Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics


Headline on the NY Times website:

TV Chief Takes 2-by-4 to a Proposed Cable Merger

I was at first confused by the reference. Having grown up around my father’s lumberyard, I naturally think of a 2-by-4 as a basic element of house construction. For those whose experience of lumber is shaped by Mafia films, it’s an implement of destruction. (It’s interesting how the pop-culture image of organised crime has been shaped by the somewhat coincidental situation of the New York-New Jersey crime families who largely laundered their money through construction firms. Think “cement overshoes”.) I am reminded of the period in the early 1990s when skinhead mobs in Eastern Germany and Berlin suddenly started attacking foreigners, particularly but not exclusively asylum-seekers. The favoured weapons were baseball bats. I remember an article from around 1993, where a police expert was interviewed about why it was that baseball bats were ideally suited to be used as weapons, in addition to their advantage of having a legal use that endows carrying them with a superficial legitimacy, despite the fact that, as the German association of baseball enthusiasts admitted, the total number of baseball players in Germany was estimated at just a few hundred, substantially smaller than the number of baseball bats that had been sold in the past year. In any case, baseball bats (“Baseballschläger”) have become routine emblems of violence in German newspaper headlines, with no further explanation required, specifically xenophobic neo-Nazi violence. For example, when Der Spiegel reported on a government-sponsored youth music initiative with a CD of songs opposing neo-Nazi violence, the article was titled

Tonträger gegen Baseballschläger     (Recordings vs. Baseball Bats)

Interestingly, when Bill Gates handed over control of Microsoft to Steve Ballmer, Der Spiegel covered press reports with a headline “Baseball bat in his hand”, referring to an LA Times report that said

Ballmer, der dafür bekannt ist, dass er bei internen Besprechungen herumbrüllt und manchmal Anordnungen gibt, während er einen Baseballschläger in der Hand hält… (Ballmer, who is known for screaming during internal conferences, and sometimes holds a baseball bat in his hand while giving orders…)

It sounds much more menacing in German.

Update: Somehow I forgot the famous lyric from the gospel song Oh Mary Don’t you Weep (what I take to be Pete Seeger’s revised lyrics; at least, it’s clearly not part of the original spiritual, and does appear on Pete Seeger’s recordings, and later versions):

Moses stood on the Red Sea shore

Smotin’ the water with a two-by-four.

Pharaoh’s army got drowned.

Oh, Mary, don’t you weep!

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