Thursday, August 18, 2022

Who shot who?

I have often been accused of over-thinking.

But I believe I don’t over-think, I think just the right amount, which is usually a little more than the average person.

Case in point:

In Barry Manilow’s 1985 hit “Copacabana”, the climax of the lyrics states: “There was blood and a single gun shot, but just who shot who?”

Who shot who, indeed?

Did Tony off Rico for hitting on his girl Lola?

Or did Rico kill Tony in self-defense?

The song employs a technique known as “deliberate ambiguity”.  During the ensuing chorus and instrumental interlude, the listener is forced to ponder the fate of both men.  A sense of satisfaction develops as one comes to one’s own conclusion with the limited number of facts presented.

This sense of satisfaction is fulfilled in the final verse.  We learn that Lola has “lost her youth and she lost her Tony, now she's lost her mind”.

Yes, it is now certain that Rico shot and killed Tony.

Or did he?

The lyrics only say that Lola has “lost” Tony.  It doesn’t say she lost him to death.

Perhaps she lost him to prison?

Maybe, in the struggle, Tony got the gun away from Rico, turned it on him and shot him.  Then Tony would have gone to prison for the death of Rico.  And maybe that’s how Lola “lost” him.

On the other hand, that’s pretty shallow of Lola to “lose her mind” over Tony when she could easily visit him in prison.

Unless ... Tony received a death sentence and was executed!

Please don’t mention in the comments that a 1985 TV film (and subsequent musical) settled the issue.  This isn’t a story about the star-crossed lovers Tony and Lola.  It’s an essay about “deliberate ambiguity”.

It can be very effective when used as a plot device in a novel (or a song lyric).  By not answering all the questions, it gives the reader (or listener) an opportunity to “fill in the blanks” for oneself.  My version of Lola’s story will almost certainly be different from yours.  And that’s okay, because that allows me to own my version.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Just Keep Playing! Fixing the NFL Overtime Rules

Here’s a novel solution to the NFL’s overtime rules conundrum:  Forget the coin toss and just keep playing!

It’s actually a very elegant solution.  If the score is tied at the end of regulation, whoever has the ball just keeps it, and the game continues until one team scores by touchdown, field goal, or safety.

The problem with the current NFL rules is that it places far too much importance on the coin toss.  The winner of the toss gets to receive a kickoff – regardless of the status of the game when time expired.  And the receiver of the overtime kickoff is the winner in an overwhelming number of games.

What about the argument that the defense is just as important as the offense?  Well, nobody told that to the rule-makers.  The rules of football overwhelmingly favor the offense (ostensibly for both player safety and for fan satisfaction).  The poor defense in overtime has very little chance of holding their own and preventing a score from an offense who is already pumped for victory and has the rules stacked in their favor.

So, I propose: just keep playing.

Here are a few details:

The game would be played in as many 15-minute quarters as necessary to declare a winner.   But the clock would never stop.  Since it’s irrelevant, it would simply keep running, primarily for statistics-keeping purposes.

The play clock, however, would be enforced.  Teams could not call a time-out; they would have to abide by the play clock.  Officials could call time-outs for injuries or other official business.

No challenges from the bench; all challenges would be called from the booth.  (That’s actually one overtime rule the NFL got right.)

And here’s a game changer:  No punts in overtime!  A team would get four downs to advance the ball ten yards or score.  If they fail, the other team takes over on downs.  (Just think of how much that would advance the tempo of the overtime!)  In the case of a failed field goal, the other team takes over on the former line of scrimmage.

If regulation ends with a score which ties the game, overtime begins with the scoring team kicking off.  Then the game continues with the above rules.

In the case of the divisional playoff game on January 23, 2022 between the Bills and the Chiefs, since regulation ended with a Chiefs field goal tying the score, overtime would have begun with the Chiefs kicking off to the Bills.  And the game may have turned out differently.  But at least every person on each team and every fan in the stands and every person watching on television would know what was about to happen.  And nobody could blame the Chief’s win or the Bill’s loss on a coin toss!

The following could have happened:  Chiefs kick off, Bills start on, say, their own 25.  But after four downs, if they haven’t advanced ten yards – and without a punt available to them – the Chiefs could have taken over deep in Bill’s territory and won on a field goal.

There’s no way of knowing how it would have turned out.  But one thing is for sure:  There is no reason to have a coin toss at the beginning of overtime and start the game over completely from scratch.  Simply start the game from the position that existed at the end of regulation and just keep playing.

It’s that simple.

Saturday, October 03, 2020

Virology knows no political bounds

I have friends on the right who suggest that the President was infected by his enemies during one of his Covid tests.

I have friends on the left who suggest that the president is faking his infection to receive more attention and sympathy from the press, as well as to avoid another debate appearance.

Politicizing a virus makes as much sense as politicizing a chocolate chip cookie recipe.

The virus has political implications, but not political intent.

Viruses are mini-microscopic. They are invisible and almost impossible to detect.

They are also difficult to study and their behavior is difficult to forecast. Conclusions based on the best research are aggravatingly ambiguous at best.

Masks, hand washing, social distancing, and other protocols are effective, but not fool-proof.

In spite of his outward bravado, the President exists in the most sterile environment possible for any world leader. But even that wasn’t enough to protect him. He was infected just as was Herman Cain, Boris Johnson, Placido Domingo, and Tom Hanks.

If he can get it, anybody can. Virology knows no political bounds.

Instead of making political statements, I’m asking my friends of both ideologies to join me in wishing and praying for a speedy recovery for the President and First Lady, and an end to this madness, hate, and divisiveness.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

What About Your Child's Art?

Many parents wonder how much of their children’s pre-school and elementary art they should keep.  My answer:  all of it.  Or, at least most of it.

Label and date everything and store them in a large secure box somewhere.  Then leave them there and let them simmer -- like a pot of good chili on a cold winter’s night.  Let them simmer in that box for about twenty years or so.

By then, your child be in graduate school or starting a career of his own.  At that time, you can take everything out of the box and go through it.
Your reaction to many of these things will be, “Why in the world did I save this?!”  Those things, you can throw away.

The few art pieces left over may be true masterpieces.  At one time, they were precariously mounted on your refrigerator door with a kitschy magnet.  But now, they are worthy of spending a couple hundred dollars on professional framing.  Display them proudly!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Ranking the Presidents

C-SPAN has just published the 2017 results of their Presidential Historians Survey.

As any good data geek would do, I threw all the data into Excel to see what I could discover. You can download my work here.

I’ve always been interested in these types of studies because, on the one hand they advertise themselves as being totally objective, it’s really hard to squeeze the subjectivity out of them.

After all, any historian — no matter what he claims — brings to the table a certain amount of historical bias. Today’s political climate tends to make that bias even more obvious.

For example, Glen Beck — admittedly nobody’s example of political objectivity — ranks Woodrow Wilson as the most evil man in all of American history. But the survey ranks Wilson a respectable 13th out of 45.

And James Polk — not on the general public’s list of great American Presidents — ranks number 16 — proof that the C-SPAN academic advisors sure know their pre-Civil War history.

To produce the rankings, C-SPAN asked a team from academia to rank all presidents using ten “qualities of presidential leadership”:
  • Public Persuasion
  • Crisis Leadership
  • Economic Management
  • Moral Authority
  • International Relations
  • Administrative Skills
  • Relations with Congress
  • Vision/Setting An Agenda
  • Pursued Equal Justice for All
  • Performance Within the Context of His Times

It’s probably a good idea that such a panel is used and that they don’t ask me or Glen Beck to serve on that panel.

All those categories gave me plenty of data to load into Excel. Let’s see what I discovered.

I thought it would be interesting to measure the presidents on a combination of rank and “consistency”. I measured consistency based on the rank of the standard deviation of the rank in for that president in all the categories.

A consistent president is one who ranks the same in all categories. A president may be consistently good, consistently bad, or consistently mediocre. Is there anything to learn from this?

Here is a scatter plot of the results:

To validate the data, let’s look at a couple of corners. Yep, not only does Abraham Lincoln rank as the number one president, he ranks as the most consistent president. That places him in the lower left corner. A good president all around.

In the other corner are both Lincoln’s predecessor and his successor. Wow. We always knew that James Buchannan did more to cause the Civil War than any other individual. And we know that Andrew Johnson did more to screw up Reconstruction than just about anybody else. Bad presidents all around. Thanks for the legacy, guys.

Here’s another way of looking at things:

This graph color codes the presidents by their rank in each of the ten categories. Since they are ordered by the final score, any place you see “islands” of a different color, that’s an anomaly that’s worthy of discussion.

For example, Lyndon Johnson was a pretty decent president. He ranks at the top for “Relations with Congress” (he had to fight his own Democratic Party to get the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed; a greater percentage of Republicans voted for the bill than did Democrats). But he rightfully ranks near the bottom for international relations for getting us deeper in the Vietnam war.

Bill Clinton ranks a decent number 15 overall, but comes in near the bottom in for “Moral Authority” because of his fondness for oral activities.

It’s a little harder for me to explain the person that I believe to be the nicest, worst president of them all: Jimmy Carter. A dreadful president who ruined both the American economy and our relations with Iran, I don’t know how he ranked as high as number 26. On the other hand, he’s a decent man in a strong, loving marriage, a Baptist deacon and Sunday School teacher, and a Habitat for Humanity volunteer into his 90s; doesn’t he deserve to be ranked higher than number 14 in “Moral Authority”?

And how did Barack Obama perform in his debut appearance? He came in at number 12, between Woodrow Wilson and James Monroe. That’s probably fair.

He ranked near the bottom in “Relations with Congress”. The only way he got ObamaCare passed was with back-door deals and a “gotta-pass-the-bill-before-you-read-it” mentality, even though his party controlled both houses of Congress at the time.

He also scored pretty low on “International Relations” by touring the world while apologizing for America’s past policies, weakened our position with Russia, and managed to worsen our relationship on both sides of the Middle East — quite an accomplishment!

He scored the highest in the category “Pursued Equal Justice for All”. That sounds about right for somebody who thinks “it’s good for everybody” to “spread the wealth around”.

We’ll have to wait a few years to see what historians think of our Mogul-in-Chief. My guess is his drain-the-swamp and build-the-wall dreams will score high in the “Vision/Setting an Agenda” category.

Fortunately for Mr. Trump, there is no category for “Relationship with the Press”.