JOLABOKAFLOD. Annalisa called my attention to “jolabokaflod”, which translates roughly from Icelandic into English as “Christmas book flood”. This post on the jolabokaflod website gives the history: “Every year since 1944 [the year that Iceland obtained its freedom from Denmark], the Icelandic book trade has published a catalogue – called Bókatíðindi (‘Book Bulletin’, in English) – that is sent to every household in the country in mid-November during the Reykjavik Book Fair. People use the catalogue to order books to give friends and family for Christmas….gifts are opened on 24 December and, by tradition, everyone reads the books they have been given straight away.”

Because of all the books that we exchange at Christmas, Annalisa asked: “Are we sure our blood is not Icelandic at all?” But Mary Jane pointed out that we don’t do the second part of jalabokaflod. We don’t read our new books straight away.

Perhaps this year.

Nick commented: “Amazing–also love the name Bifrost University.”

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TRIVIA QUESTION ABOUT AN OLD MOVIE. A book review in the Wall Street Journal (July 8-9) cited two posters for a 1940 movie.


The second shout line for this movie was: “Bachelors beware! Five Gorgeous Beauties are on a Madcap Manhunt.”

It’s a tough question. Mary Jane couldn’t get it.

Answer next week.

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THE GOOSE STORY. The goose story is a family story that I have not yet told. It was a favorite of of Mary Jane’s mother’s mother, who was born in a village in Italy. She never learned English so I am recording a story that Mary Jane has translated. The story was retold a number of times to ladies assembled in Mary Jane’s grandmother’s kitchen.

A man is walking by a movie theater with his pet goose when he sees that the theater is playing a movie he has always wanted to see. It’s the last showing. So, he tries to buy a ticket.
But the ticket-seller won’t let him take his goose in. He goes into an alley and stuffs the goose into his pants.
Then he goes back, and buys his ticket. He finds a seat in the theater next to two older ladies. Once he’s been sitting for a while, though, the
goose gets very hot and restless. So, to make the goose more comfortable, he unzips his fly and pulls the goose’s head and neck out.

The lady beside him becomes agitated and says to her friend: “Gert, the man next to me, he’s opened his fly.” Gert replies: “Gen, you’ve been married for
forty years. Don’t tell me he’s got something you’ve never seen before.”


“No, but it’s eating my popcorn.”

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PEDLARS AND HOLY CARDS—A REMINISCENCE. I asked Mary Jane to write up her memories of corsets and holy cards, and here is what she sent me:

“I have a childhood memory of the lady who used to go from client to client, from house to
house, like a peddler, in the Italian neighborhood where my maternal Grandmother lived, to measure these enormous Italian women for their corsets,
that held them together and made them look, when dressed, like upholstered chairs. I can remember my enormous Grandmother,
standing in the middle of her small parlor in just her bloomers and her men’s sleeveless tee shirt, with her enormous breasts handing
loose under it. The corset lady would measure her and have her turn around slowly to make sure that the new corset would be
perfectly tailored to her body from every angle. My grandmother would hold her arms straight out to the side and slowly turn. It was amazing.
Anyway, this corset woman would also dispense, free of charge, holy cards. This is all background to what I’m about to say.

So, I’m reading this book called “Celestine” by Gillian Tindall. It’s a work of historical/sociological reconstruction of the life of the
main character who was a young girl around 1845 in a small town in the deep countryside of France, where everything modern came
rather late and very slowly. Well, a lot of the book is social background. And when she got to the part about the peddlers carrying around and
dispensing holy cards, I gasped. I saw this tradition at work in Syracuse, NY, in the 1950’s!!!”


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PEDLARS AND HOLY CARDS. One passage from CELESTINE which Mary Jane read aloud to me involved holy cards. Mary Jane has always characterized the small area of Syracuse where she grew up as like a village in Italy which had been transplanted to New York state. Her grandmother’s friends came from places near the same village. Her grandmother and a number of her friends never learned English. One of the seasonal visitors to these ladies was a lady who took measurements and made corsets for these enormous ladies. The passage Mary Jane read in CELESTINE began: “Reading matter and religious pictures were also staples of the early-nineteenth century pedlar’s trade, along with religious medals and chaplets.” The corset lady distributed religious cards. After reading the passage to me Mary Jane showed me some holy cards that she had kept from when she was a little girl.

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THE HISTORY OF PEDLARS—CELESTINE. Mary Jane is reading CELESTINE, a favorite book of mine, which I posted about here. CELESTINE is a reconstruction by Gillian Tindall of French rural life in the 19th century. Tindall came into possession of letters of proposal saved by Celestine, a young woman in rural France in the nineteenth century, and tried to trace the history behind the letters. Tindall points out that Celestine was noteworthy because she was the daughter of an innkeeper, and therefore encountered many more men (and more letters of proposal) than the typical village girl. That was one of the things that struck me most me in the book—the fact that a young person in a small village might have very few opportunities to marry.

Mary Jane loves the book. She read to me some passages about pedlars (or “peddlers”), which I had also liked. Tindall says (at page 61): “The progression from itinerant pack man to shopkeeper typifies what was then happening for the first time all over rural France”. Pedlars went back hundreds of years—men following foot paths through the woods, with packs on their backs containing items like thread, needles, pins, scissors, knives, soap and pencils.

One of the big changes in transportation during this period was that footpaths were widened into tracks for carts, creating competition for pedlars. Shops multiplied in towns, and wholesalers came into existence selling to the shops.

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SOME OF THE RANKINGS FOR WINS ABOVE REPLACEMENT FOR GENERALS. First place in the WAR rankings for generals goes to Napoleon with a WAR of 16.679. Julius Caesar comes in second with a WAR of 7.445. Arsht points out that the sheer number of battles is a big factor in the final rankings. Napoleon fought much the largest number of battles with 43; Robert E Lee was second with 27. Alexander the Great won all 9 of his battles, but he died young. Alexander’s WAR of 4.391 still placed him 10th on the all time list.

Robert E Lee had a negative WAR of minus 1.89. Lee’s negative WAR implies that an average general would have had more success than Lee.

Arsht acknowledges in his replies to comments that his study only reflects tactical skill and not strategic ability so that Napoleon is not penalized for his failed Russian campaign, and George Washington gets no credit for his successful multi-year strategy.

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MONEYBALL COMES TO RANKING GENERALS. Ethan Arsht has used sabermetric methods from baseball to rank almost every general in history. His article is here on the Towards Data Science site (link via Tyler Cowen at the Marginal Revolution site). Specifically he has calculated a “Wins Above Replacement” (WAR) statistic for each of 6619 generals who held command in 3,580 battles listed by wikipedia. Arsht’s WAR statistic compares each general’s results with what an average (replacement level) general would have achieved.

Arsht uses the Battle of Borodino to illustrate the method: “Since French troops slightly outnumbered the forces of Russian Empire, the model gives a replacement general in Napoleon’s position a 51% chance of victory. The WAR system assigns Napoleon 1 win for his victory, but subtracts the chance a replacement general would have won anyway. Thus, Napoleon gains .49 wins above replacement.”

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WHAT WOULD ROBOT UMPIRES SOUND LIKE? Buster Olney in this article on the ESPN website said that there are a lot of baseball people who think that a robot strike zone is inevitable. He agrees with them and thinks that it could happen sooner than people think.

Olney asked how the robot umpire’s ball or strike call would be announced to players and fans. He reported on one proposal: “Strike and strikeout music for the home pitchers, activated automatically by the strike zone electronics.”

In other words: “walk-off music for pitchers.”

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HOW DO FANS FEEL ABOUT ROBOT UMPIRES CALLING BALLS AND STRIKES? Baseball America in its issue for December 8-22 reported on the results of a telephone survey in October of 715 adults, of whom about one third were baseball fans. One of the questions in the survey asked for opinions about robot umpires calling balls and strikes. About 75% of the fans were in favor of human umpires; about 10% would rather have robots.

I am in favor of the robots, and I think that the change will come rather quickly because the pitch fX camera shows too many mistakes by human umpires.

However, I do have one doubt. This wikipedia article says that each side of home plate is 8.5 inches long. A lot happens in those 8.5 inches (think of a curve ball breaking across the back of the plate or a curve ball breaking across the front of the plate). The pitch fX cameras on television show the plate as if it were a flat plane (with no distance between front and back). Right now, a pitch is a strike if it crosses any part of the plate—either in the front of the plate or the back of the plate. I’d like to see how the robot would deal with this issue.

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