October 31, 2014

Myths about Martin Luther

As a former Lutheran, I know that many Lutherans like to remind the general American populace that today is not only Halloween, it's the day Martin Luther allegedly nailed 95 theses for discussion about church theology to a door in Wittenberg, Saxony.

Note that I used the word "alleged"?

That's because the 95 Theses story is largely myth. So are other things, like his alleged pledge, during a frightful thunderstorm, to become a monk, and he did not say "Here I stand" at the Diet of Worms.

Click here for a brief debunking of a these and a few other Luther legends.

And, that website isn't a bunch of atheists, or similar. It's a Luther history site from Germany.

Beyond that, the largest Lutheran denomination in the US rejects or questions some Luther myths, including the 95 Theses and the Here I stand.

Another non-atheist, and in fact quite Christian, site notes several apocryphal Luther quotes. Luther also likely never said he was down with being ruled by a "wise Turk" instead of a "foolish Christian," for example. Indeed, whoever actually coined the phrase may have done it as an aside or a dig at at Emperor Charles V.

And, speaking of that man?

Atheists aside, you will find plenty of Catholics today still spreading plenty of scurrilous myths about Luther.

Uh? That was 500 years ago. Get over it. What next, acting like Serbs over Kosovo?

Speaking of that part of the European world? I love theologians of the Orthodox tradition using this time of year to often embrace some snooty superiority over both Catholics and Protestants. Really? Your multi-generational wars over iconoclasm vs iconodoulia haven't taught you better?

As to what Luther DID say?

Well, it did include some of the most scurrilous anti-Semitism this side of Adolf Hitler and the Russian-crafted Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Speaking of "that person," many Lutherans in America, especially of the conservative wing in which I grew up will still try to minimize the vileness of what Luther said, and how much or how little effect it had on Nazism.

Well, it was quite vile, and it was widely quoted by the Nazis.

And, per the "500 years" quote, skeptics of various stripes will want to keep up their guard in the next three years until it's technically exactly 500 years and not 497.

As for the background of his violence-laden invective against Jews? Most people think it was confined to the latter years of his life, and his apologists use this, and his health issues then, as an excuse.

Not true. As Michael Massing notes in his great new "Fatal Discord," a parallel dual biography of Luther and Erasmus which is reviewed here, Luther was already expressing such thoughts in his pre-95 Theses lecture notes on the book of Psalms, right in the mix of the Reuchlin-Pfefferkorn controversy.

Dear GOP Congresscritters: You're not ob-gyns, either

The bullshit evasiveness of GOP Congressional candidates on climate change, the "I'm not a scientist" statement, makes me want to puke.

First, as one political scientist notes in the story, if followed out logically, then Congresscritters, not being engineers, shouldn't vote on air, rail and car traffic and transportation issues. Not being accountants, by and large, they shouldn't be voting on budgets. (Well, that one may actually be true, in a snarky sense, but you know what I mean.)

And, GOP Congresscritters, not being obstetricians or gynecologists, then should stop sticking their collective noses in women's reproductive business.

This "I'm not a scientist" BS is BS at the highest, or deepest, level.

And, debate moderators in particular and the media in general, rather than a general callout, should specifically say, "You're not an ob-gyn" as part of their callout.

October 30, 2014

Cooperstown —HOF Veterans ballot leaves out one deserving name

Danny Murtaugh — the
one person who should be
on the HOF Veterans
Committee ballot isn't.
Per Hardball Talk, here's the ten finalists from baseball's "Golden Era" for the next Veterans Committee consideration.

Players Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills, and exec Bob Howsam, GM of "Big Red Machine" era Cincinnati.

Of them, there's only one person among the players that lights my fire.

Tiant is at least as deserving as Catfish Hunter. Tiant has the same "raw" numbers, roughly, if not better, and he is MUCH better sabermetrically.

But, before I go further ... 

First, there's one name sadly, and IMO shamefully, missing from the list.

Danny Murtaugh. He won two World Series, and three other post-1969 NL East, titles as a manager, all while having to take multiple leaves of absence due to health issues. Here's his manager's record card.

He needs a Bert Blyleven-type campaign mounted in his name.

Back to the actual list, not what we should have?

Hodges? Perennial favorite, even though a first baseman as lacking in absolute power numbers as him in a bandbox like Ebbets Field shouldn't be near the HOF.

Oliva? Hall of Very Great. Under 45 WAR and just 20 Wins Above Average. (My baseline on WAA, unless there's other exceptional reasons, is 30.)

Kaat? I think he's a great person, but, yeah, probably just a gussied-up Jamie Moyer. If that.

Dick Allen? The "always controversial" Dick Allen? Here is where I still use counting stats. A man who couldn't get 2,000 hits, in part because he wrecked his own career and its promise, doesn't belong in Cooperstown in my world. Dick, you could have had 3,000 hits and 500 HRs in an offensively challenged era. You blew it.

Boyer? Arguably, if Ron Santo is in, he should be, too. Arguably he's half a notch short, too. And, I can't quite pull the trigger on him. Late-career back problems may hurt his cause, yes, but Santo posted his numbers while dealing with diabetes, and it took me a few years to accept him. And, I try to be as non-homer as possible on such calls, as a Cards fan.

Minoso? Hell, no. If not for his four-decade, then five-decade player stunts (and that's what they were) would we even talk half as much about him?

Pierce? Under my radar screen before now. Definite Hall of Very Good guy, but not a HOFer.

Howsam? Overrated. Per his Wiki page (the link on his name, above), Pete Rose, Johnny BenchTony Perez, and other Big Red Machine parts were already in place when he got there. It was only when Dave Bristol was replaced as manager by Sparky Anderson that they became the Big Red Machine. Bill White and other Cardinals loathed him for trying to hog credit for what Bing Devine did there in 1964.

Thus, sorry, Craig Calcaterra, but it was no injustice, or at least no big one, that Howsam as well as the players were shut out. And, contra a new book about rating top GMs, Howsam is arguably top-25, but no way in hell he's the fourth-best GM in baseball history.

I was actually kind of liking daily blog posts about the countdown until now. But, Armour and Levitt lost a bunch of credibility, especially if they don't address the realities of the St. Louis years in their book.

In general, I use 65 on WAR and 35 on WAA (which, at B-Ref, I actually like better than WAR) as being at least “lean toward” basic sabermetric stats. Something like 70 WAR and 37-38 WAA is a very solid.

Otherwise? For pitchers, I want a WHIP below 1.25 career and career ERA + of 110 or better. Again, it’s ERA, not FIP, but, over a career, it smoothes out enough, and B-Ref doesn’t have an FIP+ yet, and I don’t think Fangraphs does either.

On batters, if you’re at a hit-neutral position, like, say 2B or CF, I want 110 OPS+. I’ll accept less at 3B and much less at SS if you’re a primo fielder; ditto for catcher. At 1B and corner OF spots, I want more than 110 OPS+.

Speaking of, as I've blogged before, there's plenty of pitchers and batters already in the HOF we should vote back out.

Millennials don't like Dear Leader or Democrats

I have more than once cautioned (as if they're reading this lowly blog) Democratic leaders, and lower-level Democratic activists and fanboys and fangirls (a few of whom may indeed be reading) that they should stop acting as if demographics of youth, especially of minority youth, and a couple of social issues, were money in the bank for the U.S. automatically becoming more Democratic in the future.

Because, as ABC shows, that's not true right now.

If a majority of Millennials right now want a GOP Congress, then Democrats, starting with the President and moving down, are doing at least one something wrong politically. (By politically, I'm talking about the art of winning at politics, not the skill of governance, though they may be doing stuff wrong there, too.)

And, yes, I know that Millennials (well, youth in general in political history in the US) have lower voting turnouts than the national average. So, note what I’ve emphasized in this pull quote:
Millennials who said they will “definitely be voting” favor a Republican-led Congress 51-47 percent, according to the poll. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released earlier this week found that roughly half of Americans plan to vote for Republicans this election, 50-44 percent.
Those aren't good numbers. Now, part of the "definitely be voting" reflects that active voters, even among younger cohorts, tilt GOP in midterm elections. But, that itself is a problem. If the vaunted Obama machine — and its offshoots like Battleground Texas — can't get Millennials more interested in midterm elections, it's not quite so vaunted, is it?

Per the "of color" part, the story notes that just 46 percent of Hispanic Millennials favor Obama. So, it's not just Congressional Democrats.

That said, there is this sidebar.

It's not just Millennials that don't like Congressional Democrats a lot, and it's not just Congressional Republicans that aren't liked a lot. Disapproval of Congressional Democrats is at a record. Again, some folks with a D after their name aren't doing the right things politically.

Whether that's relaying the D message, or the anti-R message, with a harder mailed fist, or, if a mailed fist is in play, either wrapping it in a velvet glove or topping it with brass knuckles, or what, I don't know.

Again, though, depending on anti-Republicanism as a demographic ain't gonna cut it.

October 29, 2014

Joe Posnanski lets Bill James pee on #sabermetrics like a crotchety old man

Joe Posnanski pretending
to do actual journalism.
I've never been a huge fan of Joe Posnanski, and I don't get sports buffs who are.

And, that's before he did his puff piece bio of Joe Paterno, which he refused to change to discuss anything about the Penn State sex abuse scandal centered on Larry Sandusky, and what Paterno might have known about it.

Frankly, I think Posnanski did that for two reasons.

One is that he had JoePa on that much of a pedestal and couldn't stand to see his idol destroyed.

The other?


Pos wasn't about to shoot his own gravy train in the foot.

Well, as noted, he wasn't on a pedestal for me even before that. He was decent, above average ... generally good on baseball. I'm not a college football fan in any great degree, so don't care about him there. He's not good on golf, the few ventures he's made there.

Anyway, he tumbled after JoePa, and has never recovered, in my book.

And now, worse.

He's given Bill James a forum to take a whack, a cheap whack, at Wins Above Replacement.

No, WAR is not a perfect baseball metric. But, per this great rebuttal on Tom Tango, it's not a bad one, and it's no different from James' own Win Shares.

So, Pos let James set up a straw man or piñata and whack away at it for free. He never pointed out that it was a straw man.

Nor did he ask James, if he is that stats-o-phobic:
1. How the hell did James claim to have any credibility on WAR?
2. Why did he get into sabermetrics in the first place?

Instead, Pos runs some generic "bullshit" angle through the story, about James being a great bullshit detector. Well, either Pos isn't one himself (we know that with the JoePa bio, don't we), or he's got no problem being an active enabler of bullshit (we know that from the JoePa bio, don't we).

And, no wonder Pos is giving James free space to swing at straw men.

Per a link someone posted at Craig's NBC blog, James feels exactly the same way about Paterno as Pos does.

And, we all know what Pos can stand for.

Even worse, per my comment about Pos' bio, above, Pos didn't ask James the most basic question of all.

Is this about the $$$?

And, don't give me that bullshit, speaking of bullshit, about how James started doing this while working night security at a factory.

That was 30 years ago or more, when he wasn't thinking about $$$.

#Fail. By both of them.

And, we all know what Pos can stand for. Spell out the initials yourself.

October 28, 2014

Under the varieties of #denialism, some commonalities

Whether it's climate change denialism, or evolution denialism (Paul Braterman's alternative for creationism), or vaccine denialism (an alternative for antivaxxers), are there some commonalities among denialists?

Well, climate change denialists deliberately took over tactics, and even some spokespeople, from Big Tobacco. Beyond that, Massimo Pigliucci has much more to say, based on a one-day seminar on the issue he attended. Besides him, Brendan Nyhan was among participants, so it was a good one.

I've already dropped one comment there myself.

An excerpt:
Money and/or power drives much of this. Climate denialism is funded by Big Oil. Antivaxxers are driven (outside of emotional parents) largely by the money, and the power of fame, of certain members of Hollywood. Genocide denials are driven most by the power of governments, and their money. The power of tithing-type donations is behind creationists. 
They can buy the PR, the advertorial, the softball media interviews. We should be under no pretense that combating this will be easy. And, that’s not even counting the power of made-up minds engaged in group-reinforced motivated reasoning.

I suggest environmental friends, especially, drop over there and take a read.

October 27, 2014

Is Islam a relgion of peace? Yes, and also of war

Let me explain, in a roundabout way.

I've read plenty about the recent Ben Affleck and Reza Aslan vs Bill Maher dustup on Maher's show.

I've also read several of my online atheist friends see this as not only an easy opportunity to take a quick shot at Aslan, as here, but also to write off Affleck and at least partially support Maher.

First, this is Bill Maher the antivaxxer, etc. Atheists who claim to be skeptically-minded in general should continue to do so.

Second, Aslan, and Affleck, aren't all wrong. And, yes, I recognize above, that I'm arguing with a former Muslim cum atheist.

That said, my thoughts have gotten more guidance from Christopher Catherwood, a British scholar of religion, in his book, "Making War in teh Name of God."

He notes that many modern Muslims, primarily those living in the "West," outside the Dar al-Islam, do work to make Islam a religion of peace, and jihad an internal struggle against wrong ideas, motives, etc. Thus, for them, Islam IS a religion of peace. And, even if they're not a majority of Muslims in teh Dar al-Harb (traditional), or Dar al-Salaam (their alternative), they're at least a substantial minority.

Of course, in the Islamic heartland, it's different. At the same time, there are more liberal-minded Muslims inside the Dar al-Islam, even if a small minority. (I'm counting most rulers of states in the Muslim Middle East as being halfway secularized, and neither religiously conservative nor religiously liberal.)

For many of those Muslims, jihad is war against the infidel and Islam is, to the degree we focus in jihad, at least, a religion of war.

However, three other things pop in mind.

Two are my own.

Many liberal Christians say that Christianity is a religion of tolerance. They sincerely believe that, and, by and large, within their slice of Christianity, they're right. But, in the US at least, the majority of Christians is at least somewhat, if not fairly largely, intolerant.

How one falls on working to parse this issue is in part related to how much of a Gnu Atheist a particular atheist is. So, that too is cautionary for atheists ... at least those who don't want to be Gnu Atheists. If you do, well, I guess you can go ahead and stop reading.

Second is that, just as there is a larger, social and cultural, Islamism pushed by Islamists, there is a larger Christianism pushed by social Christianists such as Samuel Huntington, Bernard Lewis and Rodney Stark. And, while their may be a large gap between the US and Old Europe in terms of active, believing Christians, there's not nearly as much of a gap on the two sides of the pond on Christianism. Let's not forget that former French President Jacques Chirac said, several years ago, that Turkey should not be admitted to the European Union because it doesn't have a Christian heritage.

Third comes from Catherwood.

He notes that "church-state issues" have always had a different history in Islam than in Christianity. With his marriage to Khadija, Muhammad thrust himself into tribal-level politics at the start of Islam. The Umayyads headed one of Mecca's tribes. And, until the creation of Ataturk's Turkey, Islam had nearly 1,300 years of ... caesaropapism or whatever you call it.

Two other notes, also via Catherwood, with my spinoff on the second.

One is that both Islam and Christianity have, over the centuries, fought internecine religious wars, as well.

The other is that non-monotheistic religions (though his book covers just that), like fundamentalist Hindus, have also fought religions wars.

And, while I'm not far enough into his book to read about the third monotheism, Jews should remember that the ancestors of Herod the Great were converted at the point of a sword.