Friday, April 26, 2013

Music Never Stops Loving, Any Day

George Jones died today at the age of 81. A hard 81, too. I haven't the eloquence needed for a proper tribute to one of the supreme artists of American popular music in any genre, and the most unforgettable single voice in country music history.

So I urge whatever audience I have to chuck some of their weekend plans and acquire and listen to as much of Jones' work as possible. If you know his work, it's the most fitting means of mourning. If you do not, well, it's well past time to learn it. Rewarding is about the palest adjective I can imagine to describe the experience you're in for.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Lazy Futility of Evil

The general rule is that lunatic mass murderers in this country who're hearing unintelligible messages from the voices in their heads use guns, while lunatic mass murderers who're hearing unintelligible messages gussied up with a veneer of political, social or religious verbiage use bombs.

The Tsernaev brothers used both bombs and guns, which seems to put them right in the middle of that awful spectrum. They were both motivated terrorists and plain old spree killers. Which ought to but won't teach the rest of us that's there no damn difference between the two.

If, as appears likely based on what is thought to be known (and how much we learned this week turned out not to be known, because it wasn't so), the elder Tsernaev became an utterly alienated devotee of the more rage-filled clerics of Islam, it's hard for me to see that as political. Religion, all religions, have served as excuses for the criminally angry since the dawn of time. Right now in Myanmar, Buddhists are engaging in communal violence against Muslims. I'm sure Gautama is very proud.

Nor is bombing the Boston Marathon a political act in any way. The Marathon is supremely nonpolitical. It is a mass event that serves no purpose except to generate a great deal of human happiness, a sports event where 99.99 percent of the competitors rightly regard themselves as having won it. The September 11 atrocities were directed against what an international criminal organization regarded, not wrongly, as symbols of American power. What does the Marathon symbolize? For most Bostonians it means "hey, it's spring. Let's go outside and have a good time."

If that's what the Tsernaevs were attacking, then their enemy wasn't Boston, or the U.S. It was the pleasures of life itself. That's a place outside political or religious thought.

Alienated to the point of dementia young men make excellent patsies. It's still possible the brothers were identified and supported by some larger organization from parts unknown. The world is full of
wretched places where shadow wars go on composed of nothing but atrocities by both sides, and their place of birth is one of the worst of 'em. But I doubt it. And even if they were, said organization, whatever it says about itself, has no real creed but nihilism, an emotion, not an ideology, that is beyond politics -- beyond civilization.

Aside from making a large contribution to the sum of human misery, the Marathon bombing accomplished no end at all. There will be a 2014 Marathon, with more runners and spectators than ever before. Security on Boylston Street will be different, but not all that different, I'm guessing. Maybe they'll set up a runner-family and friends meetup center with a package center at the Common or some such.  It will still be a spring day, a holiday for going outside and having a good time. That impulse, thank God, is far more universal and just as powerful as the urge to create misery to vent one's own.

Creating misery is easy, because human beings are vulnerable. That dynamic will never change. All we can do about is watch carefully for the laziest of the miserable who find hurting others more convenient than changing themselves, and go about the pursuit of happiness as best we can.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The First Rule of Golf (Rule 1 -- 19/3.1416) Is -- Stop $%&@ing Talking About the Rules of Golf!

I'm so naive. I actually thought Adam Scott's thrilling playoff win in the Masters would give us blessed relief from still more rechewing of the two-stroke penalty Tiger Woods got for violating some part of Rule 26-1 in the tournament's second round.

My silly mistake. Nothing is a more suitable topic for debate in the sports world of 2013 than an issue where nobody shooting their mouth off has the faintest knowledge of the subject. The rules of golf are perfect in that regard.

That's the whole point of this story, isn't it? The sport of golf makes its competitors their own referees. Golfers are responsible for calling penalties on themselves, all in the name of sportsmanship and integrity. Which is fine, praiseworthy even, or would be if at the same time golf has not created a set of rules so convoluted that nobody is really sure what they are, even the people who wrote them?

Woods didn't know the rule governing his drop after hitting a ball into the pond on 15. The Rules Committee of Augusta National didn't know whether Woods had broken a rule, either. In fact, at first it decided he didn't. If the people at the very pinnacle of the sport are confused about the rules, how am I, or more to the point, radio and TV commentators supposed to know what's what?

As it happened, I was watching Woods on TV Friday when  he was on 15. David Feherty, a veteran and accomplished golf announcer blessed with the gift of gab, was reduced to tongue-tied incoherence attempting to describe Woods' predicament and the legal options available to him. Significantly, Feherty was one of the few golf broadcasters (and they were all at Augusta, even the ones who work for other networks) who didn't rush in to editorialize on Woods' situation last Saturday morning.

The Masters Rules Committee (incidentally, it's head, Phil Ridley, was about 30 years younger than I would've imagined) called a penalty on itself for having prematurely deciding Woods hadn't done anything wrong, and gave him a two-stoke penalty without disqualification. Considering that the penalty did not cost Woods the Masters (the par-fives did that), sane people should be prepared to the let the drop matter drop.

Sane people are thin on the ground in sports these days. Even today, the tournament now history, I saw and heard TV and radio commentators arguing that Woods should've been disqualified. It's beyond obvious this was simple pot-stirring to capitalize on the fact some folks will never forgive Woods for his unpleasant personal life, and like the idea of punished for something. What a fun way to think about sports, huh? It's a forum for venting  bitterness at one's betters.

I have one friendly word of advice to the pot-stirrers. Do you really want to get the reputation as someone with a bigger stick up your ass than members of Augusta National Golf Club, an organization the U.S. Supreme Court thinks ought to take itself less seriously?

Woods got a pass because of Rule 33 --7/4.5, the one created by the USGA to deal with the dingalings who see some pro violate a rule on TV, then call in to get the poor SOB disqualified and cost him a few hundred grand. Those nosy parkers are not popular. It's my suspicion that the people who drop dimes on rules they see broken on TV will tee it up in sand traps if they think they can get away with it.

It's a truism in the wider world of recreational (lousy golfers) that while known cheaters are very much disliked and shunned, known rules obsessives are just about as unpopular. Stuff happens in golf where the only sensible solution to maintain a pleasant and above all, properly paced round is to break a rule. Guys and gals lose a ball and instead of going back to the tee for another drive, they drop one and take the two-shot penalty rather than losing the strokes and distance. That's a violation. But you know, there's a group on the tee waiting for your foursome to clear, and they're already mad you spent all that time searching for the lost ball.

As it happens, I played my first round of 2013 yesterday down the Cape. I made it all the way to the ninth hole before I broke a rule. There was a pond off to the left of the fairway where a gaggle of geese had apparently wintered. At any rate, my ball was in a part of the fairway covered with goose shit.

Goose shit is a loose impediment. Under the rules, I could remove it without penalty. Sure. With what? Nor was I about to dig in and take a solid stance with my new Footjoys. I carefully picked up my ball, walked back somewhat further than Woods had last Friday, and took a drop. My playing partner had no problems with this decision. I slept soundly despite my assault on the sacred integrity of the game.

For the 99 percent of golfers who'll never even enter a club championship, a good faith effort to abide by the rules is all that's needed. We're out there to enjoy ourselves, not to earn a spot in golf's overwritten history.

For the pros, it's my belief it's time to give them a break and officiate the damn sport like all the other sports. Make the rules officials umpires who either call violations or blow calls. And there should be rhubarbs, too!

The 2013 Masters was superior sports entertainment. Think how much better it would've been if we had the memory of a furious Tiger Woods, his Nike cap reversed for effect, up in the grille of some greenjacketed official a la Earl Weaver, shouting (of course) "You cannot be serious!!"

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Truths, Damned Truths and Sabermetrics

Today's "New York Times" had a front page story on how baseball teams are encouraging/ordering their radio announcers to use the no-longer-so-new-but-still-probably-improved alphabet soup of advanced baseball statistics such as WHIP, WAR, VORP, etc. during their broadcasts. They're even hiring announcers they think are more comfortable with this information than in noting "played his high school baseball in Twentynine Miles From Nowhere, California. If you're ever there, make sure you get the almond crunch surprise at Velma's. It's right next to the Mobil station" during a pitching change.

This may or may not be progress. Math is hard, and it's harder still on the radio. But the most startling part of the article is that the team announcers whom the Times chose as the lead example in the story were the broadcasting crew of the Houston Astros!

The Astros, who lost over 100 games in 2012, are prohibitive favorites to do so again in 2013, and who agreed to change leagues in an effort to stir up fan interest, want to give their fans MORE information about their players? Really? Really. It is management's hope that use of advanced statistics will explain why they selected the unknown rookies and other hopefuls who make up the team's roster and astonishingly low payroll.

Advanced or basic, all baseball stats stem from two main roots -- the scoreboard and the standings. No metric ever invented can put a nice spin on how those are gonna look for Houston.

My guess is that by mid-June, whatever radio listeners the Astros have left will be stealing Charlie Brown's line from the classic "Peanuts" baseball cartoon and screaming "tell your statistics to shut up!"