Monday, July 31, 2006

OK, then, it's sports...

Just re-watched the Mets/Astros, game 6 from the 1986 NL Pennant Series. Tim McCarver could still get around on the fastball (so to speak); he actually spoke concisely, made decent observations on pitch selection and fielder positioning, and generally avoided clichés. Of course, he had incentive - the play-by-play guy for those 15 faboo innings was none other than THE MAN Keith Jackson. (Can I get a Whoa, Nellie!)

In real life, I was flipping to the Bosox/Indians game on ESPN. David Wells is done. At this point, even if he did lose those 40 pounds, he'd be done. Just for kicks, with the Sox clinging to a 6-5 lead in the fifth, Francona pulled a Grady McNamara and left him in to face Casey Blake, even though he'd already homered off Wells. First pitch wound up over the Monster.

Thank goodness that David Ortiz is clutch. FJM can laugh at me, I don't care - three-run dinger to win the game in the home ninth is big-time.

The Islanders circus seems at least to have a decent ringmaster. I like the letter, even though I just disobeyed it by saying "circus." Garth Snow is smart enough to know that this backlashis borne of frustration, and that the fan base is just growing antsy. (It's been a long time since David Volek snuffed the Penguins. People are still bitter - check item two.)

Hm. "Invincible." It's a great story, of course, even if Vince Papale had only the one catch. That's one more than me, and I respect the accomplishment. This must be a golden age for actors playing coaches - Kurt Russell was so convincing as Herb Brooks that I didn't even know it was him at first; now we have Greg Kinnear looking so much like Dick Vermeil that I expect him to break out in tears every time the trailer plays.

But there's a couple of things that worry me. First, I hope that Papale's father's character isn't just one huge walking archtype in this, because hearing him say "It was important to me" in that crusty voice? Uh-oh. Distant father finally admitting respect for son? Uh-oh. Second, Mark Wahlberg may look suitably athletic, but that slo-mo of him running upfield in the Eagles uniform is the funniest-looking thing in sports movies since Corbin Bernsen "played" third base in Major League. Seriously, he looks like he's six, fake-running in slo-mo like we did imitating "Wide World of Sports." I'm waiting for him to start imitating the crowd as he does it - "rrrraaaaahhhhhh!"

Speaking of football, what the heck? Is that really Brett Favre on SportsCenter saying this is Green Bay's best team since his arrival? Y'know, better than the team that won the Super Bowl? Maybe all those INT's last year were really the result of undiscolsed concussions, because there's no way anyone in their right mind could say this team is any better than 7-9.

PS - Abreu to the Yankees for a rosin bag, some bats, and Jeter's old glove. If this were fantasy baseball every other owner in the league would have protested this deal. This is basically the Phils being mad at the Mets for a decent year, so they're giving Abreu away to the Yankees from spite. Believe me, this is Philadelphia - it makes sense.

And by the way, Chase Utley is not even close to catching DiMaggio's record. OK? Put it in perspective, folks - you knew which record I was talking about without being told which it was, and Utley has to keep this up for nearly a full month more before he gets there. 32 is only 57% of 56. Can he get to 45 games, maybe, before we start wondering Can He Do It?™

I'm back

updated, 11:06 pm - Blogger refuses to upload anything. A travelogue is of no use without pictures. I will try again tomorrow night; in the meantime I am working on the words to the pix.

There will be actual content later tonight, a travelogue of sorts. For now, I only observe, in passing, that the Prussian Tiger has called me a bennie, even though I've lived in New Jersey for better than half my mortal days - nearly twenty straight years.

On the other hand, nice link, man. (sound warning!)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Don't change that channel!

I will be away on vacation until Sunday evening.

First off, I can unequivocably deny the pernicious rumors of a visit to the Betty Ford Blog Detox Clinic. This is merely a little mental R&R down the Jersey Shore. It may even involve gambling - manly, state-sanctioned gambling! - if I have time between hours of boardwalking, pizza-eating, and sloshing through the Atlantic.

It will not, however, involve blogging, for I own no laptop. Therefore, as a service to you, I've decided to give some linky goodness, featuring some of the Pantheon of Links (famed in song and story).* This will give you something new to read each visit while I'm away.**

We start here, at Chris' Invincible Super Blog. What makes it so invincibly super? It's right in the banner - Frank Castle, the Punisher, punching a polar bear in the head.*** But he doesn't just do comics - dig his review of the "movie" Kill and Kill Again. Or his review of the "book" Justice Riders. Really, the theme here isn't reviews, but reviews of metric tons of whup-ass, and the cornier the better.

The Swilling are firing on all cylinders. Ms. Sister has mastered the art of brief overviews of sports news. And they also cover archaeology, business news, and current affairs.

Still Stacy after all these years... After a break, the Coloradan is back, giving awards. However, if you want to chat, you'd best say something soon. Brian of Memento Moron also took a short rest, only to return busier than ever.

Rantedness abounds at It Comes in Pints - regarding vapid celebrity and timewasters, not to mention a certain film auteur whose name rhymes with Chaka Khan.****

Best just to go to your happy place! Sheila writes at length on whatever crosses her mind: try a classic family movie to start.

Finally, our friend Cullen, fresh from rocking and ruling Metal Week, channels his inner warrior and discusses selling out (among other things - comments not quite safe for work).

Enjoy your reading and your weekend! I'll see you next week.

* note - these are only songs and stories from my own head, but that makes my sidebar famous in my brain. So there.

** translation - I'm a traffic whore and I don't want to lose visits.

*** What makes the panel work is the expression on the bear's face. He doesn't look ferocious or hurt; he just seems sad: minding his own business when a crazy vigilante in black tights walks up and socks him in the jaw. What a disappointing day, he seems to think.

**** I will milk this joke until it's older than a Catskills one-liner.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Turkey a la King

updated, 7/26, 5:30 pm - forgot the link. Thanks to Mr. Ely, it's fixed.

It's nice to get Monday Morning Quarterback; it's not so nice to get this in the middle of it.

In my town, Montclair, N.J., we had a once-in-a-generation wind, hail and rain storm last week, uprooting 120-year-old oaks all over our neighborhood. One of those monsters crushed the car of the pitcher on the summer softball team I coach. A neighbor told me it was the worst weather event he's seen in 52 years in the town.

I'm terribly sorry about the pitcher's car; I'm glad she wasn't inside. But we quickly go from the parochial to the universal.

Wherever you are, have you noticed the weird weather patterns in the last few months? Unending, intense rain. High winds.

I'm not sure when Montclair, NJ, expanded to cover the entire eastern seaboard. As not-so-far-away as central Jersey, we had a lot of rain in June, but nothing at all like September 2000 when the Raritan flooded its banks and swamped many low-lying towns. I understand that the Delaware flooded instead, but just because we happen to be seeing once-in-a-lifetime flooding doesn't mean that we're going to see nothing but. And the weather may well be routine in many other towns.

It was in the midst of a 12th day of measurable rain in a 14-day period that I saw An Inconvenient Truth, the Al Gore movie about global warming. should see this movie and judge the facts for yourself. What's happening out here is no isolated occurrence. It's going to keep happening and it's going to get worse. Facts are facts.

Based on the memories of one guy in one town, a crushed car, and two weeks of rain? An extended weather front over a ten-square mile patch of ground just isn't a statistically-valid sample size. I could pull isolated observations myself - when was the last time New Jersey got a hurricane, for example? This article seems to be pertinent as far as facts are concerned.

And we all need to do something about this phenomenon of the Earth heating up and the polar ice caps melting. This is not exactly the venue to warn the world about global warming, but all you football junkies readying for your fantasy drafts should do one real-world thing in the next couple of weeks: take two hours to see this movie. I'm not saying you'll be glad you did, because it's going to slap you around mentally a bit. But it's something you need to see. You don't want to wake up in 15 years with the Earth permanently damaged and huge portions of the Earth's surface under water, forever.

Aw, geez. You should have stopped at "not exactly the venue to warn the world," because it's the only thing in the section that's correct. Gregg Easterbrook gets away with stuff like this in his column because he doesn't go frolicing through the catnip when he says it. (Good news - he agrees with you.*) He's also a fellow at the Brookings Institution whose work runs regularly in much smarter magazines than SI. The rest of us? Not so successful.

Now, I hate to stand against two of my favorite football guys, one of whom I nearly met before chickening out. But I have some questions about all of this.

1. The Earth goes through regular periods of heating up and cooling back down. Most of it has been happening long before we got here, and seems outside of our control. The bits that are, we can do something about, but not because the Earth will pop like a hotdog in the microwave if we don't. It won't, and if that's the only reason for doing anything, then nothing will get done.

2. Evidence suggests that when the weather is warmer, many species do better and not worse.

3. Ted Danson gave essentially the same warning well over 15 years ago. (And he said that we only had ten years left to save the planet.) The Earth is pretty difficult to permanently damage. It used to get socked with meteorites regularly; it used to be a sopping tropical zone until it became a frozen hunk, only to become much more temperate again; mankind used to strip mine, clear cut, and dump chemicals everywhere - the Cuyahoga River once caught fire, for crying out loud. All the while, the Earth itself pours more pollutants into the air with a major volcanic event than humans do with all their refining and manufacture.

4. Most of the Earth's surface is already permanently underwater, forever. Earth is 70% ocean by surface area.

I remember recent years when New Jersey had perpetual water restrictions from too little rain - and that was also blamed on global warming. And I'm old enough to remember when all of these phenomena were in fact the result of global cooling - 1940-1970 was slightly colder than previous decades. Granting that my limited personal experience is no more conclusive than anyone's, I'm still skeptical.

*Bad news - a lot of other people are skeptical. Easterbrook's article, for example, has this money quote: "Earth's surface, atmosphere and seas are warming; ocean currents are slowing; ice shelves are melting faster than projected; spring is coming ever sooner; rainfall patterns are changing; North American migratory birds are ranging father north; the ability of the earth to self-regulate to resist warming appears to be waning."

The question is, over what time period? Go back to the turn of the century? The turn of the second millenium? From year to year the seas may even cool. Nor can I see the big problem in changing rain patterns and migrations, since that could easily be a case of nature's adaptability. Which gets us to the last sentence - self-regulating to resist warming. If this is true, then we should not be surprised at all that the earth is getting a bit warmer; neither should we automatically conclude that it's not supposed to get warmer from time to time. The planet is rather a complicated system and fluctuations can't be that unusual.

Monday, July 24, 2006


This letter concerns the delinquency that currently exists on your student loan(s) referenced below. Please note: we may report information about your account to credit bureaus. Late payments, missed payments, or other defaults on your account may be reflected in your credit report. The total amount due is shown below.

That's the beginning of the letter, complete with all-cap salutation and bold everywhere. Nothing like an attention-grabbing lead.

If you have not taken care of this matter, DO SO TODAY!

Let me be clear: I hate being late for anything, much less a bill. I've worked pretty hard in the past six years to repair my financial name. It would have been easy to simply welch on everything and call in one of the "credit repair" organizations that, in effect, mediate one's bankrupty for a profit while shortchanging the original creditors. Not coincidentally, it makes one's reputation worth as much as the typical promissory note in a game of "Life."

We urge you to make payment(s) to bring your student loan(s) current.
When I got the first letter telling me I'd been late back in April, I did exactly that: I sent two times the payment in May with an apology. My creditor, apparently puzzled by responsibility, chose to apply my extra payment directly to the principal and consider me still in arrears, even though they said (as in the above) that it's what I should do. And now, come July, I'm told that I persist in my stubborn arrearness.
We are required to advise you that if you are delinquent and if this delinquency is not resolved, your loan(s) will be assigned to your guarantor. Your guarantor will report your default to all national credit bureaus. If your loan(s) defaults, your guarantor may initiate proceedings to offset your state and federal tax refunds... garnish your wages, or assign your loan(s) ... for further litigation.
Hopefully the subsequent phone call (I didn't yell, I swear) means that the current payment I've sent will be properly handled this time. After all, that's in the letter as well:
If you have already sent your payment, thank you and please disregard this notice.
Yup - after all of that, if you've already taken care of it, well, hey, no hard feelings. Even though you've now sent five months' payments in the past four months, we'll just consider you up-to-date. See you in August!

Friday, July 21, 2006

The incredibly strange creature who stopped thinking and became a mixed-up sportswriter

No, not me. This guy.

At this point in life, I may as well just raise my arms and shout to the heavens, “Skiiiippppp!” Even when I sort of agree with the guy, I can’t stand his columns:

Before I'm accused of being a communist and told by a torch-carrying mob of e-mailers to move to freakin' Siberia, let me drive home this point: I LOVE BASEBALL.

If you have to start out with a monster disclaimer like this, chances are you’re about to screw up. If you’re writing well then your feelings will show without needing a special banner headline. Yet in this article Mr. Bayless not only needs to start out with the all-caps, he has to repeat himself as he goes on.

I'm addicted to our grand old game. I all but inject it every night. Royals, D-Rays, Pirates -- I'll watch anything with pitchers and hitters. Just give me my baseball and I'm one mellow fellow.

That makes two disclaimers in two paragraphs, right off. And then, the immediate reversal:

Until, that is, a manager runs onto the field and throws a fit over an umpire's call. Only then do I go nuts. And I've been going nuts more than ever this season.

"Mellow Skip" didn't last very long. I also observe that he’s throwing a fit about fit-throwing.

Why in the name of Abner Doubleday does our national pastime, in 2006, with commissioner Bud Selig repeatedly saying how he needs to protect baseball's "family appeal," still allow the authority figure in the dugout to run onto the field and engage in a nose-to-nose screaming match with the authority figures on the field, the umpires, then finish it off by kicking dirt on the plate or uprooting and throwing the base in question or even returning to the dugout and heaving bats or coolers onto the field in protest -- all without penalties or suspensions?

This is a good question. In fact, this should have been the opening paragraph of the piece, once it was broken into two or three sentences. There are still a couple of problems with it, however. For one, the managers who go beyond screaming – who start defacing the field or heaving things – do get fined and suspended. For another, there’s a simple answer that Bayless never addresses: to wit, the authority figure in the commissioner’s office is nearly powerless. When pressed with a simple question during a meaningless exhibition, Bud Selig was so stumped that he simply tossed up his hands in front of millions of people. Nothing gets done about this more serious problem because the man charged with solving these problems is in over his head.

Yes, a manager or coach or player who crosses the language line with an umpire gets ejected - and yes, the tantrums are usually thrown after they get the old heave ho - but the team pays no immediate price.

What!? Losing a starting player or the manager mid-game isn’t an immediate price? If Albert Pujols gets run in the first inning for arguing the strike zone, and the Cards have to replace him with Chris Duncan, that doesn’t hurt?

. . . .AVG .OBP .SLG BB/K
Pujols .327 .442 .715 56/26
Duncan .312 .349 .545 3/17

… Managers and players usually don't get suspended after they make fools of themselves and shame their game. No, they get standing ovations from the home crowd and appreciative chortles from "SportsCenter" viewers everywhere. Why? You know the age-old answer.

That's baseball.

Writers usually don’t get fisked after they make fools of themselves and shame their profession. No, they get awards from their peers, national syndication, and maybe a TV gig. Why? Because they hit all the clichés, including the dramatic short sentence stranded in its own paragraph for pointed emphasis. Bayless hits this cliché so often that I’ve mushed a few of them together here in the interests of conserving space.

I love baseball, but I'm not stuck in its past. [Disclaimer #3.] I don't watch games to remember the way we were. I don't need to think that baseball is the one thing in this country that hasn't changed since the late 19th century. I don't care if players still honor the late-1800s tradition of wearing two pair of socks -- colored stirrups over white sanitaries -- on 100-degree days. And every time I actually allow myself to think about the absurdity of managers still wearing uniforms, I laugh out loud.

What this has to do with the actual topic is beyond me, but this wouldn’t make any sense even if the past were the subject of the article. Baseball changes all the time. They added the DH in my lifetime. They added four playoff teams, and added two whole divisions.

Can you imagine Bill Belichick pacing the Patriots' sideline in a helmet and shoulder pads? Phil Jackson sitting on the Lakers' bench in a tank top, shorts and sneakers?

I could if they were player-managers, such as Bill Russell was in his last season with the Celtics, and the way Frank Robinson and Pete Rose were in baseball. There is precedent. If not, who cares? A manager can get just as ejected wearing business casual. This is bizarre even by Bayless’ standards.

For that matter, imagine what would happen if, say, Belichick ran onto the field and started screaming in the face of a referee, then punted the ball into the stands, stormed to the sideline and threw the down markers onto the field? At least two yellow flags would fly. Maybe three or four. Belichick's team might be penalized 60 yards.

Holy cow. Does he even watch football? First of all, coaches do cross the sidelines to shout. After a tough call, the coach can usually be seen pouring his rage directly into the ear of the side judge or linesman, who usually stands and takes it with composure worthy of an Easter Island statue. But beyond all that – sixty yards? You can’t be penalized yards for multiple fouls on the same play; in fact it’s one of the weaknesses of the NFL’s penalty system.

Or imagine what would happen if, say, Phil Jackson lumbered onto the court and engaged in a lengthy shouting match with a ref, then heaved the ball into the upper deck, returned to the bench and began throwing chair after chair onto the floor? … Jackson would be ejected, heavily fined and definitely suspended by NBA commissioner David Stern, who would not sit still for such out-of-control behavior from a head coach and role model.

David Stern is a strong authority figure; Bud Selig is not. Come on, it’s sitting right there for you – put it together, Skip!

But of course, such outbursts would never happen during an NFL or NBA game because coaches know they're simply not acceptable.

Such outbursts have happened during NBA games as recently as this year’s finals, where Dallas owner Mark Cuban was smacked with yet another monstrous fine for taking the court post-game and shouting down the commish. Skip then follows this with two more quick-punch paragraphs before slowly wandering back on topic.

Rhubarbs have forever been a colorful part of a night at the old ballyard. … Yet, not only do managers yell at umps, umps yell back at managers.

Now we’re getting somewhere. If he had just these two ideas – ineffectual commissioner, confrontational umps – we’d have something. In fact, these things are linked, but it’s hard to tell it just from Bayless’ column because in the middle of these ideas he decided to discuss laundry.

That's baseball. That's a national embarrassment.

Yes – that was originally two paragraphs.

For me, that's borderline hockey. That smacks of a game with a deep insecurity - one that fears it's not quite exciting enough to entertain fans without a little extracurricular showmanship. During NHL regular-season games, it's as if the players believe the customers will feel they didn't get their money's worth if they don't see at least one fight featuring some blood.

Oh, stifle it, meathead. Whee, another go at hockey. (I thought this was a baseball column.) Besides, this is one thing you can’t fault the NHL for. The league has fined and suspended players and even their coaches for fights. Also, in hockey players and coaches don’t throw tantrums. You don't see stick-tossing and players leaving the bench, so to say that baseball run-ins are like hockey is simply a big fat lie. Refs are less egotistical than umps, so while a player may beef over a play, it never escalates – the player gets his say as long as he keeps it short and relatively clean, and then skates off to serve his time in the box. Even in a fight, everyone acts like an adult in hockey. Nobody wigs out because they don’t need to.

After some more meandering and another quick-punch graf, we get this masterpiece: Tell me the game isn't compelling enough without all this nonsense. Tell me I'm not going to hear from all the soccer nuts who have deluded themselves into believing their game is far more exciting than baseball.

Don't get me started.

Skip hits all his hallmarks in a concentrated burst – needless tangent (soccer?!?), persecution complex (but he left out the torch-carrying this time), and Quick Punch Number Ten. (You read that right.) Best of all, that quick-punch could be the most ironic sentence ever to flow from Skip’s pen.

… Why not crack down on managers leaving the dugout with fines and suspensions? If they want to throw their fits in the dugouts, fine. But if a manager approaches an umpire, and his team is in the field, a ball should be added to the count. If he continues to argue, another ball should be added.

If that makes ball four, the batter should be awarded first base.

Not quite QP #11. The idea, though, is loopy. You want to award walks to the other team? Would it be strikeouts instead if your team is batting? Words fail me.

I'm not trying to be blasphemous just to get a reaction. I'm trying to improve the game I love. [Disclaimer #4.] I'm simply asking you to step back and think.

That would make one of us. I mean, did a sentence like this take any thought: Can you defend that minor league manager who looked sillier than some minor league mascot when he threw his one-for-the-ages tantrum a few weeks ago?

“That minor league manager.” Jeez, you work for ESPN, you have researchers, fact-checkers, and editors, and you can’t look up the guy’s name? It’s Joe Mikulik, and he earned a $1000 fine and a week’s suspension, which kind of blows up Bayless’ whole point. But hey, let’s get really rough and give the other team a free baserunner! As for Mikulik, just read his attempted step-by-step defense of the incident – he sounds preposterous, which is fitting since his actions were also preposterous. No, I can’t defend the tantrum. Then again, I was never trying to in the first place.

Can you defend Dodgers first base coach Mariano Duncan, who had to be pulled away from the umpires, then flipped his hat at ump Angel Hernandez … who gave it to a fan in the stands.

A-ha! Good point number three. Angel Hernandez is one of the three worst umps in major league baseball, especially at keeping a game under control. He has been at the center of at least three showdowns this season alone – one of which is shown in a picture in the very column you just wrote. Here's a rundown of Hernandez' record. The fans have also noticed, and it seems they have a greater grasp of the subject than Bayless.

I know: You got a kick out of it.
And so did your kids.

I get no kick from complaints
Arguing calls doesn’t thrill me at all
So tell me why it should be true
They don’t kick Skip off of Page 2
Some writers go for disdain
But those quick-punch grafs leave the readers aghast
It’s hard to follow the digressions through
So why keep Skip on Page 2?

Our final boxscore: three good points (one by accident), four disclaimers, digressions into four other sports, a pointless rant about uniforms, and 12 quick-punches. That’s a .125 average (3-24). The trade deadline’s in ten days, and I’m not sure what ESPN can get for Skip.

Double Condemnity

I recommended this thread before I condemned it.

And while I'm at it, I condemn the Islanders.

That is all.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

This is what happens when my back is turned

Yes, even for just a second. Look at this nonsense.

And this nonsense. And get a load of some of this.

Then, finally, see how the team pitches this news on the official site.

Truly, when I found out I agreed with EJ Hradek. I thought my buddy was yanking my chain. Where do I go to buy my officially-licensed thumbscrews and form-fitting spike-lined jersey? Or does the team just send someone over to work my kidneys?

I promise to be sane again tomorrow. Believe me, I know that I get like one-third the hits and one-tenth the comments when I talk hockey, much less rant hockey - but I feel like Howard Dean is running my team. Yiieeeaaah!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Long Walk Home

I never met a morning I liked. That's why I preferred to sneak up on them slowly after midnight, easing my way to closing time and going home with the baker's trucks. I figured that way, the day already started right, so I had a leg up on whatever happened after sunrise.

But the moment she walked into my office, I knew she was trouble. She was the kind of trouble you ran into head-on and never regretted afterwards. It wasn't a matter of beauty, though she had it - legs that didn't stop until they reached the floor, trim, flowing lines, graceful arms, a mess of blonde hair that fell just that way on purpose - no, it was the eyes. The owner of those eyes was in charge. She knew things, and she wasn't going to tell you about them on any terms but hers.

Usually I end up hating a dame like that, because I love a dame like that, but hate myself for it. And you see that don't make sense at all, but it's the only way to say it. Trouble. I thought about kicking the case to my pal Tracer, before those eyes could suck me in too deep to care - but he was out of the game.

"So what's your story, sister?"

She looked at me like I was somebody she wanted to disappoint, but make it up to me later. "It's not a good story," she said.

"Babe," I said, "I've been a cop, a bartender, a soldier, a ditch digger, a cop again, a private dick - I know people that would turn you grayer than old carpet. Took down two palookas yesterday with nothing but the leg of the chair they hit me with. What can you tell me that's worse than that?"

"You're through," she replied.

My laugh smelled like bad scotch. "Sez you."

"No," she said, and she was quiet and sure. I began to get antsy. "I've got nothing to do with it. Take a look."

She slid a newspaper in front of me. The headline had to be a lie. I must have said so without knowing, 'cause she shook her head and said, "No lie, Mike. This is the real thing."

"No way," I muttered. Suddenly I felt a hell of a lot less hung over than I like in the morning. No way this guy bought it. I've met men harder-bitten than a bone at a wolf kill, but this guy was tough enough not to need to look like it. He just came around and did his business, and nobody hassled him. Nobody dared.

"It's true," she said. "That's how it is. You know it better than most guys, Mike."

"Yeah," I snapped. "I know how it is. I make it stay that way. That's why people come to me." At this point I would have lit a cigarette if I could have afforded to buy a pack; I settled for leaning back as if it wasn't such a big deal. "It ain't such a fun way to make a living, but it's my way, sister."

"A man's work lives on after him. It belongs to the world after he leaves the world behind." She came around my desk and stood over me, not quite too close, and looked at me with those eyes. Damn her. It was a big deal and she knew it. She was tough enough to face it, and I was backing down. "It's closing time, Mike. Time to hang up your hat and take down your shingle."

"And what am I supposed to do after that? Buy you a drink?"

"I prefer breakfast before nine-thirty," she said. And then she finally smiled, and I suddenly thought that, if I wanted to know anything else from her, I was going to have to take her up on it.

"Fine," I said. "But remember, you asked for it."

Monday, July 17, 2006

Sorry about the radio silence

I'll have more to say about why, when I can. It's not a matter of talking right now. But I do have one obligation I'd like to meet now, based on this question.

The argument is put succinctly by the gentleman thus: "I fully understand the difference between watching and doing. But you seem to think that god is analogous to each one of us. That plainly is not the case -- we did not create the situations in which we find ourselves. But god did."

Rewind about twenty years or so. My Mom went back to college for some psych classes when I was ten, and even at that age I was never impressed with B.F. Skinner's theories. Neither, I suspect, was Mom - at least, she certainly acted as if my messy room was my fault, and not an inescapable conclusion of my upbringing, no matter what Skinner taught. In short, even given that I did not choose my mother, my room, or even myself, there was something else that I was expected to choose: I was expected to keep my room tidy. And really, given that expectation, it's foolish to assume that, causally, I would inevitably do the opposite. My mother remains a neat freak to this day.

Back to the present. Earlier in the thread, I had noticed this self-contradiction, but it's put most perfectly here - plainly, this statement assumes that we have no free will to begin with. This is exactly where Erik has gone wrong (and continues to go wrong). The premises he gives are correct, but the conclusion does not follow at all - for one of the things that God has thus created is the free will of mankind.

We have a share in the creation of the universe. It's most obvious in the physical things - we invent bridges and airplanes and crossbows and the Showtime Rotisserie, and then we build them, just as God invented rocks and trees and birds and waterfalls and then built them. We also beget and raise children, as part of our share in what He makes. But the real touch of our own free will is in the subtle things - for we also make poetry and law and games and jokes. And above all, we sin. God gave us was a very clean world to start with. He is also obviously the sort that cares a good deal about keeping things in order, and treating each other well. It is also painfully obvious that we do these things very poorly despite every encouragement otherwise.

In short - we have created the situation we're in.

But there is a more telling point against the argument that we have no free will - the very debate we just had. Is Erik really compelled to try to convince me? If so, how can we talk at all about trying or convincing? Either the chain of events flips my mind or it doesn't. If Erik is merely one more link, then he can take no credit for dispelling my illusions any more than he can blame me for having them in the first place. And even then it's foolish to talk of "my" mind, or anyone else's. If all is causation there is no such thing at all as a mind, save possibly God's.

And follow that to the end, and you'll see why I come down pretty clearly on the side of free will. God supposedly has scripted the entirety of creation - but if that's so, why did he script in the parts where his creatures would rebel? And if it was scripted, was it even rebellion? I have to quote myself since I don't think I'll be able to improve on this:

Free will is not a theistic theory, it is just observable fact. Deny it and it's not surprising that errors jump in almost immediately. Indeed the whole of creation becomes an absurdity without free will - where God intentionally creates creatures who will use words like "ought" and "right and wrong" when all such things are impossible, and soon inescapably conclude that he does not exist.

In a different thread, many of the commenters go to town on the difference between free will and the perception of free will. I'm not sure how pure materialists can take this stand at all. The sliver of ground they've chosen for a foothold is, in fact, immaterial - perception is a mental activity, not a physical one.

Take, for an example, an optical illusion. Stare long enough at a fixed point in an image, and then suddenly look at a white page, and your eye will be fooled into seeing something that isn't there at all: the afterimage of the picture. The mind perceives that which the eye and brain do not actually see.

It is true that, if you damage the human brain sufficiently, the mind loses its power. Is that a matter of destroying the mind itself, or just the tool the mind uses? Dave Brubeck is a musical genius, and I am not; but with no piano in the room, there's no way to tell. And even given the piano, the man may choose NOT to play us something. He may prefer to let me pick out a tune, two-fingered. And then, to prove his own creativity, he may take those identical notes and so deal with them that you'd never guess where they'd came from.

Start from the world (and the premise that there is nothing else), and it's not surprising that theism seems like nothing but illusions and projections. But that thought blows up the moment you try to put any air into it at all - for what is an illusion but an immaterial thing? If we are nothing but matter, how do we possibly invent the idea of spirit? And how can we assign meanings to our longings? Absent the human mind there is no such thing as meaning, only impulse; no such thing as music, only notes; no such thing as love, only sex (and we've already addressed that confusion).

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A true story

...repeated word for word exactly as I heard it:
"Can I help you?"
Yes, thank you - I'd like a #3 meal with a Coke, and a caramel sundae.
"We're out of ice cream."
Oh. OK, then... I'd like one of those iced coffees - decaf, please, with no milk or sugar.
"You want milk and sugar?"
[Double take.] No, thank you.
"$6.66, please drive up." [Yes, that was the cost. I drove around.]
"$6.66." [Give twenty, get change.]
"Next window." [Said while I am counting the change.]

The coffee was HOT. Apparently, this nameless establishment prepares the iced coffee by putting hot coffee in a big tub with milk and sugar already included, and then chills it - and then gives it to you in a cup. But how hard would it have been to simply take the decaf and pour it into a large plastic cup full of ice? Or even to give me a cup of ice on the side?

Needless to add, but when I handed it to the Ladybug, she discovered that it had both cream and sugar added.

The Follow-Up:
We decided to quest for a sundae. I've avoided this joint's sundaes for many years but I felt badly after the debacle of the Backup Dessert Plan. The next two stops were also "out of ice cream." Worse, they were also out of courtesy. Is my business that much of an inconvenience?

Then we reached our last chance before turning back around, and I discovered that, without noticing, I've become accustomed to grouchy people on the phone, at the cash register, in the car... Not that I don't notice, nor that I enjoy it, but I've grown so used to it that competence seems like magnificence. "Hello," said the voice, and you could hear the smile. "Welcome to McDonald's! Can I help you?" I was so impressed that I ordered a sundae for myself as well as the Ladybug, even though I'd given up on them years before because of the sharp, unnatural aftertaste.

We pulled around, and the clerk said, "$2.12, please." And "Thank you." And "Have a good night." And I have no doubt that, if he had to tell us that the Great Ice Cream Outage had affected his store as well, he would have apologized instead of just saying that they had none.

By the way, it was actually a pretty good sundae for a buck-ought-six. Apparently they scrapped the petrochemical-based mix for a more foodlike substance.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

In brief

My thanks yet again to all those stopping by so often these past few weeks. It's great to welcome you, and the repeat visits are very dear to me. It makes me wish I could give you a little more new content, but real life is currently intruding. (I'll be able to explain later, but not now.) What little time I've had has been devoted to commenting on the regular rounds. In particular, I've been involved in a huge debate here, still developing, that threatens to become a collaborative book if it keeps on.

This isn't the blog ennui that comes upon us all from time to time, so rest assured I won't be on hiatus or anything... just a bit of light content for the next week or two.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Cookin' in Selig's kitchen

(We're covering the Commish for a Day series. Yesterday was hockey. Today is baseball.)

Before I start in with Tom Verducci's article, just a note in passing: the Mets started Jose Lima last night. Just like those old Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom specials, "Sadly, there can be only one outcome." He gave up a grand slam to the opposing pitcher.

OK. My first act as baseball commish for the day: any pitcher who loses his only four starts, permits better than two baserunners and one run scored per inning, and surrenders a grand slam to a pitcher, must immediately become a beer vendor, for the good of the game. These numbers are not those of a professional-grade pitcher. (For that matter, the picture alone is grounds for demotion.)*

2. Kill the DH. It's ridiculous to have half your pro teams play under different rules. It would be like the AFC keeping the two-point conversion but the NFC outlawing it, or the Eastern conference keeping the 3-pointer while the West didn't. And I'm not inclined to add a DH to the NL. We may as well make the managers pretend to work for a living.

3. Kill the save. Wow, you got three outs with a three run lead. Let's give you $7 million a year for five years! Meanwhile, the guy who had the go-ahead run on base with no-one out and kept his team ahead? He gets a "hold" and $500K? What the hell is that? "He got the hold!" Yay, pop the bubbly.

No stat should sound like the manager gives you a cuddle when you reach the dugout. Simple rule - the closer gets a new stat called (duh) the close. The hold becomes the new save - it is considered a save situation, after all. If the set-up guy can't keep the lead he gets a blown save, so why not give him an actual save if he succeeds?

Notice that more than one save can be awarded, and that the closer can also get a save if the end of the game is a save situation. The key change, though, is "save situation" - the trailing team must be able to tie or take the lead during that at-bat. In other words, a two-run lead isn't a save situation unless someone's on base. A five-run lead is never a save situation, even if the bases are loaded with nobody out. And no save will be awarded if the reliever surrenders runs to create the save situation. (In other words, if it's 3-1 and the leadoff guy singles, but you strand him, it's a save - if the leadoff guy homers, you get nothing. You are not rewarded for making your teammates' jobs harder.)

4. Relocation. Baseball does not belong in Colorado. The Coors effect is ridiculous, and there's always one guy who winds up having a freak half-year on the home while being his normal less-than-average self on the road. (This year's Vinnie Castilla Award goes to this nondescript fellow - dig the home/road split. And geez, what's with these player photos?)

The solution? Well, as suggested in the comments here, Buffalo would be a neat place for baseball. I liked the idea of a natural rivalry with Boston, New York, and Toronto, and the symmetry of renaming the Rockies the Alleghanies. I came up with an entire realignment scheme that I'm too lazy to retype.

Then again, looking at it makes me think of something else - if you lose two teams anyway (Florida and Tampa), why not drop to four seven-team divisions?

AL East - Balt, Bos, Buff, Clv, Det, NY, Tor
AL West - Calif, Chisox, KC, Minny, Oak, Sea, Tex
NL East - Atl, Cincy, Cubs, NY, Phil, Pitt, Wash
NL West - Ariz, Hou, LA, Mil, SD, SF, St. L

5. Wild-card woes. First, get rid of the rule that says you can't face the wild-card team in the first round if they're in your division. Second, increase the field to six per league, or 12 of 28 total. In that first round, two best division winners (in the Judge Report alignment) or the two division winners (if we go with the plan above) get byes. The others play a best-of-three series in the better team's home park, on three straight days - as baseball was meant to be played. Then it's best of seven as we're used to the rest of the way.

That would really call up some interesting choices. Do you use one of your top pitchers in the short-series opener? If so, how do you match the rested rotation of your next opponent? It would really make the division win a reward, so teams would always be pushing to move up, even if they were sure of one of the four other playoff spots.

Of course, that's 24 possible playoff games, plus travel - another month. That has to come from somewhere because the Alleghanies can't host November games. SO:

6. Scheduling. First, at least two doubleheaders per stadium per year, by rule. Give the fans some love! Second, trim the number of games from 162 to 156. This would be done easily in the four-division system:

12 games each v. division opponents: 6*12 = 72
6 games each v. other division in league: 7*6 = 42
3 games each v. other league: 14*3 = 42
72+42+42 = 156 games

You'd rotate the interleague home games each year - AL East hosts NL West, visits NL East, and then vice-versa the next season. Every city would see all the stars at least once every two years, without spoiling rivalries in the division races.

With six fewer games and four doubleheaders (the two you host and the two you're visiting for), the season will fit in from April to September and we'll finish the Fall Classic before Halloween.

7. I'm with Tom. He's right, the World Series games have got to start earlier. These games have to be where the younger fans can see them.

8. Nobody loves the ump. The cards are already stacked against them. If they make every call correctly, they're only doing their job. If they screw up once and someone loses, nobody notices anything else. (The worst ref in the world is always the one who just finished calling your game.) So let's help them by giving them a replay system for limited calls - whether a fly left the field for a homer before bouncing back, for example, or a quick look from the centerfield camera to see if the third strike actually hit the ground?**

9. On the other hand... A tough job requires extra panache, and it's in short supply nowadays. These umps are way too touchy. A guy looks cross-eyed at an iffy strike, he gets tossed. This is stupid. I'd retrain every single major league umpire. (And I'd fire Angel Hernandez as an object example.) If an ump can't take a little jabber from a player, he's not major-league material. And the inconsistency is even worse. It's amazing how in some games an obvious beanball war will bust out because the umps didn't do anything, but then in others an accidental grazing after a warning results in ejections.

(The warning itself gets me going, btw. Let's wait for a Tiger to plug a Twin and then warn both benches. Why? What did the Twins do? I have no love for Juiced Cyber Barry, but really, why does he have to duck obvious beanball after obvious beanball before the ump uses his brain and runs the pitcher? Why wait until Bonds finally gets hit and THEN make a big showy deal of it?)

The umps have thin skins covering large egos, and that's a bad deal for all concerned. It hurts the way the game is called, and it hurts the way the game is played. By taking themselves less seriously, they could do a much better job and make everyone happier at the same time.

10. Comprehensive drug testing. The whole world knows it's needed. After the system is proved reliable, we can move to making the penalties more severe, so it's not worth the risk to juice.

11. The All-"Star" Game. No more "every team has to be there" crap. This isn't the Special Olympics, and if your horrible ballplayers don't merit the selection, they are OUT. (If Mark Redman's an All-Star, then Neptune is Club Med.) And to that end, I propose tweaks: first, the voting doesn't begin until June 1, to give people time to see who's off to a good start; second, the players get ten picks and the manager seven to fill the roster up to 25 players, just like the regular season; third, the commissioner gets up to three picks per league, if he chooses (but he must add equally for each league), and fourth, the commissioner may remove any one player from the squad (as long as he wasn't voted in by the fans). Mark Redman? Sorry. Travis Hafner? Come on down!

* During the writing of this post, Sports Center announced that Lima had been designated for assignment. Behold my power! Mua-hahahahaha!

** Yeah, I'm thinking of Pierzynski, that pantload. He was SO out. And in his case it's even worse, since the rule is "dropped third strike." Even if that pitch skipped in, it was caught cleanly, so tough on you, AJ. And you're not an All-Star either, no matter what this says.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Der Commissionar's in town

Well, commissioner for a day, as the article puts it. Four of the writers decide to do top-ten lists for each of the four majors; four others decide to become the grand viziers of golf, tennis, and college football and baseball.

I like this sort of column idea, because it taps into the impulse of every fan at a bar to fix the things that annoy most, especially in sports we really love. And I especially love the idea of installing some executive oversight in the college sports AS individual sports, since the byzantine NCAA and their endless UN-style mismanagement leaves nearly everything to be desired. And last but not least, I get plenty of guilty pleasure looking at the picture of Bud Selig in the universal NO circle-and-slash.

These guys will probably be hammering at the Tom Verducci baseball article, so I'll save my reaction to it for a later date. (Like, oh, Saturday. Who am I kidding here?) But first, the NHL - primarily because Gary Bettman deserves more than the universal NO. He helped to engineer the dot-com-esque expansion bubble, the loss of franchises in Canada, and the near-ruinous dilution in the quality of play. The huge spike in pricing drove off much of the sport's blue-collar fan base. Then he used the inevitable fiscal disaster that he caused as an excuse to close the whole league for a year. I can't fire the stooge enough. (Fire him, fire AT him, fire him AT things - pick a preposition.) It's a great sport: graceful, powerful, and fast, but too few watch it because its highest league is run horribly.

Farber's ten changes are here. In general, they're pretty good. I can get behind putting a team back in Winnipeg. (Phoenix, even with Wayne Gretzky running the team, is just not a suitable place for a club.) His other strong suggestion - ditch the current TV deal with OLN for a contract with a network that actually reaches more than 10% of the country - is an absolute. Especially with HD and newer rules helping return speed and skill to the game, it's important to get the games seen as widely as possible.

In all, I keep those two above and a third: putting the All-Star Game in Europe every few years will keep building the sport in countries that increasingly supply the NHL with talent, as baseball does with exhibitions in Japan.

But my very first edict as Emperor of Hockey is to dump the "pity point." I've explained it before. It is an idiot, self-contradictory system that will eventually land a team in the playoffs ahead of a team that has a better record. (And then they'll probably "fix" that with an equally-dumb idea.)

I would just bring back the tie. One point for splitting a tough game is a valid reward. It's not popular, primarily because teams were finishing with 20 ties a season, so to keep ties down, I would ironically borrow one of soccer's ideas and award three points for a win. Teams trying to make up ground in the standings will gladly risk the one point for a full three. (Simple math - a team taking chances and going 1-1 in OT will come out ahead of a team that plays it safe and takes two draws.) Further, I would make OT ten minutes long to encourage a result during actual play.

And as exciting as the shootout is, it's NOT hockey - akin to deciding a basketball game with a game of HORSE at the end. I'd keep it, lest my reign end in tears (mostly mine), but I'd limit it to five shooters.

It's not perfect, but it replaces a much worse situation: one that rewards failure and resolves games with a skills competition - and then changes those rules for the playoffs. No wonder people's eyes glaze over contemplating the NHL.

So that, plus the other three I kept, make four. Quickly now (since most of my visitors are snoooozing) -

5. Rescheduling. I like Farber's schedule idea - in 82 games there's room for visits to every other arena in the league. But I'd go a little further. I'd set a regular schedule for the nationally-broadcast games and marquee matchups. With so many shared NHL/NBA venues, this is a lot more ambitious but I think it could be done. Not that basketball wouldn't also have its Saturday matinee games or holiday broadcasts as well, but it would give the casual fan or the interested party a much better chance of finding a good hockey game - "Hey, it's Thursday; Detroit-Colorado is on!" Think about the football heirarchy: HS on Fridays, college on Saturdays (whoa, nellie!), NFL on Sundays, and Monday Night Football, which really cemented the NFL as the premier sports league of the US.

6. Gear. I agree with Farber that illegal equipment has to be curtailed, but not so much on what needs to be mandatory. He wants visors to be mandatory, as helmets became in the early 80's. Defensible, especially as the players have gotten larger, but a lot of injuries are caused because people are careless, and use their superior gear as weapons against other players. I'd take a bit of an opposite approach. Shoulder and elbow pads would have to be padded on the outside surface. They could still have a hard plastic shell, but that would have to be interior. As it stands now they're more like clubs and even a clean check carries a higher risk of injuring one's opponent, to say nothing of a thrown elbow.

7. Relocation. Concentrating the skill a bit would increase the quality of the play and thus the number of people watching. There are 30 teams now. To me, 28 is better, four seven-team divisions. It doesn't sound like much, but that's about two players per remaining team. Besides, there's some question to whether certain cities can sustain NHL hockey. Atlanta already lost its first expansion team (the Flames), so why give them another? Relocate or go away. Columbus? Buh-bye. Tampa and/or Florida? Tougher, both have made the Finals and the Lightning won the Cup in '04. But two of those four are definitely out, and if Phoenix' team weren't already going back to Winnipeg, they'd be goners.

8. Endless Playoffs. This is where I really hesitate - in the West this year, all four bottom seeds avanced to the second round, and the eighth seed pushed all the way into the Stanley Cup finals and forced Game Seven. Top seeds get upset enough to make me think that the current system (16 of 30 in the playoffs) is exciting and that the quality of play is high. But the Nightfly Hockey League only has 28 teams, and four rounds of best-of-seven is an awful long haul. This needs some correction. Unfortunately I can see significant flaws in most of the ideas:

A. Drop four teams. This gives the top two seeds first-round byes. Two big problems: first, these teams would get rusty sitting around for ten or twelve days between games, putting them at significant disadvantage. Again, we don't want to punish success and reward failure. Second, the teams with byes would lose significant revenue from those now-nonexistent playoff games. Since the league has the smallest pie of the four majors, it doesn't really make sense to limit revenue streams.

B. Make the first round best-of-five. As recently as 1979, it was best of three; the best-of-seven opening round didn't debut until 1987. This avoids the two flaws above, but only by shaving a couple of games from the schedule - in other words, it doesn't go very far in solving the original problem.

(Oddly, the league used to combine the two systems - the best of three playoffs AND the first round bye - from '75-'79. The layoffs weren't all that long because of the short series, and it wasn't thought of as lost revenue since the league had just gone from 8 to 12 playoff teams. Those eight remaining teams were still playing the same number of rounds as otherwise.)

C. Make the first TWO rounds best-of-five. Compress twice, save about a week and a half. It's never been done and likely would be poorly-received. Don Cherry would probably shout himself to death about it. But it would work.

D. Make teams play back-to-back games. Games 1 and 2, Tuesday and Wednesday. Travel Thursday. Prep Friday. Games 3 and 4, Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening. Game 5-7, if needed: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. Repeat. Last two rounds will be done in under a month, and it adheres to Edict #5 above - big games on consistent days (the game 6 would be the only oddball). The drawback is that true consistency means no games at all on some days, and too many games on the others, unless you stagger things. (Another objection is, why not just use the simpler every-other-day system? The answer is that, if teams sweep, they're done sooner this way.)

Anyway, I saved the long one for last to be nice. Next up, baseball - Verducci didn't do poorly, but there a couple of major fixes that he didn't touch. I have no such reservations.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Take one down, pass it around

The Newark Star-Ledger gets serious:
As Italy and France get ready to square off in Sunday's championship game, we had important business of our own — determining the winner of the first-ever World Beer Cup.

Beer cup? No, no - mugs are for beer. Cups are for coffee. Get your brews straight.

Sixteen beers and 16 countries, matched up as they were in the actual second round of World Cup play. We chose quality beers that would represent their countries well, and readily-available beers, not ultra-rare brews you have to airlift from the Himalayas or the Amazon.
This is admittedly a pretty good pretense for beer drinking, even if it means some odd vintages (Ghanian beer?). A group of five tankard jockeys taking pulls from the bottles, voting until one brew stands alone - nice work if you can get it.

There were two obvious flaws:

1. No American beer. I guess the point was that we didn't get out of pool play, but our beer is a great deal better than our soccer. Why make the judges suffer? (Oh, and Belgium had better get cracking in time for 2010.)

2. No Bingley on the panel. This casts grave doubts on the legitimacy of the entire contest. I mean, he actually travels to Brazil, doesn't he? So much for expert opinion. (I can hear his heart breaking from here...)

But on the bright side, the flawed process gave us Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale as a champion. Hoist a pint thereof and cry, "For Harry, England, and St. George!"

The Joker Begins

You have to scroll to the bottom third of the Bleat today to find the movie content.

It's more fun to read it, rather than just scroll, but this post is about the bottom third, in which Lileks deals in brief with Burton's Batman and Kubrick's 2001.

It’s one of those odd-even movies – I watch it, I love it, I watch it again, I’m bored and impatient. ... This time I loved it, because I was seeing it as an Influence on subsequent sci-fi. You can trace everything back to the astro-porn of the early third, I think.
Heheheheh. I tend to agree. (Kubrick, too - check item two on the trivia.) 2001's influence even spreads beyond straight sci-fi: the MST3k movie opens with a spoof of the scene where Frank Poole uses the rotating "Discovery" as a giant inverted treadmill, complete with Gypsy's lantern eye watching Mike Nelson, HAL-style. (Of course, poor Mike's actually on a giant hamster wheel, complete with a giant water bottle for him to swig from.) (Of double-course, being a fellow Minnesotan and a friend of Mike's, Lileks knew that.)

His deconstruction of Batman strikes me as reasonable. (I'm really a movie buff-oon, so my opnion is admittedly underinformed.) Musically I liked Danny Elfman's little waltz, so I'm more forgiving of the scene it attends in the film, and I'm inclined more favorably to Nicholson's Joker - yeah, it's "Famous Jack," but there aren't many other people who could have done anything with the role. He wasn't Cesar Romero's goofball, and that was really the thing. But I will not only amen but hosanna this:
There are rumors Robin Williams might play the Joker in the next Batman movie. My initial instinct is to scream NO; that is also instincts 2 through 74...
In fact, I am so on board with this bit that Lileks' instinct number 75 - with the right director it could work - holds no force for me. Nope. I've only got 74 on this. Sweet creeping jeepers, no Robin Williams. Not even as the Riddler, which he would do much better (albeit slightly fatter). "Batman vs. Mork" is just a first-class Bad Idea. You may as well cast Patrick Stewart as Egghead and be done with it.

No, we have a good field to choose from for the Clown Prince of Crime - someone to capture his cruel madness, as captured in the title of the classic comic arc, "The Killing Joke." Nicholson was right for the role because he could be mean, and dead inside, and not just over-the-top crazy. Who would you like to see take the role?

Ironically enough, I would like to see Michael Keaton do it.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

That squish you hear the sound of marshmallow.
His dragon-slaying heroics have kept his legend alive through the centuries.
But the Church of England is considering rejecting England's patron saint St George on the grounds that his image is too warlike and may offend Muslims.

Of course, we all know that famous story - St. George slew a dragon named Osama al-Islam in fourth-century Persia, 250 years before Mohammed was born. How dare he!
The proposal has been put forward by the Rev Philip Chester, vicar of St Matthew's, Westminster, who has called the use of St George as patron saint 'dotty'.
His call for a change is based on the lack of firm historical evidence that George - said to be a Roman general from the 4th century AD who was put to death by Emperor Diocletian for professing Christianity - ever existed.
He said: 'We are sure St Alban is a real figure. What's more, he lived in this country.'

That, at least, is a fair point. Then again, St. Alban may not have such a pedigree as is assumed by the good vicar. In the meantime, the Catholic Encyclopedia says this about our resident dragon-slayer:
An ancient cultus, going back to a very early epoch and connected with a definite locality, in itself constitutes a strong historical argument. Such we have in the case of St. George. ... There seems, therefore, no ground for doubting the historical existence of St. George...

It goes into a good deal more detail in parsing out all of the outlandishness, and it also addresses that bit about being used to foster patriotism in 1940 that the article quotes. St. George's popularity in merrie olde dates back a wee bit longer: "Arculphus and Adamnan probably made him well known in Britain early in the eighth century. His Acts were translated into Anglo-Saxon, and English churches were dedicated to him before the Norman Conquest, for example one at Doncaster, in 1061." Even the Rev. Rowan Williams "is said to be cautious about relegation to George." Good for him.
The saint became an English hero during the crusades against the Muslim armies that captured Jerusalem in the 11th century. An apparition of George is said to have appeared to the crusader army at the Battle of Antioch in 1098.

Ah. That sort of answers the question of why Muslims might take to George like they took to Piglet - and they didn't much care that the latter is a children's storybook character, so whether there's a real St. George or not makes no odds. But it does raise a different question in its place, at least for the Rev. Chester - if St. George never existed, who was that popping up over the pitch at Antioch to rally the side?
His dragon-slaying legend is thought to have begun as an allegory of Diocletian's persecution of Christians.

The writer doesn't say who had this thought. I'll supply one of my own instead - the dragon has been an image of Satan since Biblical times. That's why the Archangel Michael is often depicted tossing down a serpent (usually swopping off one of several heads in the process). In St. George's case, however, neither the big man nor Diocletian seems to be the example in mind. Again, from the Catholic Encyclopedia article:
This episode of the dragon is in fact a very late development, which cannot be traced further back than the twelfth or thirteenth century. ... It may have been derived from an allegorization of the tyrant Diocletian or Dadianus, who is sometimes called a dragon (ho bythios drakon) in the older text, but despite the researches of Vetter (Reinbot von Durne, pp.lxxv-cix) the origin of the dragon story remains very obscure.

The best known form of the legend of St. George and the Dragon is that made popular by the "Legenda Aurea", and translated into English by Caxton...

The summary: the town is beset by a dragon that lays waste to the land and befouls the air. Many die. The king tries to buy off the dragon, first with livestock, then with humans, until St. George puts paid to the whole sorry process. He asks in return that the town be baptized, honor the clergy, and be good to the poor.

In other words, St. George's example is that of faith and bravery in the face of evil and dire difficulty, and in the service of innocence - and that appeasement doesn't work. This is the truth behind this latest bout with the wobbles. The C of E is so much in thrall to zeitgeist that it no longer feels brave enough to identify with Christ Himself half the time, so the example of St. George may well be too much for them to emulate. The question is, if they simply surrender unbidden to imaginary and unrealistic complaints, can whatever example they choose to follow ever be enough to stand fast against real evil?

(w/t to the Swillers, as usual - and check out some of the other thoughts from Deborah Gyapong and the Gateway Pundit.)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Let freedom ring

If you look around, blogs both near and far are thinking about Independence Day.

I can't help but wonder if that's one of the reasons more established media pooh-pooh the blog world. We are not to question their patriotism, but they question ours - question patriotism itself. And at the heart of it is an inverted observation -

How can I love my home without coming to realize that other men, no less rightly, love theirs? Once you have realized that the Frenchmen like café complet just as we like bacon and eggs - why, good luck to them and let them have it. The last thing we want is to make everywhere else just like our own home. It would not be home unless it were different.
CS Lewis, as usual, knew what he was talking about. One can't even have the fun of discovery, of trying new things, and then the further joy of familiar comforts at the end, unless one has a home; a place one loves and is thus willing to defend. That's the sticking point.

Since anyone would defend their home, doubters presume that there must be nothing special about their particular home, when in fact there's everything special about it. The first thing is that we're here, not anywhere else, and it's our job to make sure that here remains free. We can make it good only as long as we have the liberty to do so, a liberty secured not only from foreign powers but busybodies and would-be meddlers here.

The founding principle of the United States is this liberty, to improve ourselves and to improve our neighborhoods, and that this liberty is not the gift of men, or the sufference of their rulers. It is inherent to each person.

I'm going to enjoy that inherent freedom with some tasty beverage, grilled foods, and a nice fireworks show.

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Happy Fourth!

Monday, July 03, 2006

The most gullible post of the year

update, 2:00 pm - the more I think about this, the more I think that Philbrick really IS pulling our legs, and that this is all satire. If that is the case, then I may win the Gullible Award instead, for getting bamboozled like this.

double-update, 2:23 pm - yeah. It's satire. Me am idiot. Changes have been made accordingly. For those who are curious, I take my dunce caps in a size seven.

ESPN's Mike Philbrick has filed this report on Jason Giambi's resumption of hitting skill.

As we head into the final weekend of interleague play, there's one story that just isn't getting enough attention. Let's just say it -- the continued resurgence of Jason Giambi is nothing short of amazing.

There's a reason nobody likes to mention it - you will find it filed under "Gorillas, 800-pound, in room." Baseball has not really gotten a handle on testing; studied indifference is the best it can manage now that Bonds oozed his way past the Babe. Philbrick is here to play Jane Goodall for us.

Just take a look at a rough sketch of his career:

• Wins MVP with Oakland A's. [while on the juice]
• Awarded a $120 million contract from the Yankees.
Admits in grand jury testimony that he used HGH and steroids. [see item #1]
• Cleans up his act. [Heheheheheh.]
• Suffers a series of health crises and hits just .208 in 2004.
• Wins AL Comeback Player of the Year in '05 (from you guys, the fans).
• Follows that season up with an MVP-caliber first half so far: He's hitting .271 with 23 home runs and leads the American League in slugging percentage while ranking second in OPS.

You really have to give credit to someone who cheated his way to an elite status in baseball, realized the error of his ways, sort of apologized and has come back as good as ever -- at age 35.

This is precisely why all that HGH and steroid usage is damaging to the sport. Is the Giambi, in fact, clean? His numbers may well be evidence that he's found a better way of cheating. All of the recent examples of people who've made athletic comebacks or extended their primes at age 35? Users. Raffi? Barry? McGwire? Guilty, guilty, and guilty. The man juiced, stopped, and subsequently dropped off a shelf. Did he recover his ability or just his medicine cabinet?

Read the rest. Philbrick's top ten at the end is terrific, and it finally convinced me that I'd been totally had by a great piece of writing. My literalociter was tuned up waaaaaay too high today.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Good news, everyone

The man who led me into the wilds of the blogosphere has returned. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you - The Barking Spider. In fact, I give you a permlink in the Pantheon as well, so read early, read often...

In the meantime, I'd like to offer him a welcome-back present, mostly based on the title, but also fitting in the conclusion. (Besides, it's always easier to give away someone else's work!) From the mind of the Judge himself, A River Runs Through It.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

And here's your answer

Update - I should have reposted the question for the newcomers. Duh. Here it is: if you still wake up in the morning with shaking hands, and you're trying to find a girl who understands you... where are you?

Last chance to say something on your own... Otherwise, click the clip to hear the lyric, or highlight the blank spot to see it live.

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Answer: You are in the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel, in Los Angeles.

Double-secret bonus answer: from the location Zevon mentions, you could "Look away down Gower Avenue" - but I can't tell if this is the same one. The actual building from the lyric is no longer there; Warren must have paid up.

The next contest is already running. I hope Ken is more sane than I am about it!