Self-Perpetuating Depression

My longtime friend Steve brought up a good point as we discussed our job situations. He said he read that some companies may be using the current DEPRESSION (I hate that r-word, let’s call things what they are) as an excuse to lay people off that they’ve been putting off because it would hurt morale.

The idea makes a lot of sense.I’ve been privvy, unfortunately, to management waiting for an excuse to get rid of people in the past. It’s a strategy that can backfire, but nobody likes confrontation, and waiting for an excuse is an easy way to avoid confrontation. Or to avoid having to fix problems you really don’t want to deal with.

But that creates a problem. While one business is using economic depression as an excuse to cut staff, so are lots of others. That puts more people out of work. That means they have less money, and that means they spend less.

So your neighbors’ former employees aren’t patronizing you anymore, and your revenue drops. Welcome to the vicious circle. At some point, you probably end up laying off people you really never wanted to get rid of.

It kind of sounds like a conspiracy, but really it isn’t. All it takes is a few people having that bad idea.

And there’s no real way to prevent it. Everywhere I’ve ever worked, going all the way back to high school, I’ve seen people in management positions who had no business being there. And that won’t change.

You can try to work in depression-proof industries, but is there such a thing? Everything’s connected together.

You can do what I did and minimize the way a depression can affect you. With no mortgage and no car payment, I could support my family on very little.

Of course, economists wag their fingers at people like me. Part of the problem is that people like me aren’t buying new cars because we realized there’s nothing at all wrong with the cars we have. Bad Dave.

Then again, unlike some people, after I borrowed large amounts of money, I paid it back. And part of the reason for that was because I didn’t sign on the dotted line until I did the math to figure out what life was going to be like with that mortgage payment and whether I was willing to live like that. If more people had actually paid attention to the amount of money at the end of the document–the amount that you’re going to end up paying over the course of the mortgage–and been scared, then we’d be in a lot better shape than we are now.

I do think this depression is forcing us to be a little less materialistic. And I think materialism and conspicuous consumption was what sucked us into this hole to begin with.

And in the meantime, it’s forcing some companies to look at themselves and make some hard decisions. Some aren’t surviving. Some will be missed more than others.

It’s affecting me a whole lot more now that I’m suddenly in the job pool with that other 7.2 percent. I’m sure I’ll complain a lot more. I know it’ll take a lot longer than I want for me to find employment because it already has. But I’ll be OK. I’m Scottish. I’m scrappy and tough.

And I think in the long run our country will be OK. Maybe we’ll even be better for it.

More on Manhunt, plus revisiting Dr. Mudd

I’ve finished Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer. My impression is still favorable.

The short of it: It’s a well-told story in dramatic fashion, with good research to back it up.

For the long of it, you’ll have to read on.For one thing, the book explores a number of alternative possibilities. What if Booth had missed? Booth actually made a number of tactical mistakes, including the use of a Derringer, which meant he only had one shot. In contrast, one of his co-conspirators had six shots and still failed to kill Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State, the same night. But that’s another story.

I won’t ruin the story, but the book provides a compelling argument about how the outcome of that fateful night would have been very different if Booth’s shot had been off, or if the gun misfired, or if anything else had gone differently at Ford’s Theater.

The book also does a good job of telling what became of all the other players, major and minor, in the aftermath of Lincoln’s murder.

I wish the book had spent a little more time on the trials themselves, but since Booth is the principal character of the book and didn’t live to go on trial, I can see why only a couple of pages were devoted to it.

Having finished the book, I understand its treatment of Dr. Samuel Mudd a little bit better. I still maintain (and the book seems to agree) that although Mudd and Booth knew one another in passing, that there was no way Mudd was expecting that early morning visit from Booth, nor did Mudd know what Booth had just done. Furthermore, when Mudd did find out what Booth had done, he didn’t approve.

In that regard, Mudd was not guilty of conspiracy. He wasn’t in on this conspiracy. He was dragged in because Booth injured himself in the escape and needed medical attention. For that matter, Booth actually went several hours out of his way to see Mudd. Booth’s escape plan was to head south into Virginia just as quickly as possible, and from there, get into the Deep South, where he could find shelter in the small pockets of the Confederacy that had not yet surrendered. Booth’s ultimate goal was to throw the government of the north into disarray, giving what was left of the Confederacy a chance to reignite the war.

Booth had no use for Dr. Samuel Mudd in this plan. That is, not until he injured himself in his escape from Ford’s Theater, but that wasn’t part of Booth’s plan.

And furthermore, had Mudd been expecting Booth, wouldn’t he have had better implements on hand for making a splint? Mudd fashioned a crude splint from bits of a crate. He was hardly prepared to set a broken bone that morning when Booth came calling.

The position of the Mudd family all along has been that Booth showed up at his front door, and it was Dr. Mudd’s duty to treat this unexpected patient as best he could, the same way every doctor in earshot of Lincoln did his best to prolong Lincoln’s life, even once it was obvious to all that his wound would kill him.

But Swanson pointed out several things that make it more clear why Mudd served time in prison for helping Booth. Mudd would have been the hero of the story if he’d gone home after he found out what Booth had done, sent Booth on his way, then told the authorities that he had treated Booth’s broken leg and he was now heading south-southwest, destination Virginia. Had Mudd done that, he not only would have avoided jail time, he also would have received a reward.

But Mudd didn’t do that. He sent his cousin to give a vague secondhand account of what happened, and initially the authorities didn’t even follow up on the lead.

Once Booth’s path went cold and the authorities remembered Mudd, they questioned him, noticed he was visibly nervous and his story had inconsistencies, but worst of all, it contained false information that may have delayed Booth’s apprehension.

So Mudd did, in a sense, participate in the conspiracy. It’s just that he wasn’t involved at the beginning. Certainly Mudd committed no crime by treating Booth’s broken leg, and I think even a military tribunal would agree with me on that. His crime was giving misinformation that slowed down a criminal investigation.

Mudd escaped the death penalty by one vote. I wonder, if Booth had killed anyone else during his escape attempt, if Mudd would have been executed along with four others who had aided Booth in one way or another.

The best way to optimize your firewall: Use hardware

Let’s get back to talking about utility replacements. We last talked about antivirus programs, but what about the other component of what’s commonly now called a “security suite,” the firewall?

The answer is, don’t use firewall software if at all possible–which means every man, woman and child who has a cable or DSL connection. Use a separate device.There are several good reasons for this. First, there’s the fundamental problem with running your security on the same system you’re trying to protect. If your firewall software goes haywire and crashes, you run the risk of being unprotected. It’s much safer to rely on an external device that doesn’t have an Intel or AMD processor in it and isn’t running Windows. So when someone tries to send a Windows exploit or virus to it, it bounces off because the device just doesn’t understand.

The second reason is price. A plain no-frills cable/DSL router/firewall costs about $20 at Newegg today. The unit I generally recommend is the Linksys WRT54G, which sells for about $50 new or as little as $25 used and adds wireless capability. That’s about the same as the retail price of a software firewall anyway, and it gives you better protection without robbing your system of performance.

A cheaper alternative, which was what I used to do when these devices cost $200, was to take an obsolete PC, put in a couple of cheap network cards, and run Freesco on it. It will run on any PC with a 386 processor or better (I recommend a Pentium with PCI slots for ease of setup). A 100 MHz Pentium is more than powerful enough and if you don’t already have an obsolete PC to run it on, you probably won’t have to ask around very long before finding one for a very low price or free. Today I prefer a Linksys-type box though, since they take less space, consume less electricity, generate less heat and noise, and take less time to set up.

Performance is the third reason. Two years ago I was working at a large broadband ISP that will remain nameless. It provides a “high speed security suite” as part of the subscription price. The system requirements for this suite are ridiculous–the suite itself needs anywhere from 128 to 192 megabytes of RAM all to itself to function. Basically, if you have a PC with 256 megs of RAM (which is what a fair number of PCs out there still have), loading this security suite on it will bring it to its knees. But if your firewall is running on a separate device, 256 megs of RAM is a comfortable amount of memory to run Windows XP or 2000 and basic applications.

Reliability is the fourth reason. Every high-speed security suite I’ve ever dealt with, be it a freebie provided by your ISP, or an off-the-shelf suite, hooks itself into winsock.dll. Three of the last four computer problems I’ve fixed have been related to this problem, and the symptoms are difficult to diagnose unless you’ve seen the problem before. Basically the computer loses any and all ability to do any networking, but when you call tech support, enough things work that tech support will probably tell you to reload your operating system. Unfortunately, the WinSockFix utility doesn’t seem to be well-known at ISPs.

If messing around with your Winsock isn’t bad enough, the security suite my former employer provided was overly paranoid about piracy. If you did any number of things, including but not limited to trying to install it on a second PC without getting a second key from the ISP, it would disable itself and not necessarily warn the user that it had left the PC unprotected. It was my job, when I was working there, to go through all of the disabled accounts by hand. It wasn’t an automated process. So if the security suite decided to go jump off a cliff sometime on Friday after I’d pulled the current report, it would be sometime on Monday before I would even be aware of the problem. Given that it usually takes about 20 minutes for some exploit to find an unprotected Windows box sitting on the Internet, that 48-72 hour window that you could be sitting unprotected is anything but ideal.

Things may have changed since I left that employer in November 2005, but if it’s my PC, I’m not willing to risk it. I’d much rather spend $20-$50 on a cable/DSL router to give myself firewall protection that I know I can just set up once and then ignore for a few years and won’t cause my PC to constantly fall behind on the upgrade treadmill.

And finally, the fifth reason to use a hardware firewall is apathy. Software firewalls tend to throw a lot of popups at the user, warning the user that this or that is trying to access the Internet, or come in, or whatever. Most users are likely to do one of two things: either allow everything or deny everything. The result is either a PC on which nothing works, or whose firewall is full of so many holes there might as well not be one. It’s much better to have a hardware firewall that just does its job. If you’re worried about unauthorized applications hitting the Internet, that’s the job of antivirus and antispyware software, not the firewall.

Give me a little time to process what I just saw…

I finally got around to seeing Supersize Me, the documentary film where the filmmaker ate three meals a day at McDonald’s for 30 days to see what would happen.I need to think more about what I saw. But here are some random thoughts that occur to me after seeing it.

The first thing that comes to mind is Rod Carew. Carew was the second-greatest hitter of his era (since I’m a Kansas City Royals fan, of course he can’t be as good as George Brett). Early in his career, Carew was slumping. He asked his hitting coach what was wrong. He happened to be eating ice cream. The coach ripped the container of ice cream from his hand, threw it in the nearest trash can, and told Carew to quit eating junk. He tried it. He quit eating junk food and quit drinking soda. He was 38 before his batting average dipped below .300 again.

I know I’ve read several times on John C. Dvorak’s blog the comment, “Someone wants us fat.”

When I worked in fast food, if we didn’t try to “suggestive sell”–that is, when someone ordered a soda, ask, “Is that a large?” or something similar, we could be reprimanded. I didn’t upsell unless the manager was in earshot. I was always in trouble. I know for a fact the reason I didn’t get fired was because they didn’t want me talking–I knew lots of things that company didn’t want getting out. (None of that matters now; the company folded in 1993.)

In the film, Morgan Spurlock visited a school of troublesome kids. The school served healthy lunches–fresh fruits and vegetables and foods that were prepared fresh, rather than out of a box. The behavior problems largely disappeared. Television and video games get a lot of the blame for the rash of ADD and ADHD. And maybe kids do watch more TV and play more video games than we did 20 years ago when I was a kid. But kids today do eat a lot less healthy than we did. We ate out a couple of times a month, generally. Kids today eat out a lot more than that, and there are a lot more convenience foods in the grocery stores now than there were then.

Spurlock experienced depression. Depression is almost an epidemic. All I have to do to get hits on my web site is write about depression. In college I became a hero when I wrote about depression in my weekly newspaper column–professors were asking me to lunch, asking me to guest-lecture classes, and students I didn’t know from Adam were stopping me and thanking me. I thought I was the only one who ever felt depressed. Turns out it was the people who didn’t ever get depressed who were weird! And every time I write about depression here, I get tons and tons of hits. People are desperate enough to solicit advice from some guy they never met who isn’t a doctor and hasn’t so much as taken a biology class since Gulf War I–me. Maybe the problem is what they eat.

But hey. There’s big, big money in depression. I did a quick Google search, and 90 tablets of the low dosage of Paxil (let’s see what ads that gets me) costs $189 in Canada. Of course, in the United States, we pay more. Assuming 90 tablets is three months’ worth, that’s $2.10 a day. I know what GlaxoSmithKline’s saying: ba-da-ba-ba-ba, I’m lovin’ it!

And of course the fast-food companies want us fat. When we’re fat, we order more. We eat larger portions more frequently. The less healthy we are, the more they benefit. And the more the drug companies benefit.

Another symptom Spurlock experienced was fatigue. That’s another common problem. And who benefits from that? Coca-Cola, Pepsico, and Starbucks, mostly. Who can function anymore without that jolt of caffeine in the morning?

I’m not saying it’s a big conspiracy. I’m not real big on conspiracies. I’m perfectly willing to believe the fast-food phenomenon happened and the companies that sell drugs and caffeine were the lucky beneficieries.

I’ll tell you something: I gave up fast food at 25, when my dad’s cousin started having serious health problems. That was a reality check for me: my closest male relative died at just over twice my age, and then when another one of my closest male relatives reached that age, it was just a lucky break that he didn’t die also. I woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, asked myself if I wanted my life to be half over, and started eating turkey sandwiches from Subway (with just veggies and mustard–hold the fatty crap) for lunch pretty much every day.

And a lot of times when things have started going wrong, I haven’t been eating as well. I know that’s true for me right now.

I’ve seen Dr. Mark Himan on TV a couple of times the past few months. The things he says make a lot of sense. My wife and I have one of his books and another one on order. I think it’s time for me to read the one we have. I’m 31 now, and sometimes I feel like I’m losing my edge. Maybe I should do what Rod Carew did, and see if I get it back.

Myspace and blogging isn’t inherently bad

I see some schools are blocking access to Myspace and other blogging tools. The blogosphere, some people seem to believe, is just a bunch of people looking to exploit teenaged girls.

Sure, blogs can be dangerous. So can cars and jobs. I think the Myspace phenomenon exposes weaknesses in upbringing more than anything else.Blogs have only been around for about 9 years so there haven’t been a lot of sociological studies of them–especially since blogging has only been hot for the last couple of years. But there are precedents.

I was very active in a lot of online communities as a teenager. Teens like me were a minority, but there were enough of us. I’m still friends with a couple of people I met online back in those days.

And I’ll tell you something straight up: I ran into a lot of women who were older than me. A lot of, um, lonely women who were older than me. A lot of them had the wrong idea about my age. One asked me where I went to college. But you see, I hadn’t gone yet, because I was only 14.

And in case you’re wondering, it didn’t go any further than that. I’d been taught right from wrong, and I carried myself that way, both online and in person, so the topic never came up.

There were other dark sides of this online world. Software piracy was usually the gateway. And yeah, I’ll admit I downloaded some software that I didn’t pay for. Mostly I stuck to things that were no longer commercially available. And without Amazon.com and Ebay, it was difficult to buy out-of-print stuff. So I wouldn’t have been able to buy the majority of it even if I’d wanted to. That didn’t make it legal, but to my teenaged mind, it sounded moral enough.

Of course most people were interested in the new stuff. And that could lead down a slippery slope. St. Louis wasn’t exactly a hotbed for the latest new releases, so to get the zero-day warez, you had to call long distance. But remember, most of us weren’t 16 yet, so we didn’t have jobs and we didn’t have a lot of money. So I knew an awful lot of people who got into phone fraud. And it often got worse from there. Phone fraud led to credit card fraud, and I heard stories of people who got caught, slapped with the huge bills they’d run up, and turned to dealing drugs to make the money to pay it back.

All so they could be the first one in St. Louis to have the Commodore 64 version of Grover’s Magic Numbers. Yes, there were people who risked all of that to have something that lame-sounding. And no, it didn’t sound any cooler then, but people did it.

I talked with a number of people who were caught up in that. There was a guy in Chicago who called me on a pretty regular basis for a little while. No, he didn’t dial 1-314, if you know what I mean. One day he quit calling, and not long after that, I heard the Feds caught up with him. There was a rumor that he ran away to Colorado after he got out of juvenile detention. Whatever the case, I never heard from him again.

But I never made any fraudulent long-distance calls. I had a 3.6 grade-point average, was in National Honors Society, and I was in Who’s Who Among American High School Students all four years. And I sold my first magazine article before I got my driver’s license. I wasn’t going to throw all that away just so I could make long-distance phone calls on someone else’s dime.

So why was I having anything to do with those people? Simple. We talked programming. Nothing I learned from those guys is remotely useful to me today, but it was interesting then. Sure, those guys made a lot of mistakes, and yeah, they sure did break a lot of laws, but they weren’t entirely bad.

I’m sure if my parents had known everything that was going on, they’d have gotten rid of the modem or at least severely limited what I could do with it. But they couldn’t stand over my shoulder all the time.

And besides, there wasn’t any need to worry. They’d taught me right from wrong, and what I had to lose if I stepped too far out of bounds. Sure I pushed the limits, but that’s being a teenager for you. Come to think of it, I still push the limits sometimes now, even at 31.

The primitive online communities that existed in the late 1980s and early 1990s were social communities. The only difference between that and the mall was distance. The computer took away the geographical boundaries. In that regard they’re the same as Myspace and other online communities today.

There’s potential for problems today, just like there was 17 years ago. But looking back now, there’s no question why I went online back then. It helped me deal with being a teenager. I could talk with other teenagers who were like me–there were only one or two others like me at my school, and one of them was a major-league jerk. And I could get advice from adults who were further removed from the situation and could give me advice without conflicts of interest. Whether the struggle of the day involved a soldering iron or a girl, I knew at least one person who knew the answer.

I can think of lots of things I’d change if I could go back, but that isn’t among them. So I don’t believe isolating kids today from online communities solves anything. Kids will be kids. Hopefully they know right from wrong and what they can lose if they choose wrong.

Blocking those who would choose wrong doesn’t solve a lot. They’ll find another way to choose wrong.

Denying an important resource to those who would choose right is a greater loss. It’s much easier to find another way to choose wrong than it is to find another way to get wise counsel.

It’s hard to know what to make of Jose Canseco’s steroid allegations

I remember back when the words "Jose Canseco money" meant something, even among people who weren’t really all that interested in baseball.

You see, Jose Canseco was a huge name. He hit long home runs in large quantities, and people paid him huge amounts of money to do it. For a time, he was the most popular and highest-paid player in the game.

Today, the money’s gone and he can’t get a job, and reading about his tell-all book is pretty sad.Terry Steinbach, a former teammate of Canseco, summed it up pretty well. Canseco worked pretty hard his first couple of years, and he actually got better during those first few years in Oakland. He worked on improving his outfield defense and got promoted from left field to right field. He worked on improving his speed and became the first man to ever hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in the same season.

But something happened. Steinbach says he stopped taking extra outfield practice, and it showed. The player who once was lauded for his defense became a full-time designated hitter. In one notorious incident after the Athletics had traded him to the Texas Rangers, a catchable fly ball bounced off Canseco’s head and into the stands, turning a long flyout into a home run.

And if you look at Canseco’s numbers, it’s almost like you can tell what years he was trying. Take 1998 for instance. That year, he stole 28 bases. But he stole 8 bases the year before and 3 bases the year after. He was out of baseball after 2001. He made some comeback attempts but to no avail. He complained about a conspiracy. Conspiracy? By 2001, he was good for a .250 batting average and 15 home runs per year. Why should anyone break out the Jose Canseco money a guy who can’t field and who puts up Steve Balboni-esque numbers at the plate?

So I think part of it is jealousy. Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro came up about the same time Canseco did, and they played longer and put up better numbers. Both seem destined for the Hall of Fame. It’s hard to believe now that in 1987, Canseco was by far the most complete player of the trio. But both McGwire and Palmeiro worked on improving their defense, and Palmeiro worked on improving his power numbers and McGwire worked on his contact.

Meanwhile, Canseco was plagued by legal troubles. Speeding tickets (like 120 in a 55), allegations of spousal abuse, financial troubles… Seems he may have learned a thing or two from Pete Rose.

So, he’s likely a bit short on good character references.

But who better to recognize steroid users than another steroid user? And while much has been made of Barry Bonds’ transformation from a lanky guy into something that resembles a professional wrestler, a look at Mark McGwire’s 1987 Topps rookie card shows he made a similar transformation in the years between his 49-homer rookie season and his 70-homer binge. Was it just the andro?

It’s been said so many times that it’s cliche that taking steroids won’t help you keep up with Randy Johnson’s fastball and it certainly won’t make you able to hit a curveball. Whether you’re juiced or not, it’s a lot of work to stay in the big leagues. That’s why Canseco played his last game at age 37 while Julio Franco is still in the big leagues at age 45.

But the steroids will change long fly balls into homers. They may turn a hooking foul ball into a fair ball, or a broken-bat grounder to short into a broken-bat single.

And while the conspiracy that Canseco alleges may very well not exist, there’s no question that owners and the players’ union like the effects that steroids have. Fans like home runs, so more home runs means more fans, which means more money in the owners’ coffers. And the players’ union loves home runs, because nothing drives a player’s salary more than his ability to hit a long one. Ozzie Smith may have saved two runs a game with his glove, but he never made as much money as the guys who averaged a homer every 3-4 games.

Like it or not, regardless of how much truth there is in Canseco’s book, there’s a problem in baseball, and Canseco’s loud mouth is only a symptom. The bigger problem is that a drug that’s illegal for you and me to use is getting used by these professional athletes. The risk to their health is enormous, but worse yet, these men are idolized by millions of boys. Most of them are anything but good role models for children anyway, even without the steroids, but the steroids make it even worse.

In 1983, the Kansas City Royals realized they had a problem. A good half-dozen of their players had massive cocaine habits, including nearly every core player aside from George Brett. One by one, the Royals traded or released every last one of those players except for leadoff hitter Willie Wilson, who spent the first couple of months of the 1984 season in rehab. The Royals knew they were decimating their team–which had finished second the year before, and the same basic team had been in place since 1976 and been a contender every year–but they did it anyway. Surprisingly, the team of castoffs and rookies did well that year, winning its division.

Will any team have the guts today to purge itself of its steroid abusers?

I doubt it. But I guess I can hope.

Cheap hardware won’t stop software piracy

Who’s to blame for rampant software piracy? According to Steve Ballmer, AMD and Intel. Oh, and Dell. Charge less for the computer, and there’ll be more money to pay for Windows and Office.

Steve Ballmer doesn’t know his history.

Read more

MyDoom/Novarg Gloom

Just in case anybody is curious, my employer’s virus scanners filtered roughly 3,000 copies of Novarg (a.k.a. My Doom) during working hours yesteray. If that’s not a record for us, it approaches it. I know we weren’t the only one.I’ve heard Novarg/MyDoom/My Doom called the fastest spreading virus yet. I don’t have statistics on prior viruses with me, but suffice it to say, its impact certainly felt similar to the big names from the past.

Although SCO would like people to believe it was written by a Linux zealot, I’m more inclined to believe it was created by organized crime. Maybe the creators hate SCO, or maybe the anti-SCO DDoS was just an added touch to throw investigators off.

LoveLetter was the first virus outbreak to really have much impact on my professional career, and I noticed something about it. Prior to LoveLetter, I never, ever got spam at work. Not once. After LoveLetter, I started getting lots of it. I don’t believe LoveLetter’s intent was to gather e-mail addresses for spammers, but I do believe that more than one spammer, probably independently, noticed that viruses were a very efficient way to gather a large number of e-mail addresses.

I got spam before LoveLetter, and I saw viruses before LoveLetter. But I started seeing a lot more of both very soon after LoveLetter.

I don’t buy any giant conspiracy to sell anti-virus software, nor do I buy any giant conspiracy against SCO. I do believe in bored people with nothing better to do than to write viruses, and I also believe in people who can profit off their side effects.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. If you run Windows, you must run anti-virus software. You can download Grisoft AVG anti-virus software for free. Don’t open unexpected e-mail attachments, even from people you know. Even if it looks safe. Don’t send unexpected e-mail attachments either–you don’t want anyone to get the idea that’s normal. Quite frankly, in this day and age, there’s no reason to open any piece of e-mail that looks suspicious for any reason. I told someone yesterday that this is war. And I think that’s pretty accurate.

If you’re an intrepid pioneer, there’s something else you can do too, in order to be part of the solution. If you join the Linux revolution, you can pretty much consider that computer immune. Macintoshes are slightly less immune, but certainly much less vulnerable than Windows. Amiga… Well, I haven’t seen the words “Amiga” and “virus” in the same sentence since 1991 or 1992. But one thing is certain: a less homogenous field is less susceptible to things like this.

When will we learn to ignore Pete Rose?

I’d really rather not acknowledge that Pete Rose is in the news again. I love baseball, and Pete Rose did a lot to hurt it, and talking about him doesn’t do much to help it.
I’d much rather talk about how the Royals just signed Juan Gonzalez and he’s a huge upgrade over anything the Royals have ever had in the lineup to protect Mike Sweeney. With Beltran, Sween and Gonzo in the lineup, this looks like it’s going to be a good year.

For that matter, I’d rather talk about Tug McGraw, one of the great characters of the game and probably the first of the great colorful relief pitchers, who died this week of brain cancer, much too young at 59.

But Rose’s half-hearted confession will appear tomorrow, so nobody’s going to be talking about any of that. It doesn’t change anything. Some people would argue that Rose’s never betting against the Cincinnati Reds somehow excuses his gambling, and his betting on his own team, while the manager of the Cincinnati Reds. It does not.

Contrary to what one might think, a good manager does not set out to win every game. You can’t. You have to pick your battles. You might rest your star players when you’re playing a team like the Detroit Tigers because chances are you could beat that team with your 92-year-old grandparents in the lineup. Or you might play your star players against Detroit, in order to ensure victory, and rest your stars when playing a strong team you’re not likely to beat, such as the New York Yankees or Seattle Mariners.

The reason is pretty simple. The season is 162 games long, and not everybody is Cal Ripken Jr. Play everybody every day, and your team will break down. Witness the Oakland Athletics of the early 1980s. Fiery manager Billy Martin came in, and in 1981, it looked like he’d succeeded in turning that young team into another dynasty. He had young, energetic players, and he played them hard. In fact, he played them too hard. Within a year, all of his talented young pitchers had sore arms and while most of them stayed in the majors for a few more years, none of them ever lived up to their initial promise. For that matter, outside of Rickey Henderson, none of the 1981 Athletics’ everyday players had particularly and distinguished careers either.

It’s in the best interests of a Pete Rose who’s not betting on baseball to manage his team wisely by resting his star players when they look tired, pulling his starting pitcher after he’s thrown about 110 pitches, and using opportune times to give his inexperienced young players some playing time. Betting on your own team changes the equation. Suddenly meaningless games become must-win games. You leave your 20-game winner in the game longer because winning that bet becomes more important to you than the risk of hurting his arm. You take other unnecessary risks.

Rose tries to justify his actions by saying he never bet from inside the clubhouse. Well whoop-dee-do. I’m sure he never beat his wife or cheated on her in church either. That doesn’t make those action OK either. When asked why Rose bet on baseball, he said it was because he thought he wouldn’t get caught. There’s a long list of illegal things that I could do and not get caught, but that doesn’t make any of them right either.

It’s like a little kid, caught in the act of bullying, forced to tell the other kid he’s sorry. So he lets off the words, insincerely, and does the minimum, and spends the rest of his time trying to justify his wrongdoing.

Now Rose says he’s confessed and he wants reinstatement, and induction into the Hall of Fame.

Some people argue that Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame because he hit the ball between the opposing fielders 4,256 times. Fine. Let’s look at what constitutes a Hall of Famer.

Hall of Fame rules state that induction is dependent upon “the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

One at a time: Record. Rose has more hits than anybody else, partially by virtue of having more at-bats. But his statistics, while not as great as his fans remember, are better than some people who are in the Hall of Fame.

Ability. His playing ability is probably adequate. But Rose was a one-dimensional player. He wasn’t a particularly good fielder, he hit for very little power, and he was at best an average baserunner. Andre Dawson, Jim Rice, and Ryne Sandberg, three players on this year’s ballot who are unlikely to make it in, all had far more ability than Rose. Pete Rose was Wade Boggs with a character disorder.

Integrity. Besides betting on baseball, Rose served prison time for cheating on his taxes. He beat his wife and cheated on her. Pete Rose isn’t the kind of guy you want hanging around your daughter, if you catch my drift, nor is he the kind of guy you want your son to model his life after. Pete Rose ain’t no Roberto Clemente.

There are lots of unsavory characters in the Hall of Fame, yes. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and even Joe DiMaggio all have skeletons in their closets. But last I checked, none of them ever stooped as low as Rose, and they also had Rose beat in the other categories.

Sportsmanship. In the 12th inning of the 1970 All Star Game, Pete Rose plowed over American League catcher Ray Fosse, dislocating his shoulder and destroying his career. It was a game that didn’t even count. Fosse, who had drawn comparisons to Johnny Bench, was never the same.

Character. See integrity.

Contributions. To Rose’s credit, he moved around a bit on the field to make room for other players. The Reds had a young power-hiting outfielder named George Foster sitting on the bench. Rose was playing the outfield. The Reds’ weakest position was third base. At the request of his manager, Rose learned how to play third base, which opened the door for Foster to get into the lineup, giving additional protection for Johnny Bench and Tony Perez. In 1980, Rose signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, who had a Hall of Famer named Mike Schmidt playing third, so Rose moved across the diamond to first. Philadelphia was a better team with Rose than without.

Late in his career, this changed. An aging Rose became a part-time player in Montreal. When Cincinnati traded for him and made him player-manager, Rose made himself a regular again, at the expense of playing time for younger players like Nick Esasky and Eddie Milner, and Hall of Famer Tony Perez. Esasky, who usually would have played first base, instead played left field, where he wasn’t as good defensively. Milner was a better defensive player, had good speed, and was at least as good at getting on base at that point as Rose. The Reds had a better lineup with Esasky at first base and Milner in left field, possibly in a platoon situation. People were more likely to buy a ticket to see Rose play than Eddie Milner, but the Reds were a better team with Rose on the bench.

Milner was never much more than a fourth outfielder. Esasky fared better, putting together a couple of really good years after the Reds traded him to Boston, before an injury ended his career.

Playing ability tends to get judged higher than all the rest, so I’ll grudgingly admit that if Rose were eligible, he’d probably get elected.

So what’s one to do?

Here’s my Solomon-like solution. Rose has been banned for life. What’s banned for life mean? He’s banned until he dies. So reinstate him after he dies. Then the Veteran’s Committee can evaluate him on his merits.

But there’s no precedent for reinstating a player banned for life.

Fine. Make one.

Shoeless Joe Jackson by his own admission took money to throw the 1919 World Series. He was one of the eight Black Sox who so accused. There’s also some indication that Jackson, unlike some of his teammates, played to win anyway, because he put up good numbers in the series, although his detractors point out that in the games the White Sox lost, Jackson never drove in any runs. Of course, it’s harder to drive in runs when there aren’t people on base.

Jackson may not have known what it was he was agreeing to do. Jackson was uneducated, and, by some accounts, not terribly bright. Even dumber than Pete Rose.

After the series, Shoeless Joe, like six other players who took money from gamblers and like one player who knew what was going on but didn’t participate, was banned from baseball for life. Thus the owner of the third-highest lifetime batting average in history, and the youngest player ever to hit .400, was denied his otherwise certain entry into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Joe Jackson has been dead for 52 years. Baseball still has never seen fit to put him into the Hall of Fame. Baseball has never seen fit to clear the name of Buck Weaver, the teammate who found out about the conspiracy but didn’t report it.

So reinstate Jackson and Weaver. For that matter, reinstate the other six guys as well. Let the Veterans Committee evaluate them for Hall of Fame entry. Then, when Rose dies, they can do the same for him.

Meanwhile, the best thing to do is just ignore the jerk.

Pete Rose, that is.

It’s time for a more holistic approach to depression

Standard disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or a psychologist. I’m a systems administrator by trade and a journalist by training. I write this as a survivor of depression, not as an expert on its treatment. Combined with the experiences of others, I think it’s worth listening to. But it’s no substitute for seeing a specialist.
Earlier this week, after I mentioned my experiences with depression in passing, my mom e-mailed me and asked me a few questions. Thought-provoking questions. Then Dan pointed me to another person’s experience with depression.

It’s been my experience that some people just seem to have a natural tendency towards depression. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Some people are moodier than others, and that moodiness can be exceedingly difficult to be around sometimes, but there’s also a gigantic upside to it. Think of the most creative people you know. I’ll bet most of them are also pretty moody. That’s one factor.

While a student at Mizzou in late 1994 or early 1995, I had a conversation with a girl about depression. I knew she’d struggled with it, and I was curious. We had a long talk one day about it. Initially, in the back of my mind, I thought I’d interview a couple of other people who’d battled it, then interview an expert or three, and write a story about it. It was during that first talk that I learned that depression was sometimes caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. (Interestingly, I don’t remember my lone college psychology class–that’s science of behavior to Dr. Dave McDonald and his students–talking much about depression. Or maybe we did and I just forgot it.)

Over the years I met a lot of people who were put on Prozac or Paxil or any number of other drugs intended to treat a chemical imbalance in the brain. In most cases they didn’t get the dosage right initially. In those cases the adjustment was difficult. In one case, a good friend of mine had been on it in the past and it helped, then he started to feel himself relapse. He called me one day and told me he was going back on treatment. A few months later, I started to hear stories. Stories that were very out of character. My friend, a gentle giant type if there ever was one, was supposedly very detached from reality and sometimes even dangerously violent. His dosage was wrong and it was destroying him. One night he called me, distraught. He was on the brink of losing everything, and it didn’t seem like anyone understood.

I was mad that the stories of his behavior had become public knowledge. I was also a little irritated with him that when his family and friends suggested there was a problem, that he didn’t go back to see his doctor until it reached crisis stage. But I was livid about how the people around him handled the situation. When there’s a problem with your Paxil dosage, it’s a matter between you and your doctor, and you have to be patient about it and so do the people around you. There is no way to measure brain chemistry and figure out exactly the amount of Paxil you need to get the dosage right. (This was news to him and to his family, and when one of his friends, who happens to hold a PhD in psychology, got involved but didn’t mention this, I was more than livid when I found out about it. If I’d known how to call him on the carpet about it, I would have.)

I haven’t been very good about getting to my point here. There’s a lot of guesswork when you get drugs involved. They don’t necessarily kick in right away. Sometimes they kick in too hard. Sometimes they have undesirable side effects. I mentioned the possible psychotic side effects, but they can also increase your sex drive to an uncontrollable level, and they can lead to very excessive weight gain. Those television commercials showing people playing outside on a sunny spring day while extoling the virtues of those drugs don’t mention anything about their dark side. Since brain chemistry isn’t measurable, you’re playing a guesswork game. Hopefully it’s an educated game of guesswork, but unless you manage to get a referral to a psychiatrist, it may not be.

The late, controversial Dr. Atkins took a different approach to treating chemical imbalances. Where do your brain chemicals come from? Your body makes them. What does your body make them from? The nutrients you take in. What happens when your body doesn’t take in the nutrients it needs to make the necessary brain chemicals? Chemical imbalances that lead to depression. What happens when you change your diet and/or start taking supplements that provide those chemicals?

Atkins said, “no more depression,” then moved on to his next topic.

I think there’s something to that. When carpal tunnel syndrome threatened to destroy both of my careers, one of my readers pointed me to Atkins’ vitamin book. I started taking, among other things, Flax Seed Oil or Fish Oil (buy whichever is on sale; chemically, they offer the same benefit) and Vitamin B6 and B complex. I was surprised at the effect they had on my mood. But that combination promotes a generally healthy nervous system. Vitamin B1, Atkins said, is especially effective in treating depression. The B vitamins work best in the presence of each other, so a trip to the local discount store for a bottle of Vitamin B1 and B complex could make a world of difference.

Battling depression via nutrition is imprecise, but the nice thing about that is that you’re not messing directly with brain chemistry. You’re providing your body with the raw materials to make what it needs. Your body knows how to dispose of excess B1. What’s it supposed to do with excess Paxil?

The best thing you can do for your mental health may very well be to visit a nutritionist. Get a copy of
Dr. Atkins’ Vita-Nutrient Solution
, make yourself a shopping list, get a nutritionist’s opinion, then buy. And avoid processed, commercial food if at all possible. I know my moods are much more consistent when I buy fresh fruits and vegetables and actually cook than when I eat tons of fast food or buy heat-up instant meals from the grocery store. Highly processed foods lose most of their nutritional value. They hurt your mood, they hurt your waistline, they hurt your energy level, they rot your teeth, and who knows what else. And when you’re not happy about how you look and you don’t have a lot of energy, and your teeth are falling apart, none of that helps your mood. Nice vicious cycle, eh?

You hear a lot more now about depression than you did in the 1970s and early 1980s. But there were a fraction of the number of fast-food restaurants and grocery stores were much smaller because they were catering to people who cook, whereas today grocery stores seem to cater to people who heat stuff up because everybody’s too busy to cook. I’m thoroughly convinced that these factors are related.

And cooking isn’t as hard as people make it out to be. I can stir up some mean dishes in about half an hour. Trust me, if I can learn how to cook, anyone can. I’m impatient and clumsy and accident-prone. But I’ve still learned how to cook well enough to impress a girl. Not counting my mother and sister, but I’ve impressed them too.

Remember that most doctors have no special training in nutrition. A lot of people are distressed to hear that and think it’s a conspiracy. It’s not. Medicine and nutrition are related, but they’re too complex for most people to be good at both. Asking your regular doctor to be a nutritionist is like asking him or her to be proficient at surgery. He or she is certainly capable of understanding it, but there are so many things a doctor would like to understand, and there are only 24 hours in a day to learn it all.

I believe that counselling and self-help are overrated, but both helped me to a limited degree. I found
I Ain’t Much Baby, But I’m All I’ve Got
by self-help pioneer Jess Lair to be helpful. It’s sadly out of print but widely available used. The biggest gem out of Lair’s book is a question: Do you have five friends? Lair said that if you have more than that, your friendships aren’t very deep. If you have fewer than that, you’re putting too much burden on them. With an inner circle of five or so, the burden seems to be about right.

But when that’s not enough, counselling helps. The problem with counselling is that sometimes people rely too much on it, or solely on it. Often people have issues they need help resolving. Sometimes that means just listening and offering a few suggestions and sometimes it means re-enacting traumatic experiences in order to finish up some unfinished business. It’s work. But it can be helpful, if you’re willing to do the work. But depression is a complex, multifaceted problem, so a one-pronged attack won’t be very effective. Remember the basic difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist: Psychologists can’t prescribe medicine, and psychiatrists don’t do a whole lot of counseling. Both are aware of the work of the other, and an honest practitioner of either profession ought to know the limits and know when you need the other. But you may have to ask when it’s time to see the other. Human beings tend to get overconfident in the abilities of the tools they have.

Finally, there’s a spiritual aspect. Virtually everything I’ve ever read says you should believe in something. If you’ve ever had any exposure to Christianity, read the books of Luke and John (they’re not terribly long–read a chapter a day and you’ll be through both of them in two months) in a modern, readable translation. You can read them for free at bible.crosswalk.com. For readability, I recommend the New Living Translation. It plays really fast and loose with the translation sometimes, but the point isn’t to make you a Bible scholar–it’s to present the words of Jesus in understandable fashion. Or you can read an out-of-print modern blending of the four Gospels by Charles Templeton titled simply Jesus, online, for free.

Last night I told someone it’s healthier to be an atheist than it is to be in a cult, but it’s healthier to believe in something than nothing. I’m a Christian and make no bones about it. If you’re a not a Christian and you believe something else and you’re struggling with depression, then my advice to you if you’re not really practicing is to get serious. And if you find it’s not helping you, try Christianity.

No single thing will conquer depression for you. But the combination of diet and nutrition, counseling, and spirituality can be potent. Pills are a brute-force approach, and after watching my friend’s bad experience, frankly I believe they ought to be the thing you go to when the other things don’t work, not the thing you go to before trying the others. I know they work because I’ve seen them work, but if anything, the other things can make them more effective, and if you can get by without pumping man-made chemicals into your system, that’s a very good thing, and I don’t think anyone will disagree with that.

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