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.

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.