Skip to main content

tv   QA Bill James  CSPAN  February 4, 2018 11:00pm-12:02am EST

11:00 pm
cspan2. >> tonight on c-span, q&a with author bill james. then at 9:00, prime minister's questions at the british hasn't comments. later, broadband infrastructure expansion in the u.s.. ♪ announcer: this week on "q&a," author and senior adviser on baseball operations for the boston red sox talks about his train:the man from the the solving of a century old mystery." bill james, and your new book "the man from the train," your first sentence is "i have long been fascinated by the notion that knowledge can be created about the past."
11:01 pm
tell us more about that. bill: the easiest example is dinosaurs. for thousands of years people had no idea that these great beasts had ever existed. now we have not only created information about them, but disseminated it so widely that every four-year-old child has a collection of little plastic dinosaurs. most of what academics do is sort out the conflicts of what was said at the time to create a clearer and more detailed and accurate picture of the past so that we know things about the romans that the romans didn't know. we know things about baseball and the 1960's that the baseball players in the 1960's did not know. brian: when did you know you wanted to write this particular book? bill: i stumbled into it without making a decision to do it. i was supposed to be working on a book with my wife, which i am still working on, about the wanted to write this particular history of kansas. i saw a pbs show about the murders in villisca, iowa and
11:02 pm
thought i would put a couple of hours into tracking down what facts i could about it. couple of hours became a couple of weeks. a couple of weeks became a couple of months, and eventually seven years. brian: when was the bbs documentary shown? bill: i would guess 2008 or 2009, but i am not sure. brian: want to ask you to read your opening page just to set the scene on what we are about to talk about. bill: all right. it is a warm night, most often on a weekend. there is a very small town with a railroad track that runs through the town, or sometimes along the edge of it. you can't get more than a few hundred feet away from the railroad track and still be in the town. he is looking for a house with no dog. he would prefer a house on the
11:03 pm
edge of town, just isolated enough to provide a little bit of cover. a big two-story house would be best, with a family of five. a barn where you can hide out from sundown until the middle of the night. in that era before the automobiles came come almost every house had a barn, even the houses in chicago and philadelphia had barns. he is looking for a house with a woodpile in the front yard and an ax sticking up out of the woodpile. brian: who is he? bill: he is a serial killer as awful a human being as has ever walked the earth. brian: do you know his name? bill: i do know his name. awful a human being as has ever you absoluely insist, i will
11:04 pm
give it to you. it is revealed toward the end of the book. brian: you have to get to chapter 40 before you find out. bill: right. brian: give us a profile of who this guy is and what about villisca, iowa. bill: villisca, iowa, is in the southwestern corner of iowa, a town of around 200,000 people. on a night in june 100 and some years ago, all of the lights were out. the city was in this dispute with the electric company over the price of electricity, and they had shut off the street lights. on a monday morning in june, a man did not report to work named joe moore. on investigation it was found
11:05 pm
that there was a locked house with all the windows covered and eight people murdered with an ax. this was immediately linked within an hour to what we now call a serial murder, although the term wasn't used then. it was immediately recognized that this was another of those cases. brian: have you been to that town? bill: i have, yes. brian: what is it like today? bill: the interior of the town has not done terrifically. a lot of the highway went a half-mile outside of town, and the general store moved to the edge of town, that sort of thing. but it is still a quiet, peaceful little place, or it is
11:06 pm
quiet and peaceful little place. brian: that murder, has anybody ever been found or prosecuted for the murder back in those days? bill: at the time there were two were three what i would consider bogus prosecutions. a man was arrested and intimidated and beaten and put on trial, indicted for the murders, but the indictment was dropped because there was really no evidence. later a man known as the little minister, reverend lynn kelly, was tried twice for the crimes. it is my view -- and there are still people who believe that reverend kelly committed the crime -- i regard that as a complete impossibility. brian: how many crimes did you investigate for this book?
11:07 pm
bill: well, there were an awful lot of crimes that at one point we thought might be related, and ultimately decided had no connection to the story and didn't include in the book anywhere. there are probably 40 to 50 crimes discussed in the book. some of those are relatively low probability of being linked, and some of them are absolutely and unquestionably linked, in my view. i don't mean to make judgments for other people. they seem to be unquestionably linked to the villisca murders. i live in northeast kansas, i live about only 180 miles from villisca. brian: how long have you lived there? bill: we moved back to lawrence in 1991.
11:08 pm
we spent two years in boston while my wife was getting a masters degree from boston university, but otherwise in lawrence since 1991. brian: most people who know the name bill james have no idea you are dealing with crime. what would they say you do for a living? bill: most people would say i am a baseball statistician. you can't use violence to prevent them from saying that, it.ou have to put up with i write about baseball, and i have written about baseball and analyzed baseball almost all of my life, and that is what i am best known for. brian: you used to work for the boston red sox?
11:09 pm
bill: i am still proud to do so. brian: and what do you do there? bill: i try to create organized ways of taking about problems and encourage people is in the system to use those organized ways of thinking about problems as much as i can. brian: your daughter helped you write this book. bill: she did. brian: i want to quote from her in a previous interview and get you to expand on it. "i think dad's writing shone the most when he was talking about these small-towns he grew up in. i mean, his parents were born right around these years, and they grew up in the small town mayetta, kansas, the kind of place that the man from the train attacked. i hope readers will take away a greater sense of empathy for these tiny towns that are just as interesting, fascinating and worthwhile as the largest city on earth." why is she saying that? bill: i honestly believe that if the man from the train had ever come to mayetta, kansas, i know where he would have gone. i grew up in a small town in the 1950's and very much like the places where the men from the train would have gone.
11:10 pm
there was no police force on site. there was a county sheriff 10 miles away. i understand not 100 years ago, but 50 or 60 years ago, and i have a lot of -- well, i often feel that the people who live in those towns are not taken seriously, that they are not respected, that their view of life -- not their political
11:11 pm
philosophy -- but their view of life is not respected. brian: can i read from your book what you said? it is one of the more interesting paragraphs of your book. bill: feel free. read the whole book. [laughter] brian: you can expand on this. "if you read about crime in a small town you will encounter frequently the comment that the lived in the kind of quiet place where nothing very interesting ever happened. this is a despicable thing to say. it is a form of bigotry directed at the past, and bigotry
11:12 pm
11:13 pm
11:14 pm
11:15 pm
11:16 pm
11:17 pm
11:18 pm
11:19 pm
11:20 pm
11:21 pm
11:22 pm
11:23 pm
11:24 pm
11:25 pm
11:26 pm
brian: you say there were 33 things that you could tag to this man, and i have it marked here. how did you find the 33? you list every one of them.
11:27 pm
bill: we started with a list of five and added. not 33 things totally different, but 33 elements of the crime. for example, he very often takes -- in that era, many houses did not have electricity. they had electricity in these small towns he were attacking that she was attacking -- he was attacking. people would leave a lamp burning through the night so that there would be a lamp that have a starting place in the morning. he would take the shade off of the lamp and put it very quietly on the floor, and then turn the lamp down very low so it was just a flicker. i think he did that in part does, of course, he needed to see his way around the house, but also it excited him. that ghastly thin light was part of the thrill for him, i believe. it is just speculation, getting into his head as much as you possibly can without going crazy. i think that was part of the thing for him. o that is one thing that identifies a crime linked to the man from the train, as opposed to a similar crime doesn't turn out to be linked. another of course is proximity to the railroad, the intersection of multiple railroads. another is the use of an ax.
11:28 pm
it is always the blunt side of the ax. brian: always? bill: i shouldn't say always. very often when he kills five people, one person, most likely to be the woman of the house, is struck with the #of the ax also -- the sharp side of the ax also. however, there is no crime in which most of the murders were not committed with the blunt ide of the ax. that is the signature element. we have no reason to believe that he ever killed anyone in daylight, although, you know, this is a vicious human being. he probably would have, but we have no reason to believe he killed anyone in daylight. always near midnight.
11:29 pm
it's not 4:00 a.m. it's not 3:00 a.m. within an hour of idnight. brian: he paid special attention to the body of the prepubescent female, staging or posing of the prepubescent female, while others are simply left as they were when they were killed. and often, i think i read in these accounts that these young ladies would be around nine years old. bill: a nine to 12-year-old girl is his target victim. he enjoys killing people, but his target victim is a nine to 2-year-old girl. another signature element is that he covers the heads of the victim with a blanket
11:30 pm
before he hits them over the head, and he does that so that the blood doesn't spray back on him. so if you see people -- if the report of a crime shows the victim's heads being covered with cloth before they are murdered, that is a sign it is him. if there is a young girl and her clothing has been removed and she is lying with her limbs askew, that definitely is him. there are grosser aspects to that which we maybe don't need to talk about. another thing that we know is im is he uses cloth to block all the windows. he would take blankets or robes or whatever and cover ll of the windows. that is presumably done after he crimes are committed so
11:31 pm
that he can move around the house in the darkness without being spotted by people walking on the sidewalk. brian: you say he never stole anything. bill: the first crime he stole some, but no, he never stole nything. and many of the crimes it is reported that there was money and jewelry left in plain view at the crime was committed. brian: how often did he set fire to the house? bill: up until 1908, he almost always set fire to the house. after 1908 he is murdering families in houses near small towns, but not actually in small towns.
11:32 pm
beginning in 1908 to 1910 he begins to move into small towns. at that point he can't set fire to the house because i forgot the morning people will come running and be aware that something is terribly wrong before you have a chance to escape. brian: so he committed the crimes almost always in warm weather? bill: always in warm weather. there is one crime that could be related that is committed in terrible cold weather. the first crime he committed in 1898 was in cold weather. i suspect that that is relevant because after that he had to walk six or seven miles n the middle of the night in avoid detection, in order to get out of the way. i suspect that after -- this is generally true with serial murderers -- that their first crime is an explosion and is poorly planned or not planned
11:33 pm
t all. it is an explosion of anger or a combination thereof. after that there is normally a cooling off period, and during the cooling off period the person contemplates what they need to do to get by with this in the future. i feel relatively certain that in that period of study and contemplation -- study and contemplation are good words for that, there is nothing good about this -- he decided he didn't want to do this in cold weather anymore because, other than that one crime in nova scotia in february, about the coldest you can get, there were no crimes in cold weather. brian: what was his rofession?
11:34 pm
bill: going back to the first crime, at the time of the first crime people would say that he was trained in that veterinary medicine. that doesn't mean what it means now. but he had some skills working ith animals. he had been a sailor, but his main profession throughout the period of time he is committing the crimes is what we would call a umberjack. although the word "lumberjack" isn't the same word we use now. we know that that is true because almost all of the crimes up till 1910 occur, and some after 1910, in towns where the chief industry is logging. brian: i want to talk to you about a lot of the other things you get involved in,
11:35 pm
basically your philosophy of life. by the way, does anybody ever say to you, like you spend your time with all this stuff? bill: people do look askance at the time that i spend on looking into old murders, and it is regarded as odd and somewhat offputting by many people i know. t is newspapers that were my basic education. i went to grade school, high school, college, but from the time i was five years old until i was -- until newspapers died, i was an avid
11:36 pm
reader of newspapers, and newspapers shaped my view of the world. i grew up in a small town uite a ways from industry, from forestry. our lives were as rich and complicated as the lives of people in big cities, but i remember when i was about 11 years old asking my sister what an antique store was. we didn't have antique stores. there were a lot of things you didn't have in small towns in those times. i used newspapers to figure out the world, more or ess. i think people in my generation did. if you look at newspapers, there's sports and crime stories and comics and dear abby and one page of political
11:37 pm
commentary, and those things formed my view of the world. i read crime stories and crime books since i was seven years old. brian: i have to admit, following you in baseball is one thing. seeing that you are interested in crime is another. but this is, i have to say, in doing research on your visit here, the biggest surprise i had. this is from "the new yorker" in 2003, a profile on you. "he turns on c-span, which he watches more than any other channel, and finds another politician lying, thus presenting the kind of puzzle he has been trying to solve all his life. 'you have to try to reconstruct the organization of your thoughts so that it reaches the point of depending -- of defending the absurd proposition that they are defending, and the organization of your own thought so that you have a
11:38 pm
place to put the true fact which is consistent with your underlying belief.'" of us more -- give us more. bill: first of all, i have no memory of having said that. i don't read anything written about me, although great admiration for the author. it touches on my central philosophy of life, which is this. i can explain this in about 20 seconds. the world is much more complicated than the human mind, and for that reason -- nd yet we are desperate to understand the world. we are committed from the moment of birth to a struggle to understand the world which e can never win. ecause that is true, we make
11:39 pm
up understandings of the world which we call religion or olitical philosophy or xpertise, and we believe these things are true. as consequence of that, we all believe thousands of utterly nonsensical statements to be true. ben says that politicians are lying, but i don't know that hey are lying quite. politicians say things that are not objectively true with great frequency, but it is not clear to me that they do not in general believe these things to be true. they are merely operating out of a paradigm of understanding which has wandered away from the facts which can be established. that that make any sense at all -- does that make any sense at all? brian: i will just let it lie.
11:40 pm
let me ask you though, do you still watch this? hat you see from lawrence, kansas that we don't see from this place? bill: that is the reason that i am a c-span junkie, is your discipline and commitment to getting as close to the facts without your interpretation, your own overlaying of it, as you possibly can do. i take a lot of crap from my liberal friends because i watch fox news, but i also watch cnn and pbs.
11:41 pm
it is not that i -- i have always tried to figure out the world, as everybody is, but i am always trying to create organized ways of thinking about the world, and c-span is ore useful for that than sources which think they have the world figured out, if that makes sense. brian: you tweet. here is one of your tweets in december. "how many of us are old enough to her when -- old enough to member when meet the press and face the nation would spend the whole hour interviewing a newsmaker rather than 10 minutes with a newsmaker and 50 minutes of talking heads? the commands -- the 10 minutes with a newsmaker and 50 minutes with a talking head is successful. it is commercially successful. why do you think it is more successful than the old
11:42 pm
way? bill: it is part of a system hat has developed. we headed in that direction when people, probably in the lbj administration, but when the politicians started showing up for the morning news shows with a list of talking points and pushing the direction. then it became inevitable that the newspeople would try to get away from the talking points, that they would try to escape the talking points. he talking head format
11:43 pm
developed as a way -- levy come at this from a different angle. might -- let me come at this from a different angle. my philosophy of life is that everyone has to have a system of understanding everything, and that is unfortunate because all of the systems of understanding everything are bullshit. none of them work. none of them has any real -- no one understands the world. no one has the capacity to understand the world, and all of the carefully articulated systems to place everything are inherently false, but everyone has one. lmost everyone is either a conservative or a liberal or a libertarian or a lunatic of some other stripe. so the -- in a competitive news
11:44 pm
environment, the thing to do is to find the underserved group of partisans and find a way to appeal to them. brian: here is a tiny little bit of your philosophy. this is the 17 seconds. you made a speech in november of 2016. bill: one of the great problems with human rights is that greed has no limit. is greed had a natural limit -- if greed had a natural limit we would all work through our problems a lot quicker, but it doesn't. brian: why doesn't agree to have a natural limit -- why doesn't greed have a natural limit? bill: organized religion and philosophy and politics are efforts to form philosophies
11:45 pm
which place limits on the catastrophic consequences of greedy behavior. but as to why i believe that greed has no natural limit has to do with 60 years of reading crime books. criminals are simply people who put more value on their two minutes of pleasure than they do on your life. the man from the train of more value on is o -- on his hour of satisfaction than he did on the 100 or so people that he illed. is greed had no limit. most of us limit our greed.
11:46 pm
ost of us limit our greed by philosophy or religion, but it as no inherent and natural limit iffy loss fi and religion are taken away. brian: as a baseball aficionado and observer and dvisor and all of that for the boston red sox, you look at the baseball business, what do you think will happen with the incredible amount of money being paid for somebody to throw a baseball or hit a baseball and the agents and the team owners and all of that, and the cost of the rights for television as they keep going up? where does that all go, and is there any greed in that mix? bill: brian, i know you try not to express opinions, but there
11:47 pm
is absolutely greed in that mix. in the long-term, eventually a competitive structure will evolve which results in a more reasonable distribution of the assets of games. eventually there will be -- either the major sports will xpand to where they have 200 teams each or there will be competitive leagues established so that there are 200 teams in each sport in the united states. once that happens, the money that gets concentrated into relatively few hands will blow across the horizon more. however, is that going to happen in the next five years? probably not, but it will happen at some point in the
11:48 pm
ext two lifetimes or so. brian: another 38 seconds of your philosophy in a speech you gave at longwood university back in 2015. bill: certainty is the mmediate cause of the most -- awful injustices in the world. there is a story in the last week or so that fbi analysts - forensic experts have been lying for the last 30 years. the f.b.i. has testified improperly over a long period of time, almost always for the prosecution, and now a society will have to come to terms -- will have to deal with the fallout from that. bill: why did you want to say that in that speech?
11:49 pm
bill: the core of my belief system, these philosophies we create out of nothing, these false explanations of all phenomena in the world, are the core of our being. that was the news story which was in the news at that time, and so i picked that up and used it. -- to tie into my -- the general point they was making. however, i was also working on this book at that time. at the time i gave that speech i was working on the book. one of the things that happened in these towns where the man from the train committed his crimes is that in at least two cases, what would always happen is that people would decide based on no evidence at all that they knew who committed the crime.
11:50 pm
but in at least two cases, and possibly three, black men were murdered by lynch mobs because they were certain that this person had to have committed the crime. if you go back and look at what was their reason for believing that, it was nothing. but the certainty that they knew who committed the crime led to injustice, as it always oes. i was terribly bothered by the case of ryan ferguson, a young man in missouri who spent several years in prison for a crime that should have been obvious for anyone who looked at it for 20 minutes he could not have possibly committed. but the prosecutors were certain that they knew what happened, and their certainty that they knew what happened
11:51 pm
led to injustice. if you look at any crime story and walk backward on it and say, where did this crime story began, the answer is that it always begins in a fantasy. basically all crimes begin in a fantasy. to look at a case of injustice and walked backward and say, where did this justice -- this injustice originate, it originates in the certainty that we know what happened when in reality we do not know what happened. brian: i found this to be a bill james-ism. i'm not sure it is. at the end of the book in the acknowledgment's, i want to ask why you wrote this sentence this way. "i would like to thank some very nice lady at the kansas historical society who may have been susan forbes, sara keckleson or sarah garten. i am sorry, i have lost the slip of paper that had your name on it."
11:52 pm
bill: i did some research at the kansas historical society and wrote down the name of the very nice lady who helped me, but i lost the name and rather than pretending i knew who it was and thanking the wrong person, i just thank them all. brian: why didn't you call them and ask them? bill: it was two or three years later and i did not think they would remedy. also i am they would remember me. -- they would remember me. lso i am lazy. brian: chapter 40 was written by your daughter? bill: is that the chamenter of clemen time? brian: no. it starts out "i was not yet an author on the book, just a research assistant." has anybody else ever found someone they thought was the man from the train?
11:53 pm
you name a person, tell us where he died, all that kind of stuff. i am not going to give it away here, but were you the first people to discover this? bill: we were the first people to tie him to the crime. there were two people in villisca who were tied to the villisca crime. there were people who were murdered for the believe that they committed an isolated crime. but i don't think -- and there have been -- if i could be arrogant for a moment, there have been people claiming that the person responsible for this series of crimes was a or or c, but you cannot really take them seriously because they are not serious researchers and do not do the work to establish that they know what they are talking about. we were the first serious
11:54 pm
people to nominate somebody. rian: another tweet. guys, relax. our president is not lazy. he just has a debilitating lack of self-awareness and has spent 60 years compensating for that i trying to appear uperman. when you phrase it that way it sounds crazy, but he's no crazier than napoleon or aesar or..." bill: like all good liberals i have a rather intense dislike f our president. however, i had a great respect for democracy. i didn't vote for him, but he was elected. he had an idea. he had a set of things he wanted to work on. he had a set of ideas that he put in front of the american eople.
11:55 pm
those ideas won the election. that fact is entitled to respect, and i am always trying in my own way to lower the temperature a little bit and get people to work back toward the facts rather than, well -- you know as well as i do the media has been running around the past couple of weeks saying the president is crazy. it doesn't help our democracy to work well to be doing that. brian: you say in a 1914 "new republic" interview, "on politics we have made no progress at all. eople perceived as learned experts go on television to say stupid stuff and nobody says that is really stupid. don't you find that to be true?" ill: the explanations that
11:56 pm
politicians give for the phenomena that are happen -- not politicians, but the talking heads -- the explanations they give for phenomena are patently untrue in case after case left and right. i hate to pick on david brooks because he is a good one, but i remember in the example that always stuck with me, the 2008 democratic campaign. david brooks promised us that illary would beat barack obama because the democratic contest always comes down to omeone who is favored by the
11:57 pm
educated public, the democratic college graduates, the democratic working-class, and the person favored by the working class always wins. it is such a stupid analysis that it is difficult to believe that anyone ever said hat. i mean, if in baseball you ffered a comparable analysis of why one team would win the world series, you would be laughed off the stage. it is true that baseball analysis in the 1960's and 1970's relied on generalizations of that nature in which you take -- the problem with a generalization of that nature is you take seven or eight contests and draw a generalization about how they came out and then say
11:58 pm
that that generalization have to hold in all -- have to -- has to hold in all future ontests. it's such obviously flawed logic that it's difficult to believe that anyone would believe this. i find this to be generally true of all talking head analysis, and that is why i want to go back to "face the nation" interviewing the newsmaker rather than another ournalist. i find the liberal analysis and conservative analysis of the facts to be filled with such obvious, silly generalizations that i can't comprehend why people can't see through them. i thought about this for years. why aren't people able to see through generalizations of that nature? but we hear them everyday. brian: our guest has been billed james, who lives in lawrence, kansas, works for the boston red sox, have an
11:59 pm
expert --has been bill james, who lives in lawrence, kansas, works for the boston red sox, and has a book, "the man from the train." and has a twitter account. thank you very much for joining us. bill: thank you. [captioning performed by national captioning institute] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2018] announcer: for free transcripts or to give us your comments about this program, visit us at q& as q&a programs are available on c-span podcast. announcer: if you like this q&a with baseball statistician
12:00 am
and author bill james, here are some others you might enjoy. john feinstein chronicles his years of reporting on some of the greatest sports figures. ere's also erik larson's book. and george will write about the chicago cubs and the history of wrigley field and a nice little place on the north side. you can find his interviews online at c-span's "queash journal" live with news and policy issues that impact you. vladic monday, steven discussing the memo. be sure to watch c-span's washington journal live at 7:00 eastern monday morning. join the discussion.
12:01 am
>> british prime minister teresa may was in china this past week for talks with leaders. taking her place was david livingston. topic include lowering the voting age to 16 and benefits to first time home buyers. this is 40 minutes. >> order. questions to the prime inister, ian murm. >> good evening. -- >> mr. speaker, i have been asked to reply. my right honorable friend the prime minister is in china building on the existing strong ties between our two countries. and she's accompanied by the largest business delegation that this government has yet led. >> mr.


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on