Radio Days, and Beyond

This trip down memory lane is about some of the shows that I remember from the 1940s and 1950s.

The 1940s were my radio days. I listened on my parents’ Philco console radio, which resembled this one:

These are the radio shows that I remember:

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet
The Adventures of Superman
The Aldrich Family
The Baby Snooks Show
Burns and Allen
Challenge of the Yukon (Sgt. Preston of the Yukon)
A Date with Judy
Fibber McGee and Molly
The Fred Allen Show
Gang Busters
Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch
The Great Gildersleeve
I Love a Mystery
Inner Sanctum Mysteries
The Jack Benny Program
Life with Luigi
The Lone Ranger
Lum and Abner
Martin Kane, Private Eye
Meet Corliss Archer
Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons
Nick Carter, Private Detective
Our Miss Brooks
The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show
The Romance of Helen Trent (overheard while my mother listened)
The Shadow
Tom Mix
Twenty Questions
The Whistler

That’s just a small sample of the shows that aired during the Golden Age of Radio. Several of the shows made the transition to television. Those that I remember watching on TV in the 1950s are Ozzie and Harriet, Superman, Blondie, Burns and Allen, Gene Autry, Jack Benny, The Great Gildersleeve, Life with Luigi, The Lone Ranger, Our Miss Brooks, Suspense, and Twenty Questions.

Some shows that I watched on TV in the 1950s got their start on radio, but I followed them only on TV. Among their number:

Abbott and Costello
The Alan Young Show
Amos ‘n’ Andy
The Big Story
The Cisco Kid
Death Valley Days
Dr. Kildare
Ellery Queen
Ethel and Albert
Father Knows Best
Five Star Theater
Four Star Playhouse
The Goldbergs
The Halls of Ivy
Have Gun, Will Travel
I Was a Communist for the FBI
The Kate Smith Hour
The Ken Murray Program
Kraft Music Hall
The Life of Riley
The Milton Berle Show
Mr. and Mrs. North
My Friend Irma
The Original Amateur Hour
Perry Mason
Quiz Kids
The Roy Rogers Show
Studio One
The Voice of Firsstone
You Bet Your Life
Your Hit Parade

My parents’ first TV set was a 12-inch Sparton, which resembled the table model at the left in the bottom row:

Sparton wasn’t a misspelling of Spartan. Sparton stood for Sparks-Withington, a company in Jackson, Michigan, that made TV sets until 1956. Not nearly as classy as the Philco radio, was it?

Those were the days when radio and TV were safe for kids: no sex, less-than-graphic violence, actors who didn’t mumble or swear, and musical themes of redeeming value:

Not-So-Random Thoughts (X)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

How Much Are Teachers Worth?

David Harsanyi writes:

“The bottom line,” says the Center for American Progress, “is that mid- and late-career teachers are not earning what they deserve, nor are they able to gain the salaries that support a middle-class existence.”

Alas, neither liberal think tanks nor explainer sites have the capacity to determine the worth of human capital. And contrasting the pay of a person who has a predetermined government salary with the pay earned by someone in a competitive marketplace tells us little. Public-school teachers’ compensation is determined by contracts negotiated long before many of them even decided to teach. These contracts hurt the earning potential of good teachers and undermine the education system. And it has nothing to do with what anyone “deserves.”

So if teachers believe they aren’t making what they’re worth — and they may well be right about that — let’s free them from union constraints and let them find out what the job market has to offer. Until then, we can’t really know. Because a bachelor’s degree isn’t a dispensation from the vagaries of economic reality. And teaching isn’t the first step toward sainthood. Regardless of what you’ve heard. (“Are Teachers Underpaid? Let’s Find Out,”, July 25, 2014)

Harsanyi is right, but too kind. Here’s my take, from “The Public-School Swindle“:

[P]ublic “education” — at all levels — is not just a rip-off of taxpayers, it is also an employment scheme for incompetents (especially at the K-12 level) and a paternalistic redirection of resources to second- and third-best uses.

And, to top it off, public education has led to the creation of an army of left-wing zealots who, for many decades, have inculcated America’s children and young adults in the advantages of collective, non-market, anti-libertarian institutions, where paternalistic “empathy” supplants personal responsibility.

Utilitarianism, Once More

EconLog bloggers Bryan Caplan and Scott Sumner are enjoying an esoteric exchange about utilitarianism (samples here and here), which is a kind of cost-benefit calculus in which the calculator presumes to weigh the costs and benefits that accrue to other persons.  My take is that utilitarianism borders on psychopathy. In “Utilitarianism and Psychopathy,” I quote myself to this effect:

Here’s the problem with cost-benefit analysis — the problem it shares with utilitarianism: One person’s benefit can’t be compared with another person’s cost. Suppose, for example, the City of Los Angeles were to conduct a cost-benefit analysis that “proved” the wisdom of constructing yet another freeway through the city in order to reduce the commuting time of workers who drive into the city from the suburbs.

Before constructing the freeway, the city would have to take residential and commercial property. The occupants of those homes and owners of those businesses (who, in many cases would be lessees and not landowners) would have to start anew elsewhere. The customers of the affected businesses would have to find alternative sources of goods and services. Compensation under eminent domain can never be adequate to the owners of taken property because the property is taken by force and not sold voluntarily at a true market price. Moreover, others who are also harmed by a taking (lessees and customers in this example) are never compensated for their losses. Now, how can all of this uncompensated cost and inconvenience be “justified” by, say, the greater productivity that might (emphasize might) accrue to those commuters who would benefit from the construction of yet another freeway.

Yet, that is how cost-benefit analysis works. It assumes that group A’s cost can be offset by group B’s benefit: “the greatest amount of happiness altogether.”

America’s Financial Crisis

Timothy Taylor tackles the looming debt crisis:

First, the current high level of government debt, and the projections for the next 25 years, mean that the U.S. government lacks fiscal flexibility….

Second, the current spending patterns of the U.S. government are starting to crowd out everything except health care, Social Security, and interest payments….

Third, large government borrowing means less funding is available for private investment….

…CBO calculates an “alternative fiscal scenario,” in which it sets aside some of these spending and tax changes that are scheduled to take effect in five years or ten years or never…. [T]he extended baseline scenario projected that the debt/GDP ratio would be 106% by 2039. In the alternative fiscal scenario, the debt-GDP ratio is projected to reach 183% of GDP by 2039. As the report notes: “CBO’s extended alternative fiscal scenario is based on the assumptions that certain policies that are now in place but are scheduled to change under current law will be continued and that some provisions of law that might be difficult to sustain for a long period will be modified. The scenario, therefore, captures what some analysts might consider to be current policies, as opposed to current laws.”…

My own judgement is that the path of future budget deficits in the next decade or so is likely to lean toward the alternative fiscal scenario. But long before we reach a debt/GDP ratio of 183%, something is going to give. I don’t know what will change. But as an old-school economist named Herb Stein used to say, “If something can’t go on, it won’t.” (Long Term Budget Deficits,Conversable Economist, July 24, 2014)

Professional economists are terribly low-key, aren’t they? Here’s the way I see it, in “America’s Financial Crisis Is Now“:

It will not do simply to put an end to the U.S. government’s spending spree; too many State and local governments stand ready to fill the void, and they will do so by raising taxes where they can. As a result, some jurisdictions will fall into California- and Michigan-like death-spirals while jobs and growth migrate to other jurisdictions…. Even if Congress resists the urge to give aid and comfort to profligate States and municipalities at the expense of the taxpayers of fiscally prudent jurisdictions, the high taxes and anti-business regimes of California- and Michigan-like jurisdictions impose deadweight losses on the whole economy….

So, the resistance to economically destructive policies cannot end with efforts to reverse the policies of the federal government. But given the vast destructiveness of those policies — “entitlements” in particular — the resistance must begin there. Every conservative and libertarian voice in the land must be raised in reasoned opposition to the perpetuation of the unsustainable “promises” currently embedded in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — and their expansion through Obamacare. To those voices must be added the voices of “moderates” and “liberals” who see through the proclaimed good intentions of “entitlements” to the economic and libertarian disaster that looms if those “entitlements” are not pared down to their original purpose: providing a safety net for the truly needy.

The alternative to successful resistance is stark: more borrowing, higher interest payments, unsustainable debt, higher taxes, and economic stagnation (at best).

For the gory details about government spending and economic stagnation, see “Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Spending Inhibits Economic Growth” and “The True Multiplier.”

Climate Change: More Evidence against the Myth of AGW

There are voices of reason, that is, real scientists doing real science:

Over the 55-years from 1958 to 2012, climate models not only significantly over-predict observed warming in the tropical troposphere, but they represent it in a fundamentally different way than is observed. (Ross McKittrick and Timothy Vogelsang, “Climate models not only significantly over-predict observed warming in the tropical troposphere, but they represent it in a fundamentally different way than is observed,” excerpted at Watt’s Up With That, July 24, 2014)

Since the 1980s anthropogenic aerosols have been considerably reduced in Europe and the Mediterranean area. This decrease is often considered as the likely cause of the brightening effect observed over the same period. This phenomenon is however hardly reproduced by global and regional climate models. Here we use an original approach based on reanalysis-driven coupled regional climate system modelling, to show that aerosol changes explain 81 ± 16 per cent of the brightening and 23 ± 5 per cent of the surface warming simulated for the period 1980–2012 over Europe. The direct aerosol effect is found to dominate in the magnitude of the simulated brightening. The comparison between regional simulations and homogenized ground-based observations reveals that observed surface solar radiation, as well as land and sea surface temperature spatio-temporal variations over the Euro-Mediterranean region are only reproduced when simulations include the realistic aerosol variations. (“New paper finds 23% of warming in Europe since 1980 due to clean air laws reducing sulfur dioxide,” The Hockey Schtick, July 23, 2014)

My (somewhat out-of-date but still useful) roundup of related posts and articles is at “AGW: The Death Knell.”

Crime Explained…

…but not by this simplistic item:

Of all of the notions that have motivated the decades-long rise of incarceration in the United States, this is probably the most basic: When we put people behind bars, they can’t commit crime.

The implied corollary: If we let them out, they will….

Crime trends in a few states that have significantly reduced their prison populations, though, contradict this fear. (Emily Badger, “There’s little evidence that fewer prisoners means more crime,” Wonkblog, The Washington Post, July 21, 2014)

Staring at charts doesn’t yield answers to complex, multivariate questions, such as the causes of crime. Ms. Badger should have extended my work of seven years ago (“Crime, Explained“). Had she, I’m confident that she would have obtained the same result, namely:

VPC (violent+property crimes per 100,000 persons) =


+346837BLK (number of blacks as a decimal fraction of the population)

-3040.46GRO (previous year’s change in real GDP per capita, as a decimal fraction of the base)

-1474741PRS (the number of inmates in federal and State prisons in December of the previous year, as a decimal fraction of the previous year’s population)

The t-statistics on the intercept and coefficients are 19.017, 21.564, 1.210, and 17.253, respectively; the adjusted R-squared is 0.923; the standard error of the estimate/mean value of VPC = 0.076.

The coefficient and t-statistic for PRS mean that incarceration has a strong, statistically significant, negative effect on the violent-property crime rate. In other words, more prisoners = less crime against persons and their property.

The Heritability of Intelligence

Strip away the trappings of culture and what do you find? This:

If a chimpanzee appears unusually intelligent, it probably had bright parents. That’s the message from the first study to check if chimp brain power is heritable.

The discovery could help to tease apart the genes that affect chimp intelligence and to see whether those genes in humans also influence intelligence. It might also help to identify additional genetic factors that give humans the intellectual edge over their non-human-primate cousins.

The researchers estimate that, similar to humans, genetic differences account for about 54 per cent of the range seen in “general intelligence” – dubbed “g” – which is measured via a series of cognitive tests. “Our results in chimps are quite consistent with data from humans, and the human heritability in g,” says William Hopkins of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia, who heads the team reporting its findings in Current Biology.

“The historical view is that non-genetic factors dominate animal intelligence, and our findings challenge that view,” says Hopkins. (Andy Coghlan, “Chimpanzee brain power is strongly heritable,New Scientist, July 10, 2014)

Such findings are consistent with Nicholas Wade’s politically incorrect A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. For related readings, see “‘Wading’ into Race, Culture, and IQ’.” For a summary of scholarly evidence about the heritability of intelligence — and its dire implications — see “Race and Reason — The Achievement Gap: Causes and Implications.” John Derbyshire offers an even darker view: “America in 2034” (American Renaissance, June 9, 2014).

The correlation of race and intelligence is, for me, an objective matter, not an emotional one. For evidence of my racial impartiality, see the final item in “My Moral Profile.”

A Sideways Glance at Politicians’ Memoirs

This is an edited version of a column that appeared in my long-defunct weekly newspaper on February 23, 1977. Gerald Ford had recently relinquished the presidency to Jimmy Carter, and Richard Nixon had fallen from grace less than three years earlier.

It’s expected that Richard Nixon will rake in millions for his printed and televised memoirs. Mr. Nixon wants the government to turn over the documents he compiled while an employee of the taxpayers, so that he can refer to them in writing his memoirs.

Henry Kissinger, another incipient memoirizer, wants the same deal. In fact, it’s reported that he removed from the State Department the stenographic records of thousands of phone conversations he had while Secretary of State. Dr. K. claims that those are personal documents. If that’s so, he should refund a good chunk of his government salary, to compensate taxpayers for the thousands of hours that he spent on personal phone calls.

There’s something to be said for allowing ex-presidents and other high officials access to their records so that they can tell us how great they were: Memoirs are a boon to insomniacs. Sleeping-pill manufacturers should have sued Truman, Eisenhower, and Johnson for unfair competition.

Many Americans are eager to read Nixon’s version of his presidency. I’m among them, mainly because I want to see if Nixon will say that he was Deep Throat*. I’m serious. Can you recall another politician who reveled in misery like Mr. Nixon? Remember the “Checkers speech“; the 1960 election that Nixon lost to JFK, but probably could have won by contesting the Illinois results (enough votes turned up in Chicago to swing the outcome)**; the lashing-out at the press after losing the California governor’s race in 1962; and the sweaty, lying performance during the Watergate affair. Why couldn’t the person who as a boy signed a letter to his mother “Your good dog, Richard” have become a man who satisfied his need to grovel by blowing the whistle on himself?

Whatever the truth about Nixon’s role in the Watergate affair—the cover-up, the cover-up of the cover-up, and the uncovering of the cover-ups—we are unlikely to learn it from Nixon’s memoirs, except by inference. Look for the parts where his innocence is most stridently protested, and assume that the opposite is true.

Will Gerald Ford also write his memoirs? The question doesn’t seem to be keeping book publishers awake at night. But, if he does, you can throw away your Sominex.

Jerry Ford would be a good guy to have a beer with. I even voted for him. But I draw the line at self-inflicted boredom. Rather than read Ford’s memoirs, I would watch grass grow.

As for Kissinger’s version of events, one should keep in mind Voltaire’s remark that “History is the lie agreed upon.”

* In 2003, long after I published the original piece, Deep Throat was revealed as Mark Felt, then Deputy Director of the FBI. In 1972, following the break-in by White House operatives at Democrat headquarters in the Watergate Hotel and Office Building on Virginia Avenue in Washington, D.C. Felt fed inside information to Bob Woodward, who with Carl Bernstein wrote the series of articles in The Washington Post that led to congressional hearings into the Watergate affair, and Nixon’s eventual resignation on August 9, 1974. Felt’s secret meetings with Bob Woodward were held in the parking garage of an office building at 1401 Wilson Boulevard in Arlington, Virginia. At the time, I worked at 1401 Wilson Boulevard.

** This is a common bit of folk-lore. In fact, even if Nixon had won Illinois, JFK would still have led Nixon in electoral votes: 276-246. Another 15 electoral votes were cast for Senator Harry Byrd by Virginia’s electors. Even if those electors had switched to Nixon, the tally would have been 276-261. It’s possible that if Nixon had won Illinois, enough Kennedy voters in the West would have stayed home to swing New Mexico or Nevada to Nixon. Kennedy won both States narrowly, and a Nixon victory in either State, coupled with a win in Illinois, would have made him the winner. Maybe.

A Sideways Glance at the Cabinet

This is a polished and updated version of a column that appeared in my long-defunct weekly newspaper on January 26, 1977, six days after Gerald Ford relinquished the presidency to Jimmy Carter.

President Ford, shortly before leaving office, urged Republican partypersons to form a “shadow” cabinet. (This is an old tradition in Britain, where the Loyal Opposition assigns certain of its members in Parliament the duty of keeping cabinet ministers honest.) But before proposing a shadow cabinet, Mr. Ford should have reconsidered the need for a cabinet in the first place. I will venture to do so here.

Take the Defense Department, which contains three military departments: Army, Navy, Air Force. Right away you can see the possibilities for confusion, if not riot, because there is no Secretary of the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps is a separate military service—which is the first thing that any Marine with one day in boot camp will tell you. But the Marine Corps is administratively in the Department of the Navy. If for nothing else, the Secretary of the Navy is paid to referee the daily combat between the Navy and and the Marines Corps.

But. you may ask, why should the Navy and Marine Corps be in conflict if they belong to the same department? If you have to ask, you haven’t seen any movies made during World War II, wherein it was common to have a scene that included the following elements: a bar, some sailors, some jarheads (as Marines are often called), and a brawl. Those fraternal tiffs have not been forgotten. For many decades after World War II, the Chief of Naval Operations (the top sailor, who has nothing to do with operations) and the Commandant of the Marine Corps (the top Marine) were housed in different buildings.* (Who says that time heals all wounds?) I question the wisdom of the decision to house both of them in the Pentagon. It’s a huge place, so they can be kept well apart, but …

Before moving on, I must mention the Navy-Air Force relationship. The Air Force has an air force, as you might expect. The Navy, too. has an air force. The result is that the Navy and Air Force spend a lot of time quibbling about whose air force should have the biggest, fastest airplanes. Neither will admit that it has the most expensive ones, of course.

The fact that the Navy has an air force leads to another reason for having a Secretary of the Navy. It is he who must make the Navy’s case for its air force. Why couldn’t the Chief of Naval Operations do that? Well, the Marines have their own air force, too. If the Chief of Naval Operations were to go before Congress to plead his case, the Commandant would have to do the same. Imagine what would happen if they showed up on the same day!

If you think inter-service rivalry is a problem in the Department of the Navy, consider life in the Pentagon, which also houses the chiefs of staff of the Army and Air Force. There are not only four air forces to fight over (yes, the Army has one, too), there are two services with soldiers (but don’t call a Marine that), two with long-range missiles (the Air Force and Navy), four with air-defense missiles, and so on, into the night. Thus the need for a Secretary of Defense.

Therefore, as to the necessity of cabinet officers: it is dire — in the Pentagon, at least. If the Secretary of Defense didn’t get the troops pretty much in order before they marched to Congress with their demands, Congress would have to referee the fights among the services. This would leave Congressmen with no time to interview secretaries (the typing kind**).

Long live the cabinet, whoever they may be!
* The Commandant’s office and other elements of Headquarters, Marine Corps, moved to the Pentagon in 1996.

**A reference to a scandal that broke in 1976. U.S. Representative Wayne Hays (D-Ohio) had hired one Elizabeth Ray as a member of his staff. Ms. Ray was nominally a secretary, but her real job description was “mistress.” She admitted that “I can’t type. I can’t file. I can’t even answer the phone.”

A Sideways Glance at Military Strategy

This is a column that appeared in my long-defunct weekly newspaper on January 12, 1977, eight days before the inauguration of Jimmy Carter, who succeeded Gerald Ford.

James (“just call me Jimmy”) Carter has filled his new Cabinet with “old” faces. Will the old
faces, and the old minds behind them, come up with the same old answers? It is likely.

Despite promises of efficiency–which means collecting our tax money faster–the Carter regime is likely to follow the pattern set by a certain former governor of Georgia: more government employees, more government spending, and more government debt.

Perhaps Mr. Carter can improve on the performance of the Ford flivver. There will be plenty of opportunities. Shortly before leaving office Mr. Ford apparently decided not to ask for an aircraft carrier in the new budget to be submitted to Congress. Not having the carrier (we already have a dozen or more, all in good shape) and the planes that would go on it, could save us over $4 billion during the next several years. This may seem sensible, but there’s more.

It is reported that during the past year, Mr. Ford-through his super-salesman. Mr. Kissinger, agreed to renew the leases on some of our bases in Spain. Turkey. Greece, and the Philippines. It is estimated that the right to have bases in those countries would cost over $4 billion during the next several years. (The bases themselves are optional extras.) Maybe the Navy should have its new carrier. Make that two!

But, politicians should not be accused of stupidity until all the returns are in. I, for one. can
plainly see the method to Mr. Ford’s machinations. First, he expects that Congress will agree that the Navy should not have a new nuclear aircraft carrier.

Second. Mr. Ford expects that Congress will not be foolish enough to pay $4 billion to our third-string allies for the privilege of parking military hardware on their property on the remote chance that it will be useful in a war.

Third, the Puerto Ricans will overwhelmingly endorse Statehood, and Congress will vote it.

What does Puerto Rico have to do with carriers and bases? Puerto Rico is a big island.
(Right!) It can hold a lot of airplanes, tanks, and missiles. (Right again!) It’s probably just
as strategically located as the Philippines, and less likely to be overrun than Spain, Greece, and Turkey. (Give that man a cigar!)

Therefore, we get a new State, new taxpayers, a well-located base bigger than a thousand
aircraft carriers, and save $8 billion in the bargain.

Who said that Mr. Ford couldn’t ski and chew gum* at the same time? Top that. Jimmy.

* During his presidency, Ford became the brunt of jokes for a few well-publicized instances of clumsiness. One joke was that he couldn’t chew gum and walk at the same time. Ford was, in fact, an excellent athlete, who counted skiing among his abilities. Thus “ski and chew gum at the same time.”

Two-Percent Tyranny

In case you hadn’t noticed, marriage — long the cornerstone of civil society — is being redefined out of existence by the gay lobby. I say redefined out of existence because marriage becomes meaningless when any odd coupling is recognized in law as marriage.

In case you hadn’t noticed, bicycle lanes are choking the streets of “progressive” cities — Austin being a case in point with which I’m too familiar. The bicyclists for whose benefit those lanes have been marked are notable for their arrogant behavior (e.g., deliberately hogging traffic lanes and forcing lines of motor vehicles to crawl behind them).

The recognition of gay “marriage” and the encouragement of bicycling are “liberal” causes, of course. And as is usual with “liberals,” the causes are promoted with religious fervor, regardless of the consequences. Both causes have led to the manufacture of “rights” by public officials. To put it another way, the “rights” in question aren’t rights that arise from voluntarily evolved social norms. (To anticipate a “liberal” objection to voluntarily evolved social norms, slavery isn’t one — it’s a state-sponsored practice.)

In sum, the gay “marriage” and bicycling movements are instances of tyranny on behalf of two-percent minorities. It just happens that about two percent of Americans are homosexual, and about two percent of commuting is done by bicycle in most “bicycle friendly cities.” (The nationwide share is a paltry 0.6 percent.)

It’s “our” government at work, in its usual wrong-headed way.

*     *     *

Related posts:
Libertarianism, Marriage, and the True Meaning of Family Values
Same-Sex “Marriage”
“Equal Protection” and Homosexual “Marriage”
Parenting, Religion, Culture, and Liberty
“Family Values,” Liberty, and the State
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Due Process, and Equal Protection
Rationalism, Social Norms, and Same-Sex “Marriage”
Pseudo-Libertarian Sophistry vs. True Libertarianism
In Defense of Marriage
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm

Life in Austin (1)
Life in Austin (2)
Life in Austin (3)
Driving and Politics (1)
Driving and Politics (2)


Although I’ve declared baseball the “king of team sports,” I would agree with anyone who says that baseball is past its prime. When was that prime? Arguably, it was the original lively ball era, which by my reckoning extended from 1920 to 1941. The home run had become much more prevalent than in earlier dead-ball era, but not so prevalent that it dominated offensive strategy. Thus batting averages were high and scoring proceeded at a higher pace than in any of the other eras that I’ve identified.

In 1930, for example, the entire National League batted .303. The Chicago Cubs of that season finished in second place and batted .309 (not the highest team average in the league). The average number of runs scored in a Cubs’ game was 12.0 — a number surpassed only by the lowly Philadelphia Phillies, whose games yielded an average of 13.8 runs, most of them scored by the Phillies’ opponents. Despite the high scoring, the average Cubs game of the 1930 season lasted only 2 hours and 5 minutes. (An estimate that I derived from the sample of 67 Cubs’ games for which times are available, here.)

In sum, baseball’s first lively ball era produced what fans love to see: scoring. A great pitching duel is fine, but a great pitching duel is a rare thing. Too many low-scoring games are the result of failed offensive opportunities, which are marked by a high count of runners left of base. Once runners get on base, what fans want (or at least one team’s fans want) is to see them score.

The game in the first lively ball era was, as I say, dynamic because scoring depended less on the home run than it did in later eras. And the game unfolded at a smart pace. That pace, by the way, was about the same as it had been in the middle of the dead-ball era. (For example, the times recorded for the Cubs’ two games against the Cincinnati Reds on July 4, 1911, are 2:05 and 2:00.)

Baseball has declined since the first lively ball era, not just because the game has become more static but also because it now unfolds at a much slower pace. The average length of a game in 2014 is 3:08 (for games through 07/17/14) — more than an hour longer than the games played by the Cubs in 1930.

Baseball is far from the only cultural phenomenon that has declined from its peak. I have written several times about the decline of art and music, movies, language, and morals and mores: here, here, here, and here. (Each of the foregoing links leads to a post that includes links to related items.)

Baseball is sometimes called a metaphor for life. (It’s a better metaphor than soccer, to be sure.) I now venture to say that the decline of baseball is a metaphor for the decline of art, music, movies, language, and morals and mores.

Indeed, the decline of baseball is a metaphor for the decline of liberty in America, which began in earnest — and perhaps inexorably — during the New Deal, even as the first lively ball era was on the wane.

*     *     *

See also “The Fall and Rise of American Empire.”

Baseball: The King of Team Sports

There are five major team sports: baseball, basketball, football (American style), ice hockey, and soccer (European football). The skills and abilities required to play these sports at the top professional level are several and varied. But, in my opinion — based on experience and spectating — the skills can be ranked hierarchically and across sports. When the ordinal rankings are added, baseball comes out on top by a wide margin; hockey is in the middle; basketball, football, and soccer are effectively tied for least-demanding of skill and ability.

Ranking of sports by skill and ability

Baseball or Soccer? David Brooks Misunderstands Life

David Brooks — who is what passes for a conservative at The New York Times — once again plays useful idiot to the left. Brooks’s latest offering to the collectivist cause is “Baseball or Soccer?” Here are the opening paragraphs of Brooks’s blathering, accompanied by my comments (underlined, in brackets):

Baseball is a team sport, but it is basically an accumulation of individual activities. [So is soccer, and so is any team sport. For example, at any moment the ball is kicked by only one member of a team, not by the team as a whole.] Throwing a strike, hitting a line drive or fielding a grounder is primarily an individual achievement. [This short list omits the many ways in which baseball involves teamwork; for example: every pitch, involves coordination between pitcher and catcher, and fielders either position themselves according to the pitch that’s coming or are able to anticipate the likely direction of a batted ball; the double play is an excellent and more obvious example of teamwork; so is the pickoff play, from pitcher to baseman or catcher to baseman; the hit and run play is another obvious example of teamwork; on a fly to the outfield, where two fielders are in position to make the catch, the catch is made by the fielder in better position for a throw or with the better throwing arm.] The team that performs the most individual tasks well will probably win the game. [Teamwork consists of the performance of individual tasks, in soccer as well as in baseball.]

Soccer is not like that. [False; see above.] In soccer, almost no task, except the penalty kick and a few others, is intrinsically individual. [False; see above.] Soccer, as Simon Critchley pointed out recently in The New York Review of Books, is a game about occupying and controlling space. [So is American football. And so what?] ….

As Critchley writes, “Soccer is a collective game, a team game, and everyone has to play the part which has been assigned to them, which means they have to understand it spatially, positionally and intelligently and make it effective.” [Hmm… Sounds like every other team sport, except that none of them — soccer included, is “collective.” All of them — soccer included — involve cooperative endeavors of various kinds. The success of those cooperative endeavors depends very much on the skills that individuals bring to them. The real difference between soccer and baseball is that baseball demands a greater range of individual skills, and is played in such a way that some of those skills are on prominent display.] ….

Most of us spend our days thinking we are playing baseball, but we are really playing soccer. [To the extent that any of us think such things, those who think they are playing baseball, rather than soccer, are correct. See the preceding comment.]

At this point, Brooks shifts gears. I’ll quote some relevant passages, then comment at length:

We think we individually choose what career path to take, whom to socialize with, what views to hold. But, in fact, those decisions are shaped by the networks of people around us more than we dare recognize.

This influence happens through at least three avenues. First there is contagion. People absorb memes, ideas and behaviors from each other the way they catch a cold…. The overall environment influences what we think of as normal behavior without being much aware of it. Then there is the structure of your network. There is by now a vast body of research on how differently people behave depending on the structure of the social networks. People with vast numbers of acquaintances have more job opportunities than people with fewer but deeper friendships. Most organizations have structural holes, gaps between two departments or disciplines. If you happen to be in an undeveloped structural hole where you can link two departments, your career is likely to take off.

Innovation is hugely shaped by the structure of an industry at any moment. Individuals in Silicon Valley are creative now because of the fluid structure of failure and recovery….

Finally, there is the power of the extended mind. There is also a developed body of research on how much our very consciousness is shaped by the people around us. Let me simplify it with a classic observation: Each close friend you have brings out a version of yourself that you could not bring out on your own. When your close friend dies, you are not only losing the friend, you are losing the version of your personality that he or she elicited.

Brooks has gone from teamwork — which he gets wrong — to socialization and luck. As with Brooks’s (failed) baseball-soccer analogy, the point is to belittle individual effort by making it seem inconsequential, or less consequential than the “masses” believe it to be.

You may have noticed that Brooks is re-running Obama’s big lie: “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.” As I wrote here,

… Obama is trying, not so subtly, to denigrate those who are successful in business (e.g., Mitt Romney) and to make a case for redistributionism. The latter rests on Obama’s (barely concealed) premise that the fruits of a collective enterprise should be shared on some basis other than market valuations of individual contributions….

It is (or should be) obvious that Obama’s agenda is the advancement of collectivist statism. I will credit Obama for the sincerity of his belief in collectivist statism, but his sincerity only underscores and how dangerous he is….

Well, yes, everyone is strongly influenced by what has gone before, and by the social and economic milieu in which one finds oneself. Where does that leave us? Here:

  • Social and economic milieu are products of individual acts, including acts that occur in the context of cooperative efforts.
  • It is up to the individual to make the most (or least) of his social and economic inheritance and milieu.
  • Those who make the most (or least) of their background and situation are rightly revered or despised for their individual efforts. Consider, for example, Washington and Lincoln, on the one hand, and Hitler and Stalin, on the other hand.
  • Beneficial cooperation arises from the voluntary choices of individuals. Destructive “cooperation” (collectivism)  — the imposition of rules through superior force (usually government) — usually thwarts the individual initiative and ingenuity that underlie scientific and economic progress.

Brooks ends with this:

Once we acknowledge that, in life, we are playing soccer, not baseball, a few things become clear. First, awareness of the landscape of reality is the highest form of wisdom. It’s not raw computational power that matters most; it’s having a sensitive attunement to the widest environment, feeling where the flow of events is going. Genius is in practice perceiving more than the conscious reasoning. [A false distinction between baseball and soccer, followed by false dichotomies.]

Second, predictive models [of what?] will be less useful [than what?]. Baseball is wonderful for sabermetricians. In each at bat there is a limited [but huge] range of possible outcomes. Activities like soccer are not as easily renderable statistically, because the relevant spatial structures are harder to quantify. [B.S. “Sabermetrics” is coming to soccer.] Even the estimable statistician Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight gave Brazil a 65 percent chance of beating Germany. [An “estimable statistician” would know that such a statement is meaningless; see the discussion of probability here.]

Finally, Critchley notes that soccer is like a 90-minute anxiety dream — one of those frustrating dreams when you’re trying to get somewhere but something is always in the way. This is yet another way soccer is like life. [If you seek a metaphor for life, try blowing a fastball past a fastball hitter; try punching the ball to right when you’re behind in the count; try stealing second, only to have the batter walked intentionally; try to preserve your team’s win with a leaping catch and a throw to home plate; etc., etc., etc.]

The foregoing parade of non sequitur, psychobabble, and outright error simply proves that Brooks doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I hereby demote him from “useful idiot” to plain old “idiot.”

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Related posts:
He’s Right, Don’t Listen to Him
Killing Conservatism in Order to Save It
Ten Commandments of Economics
More Commandments of Economics
Three Truths for Central Planners
Columnist, Heal Thyself
Our Miss Brooks
Miss Brooks’s “Grand Bargain”
More Fool He
Dispatches from the Front
David Brooks, Useful Idiot for the Left
“We the People” and Big Government
“Liberalism” and Personal Responsibility

Jerks and Demagogues

Eric Schwitzgebel writes:

I submit that the unifying core, the essence of jerkitude in the moral sense, is this: the jerk culpably fails to appreciate the perspectives of others around him, treating them as tools to be manipulated or idiots to be dealt with rather than as moral and epistemic peers….

[N]ormal jerks distribute their jerkishness mostly down the social hierarchy, and to anonymous strangers. Waitresses, students, clerks, strangers on the road – these are the unfortunates who bear the brunt of it. With a modicum of self-control, the jerk, though he implicitly or explicitly regards himself as more important than most of the people around him, recognises that the perspectives of those above him in the hierarchy also deserve some consideration….

[T]he moralistic jerk is an animal worth special remark. Charles Dickens was a master painter of the type: his teachers, his preachers, his petty bureaucrats and self-satisfied businessmen, Scrooge condemning the poor as lazy, Mr Bumble shocked that Oliver Twist dares to ask for more, each dismissive of the opinions and desires of their social inferiors, each inflated with a proud self-image and ignorant of how they are rightly seen by those around them, and each rationalising this picture with a web of “moralising” shoulds….

[T]he moralising jerk can sometimes happen to be right about some specific important issue … especially if he adopts a big social cause. He needn’t care only about money and prestige. Indeed, sometimes an abstract and general concern for moral or political principles serves as a kind of substitute for genuine concern about the people in his immediate field of view…. (“A Theory of Jerks,” Aeon, June 2014.)

Jerks, in other words, are cynical users of their fellow men. As are demagogues:

The peculiar office of a demagogue is to advance his own interests, by affecting a deep devotion to the interests of the people…. The true theater of a demagogue is a democracy….

The demagogue is usually sly, a detractor of others, a professor of humility and disinterestedness, a great stickler for equality as respects all above him, a man who acts in corners, and avoids open and manly expositions of his course, calls blackguards gentlemen and gentlemen folks, appeals to passions and prejudices rather than to reason, and is in all aspects a man of intrigue and deception, of sly cunning and management, instead of manifesting the frank, fearless qualities of the democracy he so prodigally professes. (James Fenimore Cooper, The American Democrat, quoted in The Great Quotations, pp. 258-9)

Conserve a bit of breath the next time you hear a demagogue. Just call him a jerk and be done with it.

My list of jerks begins with Barack Obama and extends through the length and breadth of the land — wherever politicians, bureaucrats, and special interests conspire to deprive “folks” of liberty and prosperity.


The Limits of Science, Illustrated by Scientists

Our first clue is the title of a recent article in The Christian Science Monitor: “Why the Universe Isn’t Supposed to Exist.” The article reads, in part:

The universe shouldn’t exist — at least according to a new theory.

Modeling of conditions soon after the Big Bang suggests the universe should have collapsed just microseconds after its explosive birth, the new study suggests.

“During the early universe, we expected cosmic inflation — this is a rapid expansion of the universe right after the Big Bang,” said study co-author Robert Hogan, a doctoral candidate in physics at King’s College in London. “This expansion causes lots of stuff to shake around, and if we shake it too much, we could go into this new energy space, which could cause the universe to collapse.”

Physicists draw that conclusion from a model that accounts for the properties of the newly discovered Higgs boson particle, which is thought to explain how other particles get their mass; faint traces of gravitational waves formed at the universe’s origin also inform the conclusion.

Of course, there must be something missing from these calculations.

“We are here talking about it,” Hogan told Live Science. “That means we have to extend our theories to explain why this didn’t happen.”

No kidding!

So, you think “the science is settled,” do you? Think again, long and hard.

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Related posts: Just about everything here. Enjoy.


“U.S. Supreme Court” Updated

No, Justice Ginsburg hasn’t retired (unfortunately). But I have revised “U.S. Supreme Court: Lines of Succession.” a large table that traces the lineage of each of the Court’s seats. The new version delineates each justice’s term more clearly; still shows which justices were nominated by which presidents; and now enables the reader to see who served with each chief justice.

The “Roberts Court,” for example, has thus far included Roberts, Souter, Sotomayor, Breyer, Kennedy, Stevens, Kagan, Ginsburg, O’Connor, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas. (That list comes from reading my table left to right. In order of merit, it would be Alito, Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, Kennedy, O’Connor, and Souter or Breyer — with Stevens, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan vying for the Ninth Circle of Hell.)

The three-part table packs a lot of information, so the type is on the small side. For most readers, a 125-percent zoom should do the trick.

The Court in Retrospect and Prospect (II)

Christopher Ingraham, a contributor to The Washington Post’s Wonkblog points with alarm at the increasing frequency of 5-4 decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court:

Supreme Court_5-4 decisions 1946-2013What does Ingraham make of the graph?

These numbers show that the political polarization that has gridlocked Congress and divided the American public has also made its way into the halls of the nation’s highest legal authority.

Ah, gridlock, the bane of “liberals,” who want no impediment to the growth of the central government’s already vast power. Too much power isn’t enough for a “liberal.”

In fact, if you look carefully at the graph — and ignore the spurious trend line — you’ll see no discernible trend until the 1980s. It was only then that conservatives (staunch and wavering) began to replace Democrat appointees and Eisenhower’s RINOs. Nixon’s appointees Warren  E. Burger (1969 – 1986), Lewis F. Powell (1972 – 1987), and William H. Rehnquist (1972 – 2005) were joined by Reagan’s appointees Sandra Day O’Connor (1981 – 2006) and Antonin Scalia (1986 – ). Subsequently, Anthony M. Kennedy (1988 – ) replaced Powell (a wash); David H.  Souter (1990 – 2009) replaced William J. Brennan (a wash); Clarence Thomas (1991 – ) replaced Thurgood Marshall (a big plus); Ruth B. Ginsburg (1993 – ) replaced Byron R. White (a minus); Stephen G. Breyer (1994 – ) replaced Harry A. Blackmun (a wash); John G. Roberts (2005 – ) replaced Rehnquist (a wash); Samuel A. Alito (2006 – ) replaced O’Connor (a big plus); Sonia Sotomayor (2009 – ) replaced Souter (a slight minus); and Elena Kagan replaced John Paul Stevens (a wash). (Source: “U.S. Supreme Court: Lines of Succession.”)

In sum, the Court began to lean right in the 1980s, and has gradually leaned a bit more to the right, thanks mainly to the addition of Thomas, Roberts (despite the Obamacare decision), and Alito — and no thanks to the four Clinton-Obama appointees (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan). This tilt caused a rising trend of 5-4 decisions from the 1980s to the present. Some of those decisions were pro-liberty; some of them were pro-license and pro-government. But a 5-4 pro-liberty decision is better than any kind of anti-liberty decision. So, I’m thankful for “gridlock” on the Court, and Ingraham and his ilk would be, too, if they weren’t mindless parrots.

What’s in store for the Court? The recent past holds come clues. I begin with the Court’s first nine terms with Roberts as Chief Justice. (Each term begins on the first Monday in October, and is known by the year in which it starts. Thus Roberts’s first term was October Term 2005, or OT05. The current term, and ninth for Roberts, which won’t end officially until the day before the first Monday in October 2014, is OT13. See Rule 3, here.)

The following analysis begins with statistics that I devised five years ago. Here’s how I described the statistics, taking Justice Alito’s record in the non-unanimous cases of OT08 as an example:

Alito … was in disagreement with his four “allies” (in non-unanimous cases) a total of 72 percent of the time …, for an average of 18 percent per ally. Alito was in disagreement with his four “opponents” a total of 272 percent of the time, for an average of 68 percent per opponent.

(The use of non-unanimous cases highlights the degree of disagreement among justices, which would be blurred if all cases were included in the analysis.)

The percentages for Alito yield a ratio of 3.8 (68 percent divided by 18 percent). In other words, on average, Alito disagreed with members of the “liberal” wing 3.8 times more frequently than he disagreed with members of his own “conservative” wing. Similarly, in the same term, Justice Breyer disagreed with members of the “conservative” wing in 44 percent of non-unanimous cases, while he agreed with members of his own “liberal” wing in 30 percent of non-unanimous cases, for a ratio of 1.5.

The following table summarizes the ratios for each justice in each term. Justices are grouped by wing and then listed in order of seniority (the Chief is always first, by virtue of his office). Pale green and pale red shadings indicate the most “agreeable” and most “disagreeable” ratios for each wing and each term. Trends are simple linear estimates of each justice’s performance in OT14, given his or her record in preceding years.

Supreme Court_disagreement among justices_ratios
Derived from statistics reported and archived by SCOTUSblog. Specific sources are listed at the bottom of this post. Justice O’Connor’s truncated participation in OT06 is omitted.

The year-to-year variation in mean ratios suggests that some terms are more fraught with ideologically divisive cases than others. I normalized the year-to-year results by dividing each justice’s ratio for each year by the mean ratio for that justice’s wing. The following table gives the normalized ratios:

Supreme Court_disagreement among justices_normalized

The numbers should be unsurprising to anyone who follows the Court’s rulings. Kennedy and Breyer are the moderates of their respective wings; Scalia, Thomas, Alito, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan are the firebrands of their respective wings. Roberts and Scalia seem to be moving to a slightly different beat than their conservative confreres, but neither justice seems to be on the verge of desertion from the conservative wing.

How long might the current balance remain in effect? Consider the justices’ ages:

Supreme Court justices_ages

Ginsburg insists that she has no plans to retire. If that’s true, and if she doesn’t retire before the end of Obama’s presidency, she may be replaced by a Republican appointee. (Obama’s current deep unpopularity stokes the flame of hope for a GOP-controlled Congress and White House come 2017.) If that were to happen, the Court could swing decisively in a conservative direction. Breyer’s post-Obama retirement would be frosting on the cake.

It would be desirable if Scalia and (especially) Kennedy were to offer themselves up for replacement between 2017 and 2020 or 2024 — if the GOP is in control during those years. After that, who knows what will happen, given the unpredictability of events and the fickleness of the electorate.

The GOP appointees should be relatively young Burkean conservatives,  If they are, something resembling the real Constitution might yet arise from the ruins of 20th century jurisprudence.

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Related posts:
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
A Declaration of Independence
First Principles
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
The Unconstitutionality of the Individual Mandate
Does the Power to Tax Give Congress Unlimited Power?
Does Congress Have the Power to Regulate Inactivity?
A Declaration of Civil Disobedience
Questioning the National Debt
Rethinking the Constitution: “Freedom of Speech, and of the Press”
A Balanced-Budget Amendment and the Constitution
The Repealer
Abortion and the Fourteenth Amendment
Obamacare: Neither Necessary nor Proper
Our Perfect, Perfect Constitution
Constitutional Confusion
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
A New Constitution for a New Republic
Restoring Constitutional Government: The Way Ahead
“We the People” and Big Government
How Libertarians Ought to Think about the Constitution
An Agenda for the GOP
Wrong for the Wrong Reasons

Sources of statistics about disagreements in non-unanimous cases, by term (in ascending chronological order):;