About Jim Bouldin

B.S., Wildlife Management, Ohio State University PhD, Plant Biology, University of California at Davis

I will knock–just like before

I’m the latest apparition
Cutting slices in the night
I come through without permission
Moving in and out of human sight

I’m the tapping on your shoulder
I’m the raven in the storm
I’ll take shelter in your rafters
I’ll be the shiver when you’re warm

I’m the gold in California
I’m the wealth in Mexico
Like the vultures in the valley–
I will wait for you to go

I’m the gypsy in your pocket
I’m the horseman in your dreams
I’m the reason dogs are barking
I’m the hand that stops the scream

I’m the baby’s cry that isn’t
I am the distant relative
I’m the scratching in the ceiling
I am advice you shouldn’t give

I’m the ghost of a traveling salesman
My foot will be there in your door
Though I can walk through walls and windows
I will knock–just like before

Raven in the Storm, John Gorka

The Shawnee

He [Tecumseh] came of one of the most energetic and warlike of the Indian tribes. The Shawnees have always been a restless people, more adventurous than any other Indians. They belong to that family of Indian nations known as the Algonquin…The history of the Shawnees, even after the settlement of America, is wrapped in obscurity. They moved about so incessantly, and were so often divided in their migrations, that we are unable to track the various divisions. Some are of the opinion that the Eries, who are said to have been destroyed by the Iroquois in very early times, were none other than the Shawnees before their wanderings began. Certain it is that when we first hear of them in early documents, they seem to be divided, wandering, and of uncertain habitation. We hear of a war which was being waged against them by the Iroquois at the time of Captain John Smith’s arrival in America in 1607. They were at that time located to the west of the Susquehanna, and on its banks. De Laet mentions them as on the Delaware in 1632. They are also said to have been located at the South, and to have come from near Lake Erie. We can only reconcile these conflicting accounts by supposing them to have already divided into several bands, some of which were in motion, for other authorities place their seat, in the latter part of the seventeenth century, in the basin of the Cumberland River in Kentucky. Later they are found on the Wabash, where Tecumseh long afterward made a new settlement, and in 1708 they are spoken of as removing from the Mississippi to South Carolina. The Swanee or Suwanee River, in Florida, derives its name from a party of Shawnees who had come from north of the Ohio.

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Threaded between tragedies

August 24…just as we were commencing the ascent of the mountain, several Indians made their appearance, about fifty yards from the trail. The leader and chief was an old man, with a deeply-furrowed face. I rode towards him, holding out my hand in token of friendship. He motioned me not to advance further, but to pass on and leave him, as he desired to have no communication with us. I insisted upon the reason of this unfriendly demonstration; assuring him, as well as I could by signs, that we desired to be at peace, and to do them no harm. His response was, if I understood it, that we, the whites, had slaughtered his men, taken his women and children into captivity, and driven him out of his country. I endeavored to assure him that we were not of those who had done him and his tribe these wrongs, and held out my hand a second time, and moved to approach him. With great energy of gesticulation, and the strongest signs of excited aversion and dread, he again motioned us not to come nearer to him, but to pass on and leave him. The other Indians, some six or eight in number, took no part in the dialogue, but were standing in a line, several yards from their chief, with their bows and arrows in their hands. Finding that it would be useless, perhaps dangerous, to press our friendship further, we continued our march. I have but little doubt, that these Indians are the remnant of some tribe that has been wantonly destroyed in some of the bloody Indian slaughters which have occurred in California.

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Rough and Ready

In the fall of 1849, the “Rough and Ready Company” of emigrants, under Captain Townsend, composed of some dozen men, from Shellsburg, Wisconsin, arrived by the Truckee route at a point on Deer Creek near the mouth of Slate Creek; they mined successfully there, a few weeks in the bed of the creek; one of their number went out to kill some game, deer and grizzly being plentiful, and in quenching his thirst at the clear stream of the ravine below Randolph Flat, discovered a piece of gold on the naked bed-rock. Consequent prospecting by the company satisfied them that the new found diggings were rich, and removing their camp, they prepared winter quarters by building two log cabins on the point of the hill east from and overlooking the present town of Rough and Ready. Two of their number struck out through the woods “on a bee line” for Sacramento, to procure provisions, and thus made the first wagon tracks on what afterward became the Telegraph road. From the name of this company, the settlement and town afterward derived its designation…

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Behind the face of need

A man conceived a moment’s answers to the dream
Staying the flowers, daily sensing all the themes
As a foundation left to create the spiral aim
All movement regained and regarded both the same
All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you

Changed only for a sight, the sound, the space, agreed
Between the picture of time, behind the face of need
Coming quickly to terms of all expression laid
Emotion revealed is the ocean maid
All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you

 

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Sad preacher nailed upon the color-door of time
Insane teacher be there, reminded of the rhyme
There’ll be no mutant enemy we shall certify
Political ends, as sad remains, will die
Reach out as forward tastes begin to enter you

I listened hard but could not see
Life tempo change out- and inside me
The preacher trained in all to lose his name
The teacher travels, asking to be shown the same
In the end we’ll agree, we’ll accept, we’ll immortalize
The truth of the man maturing in his eyes
All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you

And you and I climb, crossing the shapes of the morning
And you and I reach over the sun for the river
And you and I climb clearer towards the movement
And you and I crawl over valleys of endless seas

And You And I, Jon Anderson, Yes

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When it happens to you

Well she was old enough, to know better
And she was strong enough, to be true
And she was hard enough, to know whether
He was smart enough, to know what to do

And you can’t resist it
When it happens to you
No you can’t resist it
When it happens to you

And you can tell your stories
And you can swear it’s true
But you can save your lies
For some other fool

And you can’t resist it
When it happens to you
No you can’t resist it
When it happens to you

You can’t resist it, Lyle Lovett (with Leo Kottke)

And if that doesn’t do it for you, this should:

Find it on your own

Say goodbye, you know it’s true
I know you’re leavin’ me–I’m leavin’ too
You won’t forget me, or the sound of my name
Please believe, I feel the same

It seems so empty now–you’ve closed the door
Ain’t it hard to believe you ever lived this way before?
All that nothin’… causes all that pain
Please believe, I feel the same

Broken soul, the heart it’s breakin’
Can’t make it whole ’til you know what’s been taken
All those pieces–find them on your own
All those pieces–find them on your own

I Feel The Same, Chris Smither

I am the ride

I awoke and someone spoke–they asked me in a whisper
If all my dreams and visions had been answered
I don’t know what to say–I never even pray
I just feel the pulse of universal dancers
They’ll waltz me till I die and never tell me why–
I’ve never stopped to ask them where we’re going
But the holy, the profane, they’re all helplessly insane
Wishful, hopeful, never really knowing

They asked if I believe, and do the angels really breathe?
Or is it all a comforting invention?
It’s just like gravity I said–it’s not a product of my head
It doesn’t speak but nonetheless commands attention
I don’t care what it means, or who decorates the scenes
The problem is more with my sense of pride
It keeps me thinking me, instead of what it means to be
But I’m not a passenger, I am the ride
I’m not a passenger, I am the ride

I Am The Ride, Chris Smither

Nobody knows

Nobody knows about what’s going on
With the wood and the steel, the flesh and the bone
The river keeps flowing and the grass still grows
And the spirit keeps going, but nobody knows

Poets they come and the poets they go
Politicians and preachers–they all claim to know
Words that are written and the melodies played
As the years turn their pages, they all start to fade

The ocean still moves with the moon in the sky
The grass still grows on the hillside
Got to believe in believin’
Got to believe in a dream
Freedom is ever deceiving
Never turning out to be what it seems

It’s amazing how fast our lives go by
Like a flash of lightning, like the blink of an eye
We all fall in love as we fall into life
We look for the truth on the edge of the night
Heavens turn ’round and the river still flows
How the spirit keeps going, nobody knows

Nobody Knows, Gregg Allman, Allman Brothers
(Chords here)

What’s his name again?

Yeah, it happens when the money comes:
The wild and poor get pushed aside
It happens when the money comes

Buyers come from out of state
They raise the rent and you can’t buy
Buyers come from out of state and raise the rent

“Buy low, sell high, you get rich!”
You still die
Money talks and people jump
Ask “How high?”
Low-life Donald…what’s-his-name?

And who cares?
I don’t want to know what his wife
Does or doesn’t wear
It’s a shame the people at work
Want to hear about this kind of jerk

I walk where the bottles break
And the blacktop comes on back for more
I walk where the bottles break
And the blacktop comes on back

I live where the neighbors yell
And their music comes up through the floor
I live where the neighbors yell
And their music wakes me up

Where the bottles break, John Gorka, 1991

SABR-toothed

Well they’ve been running around on the flat expanses of the early Holocene lake bed with impressively large machines, whacking down and gathering the soybeans and corn. This puts dirt clods on the roads that cause one on a road bike at dusk to weave and swear, but I digress. The Farmer’s Almanac indicates says that it must therefore be about World Series time, which in turn is just about approximately guaranteed to initiate various comments regarding the role of luck, good or bad, in deciding important baseball game outcomes.

There are several important things to be blurted out on this important topic and with the Series at it’s climax and the leaves a fallin’ now’s the time, the time is now.

It was Bill James, the baseball “sabermetric” grandpa and chief guru, who came up with the basic idea some time ago, though not with the questionable terminology applied to it I think, which I believe came later from certain disciples who knelt at his feet.

The basic idea starts off well enough but from there goes into a kind of low-key downhill slide, not unlike the truck that you didn’t bother setting the park brake for because you thought the street grade was flat but found out otherwise a few feet down the sidewalk. At which point you also discover that the bumper height of said truck does not necessarily match that of a Mercedes.

The concept applies not just to baseball but anything involving integer scores. Basic idea is as follows (see here). Your team plays 162 baseball games, 25 soccer matches or whatever, and of course you keep score of each. You then compute the fraction S^x/(S^x + A^x), where using the baseball case, S = runs scored, A = runs allowed and x = an exponent that varies depending on the data used (i.e. the teams and years used). You do this for each team in the league and also compute each team’s winning percentage (WP = W/G, where W = number of wins and G = games played in the season(s)). A nonlinear regression/optimization returns the optimal value of x, given the data. The resulting fraction is known as the “pythagorean expectation” of winning percentage, claiming to inform us of how many games a given team “should” have won and lost over that time, given their total runs scored and allowed.

Note first that the value of x depends on the data used: the relationship is entirely empirically derived, and exponents ranging from (at least) 1.8 to 2.0 have resulted. There is no statistical theory here whatsoever, and in no description of “the pythag” have I ever seen any mention of such. This is a shame because (1) there can and should be, and (2) it seems likely that most “sabermatricians” don’t have any idea as to how or why. Maybe not all, but I haven’t seen any discuss the matter. Specifically, this is a classic case for application of Poisson-derived expectations.

However the lack of theory is one, but not really the main, point here. More at issue are the highly questionable interpretations of the causes of observed deviations from pythag expectations, where the rolling truck smashes out the grill and lights of the Mercedes.

You should base an analysis like this on the Poisson distribution for at least two very strong reasons. First, interpretations of the pythag always involve random chance. That is, the underlying view is that departures of a given team’s won-loss record from pythag expectation is always attributed to the action of randommness–random chance. Great, if you want to go down that road, that’s exactly what the Poisson distribution is designed to address. Secondly, it will give you additional information regarding the role of chance that you cannot get from “the pythag”.

Indeed, the Poisson gives the expected distribution of integer-valued data around a known mean, under the assumption that random deviations from that mean are solely the result of sampling error, which in turn results from the combination of Complete Spatial Randomness (CSR) complete randomness of the objects, relative to the mean value and the size of the sampling frame. In our context, the sampling frame is a single game and the objects of analysis are the runs scored, and allowed, in each game. The point is that the Poisson is inherently designed to test just exactly what the SABR-toothers are wanting to test. But they don’t use it–they instead opt for the fully ad-hoc pythag estimator (or slight variations thereof). Always.

So, you’ve got a team’s total runs scored and allowed over its season. You divide that by the number of games played to give you the mean of each. That’s all you need–the Poisson is a single parameter distribution, the variance being a function of the mean. Now you use that computer in front of you for what it’s really ideal at–doing a whole bunch of calculations really fast–to simply draw from the runs scored, and runs allowed, distributions, randomly, say 100,000 times or whatever, to estimate your team’s real expected won-loss record under a fully random score distribution process. But you can also do more–you can test whether either the runs scored or allowed distribution fits the Poisson very well, using a chi-square goodness-of-fit test. And that’s important because it tells you basically, whether or not they are homogeneous random processes–processes in which the data generating process is unchanging through the season. In sports terms: it tells you the degree to which the team’s performance over the year, offensive and defensive, came from the same basic conditions (i.e. unchanging team performance quality/ability).

The biggest issue remains however–interpretation. I don’t how it all got started, but somewhere, somebody decided that a positive departure from “the pythag” (more wins than expected) equated to “good luck” and negative departures to “bad luck”. Luck being the operative word here. Actually I do know the origin–it’s a straight forward conclusion from attributing all deviations from expectation to “chance”. The problem is that many of these deviations are not in fact due to chance, and if you analyze the data using the Poisson as described above, you will have evidence of when it is, and is not, the case.

For example, a team that wins more close games than it “should”, games won by say just one or two runs, while getting badly smoked in a small subset of other games, will appear to benefit from “good luck”, according to the pythag approach. But using the Poisson approach, you can identify whether or not a team’s basic quality likely changed at various times during the season. Furthermore, you can also examine whether the joint distribution of events (runs scored, runs allowed), follows random expectation, given their individual distributions. If they do not, then you know that some non-random process is going on. For example, that team that wins (or loses) more than it’s expected share of close games most likely has some ability to win (or lose) close games–something about the way the team plays explains it, not random chance. There are many particular explanations, in terms of team skill and strategy, that can explain such results, and more specific data on a team’s players’ performance can lend evidence to the various possibilities.

So, the whole “luck” explanation that certain elements of the sabermetric crowd are quite fond of and have accepted as the Gospel of James, may be quite suspect at best, or outright wrong. I should add however that if the Indians win the series, it’s skill all the way while if the Cubs win it’ll most likely be due to luck.