Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Domonic Brown is HERE!!!

So Dreamy!
This is the transcript of a real Facebook chat that I had with my cousin Ryan over the call up of Phillies phenom outfielder Domonic Brown.  What makes this chat especially loserish is that we were sitting four feet away from each other on our laptops.  Please reserve judgment; we know we are losers...



Me: WOOO!!!

Ryan:  DOM IS HERE!!!

Me:  zOMG!!

Ryan:  OMG!!!!

Again, I think anyone should withhold judgment until you know all the facts.  /Strangelove'd

If you think we are nuts, just go over to Twitter and see how the various Phillie fans are reacting.  They make us look like hard-headed realists.  Just sayin'....

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Love the Hat!

What a great get up from the Pope.  A trendsetter in fashion!

(Photo from Reuters via the UK Telegraph)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Fear of Sabermetrics

I will be the first to admit - I am a late arrival to the sabermetrics phenomenon.  For the longest time, I was the guy who said all we needed to know could be found on the back of a baseball card and in the stat line flashed on TV the first time a player came up to hit in the game. 

I was wrong.

Sabermetrics are incredibly useful in getting beyond the box score and allows us to dig a lot deeper into a player's ability and trends.  So how did I 'convert' (for a lack of a better term)?  The answer to that lies in the acceptance of the premises behind the principle - that we can measure a player much better in terms of his ability by looking at things he can control as opposed to things that he can't control.  Another premise is that in order to score and win, you have to not make outs as a hitter, and conversely, as a pitcher, get outs.

I used to look at sabermetrics with a lot of disdain - mostly because I didn't understand them.  We tend to fear, and thus mock what we do not understand.  It is somewhat analogous to how guns are viewed in society - how many people who are against guns have actually handled firearms?  I would venture that most have not, and so they see stories in the news about them. Or perhaps on TV shows and movies people see these things that contain power and they fear the guns without understanding them.  

If sabermetrics are fully explained to the public and people see just what they are trying to get at, I think over time there will be less of a resistance to it, since there will be more understanding.  Granted, some will never come around to it - Joe Morgan comes to mind, and there will always be snobs in the movement, as this hilarious video so aptly mocks (Some foul language - NSFW).

Ultimately, the more we can objectively quantify, the better.  While we can never replace actually watching the games, the use of sabermetrics provides a much better filter to what we are watching than just the old traditional stats of batting average, runs batted in, wins, and saves alone. 

Vacation, Phase II

The first part of vacation is over - i.e., the traveling part.  Hopefully I will have some pictures up soon of some of the sights that we had come upon through our travails in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  

Thus begins phase two - where I am just lazy as hell for the next 4 weeks.  Blogging, watching TV, going to Phillies games, hanging out with the missus, my brother, my cousin, and my cat.  Today also happens to be a special day - and not just because I might see the Phillies beat Ubaldo Jimenez.  Anyway, back on the circuit later or tomorrow.  Have a great day, y'all!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Wrong Solution...

It was noted today that President Obama wants federal employees to eliminate some of their carbon emissions by cutting down on 'business travel and commuting by car'.  Fine.  But what about Air Force One travel?  Wouldn't eliminating a lot of trips on that particularly wasteful form of travel help eliminate carbon emissions also?  A question for which undoubtedly we will never receive an answer.  Actually, in my estimation, the one true way for the feds to help reduce pollution is the one way this administration would never dream of even attempting in any way...

Cutting the size and scope of the federal government.  

Think about it.  Many less people working for the feds means a smaller 'carbon footprint' for the government and then everyone's guilty consciences are assuaged.   Great idea!  It will never happen.

It makes too much sense.

Too bad. 

Hold the Obituaries...

The Phillies are scuffling along right now in the National League East at 48-44, which is good for six games behind the division leading Atlanta Braves and three games behind the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Wild Card race.

92 games in (70 remaining) is a pretty good place to look at what has gone wrong and what has gone right for a team, and while there have been a lot of problems - consider the records of these same Phillies each of the past few years through 92 games and how they finished:

2009 - 53-39 (up 6.5), finished 93-69
2008 - 49-43 (up 1.5), finished 92-70
2007 - 46-46 (down 5), finished 89-73

Each of these years, they won the division and with the exception of last season, 2007 and 2008 were not particularly great starts, but as has been a trend, the Phillies have been a second half team.  Is it possible that the Phillies just don't have it this year?  Certainly - due to injuries and a team slump that has defied all sorts of trends.  At the same time, I believe it to be a tad early to write this team off now.  They have overcome too much to simply be consigned to the dustbin for this season.  People have already forgotten the greatest comeback in Major League history in 2007.  7 games down with 17 to go - and people think they can't overcome 6 games with 70 to go?

In about 3-4 weeks - August 15th, to be precise - I will update this with a further reflection.  By that point, there will be just a little over one quarter of the season to go.  The trading deadline will have passed by that time, and we will re-evaluate whether the rumors of the Phillies' demise were premature.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Tiger Slam

Watching the British Open The Open Championship (I am not sure how many other organizations or events have a more pretentious title), the scenery has been great, the announcers talking about the history of St. Andrews has been fascinating, and observing Tiger Woods' continued fall is worthy of rubbernecking during a horrendous car crash....alright, Tiger's car crash wasn't that bad.

(As an aside - old joke now: What do Nike golf balls and Escalades have in common?  Tiger Woods will drive both of them into trees.  *Cymbal crash* -- Sorry, I just couldn't resist this cheap shot , and we now return to our regularly scheduled programming)

To see him as the eye-rolling, club-throwing, profanity-using loser has actually been more interesting in so many ways than him winning any tourney by twelve strokes.  Part of the reason is that he looks flawed, nay, he is flawed - in so many ways.  But unlike so many heroes who have been revealed to be merely human, not a whole lot of people are sympathizing with Tiger Woods right now.  You could even say that schadenfreude is the dominant sentiment.

Here is a man who made his name by tightly concealing and managing his image - we the public only got to see what he wanted us to see - the competitor, the winner, the pitchman.  Even after his world started collapsing, he was still trying to tightly manage that image, but the blinders of most of us came off and saw him for what he was - a flawed individual who was in complete denial over his problems, or even worse, and individual trying to sweep everything that we knew under a rug while screaming 'All's well!  Nothing to see here!'  It was that attempt to tell us to trust him rather than our own lyin' eyes that turned many against him: the canned press conferences, the refusal to talk to police, and just the fact that he jilted his wife by sleeping with more women than Hugh Hefner.

This brings us back to golf and the British Open - the past couple of majors have shown Woods not even really competing a whole lot, and this is from ostensibly the greatest golfer of this generation.  It is clear that he has been rattled over the past few months and does not have the level of support he once did.  Sure, those who are golf sycophants will continue to do so, but those numbers are dwindling.  Tiger may be able to get some of those fans back, but in so many ways, he tried to close the gate after the dogs got out.  The only way he will recover is to win, win frequently, and win big - which is looking less and less likely now.  Can he 'get his groove back'?  I don't know.  I think it's safe to write off this season and see what 2011 brings.

*UPDATE* Tiger shot an even-par 72 in the final round, to finish at three under.  The leader right now (12:27 PM, EDT) is at seventeen under.  I think it's safe to say that Tiger won't win.

Now, in honor of Tiger's meltdowns, this video...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

M*A*S*H Issues - "Hot Lips" vs. "Margaret"

In a previous essay – ‘Projection’ – I had stated briefly that one of the issues in M*A*S*H was that the character of Major Margaret Houlihan (played by Loretta Swit) too much reflected the ‘empowered woman’ figure that was prevalent during the late 1970’s when the show was in its heyday during the later seasons. This was an unfortunate thing, because the character underwent a dramatic shift that undercut in so many ways a true development; in other words, the character suffered because of the cultural and political biases of the show’s writers and creators.

It is quite an interesting shift over time – when the series debuted in 1972, Major Margaret ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan was one half of a duo (along with Major Frank Burns) that was dedicated to two things: 1) to make the 4077 a ‘by the book’ outfit and 2) to gain as much pleasure and power as they could. Her nickname of ‘Hot Lips’ – at least in the show, was never explained (the original 1970 film has a full explanation), but was invoked several times by Hawkeye and Trapper John. ‘Hot Lips’ had a relationship with seemingly every single lower-ranking general in the Far East Command (Barker, Hammond, Clayton, Weiskopf) and attempted to get with others (‘Iron Guts’ Kelly comes to mind). She was tough on the outside, but stern and somewhat slutty at the same time. There weren’t a lot of opportunities to see a truly human side to her, although flashes are shown through the first 3-4 seasons in episodes such as ‘Hot Lips and Empty Arms’ (Season 2) and ‘Aid Station’ (Season 3). Otherwise, she could be as cartoonish as her perpetually cartoonish ‘sweetheart in crime’, Major Burns.

As long as she was in a romantic entanglement with Burns, ‘Hot Lips’ was going to remain as such. At some point, the show’s writers and creators had a decision to make – if they break up the Burns/Houlihan duo, who will be the developed one and who will essentially die a creative death. As it turned out, Houlihan got the development and the Burns character was ultimately starved out. In the fourth season, they are still together, but a couple of things happened that some of us believe was the beginning of the end for the duo. First, in the episode ‘Soldier of the Month’ Burns comes down with a bad fever and dictates his will, leaving Houlihan all of his clothes and nothing else, which doesn’t sit with her well, especially since she still believed that Frank would ultimately dump his wife and marry her instead. Secondly, in ‘Mail Call Again’ Houlihan overhears Burns call her an ‘army mule’ and an ‘old war horse’ in a phone call to his wife and lie about their affair. However, in the very next episode, Houlihan was begging Burns to propose to her – so I guess the continuity is a little out of whack.

At the start of the fifth season, Houlihan became engaged to Lt. Colonel Donald Penobscott, officially ending her affair with Burns, and beginning her transformation from ‘Hot Lips’ to ‘Margaret’. Frank Burns was toothless and reduced to ridiculous one-line retorts; an even bigger caricature than he already was. He was two-dimensional with Houlihan and without her, he became completely one-dimensional.

From the fifth season on, there was a bit of an overbearing attempt to make Houlihan much more ‘human’ – oh sure, she still yelled a bit, but emotions starting playing a role, with an early example being the episode entitled ‘The Nurses’ (Season 5), in which she breaks down after being ostracized and criticized for being such a tough taskmaster. The sixth and seventh seasons truly bring ‘Margaret’ to full bloom as they examine the degradation and eventual dissolution of her marriage, as well as digging into her psyche. She softened up and ‘fit in better’. Mostly, she became a symbol of the so-called ‘proto-feminist’. Two episodes demonstrate this well – ‘Hot Lips Is Back In Town’ (Season 7), where she tells off General Weiskopf after he comes to observe the nurses performing triage and ‘Stars and Stripes’ (Season 8), when Scully returns and she talks about ‘wanting a lifetime’, which Scully could not/would not do. She is now in complete control and will dictate everything, while at same time being a soft, sensitive woman. One gets the sense that the character couldn’t decide what she wanted to be – a failing at the creative stage.

Later, Loretta Swit had gotten some kind of plastic surgery on her face and the sheer projection of late 70’s/early 80’s female power was in total. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this – since any good satire should be able to talk about its current time while ostensibly being set in another, but as with so much of later M*A*S*H, subtlety was in extremely short supply in all things. Heavy-handed commentary only goes so far and this was definitely one of the show’s greatest weaknesses in the later seasons.

By the end, it looked clear that ‘Margaret’ Houlihan was going to be one of those careerist types who would never need a man to be successful or to live a good life. Ironically, ‘Hot Lips’ was also a careerist type, but not in that 1970’s politically-motivated way. In a lot of ways, ‘Hot Lips’ could be a much more sympathetic character, even though she participated in events that would make people unsympathetic. Just married/divorced Margaret was sympathetic as well, but a lot of the goodwill started to vanish.

One last point is this – the nickname ‘Hot Lips’ was probably referenced maybe five times during the final 5-6 seasons, and that was it. It wasn’t really phased out – it was completely dropped, which was probably a mistake in hindsight.

Major Margaret Houlihan was one of the originals who were in the series for its entire run, but no character underwent more fundamental changes than she did. The changes, I would argue, were far more motivated by the biases of the show’s creative team rather than by solely the need to further develop the character. Otherwise, it would have been a little more incremental rather than a seeming 180 degree turn in a matter of a season. M*A*S*H had a long run, but neither ‘Hot Lips’ or ‘Margaret’ benefited as well as they could have from such a sustained period of excellence.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Merits of Examination

In National Review Online, two Harvard University graduates lament the notion that many of the departments in that most prestigious of universities are eliminating the usage of final exams in courses.  In fact, Finn and Muldoon point out that while it used to be that when a professor wanted not to give an exam, he would have to file paperwork to do.  Now, professors need paperwork to give exams!

As a teacher, I find final exams to be extremely useful in assessing students.  Too often, the reason for not giving an exam in the first place is motivated by a most basic vice: sloth.  Granted, there are certain fields where a written final exam is probably not as useful, but in the humanities, it is entirely appropriate and if constructed properly, will demonstrate mastery and competence in the field.  I can understand some people's disgust over poorly constructed and created exams, but that is not a good reason to implement a scorched-earth policy of exams.  

A course should in some ways resemble a pyramid - structured in a way that begins with a foundation and continuously builds on top, with reinforcement from the foundation.  The final exam should reflect that structure and cover overarching themes of the course.  There is a need to remember specifics also, but a good exam should not get completely bogged down in the minutiae.  

I'll confess that in my earlier years of teaching, I struggled with making a good exam, but after a couple of years of practice, all of the pieces fell into place - the right length, the right material to know, and the right emphases.  It's too bad that some want to completely do away with this good way of assessment, especially since most of the flaws can be corrected with a much more concentrated focus on them.  This is why every year it is important to re-evaluate the manner and material of both the course and the exam. 

True Vacation...

Summer school ended yesterday and therefore, for the next 35 days, I get real vacation time.  I can sit, loaf, read, play Playstation, bowl, swim, watch TV, and blog(!) at my leisure.  It is an incredibly nice thing to have and do.  It is time to veg out and enjoy these lazy days to the best of my abilities.  Hopefully all of you get to do the same.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Of Speeding and Cameras

On Tuesday afternoon, I received a speeding ticket in the mail from the city of Riverdale Park.

It cost 40 bucks, and it was for going 49 in a 35 MPH zone.  It came from a mobile camera heading east on MD-410 (East-West Highway) in between Route 1 and Kenilworth Avenue.  The ticket said something about being in a 'school zone' (which it isn't) and a 'work zone' (which it is theoretically, but there are no cones; it only has one of those $20,000 stimulus package American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signs).

I am adamantly opposed to speed cameras in principle and in practice.  I simply do not believe that they save lives in any way and are principally used as a way to make money.  I am willing to grant that red-light cameras possibly save lives, but to compare the two is comparing apples to oranges.  Almost no one is going to say that red-light running isn't a public safety issue, but you would never find that kind of unanimity in saying that speeding is a public safety issue.

In many ways, the act of speeding is a neutral one.  It is true that roads are designed with a particular 'safe' speed in mind - most of the original Interstate System was built with 90 miles per hour as a guideline for people to read signs and react to exits and so forth.  However, it is also true that most 'speed limits' are arbitrary numbers that have ulterior motives - whether it's ostensibly for safety or to get people to drive slowly enough to notice whatever is in their town, or to 'save gas'.

Speeding is bad if there is a car in front of you and you plow into him.  It's bad if you go around a 30 degree bend and the tires skid because of the high level of speed.  But is it bad if you are on a straightaway with no other cars for miles and you gun it?  The states/towns/local jurisdictions say it is, but don't really give a reason as to why that is.  They are content to let their cameras snap away and collect the fines that come instead.

One last point just for pondering...the State of Maryland requires dual consent in order to photograph and record people.  I did not give my consent to the town of Riverdale Park to photograph my property as I was driving through.  Do I have a case to get the ticket and the law itself overturned?  Discuss...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Prodigal Son Has Returned...

After so much time away - nearly 3 months, in fact, I am finally making a new post here.  There is so much to share, and in time it will all come out.  Mostly, this has to do with the fact that I have a new laptop and don't have to do any kind of real legwork on our outdated and crappy desktop computer; a computer that is as slow as molasses and doesn't even have any real sense of smoothness.  

The 5th Quarter, otherwise known as Summer School, is coming to an end tomorrow - we have a big meeting after classes conclude tomorrow and make recommendations on who gets admission in the fall and who doesn't.

My birthday and anniversary are next week - and quite honestly, as much as I like my birthday, I don't mind the anniversary overshadowing it.  Six years already.  Time flies when you are having fun!

I have a lot to say on the state of affairs in society, sports, and our lives, and hopefully that since I have the means to do so finally - the blog will be regularly updated.  I hope you'll take me back, just as the Prodigal Son's father did!  After all, the Lord did preach forgiveness and making the penitents feel welcome once again.