baseball, enlightenment, humor, philosophy, politics

Riff on a Yogi Berra Quote

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Some of the many humorous quotes (mis)attributed to Yogi Berra are trenchant expressions of genuine wisdom, akin to Zen koans.  (In his Washington Post obituary, the subtitle “American philosopher” is well-chosen.)  One of his gems is so widely applicable and important that it deserves a special name.  It is also so widely quoted that 2 versions are common, as indicated by {|} below:

Yogi Berra’s Law
{The game|It} ain’t over til it’s over.

Yes, the original context was baseball.  With 2 outs in the bottom of the 9-th inning, the home team may be trailing.  Yogi rightly admonishes both the home team (to resist despair) and the visitors (to resist complacency).  A lot can still happen with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9-th inning.  I prefer the shorter version of the law because it is more explicit about the law’s generality.  “It” could be almost anyhthing.

My current context for heeding Yogi Berra’s Law is the imminent inauguration of Donald Trump as POTUS.  At best, this event marks the start of 4 long and nasty years in the US.  At worst, this event might combine with trends elsewhere (in China, Europe, and Russia) to start a new Dark Age.  Considering the worst case is prudent, not alarmist.

Mindless repetition of platitudes like

  • It can’t happen here.
  • Every cloud has a silver lining.
  • It is always darkest just before the dawn.

is no substitute for the eternal vigilance that Jefferson said is the price of liberty.  (There are other prices.)  I resist the complacency of those platitudes; I also resist despair and continue (in my own small way) to be a citizen rather than just a complainer.

In a late inning in the biggest game of my lifetime, the Enlightenment is trailing.  That sucks.  But 2+3 is still 5 and Yogi Berra’s Law is still true.
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baseball, flowers, haiku, humor, photography

Orange and Blue

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I had no interest in baseball during my misspent youth. My late wife had some interest in it, her interest was contagious, and we had become casual fans of the NY Mets by the time they won their 2nd World Series in 1986. With stamina unthinkable today, we saw the sights in Washington DC by day and watched much of the 1986 World Series by night, on the big TV in our motel room. There were no games on the nights of travel days, but we managed.

While fans of the NY Yankees got to see many more wins over the years, Mets fans got to see more strategy because there is no designated hitter in the National League. A great baseball team has an unusual combination of strategic leadership, individual initiative, and teamwork. It is like a great army, but nobody gets killed. Moreover, a not-great team can try again next year.

Tho definitely not a great team in most years, the Mets did and do have great colors: a strong orange and a strong blue, a tad darker than the sky in my photo but unequivocally blue. (Tho I have nothing against navies, I dislike the nearly black “navy blue” seen on many uniforms.) Many fond memories of 1986 are refreshed by seeing orange and blue on a great postseason team in 2015, in addition to seeing them on foliage walks.

October is blessed with a riot of reds and yellows (and some persistent bright greens), as well as the glorious oranges of many of the sugar maples (Acer saccharum), some of the red maples (Acer rubrum), and NY Mets uniforms (but only in a few special years). One color I seldom see in October is pink. This year I see that also.

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Willful Cactus

My “Christmas” cactus
blooms whenever it pleases.
Pink for Halloween!

haiku, humor, philosophy

Could a Long Fly Ball Hit a Flying Horse?

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This is one of the few times I need to put some fiction into my blog, so I will change font for a little while.

Plato

Sometimes it is hard to be fair to Plato.  He is basically a good guy, but his politics are bullshit.  That “philosopher-king” notion is so self-serving.  Then there is that cave shtick.  Most people know that philosophers can be a little klutzy in everyday life.  We give them some slack and don’t make a big deal of it.  But Plato says the wannabe king has been looking at ultimate reality and absolute truth (and maybe a pretty girl sunbathing?) in bright daylight, so he stumbles in the cave that passes for the real world among ordinary Joes.  After his eyes adapt to the dim light, he will govern just fine.  No way.

Feeling mellow enough to ignore Plato’s politics, I invited him over to watch a baseball game on TV.  He was surprised that the pitcher threw a ball rather than a discus or a javelin, and that nobody was naked.  But he is a smart guy and soon understood the duel between the pitcher and the batter.  He noticed the (4 balls or 3 strikes) rule for ending an at-bat and said something about the ratio 4:3 in music by The Pythagoreans.  Are they a band I don’t know about?  He broke into a big grin when a batter sent a long fly ball arcing high above the field.  Tho he knows zip about physics, he hangs out with Euclid and knows a parabola when he sees one.


To Plato, the path of the fly ball in the grungy everyday world is an imperfect realization of the timeless perfection of an ideal parabolic form.  To me, the description of the path as a parabola is a good approximation that ignores air resistance and wind.  Ignoring those things is OK in an introductory physics course.  It is not OK in a baseball game.

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Using the parabola to describe the fly ball oversimplifies a staggeringly complex everyday world that emerges from a staggeringly weird tarantella of elementary particles.  Our use of the parabola is fundamentally a story we tell ourselves.  Unlike the story of Pegasus the flying horse, it has been corrected, refined, and integrated with many other stories by scientific processes.  The notion of a flying horse is appealing (to people who have not been hit by a bird splat).  The parabolic story is ultimately more satisfying, as part of something gloriously predictive and useful (despite not being much help to the outfielder running to catch the fly ball).

Pegasus himself is as limited in time and space as the Pegasus story: an idea created by some people at some time and place, elaborated and spread by other people at other times and places.  The Pegasus story will vanish and its starring horse will vanish with it, if we succeed in our current efforts to make the Earth uninhabitable long before we can go elsewhere.  Would the parabolic story vanish also?  That is a question for another time.  The mathematical cast of characters in the parabolic story, on the other hand, is special.  Very special.

Plato’s Revenge
|Three plus two was five
|before any mind could know.
|Where do numbers live?

My snapshots of Plato and of Pegasus could not get thru the time warp, but I did some cropping of public domain images with good likenesses.