept in the darkened house. I listened to Herb Carneal's gentle baritone until I fell asleep. Back then, Herb and his broadcast partner Frank Quilici knew that their audience dwindled back home after midnight, so they hammed it up a bit, letting their conversations drift off to things like Frank's mother's cooking. 

Quilici had an awful nose-plugged voice. Calvin Griffith got Quilici the broadcasting job to make up for firing him as manager of the Twins. Calvin didn't pay his good players what they were worth, but he had a heart for those on the fringe who needed a few days in the major leagues to qualify for pensions, for example. He'd stick them on the roster for a week or two in September. And he didn't want Quilici to be without work, so he put him in in the broadcast booth despite Quilici's complete lack of natural ability. However, the good rapport between Herb and Frank made them a good team. I think Herb enjoyed those summers bantering with Frank more than any other, despite the futility of the Twins during that time. 

So now we have a fairly good Twins team playing fairly good ball with a propensity for tight, hard-fought games featuring good starting pitching. Twins fans are having a good summer. At some point in my life I suspect I will look back on these summer nights in front of the TV with nostalgia, even for Dick Bremer's perpetual tone of utter amazement. 

 

 

 

Barb

My friend Barb Wang passed away this week. Her funeral is today. She was probably the first or second regular reader of this weblog, and we have corresponded regularly over the past 15  years.

Barb was keenly intelligent, well-read and always thoughtful. I always wished she had a column or some other way to share her thoughts more broadly, as she was an impeccable writer.  

Her last years were difficult. Multiple spine fractures made it difficult for her to even sit at her computer. 

My sympathies to her family on the loss of a truly kind person. 

The Twins at the break

The Twins made it through the All Star break in a good position to make a move towards the top in the last 70-some games of the season.

Howard Sinker, a long-time observer at the Star-Tribune, has a good summation of the first half ot the season. His best observation, I think, is that the running game is still a work in progress under Paul Molitor. Many times, Molitor has sent the runners only to have them caught, thus killing a rally. It seems as if the players are still not able to execute his aggressiveness. That will eventually change as the more athletic younger players learn Molitor's game. 

The best hope for a great finish to the season comes in the form of the Twins' starting pitching. They have plenty. Starting pitching is the anchor of any good team, and the Twins' starters have been even better than their statistics might indicate, and certainly much improved over last year. 

Look at the Tigers for evidence: You can score lots of runs, but if you give up 10, you won't win many games. The Tigers only have two solid starters right now. The Twins have six, and as many as eight if you count Berrios in the minors and Nolasco on the disabled list. 

August is when pitchers wear down. The month will be very telling for the Twins. 

Terry Ryan and Molitor have done a good job trying to get the Twins offense moving.  

Successes:

Eddie Rosario. He is going to be a good one. His defense is solid. His exceptional natural ability with the bat will be accentuated by increased knowledge of pitchers as he goes along. 

Miguel Sano is the real thing. He takes walks. He hits doubles. Hit hits to the opposite field. He hits the ball 500 feet. He will be fearsome! The Twins need to get him a position on the field, however. Nobody wants to be a career DH. I doesn't seem to work. 

Buxton needs to learn, but he should be allowed to do so with the big league team. 

Aaron Hicks has natural talent, but is only now getting his head in the game. Many trips back and forth to the minor leagues used to be the norm. Eventually, things can click, as they seem to be doing now for Hicks. 

I was ready to give up on Joe Mauer, but now he is hitting, and he hits in clutch situations. He is no longer merely average, as he was for the first three months of the season. 

Torii Hunter has been as good as he was last year, which is pretty good. He's also better in the outfield than he was with the Tigers last year. 

Plouffe is doing about what was expected. 

Of course, Dozier has been amazing. 

Failures:

Danny Santana still could be good, but right now his average is 100 points lower than last year. And he still makes some bonehead plays at shortstop. 

Escobar hasn't done much. Vargas looks like a wash-out. Suzuki isn't hitting his weight. 

Over all, the offense had a poor first half. To be 49-40 with the offense in dormancy is a good sign. Every one of the players on the team has the capability to break out in the second half. If two do at a time, that will be enough. 

I have no opinion on the bullpen. Bullpens are always fluid and frustrating. Aaron Thompson succeeded for a while, then went bust. Boyer is a mixed bag. Graham is developing. Perkins is solid. You never know who might step up to do the job. Molitor and pitching coach Neal Allen seem pretty good at playing the hot hand. 

The fun part of a good season is the team looks different at the end than it did in the beginning. The 1987 Twins picked up Don Baylor for September, and he played a role in the World Series win. That same year, the Detroit Tigers ace in the playoffs was a pitcher they picked up in August, Doyle Alexander. 

There are new heroes waiting for their moment. When you have a farm system as rich as the Twins', it might be somebody we haven't even heard of yet. 

 

 

Politics in a new light

I have been reading some history lateliy, and am struck by how my views of the political world has changed since I ran for office myself. 

President Franklin Roosevelt once said to a person who presented him an idea: "You're absolutely right. Now go out and make me do it."

The statement means more now than it did before. 

Politics is more the art of the possible than the art of the ideal, and it is sheer folly for a politician to offer visionary ideas which are unlikely to be passed into law. A politician only has so much credibility, and has almost no latitude to offer ideas that are ahead of their time unless the whole country is at its wit's end in a major crisis.

People make much of Hillary Clinton and President Obama's "evolution" on gay marriage. "Well, he was was for it all along, he just waited for the polls to come around to his position before announcing it out loud," say the cynics. 

Of course! What else is a politician to do? 

I was told early on to keep my mouth shut and listen. It was good advice, and I adhered to it throughout the campaign––but I was unaware what listening really meant. Rather than merely gathering ideas (and I did gather many), I spent most of the listening time time while knocking doors absorbing frustration and rage––not at myself, but at all kinds of enemies, some real, most imagined. 

Instead of listening to actually learn, I found I was listening without comment in order to allow people to at least imagine I was sympathetic to views which I sometimes found abohorrent. I was not there to soberly discuss policy; I was there to allow people to vent their frustration.

When voters I talked to expressed authentic distress due to policy, such as when nursing home administrators described their difficulties finding help due to lack of funding, or people who work in group homes for the mentally disabled describe their cuts in pay and their struggles to get by on $9 per hour, I felt helpless, knowing what a mountain there was to climb to effect even the slightest change in their plight. 

We expect politicians to hold deep views on almost everything, but the fact is, the fewer views they actually hold, the better politician they will be. And I don't mean just that they will get re-elected––I mean they will actually have the capacity to get more done if they are not committed to a particular path.

The successful legislator, and I know of many, chooses a narrow band of interests. Agriculture, roads, aviation, whatever. In order to forge policy in those areas, he or she says what it takes in other areas to get elected. Eventually, the legislator starts bringing home the bacon for the home district––and although that solidifies them electorally, they still must honor the wishes of their district on other issues such as abortion, gay marriage, gun control and so on. 

A large plurality of politicians are trained lawyers. Lawyers are taught in law school the skill of advocating for any position without regard for their personal belief on the matter. They take pride in being able to argue both sides, of being able to move from the prosecution to the defense and back again. The public finds this sleazy––but they sure want a good lawyer to take their position when they get caught with their pants down. 

It is easy to see a trained lawyer making a further jump: If I am going to be able to do my work getting proper funding for nursing homes, I have to get elected first. To get elected, a politician in northern Minnesota might say, I will do whatever the National Rifle Association says. Or the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. That is the price of getting something done in your area of expertise: you supress whatever beliefs you hold on the hot button issues. If you have no beliefs in those areas, there is nothing to suppress and life is much easier. 

Such duplicity offends the naive non-lawyers. For its part, the press is constantly on alert for contradictions in a politician's statements. They think it is their duty, not to talk about serious policy issues, but to torment the politicians as they squiggle and squirm on issues the politicians don't care about, won't work on if elected, and likely will not have a chance to vote on. 

The boring but more important issues––such as bank regulation––take a back seat (heck, they aren't even in the back seat, they had to get out and walk) to the silly obsessions of the moment like flags, Ebola and the like. Serious issues go utterly uncovered and completely misunderstood by both the public and the press. That leaves those issues to be decided in back hallways by competing bands of lobbyists. The actual public takes no interest, and thus has no say. 

The daily news––all of it––is a massive distraction machine designed, intentionally or not, to keep the eyes of the public diverted while their pockets are picked. In order for this to change, we don't need different politicians. We need to "go out and make them do it." The public has to lead, and the politicians will follow. Professional politicians have a talent for that, and it is not entirely to their discredit. 

 

 

 

Trip to Target

(Better give Target Corporation their due, since they paid millions to have the new Twins' field named after them. US Bank just paid $220 million for naming rights to the new Vikings Stadium. One wonders how they measure return on their investment.)

On a whim, I drove down to see Byron Buxton's Minnesota debut Wednesday. I found a good seat online, and it was worth the trouble getting the ticket ahead of time rather than depending upon the integrity of a scalper outside the gates.

As I left home at noon, I had a nagging feeling that I was reneging on an obligation of some sort, but I couldn't pinpoint it and my calendar was blank. As I drove through Wadena, the activities director for an area nursing home called and said, are you still coming? Yes, I was scheduled to entertain, and I had failed to transfer the event from one calendar to the other. I hate to disappoint old people. I owe them one! 

As for the game, Buxton made a nice catch in center field, but was otherwise quiet. Milone pitched well, as did Fien and Perkins. Hitting was sparse, as it has been for most of the season.  

Despite the June swoon, the Twins have been playing a good brand of baseball. The starting pitching has been consistent. They continue to make the best of the other teams' mistakes. Every game seems to come down to the wire, which is good training for the young guys. 

Torii Hunter's "leadership" act wore thin for me a long time ago. Now, of course, he is saying his explosion at the umpires was to motivate the team. Oh, great leader, please realize that real leaders don't brag about their leadership after the fact. It ruins the effect.

TV announcer Dick Bremer contributes to the nausea-inducing psycho-spectacle by prattling on about the "mentorship" Hunter provides to Buxton, Hicks and others. Hunter reminds me of Chris Carter late in his career, when he viewed himself as a co-head coach of the Vikings. Just play, Torii. 

Announcers have absorbed just enough of the new baseball dogmas to sound really goofy. Yesterday, the radio guy--I am not going to look up his name because the fact that I don't know it says something right there--said that Byron Buxton "had a good at bat." That after Buxton struck out. 

A good at bat? Well, nowadays you are supposed to tire the opposing pitcher out. So, getting a hit after you run the count to full and foul off three pitches is a better that getting a hit on the first pitch, or so goes the argument. Also, apparently, if you use up eight pitches but still strike out, you have had a "good at bat." 

Silliness. The strikeout to which the announcer referred was earned by a reliever. Whether that reliever threw eight pitches or one pitch didn't make a bit of a difference. He was gone a few batters later. 

There's something wrong with Mauer--although just as I approached despair, he hits a game-tying home run. Only Bert Blyleven had the guts to point out that Mauer blew the game on Tuesday by fielding a hard grounder and not trying for a double play. Instead, Mauer plodded over to the first base bag and allowed the two base runners to advance to second and third. They scored on a single, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 win. Blyleven called it a mental error, but Bremer avoided criticizing St. Joe, as did everybody else. 

At the game Wednesday, I was the one you heard booing Mauer after he took two pitches down the middle and struck out swinging at the third. 

Thousands of Cardinal fans attended the series. I was surrounded by them. They were well-behaved and nicely-groomed. 

Book

The first shipment of my new book A Treasury of Old Souls arrived yesterday. It looks great. I will be promoting the book in about three weeks.

After the book arrived, I read it again. I think it makes sense, but I am not an impartial observer.

Once finished reading, I had a sense of dread. It took me a while to figure out from where it arose. I eventually figured out that promoting the book will be the first time I have submitted myself to public scrutiny of any sort since the election last fall. 

I'll get over it, but not without a fight. 

Those who used to check this weblog daily might wonder why I have been almost completely silent. I simply have no desire to make   pronouncements on the passing scene, save for a few commentaries on the Twins. I am not ill, or depressed.

However, I am more circumspect about putting anything out there. When you run for office, even an office as minor as a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives, you put yourself out there. You cannot control what happens to your reputation, and you can be sure that whatever you say will be twisted. To withstand attacks on your character, motives and reputation takes a thicker skin, and perhaps a thicker head, than I wish to develop. 

The question becomes: of what use is it to throw my opinions and thoughts around when peoples' minds are already made up? Is it not an exercise in meglomania, or at least futility, to keep prattling on? Why needlessly inflame minds incapable of change? Why feed raw meat to the already rabid and angry? Alternately, what good is it to preach to the choir? 

My ten-year-old niece Champoo has provided our family with endless fun, and I have written about her on here a couple of times. But, she has made it clear she does not like being a source of entertainment for the general public, even the tiny slice of it reading this blog--and when Champoo makes something clear, she makes it clear!

And that is her right. I am proud of her, so I love to tell stories about her, but I can understand not wanting to have her valiant (and very successful) efforts to learn English exposed, even if I think I am merely showing off her brilliance.

Aunt Olla's passing at age 103 last February changed things, too. Unlike Champoo, Olla relished her celebrity status on this blog. No more Olla stories to tell now, however. 

Something new will arise--eventually.