Friday, July 24, 2009

Again with the Instant Replay Stupidity

In life, there is no pause button, no rewind, and definitely no replay. ~ An anonymous but wise person

I have something to say.


Thank you, I feel better now.

The idiots are at it again, demanding more instant replay, this time in baseball. The current focus for this misguided attempt to screw up a great sport came about because of a blown call in a recent game between Minnesota and Oakland. Minnesota lost the game 14-13 because the umpire missed the runner's foot hitting the plate before the tag was applied.

Well, that's a shame, but it's not the end of the world, and the screams for replay overlook a couple of things. First of all, it's a 162 game season. If the Twinkies miss the playoffs because of this loss, you'll probably be able to point at 75 or so more losses that didn't involve blown calls and ask, "Why didn't you just win one of those?"

Second, Minnesota had a 10 run lead and flat blew it. With any sort of decent play, they shouldn't have been trying to tie the score. Don't blame the umpire, blame a miserable job by the pitchers.

I have ranted and raved about using instant replay to second guess officials. I ranted when baseball sold it's soul. I got upset when the subject came up during the Chicago-LA-Angels-of-Anaheim, Azusa, and Cucamonga playoff series. I railed on and on about replay officials blowing calls. What set me off this time was Mike Greenberg of Mike and Mike in the Morning reprising his stupid logic about the wonders of replay.

Basically, his argument comes down to "We've got the technology, so why not use it?" As I explained, using that brilliant reasoning we should be embracing performance enhancing drugs. After all, what better use of technology than to manufacture our athletes? Better yet, why don't we just do away with them altogether and just let computers play the games? I mean, given the state of modern computer-generated graphics, the game would look as good, and we wouldn't have to listen to all that whining about contracts.

Mr. Greenberg says not to tell him about the "human element." The players are the human element; the judgment of the officials should be totally mechanical and utterly correctable, even though replay has been proven to be as fallible as the guys on the field (see the "blowing calls" link above).

So, I'm going to try to explain why replay detracts from sports in a way that even Mike Greenberg can understand it.

  • The umpires and referees are part of the human element. They're in the rule book, and their judgment is as much a part of these games as the judgements made by coaches and players.
  • Replay is performed by human beings, too, and those guys are fallible just like the guys on the field. It just takes them longer to make their mistakes. Which is utterly inexcusable. You can understand blowing a bang-bang play, but missing whether a football went 10 yards after watching endless replays? That's criminal.
  • Officials come to depend on replay. In college football, where every stinking play is reviewed, we've all seen times when officials on the field deliberately held up play waiting to help from above.
  • Thinking that replay will always save their butts, officials in football and basketball have gotten miserably sloppy. Worse, it's extending to things that aren't even reviewable, like penalty calls. Has anyone else noticed that their is no referee in college who knows what pass interference is?
  • Replay reviews destroy the flow of the game. When a great basketball game gets delayed for 10 minutes while the refs review replay after replay trying to decide if there are 10.5 or 10.6 seconds left (and having them decide there are 14 seconds left), the entire complexion of the game can be altered. When a football team is driving down the field late in the game, it is pitiful to watch the replay official let the air out of the stadium by taking forever to confirm a ruling on the field.
  • Which brings us to what the original point of replay was supposed to be: To correct obvious, egregiously bad calls. Instead, games are interrupted at key moments so we can be told, after a totally unsuitable delay to detect whether or not a player was out of bounds by a millimeter, that "The ruling on the field stands."
Sooner or later, the morons who think replay is the be-all-and-end-all will have penalties being reviewed. Worse, penalties will be called from the replay booth, ensuring that no football game can be played in under six hours. Advertisers love replay; it gives them that many more opportunities to put commercials into a game. As the games get longer and longer, rules makers will find imaginative ways to screw up the game (whichever game it is) by "speeding it up" because play has become too slow.

The NCAA tried this a couple of years ago, and succeeded in sucking the very air out of games by essentially doing nothing but reducing the number of plays, while the games stayed as long as ever.

All sports have evolved over the years, sometimes getting better, sometimes not. But when you screw up the game with technology, you're destroying the very spirit of sport.

Y'know, Congress seems to be very interested in avoiding addressing the important issues, what their kvetching about steroids and the BCS. If they really wanted to do something for the world of sport, they would ban the use of replay in officiating.

Now that's change I can believe in.

Monday, July 20, 2009

From the Earth to the Moon -- and Back

Heroes abound, and should be revered as such, but don't count astronauts among them. We work very hard; we did our jobs to near perfection, but that was what we had hired on to do. In no way did we meet the criterion of the Congressional Medal of Honor: 'above and beyond the call of duty.'~ Michael Collins, command module pilot, Apollo 11

Do I remember where I was on July 20, 1969? You bet your Aunt Fanny's bloomers I do. I was at a friend's house where we huddled around his old TV set watching astronauts land and walk around on the moon.

I've been watching some of these programs over the last few days about the Apollo mission. Some of them have been pretty good, but I do get tired of the many shows that harp on the "primitive" technology available and how fallible all the equipment was and how it's amazing we got there at all.

Well, here's a bulletin for all those young producers: The technology was a quantum leap over what NASA had in 1961 when the project started. Those pitiful little computers were more powerful than anything that had ever been used before. And the people involved were the most remarkable aggregation of genius and determination since the Manhattan Project -- and this time a city didn't have to be vaporized in the process.

Yes, we lost three astronauts, the price of the builders not listening to what the geniuses, in this case the guys who were going to fly the thing, were trying to tell them. When they did, NASA ended up with a flight system could overcome an explosion in a fuel cell and return its crew in tact. The Saturn rocket, which, if you believe the current shows, was just waiting to blow up at any second, is the only U.S. rocket to never have a failure.

Now, we can't keep the toilet working on the ISS.

But, I'm not going to crab about the current space program, because I prefer to remember when we had inspired and dedicated people working toward a concrete goal. Sure, you can argue it was done because of cold-war politics. But it was still a magnificent example of what people can do with a purpose.

Michael Collins, the often forgotten man of Apollo 11, offers a collection of thoughts over at I was stuck by the quote that starts this article. Mr. Collins is making a point lost on so many people. There are brave people doing their jobs everyday, but calling them heroes is devaluing the term. The astronauts came into the program with eyes wide open; this was their job, and they did one hell of a fine piece of work.

I suspect he feels the same way about the way the word "great" is thrown around as well.

He has no use for "celebrity" either, calling it an "empty concept". For a man who journeyed a half million miles through space, he has his feet planted firmly on the ground.

I also like his idea, shared by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, that we should quit piddling around and commit a dedicated mission to reach Mars. We've been to the Moon; going back serves no great purpose. You want a launch pad in space? Build a proper space station and launch from there. Going all the way to the Moon to launch rockets to Mars is absurd.

Collins, by his own admission is a bit of a grumpy old man, as is Buzz Aldrin. But, that astronaut's optimism and drive still sneaks out. In answer to the question, "Don't you have any keen insights?", he says:

"Oh yeah, a whole bunch, but I'm saving them for the 50th.

I'll be looking forward to reading them.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A Remarkable Level of Badness

The wastebasket is the writer's best friend. ~ Isaac Bashevis Singer

I have been told, over the years, that I have a distinctive writing style. I think there are three reasons. First, I spell words properly and use reasonably correct grammatical methods. Both are becoming lost skills. Spell-checkers should render the former impossible, but people are very clever about either not paying attention to them or simply misspelling words so badly that the spell-checkers give up.

Second, I have a a fairly extensive vocabulary. I have found this to come in handy over the years, particularly in business writing. As the adage goes, "if you can't convince 'em, confuse 'em."

Third, I write long, involved sentences with lots of dependent clauses. As I've explained before, commas are small, cheap, and easy to use, so why not use 'em?

Sometimes, though, I fear I just might qualify for the Bulwer-Lytton competition that's held annually. The web site proudly proclaims that it is where "www means Wretched Writers Welcome." There's been more than one time I've felt over-qualified in that regard.

The competition was created as sort of an homage to Edward George Bullwer-Lytton, who is best known for two things: the novelThe Last Days of Pompeii
and for writing the most atrocious opening sentences in all of English literature. The contest uses as it's inspiration this opening sentence from Paul Clifford:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Charles Schultz, of course, made the opening phrase famous.

Bulwer-Lytton was nothing if not consistent when it came to this sort of thing. For example, consider this gem from
Calderon the Courtier:

The Tragi-Comedy of Court Intrigue, which had ever found its principle theatre in Spain since the accession of the House of Austria to the throne, was represented by singular complication of incident and brilliancy of performance during the reign of Phillip the Third.

Now I don't think it's entirely fair to lay the entire blame for bad writing on Bulwer-Lytton. After all, many writers in the 19th century used similar techniques with similarly mind-numbing results. But, few if any wrote as many books as did the Earl. At any rate, each year modern would-be bad authors are invited to submit opening sentences that capture the sleep-inducing, head-spinning, eye-crossing essence of the master. This year's winner, one David McKenzie, came through:

Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin' off Nantucket Sound from the nor' east and the dogs are howlin' for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the "Ellie May," a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin' and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests.

Sort of a cross between Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway, and a deranged sitcom writer.

There are even sub-categories, like Purple Prose, which has this gem as its winner:

The gutters of Manhattan teemed with the brackish slurry indicative of a significant though not incapacitating snowstorm three days prior, making it seem that God had tripped over Hoboken and spilled his smog-flavored slurpie all over the damn place.

You gotta admire the sheer awfulness of something like that.

However, I have discovered someone who wildly surpasses Bulwer-Lytton: Amanda McKittrick Ros, who is, according to one expert, the greatest bad writer who ever lived. Thanks to a husband who was willing to pay to have her books published, we have such gems as "Speak! Irene! Wife! Woman! Do not sit in silence and allow the blood that now boils in my veins to ooze through cavities of unrestrained passion and trickle down to drench me with its crimson hue!" One can imagine the besieged Irene simply staring in horror and saying, "Say what?"

In one book, Helen Huddleston, all her characters are named after fruit. There's Lord Raspberry, Sir Peter Plum, and Madame Pear. One wonders if the creator of the parlor game Cluedo (better know in the U.S. as Clue) was a fan of Mrs. Ros.

I am forced to admit I'm probably not in Mrs. Ros' class, if only because I don't know enough types of fruit to populate an entire novel. This is probably a good thing.

Bulwer-Lytton is another matter though. I fear that I have moments when I sort of drift into a typographical reverie where the fingers simply float over the keyboard, releasing an outburst of verbiage that approaches the flow of the Niagara cataract following the endless rains of the typically gray and gloomy northern April, when weeks go by without the warming gaze of the sun.

Or something like that.