Saturday, September 30, 2006


Shea New

The Mets have broken ground on a new stadium right next to their current one, Shea Stadium. The original Shea Stadium is named after William Shea, a rich New York lawyer who spearheaded the local movement to get a National League franchise in New York City in the aftermath of the departures of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants to California.

I have no idea whether the new stadium will also be called "Shea." The heroism -- if that's what you call organizing community and business leaders to get the a franchise from Major League Baseball -- may well have merited naming one stadium after him for 40 years, but a second stadium?

More likely the Mets will just follow the current trend and sell corporate naming rights to the highest bidder.

The Mets announcers referred casually to the new stadium in a recent broadcast as "the New Shea." It got B and me thinking -- whatever the real name of the new stadium, wouldn't it be great if it became known among the fans as "Shea New"? (As in the French phrase for "our house.")

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Caliche politics

Several years ago, I lived in South Texas for a brief stint. Most of the area was rural and poor, with dirt roads. My host told me that from time to time, the roads would be improved when authorities would cover them with a local type of gravel, known in this predominantly Spanish-speaking area as "caliche."

Interestingly, the caliche always seemed to get put down on the roads right around election time. So the phrase "caliche politics" came to mean the practice of well-timed increases public works spending to help incumbents gain re-election.

If you've ever made summer road trips, you've seen caliche politics at work -- the way there is always more road repair work in summers before elections.

This summer and fall, we have experienced an explosive, orgiastic, extravaganza of construction. Everywhere you turn, a road or sideway is blocked off, buildings have been torn down or are going up, roads are being torn up and reinstalled -- even where they were just torn up and reinstalled the previous year. Cement-mixers, earth-movers, dump trucks, porto-potties, and all the equipment and trappings of construction line the streets like so many parked SUVs.

Construction is a big, state-wide industry, and construction companies are big donors to state political campaigns. And lots of construction means an employment boom for construction workers. From the standpoint of incumbent politicians, it's win-win.

At a local construction excavation, right there on the fence, right next to the big sign bearning the name of the construction company, is a campaign poster for the incumbent state official who's up for re-election this November. How appropriate.

Friday, September 22, 2006


Existential Friday: adult learning

A new-to-hockey player has joined one of our scrimmage groups, and boy, is he bad. He slowly glides up and down, always facing forward, with his feet angled, looking as though he will fall over any second. Occasionally, he whacks at the puck, but most he's just taking up space.

My intial reaction -- contempt -- gave me pause. Okay, I was a bit better than that when I started playing hockey two-plus years ago, but not much. I felt like a remote controlled robot with slow response time to the signals. Yet this guy made me feel a bit like I imagine front-line combat veterans feel when the green replacements come into the line. They call all of them "meat," rather than using their names: "why bother to learn their names? They're just gonna get killed in a few days anyhow."

I faught back these rather discreditable feelings and realized, that from a rational point of view, it will be better for everyone the faster he improves. Then he'll have more fun, and he won't detract from the game quite so much. So I learned his name -- Geoffrey -- and I've started giving him friendly pointers. He's already improved.

The other day Geoffrey said, "I wish I'd taken up hockey when I was, like, 5 or 6." This is something I've thought myself. The idea is that we'd have mastered the sport by now -- or achieved as much mastery as we would ever get.

But that's the wrong way to look at things. Had we learned the game as little kids, and peaked, say, in our 20s, we'd be on the down-side now. We wouldn't be having nearly as much fun, watching our own skills decline. Instead, what we now have is the joy of learning -- something often (usually?) reserved for children and young people -- as we see our own steady, gradual improvement.

Adult learning is a beautiful thing. Adults learn most things more slowly than kids, so adult learning may in some sense be less efficient. But as an adult, I've been more disciplined about practice and -- related to that -- more aware of the satisfactions of learning.

Probably, I will never reach the level of mastery of this game I could have reached if I'd started as a kid. But who knows? Kid's motivations to acquire skills are so mixed up, a tangle of their own like for the activity and their desire to fulfill their parents wishes. Maybe I'd have given up hockey as a 16 year old, as I did baseball and music.

And what is so great about mastery anyway? It's not the same as satisfaction which, like happiness, can elude even the gifted, or the rich. At the end of the day, mastery is just another experience, and a fleeting one at that, one that usually ends with the sense of losing it. Is it a better experience than learning?

Monday, September 18, 2006


Codpieces and tanks

The other night, changing out of my hockey gear, I dropped my "cup" on the floor. The cup, for those of you who don't know, is the plastic shell worn to protect the groin area -- what Shakespeare would have called a "codpiece."

The cup bounced and bounced, an improbable number of times, covering a much greater distance than I would have thought possible, so that I had to walk several paces to retrieve it.

And like Isaac Newton pondering the falling apple, I wondered why that would happen.

This cup is very rounded. All cups are rounded, to be sure, but the ones I had formerly were shallow like an ash tray. This one was as rounded as "the Bean" in Chicago's millenium park.

That explains the bouncing, and I realized that the well-rounded codpiece is superior in design to less rounded models.

The controlling principle was discovered by designers of tanks during World War II.

The flatter a surface is, the more possible angles can hit it with a crushing , maximizing its moving force against the surface. The more curved the surface, the more likely it is that objects will strike it only a glancing blow, and deflect off.

The tanks that the Germans used to roll though Poland and France had flat armor plates in rectangular, boxlike shape. By the end of the war, tank designers on both sides had discovered the deflection principle: they got rid of as much of the right angled armor-plating as possible, replacing it with curved and sloped armor.

I bought my less curved cup many years after World War II. I don't know why codpiece designers were so slow to catch on to the concept of sloped armor. But I'm glad to be wearing the newer, more curved model when I think of those hockey pucks coming straight at me.

Friday, September 15, 2006


Existential Friday: Blog end

I've seriously been considering giving up blogging. We shall see.

Meanwhile, it did make me wonder about the inferences a reader might draw from a blog that just stopped and sat there on the web, an artifact of hours or months or years of endeavor. It happens all the time.

What if I had dropped dead? Wouldn't it look very much like what you see... just an absence of new posts? Do you think bloggers leave some provision in their wills with their password and instructions for winding up the blog in the event of death? I've made no such provisions.

So there couldn't be a post announcing, "We are very sorry to inform you that Oscar Madison has passed away. He will be missed by us, his readers... all 40 of us."

What if that message were left as a comment on the final post... who would notice?

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Project Runway: Stomping out cockroaches

The "surprise guests" on this week's Project Runway were Angela and Vincent, who were allowed to come back to compete in one more challenge even though they'd been eliminated in the past couple of episodes. The rationale was that they'd each won one challenge.

Kayne said, "They're like cockroaches. You stomp on them and they keep coming back." I was a bit surprised at his animosity, which seemed based only on the fact that they'd been eliminated already, but I guess with the stress of competition, it's understandable.

But I had to agree about Vincent, whose return -- after we finally were rid of him -- pushed me to the edge of quitting watching the show then and there. The man keeps getting trashed for his lousy designs, and finally got eliminated last week, and yet he keeps saying how talented he is. Good psychological survival skills! Kind of like... cockroaches!

The judges are finally catching on to the fact that some of the designers -- Uli, most of all, with her flowy psychedelic print dresses, and Jeffrey, with his tedious repetitions of a bullshit "rock star" look -- keep making the same thing over and over, and have begun to call the designers on it. Glad they read my blog.

Laura, who had also fallen into a rut with her squarish, architected designs, stepped out of her mold and won the challenge with a cute cocktail dress.

The show was very satisfying. Jeffrey, though he barely survived, got a well-deserved smackdown that fortifies us viewers to cope with his insufferable ego.

Kayne, who had long outlasted his meager talent, finally got eliminated. His incredibly tacky taste lends itself only to prom and beauty pageant gowns, and he had coasted for weeks on his early win on a design challenge to make (drumroll) a gown for a beauty pageant contestant.

The terms of Angela and Vincent's comeback required them to win this latest challenge in order to stay on the show. The challenge was very straightforward -- make a cocktail dress using only black and white fabric -- but as they turned in predictably subpar performances, they were dismissed without fanfare ... without even an air kiss from Heidi, in fact.

I don't know why Vincent got under my skin so much, but I found him to be the single most irritating contestant in all of Project Runway. Apparently it's not just me. Tim Gunn, who has warmed up his image by adding "we'll miss you" to "clean up your work station" when he packs off the eliminated contestants, omitted "we'll miss you" when Vincent was booted last week.

By the way, is it just me, or has Project Runway added more commercials in recent weeks? In the one hour slot, they have five commercial breaks. Basically, you get the show for 7 minutes, and then a break for 5-6 minutes of commercials. That's a lot of commercials, especially given a show that is half product placement to begin with. It's almost unwatchable and is pushing me hard toward TiVo.

Friday, September 08, 2006


Existential Friday: the new black

Law students are interviewing for jobs with visiting law firm representatives around the law school. Of the 20-30 student interviewees I saw, they all wore black suits.

Were they advised by the career services staff that black interview suits are now expected by employers? Or are the students trying to buy work clothes that they can also wear at a funeral?

It reminds me of the announcement you heard at airport luggage carrousels until the past year or two -- "warning: most luggage looks alike!" Because it was all black!

On my way out of the building, I saw a woman law student in a beautiful cornflower blue suit. Hire her, I say!


Existential Friday: is Blog Depression contagious?

Have I "caught" it from Neel?

Or is it the blog equivalent of women living in the same house who get onto the same menstrual cycle?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Pet peeves about sports

Early September is a transitional period in the sports year, with the beginning of football season and the back-to-school anticipation of the various college sports. And since I'm in a foul mood, it brings to mind some of my sports pet peeves. I'll share two new ones.

1. Championship rings

Your team has just won the championship... what better way to mark the occasion than by getting a nice piece of jewelry. Well, actually, a big, honkin', gaudy piece of jewelry. But why jewelry? Sports don't make me think about jewelry, particularly rings, which most athletes are required to remove before competing, even in baseball, where some of them where bling around their necks while they play.

If jewelry, why not a nice pair of cufflinks? But why not something that at least can be used -- perhaps a nice set of bone china.

I particularly hate the commonplace metonomy, of "ring" to mean "championship." As in, "what a shame that Barry Bonds is going to retire from baseball without ever getting a ring." It's so weird -- it makes it sound like no one ever proposed marriage to him. How much better to say that an athlete got his bone china.

If wearing the thing is the issue, then how about a nice ceremonial sword? This can be strapped on and worn with a fancy dress uniform on formal occasions.

2. The final "minute" of a close basketball game

To me the most idiotic rule structure in sports is the one in basketball which allows -- nay, encourages or even requires -- the intentional commission of fouls in the final minute or so of a close game. When your team is trailing and the other team has the ball, the standard playbook says that one of your players should commit an intentional foul -- e.g., grabbing the guy with the ball -- which stops the clock and sends the fouled player to the free throw line. Since his free throw percentage is less than 100%, there's a good chance the fouled team will come away with fewer than two points per possession. You usually get the ball back, and your team has a chance to make up ground by scoring a two-point basket on each possession.

If the rules are created to deter conduct by defining it as a foul and setting up an easy scoring opportunity as a punishment, what sense does it make to let the incentives suddenly reverse at the end of the game? Plus, it slows the game down -- hence the final "minute" in quotes, reflecting the fact that the final minute can be five or ten minutes of real time.

And this stage of the game often degenerates into a sequence of free throws, the least interesting skill basketball players can display. Finally, if a team is lucky enough to pull out a win this way, yeah, it's exciting in one sense, but it rewards the manipulation of a technical rule glitch -- as if basketball were a sport dreamed up by crafty lawyers.

The fix would be easy enough, in a couple of different ways. Fouls in the final minute, if deemed intentional, could lead to a trip to a penalty box, as in hockey, so that the offending team would be short a player. Or fouls in the final minute could automatically result in three or even four free throws. Or two free throws with the fouled team keeping possession of the ball.

No other sport turns misconduct into a virtue at the end of the game this way. But basketball fans never buy this criticism. They defend the system with blind vehemence, as if it were inconceivable that basketball games could have exciting finishes any other way.

What are your sports pet peeves?

Monday, September 04, 2006


The end of summer

Last night I went to dinner and a movie with B, and I decided to dress up for the occasion. I wore white "zoot suit" -type pleated pants with a charcoal gray silk Latin "hawaiian" shirt, untucked of course. I looked like Desi Arnaz, Jr., on his way to hang out at the Tropicana Club.

I've worn those pants maybe once since I bought them four years ago, and thought, "hey, I can't wear these puppies after Labor Day, so what the heck!" It was a balmy 76 degrees as we set out.

By the time we'd finished dinner an hour and a half later, it was gray and rainy and in the low 60s. There I was dressed for summer (okay-to-wear-white, school-hasn't-started-yet summer, as opposed to technical summer), and found myself overtaken by fall.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


Project Runway: Dressing Tim

I wish I could take credit, but this is Brock's idea, posted in his comment here.

Can you think of a better Project Runway design challenge than to make an outfit for Tim Gunn?

The interpersonal dynamics would be really entertaining. And Tim's wardrobe is so boring! He wears the exact same thing every day. His closet has to look like the one scripted for those totally fake movie characters -- you know, the soulless wealthy New Yorker living in a glittering penthouse apartment -- with 50 identical black shirts hanging neatly side-by-side.

The challenge: without designing a tight black suit, make it work for Tim.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Best in show*

The Mets have had the best record in the Major Leagues for the last few days. They've got the division and therefore the playoffs virtually locked up, but they keep playing to win, and winning.

The Mets are proving me wrong about a couple of things, and I am just so pleased to be wrong in this case.

1. I said on this blog that Carlos Delgado is most likely done -- stick a fork in his career -- but he was just slumping, and has come roaring back, raising his average 20 points and hitting home runs in bunches. He may be bringing himself to a peak just in time for the post season.

2. Shawn Green looks like someone who can make a nice contribution as a 6 or 7 hitter, with timely singles and doubles.

3. Here's the biggy. Ever since I first learned about the importance of "on base percentage" (OBP) (hits plus walks divided by plate appearances)** from reading the wonderful Bill James, I've been of the view that you have to have high OBP to score lots of runs and win lots of games. It stands to reason -- more baserunners correlates to more runs.

It also means that you want your #1 and 2 hitters in the batting order to get on base a lot, so that the power guys hitting 3-4-5 can have runners to drive in. That was the key to the Mets offensive success in their 1986 team that won 108 games.

Well, this year, Jose Reyes has turned himself into arguably the best leadoff man in baseball with a mediocre (for a leadoff hitter) .350 OBP. And, more importantly, the Mets, who lead the NL in runs scored, are a mere 7th in the NL with a mediocre .337 OBP.

This means that the Mets have an extremely efficient offense -- scoring more runs with fewer times on base. How do they do it? With the stuff that baseball oldtimers have always stressed: power and speed. The Mets have been at or near the top in slugging percentage and stolen bases all season, they have good team speed and aggressively take the extra base (something not fully reflected in any stats).

As I said, I'm happy to admit when I'm wrong, at least in this case.

*One should almost never explain one's jokes, but for those of you non-baseball fans, "show" is slang for Major Leagues.

**A simplification. Actually, it's H + BB + HBP / AB + BB + HBP.

Friday, September 01, 2006


Existential Friday: visitation

My mom died a couple of years ago, but when she turns up in my dreams, as she did last night, she's quite lively. But there's a desperate, doomed feel about our dream interaction, as if I know (though this isn't part of the dream story line) that our moments together are numbered. It's an overlay of sadness that's tolerable, but just barely.

How lucky that we don't normally feel this way about our interactions with our live friends and loved ones -- even though our days together are numbered too.

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