When America was Great…and my “good old days”…

Ok, when exactly WAS America at her greatest? Well, one might say “it depends on who you ask” and there is statistical evidence for that:

What if people look most warmly on the years when they came of age? For many, the decade in which they spent their late teens and twenties is backlit with a soft glow of optimism and discovery, which tends to fade with the onset of children and male-pattern baldness. Republicans are older on average than Democrats. Could the partisan split the Times found simply reflect the demographics of each party?

In aggregate, Morning Consult’s data supports this trend. According to its survey, the plurality of people born in the 1930s and 1940s thought the 1950s were America’s best years; people born in the 1960s and the 1970s had a similar affinity for the 1980s.

But it’s worth a closer look. Using a slice of the raw survey data, I ran a multiple linear regression analysis, which attempts to calculate how much a collection of independent factors influences an outcome. In this case, the outcome was an individual’s pick for America’s Greatest Year; the factors were their age, their race, their education level, their gender, and their political party. (I threw out any response that named a date before 1930 as America’s best; very few people, save historians, are truly nostalgic for the 19th century, and these outliers skewed the sample.)

The result? It seems age does play a role in determining when a person thinks America peaked. For every 10 years a respondent’s age increased, their average America-Was-Greatest date dropped by three years. But race and party matter, too. Being a Democrat gave respondents an average bump of five years in their favorite dates, compared to Republicans; being black raised the average by more than eight years.

That said, the correlation is weak. Only 15 percent of the variability among the 2,000-odd favorite-year responses can be explained by these five demographic factors, which is laughably low by statistical standards.

You can find a table at the source. Note: 15 percent is not THAT bad when it comes to human factors.

And there is a tendency to romanticize the past and forget the bad stuff.

Yes, the body worked better and, well, this was more the norm:

What I forgot was: well, lack of money, worries about promotion, in fact, worry that I’d finish my tough the Navy was (the nuclear navy, in my case), the super long hours, etc.

Almost none of these factors had much to do with how the country itself was.

Yes, there are lots of aspects of current life that I don’t like.

Examples (many of them trivial)
Noise: leaf blowers..treadmills that “bong” every time you change a setting (WHY? I don’t need to know that those next to me are doing a run/walk), people with microphones that yell at you during every time out during a game (or between innings), and noisy public spaces.

About the leaf blowers: once, at a conference, I noticed that there was a nice looking rooftop area overlooking a I decided to take my lunch up there to eat. It wasn’t crowded…which seemed strange give than the day was nice. But sure enough, 2-3 minutes after I got there..the tale tell, ear splitting RRRRRRRR …some worker came through with a leaf blower…must have been a stray leaf somewhere. I left and now understood why the place was both pristine and empty. I suppose there is so much emphasis on making the place *look* nice that it was also made, well, unusable.

And, of course, cell phones…it seems that whenever you find a quite public space to take a break, some moron who is yelling on their cell phone will find you (easier for them to hear in a quiet spot, you see)

That seems to have gotten just a bit better with the advent of texting…

Well, to be fair, there is a lot that is better right now (e. g. I enjoy the internet..and yes, even social media) so..

January 27, 2019 Posted by | big butts, Navel Staring, social/political | Leave a comment

Random gripes, quips and inconsequential observations

1. I ran fairly hard on the treadmill. How hard? When I walked a cool-down mile on the indoor track, I could see a trail of sweat drops from my previous laps.

2. I hate it when I see something I want a photo of…but when I get out my phone, I find that I had it turned off. By the time it switches on (searches for signals, etc.), the potential object has left. Over the past few days, I missed a genuine albino squirrel and a chance to troll my yoga teacher with a butt shot.

3. Sometimes I’ll see a selfie posted on social media and think..OMG, they look terrible..not like I remembered them. Then I realize that they are either an age peer..or someone younger than I am.

4. When discussing my change of workout cycles, I found myself saying “I am not 45 years old anymore”. Then I realized that 45 is actually old, in terms of sports.

5. I am typing this because I am avoiding work on a paper..this is the dreadful “proofing” phase.

6. It is humbling to realize that I’ll never be as good as my graduate school advisor. Then again, he got that position because, well, he is out-of-this-world good. Put another way, if you are reading this, you are probably not “major league talent” (with p = 10^{-3} or so).

7. A meme asked if I’d like to “know what I now know” back when I was 10. If that meant, say, being able to foresee which stocks grew and which ones flopped, sure. But if it meant “wisdom” then…HELL NO! I’d rather that my dreams of being truly special not get crushed that early and glad that I really didn’t understand the concept of an “outlier.”

8. Success, the vast majority of the time, requires both intense hard work AND extreme luck. The luck part comes with avoiding terrible things (e. g. horrible diseases or accidents) and being in the right place at the right time. Example: consider Larry Bird. Obviously he is an excellent athlete that worked his butt off. But if he were born, say, 100 years earlier, he would have been, at best, moderately successful at something that most of us would have never heard of. He was fortunate to be born at a time when athletic ability could mean fame and fortune.

Or take Steven Hawking. 200-300 years earlier, he would have died an early death and not been remembered. Even healthy geniuses of today may well have been people of less than average value in the world of 5000-10,000 years ago. They were fortunate enough to be born at a time when their abilities could be nurtured into something special.

9. I had dreamed of being an athlete. During the summer of 1969 I tried out for baseball teams (Little League) both “major” and “minor” league. No team wanted me. BUT I received an unsolicited invitation to a summer math camp (based on teacher recommendations). Think that there was a message there?

10. I think that social media has made tribalism worse. We tend to pick a side and defend people within that side, regardless of whether they are worthy of defending or not. On the other hand, we are expected to swallow criticism of the villains from the other side, whether justified or not. This pressures those who “love the truth.”

11. Books: I like the scholarly ones that attempt to seek “what is true”. Those that are really advocating some previously held point of view irritate me. IMHO, true scholarship seeks out truth, where ever it is. Advocacy seeks to persuade, in much the same way a good lawyer seeks to persuade a jury. A scholar really has to play…many sides and attempt to blow up the current hypothesis. Yes, a scholar does have to have some base assumptions, but those should be clearly understood from the start (e. g. naturalism, laws of gravity, laws of logic, “Axiom of Choice”, etc.)

12. My high tech workout shirts really do reek after I’ve sweated in them a bit.

13. In baseball, an “out is an out”, be it a strike out or a fly that is caught on the warning track (assuming there is no one on base to advance). But I always felt worse after a strike out.

14. When I am watching a baseball game and the pitcher is on, I often find myself being glad that I was not in the batter’s box!

15. My strongest memories of football: wiffing on blocks and on tackles. Gads, I sucked.

16. Whoever said “you can be anything you want to be provided you try hard enough” should be tarred and feathered.

17. Everyone should be treated fairly, including those I do not like.

Ah, time to end this silliness.

July 24, 2018 Posted by | baseball, football, laughing at myself, Navel Staring, Personal Issues, politics, politics/social, social/political | | Leave a comment

Anger: fear in disguise?

I just got back from a trip that, well, was somewhat stressful, even though:
1) I was in no danger
2) I wasn’t in physical pain nor discomfort
3) I was in no danger of losing employment
4) I did not have to expend exceptional effort nor money.

So, what gives? For most of the time, I was with 3 other people: one elderly but mentally competent (highly so, in fact), one mentally retarded younger adult (30’s) who is fine physically and one person who was, well, very eccentric in his early days (and blew some nice opportunities) who is now physically disabled (barely ambulatory) and has mental/emotional challenges as well.

I was not used to that; I was in a position where I did most of the physical helping with the older person (the younger person could not figure out what to do).

And I found myself getting angry (but biting my tongue) but..why?

Ok, part of it is that this is my vacation time and well, I’d rather do other things.

But…I suppose that while I am reasonably healthy for my age (I am 58 but can still do sets of 10-15 pull ups and finish 50K walks) and yes, my commitment to physical fitness made me *able* to do this…

I am just one unfortunate brain injury, or stroke..away from being just like those unfortunates…no amount of virtuous behavior can guarantee me that I won’t be the one using a walker or needing physical assistance.

What I learned I recalled seeing a liberal meme about our capitalistic society “throwing away” those who weren’t economically viable. That really isn’t true; the two incapacitated individuals were living a safe life thanks to social safety nets (meals on wheels, Medicaid, group homes for the intellectually disabled, etc.).

Their lives aren’t what I’d want, but they have shelter, enough to eat, medical attention, etc.

So…I think the issue is with our “working poor”; those are able to work but, for one reason or another, cannot earn enough to have an economically dignified existence. This might also apply to the “able to work but can’t find work” unfortunates.

We have gaps and cracks that the able bodied/able minded fall through.

December 30, 2017 Posted by | Navel Staring, social/political | Leave a comment

Personal Sports: what is ahead for 2016?

Workout notes: swim then weights.

Swim: 2200 yards; low energy. A nice lady allowed me to share a lane with her; she even moved over. And there was a MILF type in the next lane in a bright red workout bikini..she was fast too. One time I caught up to her and she made it a point to speed up. 🙂

500 warm up, 10 x 25 drill (3g or fist), 25 swim (no fins), 5 x 200 on the 4: 4 were 3:31-3:33, one was 3:29. 200 back to cool down.
Weight: 186 prior to swimming; 184.5 after.

Then upstairs; gym wasn’t that crowded but I had low energy. pull ups: 5 sets of 10 (challenging), rotator cuff
bench press (weak) 10 x 135, 1 x 185, 6 x 170
incline press: 10 x 135 (ok)
military: 3 sets of 10 x 40 standing
row: basic machine, 3 sets of 10 x 45
abs: 2 sets of 12 twist crunches, 2 sets of 10 yoga leg lifts, moving bridge recoveries

2016: what am I going to do? I’ll break it down by spring/fall. I do want to do at least one marathon (spring or fall?)

Option 1: focus on FANS 24 in June; this means that I need to walk a LOT and do some butt and leg strengthening so I might be able to finish the McNaughton 50 in April.
Option 2: focus on 1 mile/5K running. Still, I’ll need more leg/butt strength than I have now.
Option 3: focus on swimming and lifting; let running and walking supplement that. Find some open water swim this summer as a reward? Get the bench press to 210 again?
Option 4: no goals; just do “whatever” I feel like doing (a mix of everything).

Oh well, it just isn’t important, is it?

Spandex note: Girls in Yoga Pants has a shot of what they claim is a (grade school?) teacher in see through yoga pants…in the classroom. I can’t imagine a school finding this appropriate teaching attire; my guess is that this is probably some college snowflake doing student teaching.

December 29, 2015 Posted by | Navel Staring, swimming, weight training | Leave a comment

2015 in review…(aka my “Holiday Newsletter”; grotesque navel staring)


Ok, like most people, I have some things that are important to me that I am keeping private. I can say that my health, finances and job are fine. I just make this statement, because some view these “here is what is going on with me newsletters” as PR which pretends that things are better than they really are.

So, in my omission, there is nothing life threatening or even all that unusual.

This is really written for me but I am making it available to friends who might be interested in parts of it.

Personal Life Pretty much same old, same old. This was the first year complete year without my parents. What was different is that I only made one trip to Austin this year, and that was to visit my daughter. This was the day after my mathematics conference at TCU ended. I did make several trips to Ohio to visit her and bring her to Peoria. We also toured the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum together this fall.

Barbara took several trips; I guess that she was gone for about a total of 2 months.

About the only other thing is that I had a personal administrative task early this year.

Professional life I didn’t make as much progress on research as I hoped. But I was busy. I did have one large administrative task this summer. I also taught “life contingencies” which is a part of actuarial science; the material was completely new and foreign to me. It was almost as if *I* were taking a brand new course. That was very draining.

I also taught topology for the first time. I’ve linked to the class blog; I had a ball writing it. It still gets a few hits here and there.

I also had a nice conference at TCU; I talked about my own research and outlined some ideas I have on extending it. My research is in this area.

I also have some other ideas to mull over. Next week?

I reviewed 3 articles (Math Reviews and Math Z); I got an idea from a couple of these papers.

Goals for 2016
One of my goals is to submit a paper for publication.

The stuff I can’t control: we had mass resignations of upper administration (President, Provost, Athletic Director); that occupied the thoughts of many of us.

Sports life: personal sports

This was a disappointment. Running: 25:27 was my fastest 5K; I had only a few others under 26 minutes, and none after May. I have slowed from 2014. But perhaps this was due to my flirting with the very long stuff again; I had a 59.9 mile 24 hour in June (no training), 5:48 walking marathon in October (and I really did train for this), and a disaster of a trail 30 miler this November (tired from the marathon 3 weeks earlier?).

Perhaps the highlights were the 24 hour and the Illinois Valley Half Marathon: I walked a very slow time (did 4 miles prior to the race). But during the walk, I had a very fun back and forth with a local GILF who gave me good natured grief along the way. It is rare that I have fond memories from a bad race, but this is one of those times.

Swimming: I worked back to 2-3 times per week, but didn’t do a single 10 x 100 set where I got under 1:40 for each one, but I am close to being able to do that now. I can do 200’s on the 4 under 3:30.

Weight lifting: On a good day I can do a couple of sets of 15 (on the way to at total of 50 repetitions). Max bench press was 200, and I got 4 x 185 at that bodyweight on the bench press. I haven’t declined that much this year.

Goals for 2015
None at the moment; I have to decide if I want to focus on long walking or 5K running, or even focus on swimming.

Social I started off the year with a NFL playoff game (my first): Colts vs. Bengals and Bradley Basketball.
I was a faithful fan, but the men’s season was a disaster and the women…well..showed some hope later in the season.

I also caught one NIT game (Illinois State)

Then I watched a ton of Chiefs games (low A minor league baseball). I anticipate more of the same; it is a pleasant way to spend a summer evening.

Then football: a full season of Illinois home games (6 games), one Baldwin Wallace D-3 home game and one FCS playoff game (Illinois State). I also caught a slew of NFL games: 5 Rams home games, 2 Colts home games, and I have a ticket for a Chiefs home game tomorrow. I even managed to go to one of the games…well…make it 3 of the games, with a complete crew. I did make 2 games solo and am about to make a third.

Why so many? I think that part of it is that I no longer do lots of marathons/ultra marathons and I don’t drive to Texas anymore. And, there is something about a road trip that is just uplifting, especially if it is to do a specific thing (e. g. marathon) or see something (e. g. a game).


I am not sure as to what will happen next year, especially if the Rams leave to Los Angeles. Sometimes, it has been a chore rounding up people to go with, though I have enjoyed my two solo NFL trips.

It hasn’t gotten to the point where people run away when they see me coming with tickets…but it might get to that point. 🙂

Friendships I talked about this earlier. Doing stuff with people is fine. But it is tricky line between saying “I care” and starting to give unsolicited suggestions to those who are acting in a self-destructive manner. I’ll be a better friend if I practice “MYOB” more often…as in “all of the time.”

What I have learned in 2015: on the average, liberals are every bit as guilty of “bubble thinking” and “failing to examine their assumptions” as conservatives are. I am guilty of this at times.

December 27, 2015 Posted by | Friends, Navel Staring | | Leave a comment

Recovery runs and being noticed

First, I had a struggling (at first) recovery run of 4.2 miles; it was humid and the first mile was UGH. On the way back, I heard voices and there was a bespandexed MILF running with someone on a bike beside her. I had the dilemma: do I stay at pace and let her pass me just to enjoy the view…or do I pick it up a little because…after all these years…I still HATE getting passed? 🙂

I ended up picking it up a little and I eventually turned off.

Then to the gym for weights followed by light yoga (headstand included)

rotator cuff
pull ups: 5 sets of 10 (better)
bench: 10 x 135, 3 x 185, 7 x 170,
incline: 10 x 135
super set: military press: 10 x 45, 10 x 40, 10 x 40 (dumbbells)
pull downs: 3 sets of 10 x 160
rows: 2 sets of 10 x 60 (each arm, dumbbell), 10 x 200 Hammer machine.

Note: while going across campus, one of the young women smiled and said “ I’ve seen you outside of the gym!” That was just a bit troubling; I am not as invisible in the gym as I’d wish. 🙂

Navel Staring: I first started lifting weights regularly in 1972 and that was to get ready for football. I didn’t hit 200 on the honest bench press until 10-11’th grade or so. I didn’t get to 10 pull ups until I was a young adult.
I started running regularly in 1975; and I did this every morning in the off season (3.5 miles). On Sundays, I’d do 2 miles in 13:30-14:30 at the St. Edwards track; I also did a 5:54 mile.

When I went through the morbid obesity period of my life, I still walked; typically 2-3 miles a few times a week (sloooooow miles; 18 minute miles when I was 300 plus pounds). So I’ve been running and walking for 40 years; lifting for 43.

And I still suck at it. 🙂

And since we are into numbers, I first learned of the calculus derivative back in 1975-1976, with my first calculus class coming in 1976-1977. So I’ve been at that a while too. And, thankfully, I am a lot better at mathematics than I am at sports.

September 2, 2015 Posted by | Navel Staring, running, weight training | Leave a comment

Personal reflections after the Armed Forces Bowl

I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1981

It seems like a lifetime ago. I ok academically, even after a sort-of rough start (upper 1/3 in academic rank at a highly competitive place, even with a sub 3 freshman GPA). But military wise, I was a misfit. I don’t have a military personality (I am more of the “absent minded professor” type) and, AT THAT TIME, I was too immature. I didn’t know how and when to subordinate my own interests and when to quit seeking personal attention. I didn’t know how to be “team first” at that time.

And, this was my first Navy game as a civilian; I had watched Navy vs. Notre Dame in 1984 (Giants Stadium; a heart breaking 18-17 last second loss), Navy vs. Virginia in 1983 (a loss) and Navy vs. Air Force in 1983 (another loss….see a pattern here?). I didn’t know how I’d react.

After all, most Naval Academy graduates are super duper “money” conservatives; I’d describe them as being “very corporate”. On the other hand, I am well to the left of most of the country.

I have facial hair (bushy white beard) and dress very “absent minded professor like”; I am an atheist (an outspoken one at that) who is more in line with academia than I am with the military.

Yet….this was a bit of a homecoming for me.

I almost teared up twice; one time is when they did the national anthem. It was reported that there was legislation that allowed for military veterans to give the flag a hand salute and I was surprised at how quickly that came back.

Then there was the Navy Blue and Gold song at the end; my voice kind of cracked when we sang it.

So, misfit that I am; the Navy and the Naval Academy IS still part of me.

Kudos to Barbara for being such a good sport and putting up with the long trip, the cold, and the football. I was happy that I got to share some of my Navy stuff with her.

Yes, I had debated on whether to see this game or the Texas vs. Oregon game (Alamo Bowl tonight, in San Antonio). The latter: yes, I watched 9 seasons of Texas football and got my Ph. D. there, and it is my hometown team.

But I made the right choice.

December 30, 2013 Posted by | family, Navel Staring, travel | , | Leave a comment

Where have the “faster but non-elite” road runners gone?

A Facebook friend posted this Wall Street Journal article on her wall:

Saying I finished in the top 15% of my age group in last month’s Chicago Triathlon is like bragging that I could outrun your grandpa. My age group was 50 to 54.

But against the entire sprint-distance field, I finished in the top 11%. That’s right: Team Geriatric outperformed the field.

I’d love to report that this reflects the age-defying effects of triathlon. But my hair is gray, my hearing is dull and my per-mile pace is slower than it used to be, even at shorter distances.

Rather, this old-timer triumph is attributable to something that fogies throughout the ages have lamented: kids these days.

They’re just not very fast. “There’s not as many super-competitive athletes today as when the baby boomers were in their 20s and 30s,” said Ryan Lamppa, spokesman for Running USA, an industry-funded research group. While noting the health benefits that endurance racing confers regardless of pace, Lamppa—a 54-year-old competitive runner—said, “Many new runners come from a mind-set where everyone gets a medal and it’s good enough just to finish.”

Now, a generational battle is raging in endurance athletics. Old-timers are suggesting that performance-related apathy among young amateur athletes helps explain why America hasn’t won an Olympic marathon medal since 2004. […]

Now I’d like to stop right there: the elites don’t come from the general population. But I have noticed that the median times for local races has gotten much slower, and, numerically, there are fewer “7 minute a mile” type runners at local road races. That is, though the size of race fields have grown, the number of the 7 minute per mile runners has actually shrunk.

What is going on?

I have some guesses: there are probably lots of “hard core but not especially talented” people out there, but there are also a lot more options. There are triathlons, biathlons, as well as trail races, ultra marathons and multi-sport endurance races. There are also hard-core options such as Cross Fit.

My guess: the old “6:30-7:30 minute per mile crowd” is now spread out in different sports and events. I know that, at least locally, the trail runners are much better athletes than the average road runner. When I line up for a trail race, I ALWAYS line up at the back, because that is exactly where I will finish. That isn’t at all true at our local 5K road races.

Of course, this is just a guess.

September 24, 2013 Posted by | Navel Staring, running | | 3 Comments

Better than nothing….

I thought about doing Thursday’s run today and lifting tomorrow, but I went ahead and lifted anyway.

Weights: usual supplemental; perhaps more rotator cuff work. 3 sets of (twist, sit back, crunch, v. crunch)
pull ups: 5 sets of 10 (mostly narrow grip; wide grip is painful)
incline press: 5 x 135; it hurt so I quit.
dumbbell bench: 10 x 60, I quit on the second set. I am just not ready.

military: 3 sets of 12 x 50 with dumbbells (seated)
Hammer row: 2 sets of 10 x 230, 10 x 210
curls: 2 sets of 10 x 65 EZ curl, 10 x 70 machine
pull downs: 3 sets of 10 x 160 (shoulder friendly grip)

The shoulder: I am getting a good feel for what works and what doesn’t. No bench or incline for a couple of weeks.

Then: 3.2 miles on the treadmill: 10:22 mile 1, 19:06 mile 2, 27:23 for mile 3 (10:22, 8:44, 8:17), 28:13 at 5K.
That felt ok and gave me at least a little bit of “turn over”; I had the incline at .5.

Commentary: when I was walking to Markin one of the university athletes came running by and said “hi”. I watched her disappear into the distance: her posture was upright, legs pumping like well oiled pistons; she looked so fast, strong and healthy. I was green with envy. I thought “OMG, why do I even bother to train; I’ll never be like that.”

Then in the weight room I saw a woman approximately my age (granny panties under shiny spandex). She was sweating all over the place and getting out of breath doing twists with ridiculously light weight (I generally don’t rest between sets; I move from machine to machine very quickly). Then I thought “THAT is why I train.”

Oh well; I am struggling with accepting age. I have to learn to live in the moment and focus on what I CAN do rather than on what I WISH that I could do.

But it is really a different mindset; there was a time when I looked forward to improvement. Now I look forward to declining at a lower rate. 🙂

But hey, it is all good. I know when I am giving a good effort and when I am not.

September 11, 2013 Posted by | Navel Staring, running, weight training | , , , | Leave a comment

On Being Grateful …

Yes, I have plenty to be grateful for. I am healthy (as far as I and my doctors know) and can play sports. I am employed and able to pay for my daughter’s college education. She is healthy.

One of my friends was run over by a car while out running (84 year old driver) and was severely injured; injuries are not life threatening but he had a ton of broken bones. He comes home today and I hope to see him tomorrow.

My mom: she is still in her own house thanks to my sister and family (and the superb care they give her) but mom’s brain is shot; it isn’t pretty. The last time I visited (a few months ago) there were times when she didn’t know who I was.

And this weekend my wife has invited her mentally retarded adopted nephew to stay with us…Friday…leave Tuesday. That isn’t what I agreed to but……anyway, let’s just say that his visits are not something that I look forward to.

But here is where the gratitude comes in: the main difference between the nephew and me is this: when my mom carried me, she was careful not to do anything harmful; no smoking or drinking or drugs. Ok, mom didn’t do these things at any other time either, but she made sure that she was as healthy as could be while carrying me.

The nephew didn’t have that; he is a fetal alcohol syndrome person. His genes are probably ok, but they weren’t properly expressed when he was gestating.

So, every day that I am healthy and aware, I can’t afford to take it for granted.

Back to work…

August 29, 2013 Posted by | Navel Staring, Personal Issues | | Leave a comment