Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A much needed alibi

It is impossible to discourage the real writers - they don't give a damn what you say, they're going to write. ~Sinclair Lewis

Like a lot of people, I have always wanted to be a writer. Like most of that “lot of people”, I have invented all manner of excuses why I haven't done so. Among them are the standard ones:
  • Too busy working

  • Need a better typewriter

  • Need a better computer

  • Too nice outside today
And so on.

Yes, these are truly lame reasons, but author Lynn Shepherd has come up with one that's hard to top: It's JK Rowling's fault.

For those of you living under a rock the last 10 years or so, Ms. Rowling wrote a rather popular series of novels involving a kid named Harry Potter. I've only read one of the books, for reasons I've explained before, but I can see why the books were so popular. Well, Ms. Rowling made her pile of dough (despite some fundamentalist parents deciding that witchcraft is so evil, the books should be banned), and finally announced that she was done with writing the series.

Now, Ms. Rowling has decided to start writing for adults and has recently published The Casual Vacancy . I have no idea if the book is any good or not, but Ms. Shepherd sees it as a threat to authors everywhere. "Rowling has no need of either the shelf space or the column inches, but other writers desperately do," she wrote. So, if I understand the logic, a successful author will drive other authors to ruin.

Does the worried author of “literary mysteries” set in 1800's England think people only read one book a year or something? Is she worried that online book sellers will not list her books because they only have so much space on their servers for listings? Or does she think Ms. Rowling's eloquent prose will make hers look bad by comparison, causing critics to denigrate her work, thereby causing readers to avoid her like the plague?

If that last was her thinking, Shakespeare would have emptied the bookstore shelves years ago.

Of course, the article goes on to say that other people think Ms. Shepherd has harvested a large crop of sour grapes. Ultimately, what can it matter to other authors if JK Rowling produces another best seller or a bomb? Maybe that's really what bothers Ms. Shepherd. If Ms. Rowling figuratively lays an egg with her latest, perhaps she feels that readers will be so turned off they'll stop reading altogether. Or maybe she should just keep quiet and work on her own books.

As to me, since my failure to produce the Great American Novel goes back a long way, I can't really blame JK Rowling. I'd have to lean on someone who's gone on even longer, like Stephen King. I mean this guy's been taking up shelf space at book stores back when book stores were where you went to buy books. Obviously, I couldn't complete with such a juggernaut of authorship.

It doesn't matter that I never gave a thought to what other authors were doing when I was making excuses to myself. It's the principle of the thing. Subconsciously I must have realized that my efforts were doomed from the start because of the writing monolith that is Stephen King. I never had a chance.

I wonder if Ms. Shepherd fears Stephen King? Probably not. After all, he couldn't keep JK Rowling off the shelves.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


The superior man blames himself. The inferior man blames others. ~ Don Shula

The NCAA Rules Committee, or as they are also known, the Spoil Sports, have proposed a rule to slow down no-huddle offenses, mostly because of a few coaches who apparently can't deal with it. What they are proposing is that, exclusive of the last two minutes of a half, the offense must wait at least 10 seconds after the start of the 40 second clock to run a play. Supposedly this is to allow the defense to make substitutions because they want to avoid injury to the fragile defensive players.

Or maybe it's because big-name coaches like Nick Saban and Brett Bielema don't like the no-huddle, which neither of them uses.

What this is really about is coaches keeping their control of every element of the game on the field. If the offense snaps the ball too quickly, then the coach of the team on defense can't get his signals in to tell his defensive players where to stand, whom to cover, when to breath, and so on.

The irony is that no-huddle offensives are generally slower than molasses in January. They give the defense forever to look at their formation while the entire offensive team looks at the bench to get the play call from the coaches. If the defense adjusts, the offensive team looks to the sidelines again for the check-off play. No-huddle teams use as much of the clock as a team that huddles, and they give the defense longer to study the formation.

How slow is a no-huddle offense? According to the article, Air Force, which hasn't used a huddle in seven years ranked 104th in the BCS division in number of plays run per game. That's out of 119, which means darn near last.

The thing is that a few teams will occasionally run a true no-huddle “hurry-up” offense, which means they come running up to the ball and snap it quickly. This sort of thing used to be done only in the last two minutes of a half (hence the rule still allowing it in this case) to conserve time. Somewhere along the line, teams realized if you mixed in this sort of offense at other times during the game, they could get an advantage over the overly-complex defensive schemes that take forever to get organized.

Unfortunately, that didn't last long. The hurry-up requires that the offense run with minimal input from the sidelines. Coaches don't like that. Modern coaches have come to think that they are what they game is about, not the players. A lot of this is the fault of Paul Brown and Vince Lombardi, who were the first I can recall to shuttle players in on every play with play calls from the bench. Since they were successful, everyone started copying this, as coaches are wont to do.

At any rate, coaches like Saban seem to be terrified of a no-huddle offense so slow that it occasionally gets called for delay of game because they can't substitute players for their “situational” defenses unless the offense substitutes first.

Of course, Saban moans about potential injury to his fragile players for having to be out on the field for play after play (apparently, this doesn't occur to the offensive players on the field for play after play). He also feels that the offense somehow debases the game. “Is this what we want football to be?” he wails.

Funny thing, though. Way back in 1992, in Super Bowl XXVI, the Washington Redskins played the Buffalo Bills. The Bills had a no-huddle offense, and people wondered how the Redskins would fare without being able to substitute players on defense. Washington coach Joe Gibbs decided that, since the offense still had to get to the line of scrimmage, he had time while the ball was being spotted to send in players. After each play, defensive players were ready to rush in and take their positions while Buffalo was forming up. This had the added advantage of forcing their quarterback Jim Kelly to actually look to see what sort of defense was set up.

The Redskins won 37-24.

So, maybe if Saban would quit moaning and groaning about how his snowflakes are going to be hurt running two plays in a row and found ways to run in subs while the offense was staring at the bench getting the next play, he might just find he can confuse the offense rather than the other way around.

Funny thing about all this concern about injuries. Time was players actually played an entire game without getting subbed. Even today, offensive linemen generally play every offensive play. Why are Saban's defensive players so much more delicate?

Saban has won multiple national championships. He is the epitome of the successful coach. It's a little hard to understand why he feels he's at such a disadvantage. Unless, of course, it has to do with why he didn't play in this year's championship game. Seems he got beat by Auburn, which was running Gus Malzahn's no-huddle offense.

Nah, couldn't be.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Twits in government

The Lord's Prayer is 66 words, the Gettysburg Address is 286 words, there are 1,322 words in the Declaration of Independence, but government regulations on the sale of cabbage total 26,911 words. ~National Review

And yet, apparently governments think they can say important things in 140 characters.  

I used to live in northern Ohio, where we used to watch a lot of Canadian TV. On the whole, it seemed that our northern neighbors were a pretty sensible bunch, with the exception of Quebec always wanting to secede and become part of France. Well, it turns out that either we weren't all that observant or they kept their foibles a good secret.

What brought this to mind was an article that said that the Canadian Government had created a monstrously complicated system for creating tweets on Twitter. Now I freely admit that, being the Luddite that I am, I don't do Twitter, so I didn't even know that Canada had a Twitter feed. Evidently they do, and they seem to be having a very difficult time rolling out little 140-character gems on a regular basis. One bureaucrat (1) complained that the government was “imposing structure on a form of communication that inherently rejects structure.” The person went on to say that “We don't really know what we're supposed to be on Twitter.”

Frankly, Canada, if that's your biggest problem, you're in heaven.

Anyway, this got me to wondering the obvious, and sure enough, the US Government also has a Twitter feed. I don't how much bureaucracy it takes the US to figure out what to tweet, but they certainly manage to turn them out. It looks like a veritable fountain of what we used to call public service announcements back in the day, complete with links to helpful government publications that will surely put you to sleep.

But, hey, even Russia has a feed! Now if the Russians, who have as much bureaucracy as any country in the world can manage to crank out the occasional bon mot, surely the more laid-back Canadians should manage.

Actually, what I'm waiting for is for one of these government Twitter accounts to get hacked. It happens to news agencies all the time, and my experience with government employees and security would suggest that the person in charge of the Twitter feed could be had as easily. However (and, like most times, I could be wrong), despite the number of government web sites that have been hacked, I can't recall a government Twitter feed being had.

It could be that the lack of followers has something to do with it. The US site has 190,000 followers which is a pittance compared to the most entertainment celebrity. The Russians are even more pitiful, garnering a mere 23,800 regular readers. One would think that it would be mandatory for at least all Russian government employees to be followers. I guess things really have eased up since the fall of Communism.

At least President Obama has a following of 41 million, mostly, I presume, people waiting for him to put his foot in his mouth (a trait US Presidents all seem to have). By comparison, Russian oligarch -er-President Putin has a paltry 146,000 – and he's the guy who likes to get all the bare-chested photo opps.

Of course, the silly part is that it's unlikely that either one of these hotshots does his own tweets. Oh, President Obama might say, “Hey, let's toss off something clever for President's day” or some such, but I'd like to think he's got better things to do than stare at his cell phone all day. Unfortunately, he has admitted to being addicted to the stupid thing, so anything is possible.

I have frequently said I don't see the need to constantly be connected to the world. I seen even less reason to be hung up on Twitter, which has demonstrated itself to be a marvelous source of misinformation, stupid comments from celebrities, and general waste of time. Oh, occasionally, something will pop up in a feed that's an important news item, but if you're that hung up on knowing about every plane crash, political event, and misbehaving teen celebrity, just check CNN once an hour.

If the Canadians are smart, they'll realize the amount of time they're squandering on Today's Tweet and just drop the whole thing. If you check a search engine, you'll see that there are endless Twitter feeds from the country's various departments. If all these take the amount of time described in the article, the amount of taxpayer dollars to be saved by just shutting down the accounts could be astronomical.

Maybe Presidents Obama and Putin would take the hint, and find better uses for their time.

(1) Just to set the record straight, I just retired from being a bureaucrat for the City of Birmingham for around 11 years, so I'm not necessarily criticizing.