Sunday, September 28, 2008

Service with a smile

I grasp that a basic sentiment of the previous post (and an outright tone in last Sunday's post) was this: Jury duty is an unpleasant task that one should seek to avoid whenever possible. However, when I stop and reflect on the two and a half days I spent assigned to that, I must admit: it wasn't that bad.

I had to sit in a room, then I had to go sit in another room and listen to others answer questions, then I had to sit in a different chair and answer some questions myself. Then I had to show up the next day (later than I would have to report to work), sit in the same chair and pay attention. Then I had to go back the next day and not make a decision, waiting around in the first room where I could read or jot down some thoughts or just stare out from a rooftop patio. In between I got 90 minute breaks for lunch. Each day I got out by 4:00 (well before I get off work) and see what it's like to be home during daylight hours. And because my employer still pays me for my time spent at jury duty, I didn't have to worry about losing money by not being at the office for those hours. Sure, I spent some time in the evening checking my work emails to not fall behind on things, but ultimately they were able to get by without me for a couple days.

Had my summons required me to report at a different time, when I was right in the middle of a big project, yes, it would have been more of an issue, but as this one more or less occurred after I'd wrapped up one project and just before starting another, the timing was about as good as I could have hoped for.

I admit not everyone has such circumstances. I'm not saying jury duty is never unpleasant. I am, however, conceding that the knee-jerk reaction that I had when first getting the summons—something along the lines of, Crap, I have to serve jury duty—was not really justified by how this or previous experiences with serving have gone.

In last Sunday's post I more or less complained about the likelihood of being assigned to a case rather than "getting out of it" (a phrase that clearly implies ideally it would be best avoided). That complies with what I know from listening to others is a fairly common attitude about jury duty: Because it interrupts one's normal routine, against one's choosing, it's a nuisance.

While that interruption is true, I think it's also common for people to complain about their jobs (it's the true American pastime). Also, I think many people lament being "in a rut" of the same thing, day after day. Thus, for at least some people, it stands to reason, the nuisance is actually something that only takes one away from the job about which one complains by breaking up the doldrums of the proverbial rat race.

So, really, we'd rather complain more about not having to go to work than actually complain about work. We are a strange lot.

I rescind any complaint that was implied earlier.


I'm still jaded as hell about the jury system, but that's no reason to complain about a break from the office.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Serving and getting served

Last Sunday I offered a bit of a lamentation about impending jury duty. Okay, it was probably closer to a complaint (and not a particularly well-composed one at that), but enough semantics. (From me? Really? Yes.) I had a feeling that I'd get assigned to a case. Why? Because the previous time I got a jury summons I went a whole week where I only had to call in but did not have to actually report to the courthouse any of those days. By a certain standard, Fortune had let me off too easily then, so I was due (so to speak) to not only have to report but to have to serve on a case.

I was not wrong. However, I was not exactly right.


So I was on jury duty. Which is to say: Monday morning I sat in (or near) the jury assembly room, waiting around on the off-chance that there was a need for me to sit in a jury box in a courtroom.

So for the first couple hours it was a chance to catch up on some reading—that activity that I only do when I'm away from a television, which pretty much boils down to two specific scenarios: while riding the train and while at lunch during the week; in those two scenarios I tend to read magazines or The Onion newspaper, so the opportunity to read an actual book was somewhat special.

I did have a laptop with me as well, and after a couple hours of reading I decided to put the reading on hold to type for a little bit, just to see if any worthwhile ideas occurred while I was typing.

However, I was sure that if I got any good ideas while the laptop was on and I was typing, that's when they'd call a panel (as they refer to it) and I'd have to actually attend to my so called civic duty.

Roughly ten minutes after booting up the laptop a panel was called, and predictably my name was included. As expected.

Frankly, it was a bit disappointing how easily that was anticipated. Still, to the extent that I may have been able to take advantage of the potentially idle period to compose something worthwhile, because I was expecting to be thwarted I didn't attempt any real topic, and thus I was thwarted anyway. Ultimately I was only biding time by typing.

Which is all I expected to accomplish.


35 of us trekked down two floors and waited outside a courtroom. After 15 minutes or so, we were told to enter and to sit in the "audience" area at the rear. The judge told us a bit about the nature of the case as an introduction, and then there was the period where the judge asked who wished to be excused (due to "financial hardship"), and that killed a bunch of time. Then the clerk started calling names.

One by one names were called, and I kept thinking as my name was not called: Come on. Get it over with. Announce my name.

The twelve seats in the jury box were filled, and then six chairs in front of the jury box for the alternates. The clerk had announced the eighteenth name, and I was still sitting in the audience.

Oh, so that's how it's going to be, I thought. I'll be lulled into a false sense of security by not getting called initially, but then they'll eliminate most of the jurors already up there and then I'll get roped in later.

The attorneys took their turn at asking questions of the juror pool in the chairs. As a few were thanked and excused with preemptory challenges, the alternates moved to the empty seats. All right, I thought, keep going; I know it's coming.

And then the attorneys agreed on the 12 jurors in the box. Still I sat in the audience.

However, the dismissals had exhausted five of the six alternates, and I knew that each jury needed two alternates, so we were not done.

My name was the second called of the five announced by the clerk to fill those empty chairs up front. That made me Alternate #3. The attorneys had not dismissed Alternate #1 during the prior proceedings, so she seemed a lock. And if the attorneys had no issue with the rest of us, Alternate #2 (to my left) would fill the other slot.

The attorneys sped through their questions with the five of us, and had no objections to any. I started thinking that as it was nearly 3:00 in the afternoon, if the rest of us were released back to the jury assembly room it seemed unlikely that another panel would be called during the last hour. We'd sit around for a while then be let go, having served our required one day.

Then one of the already-empanelled jurors and Alternate #1 both asked for a sidebar with the judge and attorneys. They all went out a door into a back hallway for a few minutes, and when they returned the two people just kept walking out the other side of the courtroom. The judge then announced they were being excused. (Why they waited all that time before speaking up none of us left understood, but that was what happened.)

The last two alternates—the persons whose names came two after mine was called—were also excused. Alternates #2, #3, and #4 (so, me and the persons to either side of me) were assigned to the case. However, one of us would need to take the seat on the actual jury vacated by the recently excused person.

Rather than simply moving #2 up there automatically, the clerk wrote numbers on pieces of paper, folded them, and selected one at random. (I am not kidding.) Which ended being #2 anyway.

Thus, I became Alternate #1. I'd get to sit through the whole trial, but I wouldn't actually get to participate in deliberation. All the responsibility of paying attention, but without the payoff of rendering an opinion.

That, I must admit, I had not anticipated when I was ruminating Sunday night about what would happen during my jury service.


So I showed up Tuesday morning. There was a fair amount of waiting around for the court to be ready for us. Although they did get through the completion of presenting evidence (cross-examining witnesses) and closing arguments by the end of the day, the jury wouldn't get to start deliberating until the next morning, so I would get to come back Wednesday as well.

All I would do is sit in the jury assembly room, waiting to be paged on the off-chance they needed me, or waiting to be told there was a verdict for me to sit in the courtroom and hear.


The jury assembly area at the court in question has an outdoor patio, an adjoining room, a cafeteria down the hall, and a hallway outside with chairs. When waiting, one is free to go to any of these areas, but for the first 90 minutes I stayed within earshot of the loudspeakers. I never saw the other alternate juror, but that wasn't necessarily surprising, considering all the area where she might be.

I went up to the desk and asked a question, and the clerks there identified me from my badge as an alternate for the department in question. They reiterated how I'd be alerted when a verdict was ready.

I then walked down to the adjoining cafeteria and got a snack. I sat outside a few minutes eating some chips, not more than 30 feet from the door to the assembly room. But within a few minutes someone (not a clerk but a non-assigned juror closer to the door) got my attention and I went inside, overhearing a page for me.

Why the outside speakers don't work, or weren't turned on, when we it is perfectly acceptable for those waiting to be called to go outside, I don't know. Frankly, it strikes me that the court is less able to keep track of people it needs than is Olive Garden.

Restaurants have had what are essentially pagers that they give to waiting patrons and which they turn on (usually causing buzzing and flashing of lights) when they wish to alert said patrons that their table is ready. This alleviates the need for patrons to keep listening for every announcement, or to congregate in a congested area to stay within earshot of said announcements.

However, the court is not that advanced. I digress.

At the desk the clerk told me she'd been paging me "for minutes" (which may be true, but I'd just spoken with her approximately six minutes earlier, and I'd have been within earshot for part of that time, so basically the paging must have commenced virtually the very moment I was out of range) and that they wanted me to go down and wait outside the courtroom.

I wasn't too worried, because in courts there is always a lot of waiting around when they call you. For two days we had averaged about 15 minutes of sitting around when being summoned to the courtroom.

Nonetheless, I scurried down the escalator two floors and went almost to the end of the hall and, as instructed, waited just outside the door. I didn't see any of the other jurors from the trial, but I suspected they might be inside, and that the bailiff would come out any second to retrieve me.

After a minute some of the jurors started streaming out the door, and then the rest emerged. I flagged one down and asked if it was over, and he noted we were done, but that I'd need to turn in my badge to the clerk.

So I opened the door to the courtroom and took a step but was waved out by the judge. (Apparently I walked in on a part where jurors are not involved.) I immediately got out and waited in the hall. The clerk came out the door a moment later and collected my badge, confirming that we were done.

I then returned to the jury assembly room, catching up with the other jurors, and we got our paperwork (proving we'd been there for part of three days). On the escalator down, I asked the other alternate (who I never saw in the assembly room prior to our being paged, but who apparently had heard it and gotten to the courtroom) how long it was from the time she went in to the time they all came out. "Maybe two or three minutes," she replied. She then mentioned what the verdict had been.

I was not surprised to hear what the verdict was, but I was amazed at the expediency with which they sped through reading it. Apparently there was another trial getting under way in the same courtroom, and they wanted to get to that as soon as possible.

So, not only did I have to show up three mornings in a row and pay attention to the testimony and evidence but have no say in the deliberations (which were what kept me waiting around all morning), but I also missed out on the culminating moment of the whole trial, the only moment of tepid payoff I might have gotten.


I'm not suggesting missing the reading of the verdict was that big a deal in the proverbial grand scheme. Nor did my absence appear to hold up the proceedings at that point.

Of course there's no surprise that the moment I went outside, even only for a few minutes, would be when the page to report would come. What I didn't anticipate was that it would be the one time over the course of the trial that anything would happen quickly.

Which seems obvious in retrospect, yes.


The only thing you can be certain of is that you can't be certain of what is coming, and even if you have a suspicion of what, you don't know how it's coming.

Don't bother trying.


Of course, it could all just be coincidence. We are inclined to see it as a pattern, whether one truly exists or not. (Granted, perception shapes reality, so if we perceive a pattern then there is a pattern. But that's another story.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Too much

The exception to the periods of just kind of looking at the TV (from the previous posting) is when we watch something in which we are genuinely interested. And despite there being six nights on which those who set the programming schedule can place their shows (Sunday - Friday; Saturday being out), it still happens that of the few network shows that fall into that category, many coincide on just two of those nights.

Thank goodness for DVR technology, yes.

However, the DVR we have only records two shows simultaneously. During one particular hour of programming on one particular evening (Monday at 8:00, if you must know), there are programs on three separate channels which we actively would like to watch.

Thus, we are forced to pick the one least important to us and record the other two, and then to hope to be able to stream the missed program from the network's website later (assuming it is available). And even then, watching an entire hour program on a laptop is not the ideal viewing method.

Yes, obviously there are ways of increasing the number of shows that can be recorded, or ways of setting up a means of watching internet content on a TV, but we do not have those (nor are we inclined to spend money to get them just for one show).

It just kind of figures that the powers that be at the networks can't anticipate what we would want to watch and not put these shows in the same time slot.

I'm just sayin'.


No, I have no real problems.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Always on

I don't watch as much TV as some other people, although I do have the television turned on most of the time I'm home and not asleep. There are times when I just sort of have it tuned to a channel that offers some modicum of interest but which requires no genuine attention. I'm not actively watching what is on, but it's on nonetheless, more or less as some kind of background noise while I do something on the computer.

I have sat through the same SportsCenter twice (sometimes they repeat it immediately after it concludes) without changing the channel, likely because I was focused enough on whatever I was doing on the computer that I didn't notice it end and begin again. (Interestingly, in those cases, almost invariably I will glance up during the second showing and see the same highlights I did glance up and see during the first showing. It's like I have a cyclical pattern to the moments when I need to look away from the computer screen and engage my attention elsewhere for a few seconds.) I have sat through the same Syd Barrett biography on VH1 Classic that I've seen before for that very reason—I've seen it before; it doesn't require attention.

The worst part is that this was not a habit I developed as a child. I never had a TV in my room while growing up. I spent a lot of time in my room, but I listened to the stereo. The TV was out in the living room, and I only turned it on when I went out there specifically to watch something.

Those were the days.

It wasn't even the case that the habit started when I moved out to my first apartment. There I lived with someone, and while we did watch TV sometimes, it wasn't always on. It wasn't until after we broke up and I moved to my second apartment, living by myself, that I started putting it on just for the sake of having it on. Sometimes I'd mute the volume and have the stereo on at the same time, because I didn't have any interest in whatever program was on, but I didn't want to turn it off. I guess it approximated, in some hideously pathetic way, some contact with others; it staved off being lonely, just a bit.

However, after I moved into another apartment, this one with a roommate (where each of us had a TV in our respective bedrooms), I don't remember doing it as much. I could be in the room with just the stereo on again. And when I later moved in with another girlfriend we spent even less time with the TV on when not really watching.

But then when we split and I was living alone again (again in a studio apartment) I got back into it. And in that apartment, using the computer meant sitting at a desk, where when facing the monitor the TV was behind me, so I could not merely glance up periodically and see the screen; I had to completely turn around. Nonetheless, the TV was on, I suppose just to hear human voices in the room.

Now, I'm engaged and don't spend much time alone. That's not what it achieves for me. So why does the behavior persist?

The stereo doesn't have a remote control like the TV does. If I don't like what's playing, or I need to turn it down because the phone rings, I have to get up. Not that I can't get up—I'm perfectly ambulatory—but I've come to not want that.

So, ultimately, it's lack of convenience.

I'm not sure that is any less pathetic than loneliness, is it?

Homer: Hey Bart, how come you never play your guitar any more?

Bart: I'll tell you the truth, Dad. I wasn't good at it right away, so I quit. I hope you're not mad.

Homer: Son, come here! Of course I'm not mad. If something's hard to do, then it's not worth doing! You just stick that guitar in the closet next to your short-wave radio, your karate outfit and your unicycle, and we'll go inside and watch TV.

Bart: What'll we watch?

Homer: It doesn't matter...

The Simpsons, episode 8F21: "The Otto Show"

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The seasons change; the system does not

For those who don't pay attention to any other sources where this information can be found: The autumnal equinox (marking the official end of summer and start of autumn) occurs Monday at 8:44 a.m. Pacific (so please adjust that for your particular time zone as applicable).

Source: My Simpsons 2008 calendar (which lists the Pacific time--always get a calendar made by those in the same time zone).


Tomorrow I have jury duty.

I'll end up getting assigned to a jury on a case. I just know it.

I need to have my faith in the judicial system be further undermined by sitting with 11 others and have most of them demonstrate their utter inability to take seriously the admonition against making up their minds before getting to the deliberation. I'm certainly overdue for that.

Really. I've served on two juries in the past. I have noticed a pattern.

I'm not saying we as humans aren't inclined to jump to conclusions (of course we are); I'm just saying that's specifically what one is told not to do at the beginning of the trial.

It puts me at a distinct disadvantage when I get in the jury room. It's not only that it makes me just a tiny bit more jaded (if you can believe that); it turns me into the jerk who's keeping the rest of the jurors from getting home.


I should probably mention that during the voir dire interviews with the attorneys: "You should be aware that if you keep me on the jury I will actually keep an open mind until we deliberate, but I'm not going to be able to convince the likely prejudicial majority of people one way or the other with some Henry Ford-like speech. So if what you want is a jury that can reach a verdict quickly because they all already have made up their mind in the courtroom, then I'm not your man."

They probably deserve that.

It's not that I'm trying to get out of serving; I'm merely throwing off the system by listening.

Silly me.


Just mentioning this: If you have any thoughts on this (or any other post), do feel free to share them by clicking on the "thoughts on this" link below. They need not be well-considered. (Clearly I'm not doing that with the posts, so it would be hypocritical to expect that in comments.) Thanks for dropping by and reading all the way to the end, whether you leave a thought or not.

Heating up

More photos from the Palm Springs trip have been posted on the useless photo site. Just FYI.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Save the date

Last week my fiancée and I took a brief vacation. (Why brief? Because the economy sucks and we have a wedding to try to pay for next year.) And for our affordable getaway we drove two hours east to Palm Springs.

You may be thinking: Palm Springs? Affordable?


It's still summer in the desert, so finding good deals on midweek hotel rates isn't too hard.

We didn't just sit in the air-conditioned hotel room. On Monday we explored the Coachella Valley, driving down Palm Canyon Drive east, eventually hitting Indio. This wasn't entirely accidental; my fiancée had read about a place we wanted to check out.

The Shields Date Garden.

(It's over there.)

Sure, it's a date farm with a grove of date palms next to it (see a couple shots of them here). And they have a counter with stools where one can order a date shake (which tastes like caramel). But that's not the real draw.

You can learn about...

That's right: They have a 108-seat theater in their store continuously showing a 15-minute film titled "Romance and Sex Life of the Date". And it's completely free!

And if they'd had air conditioning rather than just really big fans in there, we probably would have sat through the whole thing. Nonetheless, we did see the last four minutes or so of the film, which, unfortunately, was all about the history of Mr. Shields starting up the date farm back in the 1924, with nothing about the touted sex life of the date (that part must be in the earlier portion).
So if you go, try and get there early in the morning and try to catch the beginning of the movie.
Or if you want, you can order it on DVD (seriously), and see it in the comfort of your own home.

Get yourself a shake for the road. They're quite tasty.

More pictures from our days in the Palm Springs area can be seen on the useless photo site. Looking at them may be kind of like having a bit of an affordable vacation yourself.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Up to no good

Today my fiancée and I visited Universal Studios. (We took her nephews there last December and got tickets that gave us limited free admission for the whole of 2008, so it was an inexpensive outing.) Primarily we were interested in checking out the new Simpsons Ride (which was still under construction during our last trip), but we also took in some of the other attractions.

No trek to the park would be complete without going on the studio tour, which (for those who don't know) involves riding a tram through the Universal front lot and back lot areas. Although there is a live person at the front to point out the various sites along way, there are also short pre-recorded videos featuring Whoopi Goldberg that are shown on overhead screens during between areas of interest on the tour.

We've been on the tour at least four times in the past three years, and have sat through Whoopi's bits every time. Those have not changed. However, during this visit there was a moment that struck us that never had before.

Whoopi used the word "uppity"; that term took on a certain spotlight recently when Georgia congressman Lynn Westmoreland used it to describe the Obamas, which was interpreted as racist by some, but certainly was used in a pejorative way.

I wish I could recall exactly the sentence Whoopi used, but I think it was in this context: After the tour has taken riders through areas that mimic areas like the Old West or a European city, she pretends to hear a question from a girl on the third car asking if they can mimic the ocean. This is intended to introduce the Falls Lake area on the back lot which has a huge wall next to it and (apparently) doubles as the ocean for filming purposes. However, Whoopi feigns a tone of well-look-how-smart-you-are, clearly intended to be joking. (She even uses "Missy" to refer to this hypothetical inquirer.)

Again, we'd heard that three times before. It means nothing more now than it did on each of those previous visits. I don't believe Whoopi intended it as an insult; moreover, I don't believe NBC-Universal would allow the footage to be used on the tour if there were even the slightest perception of it possibly being interpreted as offensive to anyone. (Hell, it's entirely possible that they came up with it in a script for her.)

We were not offended. I didn't pick up on any of the tourists around us being offended; they were too busy trying to video tape the empty lake next to the giant blue wall (despite it being one of the less interesting parts of the tour from a visual standpoint, in my humble opinion).

But my fiancée and I did notice it. This time.

Is it simply because an elected official said something stupid? I'd say no; I'm quite certain politicians say stupid things with alarming regularity without it altering my experience in familiar situations.

Is it because the mainstream media jumped all over the story so that I pretty much could not avoid becoming aware that a politician said something stupid--despite the story's ultimate importance was only that it pointed out that a politician said something stupid--as though that, in and of itself, justifies saturating the coverage of the story when really it merely indicates the 24-hour news channels have too much time to fill and feel the need to sensationalize any story they can in an effort to try to compete in the contemporary market?

I'm not eliminating that as a possibility.

It's kind of like how the last episode of The Sopranos changed hearing Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" for months afterward, only without any potential artistic merit behind it.

Just like how eventually the song ceased to have that association, it stands to reason that down the road when I hear Whoopi Goldberg's three-year-old videotaped quips for theme park rides I won't blink at any particular term she includes. But today I did.

I guess the only real solution is to avoid the media altogether, but that's somewhat unrealistic. And I'm reasonably certain it will only be a matter of time before there's another such story that changes a pre-existing association for a while, so I may as well just get used to this sort of thing. That is ostensibly what the public wants.

It's unlikely there'll be any changes to the content of the studio tour. No, that would only occur if there were protests against Universal in response to this, all because somebody said a word three years ago with which no one had a problem until a man from Georgia used that word to put down another man who was running for president.

But no one has protested, at least as far as I can tell. And a protest, in and of itself, would not bring about any change unless... it became a story for the media to run into the ground.

Not that I'm ruling that out. But I'm certainly hoping it doesn't come to that.

I suppose solace is found in remembering the sentiment of a George Harrison album name: All things must pass.

Perhaps that's an uppity sort of thing to say.


On a side note: The Simpsons Ride is a nice update on the Back to the Future ride it replaced. I don't care if that's an uppity opinion.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

More fun with public transportation

Even after nine years of riding L.A.'s Blue Line (light rail), I still haven't seen it all.

One morning last week, at the next to last station along the ride into downtown, a middle-aged woman who had been sitting in a middle row of the car (and who had been speaking with quite vulgar language while talking with a man in another row) got up and walked to the front of the car as the train was coming to a stop. She didn't immediately get off. Just before the doors were to close she turned and spit at a man near the door, then she jumped off and high-tailed it down the platform as the doors shut.

The man had not, as far as I could tell, spoken with her at all.

And he was in a wheelchair.

Seriously. A wheelchair. (I didn't notice that at the time, since I was seated near the back of the car; I didn't spot that detail until we both got off at the last station, which gave the incident an even more bizarre tone that it had when I saw it happen.)

I wasn't paying attention to everything that happened during the 50-minute ride, but I got on before either of them, and had there been some altercation earlier (for which projecting spittle toward him was due payback) I have to imagine I would have noticed it. So, as far as I can tell, the man had said nor done anything to the woman. Perhaps he had glanced at her with a disapproving look, since she had (as I mentioned) been speaking loudly and including just about every profanity in the book.

I'm not sure whether she was racist (as the wheelchaired man was of a different race than she was) or prejudiced against the handicapped (because they get the good spots on the train?) or, my personal theory, she was kind of batshit crazy.

However, even that isn't entirely consistent; were she mentally impaired (let's put it that way), she wouldn't care about waiting until the last second and diving off as the doors shut so there was no possibility of pursuit (by anyone); that's conniving, and of course, cowardly, which are not traits I attribute to the even marginally insane. Thus, even that theory doesn't hold up. So, really, we'll never know.

Here's the thing: At no point did I notice the man make any attempt to wipe anything off his person or property. Therefore it appeared that despite whatever motivated the woman to launch the loogie at him she couldn't get enough distance or have sufficient aim to hit a man only four feet away.

So it boils down to this: If you're a loud, vulgar, inconsiderate, likely prejudiced, cowardly idiot who feels the need for very tepid vengeance toward a stranger, make sure you have sufficient saliva and practiced accuracy before attempting such a plan. Otherwise you'll not only look like an asshole, you'll also seem the fool.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Not making an out

Although I cannot attribute it to any specific source, I get the impression there is a general impression in American society that baseball is a sport which should no longer exist. I don't know whether attendance and TV ratings really are down, but I recall hearing or reading (or perhaps merely imagining) that it is accused of being too slow, of not having anything to capture the attention of a generation who (it is glibly alleged) can barely focus on this sentence all the way to the end.

While its popularity does not put it above football, or necessarily even basketball (sports with more inherent violence or a faster pace of action), baseball persists. Player salaries continue to rise, new stadiums (stadia?) continue to be built. Ticket prices continue to go up and make it difficult for families to afford to bring children to games—which is true of all sports, but baseball is the least interesting to watch on TV, and therefore should rely on attendance in person—and seemingly the game should be pricing itself out of business, but clearly it is not.

In the sidebar article to his latest Esquire column, Chuck Klosterman attributes the continued existence of the American pastime to the way baseball allows for variable scoring. Unlike football or basketball (or even soccer), where after a team scores they must turn over possession of the ball to the other team (and therefore a team behind by more than the maximum number of points they can score in a single possession must take risks to try to get the ball back without allowing the leading team to score again or just kill time on the clock), baseball allows for a situation where, in a single swing of the bat, a team can score as many as four runs; a team can be behind by three—and in baseball it's not uncommon for three to be a sizable lead—and if they can load the bases and the batter gets a good pitch to drive over the fence, they take the lead (or win). In other sports, a score is worth a set number of points; football and basketball have variations in what a type of play can score, but that play always only counts for what it does. And there's the possession turnover thing.

What I'd first argue beyond that: Not only can one team score different point totals for the same play, baseball allows the team on offense to continue to score as long as they can do so without making three outs. Heck, they can score by doing nothing; the team on defense can, through poor pitching or errors, allow the team on offense to score through no specific effort on their part.

I realize what I suggested about baseball (following on Chuck's lead) essentially operates as a counter-argument to George Carlin's famous "Baseball and Football" routine, where he declares football's superiority by mocking more or less the exact reasons I touted as baseball's strengths.

He first did that routine back in the '70s. Baseball was already out of step with the pace of society back then. And yet it continues to exist. Maybe it's nostalgia that has yet to expire that explains that, but I'd further allege baseball better represents America.

Much of the effort is exerted by only two of the nine guys on the field. If one of those two, the pitcher, does his job really well and strikes out all the batters, the other seven players on defense can spend an entire inning just standing around, not having to run or catch or throw; their entire effort was spent trotting out to their position and warming up. Similarly, if that one guy does his job poorly and walks four batters in a row, the other team scores without having to even make contact with the bat.

It's a game whereby one can achieve victory simply by allowing the other side to screw up. On the other hand, it's a game where one gets no breaks; just because one team scored does not mean the other gets its turn to score; they have to keep trying to stop the other team three times before they get their chance.

Unlike any other major sport, baseball involves a peculiar combination of possible laziness and tenacious effort. What's about that would not appeal to the American sensibility, in this or any other era?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Right this way

Many photos have been posted over at the useless photo site. You can head on down the not-quite-a-rabbit-hole by clicking that link.

Friday, September 05, 2008

What's your function?

Take the line "George W. Bush is an idiot" and precede it with the declaration of either "I am a Republican" or "I am a Democrat" to make a compound sentence. What conjunction would you choose to combine the clauses?

For the elephant, likely it would have to be "I am a Republican but George W. Bush is an idiot."
For the donkey, it might go "I am a Democrat and George W. Bush is an idiot."

(If you used "or" then you're just being silly.)

The conjunction does not merely put the two together; it suggests shame or glee. One little variation and the compound sentence takes on completely opposing tones.

Language is neat.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Rocky times

An important announcement:
No, it's not that new photos have been posted on useless photo site.

It's that for the second time in as many weekends I posted photos taken within the past few weeks (unlike the four-month delay I typically have between shooting and posting).

I'm not saying this is a harbinger of any impending catastrophic event, but if you do have a higher power in which you believe, you may wish to make sure you're on good terms. Just in case.

Please enjoy. For as long as we all can.