Stick to baseball, 5/20/17.

My one baseball post this past week was the annual ranking of the Top 25 MLB players under 25, which causes more “read the intro” violations than anything else I write every year. I also held a Klawchat on Thursday while in Minneapolis; I will do a quick eats post from there soon, but I’m about six topics behind here due to travel and lack of sleep.

For Paste, I reviewed the new puzzle game Shahrazad, which has a solo version and a two-player mode, both pretty clever with fantastic artwork and very few rules to learn.

My book, Smart Baseball, came out on April 25th from HarperCollins in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats. I traveled to Atlanta and the Twin Cities for readings/signings this past week, and am very grateful to all of you who came out to buy the book, have yours signed, or just say hello; we had 50+ folks at each event and Moon Palace Books sold out of the book Thursday night. Smart Baseball also got a very positive review from an unexpected source, the political site The Federalist.

I’m still sending out my email newsletter when I can, and the last edition, about some recent troubles I’ve had with my anxiety disorder and the medication I take for it, got the strongest response yet – so many replies and comments, in fact, that I haven’t been able to respond to the majority of them. I did see them all, though, and I really appreciate all the kind words.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 5/13/17.

My one Insider post this week was my first ‘mock’ draft for 2017, although it’s really too early for that sort of exercise. And I held a Klawchat on Thursday.

Smart Baseball is out now in the U.S. and Canada; you can order it here or get it at any local bookstore. We are working on getting an ebook version out in some international markets, but I can’t promise anything there yet.

I have two signings/talks this week, for which I’m very excited (and a little anxious, to be honest). The first is in Decatur, Georgia (Atlanta area), at the Georgia Center for the Book on Tuesday at 7 pm, and the AJC was kind enough to lead their book events page with a note about my appearance. The second is in Minneapolis at Moon Palace Books on Thursday at 6:30 pm. I hope to meet many of you at these events, both of which are free to attend.

I’ve been asked by many of you about organizing other events. If a bookstore reaches out to Harper Collins to invite me, and I can work it into my schedule, I’m certainly open to doing more. I do have further events scheduled for Toronto, Miami (July 8th), and Berkeley (July 19th), plus am hoping to do signings at GenCon and PAX Unplugged later this year.

I spoke with SUNY-Oswego Professor of Digital Media Brian Moritz about the book, analytics in sports, and being a writer. I joined The Young Turks’ video show to discuss the book and media resistance to advanced stats. I also spoke with ESPN Radio in Dallas, with ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati, and with SI Now about the book & Mike Mussina’s Hall of Fame case.

And now, the links…

I Contain Multitudes.

You are currently covered in bugs.

That’s the fact that drives Ed Yong’s book I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life, his highly acclaimed 2016 book about the microbiome, a relative neologism that refers to the interconnected world of microorganisms that exist in, on, and around all other life on earth. Without these bugs, we almost certainly wouldn’t exist, and the best estimates Yong has have bacteria and other microbes in and on our bodies outnumbering the cells of our actual bodies by a margin slighter over 1:1. You do not just contain multitudes, Yong quips (borrowing a line from Walt Whitman), but you are multitudes.

Yong spends as much time dispelling myths as he does explaining the new science of the microbiome because everyone who reads this has probably grown up believing one of two things about bacteria and other microbes: They’re dirty and bad and cause illness and death; or, some bacteria are good and we want lots of them but not the bad ones. Yong says neither is accurate; there aren’t “good” or “bad” microbes per se, but that the effect a microbe can have depends entirely on where it lives and thus what it’s able to do.

Microbes make the complexity of life on earth possible, sometimes serving as the difference between life and not-life, as in creatures that live in inhospitable, lightless environments at the bottom of the ocean near steam vents that bring geothermal heat out into the water. Scientists discovered creatures there that seemed to have no business existing in the first place, such as a worm that had no mouth or digestive tract. It turned out that the worm in question plays host to bacteria that provide it with all of the energy the worm needs by converting sulfur compounds found in that dark environment into chemicals the worms can use.

He also explains how evolution works differently – and apparently faster – in bacteria than it does in multicellular organisms, thanks to something called HGT, Horizontal Gene Transfer. (As opposed to, say, the Mariners moving Segura to second base if Cano is hurt; that would be a Horizontal Jean Transfer.) Bacteria have the ability to swap genes with other bacteria in their environment, meaning they can alter their genome on the fly while still alive, as opposed to humans, who are stuck with the genes that brought us to the dance.

Perhaps most relevant to the lay reader are the two chapters near the end of the book where Yong talks about how probiotics don’t work and how we might use bacteria, including their HGT superpowers, to fight diseases like dengue and Zika. Probiotic products are all the rage now, but there’s no evidence that swallowing these bacteria – which appear in tiny amounts even in products like yogurt – alters your microbiome in any way. Your gut flora are largely a function of what you were born with, meaning in turn what you got from your mother in birth (vaginal delivery exposes the infant to the bacteria in the mucosal lining) or via breast feeding (which contains more bugs plus compounds that encourage the growth of helpful bacteria in the cut), and what you eat now (more fiber, please). So skip the kombucha and eat more plants.

Mosquitoes that spread disease often do so with the help of bacteria they host, but there’s an effort underway in Australia – a country far less hostile to science than the United States is – to release mosquitoes of the same species that carries viruses like dengue or chikungunya, A. Aegyptes, that have been infected with a Wolbachia bacterium that renders the critters immune to the viruses. These mosquitoes would then move into the environment, mate with other mosquitoes, and thus spread the bacterial ‘infection’ through the population, thus dramatically reducing the number of bugs flying around with the disease in the first place. A separate but related endeavor aims to do the same with the mosquitoes that carry the parasite that causes malaria in people, a disease that has proven particularly obstinate to the development of a vaccine (in part because it’s neither viral nor bacterial).

Yong’s book seems comprehensive, although I came into it knowing extremely little about the subject. He gets into fecal transplants, including why they’ve helped people with deadly C. dif infections where traditional treatments failed. He discusses antibiotic resistance, of course. He provides copious examples of symbiosis and dysbiosis in the wild, and how many species, including animals, deprived of their normal microbiomes fail to thrive. And he gets into how climate change is altering microbiomes worldwide, leading to mass deaths on coral reefs and the spread of a fungus (also highlighted in Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, the most recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction) that has already wiped out numerous species of tropical frogs.

Most important, however, is that Yong keeps this all so accessible. I find the subject interesting anyway, but his prose is readable and his stories quick and quirky enough that the audiobook held my attention throughout, including during some rather dreadful trips between spring training sites in Florida. Granted, it might make you think very differently about shaking hands or touching various surfaces, but I Contain Multitudes might also encourage you to eat better, get a dog, and throw out all your triclosan, while giving you a new appreciation for germs.

Stick to baseball, 9/17/16.

For Insiders this week I wrote about eight top 100 prospects who had down years in 2016; that’s not all prospects who had off years, just eight I chose to discuss. I held my usual Klawchat on Thursday. For Paste I reviewed the fun, family boardgame Saloon Tycoon, where players build across their boards and also add up to three levels as they build upward.

You can pre-order my book, Smart Baseball, ahead of its scheduled release on April 25, 2017. I promise I’ll have it written by then.

Several people I know have new books out recently, and while I haven’t read them yet, I wanted to highlight the titles here:
• Jessica Luther’s Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape
• Alan Sepinwall’s TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time (with Matt Zoller Seitz)
• Geoff Schwartz’s Eat My Schwartz: Our Story of NFL Football, Food, Family, and Faith (with his brother Mitch)

I’ve been sending out a weekly email newsletter with links to all of my content and some additional notes or thoughts that don’t fit anywhere else; you can sign up here if you just don’t have enough Klaw in your life.

And now, the links…

  • Scientific American asked the four remaining Presidential candidates to answer twenty questions on major topics in science and has published the answers of the three who responded. (Gary Johnson hasn’t deigned to reply.) My takeaway: Trump remains a terrifying anti-science candidate, particularly in his denial of climate change (note the scare quotes), while Stein comes off as a serious person here as opposed to the pandering crackpot she’s been playing on Twitter.
  • VICE’s Noisey site has an outstanding piece on the history and music of Homestar Runner, one of my favorite cartoons from any medium.
  • BuzzFeed is capable of some great investigative journalism (when they’re not stealing other people’s content on the Tasty or for their videos), like this piece on police departments “closing” rape cases without investigating them. They focus on Baltimore County, Maryland, where even men convicted of previous assaults were getting away with rapes because the cops couldn’t be bothered.
  • More great investigative journalism, this time from the Houston Chronicle: The backwater known as Texas has been denying special education services to special needs kids because they arbitrarily capped the rate of kids eliglible to receive those services at 8.5%.
  • Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker stands accused of, but not charged with, taking cash for favors from large donors, according to court documents obtained by the Guardian despite a court’s irregular order that the documents be destroyed.
  • Mother Jones writers about the dwindling numbers of black teachers in urban areas and the potential impact on black students.
  • How did a young power couple in Afghanistan, including the youngest woman in that country’s nascent Parliament, end up in Nebraska? The Omaha World-Herald has their harrowing story, from death threats in their home country to entry-level jobs at McDonald’s and Home Depot as refugees here.
  • Experts on hate groups say white supremacists see Donald Trump as their “last stand.” Well, when he’s bragging about the 88 military advisors helping him, how could they think otherwise?
  • I don’t even know what to make of the story that Peter Thiel says Trump will nominate him to the Supreme Court if elected. Thiel is the billionaire who funded the lawsuits that took down Gawker and Nick Denton; perhaps he believes that, but as much as I find Trump as President a horrifying prospect, this seems like Thiel’s own fantasy.
  • Speaking of Gawker, Univision, the new owner of Gawker Media, chose to delete a handful of posts related to ongoing lawsuits (some baseless); the chief news officer at Univision agreed to a long conversation with Gizmodo about these decisions. It’s long and meandering but there’s a lot of meat in here, and while the deletions don’t look good at a glance, I think Univision is also offering some strong support for its writers going forward, too.
  • The Scientific Parent explains why the “too much, too soon” anti-vaxxer argument is wrong. It’s ignorant of basic science: Your kid is ingesting more pathogens in a typical day than s/he’ll get in all the vaccines s/he ever receives, and the metals that vaccine deniers freak out over are present in food, water, even breast milk.
  • Dr. Bob Sears, who’s been accused of ‘selling’ medical exemptions to California’s new mandatory schoolkid vaccination law, may lose his license for medical negligence instead. Whatever gets these charlatans out of the medical business is fine with me.
  • Meanwhile, nearly 10,000 New Jersey schoolkids skipped vaccinations this year. If you live there, call your state legislator and ask him or her to sponsor a bill eliminating non-medical exemptions.
  • Trump’s campaign claims he’s given “tens of millions of dollars” to charity but the Washington Post found no proof.
  • A writer for the National Review claims that the left is “weaponizing” sports, citing the NCAA’s decision to pull championship events from North Carolina as a result of that state passing Hate Bill 2. He drops the ball (!) in sentence two, however, since HB2’s biggest effect is that it local governments from making sexual orientation a protected status in any anti-discrimination ordinances. It’s not about bathrooms; it’s about saying you can’t be fired just because you’re gay.
  • The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is chaired by an anti-science Republican and Christian Scientist, Lamar Smith (TX). Physicist Lawrence Krauss writes that Smith’s been politicizing scientific research, including that related to climate change and ocean acidification, in his little reign of terror, which will likely continue as long as Republicans control the House. And don’t be fooled by the religion’s name – Christian Science is about as anti-science as any cult can get, eschewing medicine and claiming that sickness is caused by an absence of “right thinking.”
  • Media Matters writes about ongoing criticism of the NY Times‘ perceived bias against Hillary Clinton. I’ve always thought of the Times as a clear, left-leaning publication, so their coverage of HRC’s campaign has surprised me this year.
  • Somalia is a failed state and has been without a real central government for a quarter century now. The northern section of the country calls itself Somaliland, and is seeking internal recognition of its independence. There are some recent examples in east Africa that argue against it, as Eritrea and South Sudan have been plagued by fighting and corruption since their secessions from Ethiopia and Sudan, respectively. Somaliland isn’t leaving a real country, however; there is no competing authority to their own bootstrapped government.
  • The U.S. ended sanctions on Myanmar, but it’s not clear Myanmar (ex-Burma) has actually earned this economic reward. Aung San Suu Kyi’s acquiescence has left many observers puzzled, and the linked piece from the BBC tries to explain it.
  • Author Lionel Shriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin)’s address to the Brisbane Writers Festival on cultural appropriation caused a substantial backlash against her claims that the term is the result of “runaway political correctness.”
  • The Washington Post‘s editorial board wrote that the Hillary Clinton email story is “out of control” relative to its actual importance. I agree; she made a mistake, a significant one, but one that pales in comparison to those of her opponent in this election, such as Trump calling again for Hillary’s assassination.
  • U.S. colleges continue to protect athlete rapists because sports. At UNC a rape victim went public to force the school and the county to stop delaying their investigation. Two women at the University of Richmond did the same, one revealing that a school administrator said the rapist had a right to “finish.”
  • New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose stands accused of gang-raping a woman, and Julie DiCaro writes for Fansided about the civil suit that’s going on right now – including his lawyers’ strange choice not to try to settle the case.
  • Mental Floss shows six math concepts demonstrated via crochet, with the first two (the hyperbolic plane and the Lorenz manifold) the most interesting.
  • Apple’s been getting killed – rightly so – for the iPhone 7’s lack of an analog headphone jack, but VICE’s Motherboard points out the iPhone 6+ has its own very serious engineering flaw.
  • Back in the 1960s, the sugar industry paid Harvard researchers for favorable results, part of a decades-long nutritional con that had us afraid of fat but thinking sugar was mostly harmless.
  • Colin Kaepernick’s protest is working, writes Josh Levin at Slate. Given the widespread conversation he started, I’d have to agree: He used a non-violent, non-disruptive act to make his point, and we’ve spent several weeks talking about all aspects of it, from race in America to the purpose of jingoistic displays at sporting events where many of the players aren’t even from the U.S.
  • Bayer’s pending acquisition of Monsanto has raised questions about Monsanto’s GM seeds business as some farmers find the returns don’t justify the higher costs. This piece from the WSJ is remarkably balanced, avoiding “frankenfoods!” hysteria and discussing pros and cons of genetically modified seeds. One point of note: Weeds that are or have evolved to become resistant to glyphosate have already started invading farms with GM seeds.
  • You’ve probably heard a lot about the Native Americans’ opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, which will cross much of their land, but before this NPR piece I hadn’t heard much from the pipeline company’s side. For example, I didn’t know that this pipeline will cover the same route as an existing natural gas pipeline installed in 1982, or that the areas the tribes affected say are sacred may not be so.
  • Why did the Governor of Kentucky speak before a hate group and threaten armed sedition if Clinton wins? Why does nobody care about an elected official doing this?
  • Radiolab had a great podcast describing the ordeal of a girl who turned 18 without any documentation to prove she exists. It has taken her over a year just to acquire some of the things we take for granted, and she’s still fighting for a social security number.
  • A man in nearby Smyrna, Delaware, reports that this relaxing tea better fucking work, according to The Onion.

The Antidote.

We are inundated with messages and products that promise to tell us how to be happy. A quick amazon search for “how to be happy” yields books with titles like The 18 Rules of Happiness: How to Be Happy, How We Choose to Be Happy: The 9 Choices of Extremely Happy People–Their Secrets, Their Stories, and Be Happy! – How to Stop Negative Thinking, Start Focusing on the Positive, and Create Your Happiness Mindset. You can spend even more money to attend seminars like “How Positive Psychology Changes Our Lives,” “Happiness and its Causes,” and “The Happiness Habit.” All of this, as you might imagine, is just so much bullshit, and I fail to see how someone else taking my money for it is going to make me any happier.

In fact, as Oliver Burkeman argues in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, much of this material is actually deleterious to our efforts to be happier. The feeling that we should be happy just makes us less so, and attempts to be happier by pushing out negative thoughts creates anxiety and, as you probably know, does nothing to keep those negative thoughts at bay. Burkeman approaches the happiness paradox – how those of us in developed countries, especially those of the west, seem to be so much less happy today even though our most basic existential needs are largely met – from a novel angle, instead looking at ways to find happiness through understanding and even embracing the things that tend to make us unhappy.

Burkeman begins the book at a rah-rah positive-thinking seminar held by Dr. Robert Schuller, at the time the leader of a megachurch in Texas, who would end up filing for bankruptcy a few months after Burkeman attended the rally. (Schuller died of cancer in 2015.) Schuller’s words – and those of President George W. Bush, who spoke briefly at the rally as well – appear to have been a lot of empty if not outright counterproductive advice, like banishing the word “impossible” from your vocabulary. Fortunately, this book isn’t just about knocking over mountebanks like Schuller; Burkeman instead explores seven avenues of finding happiness that not only seem to work (or at least to help) but also run counter to the “think positive” mentality that poisons everyone’s attempts to get happier.

Burkeman begins with the stoics, the ones from ancient Greece and the folks still practicing and teaching stoicism today, and moves along to Buddhism, to the secular aspects of Eckhart Tolle’s writings, and even to the Mexican tradition of celebrating death. He visits a museum of commercial product failures in Michigan and explains how our refusal to reconsider our failures leads us to make the same mistakes – as many businesses do, conceiving the same products repeatedly despite past evidence that they’re bad ideas.

Several of those philosophies revolve around the fact that trying to avoid negative or unwanted thoughts makes them harder to get rid of (demonstrated in the white bear experiment). Thinking about the worst-case scenario – when it’s extremely unlikely to occur, that is – can in fact reduce your anxiety about bad things that are likely to occur, because you’ll better understand that they too shall pass. If you’ve practiced mindfulness, or traditional meditation, you know that you are not supposed to suppress negative thoughts when they occur because it doesn’t work; you are supposed to observe them “without judging” and let them float on by. If you’re obsessed with things going wrong, simply saying – or having someone tell you – that they won’t go wrong isn’t helpful. You have to acknowledge those possibilities and put them in the proper context before you can get around them, and then, perhaps, you can be happier.

Along the way, Burkeman demolishes a lot of happiness and productivity myths. Setting goals does not, in fact, make you more likely to achieve them, but it does make you less happy when you fall short. The management scholar Chris Kayes coined the term “fatal magnetism” when analyzing the 1996 Mount Everest disaster, where many climbers who should have known better continued toward the summit in conditions that all but guaranteed they’d die on the way down. Kayes argues that these climbers were so hellbent on achieving their goals that they couldn’t think rationally about failing to do so, an extreme example of how goal-setting can distort our thinking. Burkeman also discusses “security theater,” Bruce Schneier’s term for how we enact visible efforts to stop terrorist attacks – think metal detectors at baseball stadiums – that don’t make us any safer but do impose significant costs on us in time and money. So while The Antidote is ostensibly about happiness, it covers a lot of other areas of life where we go wrong, including obstacles to productivity, inability to properly assess danger (of the physical or financial kinds), and our susceptibility to the placebo effect.

I learned quite a bit from Burkeman’s book, much of which will directly change how I go about my daily life and my work. I am fortunate in that, by nature, I’m a happy, optimistic person; my anxiety disorder is not about dwelling on what might go wrong, but more about reacting badly when things do go wrong, as well as the ongoing static in my brain that didn’t abate until I started a low dose of medication. But like most people, happy or not, I have sources of stress – myriad work responsibilities, like that whole writing-a-book thing right now, and the challenge of balancing work, family, personal interests, and being a homeowner, to pick a few examples – and The Antidote explains how to change your mindset around these questions. Burkeman also gets repeated counsel from the people he interviews or sources he consults about living more in the present; we worry too much about the future and we probably dwell too much on the past, which is why we don’t appreciate what we have now enough to enjoy it. There is no single key to happiness, nor are there 18 steps to take you there, but I think The Antidote can at least help you realign your thinking so you have a chance to be happier.

Next up: I’ve been reading faster than I can write reviews, but I expect to finish Connie Willis’ Hugo and Nebula Award-winning novel The Doomsday Book today.

Stick to baseball, 8/27/16.

This week, for Insiders, I ranked the MLB players with the best hitting tools, fielding and throwing tools, and pitching tools. I held my weekly Klawchat on Friday.

For Paste, I reviewed the upcoming boardgame Tak, which was designed based on the fictional depiction of the game in Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles novels.

My last run at the helm of the BBTN podcast for this year came on Monday’s show, with guests Jerry Crasnick and Joe Sheehan.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 8/20/16.

I discovered that my upcoming book has an amazon page for pre-orders! The tentative title is Smart Baseball (not #smrtbaseball, although we’re playing off that) and the tentative release date is April 27th. I suppose I need to finish writing it soon.

My main Insider piece this week covered the Reign of Error in Arizona under Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart, both of whom should be replaced now that their contracts are expiring. I held a Klawchat here on Thursday afternoon and discussed that piece a little more.

I was the guest host on the BBTN podcast this week, on Tuesday with Jayson Stark and WATERS singer Van Pierszalowski (a big Dodgers fan), Wednesday with Eric Karabell and Tim Kurkjian, and Thursday with Jerry Crasnick and Nick Piecoro.

I’ll be reviewing a boardgame a week for Paste through the end of the year, and the latest review is on Costa Rica, a light family game from the designer of Relic Runners and Elysium. It’s fun for the kids but I think too unbalanced for adults to play on their own.

And now, the links…

  • Juanita Broaddrick was the most credible of all of the women – and there were a lot – to accuse Bill Clinton of sexual improprieties; her accusation that the then-Governor of Arkansas raped her stood up to what scrutiny was possible twenty years after the incident. Buzzfeed talks to Broaddrick about her opposition to Hillary’s candidacy and asks why her case hasn’t gotten the attention today it deserves. (Hint: it might be because pretty much all non-right-wing media want Trump to lose.)
  • Florida’s Duval County prosecutor Angela Corey tried to charge a 12-year-old kid with second-degree murder while appearing to conspire with his public defender to coerce the kid into accepting it – then charging the same kid with molesting his 5-year-old brother after he rejected it. Corey and Jacksonville’s elected public defender, the delightfully-named Matt Shirk, appear to be crossing numerous ethical lines, including frequently charging minors as adults in felony cases. Corey is up for re-election this fall and if you live in Duval County you should examine her record.
  • Forget Zika or Ebola; yellow fever could be the next pandemic, and we are totally unprepared for it.
  • If you have young kids, when they turn 11 get them vaccinated against HPV. Just fucking do it.
  • A year ago it appeared that vaccination efforts had eradicated polio in Nigeria and thus in Africa as a whole, but it’s back thanks to Boko Haram. So vaccine deniers and murderous Islamists have something in common!
  • Why did NASA, an agency of the U.S. government, issue a $1 million grant to study theology? And why is it now refusing to reveal details of the grant?
  • You could see this coming a mile away: The Austin American-Statesman has run a redemption story for Paul Qui, the former Top Chef winner who was arrested for a domestic violence incident in March.
  • The Atlantic looks at the imminent climate change-induced demise of Kiribati after one of its weightlifters does a dance following a lift.
  • A new study published in Nature Communications found more evidence that neonic pesticides are harming bee populations. Neonics probably aren’t safe, and we should curtail their use until manufacturers can prove they are.
  • Gay BYU students who are victims of assault are disciplined for being gay when they try to report the crimes.
  • The 2016 Olympics haven’t had a major disaster, but the Guardian‘s Marina Hyde notes that they’re a disaster for the host country anyway. Her best point: arguing that the IOC itself should build a permanent home for the Games.
  • Arranged marriages are still common in many poorer parts of the world; NPR ran a fascinating story on one father’s campaign to free his daughter from a marriage he helped arrange.
  • Popular Mechanics explains that chemtrails aren’t real no matter what you read on tinfoilhat dot com.
  • I’m 36 and not on Facebook. You probably shouldn’t be either.” doesn’t quite make the case the headline promises, and I don’t agree with the conclusion, but I think it’s a point worth considering especially as social media, especially Facebook, change the nature of friendships in my generation and those that follow.
  • WIRED endorsed Hillary Clinton for President, the first official endorsement of a Presidential candidate in the publication’s history.
  • Those of you aged 35 and up might remember the Gopher internet protocol, which eventually lost out to the world wide web despite some early promise as the first user-friendly way to access information on the Internet.
  • British physicist and professor Brian Cox took on a climate change denier politican from Australia on the ABC (Australia) TV show Q&A, where the politican came off pretty clearly as a conspiracy theorist loon.
  • Physicists at UC-Irvine, building on research by another group working in Hungary, found evidence of a new subatomic particle that may carry an unknown force. The standard model of physics has long held that there are four fundamental forces; three of them, the weak, strong, and electromagnetic forces, appear to have all been unified at the moment right after the Big Bang, but a solution unifying gravity with the other three has proven elusive. This particle, thirty times heavier than an electron, might carry a fifth force previously unknown and unaccounted for in standard or modern models.
  • The “proton radius puzzle,” where the measurements of that subatomic particle’s radius differ depending on what is orbiting the proton, was further confirmed in experiments using deuterium, a hydrogen isotope with an atomic weight of 2 due to the presence of a neutron in the atom’s nucleus.
  • An experimental physicist in Haifa, Israel, created an artificial black hole to test one of Stephen Hawking’s predictions, namely that black holes will emit a type of feeble radiation (now known as “Hawking radiation”) that, over time, will lead to the black holes shrinking and vanishing entirely – taking all information lost in those black holes over their existence with them. These are early results and incomplete ones at that, but the linked piece gets into Hawking’s predictions and the information paradox.
  • The Romanian soccer team recently donned uniforms with math equations instead of numbers to encourage kids learning math, with kids also getting soccer-themed math questions to work on.

Infinitesimal.

Amir Alexander’s Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World is less a history of math (although there is quite a bit) than a history of the people and institutions who fought a protracted philosophical battle over something we now consider a trivial bit of precalculus. The idea of infinitesimals, at the time of their development called “indivisibles,” sparked vociferous opposition from the supposedly progressive Jesuits in the 1600s, becoming part of their vendetta against Galileo, leading to banishments and other sentences against Italian mathematicians, and eventually pushing the progress of math itself from Italy out to Germany, England, and the Netherlands.

If you’ve taken calculus at any point, then you’ve encountered infinitesimals, which first appeared in the work of the Greek mathematician Archimedes (the “eureka!” guy). These mathematical quantities are so small that they can’t be measured, but their size is still not quite zero, because you can add up a quantity (or an infinity) of infinitesimals and get a concrete nonzero result. Alexander’s book tells the history of infinitesimals from the ancient Greeks through the philosophical war in Italy between the Jesuits, who opposed the concept of indivisibles as heretical, and the Jesuats, a rival religious order founded in Siena that included several mathematicians of the era who published on the theory of indivisibles, including Bonaventura Cavalieri. When the Jesuits won this battle via politicking within the Catholic hierarchy, the Jesuats were forced to disband, and the work involved in infinitesimals shifted to England, where Alexander describes a second battle, between Thomas Hobbes (yep, the Leviathan guy) and John Wallis, the latter of whom used infinitesimals and some novel work with infinite series in pushing an inductive approach to mathematics and to disprove Hobbes’ assertion that he had solved the problem of squaring the circle.

Wallis’ work with infinitesimals extended beyond the controversy with Hobbes into the immediate precursors of the calculus developed by Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, including methods of calculating the area under a curve using these infinitesimals (which Wallis described as width-less parallelograms). Alexander stops short of that work, however, choosing instead to spend the book’s 300 pages on the two philosophical battles, first in Italy and then in England, that came before infinitesimals gained acceptance in the mathematical world and well before Newton or Leibniz entered the picture. Hobbes was wrong – the ancient problem of squaring the circle, which means drawing a square using only a straightedge and compass that has the same area as that of a given circle, is insoluble because the mathematical solution requires the square root of pi, and you can’t draw that. The impossibility of this solution wasn’t proven until 1882, two hundred years after Hobbes’ death, but the philosopher was convinced he’d solved it, which allowed Wallis to tear Hobbes apart in their back-and-forth and, along with some of his own politicking, gave Wallis and the infinitesimals the victory in mathematical circles as well.

Alexander tells a good story here, but doesn’t get far enough into the math for my tastes. The best passage in the book is the description of Hobbes’ work, including the summary of the political philosophy of Leviathan, a sort of utopian autocracy where the will of the sovereign is the will of all of the people, and the sovereign thus rules by acclamation of the populace rather than heredity or divine right. (I was supposed to read Leviathan in college but found the prose excruciating and gave up, so this was all rather new to me.) But Alexander skimps on the historical importance of infinitesimals, devoting just a six-page epilogue to what happened after Wallis won the debate. You can’t have integral calculus without infinitesimals, and calculus is kind of important, but none of its early history appears here, even though there’s a direct line from Wallis to Newton. That makes Infinitesimal a truncated read, great for what it covers, but missing the final chapter.

Next up: The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1966.

Stick to baseball, 7/16/16.

Busy week for me over at the four-letter, with my updated ranking of the top 50 prospects in the minors going up on Thursday, four days after I watched and wrote about the Futures Game.

I wrote up Boston’s trade for Drew Pomeranz and their trades for Brad Ziegler and Aaron Hill. And I held a Klawchat.

I’m not writing up the Yuliesky Gurriel signing but Chris Crawford did, with a tiny bit of help from me.

I also appeared on Alex Speier’s 108 Stitches podcast, discussing the Pomeranz deal and the Red Sox’ farm system.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 7/2/16.

For Insiders, I wrote a preview of today’s July 2nd international free agent class with help from Chris Crawford. I also wrote some thoughts on the Futures Game rosters, although of course they’re already getting tweaked for player injuries. I wrote a free piece on Monday, expressing my disappointment in the Mets’ decision to sign Jose Reyes.

Klawchat resumed yesterday after a week off around my Omaha trip, and my latest new music playlist is up too.

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And now, the links…

  • Making a Killing: The New Yorker examines the gun business in the wake of the Orlando massacre. Hint: Like any industry, gun manufacturers profit off fear and misinformation.
  • Brian Hooker, one of the biggest proponents of the absolute bullshit idea that vaccines cause autism, lost his 14-year case before the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Hooker’s story is featured in the fakeumentary Vaxxed, and you can bet he’ll keep claiming vaccines caused his son’s autism, not, you know, his own genes and bad luck.
  • A 63-year-old CEO decided to bully and harass a woman on LinkedIn because she posted a Dilbert cartoon he didn’t like. Really.
  • Two good food stories from NPR’s The Salt blog. First, on Purdue improving the quality of life for its chickens, right up to the way in which they’re killed.
  • Second, on the rising popularity of ancient strains of wheat like einkorn, emmer, and spelt.
  • Ah, Mississippi, where a state rep – I’ll let you guess which party – told a mom who can’t afford her daughter’s diabetes meds to just buy them with the money she earns. What an awful person. He eventually met with the mom to try to save face.
  • Former residents of the Chagos Islands, forcibly removed nearly a half-century so the U.S. could build an Air Force base on Diego Garcia, lost their legal challenge for the right to return to their home island. When you read about forced resettlement of Native Americans in the 1800s and think that could never happen today, well…
  • This was a big week for abortion rights, and while the biggest focus was on the trashing of Texas’s HB2, SCOTUS also declined to hear a case where religious pharmacists sued for the right to decline to sell Plan B, the so-called “morning after pill.” This is another win for science as well as women’s rights; the plaintiffs claimed this pill was equivalent to an abortifacient, when in fact the hormone in Plan B, levonorgestrel, prevents fertilization, and is not considered effective after a fertilized egg has implanted on the wall of the uterus.
  • You’ve probably seen Jesse Williams’ speech at the BET Awards, where he accepted the show’s humanitarian award for 2016, but if not, read the transcript and, if you can, watch the video. We may disagree on the content – this was a speech of emotion as much as of reason – but I was most impressed by how well he delivered it. It was a complex speech filled with lines that were clearly intended to serve as quotes or epigrams, and thus filled with landmines for even an accomplished speaker like Williams. It was too clever by half at times (“gentrifying our genius?”) but his delivery was hypnotizing. I could train for years and never do what he did.
  • 107 Nobel Laureates have called out Greenpeace for its anti-science position against genetically modified crops. This rift is only going to grow: Where environmental groups have, historically, been the pro-science advocates, they’re increasingly at odds with the scientific community on genetic modification.
  • Audio link from the BBC World Service’s Witness program on the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969, part of a broader story of urban decline and rebirth in Cleveland.
  • The Rio Olympics are headed for all-time disaster levels, with the Zika epidemic, raw sewage in the waters, unpaid first responders, and, now, soup kitchens closing for lack of funds because the money is going to prop up this shitshow.
  • This 1999 op ed, bylined by Donald Trump, blasts Pat Buchanan as a dangerous proto-fascist who needs to be stopped.
  • Stanton Healthcare is an anti-abortion company that wants to take down Planned Parenthood with a chain of “women’s health” clinics that offers no reproductive health services, not even birth control. Her views are rife with anti-science nonsense, like referring to contraceptives as abortifacients (you keep using that word…) and fearmongering about synthetic hormones.
  • Vaccine deniers like to point to the cases of Hannah Poling and Brian Krakow’s son, but the evidence in both cases turns out to be lacking, especially in the Krakow case, as the boy showed clear signs of autism prior to vaccination. These loons will make anything up to support their anti-science beliefs.
  • Clarence Thomas doesn’t like the idea of restricting domestic abusers’ access to guns. Now, there’s some internal logic in his position: He’s arguing against any gun ownership or access restrictions at all, ultimately, and while I don’t read the Second Amendment that way or believe that was at all the authors’ intent, it’s one possible reading. But given the relatively high rates of homicide committed by convicted domestic abusers, isn’t this a gun control measure that we can all agree would work to keep victims safe without infringing on the law-abiding public’s right to bear arms, to say nothing of that well-ordered militia bit?
  • Quebec City spent nearly $350 million to build a hockey arena that still has no tenant. Cities doing this merely play into the leagues’ hands for extorting better deals out of other cities, sometimes in cities that already have adequate facilities. Meanwhile, I’m going to predict the NHL team in Las Vegas proves a big flop; the city has poor demographics for pro sports anyway, and, of course, no history whatsoever of hockey fandom.
  • An investigative journalist who worked as an English teacher to the sons of North Korea’s elite found herself receiving a torrent of vile criticism for doing undercover work. It’s bizarre and I wonder if a male writer would have received the same treatment.
  • The Koch brothers have gotten a bill through the House that would prevent the IRS from collecting the names of donors to tax-exempt groups, because we definitely want less transparency in campaign financing, not more.
  • The Canadian “naturopath” (read: child-neglecting Dunning-Krugerrands) parents who let their son die of meningitis rather than getting him medical attention were convicted of failing to provide for his well-being, with the father, also an anti-vaccine dipshit, getting four months in prison. I’m stunned they haven’t lost permanent custody of their other children, who are clearly at risk here; if the parents came into court and said aliens from Enceladus were protecting their children, we’d call the parents mentally ill and rescue the kids, but their vaccine-denial views are every bit as bogus.
  • Amy Schumer’s “too dark to air” sketch on gun control wasn’t too dark to release online, and I’m sure the faux-censorship angle gained it more viral traction. It’s quite good, of course, and not least because it features Coach McGuirk.
  • Buzzfeed steals content. It’s not plagiarism, which would be actionable; instead, they’re lifting ideas, outlines, and recipes, things that can’t be legally protected by copyright. It’s legal, but wholly unethical, and made worse by the clownish defenses some of its editors are offering. Apologize, tighten your standards, fire offenders, move on.
  • This New York profile of adult film actress Stoya, including her decision to go public with rape accusations against co-star and ex-boyfriend James Deen – spurring a torrent of similar accusations, none of which has kept him from working in their industry – is quite well done for such a difficult subject. Text NSFW, of course.
  • I enjoyed the Atlantic‘s profile of Black Flag’s legacy but really wanted more.
  • I’ll end on a slightly sappy note – the story of a millionaire, a homeless woman, and the dog that led him to help save her life.