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May 2, 2015

Ice? Ice! (Maybe.)

"Ice burns, and it is hard [for] the warm-skinned to
distinguish one sensation, fire, from the other, frost."  --A.J. Byatt

"He who cannot put his thoughts on ice
 should not enter into the heat of dispute."    --Friedrich Nietzsche

commentary by killre

Herr Freddie's admonition aside, I have been given cause to wade waist-deep and gasping into the chunky melt-water of the global-warming debate, feverish of brow and decidedly chilly of loin.

Actually, global warming itself has become a far less, um, polarizing issue in today's socio-political, uh, climate. Relatively few in our society continue to deny the simple findings of thousands of people the world over whose job it is to look at the thermometer and tell the rest of us what it says. True, there are some steadfast outliers. Rumor has it there are still Japanese soldiers defending remote Pacific atolls, too, and that there is to this day a small percentage of the population of this wide, round world who insist this world is not wide and round, but flat. That's discouraging if true.

Also discouraging if true is the dire forecast most climate scientists offer regarding the likelihood of continued world baking, as well as the predicted consequences for those of us who would like to keep living on this mottled blue marble.

While few these days will outright deny that the heat is indeed on, the heat of the debate is hardly on the abate. The war over warming has instead shifted into skirmishes over more narrowly defined issues, such as whether or not it is caused by human activity, how bad it really is, and whether or not something should be done about it.

It is through this newly focused lens that Michael Bastasch recently projected an article onto the page of The Daily Caller, questioning the severity of Arctic polar ice-melt. It was cleverly titled "'Irreversible' Arctic Ice Loss Seems To Be Reversing Itself." I know: seldom has a more viscerally exciting sentence been composed. As I intend to show, the title's connection with the abstract and increasingly outdated concept known as accuracy is a tenuous one. (The key word, for instance, is "Seems.") Latter-day climate deniers of various stripes, eager to agree with just about anything sounding remotely like what they have been telling themselves, seized upon the article as proof of the veracity of their position. As usual, they were a bit too quick to crow.

I will be slicing and dicing quotations from Bastasch's article. I tell myself I do this for clarity, rather than to alter context. Should you wish to police that claim, or read the entire article to inform your own context, or you just still get a thrill from the mild hyperspace-jumping sensation of flitting hither and thither on the internet, you can do so by clicking here.

It is something of a schizophrenic (or --dare I say it?-- bipolar) article, owing in large part --certainly not entirely-- to its reliance on two climate scientists whose opinions on polar ice-melt seem to swing and sway like Sammy Kaye. Their names are Ian Eisenman and Till Wagner, and they are affiliated with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. They have recently published a study in which they try to argue that polar ice-melt is not as bad as has been feared; or, even if it is that bad, it is still not, you know, that bad, or something. As I said, there are times when they --particularly Wagner, who is the lead author of the study-- seem to be arguing against themselves.

Eisenman comes across as the more climate-denier-friendly of the two, perhaps owing to fewer words being ascribed to him. Despite being the study's junior partner, he is quoted first. This is Bastasch cynically applying the logistics of reader tendencies, placing the statements and/or information which support his agenda in the first third and last sixth of the column, while including opposing information in locations that are more likely to be scanned quickly, if read at all, and where even many diligent readers often suffer a dial-down in focus.

You should wake up now, by the way.

Eisenman said in an interview, "[T]wo key physical processes ... often overlooked in previous process models, [are] actually essential for accurately describing whether sea ice loss is reversible."

The translation, in mathematical terms, is this: All prior formulas were incomplete.

Note also the use of "describing," rather than assessing: at this point, Wagner and Eisenman's formula is theoretical, too.

Wagner's initial comments seem to back Eisenman's: "[T]he basis for a sea ice tipping point doesn't hold up when these additional processes are considered."

(About now, you may be wondering what these "two key physical processes" are. Bastasch never reveals them directly. Maybe he thinks they're too esoteric. Maybe he thinks they are a secret... or maybe he just wants them to be a secret for reasons of his own. Following a second cyberspace jump, I found a slightly more direct reference to them. I'm saving it for later. You are free to label that decision a cynical application of logistical et cetera; I prefer to call it a sense of drama. To each his own.) 

Wagner's use of the words "tipping point" alludes to the idea of a point of no return for the melting of the icecap. Imagine a person standing on a precipice, slowly leaning ever-outward over a chasm. A moment will come when the person cannot maintain their balance on the precipice, and they will inevitably fall. Carrying the metaphor through, physics tells us that from the instant the person begins to fall, the speed of their trajectory will continually increase until the instant they crash into the bottom of the chasm.

That notion of acceleration is echoed by Bastasch. He at one point includes several quotes from Joe Romm, a climate scientist and editor at ThinkProgress, a site Bastasch cannot help but describe as a "liberal blog." Romm is concerned over the thickness of the Arctic icecap. Satellite images show only the area --square mileage-- over which the ice cap spreads. To get a true idea of the volume --how much ice there really is-- thickness must be factored in. According to Romm, the news is not good: between 1975 and 2012, the Arctic icecap suffered a 65% reduction in thickness. Bastasch's translation of one of Romm's statements is, "[I]t's melting a lot faster."

My own take: We are all figuratively walking on literally thin ice.

In fact, much of Bastasch's article --though relegated largely to that subtle reader's-lull region between the opening paragraphs and the big finish-- is an admission that the ice has indeed been melting, quickly. His own statements --presented as facts, mind you, not the alarmist bleating of others-- include:
"[T]he Arctic hit its lowest maximum sea ice extent on record during February [2015, less than three months ago]; Scientists ... have already predicted [2015]'s Arctic summer sea ice extent will be the lowest on record...; Arctic sea ice has been declining ... since 1979."

Even Wagner seems unsure. Consider the next two statements, made back-to-back. "[N]o tipping point is likely to devour what's left of the Arctic summer sea ice." (Translation: Not all of the ice will melt.) "[I]f global warming does soon melt all the Arctic sea ice..." (Translation: All of the ice might melt.)

Wait, what?

Wagner, continued: "[I]f global warming does soon melt all the Arctic sea ice, at least we can get it back if we somehow manage to cool the planet..."

Ah, yes... IF we cool the planet, there will be more ice. This is news that will surely reverberate beneath every rock and throughout every cave. The use of the word "somehow" is somewhat disturbing, as it seems to indicate Wagner has no idea how that might be accomplished, and/or is skeptical of any plan. There is good reason for skepticism. Wagner is sidestepping the chicken-and-egg nature of the problem, here. The importance of a polar icecap is that it is the most efficient mechanism in the known universe for dampening temperatures throughout a hemisphere. In short, regeneration of a polar cap requires the existence of a polar cap.

I mentioned earlier that Bastasch's article had a big finish. Having given dire and doom their due column inches, he tries to end the essay by saying, in effect, 'Don't worry, though, the reality is hunky-dory.' He uses some slipshod math to do it.

One example is when he says, "NSIDC [the National Snow and Ice Data Center] and European satellite data show that multi-year sea ice made a big comeback in 2013 and 2014." He goes on to say the images reveal an increase in ice coverage from 2.25 million square kilometers to 3.17 million square kilometers. Indeed, that is a growth of nearly 41%.

Let us put aside the insidious technicality that two years (2013-2014) constitute "multi-year" data. Important as it is, let us also put aside that this two-year uptick was immediately followed by a drastic plunge to the aforementioned "lowest maximum sea ice extent on record" this past February. Let us instead note that the apparent growth is expressed in square kilometers, a yardstick meter-stick which describes area, rather than volume. To calculate volume, we must remember that the Arctic icecap has undergone, according to Romm, a 65% reduction in thickness since the Gerald R. Ford Administration. I am admittedly employing thumbnail math, here, but bear with me: a 41% increase in area multiplied by a 65% decrease in depth equals a net decrease of nearly 51% in total volumeIf I were to say, "There is roughly half as much ice sitting atop the globe now as there was the day Saigon fell," it would be in the ballpark.

In fact, it would actually undersell the point. There is not half as much ice sitting atop the globe as there was in 1975; there is half as much ice as there was in 1995-- a year that had already seen nearly two decades of dissipation.

That brings us to a second example of Bastasch trying to convince his readers that life is skittles and life is beer: "NSIDC data shows Arctic sea ice extent is currently within normal range based on the 1981 to 2010 average..." Lest this statement begins to slow your breathing and soothe your jangled nerves, remember one of his earlier ones: "Arctic sea ice has been declining ... since 1979." Everything after that date is below normal. Consequently, the average of everything after that date is also below normal. Bastasch is basically saying, "Below normal is the new normal-- and that's okay." This is like a school administration confronted by a long trend of low test scores; rather than trying to improve their teaching techniques, they simply lower the graduation requirements, pat each student reassuringly on the back, and say, "Good luck out there, kid."

Okay, so I promised you processes. They can be found buried near the bottom of this, a statement released by Scripps Institution of Oceanography representative Robert Monroe. His job title (Press secretary? Departmental director? Suzerain of the Sacred Society of Scupper Scrapers?) is not given. What is given is a quote from Till Wagner, vaguely touching upon those "two key physical processes" that are supposed to be game-changers for the future of polar-related climate science. You might want to sit down for this: "One relates to how heat moves from the tropics to the poles and the other is associated with the seasonal cycle."

I am a layman. The closest I have ever come to being a climate scientist is letting a climate-dynamics documentary roll in the background while I played video games. Still, even I can confidently file this one under "Well... duh," with the sub-heading "Previous designers of icecap-melt models are [f-bomb] idiots for failing to factor this in."

Almost lost in all this rigamarole is a snippet of sentence written by Monroe in the middle of his post's introductory section. It reads: "[S]ea ice loss ... is actually reversible when greenhouse levels are reduced."

THAT'S the big news? THAT'S what's going to change everything? Oh, stop the presses, everybody! Someone just discovered that a reduction of greenhouse gas levels would probably have a positive effect on the climate, of all things! Huzzah! Let the freakin' champagne flow!

I don't know about you, but I have chills. Good luck out there.

Found on Mars this week: An oscillating fan.

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Apr 27, 2015

Dollars & Sense

"I like to pay taxes.  With them, I buy civilization."
                                                                      --Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

"Whatever it is that the government does, sensible Americans
 would prefer that the government do it to somebody else.
 This is the idea behind foreign policy."              --P.J. O'Rourke

commentary by killre

It's back.  I thought it was dead, but like the monster in a horror movie it simply slipped beneath the inky waters of the sea to rear its ugly head elsewhere.  In this case, elsewhere was Great Britain.

A few weeks ago, Americans with too-itchy share-clicking trigger-fingers were passing around a poorly reasoned harangue (an all too common phenomenon) against foreign aid.

How poorly reasoned?  I'm glad you asked.  Atop a pile of some legitimate domestic problems, the generator of the post listed having "to dial '1' to speak English" as one of the arguments against sending tax dollars overseas.

Had I been feeling snarkily productive at the time --or productively snarky, or whatever-- I likely would have pointed out that no-one needs to dial '1' to speak English.  They dial '1' to communicate in English.  Failure to grasp this distinction is symptomatic of a failure to grasp a much more important one: the supreme and exhausting effort described --pressing a button-- does not rise to the level of problem.  I'm not even sure it is worthy of all the syllables in the word inconvenience. Even if it were a real problem, rather than a trumped-up one, it does nothing to address the pros or cons of foreign aid, nor does it belong on the same list as hunger, homelessness, and inadequate health care.  It's like the manager of a heavy-hitting ballclub penciling-in as his leadoff hitter the equipment boy from the canasta team.

Fortunately, that fad faded.  As I indicated in my opening paragraph, however, it has risen again, leaner and meaner, this time in jolly ol' G.B.  In the last few days, some of those same itchy-fingered Americans have been click-sharing a similar message posted on a site called "Britain First."  I'm taking wagers on whether they know Great Britain is actually a separate country, or they just don't care.  My money is on the former.  Without looking into it any further than this lone post, it is easy to surmise that "Britain First" is much like "America First": an isolationist-flavored political movement, dedicated to the direction backward.

I suppose I could link, if I really had to, but in this case there wouldn't be much point.  The so-called "photo" being passed around is text-only, and is easily transcribed here:

"Doesn't make much sense, does it???

Homeless go without eating.  Elderly go without needed medicines.  Mentally ill go without treatment.  Troops go without proper equipment.  Veterans go without benefits that were promised.  Yet we donate billions to other countries, and excessive immigration before helping our own first.  1% will re-post and 99% won't.  Have the guts to re-post this.  I KNOW I'm in the 1%."

See, you can tell it was written by a Brit, because there are no misspellings.  Aside from that, it is the same hailstorm of half-truths, unsupported claims, twisted information, and questionable grammar that you'll find in most right-leaning, bumper-sticker-esque, American political rants-- with a dash of intimidation to give it that tangy aftertaste.

Since the Americans who brought this rant to my attention surely intended the message to be applied to American policies, rather than the British ones for which it was actually written (and about which I would feel far less comfortable commenting), I will respond as such.  As is my wont, I'll treat what I see as the less-important points as appetizers, and save the meat for the entrĂ©e.  Let's eat!

"Doesn't make much sense, does it???..."
No, as I will show, your argument doesn't make much sense-- in triplicate.

"...Homeless go without eating..."
True, the homeless often go hungry, but that only tells half the story.  To be more precise, the homeless go without shelter; the poor go without eating.  Yes, the homeless are also poor, and therefore also go hungry, but what does it say about the generator of this post that he or she couldn't be bothered to come up with a complete list?

"...Elderly go without needed medicines.  Mentally ill go without treatment ... Veterans go without benefits..."
Along with the poverty and deprivation mentioned above, these are legitimate issues.  Kudos for caring... or is it just lip service?

"..., and excessive immigration before helping our own first..."
This clause has the rare distinction of being both an incomplete thought and redundant (the word first is extraneous).  I honestly cannot glean why the issue of immigration is being raised here.  I suspect, much like dialing '1' in the American version of the same message, it is simply an unrelated item that sticks in the originator's craw.  Perhaps I think that because excessive is the only dynamic adjective in the entire message.  It is also an unsupported one, both substantively and stylistically.

Now, then...

"...Troops go without proper equipment...
Yet we donate billions to other countries..."
As stated, I am approaching this argument as an American answering other Americans.

In 2014, the United States spent $610 billion training, paying, deploying, supplying, and yes, equipping its military.  The next seven most highly financed militaries in the world received the combined equivalent of $601 billion U.S. dollars.  I'd like to reiterate that: the United States, by itself, outspent China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Great Britain, India, and Germany COMBINED for military-related concerns.  If it is indeed true that our troops are ill-equipped, the problem is not financing; the problem is management.

(A recent episode of HBO's Veep highlighted a political aspect of the financing/ management problem.  Looking to cut Federal spending, fictional President Selina Meyer induced the Joint Chiefs to offer a way to cut the Defense budget.  They answered with an outdated submarine-building program that would single, uh, boatedly excise $50 billion.  Alas, subs are complicated machines and the manufacture of components for this one took place in about two dozen different congressional districts.  Upon realizing thousands of their constituents were about to lose jobs, those two-dozen congressmen threatened to vote down one of the president's other, unrelated initiatives.  As a result, the $50 billion unnecessary submarine project stayed active and in the budget.)

In addition to the $610 billion the Federal government lavished on the military in 2014, it spent $52 billion in foreign aid.  Let's compare those numbers on a smaller scale.  $610 billion represents almost 20% of the total Federal budget for the year.  $52 billion, then, would represent about 1.6 or 1.7%.  In other words, for every tax dollar sent to Washington, 20 cents goes to the various branches of the armed services.  The total amount of every tax dollar sent to all foreign governments worldwide: slightly more than a penny and a half.

What do we get for that penny and a half?  Well, the effectiveness of foreign aid can certainly be debated.  I won't do that here, because it is both off-point and a lengthy discussion.  Ostensibly, though, it is supposed to work something like this...

For decades, one of the guiding lights of U.S. foreign policy has been the some-what high-minded notion that more democracy (democratic republicanism) and less oppression, more development and less squalor, more openness and less corruption make the world --including our little corner of it-- a better place.  There are essentially two ways of working toward these goals: military intervention, and economic assistance.

(Some might say, "What of diplomacy?"  Diplomacy certainly has its place.  I'm willing to admit there might be aspects of diplomacy that I have not considered in this context.  However, diplomacy is ultimately just a fancy word for conversing with.  One of the harsh realities of this world is that when you are conversing with a contentious party, you need to back your words with either the threat of violence or the promise of a payoff.)

The first option --military intervention-- has many drawbacks, not the least of which is that it tends to run counter to some of the very ideals it strives to achieve.  Invasions are usually destructive, oppressive and undemocratic, and bring with them deprivation, at least in the short term.  Additionally, they are expensive undertakings in both blood and treasure: tens of thousands of people are killed, maimed, or displaced, and hundreds of billions of dollars are spent.  Worst of all, military intervention rarely changes hearts and minds.  Democracy cannot be forced; it must be nurtured.

That's where the second option --economic assistance-- comes to the fore as the better choice, at least in theory.  The generator of the post uses the word donate.  Intentionally or not, this is a misrepresentation of the intent of foreign aid.  Proponents of the policy do not view it as a donation; they view it as an investment.  Some of the money is intended to finance U.S. security-based concerns: counter-terrorism, and the limiting of nuclear weapons-- pseudo-military spending, really, in the guise of what its opponents would call charity.  Much of the money, though, is earmarked for a wide variety of projects ranging from building better roads to improving crop yields.  Such projects, it is thought, will raise the standard of living and foster trade.  This in turn will lead to better education and a freer and more peaceful exchange of ideas and ideals.  Then, if democratic republicanism and other aspects of the Western way of life truly are the best the planet has to offer, the whole wide world will see it for themselves, want it for themselves, and work toward it on their own initiative.

All this, at a cost less than one-tenth the annual price tag of having the mightiest military force in world history... and misusing it.

...Or so the theory goes.  As I said, the real-world effectiveness of foreign
aid --past, present, future-- is a debate worth having.  It deserves to be a discussion, though, rather than an ill-informed rant.

Now for dessert:

"...1% will re-post and 99% won't.  Have the
guts to re-post this.  I KNOW I'm in the 1%."
Oooo.  Guts. Glory. Ram-- right down your throat.  Nothing like a little cyber-based peer pressure to get a message across.  When the argument runs empty, resort to name-calling.  Of note here is that the percentages are completely made-up, pulled from thin air and supported by same.  Even if the (purely theoretical) percentages were accurate, they don't represent the true audience.  The generator of the post is saying, "All who see this will agree with it, but only one in a hundred will have the guts to say so."  He apparently cannot conceive of anyone questioning even some of his assertions.  After all, he made SUCH a cogent argument: seven incomplete sentences, a couple of them wildly off-base.  Additionally, a large segment of the 99% don't care that much, while others just might be put off by the intimation that they are a coward if they don't im-mediately fall in line.  No, it couldn't be disagreement, or apathy, or a strong will; clearly, they lack guts.

Found on Mars this week:
A snowshoe!  Or maybe it's a tennis racquet; the jury is still out.

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Nov 26, 2014

The Comeback Conceit

"Nothing made sense in this place.  The maid was an heiress,
 her husband talked in alliteration, the handyman kept missing
 the point of things, and then there were these three woodsmen...
 but only one of them talked."
                                                                                      --Bob Newhart

"It's a show within a show!  My real name is Tracy Morgan!"
                                                                                      --Tracy Morgan

commentary by killre

For two or three weeks now, I have seen, heard, and read a variety of Hollywood insiders and the types who report on same --critics, recappers, and other ilk who are not insiders but who spend an inordinate amount of time with their noses pressed to the window-- tell me what a great show The Comeback is.  In case you're unfamiliar, The Comeback is an HBO offering starring Lisa Kudrow.

So, I tried to watch it.  I think I might have made it almost all the way through the season premiere.  I'm not really sure.  I kind of nodded off toward the end.  I had no intention of watching episode two, but by accident I caught most of the second half.  That is my disclaimer: Everything I have to say about the show is based on about an episode and a third, maybe an episode and a half.  It seemed more than enough.

It strikes me as just so much inside baseball,
liberally spiced with emotional-torture porn.

I beg your indulgence in carrying the baseball metaphor another pint-sized paragraph.  A few years back, I read a book of baseball analysis.  Written by Bill Felber, it was called The Book on the Book.  The premise of The Comeback reminds me of that tome's title.

Here is the show's kaleidoscopic framework.  See if you can follow.  Actress Kudrow plays an actress who is the star of a reality show about an actress whose current role is that of an actress.  Not just any actress, mind you, but herself --herself the actress, not the actress Kudrow-- or at least a reasonable facsimile.  Confused yet?  Let's review.  (*deep breath*)  The Comeback is a semi-scripted show about an actress who is the star of a behind-the-scenes reality show about an actress whose current role is that of an actress --not-so-loosely based on the actress who is portraying her-- on a scripted show whose premise is a thinly disguised, behind-the-scenes look at a scripted show in which the actress once starred.

I didn't make any of that up.

In Freudian terms, it is like watching the super-ego giving the ego a hand-job while the ego goes down on the id and the id goes down on the amygdala, as recorded by the hippocampus, starring Lisa Kudrow blowing Seth Rogen.  I sincerely hope that doesn't clear it up one damned bit.

Here's why: sooner or later --and I'd prefer it sooner-- We the People need to rise up and shout in unison in the general direction of the lower left coast, "Stop it!  Just stop it already!  Okay?  We are not nearly as enamored with all your mutual mental masturbation as you think we are.  There are two simple reasons why we sift through the torrent of b-grade s pouring out of the greater L.A. basin.  One, to gain a tiny bit of insight into the polished product-- just a starter kit of insight, really.  Two, to maybe see some of you at least partially naked.  That's it.  So knock off all the other crap!"

Worse yet, the show is supposed to be a comedy and... it isn't funny.  Kudrow's character is neither likeable nor dis.  It cannot even be said she is particularly sympathetic.  More than anything, she is pitiable.  Once upon a time (I surmise), she was a throttle-wide-open jerk to almost everyone she knew-- what past generations (and certain segments of the current one) would have called a bitch on wheels: arrogant, entitled, and nowhere near as smart as she thought she was.  Somewhere along the way (I surmise), her ride came to a sudden and near-complete halt.  The hungry years that followed taught her humility, and even imparted a small portion of tenuously grasped wisdom.  (She is smarter than she was, though still not as smart as she thinks she is.  The central character's standard comeback on The Comeback is on par with, "Oh, yeah?  Well, huh, you're a, you're an even worse one.  Of those.  So, yeah.  Chew on that!"  It is the sort of line Kudrow has made a career of.)

Here is where the emotional torture part of the equation comes in.  Kudrow's character was a bad person.  Not evil, just bad.  Dislikeable.  Then she got knocked down.  It made her a better person.  Her efforts to redeem herself (and, yes, her career), however, are now rife with people kicking her while she is down.  That is the show in a nutshell: people kicking her while she's down, teaching her a lesson she has already learned.  From this, we the viewers are supposed to derive satisfaction.

Personally, I can't do it.

P.S.... Bud "Turkey" Selig must go.

Oct 30, 2014

Maddon Men

Former Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon will likely become the new manager of the Cubs, according to reports from CBSSports.com

The Cubs and Maddon are on the verge of making a deal that would pay him at least $5 million a year, according to CBS.

Other outlets have confirmed the story, although the Cubs say the report is inaccurate, and MLB sources will not confirm it until after Wednesday night's Game 7 of the World Series so as not to overshadow it.


Oct 9, 2014

Damn it feels good to be a gangsta

Vice President Joe Biden, right, gets ready to pay for an ice cream cone after a campaign rally for U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014.  (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

Oct 3, 2014

50 Ways to Lose Your Lunch

"This has gotta be the only country in the world
  that could ever have come up with Bulimia."
                                                                  --George Carlin

"I have always liked this story:
 A man... with one hand to a one-way sign, is vomiting
 into the gutter; another man goes past... and [says],
 'If you only knew how much I agree with you.'"
                                                                   --Jean Fremon

slice of life by killre

Barf, vomit, puke, blow chunks, bounce your breakfast, boot.
Heave, hurl, hoist the colors, hoist the ensign, hoist the mains'il.
Eject, reject, project, renounce, paint the floor, bark at the Earth.
Yell at your shoes, laugh in Technicolor, pray to the porcelain god.

Post to your blog.

Salute the dignitaries, liquidate your holdings, launch the shuttle.
Toss your cookies, pogo with just your stomach, denounce your dinner.
Ralph, regurgitate, reboot, raise the flag, raise the steaks,
raise a mushroom cloud, create a casserole, Ralph Kramden.

Promote a piece of legislation.

Expel, upchuck, throw up, throw it into reverse.
Do penance, make like Mount Saint Helens, sneeze with soul.
Say something with substance, elevate the disgustion,
air your grievances, review the contents, tie-dye the carpet.

Don't digest; divest!

Ironically, "spill your guts" ...not on the list.  Means somethin' diff'ert.

Full disclosure: I read a list like this many, many years ago, albeit not in stanza form.  I admit to outright stealing two expressions, which I found particularly memorable, from that list.  The rest are either quite common or came directly from my brain.  No reference materials were consulted.  I do not claim the list to be comprehensive.  Feel free to add to it.

There are 49, not counting the title.  Here is the 50th:

Express your opinion of Bud Selig.

Sep 30, 2014

Eastbound and Loss of Down

"A fair bargain leaves both sides unhappy, I've heard it said."
                                                                              --Jon Snow
"We didn't used to do that in the other league."
                                                                           --Jim Boeheim

sports by killre

[warning: there are quoted expletives in this post;
  you may commence quivering at any time.]

I may owe soccer a small apology.  Three months ago, I said one of the big reasons the Average American Sports Fan (homo loudmouthus) couldn't get cozy with the pastime was because it seemed soccer's Powers That Be (pretentious prigges) were just making it up as they went along.  It is at odds with our society's ingrained sense of order.  As much as we may mislike admitting it, deep down we like rules.  Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that while we don't always like to follow rules, we like to see rules always followed.  That sentiment is most true in sports.

The ordinary rules of daily life that most of us have to deal with are complicated, cumbersome, and often contradictory.  Here's one random example of two related, but disharmonious, codes of conduct that virtually everyone with a driver's license has encountered, some more often than others, whether they know it or not...

1. Vehicles on the freeway have the right of way
    over vehicles entering from the on-ramp.

2. Vehicles on the on-ramp are expected
    to achieve freeway speed before entering.

In other words, you are supposed to accelerate
like the price of dinner is at stake; and yield.

In practice, neither rule is uniformly followed.  There are a number of reasons.  For one; the specific dimensions and configuration of a given interchange may make it unworkable.  It does no good to point out those sorts of things are supposed to be regulated, too, because there are regularly employed exceptions to the regulations, especially when the right, uh, donations are made to the right politicians.  For two; I don't think the second rule has actually been written anywhere, until now.  For three; it only works if everybody involved knows the rules-- a rare occurrence made exponentially rarer as traffic density increases.

Driving, of course, is one of our most-codified and widespread activities.  I'm sure you can think of other societal realms, each with their own rules both written and unwritten.  As I said, the ordinary and everyday has strictures that are complicated, cumbersome, contradictory, which is why so many of us turn to sports for our regular dosage of order.

Don't get me wrong.  Certainly the spectacle of speed, strength, and dexterity are a large part of the draw.  So too the narrative drama of a given play, a given rally, a given game, a given series, a given season.  All these things take place, however, within a highly structured, almost religiously regulated framework.  There is a certain stark emotional brutality to the rules of our most popular sports, a sense of the absolute in their application: the sudden windswept reality of the final out, the relentlessness of the countdown clock making the outcome increasingly inevitable, and the longed-for comeback less and less likely.

Even on a smaller scale, that same sense of the absolute holds sway: the ball tiptoed off the rim, nipped the runner by half a step, bounced obliquely into the grasping maw of the linebacker, no matter how much you wish it hadn't.  There are video reviews, yes, but there are no do-overs.

On a smaller scale still, we all take a certain smidge of comfort in knowing that somewhere, in some place we've probably never bothered to check, there are finely printed paragraphs describing in painstaking detail the precise point at which a baseball can be considered caught by an oversized first baseman's over-sized glove; at what instant the football is no longer grazing the split-ended spires of grass, but has skidded the ground an inch shy of the receiver's finger-tips; the specific number of degrees from which a point guard can spin the basketball into the next bounce before being guilty of the dreaded double-dribble.  Few of us are experts in these esoteric entries, but we know there are people who are and, for the most part, we trust their expertise...

...until they screw up.

Seven months ago, collegiate basketball officials employed by the Atlantic
Coast Conference (ACC) gave me reason to question the consistency of, and
motivations behind, one of basketball's most simply intricate rules in separate,
but highly similar, instances.

Saturday night, thirteen seconds before halftime of the game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Syracuse Orange, collegiate football officials, also employed by the ACC, gave the 76,802 who were attending the game, not to mention all those watching on television, reason to wonder whether they weren't making it up on the fly.

First, though, an aside...
Orange?  Really?  The nickname of Syracuse University's varsity teams used to be the Orangemen, which is oddball enough to start with.  While no ethnic group I can think of is associated with the color orange, university muckety-mucks decided --in a decision that could be labeled the orange-is-the-new-black ruling-- Orangemen might be construed racist, so they officially dropped the last syl-lable.  (This, of course, stands in diametric contrast with a certain profession-al football team.  Red and orange have always clashed.)  I'm sure Syracuse --located in upstate New York, far from any citrus grove-- means Orange, the color.  A person could be forgiven, however, for thinking they mean Orange, the fruit, especially when (a) let's face it, it's a weird color to go with, and (b) their mascot is a man in a large, round, rough-skinned, orange-colored suit.  (I know what you're thinking: all such mascots are fruits.)  Moreover, as you probably know, nothing rhymes with orange, so it probably wasn't a popular choice with the cheer squads.

Now to the game...
With seventeen seconds left in the first half, an eleven-point lead, and possess-ing one potentially precious timeout, Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson completed a pass to his split end, in bounds, just inches from the Syracuse 15 yard-line.  The play gave Notre Dame a first down.  The clock stopped briefly so the officials could set the new down markers, then resumed its countdown.  Running, gesturing, Golson marshaled his troops into formation for what most onlookers assumed would be a simple snap-and-spike play.

For the uninitiated, spike is football jargon for hurling the ball into the ground.  When done in the proper context, it is treated like an incomplete pass: the clock stops (saving the need for a timeout), the ball is spotted as before, and the offensive unit is charged with a loss of down (which they can afford, else they wouldn't do it).  Curiously, the spike play is exempted from football's prohibition against intentional grounding.  I'm guessing the loophole exists because the alternative is to have the quarterback turn and heave the ball toward the sideline --two yards downfield, three yards over his receiver's head, and fifteen yards out of bounds-- potentially injuring bystanders and definitely making it more difficult to retrieve.

Golson took the snap and appeared, from a distance, to spike the ball.  There is a difference, however, between throwing the ball into the ground and dropping the ball onto the ground.  The former is a spike, the latter is a fumble.  A fumbled football is "live," meaning any player on the field can recover it and theoretically run with it.  One player did so.  Syracuse cornerback Julian Whigham saw the football drunkenly duck-walking across the turf, dodged a man, scooped the loose ball off the ground, and sprinted toward the far end-zone.  Belatedly, he realized the officials had blown their whistles, rendering the play "dead."  As he started to slow, however, several teammates, on and off the field, encouraged him to keep going.  He did.

The officials conferred.  They checked the replay.  No doubt more than one of them grimaced.  The replay clearly showed Golson had dropped the ball rather than thrown it to the ground.  Whigham's recovery and run-back should have counted, chopping the Notre Dame lead to four points and giving the Orange a heaping helping of momentum going into halftime.

However, Whigham's alert play was aided by the fact that he was the only man on the field who assumed the play was live.  That circumstance existed in no small part because even the officials initially thought the play dead, and blew their whistles to enforce the assumption.  Football players are taught --both through verbal instruction and the practical example of every damned play of their entire lives-- to stop playing when the whistle blows.  In effect, Whigham had resolutely, and correctly, maintained that he had the right of way even as the game's police officers were erroneously ordering him to yield.

The ACC officials conferred some more, scribbling their Formal Opinion on a note pad.  Technically, they had two choices.  One: declare Golson's fumble a spike, which it clearly wasn't, and allow Notre Dame to keep the ball with a chance to extend their lead.  Two: allow Whigham's recovery and return, which they'd unfairly aided, to stand, giving Syracuse six points with an option for more.  In their Solomonic wisdom, they issued the following set of contradictory rulings...

1. Golson fumbled, rendering the ball live.

2. Whistles were blown, rendering the ball dead.

3. In this heretofore unexplored plane of existence where a ball can
    be both live and dead simultaneously --the duck-walking dead--
    Whigham recovered the fumble.

4. Despite the clean recovery of a live ball giving Whigham the right
    to advance, we're going to deny him that right because he's orange
    because the ball was retroactively declared dead, even though it was
    still live enough to recover.


Syracuse ball, at their own 25, with thirteen whole seconds on the clock.

What happened next was a, um, hang on, let me check the calendar here, it was a, uh, Third Day of Rosh Hashanah miracle?  76,802 fans --half of them wearing orange despite their team wearing grey, and half of them wearing green despite their school colors being navy-blue and gold, and all of them temporary nominal enemies just moments before-- recovered from their slack-jawed frowning to make the venue formerly known as New Meadowlands Stadium ring with one united opinion of their own:

"Buuull-SHIT!  Buuull-SHIT!  Buuull-SHIT!  Buuull-SHIT!"

That sort of thing is reassuring.

P.S.... Bud "Walking Dead" Selig must go.

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Sep 27, 2014

To Infinity and Beyond

"Have you ever noticed... that anyone driving slower than you is
 an idiot?  And anyone driving faster than you is a MANIAC!"
                                                                             --George Carlin

"Some of these people think that by buying safe cars
 it excuses them the responsibility of having to learn
 how to DRIVE the f----n' thing!"                              --George Carlin

commentary by killre

For once, the guy in front of me not only saw the light go green the instant it happened, he knew what he wanted to do about it.  I was next in line, so I saw the whole thing.  We were in the lefternmost left-turn lane of perhaps the biggest secondary artery in these parts, catching our breath, having just run the gauntlet of a tight freeway interchange hard against a short block flanked on all sides by sizable shopping centers.  (Lefternmost, for use at intersections with more than one turn lane.)  It was a little after 8 a.m.

When we got the go, he tromped on it.  You might wonder how I know that.  Believe me, when I get to the end of this anecdote, you'll realized he must've tried to kick a hole in his firewall.  He made the two-by-two turn into the right-hand lane, cutting off an SUV.  He speeded past the orange-vested road workers --who were giving us all the stony stare from behind their cones-- at ten over the limit.  He blew straight through the end of a right-turn-only lane onto the far shoulder, yanked it into the thru lane while going around a curve, then came to a stop at the yield sign.  Not a rolling stop, mind you; a stop stop.  No reason; just stoppin' at the yield 'cause he was in such a hurry.  Then he completed the right turn and was gone.  At no point in any of this did he deign to signal.

He was driving a Prius.

I can't be the only one here who finds irony in that.

In the pantheon of latter-day makes and models, the image cast by Toyota's mousy gas/electric stands in some of the sharpest relief.  Whatever labels you mentally slap on that end of the spectrum likely depend on your political bent, but almost no-one can deny that the Prius, by dint of being the first truly popular example of its class, anchors said end.  The other end currently has no clear-cut commandant.  Some would point to the mid-life-crisis coupe or convertible with the breadbox-sized trunk and the full-throated roar.  For my money, though, it is the extra-big, always-shiny, suburbanite-owned pickup that never hauls any-thing, never tows anything, inevitably takes two or more parking spaces, and is basically the automotive equivalent of a customer-service rep who dons a cow-boy costume to go to the supermarket, where he literally shoves people aside on his way to the Caesar-salad kit.

I'll not claim to have chosen that metaphor with care, but I did choose it with purpose.  For some time now I've been both intrigued and consternated by the specific form of madness that too often takes hold of many of us whenever we get behind the wheel.  (I say us and we because, sadly, I am not immune.  In my case it is exclusively retaliatory, as if that's somehow better.  I am working hard to channel the unwelcome energy into excessively emotive eye-rolls-- and the silent invocation of certain ancient and particularly nasty spells.)

I think the phenomenon is some kind of temporary sociopathy.
Perhaps, in some cases, not so temporary.

Once upon a time, I likened cutting off a big rig in fast traffic and slamming on the brakes to entering a dive bar, approaching the biggest, meanest-looking hombre there, knocking the drink from his hand and then, just to clarify intent, shaking a strenuous middle finger about eight inches from his nose-- all on a whim.  Following that theme, if more people acted in person the way they do while driving, the shortage of medical personnel would approach national-emergency proportions.

Several months ago, Cadillac cut loose with a commercial geared toward com-batting, on behalf of their ELR, the same stigma certain people attach to the Prius.  Basically, the ad targeted red-blooded, red-meat-eating, red white and blue-waving red-staters with the message that it was possible to own a (red) hybrid and still be a swaggering, big-balled and boorish troglodyte.  Typically, they cheered; the spot was attention-gettingly brash and slyly effective, funny and ultimately harmless.  A very few rolled their eyes and muttered incantations; they thought it insidious.  I found it telling.

Curiously, there has not been a similar hue and cry over a more recent, admittedly more understated, car commercial that I find far more dangerous.  It makes being a motorized sociopath not just acceptable, but something to aspire to.  I give you the new Infinity Q50.

Let's break it down...
First, our mentally harried hero --let's call him "Richard" because form suggests some formality, as well as the avoidance of labeling him Dick-- takes off in his shiny, spanking-new sedan with all sorts of private, non-driving-related thoughts tumbling through his head until the moment the car reminds him to stay in his lane.  Personally, I don't know anyone incapable of thinking these thoughts without drifting sideways, but apparently the carmaker named its product the I.Q. 50 because it identifies the target demographic.

Safely back in his own lane, for now, Richard again becomes sociopathically self-absorbed.  A few miles on, he takes the time to signal a lane change, but either he doesn't bother to check his mirrors or he never bothered to adjust them, because he comes within inches of running a better driver off the road into a concrete barrier.  His reaction?  "Hoo, I thought it was clear."  This is akin to saying, "Whaddaya know, I almost killed somebody," in the same tone of voice most of us would use to mutter, "Huh, I'm out of floss."

Far from chagrinned, Richard then abandons all pretense of paying attention or of possessing any sense of responsibility.  No longer troubled by self-intoned trivialities (apparently the writers' brainstorming session was shorter than the ad itself), he simply stops. looking. at. the. road.  He is verily barreling toward the broad back-end of a very big, very visible van at a speed differential we can only hope will end this sociopathic putz here and now, but, alas, the I.Q. 50 is capable of braking itself.  Richard's reaction: "I didn't see that coming."  No, you didn't, and the video clearly shows why.  You weren't looking.

Richard then indulges in a self-satisfied smirk, the human animal's single most punch-worthy facial expression.  It says, "I know I'm a complete ass, but it's okay because I get away with it."

Safely rolling along a surprisingly open road once again (virtually all the other vehicles we see in the spot are ones with which Richard nearly collides; feel free to extrapolate what would happen in heavy traffic), it is time for a high-sticker-pricedly haughty narrator to drone of the I.Q. 50, "Its instinct to protect... leaves you free... to drive."  Too bad its drivers don't take advantage of that freedom.

This is just the latest instance of a trend that has concerned me for some time.  It began with anti-lock braking systems, negating the need for anyone to know anything more about emergency braking than Me stomp pedal!  History books often leave us with the impression that advances happen in easily discernible, all but revolutionary leaps.  We are nearly a decade and a half removed from Avery Brooks, whilst shilling for some now-forgotten advertiser, saying, "It's the year 2000... but where are the flying cars?"  While standard-issue flying cars may never come to pass, we are creeping, incrementally, with each relentless season, toward the day when all cars will drive themselves.  There are many who would point out that is inconsistent with, in fact the opposite of, freedom.  In the mean-time, each creeping increment, each bell-and-whistle driving aid added to the latest model diminishes us in some compensatory way-- not just as drivers, but as human beings.

P.S.... Bud "Smirk" Selig must go.