Religious Issues

Thanksgiving is at its core a religious holiday. Since I grew up in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, it is also a deeply held tradition in my family, even for family members whose beliefs differ greatly from my own. This has led me to ruminate heavily on the nature of religious differences in general, and Massachusetts religion in particular.
pilgrim-soxComputer geeks have a somewhat different perspective on “religion” than other people, I suspect.  For me, a topic is “religious” if involves a deeply held belief on which rational, well-meaning people may disagree.  This doesn’t imply that everyone is “correct” in their beliefs (which would be a logical contradiction), but instead a difference of emotional responses cause us to disagree.

Consider, for example, the choice of a UNIX line editor.  I use vi (actually vim, since I’m on Linux most of the time these days).  Many people, especially those who went to MIT, favor Emacs or one of its many variants.  I could give any number of reasons why I fell vi is the better choice:

  • Emacs has an embedded LISP interpreter in it.  I despise LISP.
  • Emacs is big, and uses more resources than vi.  I like my software lean.
  • Emacs tries to do everything, but vi is an editor and nothing more.  I prefer single-purpose apps.
  • Older Unix systems had vi built-in, so I didn’t have to load additional programs before I could use it.

The truth of the matter, though, is that I learned vi in an age when Sun and IBM were still battling over where to put the Control key on their keyboards, but the Escape key was reliably located in the top-left corner on all computer systems.[1] Working in Emacs was uncomfortable to me, so I never got past the fundamentals (and have forgotten most of those).  I have friends who are dedicated emacs users, and I think they’re wrong, but I don’t tell them they can’t use it.

As a resident of upstate New York, I also list “major league baseball” as a religious issues.  I have many friends who are Yankee fans.  Unlike far too many fans in Boston or New York City proper, none of us has verbally (or physically) abused a member of the other fandom.   Regarding all things Sox and Yankees, I hold the same line as I do for the captain himself, Derek Jeter.

Jeter will someday join the Hall of Fame, and deservedly so, but not for his prowess at shortstop.  His many Golden Glove awards are a function of his presence in the biggest media market in the world, and the affection millions of New York fans hold for him.  If you call Jeter a great defensive ballplayer, I will say that you are wrong.  I will also uphold your right to hold that opinion, if you think that “good hands” is more important than “gets to the ball”.

The vast majority of the Turner clan are Unitarian, and do not believe that Jesus Christ is God.  This has caused some conflict at Thanksgiving dinners past, when I chose to pray the way I do, in Jesus’ name. My earthly father, though himself a Unitarian, supports my right to pray the way I do, because it’s what I believe.  He understands that I can state my case, and he can his, and neither one of us can browbeat the other to conform.

He understands that it’s a religious issue.

[1] Digital Equipment Corp didn’t put an Escape key on their VT terminals, but there was a configuration setting that allowed you to make the backquote key transmit that character.  Since I touch type, that was sufficient.


.008 is my .344


I grew up in the painful 70’s, a time when baseball greats Yastrzemski, Rice, Lynn, and Evans, Luis Tiant and “Spaceman” Bill Lee gave their all every season and broke my heart each September. I am no jock by any stretch of the imagination, but of all sports, I still love baseball.

Not the inconsistent way my wife loves baseball, when the ball is flying out of the park and the runs are coming in (chicks dig the long ball, they say). I can get excited about a pitcher’s duel or a close play at first base. Even the verdant glow of an empty park can have a magical feeling to it.
Fenway Park, 2006You might be surprised, then, to know that for my entire childhood, baseball did not love me back. (Then again, maybe not; I am a Red Sox fan, after all). Like most boys in my home town, I was involved in the West Bridgewater little league. Unlike most boys, I stank to high heaven for three solid years. Looking at the WBYAA web page, I can’t even find a mention of boys’ baseball beyond the T-ball age group, but back in the day, it was a big deal. I just couldn’t do it, though, and with my father heavily involved in the program, I couldn’t back out, either.

Looking back, I think part of my failing was visual — I didn’t get my first pair of glasses until I was much older, and I probably needed them. Being left handed didn’t help much, either — young pitchers habitually went inside on me, and in a typical season I might be hit by a pitch three or four different games. The true root cause, however, is probably a simple lack of talent:  I am a zero-tool player.

I’ve done the math, and based on the number of games in which I think I played, I probably have an on-base percentage of .032, the vast majority of which was due to my high HBP rating. In all my years of little league, I have one hit. One.

Gerry Remy once speculated that he can remember every major league home run he has ever hit because there are so few of them to remember. I feel the same way about my little league career. It was a high pitch, out of the strike zone, and I took a wild hack at it. Somehow, my bat connected, and the ball flew into right field. It may have been a double– my shock at having actually hit the ball has erased everything for me beyond that memory of the way that ball flew over the first baseman’s head. Based on that hit, I have calculated my lifetime batting average as .008, which has got to be some kind of YAA record.

In Ken Burn’s Documentary Baseball, Billy Crystal recalls telling the late great Ted Williams he had once seen him strike out. Williams, who has a .344 lifetime batting average, thought for a moment, then nodded. “Curveball,” he said. “Low and away.” Remy remembered his home runs. Williams remembered his strikeouts. I remember my hits.