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.

Huh?

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.

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.

Sep 17, 2014

Confessions of a Grammar Nazi

"The greater part of the world's troubles
 are due to questions of grammar."
                                                    --Michel de Montaigne

"I never made a mistake in grammar but one
 in my life and as soon as I done it I seen it."
                                                    --Carl Sandburg

commentary by killre

Here are a couple more, from lesser-known sources:

"Social criticism begins with grammar
 and the re-establishment of meanings."
                                                    --Octavio Paz

"It's hard to take someone seriously when they
 leave a note saying, 'Your ugly.'  My ugly what?"
                                                    --Cara Lynn Shultz

You've probably seen the following pixilated placard.  It has been posted in a variety of places recently.  I found it at Jokideo.

The term "grammar nerd," of course, is a soft-pedaling of the far more popular "grammar Nazi," which is a conscious escalation, by so-called adults, of the juvenile urge felt by the cool kids to actively diminish others in order to smoke-screen their own shortcomings.  There's a certain unintentional irony to the term: it shows an acuity for choosing words that convey a derogatory sentiment toward people who feel all words should be chosen more carefully.

For the record, I don't think the adverb "as" in #2 is needed.  Also, #7 doesn't apply to me.  That's how much a grammar Nazi I am: I correct the grammar of other grammar Nazis, and I don't need to follow a website to feed my addiction.  Beyond that, Your Honor, I am guilty as charged.

In fact, I can supply more evidence...

 1. Every time I hear the name of LSU's head football coach, Les Miles,
     I find myself muttering, "Fewer miles."

 2. If someone uses than when it should have been then, or vice versa,
     it makes me weep bitterly for half an hour.

 3. Not only do I have an opinion on the Oxford comma,
     it is far more nuanced than a simple yea or nay.

 4. With the proper motivation, I could prove conclusively that
     more than half the prepositions employed in an average day
     are unnecessary.

 5. I just used more than instead of over.

 6. I may be developing an ulcer due to the penchant
     of many a sports analyst for saying physicality.

 7. I support the formation of a federal commission to
     systematically remove all words ending in the suffix
     -wards from every dictionary.

 8. Not only do I know the difference between an adverb and an
     adjective, I know well is the former and good is the latter.

 9. With my right hand raised and my left resting on the Associated
     Press Stylebook and Libel Manual, I hereby pledge my willingness
     to join an armed insurrection to rescue the dash from usurpation
     by the hyphen.

10. I would do the same to defend an from the abuses of a.

11. I may knife the next person who states there's two or more.

12. And I tend to dislike sentences that begin with a conjunction.

Furthermore, Your Honor, I cannot understand the historian who can tell me Washington never chopped down the cherry tree, Doubleday never even played baseball, Jefferson was more likely to put the wood than the whip to his slaves, and the Emancipation Proclamation had more to do with winning the war than freeing a people, but is stymied when asked to separate myth from fact regarding there, their and they're.

I cannot understand the computer programmer who knows with hair-tearing intimacy that a single misplaced character in a single line of code can bring a whole routine to, a screeching halt but places their commas willy-nilly.  Similar things can be, said of mathematicians.

I cannot understand the filmmaker who can spot half an inch of circumcised boom-mic dipping into the upper-right border of the frame for two heartbeats, but doesn't know the difference between its and it's.

Most of all, I cannot understand any so-called writer who thinks his or her conversational style is anything but sloppy writing, lacking gravitas.  Congratulations, hack, your latest piece has a shelf-life of fourteen seconds.

-------------
P.S.... Bud "There's Several Months Yet, And There're Damage
          That Can Still Be Done" Selig must go.

Sep 12, 2014

How to Avoid Huge Ships


By Citizenfitz on December 21, 2010
Format: Paperback

I bought How to Avoid Huge Ships as a companion to Captain Trimmer's other excellent titles: How to Avoid a Train, and How to Avoid the Empire State Building. These books are fast paced, well written and the hard won knowledge found in them is as inspirational as it is informational. After reading them I haven't been hit by anything bigger than a diesel bus. Thanks captain! 

Sep 11, 2014

Face Plant

The majestic dive, captured by Lawrence Jackson, was released as the White House revealed some candid behind-the-scenes photographs from June on its official Flickr account.

Aug 16, 2014

Furguson MO

I was just scanning some news and thinking about stuff before heading out on a beer run (it's been a busy weekend). Then I saw the following picture of Furguson MO.
Well, I'll be damned if it didn't remind me of this publicity still from the original (and only IMHO) Red Dawn...
What's more striking, is that there's even more firepower on the streets of Missouri than there ever was in that fictional little Colorado town.

It's funny, how some folks are surprised by the weaponization of the local police forces in the last ten years - and how they're only just now starting to blink about it. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) stepped up to a microphone and yelled "Told you so!" for about a half an hour the other day. What's extra stupid is that Rand Paul is now in the center of both sides of the discussion. Center.

Hopefully folks will re-examine the policies and the politics that got us to Furguson right now. But I'll go on and keep hoping for that... meantime, when the President of the United States asks why citizens need AR-15's in their homes, we all now have a legitimate answer. Look out your backdoor.

Aug 14, 2014

#Ferguson, or Hints from Hella-wheeze

Trending on Twitter right now - don't ask how I know, I just tune in every once in awhile anymore to get another beer out of the cooler - Palestinians are tweeting Ferguson with support and helpful hints on how to deal with tear gas.

Hints from Hella-wheeze

You Don't Like Trucks?


Jul 22, 2014

Beetle Mania



George Harrison Memorial Tree killed ... by beetles
A plaque marking the George Harrison Tree, planted in 2004 in Griffith Park. The original tree died recently, the result of an infestation of beetles. It will be replanted soon. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

The beetles were then killed by Yoko. Blackbirds grieving, in the dead of night.
I don't believe in beetles. I just believe in trees.
[source]

Jun 29, 2014

Bigger Isn't Always Better

"As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain;
 and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality."
                                                                               --Albert Einstein

"Flyin' through hyperspace ain't like dustin' crops, boy."
                                                                               --Han Solo

commentary by killre

[Note: due to length and a self-imposed Sunday deadline, I have split what was to have been one post into two parts. Hopefully, I will have the sequel available in a few days.]

I used to be a long-haul truck driver. Before that and since, I've had a healthy if decidedly amateur interest in astronomy. Late one night, a number of years ago that will too soon qualify for the adjective many, I stopped my rig in an isolated pull-out alongside a lonely stretch of Interstate to "cool a tire," which is trucker-speak for "relieve my bladder." It was an exceptionally clear night, and I was at a relatively high elevation. Having successfully completed my primary task without incident, I spent ten minutes or so taking in the dazzling display of stars. This activity --standing slack-jawed in the dark, head back, eyes bugged-- is one I've engaged in many times, but this particular night stands out in memory. I had never before, nor have I since, seen so many stars at one time. If asked in that moment how many I thought there were, I could have managed only the grossest of guesses.

Since then, I've learned the likely approximate number. A person with average eyesight, in the right location --an open area far from any population center and its accompanying light pollution, and preferably at a fairly high elevation-- on a very clear night, with their unaided eyes, can see perhaps 2,500 stars. (Some estimates are a bit higher.) That, dear reader, is 0.000001% of the stars in the Milky Way galaxy. As an illustration, I submit to you the link below. You'll have to scroll down a few inches after the jump, to the second picture.

The small red circle represents everything you've ever seen without a finely crafted telescope. It denotes a sphere somewhere just shy of 1,000 light-years in radius. One light-year is just under six trillion miles. Expressed more precisely, with good old-fashioned Arabic digits, it looks like this:

5,878,625,373,183.61 miles.

One thousand light-years, then, is this:

5,878,625,373,183,610 miles. That puts the "5" in the quadrillion column, meaning that a person with average eyes, in the right location on a clear night, can see more than five quadrillion miles. Betcha didn't know that, didja? Still, as you have seen and/or read, it is a tiny fraction of what's out there.

The site on which that picture is posted is called Wait But Why. The accompanying article is titled for its topic, "The Fermi Paradox." The article's author is Tim Urban.

Named for Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi, whose bio you can search-engine yourself if you really need more reading material, the Fermi Paradox (henceforth "FP") refers to the apparent contradiction between (a) the high mathematical probability of the existence of intelligent alien civilizations and (b) the lack of contact with same.

Urban's essay is a bit lengthy because it touches upon a small host of related theories, all pertaining in some way to our perceived aloneness as an intelligent species in an inconceivably vast universe. It covers the bases pretty clearly, and nothing screams "badly written" --a ringing endorsement from yours truly-- but there are (of course) aspects of the article that left me a little unsatisfied.

Urban begins with some extremely big numbers, which he then multiplies by some extremely big numbers, making for some mind-blowingly ginormous math. That isn't his fault. He is discussing the FP, and the FP employs such numbers. It isn't the FP's fault either: those are the numbers, as near as anyone can tell.

All the headache-inducing arithmetic is initially intended to simply answer a question, but it quickly does more than that: it makes an argument. In the total absence of concrete proof that there are intelligent species elsewhere in the universe, Fermi and his followers seek to prove such existence through overwhelming abstract evidence-- numbers that are so far beyond homo sapiens' grounded frame of reference that we are almost powerless to argue with them, even if we were so inclined.

Take a moment to think it over, and be honest with yourself. As often as the word million gets tossed around these days, almost no-one has any real, concrete notion of just how many one million somethings are. It is a number we only think we know. In truth, it hovers out there just beyond tangible comprehension. Now, move beyond that and ponder the concept of a billion, then remember you're still not anywhere close to the numbers Urban is throwing around in virtually the first paragraph. You're not in the ballpark; you're not in the city; you're not even in the same state.

The end result of all that exponent-laced, to-the-power-of-holy-[expletive] math is this: the probable Number of Earth-like planets in the entire Known Universe. The problem with such a concept is that the Number is purely theoretical, in more ways than one. First, it is theoretical in its very mechanics: the equation leading to it is full of variables, estimates, assumptions-- each one wilder than the last. The Number itself means nearly nothing, outside of being [fudgin'] H-U-G-E. That, ultimately, is the Number's primary, graspable value: simply being huge. Don't get me wrong: I don't blame anyone for wondering how many Earth-like planets there are in the universe, nor do I blame them for trying to find a Number. It must be recognized, however, that the Number given is little more than a rhetorical prop.

That points to the second way in which the Number is theoretical: its practical application. Having some vague idea of how many alien civilizations there may be in the Known Universe is interesting, passingly, for about eight or ten seconds, but then reality sets in and you remember how utterly useless the information is. Realistically, there isn't a foreseeable future in which our species makes any sort of contact with an intelligent race in, say, the Andromeda galaxy, which is our closest intergalactic neighbor. Ergo, I don't much care. I don't care about a Type 2 civilization dominating one quadrant of a nameless galaxy far, far away --unless, of course, they have a suped-up bucket of bolts named Millennium Falcon-- and I don't care about a 1.5 in Andromeda and I don't care about a full-grown 1 on the far side of the Milky Way. Even my wildest dreams are more pragmatic than that.

What I do care about is this: How many intelligent species, roughly comparable to our own, are there in just this little grove of the interstellar woods? You know-- someone our descendants might actually talk to in the next twenty centuries or so. That's the question I found myself wanting Urban to address. He didn't, but that isn't his fault. He didn't address it is because the FP doesn't address it. So I decided to crunch some of the numbers myself...

Now, the first thing I have to tell you --in the interest of seeming reasonable and conscientious and scientific and journalistic and maybe a few other noble-sounding things I'll not bother to list, all geared toward coming across as sufficiently self-deprecatingly credible while also drawing a bit of breechclout across my backside-- is that my own equations are, in truth, just as full of assumptions, estimates, variables and wild guesses as the FP's. It is the nature of such speculations.

For example... The FP seems to assume that any alien civilization, even one far beyond our ken, must have arisen on a planet much like our own, orbiting a star that is also much like our own. Why it makes this assumption I don't know --it seems surprisingly limited and limiting-- but I make the same assumption because I'm not looking for just any civilization, I'm looking for one similar to ours.

Also... One giant assumption I make --one which departs from the essence of the FP pretty drastically-- is that the monstrously big numbers the FP employs for the Known Universe can be similarly used for a specific area of space-- in this case, within 1,000 or so light-years of Earth. This is a dangerous assumption on my part. Whereas the math of the FP inherently "averages out" regions possessing a high density of such planets with regions where it is low, applying the same formula to one very small, very specific region assumes a fairly even distribution of such worlds throughout the galaxy. Such uniformity seems unlikely on the one hand, but that doubt is mitigated somewhat by the thought that the FP's theories on the matter are at least partially based on "local" observations. Besides, at this point it is a matter of either running the numbers I have or not running any, and I haven't typed this many words to bail now.

So, let's get to it. According to the Yale Bright Star Catalog, a comprehensive list of "naked eye visible stars," there are 9,110 stars in the roughly 1,000 light-year radial sphere surrounding the Solar system. Astronomers, astrophysicists, and others in similar fields of study estimate that 12.5% (one in eight) of all the stars in the Milky Way galaxy are "sun-like," meaning they are reasonably similar in size, mass, and radiation --both in type and in output-- to Sol (the official name of the sun). 12.5 is an admittedly rough estimate. It could be off by 60% either way, possibly more. Blithely assuming the figure is only slightly optimistic, and that what is estimated for the galaxy as a whole holds true in our little pocket of it, the total number of sun-like stars in our 1,000 light-year sphere is... oh, look at that: 1138. (Could it be that a certain Mr. Lucas already trod this path, a long time ago? Your guess.)

The experts further estimate that 36% of all sun-like stars govern systems that include an Earth-like planet. (The over/under on that figure is a mere 39%.) If that's true, then the number of Earth-like planets within 1,000 light-years of our own is 409. (Skeptics who have made it this far will want to know what the number is if the more conservative estimates are applied. It is 100.)

That's as far as I've gotten: 409 Earth-like worlds within 1,000 light-years of Earth. That was the easy part. Estimating how many of them may harbor a race like ours is, frankly, algebra I've only glanced at. As I said at the top, I hope to have an answer in a few days.

-------------
P.S.... Bud "I Have A T-shirt That Shows A Donkey In A Lab Coat
         Pointing At A Blackboard That Reads 'E=MC-squared, I Think';
        The Caption Says 'Smart Ass'; My Mother Gave It To Me" Selig must go.

Jun 25, 2014

Why Soccer Is Stupid...

...and a Little of Why It Isn't

commentary by killre

[Editor's note: in the interest of both length and focus, I have redacted several paragraphs relating U.S. midfielder Graham Zusi to baseball player Fred Merkle, with explanation of who Fred Merkle was.  Don't say you're not loved.]

Every few years, for just a few weeks, ninety-odd percent of American sports fans are rudely reminded that the rest of the world gets all geeked for a sport they call futbol.  Please note I simply stated they call it futbol (which of course is pronounced "football" and is sometimes even spelled that way, albeit by a minority).  Had I wanted to be snarky, I'd have said something like, "...sport they insist on calling football, even though it isn't."  I didn't do that because, let's face it, calling the game futbol (or football; reader's choice) is the one thing about soccer that actually makes sense.

So, every few years, for just a few weeks, ninety-odd percent of us roll our eyes and resolve to silently endure the sudden soccer craze that ESPN so desperately wants to incite.  Then, almost like clockwork, Team USA (or whatever they're called) pulls an upset victory over some country you haven't heard of since junior high geography class and suddenly we're careful to say nil instead of nothing and match instead of game and remind ourselves that pitch and header have meanings outside of baseball, sales meetings, and slapstick-flavored mishaps.

Then, almost like someone planned it, the next game match falls on a Sunday.

Then, almost like someone planned it, Team USA (or whatever they're called) loses in a way that makes ninety-odd percent of us wonder why soccer is so... so... oh, so stupid.

I don't know about the other members of the ninety-odd percent, but I for one am tired of being told by Soccer Fan that the reason I can't appreciate the sport is that I am, in some unspecified way, uncultured.  It simply isn't true.  Uncultured I may be, in some respects, but that isn't why I hold soccer in the same regard as an unattractive sex partner the morning after they've gotten me drunk and seduced me.  (Here's hoping I didn't slip one past that goalie.)  Being uncultured is not the cause of my ambivalence.  The sport is far too primitive for that argument.

For make no mistake: soccer is, in some ways, a very primitive game.  (Mind you, I started composing this argument, in my head at least, prior to Tuesday's biting incident.)  That is both its beauty and its bane.  Its very template is as basic as it gets: a rectangular playing field with a goal at either end.  While that is a common arrangement, virtually every other pastime built on a similar frame --American football, Australian football, rugby, ice hockey, field hockey, roller hockey, air hockey, lacrosse, foosball, probably many others, and even basketball-- require more equipment and greater dexterity.  The only two things needed for a futbol game are an open, preferably sizeable space, and something to kick around.  I'm not saying there is no dexterity in soccer, just that it isn't required from the very outset at the same level as other sports.

The second, more abstract reason why soccer is a primitive game conceals itself in the tall grass of the very first rule virtually everyone learns: NO HANDS.  This rule defies evolution.  Homo sapiens clawed their way to the top of the food chain by developing bipedal locomotion, freeing their forelimbs --their arms and hands-- for other, more complicated, and ultimately more important tasks.  Futbol's no hands rule strips its players of a small portion of their humanity by banning the species' single greatest physical attribute.  In doing so, soccer marks its territory in the pantheon of pastimes not far from riding a unicycle and bobbing for apples.

Moreover, futbol too often gives off the vibe of a game that was invented yesterday by a ten-year-old with an underdeveloped sense of fair play and with whom you must now spend time.  By "underdeveloped sense of fair play," of course, I mean he changes the rules depending on whether he's winning or losing...

     So no-one can use their hands?  You realize
     that defies evolution, don't you?
     "Huh?"

     Never mind.  So no-one can use their hands?
     "Right.  Except the goalie.  He can use his hands."

     That's too bad.  If the goalie had to follow the same rule
     as everyone else, somebody might actually score.  So the
     goalie can use his hands, but no-one else?
     "Well, if the ball goes out of bounds along the sideline,
     then someone can use their hands to throw it back in."

     So most of the players, most of the time, can't use their hands.
     "Yeah.  Probably.  We'll see."

Of course, the greater problem with futbol is the clock, the clock, the stupid [expletive] clock!  For starters, it ticks forward instead of back, which is a minor pain in the posterior portion of a person who, upon wondering how much time is remaining, wants to be answered with, you know, an answer, and not a third-grade math problem... but put that aside.  A more pressing issue with the clock is, aside from halftime or intermission or respite or whatever they haughtily call it, the [expletive] thing doesn't stop.  Ever.  Not for substitutions; not for out-of-bounds; not for goal celebrations; not even for injuries.  "Oh, my goodness, his shin bone is sticking out the back of his leg... they're going to have to bring the stretcher all the way over from the other side of the pitch... how many minutes do you think this will take, Bartleby?"  Tough to say, Percival, but I'm sure the officials will pick a number at random and then not tell us what it is...

Which leads us to soccer's single most egregious stupidity: the closely guarded state secret that is additional time.  A weird enough concept to begin with (again, why not simply stop and restart the game match clock in conjunction with the on-field action?), there is something decidedly suspicious and undemocratic about the way FIFA refuses to tell the People precisely when the game will end.  I can't help being reminded of our entitled ten-year-old, changing the rules on the fly to suit his wants...

     So how long is the game?
     "We call it a match."

     Okay.  How long is the match?
     "Ninety minutes."

     (Ninety minutes pass.)

     Well, that's ninety minutes.  I guess we win.
     "No.  I'm adding four minutes of extra time."

     Why?
     "Goal celebration, bathroom breaks, and that time the
     ball got kicked to the other side of the street and you
     had to wait for two cars to go by before you could bring
     it back."

     Why didn't you just stop the clock for that stuff?
     "Uhhh...."

     Never mind.  You figure that all took four minutes?
     "Did I say four?  I meant five."

     (Five minutes pass.)

     That's five minutes.  Game's over, right?
     "A minimum of five minutes.  It might be closer to six.
     Oh wait, we just scored.  Now the match is over."

     Anybody ever tell you what this gesture means, kid?
     "I'm number one?"

     Something like that.

-------------
P.S.... Bud "It Reminded Me Of The Time
          Harvard Beat Yale 29-29" Selig must go.

P.P.S.... Bud "No, I'm Number One!" Selig must go.

Jun 17, 2014

A Review of Three-way Chess

"It is well that war is so terrible, lest we should grow too fond of it."
                                             --Robert E. Lee, Battle of Fredericksburg

"You gotta be shittin' me, Joker! You're not a writer! You're a killer!"
                                             --R. Lee Ermey, Full Metal Jacket

commentary by killre

For once, there is no play on words in my title, nor is there any abstract and cryptic metaphor that you would need to be a mind-reader to puzzle out.  Oh, and no, we haven't suddenly become a porn site.  This post is, believe it or not, a review of a board game.

Someone has figured out a way for three people to play chess on the same board at the same time.  It is called 3 Man Chess In the Round, and it is a surprisingly compelling game.

I'd be astonished if you weren't skeptical right about now.  I certainly was.  Your skepticism likely comes from one of two places...

One: You don't like traditional chess to begin with, and are even less interested in some weird variation of it.  So be it.  Some people don't read for pleasure; some people insist baseball is utterly bereft of drama, save when some fast-twitch behemoth crushes a pitch 400 feet or more; some people don't even own a corkscrew, let alone use it; and some people have convinced themselves that chess is the root cause of all migraines.  Have a nice day.

Two: You like traditional chess just fine, and are uninterested in some weird variation of it.  I once thought as you did.  For the most part, I still do.  Some have called chess the greatest board game ever invented.  Not to saturate the page with pixelated praise, but I find it hard to argue against that claim.  The game has come to us through untold centuries, passed from culture to culture to culture, with only a few tweaks along the way.  It may be the very thing for which the adage, "easy to learn; difficult to master," was invented.  Of course, there are those who will tell you it isn't all that easy to learn-- see the previous paragraph.

As indicated, my own initial skepticism grew from the Two.  I know this guy who shares my interest in chess, but while he appreciates the traditional game, he has an oddball sensibility that cannot help being drawn, like a Goth to an black-lit warehouse party, to the dozens of mutations that dozens of somebodies in dozens of somewheres have conjured in an attempt to give the old game a new wrinkle (and, no doubt, give themselves a short-term advantage over their playing partners).  While I find a handful of these aberrations theoretically intriguing, I have consistently been concretely cool to the idea of trying them.

The guy persuaded me to try 3 Man Chess, however, and I'm glad he did.

Here's why...
In its initial, and especially its medial stages, the game takes on a cutthroat, quasi-political aspect-- albeit in a simplified and, at its best, unspoken form.  (Softened as it is, my use of the word "political" will undoubtedly chase some of you away.  You're doing yourself a disservice if you let that happen.)  The political dimension is not required by rule, mind you, so much as it is inherently encouraged by the simple fact that there are three players instead of two, and maneuvering an opponent into an untenable position (even with this game's expanded tactical options) is far more easily done in concert with a third party-- even one you can't entirely trust.  So, tentative and fragile alliances naturally form.  Such a tacit agreement, coalescing early in a contest, might hold between two players until the third is beaten.  It may even survive the occasional strategic backstab.  More likely, though, alliances will shift with the changing tactical picture, or sometimes due to nothing but a whim.  Just because someone is your ally doesn't mean they're not capricious and self-serving, or prone to blunders.

(On that note, a tangent... A few years ago, HBO partnered with Fantasy Flight Games to produce and market a Game of Thrones table game.  Sucker that I am, I paid perfectly good money for that [feces].  I discarded the plastic wrapping and tried to read the rules.  Otherwise, the game is unused.  I strongly suspect you have to be a graduate of Dungeons & Dragons University to even begin to understand it.  Anyone interested in a near-mint set, for cheap, please bang the comments button below.  For those interested in a slightly less dorky and considerably less confusing version of the same game --though sadly without the sigils-- might I suggest 3 Man Chess?)

The new, quasi-political undertone this game fosters is altogether fitting, really.  Chess, after all, is meant to represent War.  War, clinically distilled, is Politics, with Weapons.  (Politics, in turn, is Commerce, with Lawyers.  Knowingly or unknowingly, Warren Zevon was right: it all boils down to lawyers, guns, and money.)  Part of me wants to point out that three-man chess is played on a round board (rather than a square one) and invest that fact with some allegorical significance by noting that the Earth is also round.  However, I am mindful of the fact that those not given to finding greater meaning in lesser details can counter my notion with a simple rhetorical question: "How else you gonna do it?"

Once one player is forced to surrender, the Caesar salad of strategy and politics is put aside and the two remaining opponents can fall with ferocity upon the juicy red meat of the tactical endgame.  As alluded earlier, the larger, circular board affords each player with more moves almost from the outset.  Moreover, those moves have the potential to be more diverse and dynamic.  Once one of the three armies has been reduced to a few scattered remnants who are stripped of their power, and with the two still-active forces having inevitably suffered some attrition along the way, the tactical possibilities seem to increase exponentially.  Lightning-quick, blind-side strikes may lurk for either side.  At the same time, all of the more traditional end-of-game options are preserved.

Very satisfying, both for the traditionalist and the oddball.

-------------
P.S.... Bud "I Have Two Quarrels, Because Crossbows
          Do Not, In The End, Shoot Arrows" Selig must go.

Jun 14, 2014

The Fall of Iraq

If you haven't been keeping up with the news lately, I can sum it up by saying that the Iraq army isn't exactly anchoring a democratic awakening in the Middle East.


To his point - If we were to fight the ISIS, we'd help keep propping up Maliki. It's a bit of a no-win situation. If ISIS wins, they won't last.

It's a shame that after billions of American dollars and thousands of American lives, our government has decided that it's a lost cause and we're going to allow Sunni insurgents to behead Iraqi civilians in the streets of Mosul and Tikrit.

Don't worry. The Iranians are more than willing to lend a hand in stabilizing Iraq. They might even put up some permanent bases there. You know, as a peace keeping force.

Jun 13, 2014

Signed by the Author

Bart Ehrman recounts an anecdote from a few years back from a class he taught as a new testament scholar and a professor at UNC Chapel HIll. On the first day of class, in a large lecture hall filled with mostly believers:

"How many of you here would agree to the proposition that the bible is the inspired word of god?"

Whooom - all of the hands in the room go up.

"How many of you here have read the da Vinci Code by Dan Brown?"

Whooom - almost all of the hands go up.

"How many of you have read the bible cover to cover?"

A few hands go up.

"I can understand why you might want to read a book by Dan Brown. But you're telling me that you think the creator of the universe wrote a book filled with instructions on how to live your life, complete with examples, and yet you haven't read it..."

If I were in his class, I would have countered, "yeah, but it wasn't his best work."

Frankly, I'd rather there was a disclaimer on the front: "All characters portrayed within this book are fictitious and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental."

Jun 10, 2014

...And Color Inside the Lines, Dammit!

slice of life by killre

Silly me, I always thought rule number one was "have fun."

Last evening, I attended a parental orientation meeting for my kid's summer camp.  I'm not sure exactly why.  He's going to Washington, D.C. and New York for a week this summer.  He's going fishing in Canada for two.  Plus we have big plans for the Fourth of July weekend.  His mother insists on booking him solid, though, so that's partly how I wound up in a parental orientation meeting, but I'm still not sure why.  I guess you can't just ship them off to camp anymore with a soft slap on the back and a theatrically hearty, "Say, some of those boys look kinda big!  Well, good luck, kiddo."

Besides, it isn't even a real camp-- it's a day camp.  A DAY camp!  It's like pre-school for shy and *cough* overly mothered early teens.  (Quick look over shoulder.)

Mostly, the meeting was about completing paperwork.  Emergency contact one, emergency contact two, emergency contact three, emergency contact four.  Wait, additional contacts?  Um, what are you guys planning to do to my kid?

We also received a copy of the Day Camp Behavior Policy, to be signed by both parent and "participant," detached, and filed for later use by the inevitable tribunal.  The Day Camp Behavior Policy was a revelation.  They're not too subtle about their major concern, as you will soon see.

First, though, I'm going to parse a few words.  I promise not to be too long about it.  I know I probably bore you when I do that, dear reader, but I just can't help wondering why, if someone took the time to compose them, they didn't take the time to make sure they didn't defy logic-- especially in the first [fudging] sentence:

1. Participants will respect themselves, others and the world around them.

*sigh*  You cannot legislate thought.  Okay?  You cannot command a person to have respect for someone or something.  You can instruct them to act respectfully; you might even get away with telling them to "be respectful," although even that treads shaky ground; but you are definitely over the fault line in dictating, "You WILL respect everything!  I have so decreed!"

Okay, rant over.

In his later years, George Carlin famously boiled the Ten Commandments down to just two.  I was reminded of that as I perused the rest of the Day Camp Behavior Policy.  If you accept the spirit of rule number one (rather than lawyering the letter of it, as I did), then most of the rest of the list falls under the same general respect-demanding (though not -inducing) edict: no foul language, no name-calling, no bullying, no fighting, clean up after yourself, no bullying, no fighting, no wandering off and getting snatched by a pedophile, no bullying, no fighting, follow instructions, don't break anything, no bullying, no fighting...

What's that sign say?
"No bare feet."

What's that sign say!
"No fighting!"

What does it mean?
*shrug* "Means no fighting."

The last rule:

10. Most importantly, ALL MUST HAVE FUN AT DAY CAMP!

Don't get me wrong-- I understand what they're trying to do here.  Underneath that ponderous portion of protoplasmic cheez whiz, though, what else have they done?  Well, they've tried to legislate thought again, and in doing so they've unintentionally indicated that if you don't have fun, they will force it on you-- always the surest way to achieve that particular result.  Moreover, they've buried the very thing they herald as the most important at the bottom of the list rather than the top.  They have even been repetitive enough to be repetitive enough to be repetitive enough to configure their rules into ten sentences-- probably for the same reason the Hebrews did it five thousand years ago: it's a round number.

(Completely tangential: Why do we use a base-ten math system?
Because that's how many fingers we have, that's why.)

What struck me most at the time, though, was that this prodding, this cajoling, this exhortation to "have fun" comes quick on the heels of a looooooong list of don'ts.

-------------
P.S.... Bud "Betting Is Illegal At Bushwood, Sir,
          And I Never Slice" Selig must go (while we're young!).

May 8, 2014

Dock the Vote

commentary by killre

So three Yahoos named Susan Saulny, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps (henceforth referred to as Dewey, Huey, and Louie) recently posted a, um, I guess I'll call it an article discussing the evaporation of the so-called "Obama Generation," the legion of young voters what got him elected prez, but are not expected to exercise their midterm democratic balloting rights.

You are, of course, free to follow the jump and either (a) watch the video or (b) act like a grown up by frantically stabbing the mute button and reading the text instead.

Or you could just trust me to print the pertinents below.

Why it took three people to write this "article" is beyond me.  Most of the text is nothing more than a transcript of the video, and Huey-Dewey-Louie somehow manage to get a few of the finer points wrong, despite their triple-teaming.  The vid is an interview of John Della Volpe.  He's the Director of Polling at Harvard's Institute of Politics.  As we all know, a dip in voter turnout for the midterm elections --particularly among young voters-- is, like, totally unprecedented.  Volpe has a few theories as to why such a wild anomaly might happen.  He says the theories are backed by numbers.

One passage caught my eye/ear:

"...young people voted for Obama in 2000 and 8 so they could have a stake in what was happening in government ... I think they're frustrated that they weren't asked to do more."

That's an... optimistic view.  I sincerely hope it's accurate.  Too bad it isn't.

I strongly suspect the truth is much more in line with human nature, especially the nature of humans living in 21st-century U.S. of America.  Now, don't get me wrong: I don't have my finger on the pulse (or any other body part) of young voters, nor do I have collated data that I won't actually reveal, nor am I trying to paint everyone with the same broad brush.  However, it seems to me that young people voted for Obama in two-thousand-eight because they liked him better than John McCain and the Avon lady, not because they wanted "a stake in ... government" --no more than most voters, anyway.  Moreover, I don't think their failure to vote since 2008 is because "they're frustrated that they weren't asked to do more."  I think they thought 2008 was enough.  A significant percentage of them probably never learned much about how the government works, and they don't know how important their vote might be, even in a midterm.  There are probably many who are only dimly aware that there are elections this year; and many of those are convinced the balloting must surely pertain to someone else.

Besides, even for the ones who do know and do know and do know... it just doesn't have the JAZZ of a presidential election, does it.

-------------
P.S.... Bud "DEFCON Ratings Are Like Golf Scores:
          The Lower The Number, The Higher The Heat" Selig must go.

Apr 30, 2014

Crisis Across the Globe and half a Biggot

Sterling banned by Silver, fined Gold - sold for Platinum.

Banner headlines - the talk of the town, polite circles, locker room banter, my facebook feed and just about any person with a pulse is talking about the LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling being banned for life, fined $2.5 million, by the new NBA commissioner Adam Silver.  Here's a cartoon explaining the freedom of speech, in the context of the government, and the context in a social and organizational setting.

Personally, with all the yelling and hollering - no one has asked, why this 38 year old babe he was hanging out with was secretly and illegally taping his conversation? And she *might* be friends with one former LA Laker Earvin "Magic" Johnson - the same Magic Johnson who is interested in purchasing the LA Clippers. Owned by? You said it. One Donald Sterling. Team's not for sale, you say. Give me ten minutes and an open microphone. 

Is the man a racist jerk? I'm not contesting that or suggesting otherwise -- I'm asking, why is this "Magic" tape recording suddenly coming out? I've read at least one Elmore Leonard novel - okay, I got the gist of it from an Entertainment Weekly review ... okay, I've seen a couple movies. Not important. What is important is that the word BLACKMAIL seems to keep floating to the top of the oily surface of my ruined mind -- funny, no one else has the guts to even suggest it.

Meanwhile - the Soviet Union is reconstituting itself, NATO is amassing forces getting ready for the inevitability of Russia to invade the rest of Ukraine. New allegations of Syria using chlorine attacks on children. Yemen is about to collapse. Iraqis go to the polls despite the worst violence there in six years. And Best Korea is conducting live-fire exercises, escalating tensions there.

Obviously, what an 81 year old Jewish Democrat billionaire says to his 38 year old gold-digger mistress is the most important item in everyone's lives right now. Want to really embarrass him? Take back his NAACP lifetime achievement award, which they did. But they did not take back the Humanitarian Award he won in 2008 or the President's Award in 2009. That must have been way back in time when he wasn't a racist.

Or, maybe they spent the check already.

Apr 18, 2014

Old Ladies Seldom Pop the Clutch

slice of life by killre

Yes, I am guilty of ageism, or whatever the real word is.  Sue me.

Some might accuse me of sexism, too, but I won't cop to that.

I was on my way home with the kids and had to stop at the grocery store to pick up nine items.  Nine.  Not ten.  Nine.  I had eight of them in the cart when I told the kids, "Wheel that to the front and select a likely lane."  Yeah, I really talk that way, even to children.  In the case of my kids, the result is this: they understand what I'm saying.  Go fig.

My daughter pushed the cart toward the check-out lanes, her older brother tagging along.  I went two aisles over, grabbed the ninth item off the shelf, and made my way to the front of the store.  I spied my daughter at the far end of the check-out area, swishing the cart this way and that, unable to decide which express lane to commit to.  (For his part, my son was doing an absent-minded left/right shuffle to mirror each swish.)  I glanced at the second lane closest to me and saw a woman with snow-white hair and a relatively small hoard of groceries --they covered just one-third of the conveyor belt-- that had already had a few items scanned.

I planted my considerable frame at the upstream end of the lane and waved my kids over.  Choosing that lane went against one of my Rules To Live By --never get in line at the grocery story behind an old lady-- but I figured: I'm not in that big a hurry; she doesn't have that many items; half of them will be scanned before the kids get here; how bad can it be?

Worse than I would've wished, but not as bad as it could have been.  I thought it a blessing that she didn't pay by check, as so many of them do, and the disorganized deck of coupons she produced with a magician's flourish was nowhere near thick enough to stop a bullet, as so many of them are.  By that time, the kids and I had unloaded our cart and were just waiting... waiting... waiting...

I felt a shallow wave of fatigue wash over me.  I turned to my son, who at 13 years is fewer than three inches shorter than I, and slowly lowered my forehead to the point of his shoulder.  He doesn't like to be touched, but he stoically endured this aggravating assault for the short time it lasted.  Then I raised my head and whispered, "This is one of life's little lessons: never get in line at the grocery store behind an old lady."

He looked at me intently.  For one horrified moment I thought he was going to ask --loudly-- "Then why are we behind one right now?"

I quickly said, "I did it on purpose, this time, to illustrate the point."  Too late, I remembered to cross my fingers and whip them behind my back.  We eyed each other for a few heartbeats, and I waited for him to call me on my b-grade s.

He was preempted by his sister, who asked --loudly-- "What?"

I leaned toward her and said quietly, "You know... the old lady rule."

She had the grace to lower her voice a little when she said, pointedly, "Yeah, especially when it's not an express lane."

I threw her a narrow-eyed glare.  She threw it right back.

Finally, the transaction in front of us was settled.  The white-haired woman turned toward her cart and everybody in the store thought she was done.  She grasped the handle, stood there thinking things through for a short eon, then turned back to the checkout girl.  I'm pretty sure the checkout girl was new.  I'd never seen her before and, more telling, she didn't heave an obvious sigh before leaning over the counter and explaining some of the finer points of a grocery receipt.

The woman turned toward her cart a second time, and the world held its breath.  Everyone, that is, except the checkout girl.  She looked in my direction and came closer to rolling her eyes without actually doing so than I would have thought possible.  The white-haired woman again grasped the cart handle, took half a step, and stopped to think it over for another measured chunk of eternity.

I started a silent slow-count.  Honestly, I don't know how long it lasted, because at some point I started to slip into self-hypnosis.  When the checkout girl turned to us and asked, "So how you guys doin'?" I answered with a protracted moment of blank stare.  She seemed to understand.

So, as I said, I am guilty of a certain ageism, or oldism, or whatever the proper term is for thinking certain things about that, uh, broad demographic.  Some might accuse me of sexism, too, since I single out old women rather than old people.  To that charge, I answer thus...

A stereotype, Your Honor, is a cliché that has proven itself a truism so often it has become a convention.  Or something like that.

Furthermore, prejudice is diced stereotype sprinkled into a simmering stew of negative emotion.  The truly criminal ones consist mostly of fear.  Mine is merely mild impatience.  Chew on that awhile.

Besides, it isn't sexist to call a woman a woman, and when's the last time you saw an old man shopping for groceries by himself?

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P.S.... Bud "I Always Wind Up With The Cart
          That Has A Sticky Wheel" Selig must go.