Friday, October 14, 2016

Heroic Postseason Relief Appearances By Starting Pitchers

In the wake of Clayton Kershaw's save last night, and to cleanse my mind, let's review the most memorable relief appearances by starting pitchers in the postseason.

In baseball, postseaon games bear less resemblance to regular season games than in any other sport. One way is that the off days and "no tomorrow" mean that starting pitchers are available for relief duty.

Madison Bumgarner Game 7, 2014 World Series

Bumgarner completed his task of almost single-handedly lifting the Giants to victory with five shutout innings in Game 7 on the road, two days after throwing a complete game shutout.  This probably takes the lead for me, considering both the stakes and the body of Bumgarner's work during that postseason.

Pedro Martinez Game 5, 1999 ALDS

Coming at the end of what may be the most dominant pitching season in memory, Pedro came out of Game 1 of the ALDS against the Indians with a back injury

He returned with 6 innings of no-hit relief to push the Red Sox to a 12-8 victory over the Tribe. The score indicates how desperate the Sox were for some innings.

Randy Johnson Game 7, 2001 World Series

The 2001 Diamondbacks had come down to be almost a 2 man team, with their two aces of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Their closer Byung-Hyun Kim, had blown two saves in spectacular fashion.  

Johnson had pitched 7 innings in a 15-2 Snakes blowout, as analysts were screaming at Bob Brenly to take Johonson out of the game and save him for a possible relief appearance in Game 7.

The next night, Johnson came in to put out an eigth inning Yankee rally and pitched a perfect ninth before the Diamondbacks rallied in the ninth, giving Johnson his third win of the series.

Clayton Kershaw Game 5, 2016 NLDS

Unlike the other pitchers on the list, Kershaw came into this game with something to prove, fairly or unfairly. He had been unlucky in his postseason starts, and the heorics of the other California lefthanded ace had set the bar high.  And he passed the test with flying colors. 

Kershaw may have been overshadowed by the performance of closer Kenley Jansen, who came into the game with two runners on and no outs in the 7th, and pitched 2 1/3 innings on a career high 51 pitches. And unlike the other pitchers here, this did not come at the end of a great season (for him).

Orel Hershiser 1988 Game 4 NLCS

It's funny. I remember from that year:
  • Hershiser's record-setting scoreless streak to end the season.
  • Dodgers closer Jay Howell getting suspended for pine tar on his glove.
  • Hershiser dominating the A's in the World Series.
  • My dad was a Mets fan
But I didn't remember Hershiser's relief appearance in Game 4. Likely because it was in the 12th inning of a night game and I was 13 at the time. But one day after pitching 7 innings on two days' rest, Orel Hershiser got the final out of Game 4.

There's been other outings, typically back-end starters who were only going to get one start in a series making appearances, but these are the ones that stick out.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


A palate cleanser from my discussions of two candidates I can't stand.

To me, the main purpose of replay is to prevent gross injustices in officiating decisions. Things like the Don Denkinger decision in the 1985 World Series.

In particular, we want to prevent a player making a great effort, and getting screwed over by a bad call.

In football, the plays reviewed are generally plays of skill. Did the receiver keep both feet in bounds? Did the runner fumble the ball before the going down? Did the ball carrier get the ball over the goal line? There's some luck involved, but these are plays of skill.

In basketball.... not so much. Sometimes reviews are used for things like buzzer beaters. But more often, it's for determining who the ball deflected off before going out of bounds. This is almost always a matter of luck, not skill. Getting these calls wrong can be chalked up to a "bad break" rather than an injustice crying out for redress.

Now, in baseball, a common application is to ensure that baserunners who slid into 2nd or 3rd base maintain contact with the base throughout their slide while getting tagged. As Dave Cameron notes, if this is measuring a skill, it's one that has never been crucial in the history of baseball, and is only measured thanks to the new technology.

Is this a positive innovation? Well, assuming that sliding such that one never comes off the bag isn't something that can be easily picked up, the effect of this will be to drive down stolen bases and runners going for extra bases. Which are the more exciting plays in baseball, attempted by exciting players. Baseball needs more of these plays, not fewer. And these are not inaccuracies that are noted in real time.

There are more dimensions to justice than just accuracy. When Dustin Johnson played the final round of the US Open unsure if he had a penalty, that was an injustice, regardless of whether they got the call right.

Getting things right is an admirable motive, but in some cases, it's probably best to trade some accuracy for speed.

Monday, October 10, 2016

How could this happen?

Please see my election disclaimer post.

A popular line of commentary these days is to list the many sins of Donald Trump, and question why it took these videotapes to turn people away from Trump. This Dan Rather Facebook post seems to be a representative example.

The implied answer is that these people are moral cretins who don't care about anyone by their own, and need to take a hard look in the mirror.

That's definitely true. But at the same time, I think the people driving our culture need to consider how they might have helped create an environment where Trump could thrive.

A few examples:

  • I am pro-life, which means I consider abortion to be the killing of innocent human life. Yet, every four years, I am instructed, often my those who also claim to be pro-life and/or who share my Catholic faith, that I should "look past" candidates's support for abortion, and consider proportional reasons why supporting a pro-abortion candidate might be the right thing to do.
  • By the same token, Planned Parenthood actually commits hundreds of thousands of these abortions a year. Yet, I am lectured that I should #standWith them, again even by some pro-lifers or fellow Catholics, because abortion is only 3% of their business, they do great things like cancer screenings, and their body of work may on net reduce abortions. So I should look past that.
  • For years after that recording was made, and several other incidents were common knowledge, the network that produced that video helped make Trump a TV star, promoting him as a kind of omniscient master of business whose opinion on others' work wasn't just meaningful, but the only opinion that mattered.
  • The host for many of Trump's lewdest comments was Howard Stern. Those who challenged whether someone as crass as he is should have such prominence were dismissed as prudes. Like Trump, NBC gave him a prominent spot in a prime time family variety show, while he continued to spend his mornings interviewing porn stars on the radio.
Again, those who have supported Trump are responsible to the choice. But the culture has been sending out a pretty strong message that those who stand for any values are simpleton fools worthy of mockery.

That may be worth changing.

Please see my election disclaimer post.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Trump and the Supremes

Please see my election disclaimer post.

One justification for voting for Trump despite his obvious deficiencies is the judiciary.  E.g.
And on the surface, this is understandable. Roe v. Wade and other cases overturned laws that were passed by state legislatures and signed by the governors. But were undone by judicial decisions.  So, the key to enacting meaningful protections for the unborn is to fill the judiciary with judges willing to overturn these decisions.

But if you dig a little deeper into the reality, this starts to fall apart.

In order for the "elect Trump for pro-life judges" strategy to work, the following things would need to happen:

  1. Trump wins the election.
  2. Trump keeps his promise to nominate judges who would make pro-life decisions, despite this not being any kind of personal priority of his.
  3. These judges, who are apparently visibly pro-life, and were nominated by a President Trump with all his misogynist history, in the media environment that gave us the War on Women, are confirmed by the Senate.
  4. Once on the Court, these justices are not influenced by the cultural elite, and continue to make pro-life decisions, enduring harsh criticism that comes with it. (Recall that many of the decisions establishing Same Sex Marriage were made by judges appointed by Republicans)
  5. These decisions, again made by judges appointed by President Trump that restrict women, are accepted by the public, and do not launch a series of counter-measures including efforts to impeach Trump or these justices, constitutional amendments, and a laser-like focus on the Courts from the abortion lobby.
I would place the probability of each of these as less than 50%.

Making the probability of success for this strategy (0.5 ^ 5), or 1/32 at best.

Now, all things are possible with God. Though I don't think "with God" and "President Trump" belong in the same sentence.

I'm afraid there aren't any shortcuts. We need to move elite opinion such that pro-life candidates and judges are acceptable. Maybe, and otherwise popular president could get away with nominating a judge with a pro-life record, as President Bush did with Roberts and Alito when he was still popular. A President Trump, if elected, will never be popular enough to do that.

It also paints a dim view of our judiciary, which may be supported by reality, but I don't think is healthy. That judges don't make decisions based on the evidence before them or arguments presented or the text itself, but on their pre-existing ideological commitments. Again, maybe this is how things have worked out, but it's not for the best.

The Trump shortcut to a pro-life decision is closed, if it was ever open. The only thing is for us to do the hard work of making the case for the unborn. It does seem difficult, but the Truth is on our side. Given that, we shouldn't need to sell ourselves to the likes of Trump to achieve protections for the unborn.

Please see my election disclaimer post.

#NeverTrump, including now

Though I have posted before that I will not be voting for Donald Trump, I have not made the strength of that conviction clear.

  • I think Hillary Clinton would be a better president than Donald Trump
  • I think any of the nominees from either party in my lifetime would be better presidents than Donald Trump.
  • I think any of the candidates who made appearances in televised debates for either party in this year's election would be better presidents than Donald Trump.
  • I think Gary Johnson would be a better president than Donald Trump.
  • I think Jill Stein would be a better president than Donald Trump.
  • I do not know much about the other third party candidates, but I strongly suspect they would be better presidents than Donald Trump.
  • I suspect someone chosen at random from the pool of American citizens who meet the Constitutional eligibility requirements would be a better president than Donald Trump, if only because she would approach the office with some degree of humility.

Trump was a no-go from the beginning for me since I grew up an hour from Atlantic City, and saw what became of it with him exercising great influence over it. 

As I hope is clear to anyone familiar with me, the contents of Trump's campaign had no appeal to me. My one sliver of sympathy was that he would be able to call the Clinton campaign to account for some things, but it quickly became clear that he was the wrong person to do that.

I probably should have written this sooner, but if this helps people realize what a terrible candidate Trump is, it can't hurt.


So now, it seems that the Trump campaign is cratering after a tape of him making lewd comments bragging about sexually assaulting a woman came to light.

On the one hand, this is good news. It is good that more people are starting to see the light on Trump and turning away from him. I hope and pray this continues. And his behavior toward women and general lack of shame and decency is as good a reason as any for his campaign to fall.

On the other hand, it might have been good to see the ideas he represents arrive at Election Day intact and be soundly defeated. As it is, his followers can tell themselves they were undone by excess "political correctness" and that if their candidate wasn't quite so overtly crude, it would have been OK, and maybe they can try again in 4 years.

In any instance, I wanted to get myself on the record. I suspect Trump's rise is a result of many sins of omission in not being sufficiently engaged.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

My Case for not voting for either Major Party Candidate

Please see my election disclaimer post.

Prompted by this twitter exchange:

My first response to this line of argument is what I tweeted -- our consciences are a mix of our hearts and minds, and they need to be informed by each other. Many things in our society only continue due to decisions that make no sense on paper.

Secondly, I think there is a more rational case for voting 3rd party or simply refusing to vote for either of the two major party candidates, even if one is clearly preferable:

  • The probability that my vote will impact the election approaches 0.
  • The probability that my vote will impact me approaches 1.
Now, one could argue that the stakes of presidential elections are so high (think nuclear war), that even the small probability of my vote impacting the election makes it a worthwhile investment.

I don't think that's true, in part because I don't think people properly evaluate the effect their votes had on me.

In particular, as a Catholic, these have been my observations:

  • Catholics who voted for Bush because of his position on abortion ended up defending him in all other contexts, including the war in Iraq and the torture regime.
  • Catholics who voted for Barack Obama soften on abortion, defend Planned Parenthood, etc.
It's certainly possible that these voters' commitment to Catholic values, both the ones that informed their choices and the ones that they later opposed, was not genuine and a mere cover for what they wanted to do anyway. (Pro-life groups' support for Trump's candidacy suggests this).

But I think it is an observable phenomenon that voting for a candidate inclines one to reflexively defend all of that candidates actions, both in the present and the future.  And this makes one a less effective advocate for certain positions, and in general, a worse person.

And further, I think the world is only going to be better by us being better citizens, not worse. So, by choosing "the less of two evils" you are moving the world in the wrong direction, even if there is a clear difference between the candidates.

The Parties are the ones who put us into this mess. They are not deserving of our blind allegiance or fealty. 

Rather than make the next four years marginally better, let's try to make the next generation better.

Please see my election disclaimer post.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

I don't like being lied to

Please see my election disclaimer post before replying along the lines that Trump is worse.

After it was apparent that there was video evidence that Hillary Clinton collapsed at the 9/11 ceremony on Sunday, the story coming from her campaigns and supporters was that she had overheated, and there were a series of Tweets from Clinton supporters about how unusually hot and humid it was in New York City on Sunday morning, and thus it should not be surprising that Secretary Clinton, or anyone else for that matter, would be overcome by the heat:

I hesitate to include the last two because I think there is a non-negligible chance that the @peterdaou Twitter account is run by the Trump campaign, but the unusually hot and humid weather in NYC was a hot topic on Twitter for some time on Sunday.

Of course there were a few problems with selling this story:

  • The temperature at that time was in the mid seventies, with humidity in the mid 40s.
  • These facts are easily available to anybody with an internet connection.
  • The event Secretary Clinton was attending was attended by many other people, none of whom were apparently overcome by the heat.
  • There are millions of other people who live in the NYC area, some of whom are not Clinton loyalists, who can say that it was not an usually hot and humid day.
  • There were nationally televised sporting events from the NYC area attended by thousands of people at which the heat was not an apparent factor.
  • National news tends to make a big deal out of unusual weather in the NYC area.
I'd say this was an insult to my intelligence, except I'm not even sure they expected me to believe it if I gave it a second's worth of thought.

What I think they were hoping was that a sufficient number of respectable people would echo this story, and some "deplorable" people would object to it, and those unfamiliar with the facts would trust the respectable people rather than associate themselves with the "deplorable" people, and accept this story. It's seems like some form of social engineering akin to gaslighting. You can believe what you see, and be like the racists, misogynists, haters, and conspiracy-mongers, or you can go along with the respectable story. What's it going to be?

Except, in this case, the actual facts were so accessible that we couldn't help but see them, and the Clinton campaign was forced to disclose the truth.


This seems to be a pattern with the Clintons, and I don't like it.

I don't like being disrespected and lied to like this.

I don't like being expected to suspend my judgment and critical thinking.

I don't want to vote for or support people who act like this, or see them elevated to the highest offices.

It makes me wonder what other bullshit I've swallowed or will be asked to swallow in the future based on similar tactics.

And the fact that Trump is worse doesn't make it OK. Be better than he is.

Asking me to accept this is not a loving thing to do. If you're more upset with me that I won't go along with this than you are with your candidate for playing these games, then please reconsider your values.

Please see my election disclaimer post before replying along the lines that Trump is worse.

Election Disclaimer Post

I'll probably post some critical things about the major candidates here in the next few weeks, so I'm going to put this post here to preempt responses along the lines that I'm just shilling for one candidate or the other.

As in the previous two presidential elections, I will most likely not be voting for either of the party's nominees for president. I cannot imagine circumstances under which I would vote for Trump, and I consider the circumstances under which I would vote for Clinton to be vanishingly unlikely.

I take no position on what you should do, though I may challenge some of the reasons I see presented for why one should support one candidate or the other.

UPDATE: This probably didn't make the degree of my distaste for Trump strong enough, for which you may want to see this post.

Monday, August 29, 2016

How to Remind People of Mother Teresa's pro-life principals

With Mother Teresa's canonization next week, pro-lifers may be inclined to remind those celebrating her of her uncompromising opposition to abortion. I made the perhaps unwise step of confronting Prof. Robbie George when he did so in response to Senator Cory Booker (who I assume is pro-choice):

To me, I'm not a fan of this* for the same reason I'm not a fan of mocking people's thoughts and prayers in the aftermath of mass shootings. To me it seems, Senator Booker is doing something right and fitting in celebrating Mother Teresa. His reward? Being challenged on his abortion position. I think the most likely result is that Senator Booker will refrain from praising people whose records include pro-life advocacy, rather than to change his views.

And to be honest, though Mother Teresa did remind people of the dignity of the unborn, that was not the main focus of her work, and is not the main reason she is being canonized. It doesn't feel completely honest to re-purpose celebrations of her into pro-life advocacy, if it is not at least matched by advocacy for the poor. Perhaps she can serve as a model for pro-life Catholics who prioritize other issues -- it doesn't have to mean compromising on abortion. Her respect for all life fed her work for the poor, rather than competing with it.

Does that mean these politicians should never be challenged? No. If Senator Booker wants to say that pro-lifers are waging a War on Women, or just want to deny women access to healthcare, we can remind him of her praise of Mother Teresa, and ask if she was part of this front in a War on Women. It may not turn him pro-life, but it may prevent this tendency to cast pro-lifers as misogynistic jerks whose only motivation is a desire to control women and keep them down.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Soccer Terms vs. American Sports Terms

In following soccer, I've noted the different names soccer has for concepts it has in common with American (and Canadian, though there could be a whole separate post on hockey terms) sports. I will now evaluate which is superior:

"Concede" vs. "Give Up" or "Surrender"

In soccer, a team concedes a goal, penalty, etc. whereas in say, baseball, a team will give up a run. The one exception is match play golf, where a hole or a tie is "conceded" when only short putts remain.

And this is why I favor the American term. To my ears, "concede" implies there was some kind of intention involved.

Advantage: America

"Pitch" vs. "Field"

For the playing surface (of outdoor sports).

In this case, I think soccer has the advantage. I've been on the playing surface of CenturyLink field, and I would not consider it a field.

Advantage: Soccer

"Home vs. Visitor" vs. "Visitor at Home"

Soccer schedules and scores are typically presented with the home team first, and the American convention is to present the home team last.

This may be the American in me, but the American convention strikes me as more sensible, and conveys more information quickly -- "vs." could be at any site; "at" tells you where it is.

Advantage: America

"Supporters" vs. "Fans"

The people in the stands at soccer games are called supporters, and the Americans in attendance are typically referred to as fans.

Fans, of course, is short for "fanatics," which may be truthful, but is not something to aspire to. "Supporters" suggests a healthier relationship dynamic.

Advantage: Soccer

"Kit" vs. "Uniform"

For the clothes the plays wear.

"Kit" sounds more fun than "uniform," especially since the term "uniform" is borrowed from the military and police. Add in that we now have teams like the University of Oregon that rarely wear the same outfit twice, and "kit" seems more fitting, though it would be difficult to imagine referring to something like the New York Yankees uniform as "kit."

Advantage: Soccer

"Training" vs "Practice"

For non-game playing activity.

Training does sound more professional and focused, but also doesn't seem particular to sports, and again brings to mind the military. Practice seems to me a more precise description of the actual activity.

Advantage: America

"Clean Sheet" vs. "Shutout"

For holding the other team scoreless.

Is "conceding" a single goal dirty? Something shameful? This seems to suggest it is. Clean sheets should be the norm.  Shutout suggests something extraordinary, which seems more fair.

Advantage: America

"XI" versus "Starting Lineup"

A tougher call. XI is more compact, and also adds the information that there are 11 players (which should be unnecessary, but handy). On the other hand, it has the pretentiousness of Roman numerals, which even the Super Bowl dropped. The programmer in me will go for expressiveness.

Advantage: Soccer

"Side" vs. "Team" or "Club" or "Squad"

From the number of terms, you can see Americans haven't settled on a term. Side isn't great, but it's a bit more fun.

Advantage: Soccer

"Sent Off" vs. "Thrown Out" or "Fouled Out" or "Ejected" or "Game Misconduct"

Another case where Americans aren't clear. I like "sent off" -- it's active, yet also somewhat mild.

Advantage: Soccer

Before we go, I'll list the one thing soccer gets better than American sports is the running, ascending clock without an exact stop time, that nobody is certain when it ends. This prevents the games from becoming coaching duels where they try to manipulate the clock to get the last possession (and keeps the discussion from centering on the coach's "game management").

And in general, it seems like the coaches have much less impact on the action than American sports, perhaps excepting hockey.

One thing I don't like is the offsides rule, which seems to function to allow the defense to play high and prevent offense, rather than prevent cherry-picking.

Monday, July 25, 2016

How I Could Be Convinced To Vote For Clinton*

I have seen it suggested that regardless of my differences with Hillary Clinton, or whatever problems I have with how she has conducted herself in the offices she has served in during her career, I still must vote for her in November in order to prevent a Donald Trump presidency.

I will not be convinced to vote for Hillary Clinton in November by (further) recitations of how awful Donald Trump is, or how his disastrous is proposed polices would be.

What might convince me is if the Clinton campaign as their supporters behave as if they actually believe what they are telling me.

Specifically, if Secretary Clinton were to say something like the following:

Normally, presidential campaigns are about putting forward and comparing agendas, and having robust debates about the merits of each other's policies.
This is not a normal election.
My opponent has demonstrated in many ways that he is unfit for office in many dimensions, and it is my duty to do everything in my power to prevent him from taking this office and putting our nation in danger.
I know that there are many people who share this assessment, but feel they cannot vote for me for one of several reasons.This is addressed to them.
I know there are many hot-button social issues that people differ with me on. I am proposing a truce on these issues for the next four years. I will not be working to advance paying for abortion, now will I press non-government organizations and individuals to act in conflict with their values. I still believe they ought to, but it is more important that we prevent Trump from becoming president.
Another stumbling block for some has been concerns about how I have handled data during my time as Secretary of State. I think some of those investigations were overblown, but I understand why my behavior invited a certain level of suspicion. To that end, I am pledging complete transparency in how I conduct both this campaign, and my presidency. This starts today, as [well-regarded #neverTrump Republican] has agreed to be my compliance officer.
Another concern is the Supreme Court and other assignments. President Obama has nominated Merrick Garland for the current vacancy, and I believe he deserves hearings and a vote. Beyond that, I will honor the Senate's role to "advise and consent" me in choosing future nominees that are agreeable to all parties.
The same is true for decisions to send our armed forces to war. I will seek Congressional approval before taking any military action, that does not require immediacy.
I still have strong positions on all these issues, and I look forward to continuing to advocate for them. But right now, what our country needs to do now is to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president, and I'm doing my part to ensure that doesn't happen.

Is this fair? No.

In particular, it seems unfair that Congress would be rewarded for its years of doing nothing with more power.

Or that Hillary Clinton would work her whole life to become president, only to have to completely dull herself to make it happen.

But nor is it fair to ask voters like me to compromise our principles to stop Donald Trump, when the leaders who stand to benefit are unwilling to do the same. We should demand more from our leaders than from ordinary citizens, not the other way around.

I trust that Secretary Clinton and her campaign have a better idea of the threat Donald Trump represents than I do. If she doesn't make an act like this or similar, I will conclude that they value advancing their agenda more than they value stopping Trump. And I will similarly conclude that staying true to my principles and how a leader should behave is more important to me than stopping Trump.

Secretary Clinton will likely win anyway without the support of me or people like me. But if she wants to ensure it, if she wants to demonstrate how serious she considers the threat of Donald Trump, this is how she can do it.

*I do not have a similar post for Donald Trump, because I cannot imagine a scenario under which I would vote for him, even one as unlikely as what I sketch out here.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Be Not Afraid

Right now, I find myself neither driven by fear of various dark-skinned outsiders to support Donald Trump's presidential campaign, nor by fear of what Donald Trump might do as president to compromise my principles to support Hillary Clinton's campaign. My current attitude is probably summed up by my currently pinned tweet:

This seems to put me outside the experience of many of my fellow Americans.

In reflecting on why that is, I've come up with a few reasons.


I am a white Christian male living in a nice neighborhood skilled in what is currently the most in-demand profession, with a steady job at one of the most successful companies in American history in a job directly aligned with its central identity. So, I am not terribly vulnerable to the forces Donald Trump warns about, nor would I be vulnerable to the actions he might take to address them. The same is generally true for most of the people I come in contact with. Christianity may be enjoying less cultural clout than it had before, but Catholicism is currently led by someone enjoying widespread approval and support.

Obviously, I should not need to be personally impacted by circumstances or actions in order to be moved to action by them. But I want to acknowledge the possibility that one reason I may not be as disturbed as others are is that I am fairly insulated.


Somewhat paradoxically, another reason this may not be impacting me is what I have been experiencing in my own life.

As I have mentioned, I am the father of a daughter with a chronic fatal disease. This may leave with a bit of "empathy fatigue."  It's hard to get worked up about what Starbucks's' cups look like, or whether someone is using the right word in referring to a group of people when you live with a constant knowledge that your life could be thrown into chaos at any moment.

On the political macro side, I am also pro-life. From my perspective, we are daily killing thousands of unborn children a day, and the political and cultural winds seem to be moving to increasing support.

Given that, while other injustices certainly merit our attention to address, it's difficult for them to rise to the level of existential panic that I seem to be seeing. While I don't completely share Fredik de Boer's assessment of George W. Bush, I am in agreement that we have seen much worse than Donald Trump and survived it.


And I think this is where I finally hang my hat, especially in light of this weekend's readings. I worship a God who listens to my prayers. Who took my sins to the Cross and then rise from the dead. Who would not a destroy a city because it is inhabited by 10 just souls. How should I be afraid of a real estate "tycoon" who probably won't win, or immigrants, or economic turmoil. My God is greater than all that, and so should I be.

This is not to say that we don't face real problems, or that we don't need to take action to confront them, or to prevent creating new ones. But let's do so out of confidence and spirit, not out of fear.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

What I mean when I offer thoughts and prayers...

This little gem cam across my timeline today:

I'm going to charitably assume this is the product of ignorance, and so will lay out what I, and I suspect most people mean, when they offer "thoughts and prayers" in the wake of a disaster so that it the author of this game and all those who approved it can devote themselves to more productive pursuits than mocking something nobody's saying.

Offering "thoughts and prayers" in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy is a way for someone outside of a situation to acknowledge that those close to it are shouldering an emotional burden that can be unbearable, and offering to take some of it.

For me, this includes:

  • Praying for the repose of the souls of those who have died.
  • Praying for the recovery of those who are injured.
  • Praying for comfort for those close to those killed or injured.
  • Thanksgiving for the work of those helping the victims.
This is not a statement that this should represent the beginning and end of the response, or that it alone will prevent future similar incidents. But it is something right and proper to do, and the type of thing I think we need more of rather than less of, even if we do need more of other types of responses.

Cleaning up the crime scene does nothing to prevent future killings. But it must be done, and to mock it because it does nothing to prevent future shootings is silly at best and ugly and mean-spirited at worst.

Now, ideally, these prayers should include an examination of conscience that addresses questions like:
  • Is there some action I can be taking now to comfort those who are suffering from this?
  • Am I somehow complicit in this, through some direct action, through my participation in structures of violence, or my inaction in not doing things that can prevent this?
I can't guarantee that this examination will lead to conclusions that those mocking "thoughts and prayers" would prefer.

But I can guarantee that they will never reach those conclusions if they cut off their own thoughts and prayers because they've been told how useless they are.

The response to mocking "thoughts and prayers" will not be more action; it will be less thought and less prayers. And more entrenchment in what people thought to begin with.

Mock "thoughts and prayers" if you wish. But don't pretend it's helping.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Stop with the Mocking of Thoughts and Prayers

As people know, my daughter has cystic fibrosis. You will occasionally see me here raising funds for research into treatments for cystic fibrosis like the Stair Climb, Great Strides, or the upcoming Cycle For Like (ahem).

When I make these appeals, many people donate generously, but many more do not. This can be a bit disappointing, but I have to assume they have good reasons for that. I don't respond to every appeal I receive. Still, it can hurt a bit.

If she were to suffer some kind of setback (she's doing fine), and someone who chose not to donate were to offer some typical condolences, this would be a decent and good thing to do. If I were to respond by questioning why they didn't donate instead of offering empty condolences, this might be understandable considering the grief I was going through, but it would not be a response to be particularly proud of. It would be even less honorable if a third party were to hear this expression of concern, and make a similar challenge.

Is the offering of condolences a sufficient response, especially for those charged with public safety?

No, but it is a human, decent, and necessary response.

If everyone offering me condolences on my daughter's illness was subject to a spot audit of their record of contributions and public shaming if I found it lacking, the result would not be more contributions. It would be that fewer people would offer me condolences, and we would be more isolated in our suffering, And, since they are now less connected to me, it will be less likely they will donate when they are in a better position to do so. Lose/lose.

Shaming and mocking people who offer this is not likely to result in better actions, it will likely result in less decency. Less connection. More isolation and separation. Which seems to be a contributing factor to these tragedies, among other social ills.

Hold our leaders accountable to do their jobs. But let's not punish them for acts of basic human compassion and decency.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Our Current Idol

At times following a crisis, Americans work through their grief by going through a series of rituals. Sacred texts and imagery are reviewed. Promises of loyalty are recited. Those perceived to be opposed or insufficiently committed are vilified. The hope is that is god can make evil go away, and free us from fear. And now, prayers to other gods are mocked and driven away.

And then, we forget about it until the next crisis.

I'm talking, of course, about gun control legislation.

It's important to remember that we are often tempted to make idols out of good people and things, or at least things that started out that way, until we loaded them up with impossible expectations.

So my point here isn't to say that gun control is a bad idea, or even that it's not a good idea. Or that it's bad to work passionately for things that you think will help people or prevent disaster.

But it seems to me that for a significant quorum of people, this is taking a place in their lives beyond what it merits.

And it's unhealthy. It's unhealthy for them. It's unhealthy for society, since it defines those who disagree as The Enemy. The recent innovation of mocking those who offer "thoughts and prayers" for victims of their families is particularly poisonous. One of the best things about our society is our ability to come and grieve together. Now we can't even do that.

And it's probably unhealthy for the prospects of enacting gun control, since it leads those opposed to dig in.

And it will ultimately disappoint. Even if we enacted the most restrictive possible gun control policies, that would not address the problem that our society is producing people for whom these types of acts are thinkable. Some may be thwarted, but others will still find a way to do damage.

There are worse idols -- this response is better than war or hatred. But it is still not the answer.

I don't like guns.

I like scapegoating and idolatry even less.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Or, create something that people love

I know that admiration of Lin Manuel Miranda and what he's created with Hamilton borders on cliche at this point. I worry that we are setting him up for a tremendous fall, and I pray that won't be the case -- that he will be able to handle all the attention he's getting, and that others will step up as well.

Still, I think that what he does presents us with the best past forward.

Let's face it, it sometimes seemed like our culture had reached a decadent dead-end. Movies were almost all CGI-driven re-tellings of comic book stories we had seen before. TV, other than live sports, was largely splintered. Comedy had pretty much become the in-group bullying the out-groups. Or a vague counter-culture.

And now comes this cultural artifact. It mixed genres that most people had not considered to be related -- hip hop and musical theater -- along with a historical theme. Aside from some extremely light jabs, it's goal was not to make fun of or embarrass anybody; one could enjoy it regardless of one's ethnicity or political leanings.

And it created a platform for many people to display their talents.

There has been a lot of talk about the Golden Age of Television -- shows like The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and now The Americans. I watched an enjoyed all of them, appreciating the craft of writing and acting that went into them.

But they don't strike me as beautiful the same way that Hamilton does. It doesn't seem like it's for everybody (and yes, I know TV shows even on premium cable are more immediately accessible than a live show with quadruple-digit secondary market ticket prices).  I can share this with my daughters, and with people around the country. It brings people together rather than driving them apart.

And this is why I have hope.

Tonight, more than likely, the Golden State Warriors will complete a historically great season. I work at a company and industry that can be ruthless at times, but that is also creating beautiful, useful things. This is still a country where people strive for, and achieve, greatness.

Our politics does not reflect that right now, and that's a shame. But I'm confident we'll find a way to make it happen.

For my part, I'm going to do my best to find and celebrate the people who are creating beautiful things, or even those who are trying. And I hope that I can build beautiful things that bring people together.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Getting Serious About Ending Hate...

It has occurred to me that when those who have the sense to be quiet in the aftermath of a tragedy, it leaves the field open to those who do not. And so, here is my thought. I cannot promise it is equal to the magnitude of what happened, but I do think it is more thoughtfully considered than the hot takes we've been subject to.

First, I want to note that I reached for my rosary beads long before I reached for my keyboard. I pray first for those who were killed, injured, and their families. And I pray for those who might be considering a similar action. And I pray for our nation, including me, that we can respond with wisdom and compassion.  And I will continue to do so.

Also, I want to note that though I may cite individual responses for the purpose of precision, I recognize that they were writing from considerable pain and fear, and my intent is not to single them out for ridicule, but to identify what I think are unhelpful patterns of thought in the hopes that we can do better going forward.

Here's one tweet that crossed my timeline:

On gun control, I stand by what I wrote in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre.  It seems plausible to me that restricting access to certain weapons would reduce the severity of these types of incidents, and thus may be worth doing. I understand that "may be" sounds pathetically weak in the face of piles of dead bodies. I suspect I might have a stronger position if those advocating it were consistent and relentless and persistent in pursuing their goals rather than just popping up in the aftermath of these types of incidents. When I see this....

I'm not seeing sadness at tragedy and a steely resolve to do the hard work necessary to prevent future incidents. I'm seeing what borders on delight at an opportunity to stick one's political enemies with the blame for something bad.

And, this may not be noble, but it doesn't make me want to help you.

As for the "hate," what I suspect many of those writing this mean is lecturing people like me, whose views may not be in perfect alignment with the current fashion, but who would never even consider voting for Trump, let alone committing any kind of violence.

This isn't going to do it.

Here's another tweet that crossed my timeline:

I could scarcely imagine a response more at cross-purposes to its stated goals.

Most people who support things like the North Carolina law do not do so because they think that "LGBT people in the bathroom are a threat to public safety."  The mainstream concern is that (non-LGBT) people in the population inclined to abuse might take advantage of liberalized bathroom access to commit abuse.

I'm not convinced that the NC law represents some Solomonic ideal of how to balance this concern with the needs of the trans population, but I am convinced we are not going to reach such an ideal without talking and, more importantly, listening to each other.

In short, the people who are committing these shootings, or even the people voting for Trump, are not reached by your hashtag campaigns, by your special avatar, or your celebrations of diversity. As a pro-lifer, I am an expert at how ineffective moral righteousness can be in changing hearts, minds, and policies. I'm not positive these people are reachable, but if they are, it will be through regarding them as people, not throwing your slogans at them.

This is hard work, I know. I know that I'm not always perfect in doing it.

But I think that's what it takes. I'm not sure we're willing to do it.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Most or the Best?

For some time, one of my guiding principles of discourse was that one should engage the best arguments against one's position rather than the worst, even if there were prominent examples of the worst arguments or the worst arguments were providing the opposition with most of its energy.

So, while it may be true that some people opposed President Obama's policies because they were racist and would never accept the leadership of a black president, or because they thought he was a Kenyan anti-colonialist, or wasn't born in the country, it was at best a waste of time addressing these types of arguments. At worst, it raised the profile of these types of people and convinced oneself and others on your own side that the only people opposed to you are morons. This doesn't seem healthy.

The Trump phenomenon has led me to reconsider that position.

It is apparent that many people identified as Republicans or supported conservative policies for reasons other than a product of rigorous intellectual examination of the alternatives. Naked self-interest probably qualifies as one of the more noble reasons for this.  There is a disconnect between the intellectual reasoning for a policy position, and the reason people actually support it.

I follow a number of right-of-center writers on Twitter. Not one of them has endorsed Trump, even now that he is the presumptive GOP nominee, and most are in fact explicitly #neverTrump.  Perhaps I've enclosed myself in a bubble of sorts, but I think it also reveals something about the divided nature of the right.

I do not think at someone like Paul Ryan is a racist. Though it may be the case that some of his proposed policies have a disproportionate negative impact on people of color. I think that for Ryan, this is a bug, but for many of the people who identify as Republicans, this is a feature.

The way opposition to same sex marriage collapsed should have offered a clue that this was happening. Not that it happened, but the speed with which it did, and the reasons people gave for it. Often, it was that they had come to know gays and lesbians, either personally or through positive media portrayals, and could no longer imagine withholding marriage from them. I suppose this empathy is good, but it's also revealing that their previous position was based on bigotry rather than a thoughtful consideration of what marriage is and should be. Those type of principles don't change just because one meets a nice gay couple.

The cold reality seems to be that there is not sufficient intellectual support for conservative ideas to support a viable political party. This was countered by folding in racists and bigots, but that is no longer a viable strategy.

And I suspect a similar dynamic is true on the left, only that President Obama has been an effective enough leader to hold  everyone together, and doesn't over-promise what he can't deliver.

I'm not sure how to respond to this reality. I'm sure some of the most important political changes in history have drawn significant support from people for bad reasons. Certainly, politicians who knowingly play to our worst impulses should be condemned for doing so. And I still think our public debates are better focused on issues other than how awful the worst people who agree with you are.

But the Trump campaign has made this reality impossible to ignore. Much of the energy and votes for the Republican party were motivated by hatred.

Laying a Strong Enough Foundation

It may just me me, but it seems my generation of me was pounded with messages about what a good father should look like.

From "Cats in the Cradle" to every sitcom and family comedy, the message was clear -- a good father puts Family over Career. He never misses a ballgame, dance recital, or doctor's appointment. He know the names of his children's teachers, friends, friends' parents, and caretakers. He does at least his share of the housework and ferrying duties. If his job gets in the way of this, he should find a different job that doesn't interfere with his vocation of fatherhood.

Failure to do this will result in his kids growing up not knowing him at best or hating him at worst. It will also cause his wife to resent him for leaving this entire burden on her.

So, it was interesting to hear the direction "Dear Theodosia," Hamilton's ode to fatherhood, took in describing Hamilton and Burr's vision of what that should look like:
You will come of age in our young nation
We'll bleed and fight for you. We'll make it right for you.
If we lay a strong enough foundation
We'll pass it on to you; we'll give the world to you
And you'll blow us all away 
Granted, this is set more than 200 years ago, and I'm not sure either Hamilton or Burr should serve as a model for modern fatherhood. But I think this gets at an aspect of fatherhood (and motherhood), that is often overlooked -- that it also involves creating a better, just world for our children to live in. And the means to do this is sometimes Career.

This ran through my head while reading Joe Posnanski's widely praised essay describing taking his teenage daughter  to see Hamilton. 

Posnaski describes taking a speaking engagement to earn enough money to buy secondary market tickets to take his daughter to see Hamilton, and the glorious time they had.

One could simply say this is an activity of "privilege," and envy that Posnanski can do something like this and most of us cannot. But I think it's worth digging a little deeper than that

For one, the speaking engagement likely took Posnanski away from his family for some time.

More deeply, I suspect that Posnanski developing his craft and reputation such that he could earn enough money for after-market Hamilton tickets from a single speaking engagement required some trade-offs with family life. To "lean in," to borrow a term from another context. My suspicion is that building his career as a nationally known writer required some missed dinners, piano recitals, and teacher's conferences, and that many ferrying duties fell to his wife.  This (with a considerable amount of hard work and talent) put him in a position where he could give himself and his daughter an unforgettable experience that is out of reach for many of us.

Or maybe I'm wrong.  Mabe Posnanski was truly able to "have it all" through hard work and discipline, and my failure to do the same is just a cop-out.  I tell myself that people like Posnanski are more successful than I am because I made different trade-offs than they did (or, less charitably, that they are less devoted to their families than I am), when the reality is that they are just more talented or hard-working than I am.

 It's a question I and many parents struggle with. How many family dinners or little league games is worth a trip to Hamilton?  It's true that moments of grace often pop up when you least expect them but I don't think the experience Posnanski described was much more likely to happen at the Richard Rodgers Theater than the local ballfield.

I don't have the answer. And I suspect the answer is different for everybody. It's why those of us who are religious need to spend considerable time in prayer is discerning the best manner to live this vocation.

Rhetoric and Violence...

As the news of the violent anti-Trump protests in San Jose traced across my Twitter feed Friday night, I snarkily thought to myself, "Ah, I'm sure this will lead to a weeks-long conversation about the extreme rhetoric of the anti-Trump movement, just as it did for the pro-life movement."

Somewhat to my surprise, Freddie de Boer went there:

So, now I have to actually engage in the argument instead of simply snarking about it.

In short, the question is whether violence from some protesters should bring leaders to reconsider the rhetoric they use.

Are the Statements True?

In the case of Planned Parenthood, that they dismember fetuses and sell the parts for research is not in dispute. What is in dispute is:

  • Whether Planned Parenthood "profits" from these sales, putting them outside the law.
  • The moral status of the fetuses.
So, whether "selling baby parts" is true or not hinges on whether or not one considers the fetuses they dismember to be "babies" and the semantics of "selling." I certainly have my own opinions on the answers to these questions, but for the purpose of this discussion, it will suffice to say that it is consistent with the pro-life perspective.

Is Trump a fascist? I think it's clear that some of his expressed plans are closer to fascism than those of any other prominent politician in recent memory.  On the other hand, I still think it is unlikely he will be elected, and if elected, unlikely he would be able to implement the most odious parts of his agenda.

If true, would these statements justify a violent response?

As a Catholic, I have tool to work through questions like this, the Just War Doctrine (which, I think is horribly named, since it suggests that the norm is for wars to be just, when it is the opposite. "Just War" is like "Black Swan".)

In the case of abortion and Planned Parenthood, I've considered the question before.  In brief, abortion clears the "lasting, grave, and certain" bar, but not the others, notably high probability of success.

In my judgment, the case for Trump fails as well. Most notably, that not all non-violent means (e.g. voting for another candidate, constraints from the other branches of government) have been exhausted.

But are they likely to lead to a violent response?

Our recent military adventures make clear that not all my fellow Americans approach these questions with the same rigorous application of Just War Doctrine that I do. Given that, it might make sense to address the weaker claim that the claims about Planned Parenthood and Trump might lead less careful people to respond violently.

In the case of Planned Parenthood, I think the answer is yes. I find the idea that someone like Robert Dear would have been fine and never bothered anybody but for Carly Fiorina mistaking a B-roll for live footage to be absurd, it isn't absurd to think that talking prominently about an organization killing thousands of babies a year might lead some people to believe they ought to be forcibly stopped from doing so, and if the law won't do it, then concerned citizens ought to.

In the case of Trump, this seems likely as well. Particularly in light of the popular narrative about Nazi Germany that his rise to power was aided by the complacency and inaction of people who should have known better ("First they came for the..., etc."). It's not surprising that talk about a prominent politician being the harbinger of a new era of fascism might lead some to conclude that this must be violently opposed.

If so, should this restrain their rhetoric?

This is more of a normative, fuzzy question that I think we need to honestly consider.

Factual truth, in itself, does not justify any statement someone could make. The sin of detraction, for example, involves the passing along of true information for the purpose of harming another's reputation.  So, the truth of Planned Parenthood's activities Trump's fascism does not, in itself, establish the prudence of talking about it. Obviously, those who make such statements are motivated to do so by a desire to prevent current and future evils.

In general, I think the culpability for violence that results from true statements about another party's actions rests first with those committing the violence, and second with those committing the acts that inspired the violence, with those who pointed out those actions placing a distant third. Establishing a norm that those who tell the truth about nefarious activities are responsible for how people respond to that information effectively creates a license for people to engage in all sorts of wrongdoing without fear of being exposed. If police officers are abusing people, we need to know about it, whether people will riot in response or not.

That said, I think people do have a responsibility to be as precise in their language as possible. I try to call what Planned Parenthood does "killing" rather than "murder" since I don't know what their intent is. 

Though this may be for reasons other than preventing violence. Freddie also retweeted a reference to a CS Lewis quote about not using more extreme language than the situation calls for.  In my judgment, this should have been applied to the non-Trump Republicans rather than Trump.  The rhetorical quiver has been emptied on the likes of Paul Ryan, and now there's nothing left for someone like Trump.