Last weekend, following Question Cathy's lead, I reached the "signed up for a free trial of" level of cabin fever. Don't worry, I canceled in time.

It wasn't that I found the process uninteresting. There simply wasn't that much to learn. I confirmed what I already knew: everyone in my lines of ancestry is from Poland. And I mean everyone. There's none of this "Well I'm 1/16 Irish" stuff.
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It's all Poland.

Additionally, there is nothing to be found much earlier than 1900. The paper trail starts when they arrived in the U.S. as immigrants. The documents (Army draft cards, immigration records, passports, naturalization paperwork, etc.) reflect the root of the problem – each person has a different birth date on almost every document. These were illiterate or barely literate people. They didn't even know with certainty their own birth dates, which was not uncommon in that era. And they inhabited a part of the world where written records that survived are not exactly ample. Some European countries like the U.
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K. seem to have a long and well-preserved tradition of records. Poland, which was overrun and traded among rival European powers for centuries, does not.

The other unsurprising find is that I descend from lines of entirely unremarkable people for the most part. I suppose everyone does genealogy hoping and expecting to find interesting stories or rich and famous long-lost relatives. I didn't harbor any illusions, but it's incredible the extent to which everyone prior to my dad (who was born in the U.S. and went to college) we were all…peasants, I guess. Because that's what the overwhelming majority of human history has been – anonymous people living anonymous lives trying to fend off death long enough to reproduce. My ancestors did what almost everyone's ancestors did for generations. They worked with their hands and their lower backs and aside from children they left essentially nothing to indicate that they ever lived.
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But here's the interesting part.

Many key people from my father's lineage hail from a place I'd never heard of called Bolestraszyce in southeastern Poland. I looked it up on a map.

Ethnicity and nationality are funny things. For all the family members who lived long enough for me to meet them, our ethnic identity as Poles has been extremely important to them. Polacks tend not to broadcast it in the same way that, say, Irish or Italian Americans do (like on t-shirts, for example) but like anyone else they seem to consider it a core part of their identity. And looking at that map, I can't help but laugh a little at how silly it is. Had they been born a few miles to the east, everything they ever felt about being Polish would have been Ukrainian. A little farther south and it would have been generations of Slovak pride.

Now, I know the borders in that area of the world have shifted around a lot, and there is more to the concept of an ethnic identity than to a national one. Plenty of people are living in X despite being Ethnic Y's. I just think about all the minor changes that could have taken what I believe is a long line of people in that area a few miles one way or the other. Would I feel any differently about myself if I were the exact same person, but "Ukrainian"?

Probably? I don't know. My guess is that whatever need ethnic identity fulfills for us psychologically can work regardless of which identity is involved. The cultural cues are different (Ukrainian churches are…something else) but fundamentally all of these people would have been the same. Jog the border a little bit one way or the other on a piece of land in modern Poland that has been Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and a half dozen other nation-states that no longer exist and I can't imagine that the long-term outcomes across generations would matter much.

Perhaps the biggest difference would have been in immigration patterns. European immigrants famously had preferences for going where their ethnic predecessors went. Chicago was heavy on Poles and Slavic people in general. Ukrainians appear to have preferred staying on the East Coast, in the New York to Philadelphia belt. So maybe they wouldn't have gone to Chicago, and thereby everything would be different for me. Maybe I wouldn't even be here. But holding all else constant (I know, I know, it's a hypothetical) I can't imagine feeling fundamentally different about myself if I found out I was descended from people born on the opposite side of the metaphorical street.


(Editorial note: Sorry for the lack of updates lately. I have been suffering a bout of Writing Fatigue attempting to keep up with my podcast schedule, freelance work, book project, and more. Once I adjust and get accustomed to the new routine I will be back closer to normal)

A fun survey puts a numerical value to male overconfidence, as apparently 1 in 8 men in this sample believe that they could score a point against Serena Williams in a tennis match. Because, you know, she’s a woman. I guess Mr. Plays Tennis at the Y Occasionally thinks that simply being a guy holding a tennis racket immediately puts him in a position to have some level of success against a woman, any woman, including one who dominated her sport in a way few athletes ever have.

In fairness, “score a point” is a low bar. It’s quite a bit different from saying you could win. Nevertheless, I don’t know if these people are more sexist or more delusional. I’ve known plenty of men who in complete seriousness believed they could compete, or at least survive, on some level in an athletic competition with professionals. “If you gave me the ball once, I bet I could run for a couple yards” or whatever.

This is, of course, idiotic. The 350 pounders in the NFL – guys who can bench press 500 pounds and also run faster than any normal person could ever run if his life depended on it. Remember the commercial with Don Cheadle running against then-star NFLer Dante Hall? Cheadle breaks into a sprint, then Hall begins to run and passes him as though he is literally standing still. “And I’m pretty fast…” Cheadle wheezes.

Trust me, you can’t. Whatever you think you could do, you can’t. Having been at an NFL training camp with a press pass, on the field up close and personal, even the bad players who don’t make the team are an order of magnitude better than your “I’m pretty athletic” member of the normal population.

An interesting caveat, though, takes me back to a thought experiment I participated in during grad school. Here’s a more interesting question: If any recreational tennis player played Serena Williams an infinite, or at least a very large, number of times, would he or she eventually score a point?

Repeated to infinity, yes. Repeated a large number of times, probably. The odds are extremely low but, unless one happens to be physically incapable of holding and swinging the tennis racket or seeing the ball, non-zero.

I’m going to switch to baseball simply because I don’t understand tennis. It’s the same principle.

I blow at baseball. I couldn’t even play tee ball well. But I can swing a bat. Could I get a hit off a major league pitcher? On the surface the answer is “Absolutely not.” But what if, hypothetically and nonsensically, a Major League team decided to start me every game for a full season? What if I used 700-750 plate appearances (attempts) and swung the bat at every pitch that came anywhere near the plate?

There’s still a very good chance I would bat .000 for the season. But the thing is, the combined act of the pitcher throwing at the plate and me swinging over the plate means that simply by chance the bat and ball will meet some small percentage of the time. Purely by accident. He happened to throw it in the exact spot I managed to maneuver the bat into. No “skill” involved on my part at all.

Now we have to consider the odds that if the ball and bat are hitting one another, will the ball ever land in a place that would get me a hit? Again, it’s a question of randomness and the law of large samples. If I bat enough times, I *will* eventually get a hit. It’s going to happen, even if it takes a million times at bat.

So on that note, I suppose it is *possible* that a person could score a point off of Serena Williams given an unlimited number of opportunities to do so. You might have to stand there playing game after game for several years, but your racket will accidentally hit her serve a couple times and one of those, eventually, will score you a point. But as for doing it in a single game? You quite literally have better odds of winning Powerball or of being struck by lightning during your match.

Leonard Mlodinow covers some of this in his infinitely interesting book about probability in ordinary life, The Drunkard’s Walk. Even if the probability of something happening is infinitesimally small – me getting a hit, ever – that is different than the probability being zero. Very few things are, strictly speaking, impossible. They are only impossible in practice because their odds are so incredibly low that you cannot achieve the number of attempts it would take you to succeed.

Given infinite time and infinite typewriters, monkeys would eventually write Macbeth. That is a far cry, however, from saying that the monkeys can probably write Macbeth if you give them a chance – a statement that implies something well short of billions of years’ worth of repeated attempts.


I've got about a month left of being a professor. Right now one of the major conferences in my field is taking place a few miles from my house and I'm not participating in it. And the really weird thing is that I feel fine about it.

That sounds like a person trying to convince himself, I bet. But it isn't. It took a long time to get here, trust me, but I feel as ready to walk away as I think I'm capable of being. Reflexively I've always described my professional problem as one of geography; I like what I do, but not where I have to do it. And that is still true. There are Ideal jobs out there that I would take in a heartbeat, were I remotely capable of getting them (I'm not, which I've always been clear with myself about).
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But lately I look through academic job ads and it just…doesn't do anything for me. Because the hard truth is that the modal academic job is a really bad job. The pay sucks. The teaching is likely to be miserable – students who either don't care, lack high school-level skills, or both. The locations are often bad. It's hard to participate in the profession in any meaningful way from such positions, given the overwhelming emphasis in academia on institutional prestige. Simply put, I've gotten half-way through a couple of job applications and said, what the fuck am I doing this for?
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Why do I want this obviously shitty job?

The truth is that I don't. And for the past fifteen years I've never felt that way. I used to think, it's not perfect but at least it's an academic job, and even a bad academic job is better than most jobs. That kind of thinking gets most of us at some point. We devote a lot of our lives to pursuing and getting an academic job, so it's very difficult to walk away. But honestly, how much is it worth giving up in other areas of your life just to be able to call yourself Professor? That thrill wears off pretty quickly; if you're wasting your entire life in Turkey Bone, Arkansas just to have that title you're going to have a lot of regrets when you're 70.

In a lot of ways I'm remarkably fortunate; I don't have kids, I don't have a spouse depending on me for economic support, and I don't have any complications beyond my own indecision to deal with when making this choice. I'm lucky to even have the opportunity to walk away without anyone getting hurt.

I still find political science incredibly interesting. I'm not going to stop paying attention to it. But it has become abundantly clear to me that I'm not good enough at it to get a career in the field that I would be happy with. There are, fortunately, other things I am good at. Legitimately good. Including some things that even the most successful academics are not good at.
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So, I'm going to try to make a living doing those things instead. It might not work. If it doesn't, so be it. I'll be happier having tried compared to sticking with a job I don't particularly like just because it's safer and more stable. Things might get rough for a while, or forever. Who knows. Regardless, I can keep myself fed, clothed, and living indoors. I can achieve at least that much; maybe even slightly more.
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But anyway. The finish line is finally in sight, and honestly I'm not as maudlin or terrified as I thought I would be. I feel a great deal of relief, and a genuine interest in seeing what comes next.


I've been meaning for quite a while to write about a strange experience I had in August of 2018. It will be kind of hard to explain, which is one of the reasons my heels have dragged.

I was raised by a Boomer dad whose father fought extensively in the European theater of WWII. Like most males of that generation, his childhood was a steady stream of WWII-related pop culture output and history. Accordingly, when I was very young in the early 1980s our house had among its bookshelves an ample supply of those kinds of "Jane's Fighting Aircraft of the World" and "Atlas of WWII Battlefields in Germany" type books that one always found lying on the Discount table at Crown Books / Waldenbooks / B. Dalton Bookseller / a bunch of other book retailers I've forgotten that used to be everywhere but since went bankrupt.

As a devoted enthusiast of G.I. Joe action figures (and of course the cartoon) by about age six, I spent many evenings thumbing the pages of those books. One thing that is hard to communicate is the sense of ~*~mystery~*~ that surrounded everything about the Eastern Bloc before 1989. Photos of Russian aircraft were always grainy and highly surreptitious in tone.
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Information was always qualified as "allegedly" or "reportedly." It was all very cloak-and-dagger and I fucking loved it. What, after all, was G.I. Joe vs COBRA but the Cold War in animated form for kids.

Of all the things that captured my attention, nothing amazed me quite as much as a little-known airfield in Yugoslavia (now in Bosnia) called Zeljava. One of these encyclopedia-style books wrote a short piece on it, in hushed tones of danger, including a single photo:

Zeljava Air Base was – imagine being six in 1985 and learning this fact – cut into the side of a mountain. The planes would wait safely under the bulk of an enormous mountain while the nuclear warheads fell and then emerge (from a PLANE-SHAPED HOLE IN THE MOUNTAIN) to do air battle with Tom Cruise in an F-16. That was the most James Bond, COBRA, Secret Agent Man thing I had ever heard. I asked my dad repeatedly to confirm that it was real, and not just a story. The picture looked real. It was real. Whenever I saw a book from this genre in a bookstore, the first thing I did was flip to the index to see if it contained any information about this mysterious spot. Many did, and included this, its most widely-circulated photo.

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Look at how grainy it is! Like it was taken IN SECRET by a real SPY.

I just could not get enough of it. It was, at that point in my life, the coolest thing in the world.

Fast forward several decades. Last summer, at age 39, Question Cathy and I were on vacation in the Czech Republic. After a few days of castles and beer and museums, I tentatively brought up the prospect of using our rental car to take a drive down unpaved, remote Bosnian roads to an unmarked and now abandoned Yugoslav Air Force Base. Since she is always indulgent of this type of thing on my part, she agreed. A few hours later, thanks in no small part to the miracle of Google Maps, I took this picture:

That's me, standing in front of the airplane-shaped hole in the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere in Bosnia.

Also present that day were a cop ("Remember the Dumb American routine I taught you, tell them we thought this was a mall and we got lost!") who was chatting with a friend, obviously looking for an out of the way place to stash himself so as to avoid working, and a pair of young men using the 2500m runway to do quarter-mile tests with their very obviously prized Skoda Fabia. Nobody appeared to care in the least that we were all at what, as of 1980, must have been one of the most secretive and restricted places on the continent.

It was, and is, difficult for me to explain what it felt like to close that loop. Think of the changes that have taken place to the world we live in between the time this was built (at an enormous cost its society probably could ill afford) until today, when the investment has been declared superfluous, abandoned by the MiG-21s of a country called Yugoslavia and left to young men racing their hatchbacks in a place called Bosnia.

It goes without saying that plenty changed for me between the ages of 5-7 and 39. I can't say I thought about the air base in the side of a mountain every day, obviously, but it was a thing I never quite forgot due to how completely it fascinated me when I was very young.

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There's no way 1985 Ed would have believed, looking at the grainy picture, that he'd be able to visit it someday, nor can Present (now 40) Ed fully appreciate that, for all the things he has failed badly at in life, he has also done some pretty cool shit that a vast majority of people will never get an opportunity to do.

Anyway. It was a good trip.


I have a long-running theory that I need some data on.
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Every institution of High Culture in the US – especially things like operas and symphonies that tend to struggle for support – seems from casual observation to have one moneymaker on its calendar every year. That is, there is one performance aimed at the consumer who doesn't actually like orchestral music, or operas, or whatever, because it turns out that it's hard to sell a ton of tickets to things like "An Evening with Haydn's Unfinished Ode to the War of Jenkins's Ear" or whatever.

The most common manifestations of this are things like John Williams or Star Wars or Boston Pops nights at the symphony, or something else transparently poppy and aimed at the casual "Let's take the kids to see this" listener. Similarly, the Lyric Opera in Chicago has taken to interspersing its calendar of obscure operas with things like West Side Story or Nutcracker-like holiday shows.

Here are my questions, in no particular order:

1. Is there a name within the industry for this phenomenon?

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"Pay the bills night" or something?

2. Do performers within these groups hate doing this, or do they think it's fun? I can easily picture your average symphony musician or opera singer being disappointed (or worse) at the idea of having to sing Harry Potter songs or whatever to get butts to fill seats.

3. Do performers find this stuff easy compared to the other, less public-facing material? I also picture the entire symphony getting drunk before John Williams Night because they can play the theme from Indiana Jones perfectly while half in the bag, and why not have some fun with it.

Any insight that you can offer on these points is appreciated.

I have been harboring these suspicions for years and would like clarification.


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I did a Mass for Shut-ins Minicast – the third so far – on Steve Allen, the original host of the Tonight Show.

Some people don't like long podcasts, so the minicasts are short (this one's four minutes) and intended to share something interesting that doesn't benefit from being drawn out. You get the point and you can appreciate something and go about your day. Minimal commitment.

Sorry for the slow posting this week.

Being back from the unreality of vacation has been hard on my brain.

On that note, one final "I noticed a thing" thought from Europe. On the one hand, I'm familiar with the common (and accurate) argument in the US that smaller food and beverage portion sizes are one of the reasons Europe doesn't struggle with affluence-based obesity like Americans do. Indeed, soft drinks in particular are almost cartoonishly small in Europe – what we'd call a Child's Size here. But conversely, Europeans drink staggering quantities of beer compared to Americans – more than 37 GALLONS per capita annually in the Czech Republic, for example. And while I hardly did a scientific double-blind study on the matter, big portions of heavy food – the Balkans do not seem to have heard of vegetables yet – were plentiful.

So, while the argument always made perfect sense to me in the abstract, it didn't seem so plausible in person. Whatever they're not drinking in Coke and Pepsi they're more than making up for (on average) with beer and wine, and a steady diet of bread, meat, cheese, and potatoes hardly seems like a ticket to carrying around less body mass.
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Not a data point. Merely an observation.



So on the topic broached last week in the first Anthony Bourdain post, a friend who is into The Soccer texted me a screenshot of this tweet:

Ah, I see the "Make sure nobody anywhere gets to enjoy anything ever" laws are still in effect.

The statement is factually accurate, of course. That's not the issue. If we pursue the questionable logic to its conclusion, then everyone should feel bad for enjoying any sort of national competition, ever. Every nation has boatloads of atrocities somewhere in its past – Argentina, as the comment points out, being no exception. Tonight I accidentally saw part of a Peru-France matchup. My god it was like the thunderdome of countries that have done brutal things to their own indigenous people or, in France's case, ones it conquered in the name of Empire. So, is the correct course of action to go from patron to patron in the bar saying "GOOGLE THE SHINING PATH, YOU IGNORANT PISSANT!" or "HOW CAN YOU WATCH FRANCE KNOWING WHAT THEY DID IN THE THIRD CARNATIC WAR OF 1756?"

Had I done so, I strongly suspect most people in the venue would have told me to go fuck myself, and that after working 10 hours for unfairly low levels of compensation they just wanted to watch the goddamn soccer game and could I kindly leave them alone before they deposit a beer bottle in my eye socket. And I think that would have been an entirely fair response.

Note, nobody is watching Argentina *celebrating* the country's historical atrocities.

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Nobody is trying to assert that they didn't happen, as some Europeans (and Americans) are wont to do with the inconvenient aspects of our history. But I cannot for the life of me imagine what is accomplished by trying to ruin literally everything for everyone – whoever is able to wring some small amount of pleasure out of anything these days – by bringing something totally unrelated into a conversation. This is a grand example of somebody trying way, way too hard to be the Wokest guy in the room.
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The room, in this instance, is the internet, and therefore the levels necessary to OutWoke everyone else are high enough to be fatal.

Everybody is depressed all the goddamn time now. Is it absolutely necessary to try to ruin everything that might be a source of light entertainment for anyone…especially in the name of proving that You, An Intellectual Serious Person, are more attuned to the historical narrative than the simple Plebes enjoying their little Plebeian sports match?

For fuck's sake, people. Watch your stupid soccer game if that makes you happy for 90 minutes plus that weird-ass random amount of extra time. I simply fail to see the point in this beyond elevating yourself to look down at others for doing something they have no reason to apologize for doing. Maybe if we hand people like this an official YOU'RE THE SMARTEST BEST PERSON trophy they will leave us alone so we can take brief reprieves from wanting to jump off a fucking bridge every time we see the news.


OK everything doesn't really need to go, but Women's shirts are $4 off ($26 reduced to $22). Note that Women's Medium is sold out.

Men's XXL was sold out a couple weeks ago but I ordered a few dozen more and they're arriving Saturday.

These are very stylish you can wear them to barn raisings.


JR Smith has become this generation's Chris "I Thought We Had Timeouts Left" Webber. That has to be up there with the worst athletic-related brain cramps of all time (up there with "JUST RUN THE GODDAMN BALL, SEATTLE!" in the Super Bowl a few years ago).

The best ones that come to mind in politics are Rick Perry forgetting the names of the Cabinet departments he proposed to eliminate or, more recently, Gary Johnson's "What's Aleppo" moment.

What are some great examples of people just…

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going mentally blank when everyone's watching? No Trump stuff please. We know that "mentally blank" describes him permanently.

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