Archive - Jul 2015

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July 20th

Mencken on education

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

Alzheimer's study

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 18th

The problem with Ted Cruz

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

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

Twins 5 A's 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

July 16th

Barb

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

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

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

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

July 15th

The Twins at the break

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

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

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

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

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

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

Successes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plouffe is doing about what was expected. 

Of course, Dozier has been amazing. 

Failures:

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

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

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

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

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

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