Trump’s Mega Merger–Semper Bi

No, TP has not (yet) put his Trump-Putin, Eastern Ukranian-Estonian-Balonian reverse bankruptcy takeover plan on the table–or much of anything else that might be called a “plan.” There are plenty of abstract generalities & assertions of pie in the sky, but the plans themselves, if there are any, are kept under wraps, presumably for good reason.

As practice for the blind trust he’ll put his kids in charge of after he’s elected, we hear he’s putting Trump Steaks, Miss Universe & Trump University together in a new entity to be called Trump Universe of Miss Steaks University, Inc. (TUMSUi). Headquartered in the Trump-owned Bone Inn, site of the annual Miss Gristle Pageant, TUMSUi is already being sued by various “losers” disgruntled over the company’s bait-&-switch policy. “We thought we were getting lobsters, but got bait instead.”

Some evangelicals, meanwhile, are still having conniptions over their presumptive nominee’s “New York values.” Despite throwing them a bone or two in Pense & Platform, the supreme leader has been acting friendlier to the LGBTQ community than to Muslims, Mexicans, & Nato, an attitude seemingly at odds with both Pense & the Platform. He’s said that trans-gender guests at his Defunc’t Casino can use whatever bathrooms they want, all of which are now equipped with T-P monogrammed T P, which some think a harbinger of the Trump-Putin partnership being rolled out behind the scenes.

Apparently Trump’s campaign manager has worked (&/or is still working) for the Russian-supported ex-Ukranian president who fled back to Russia when his lavish lifestyle & iffy deals became public, with ties to Putin & the Russian-supported Eastern Ukranian separatists (who want to separate only long enough to be annexed to Mother Russia). “Remember the Alamo,” said Putin, on horseback. “Crimea River,” said Trump. “No, think bigger. Crimea Peninsula.”

On reflection, not even the peninsula, river & rest of the Ukraine was big enough for the likes of either half of the T-P partnership. Putin insisted that deep down, anyplace where Russian was spoken, heard, &/or listened to over Radio Free Siberia was rightfully his, or Russia’s, whichever came first (a joke, since they were one & the same). Chechens in exile immediately asked about places like Chechnya where Russian was not spoken.

“You must be crazy,” mocked Putin, “or deaf, because there are huge numbers of Russian speakers there, mostly armed & in uniform.” Of course the situation was worse in places like Estonia where Russian speakers had no armed forces to protect them from cultural oppression by Estonian nationalists, under the guise of protecting their own country. .

Trump himself has bigger fish to fry, & real estate to deal. Some say he’s already looking beyond not just the election, but his consolidation of American power. “It’s big country, but  let’s face it, it’s not as huge as…the galaxy, or even the whole universe.”

Those who suspect a mild case of megalomania may take comfort in the fact that he remains keenly aware of the scope of that challenge. “I alone can fix it,” may work for the problems of a single country, even a super-power like the U.S. of A., but not the universe at large. That will require others pitching in, notably including the marines.

And that’s where we hear he’s taking some flack from Evangelicas over his support for a Mornangelical plan to make SEMPER BI the new Marine Corps motto. As distinct from their evening brethren, the Mornangelicals were Moron-Angelicals who shortened their name to join Reagan’s Morning in America Revolution. “Feel the heartburn.”

Trump reportedly said he’d deny supporting the motto change if the story got out before the election, at which he immediately let the story out by tweet. Did that mean he would or would not support Semper Bi, reporters asked. “Yes. I will or won’t, whichever is most appropriate,” he answered, apparently in a more responsive mood than usual.

Some believe this reflects his deal-making style–leaving things ambiguous, with enough wiggle room to turn completely around, and inside out if necessary, based on future convenience & personal advantages not yet clear. The only thing better than wiggle room is: a) making others squirm; b) bankruptcy; c) casino chits; d) doubling down; eczema.

One thing that is clear, however, is that this is the first American election in which the same person wrote the best speech for both major-party conventions–Michelle Obama. I guess it’s like the old saw, often repeated, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” And stealing is the fastest way to get what you don’t have, when what you don’t have is something to say for yourself in your own words.

And while it’s surprising they’d want to flatter Mrs. Obama, whose hand in Mrs. Trump 3rd’s speech they first denied as a ridiculous charge (until the denial was obviously far more so when the two were examined side by side), you’ve got to admit she’s a wonderful role model–though not for plagiarism. With such large chunks involved, It’s less understandable how no one caught it in house, or considered it wrong. Or thought no one else would notice.

Plagiarism, submitting someone else’s words as your own, used to be frowned on, except by poor students facing threatening deadlines, risking a failing grade in the course to avoid an F on the poor &/or missing paper. Then came Wikipedia, the creative commons, & a generous view of the “public domain,” which, as Trump followers have long noted, can be a conveniently free source of private value.

“What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours, his & hers is mine too.” Although offered as a “sure-fire formula for financial success” at prestigious institutions like Trump U., this may not have the ring of an “e pluribus unum” as a guiding principle for the nation or its titular head as a hole. For that, the new coinage will carry mottos for both heads & tails: “I assert, so you can believe it. ” & “In the Donald, we trust.” Believe it [& trust at your own risk]. –July 26, 2016

PS This was written before various DNC speakers said the same thing last night, including the vice-presidential nominee. Others said they trusted the country not to be conned, while both doing & encouraging the work necessary to help make sure. It’s not something to talk for granted. More or less good people–& even countries–sometimes do stupid things. –July 28

Garrison Keillor’s take

The end is upon usbut here’s a deal for you, Author: Garrison Keillor Published 1 day ago—July 23, 2016 Alaska Dispatch News
 A week ago I felt good about America but no more. Coyotes are running freely in the streets of our big cities, the stock market is teetering on the verge of collapse, the monetary system will soon go belly-up, China and North Korea and Iran have a knife to our throats, our schools are in chaos, politicians corrupt, the media stupefied by political correctness, and everywhere you look you hear foreign accents. We are on the edge of the abyss. [The chock full article is included in the “Year of the Fluke” pdf., code-word & all.]

The LOGOS (Inner Logic) of Sports Logos (#3)

The LOGOS (Inner Logic) of Sports Logos

The logo is a quirky beast
some love the most, some think the least.
No matter whether west or east,
bring the heart to cap the feast….

In the news recently, the Washington Redskins are reaching out to Native Americans, today the Navaho & Zuni. The team’s providing free tickets & a tailgate party for the Zuni, and sponsoring an arts project for the Navaho. News footage shows Native Americans calling the Redskins “our team.”

Whether successfully or not, they are trying to tap the potential for native identification, if only to buffer the attack son their logo from those who consider the name & logo offensive. There ought to be some potential for doing so—just imagine who you would root for if you were Native American, especially against the Cowboys. Clearly, team management wants to turn around what’s been a strong surge in public opinion against the Redskin name—with political pressure brought to bear through the government’s attempt to revoke the Redskin’s trademark.

With some embarrassment, I admit having initially gone along with the public sentiment against the logo, assuming that the slang reference was offensive in itself. The term “redskin” does have some strongly negative associations from various examples of derogatory use. Think cavalry officers, wagon train members & settlers on the frontier, along with the films portraying frontier life.

But is there anything inherently negative in the term itself? Okay, that’s a trick question, at least too tricky for any clear answer. On the one hand, there’s nothing inherently negative in calling people white, pale-skinned, brown, or blacks. On the other hand, negativity is always a function of use, tonally reflecting the user’s attitude, and there’s something potentially offensive in the labeling of a group other than one’s own.

And there’s the rub, because such associations & attitudes have their own meaning in the sports context. The bonding & affection felt for a favorite team goes with the territory, whatever its called–Blue Jays, Tigers, Pirates, Giants, Red Sox, Indians…..  So does the feeling one has for rival teams–most often a kind of ‘play-hostility,” shaking one’s fist at them, yet smiling. Except where the atmosphere is corrupted by hooliganism, fierceness of the on-field competition is balanced by the sense of sportsmanship after.

I may claim to “hate the Yankees,” but it’s a happy hate, after all, with good will, with love of the game deeper in. The enmity, no matter how passionate, is an attenuated version, not the same as what people in violent conflict tend to feel, where loved ones are hurt or  threatened. The positive emotion felt for “one’s own team” seems closer, on the other hand;  although still attenuated, some of the same chemicals, like oxytocin, are involved.

Here’s an interesting twist, however. I don’t believe that the “negativity” one may feel  towards rival sports teams tends to carry over from team logos to real-life correspondents.  You can root for the Patriots to beat the Redskins (or vice versa) without carrying the sense of that rivalry over to actual historical patriots or tribes. How you feel about the Patriots probably doesn’t change how you feel about Paul Revere, Patrick Henry or George Washington. The same is not necessarily so in the other direction, however.

In the case of the Redskins or Indians, I suspect rivals transfer little if any negativity toward real-world correspondences, any more than they do with Padres, Tigers, Giants, Twins, Braves, Jazz, or Warriors. I believe fans of Redskins, Indians, and Braves are much more likely, however, to transfer some of their positive association to real-world groups, including a general sense of group-kinship and group-affection (i.e., positive associations).

I learned the positive side of such identification first-hand in my boyhood as an “Indian,” wearing (& loving) that grinning logo for two years in Little League baseball. Later on, I more or less understood intellectually why others found the caricature offensive, while noting that it evoked nothing in me personally but warmth & affection, for Native Americans as well as for logo & team.

Still, there’s no denying that the grinning Indian of the logo has some characteristics in common with WWII American propaganda portrayals of maniac Japanese kamikaze pilots & Nazi caricatures of Jews. They are all caricatures, after all, grossly exaggerating generic features for dramatic or humorous effect. Out of context, they might not seem that different, yet this seeming similarity is entirely superficial.

Unlike the propaganda posters, the grinning logo is not a racist caricature. A caricature  can be positive as well as negative, evoking affectionate humor rather than fear, disgust and loathing, as show-biz portraits by any admired sketch artist may attest. Or logos. There’s a fundamental difference in how a caricature is used, in other words. Is it used to evoke loathing for “the other” or affection for “one’s own”? When it is used for “one’s own team,” it becomes too positive an identification to mean anything negative, let alone racist.

The twists keep on coming, however, because some indigenous tribe members may well feel that Indian fans, team & players don’t, in fact, have the right to appropriate the association or membership, no matter how positive it makes them feel. Who gave us the right to make ourselves “honorary Indians,” even symbolically?

The intricacies of trademark & logo law are no doubt far beyond the current scope. Judges, lawyers, linguists, and other scholars may argue the differences between Braves, Indians and Redskins, and compare these to Pirates, Padres, Mariners, & Raiders.

How about the Shtetl Rabbis, or the Long Island Jews? Presumably, it depends. Either would be considered positive with Adam Sandler singing its anthem, or significant Jewish engagement. Without actual Jewish team members, it could still be positive–or not, depending on the team attitude toward its own logo.

Let’s face it, a little humor can go a long way, even further for groups that have known serious persecution, where in-group humor is usually part of the healing. Just ask Black comics, Latino comics, women comics, fat comics, nerdy comics, as well as Jewish comics. Sometimes, you have to lighten up in order to heal. (Or in some cases, light up.)

Of course you need to feel something related to these are my totem-people to root for such a team. This core feature makes them radically different from racist use of similar iconography. The Nazis were not about to root for a team with Jewish identity, even one represented by a caricature. Similarly, no one on the American side was rooting for the Kamikaze pilots.

Responding to the negative propaganda use of a caricature feels nothing like the response to a positive use in the logo for a team. The uses (& responses) are night & day apart. There’s a world of difference, 180 degrees at least, between “those dirty Redskins” & “our noble Redskins.” Not that a logo has to be noble. Many start out neutral, developing associations of affection or rivalry from their context, like Orioles, Cardinals, or Mariners.

Many start as totemic symbols representing entities of power, like the Lions, Tigers, Bears,  & Diamondbacks, as well as Giants, Warriors, & Pirates. Other take on potentially totemic associations from use, e.g., the Banana Slugs, Ducks or Cubs. With a good spirit, you can name your team anything—from the Ferrets & Weasels, to the Prairie Chickens, Mongrels & Mishugunah Maniacs.

As long as there’s good-natured humor, your logo can go a long way. Good nature is one thing; humor is another. Put them together, you have a winning combination, or at least a more or less happy one. Just ask the Mishuganahs–but maybe not the Memphis Maggots, Kafka City Cockroaches or any prison team named Forensic Unit Rule-Ball-&-Neck-Breakers. 

All kidding aside, meaning is & isn’t just “in the eye of the beholder.” Sometimes it’s mainly in the tone of voice, intent & actual attitude of the user. Sometimes it’s a finger in the eye of the beholder. We shouldn’t rush to a negative opinion, however, where the use is emphatically positive, & deeply affectionate. On the other hand, that puts some responsibility on the users—not just to be positive unto themselves, but to share their good will with the groups from which they’ve drawn positive associations.

Maybe teams representing endangered species, like the Tigers & Panthers ought to support conservation efforts directed toward their totem species, for example. Even more important, when human groups are ostensibly represented, even just symbolically, teams like the Indians, Redskins, & Braves should be reaching out to include actual Native Americans in their fan-base. As long as they succeed in that, they ought to be able to keep their logos, & even their trademarks.

[Who the Pirates, Raiders,k Buccaneers & Mavericks reach out to is another matter.]

Inverse von Neumann

It is not always easy to separate truth from myth from falsehood, especially where all three walk into a bar together with a dog. This is a lesson taught by Inverse von Neumann, owner of the famous mathematician & game theorist Johnny von Neumann. Where he learned it is a matter of some speculation, perhaps Johnny himself, infamously perverse in matters of humor, as well as illegitimate father of the modern computer, & pioneer in the field of game theory.

Johnny and his dog Inverse were both very real, known to their Princeton, NJ neighbors & to colleagues at the Institute of Advanced Study. Equally real, it seems, was a fellow named Bigelow, who reports on a visit to the von Neumann house, arriving for an interview two hours late. As he entered, greeted by the professor, a large & somewhat rambunctious dog he’d met out front pushed its way in, practically between his legs, & made itself at home. On the way out, Bigelow reports the professor saying something like, “Don’t forget your dog.”

My dog? But that is not my dog…” BIgelow reports blurting back, adding something his conclusion, “and apparently it wasn’t his either.”

The story (& its 1987 published source in Regis) is retold on the urban legends rumor page, along with many other versions of the same story involving other people & places, some going far back, others more current. Most of the others are clearly told as having been jokes, however, whereas the Bigelow story is presented as a documentary report–ostensibly true, yet almost certainly missing the falseness of its own reporter’s interpretation, having entirely missed the joke!

Here is what we shared with the urban legends site: In reference to your article on “Not My Dog,” particularly the Regis account of the famous story about Bigelow’s visit to von Neumann’s house, the irony is that it’s a true story–but only as far as Bigelow’s account of his own experience, unaware of its his misinterpretation. At the end of Bigelow’s true account of the incident, in other words, he supposedly “realizes” that von Neumann “believed it was my dog,” & that “it apparently wasn’t his either.”

Can it really be that Bigelow never got the joke, nor those who have quoted his story since? It is an historical fact that Johnny was a notorious trickster. And also an historical fact that Inverse was a well loved presence in the household, around the neighborhood & at the Institute for Advanced Study (which has a statue of him, I believe). Indeed, Inverse may have had some reputation as a trickster himself, though perhaps mainly “guilty by association,” i.e., by virtue of von Neumann’s tendency to “blame it on the dog.”

Does being a true story recounting a false conclusion make it a half-true story? I’d bet von Neumann never expressly said the dog wasn’t his, more likely something like, “Don’t forget your dog,” or “the dog you came with.” Perhaps he couldn’t resist the old joke, especially for someone two hours late, though I doubt he imagined his guest would never get the joke…unless testing him. He was used to playing tricks on the best & the brightest, after all. He once drove Einstein to the train station heading to NYC for some award, but put him on the platform for the train heading west.

Peter Sellers did a twisted version of the pooch joke in a Pink Panther film, when  the Inspector asks a character with a dog by his side, “Does your dog bite?” Told, “No,” the Inspector goes to pat the dog, & gets attacked. “I thought you said your dog doesn’t bite?” he reacts indignantly. “But that is not my dog,” says the character.

The following offers a more complete account of the story, with some of its strategic implications explored. Titled “Inverse at Princeton–lessons from the von Neumann dog,” it looks at the impact of the unknown unknown in historical decision-making, in von Neumann’s time & the Cuban Missile Crisis, along with the interplay between reality, make-believe, & delusion (mistaking the make-believe for the real). [Unfortunately, the piece itself needs editing & another draft, though the main elements are there.]

Inverse at Princeton.


[At the Bod Library, we are about to open our game & market-modeling annex named in honor of Inverse von Neumann, the IvN Wing for Games, Game Theory, Strategic Applications. Market-modeling & Economic Dynamics. Check at the front desk,, for opening details & link.]


Poetry in America-Whitman

This is in response to the HarvardEdX on-line course of this title, just finishing up its Whitman module. I’ve put a short “Bod Fellow” review, mainly Best & Worst features, near the top of the Poetry page at Given the freedom to engage at one’s own pace & indulge one’s own interests, it’s not possible to go far wrong with such a course when offered free, as this has been. The worst one is likely to do is waste time, which some might say goes hand in hand with poetry to begin with. (Not Yours Crudely, of course.)

It would be mostly pointless to compare specifics with other versions more or less focused on the same content & original landscape, e.g., the course I took on the subject as a Harvard undergrad exactly 50 years ago, or the one in graduate school out west some years later, both of which catered only to those few present. Each reflected its participants (especially its professor), as well as the poetry covered & the setting (class & seminar room).

This version, by contrast, is first & foremost an experiment in fairly large-scale on-line educational transmission. Learning primarily happens from doing, & the course seems designed to encourage active reading (including listening to & appreciating), thinking, discussing, & creative expression. I am personally still responding, still doing each based on interacting with the materials, still discovering value in the various components.

Yesterday was supposedly the 25th birthday of the internet, one generation in, yet world-wide inter-active connectivity is just in its infancy, or barely adolescent, either way rapidly learning & developing. As a quite new medium, we are just imagining, discovering & adapting its repertoire of forms, which in the case of a course like this draws from two rather distinct streams, school & media, with a unique potential for relating not just these two, but  individual & mass, a mind-boggling landscape.

Evaluating each of the course-encouraged activities involves at least two comparisons then–one focused on the medium itself (as it relates to its streams), the other on potential within that medium, what might be learned & improved upon. There is no getting around the fact that a more or less guided discussion involving a dozen or two more or less similarly prepared & present parties will be a different animal from an on-line discussion thread open to thousands, yet there can advantages to each. Emerson’s squirrel may not be as grand as a mountain, but the latter may not be so good at cracking nuts.

The best general formula must include variety in its menu of approaches & content, serving the variety of learning styles, interests & development of participants, including the team conducting the experiment. There is no getting away from the fact that a discussion with a dozen or two more or less present participants is bound to be a different animal from a thread open to thousands. Somewhere in between the two, perhaps, may be presentations, performances, & lectures to a few hundred, with their own mass-media cousins.

From a director’s perspective, the two aims–presenting Whitman & encouraging participant responses–are not the same, though each may be enhanced in ways that also encourage the other…. The relationship is dynamic, not simple; though most often reinforcing each other, potentially tripping each other up. By “presenting Whitman,” I don’t mean the biographical information, but the work & life (including biography) as art, whether poems are given voice in concert format or both poems & biography are brought to life in the Chautauqua-style in which the interpreter uses direct address in exchange with the audience. A large amount of information can be transmitted within what everyone recognizes & responds to as an overtly artistic rendering.

The artistic aim & impact may be considered fundamental, first & foremost a matter of the presentation, direct experience of the music or poem, an engagement encouraging developmental response across domains (mind, feeling & body chemistry together, for example). The experience of the artistic embodiment does the first work, in other words, albeit facilitated by informed selection & guidance in approach, useful background information, & examples of the kind of response being encouraged (appreciation, critical thinking, artistic, etc.). A lecture, for example, may transmit these in conjunction with selections from the work, as may more & less guided participant discussion.

Even with its presumably secondary, facilitative & overtly educational role, there is no getting around the fact that the live lecture itself is an art-form. The same may be said for its mass-media translations, whether in print (e.g., e. e. cummings’ 6 non-lectures) or on video. Just as the live lecture can include bits of Socratic exchange, audio-visual & mimetic illustration, etc., the video version radically expands illustrative potential, whether by putting the “lecturer” on location or splitting sound & visual tracks.

This video-lecture potential is particularly well explored in the Whitman video focused on “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” sometimes in the professor’s office, talked to across her desk, sometimes on the ferry, a field trip companion, sometimes looking at the poem on a visualized page, sometimes the words as found in metal-work on location….. Among its other virtues, variety of sensory inputs may reinforce each other &, in educational jargon, appeal to the varied learning modalities. In fact, the working together of visual, auditory, affective & cognitive functions is basic to artistic & educational experience.

[To be continued. Must run for the moment….]


New Year’s Day 2014

Time, time, relentless time.
In for a dollar, out on a dime.
–Ricardo Bods

Does one year really end & another begin? Does getting a few hundred million fools to shout, kiss & blow noisemakers in time-zone bursts make it so? As if we could kiss the past behind & start again so easily. Still, here we stand at the threshold, starting a new page, in a new file, dragging the old life along like a streamer at the back end of a kite.

The self is not the kite, let alone its tail. It’s hard to say what it is—lose the wind or break the string, & it’s not a kite anymore. Shred the kite, warp its form or let the string go, & there’s no life left in it, no tugging self coming alive along the string’s pull, that center of ungravity derived from the draw upward, wind in kite (in the box, paper, whatever form, substance & materials made of at the time). Oh by the by…sang e. e. cummings.

The writer keeps on trying to say a single real thing for a change. Between dream & abstraction, there the crotch is, plus the solar plexus, heart’s breath, throat’s mouth, the analytical nose, the dome of the mind in the rock, all ears just listening. “It is what it is,” said one thought wise, pointing. Like dogs, we try to use such cues to guess where the ball went. What ball?

I was precocious in one thing—besides bawling, beach-balls & dreaming—this being sense of how little I knew about anything, just staring in awe, gawking, not knowing the first thing about what knowing was, or understanding. Eventually, I kissed my mama goodbye & set out to see what I might from worlds “out there,” snagging hot ground balls, fly balls picked up on the run (sometimes temporarily disappearing), line drives on a leap, pop ups raining on a dizzy head. If I’d been a more gifted athlete, or natural standout at anything, I’d’ve followed a different path.

First we have to sort out our priorities. Priority #1, Get our priorities straight. Priority #1: want (& not want–yechh), with satisfaction in between, first from the pleasures of sucking, cantilation, little sucking songs, murmurs, daydreams, the transports of imagination in pictures & songs, nursery rhymes & dancing games, from mum’s lap to play-worlds spun from bits of paper; finding worlds in books, later heading outward–into the forest following animal trails, rowing stealthily along the lakeshore into secluded coves, later still far-off cities & also where no trails ran….

Ring around the rosy…we all fall down…/ Riding to Boston, riding to town…New York, L.A., San Francisco; Paris, Malaga, Tangiers; Delhi, Calcutta, Bangalore, Pondicherry; Tokyo,   Seattle, Reno; & more , the places between, with little known names (some never learned), more at home off the beaten track, in a quiet backwater out of the mainstream, in the far back office, sun through the high window on my cheek briefly–the multi-tasking mind writing this while listening to birds chattering as if on the first day of creation, at least a young new year, as if spring had arrived early—after the pre-solstice deep freeze, with storm band after storm band .We’ have  seen such feints before. Still, we celebrate a one- day thaw, imagining spring–& the world as young as some of these birds feel, rather than as our crazy, mixed up calendar suggests?


Why the Series, Calls & Sport Matter

III. Why it does & doesn’t matter

On one level, perhaps it turned out the questionable obstruction call didn’t matter, or mattered in the opposite direction from what we might more naively have expected, sapping something from the game-winner’s spirit by the nature of the “win,” while juicing the loser’s determination. As of last night, after all, we know the Red Sox won every subsequent game to take the series, rendering the obstruction call a box-score footnote.

And the win was beautiful to behold–Big Papi, young Bogaerts, Gomes in left, Victorino at the plate, Uehara on the mound to close out each 9th….The artistry of pitchers on both sides was a wonder, as was the ability of some batters to adapt. In Big Papi’s case, David Ortiz provoked the opposition to capitulate, being intentionally walked each of his last three at bats, tying the record. He finished the six-game series batting well over .600, on base almost 80% of the time. His heart & spirit seemed even bigger than his bat, however, having swelled at least partly in response to children injured in the Boston Marathon bombing.

After the game, Uehara’s haiku was apparently lost in translation, but his 5-year-old son’s was not: “Good. Strong,” he said to the mike in his face in response to two questions. The manager was eloquent in an elegantly understated way, concise, with respect for the worthy opposition. The general manager was grateful to “have been along for the ride.” Everyone credited everyone else, glad just to have helped.

Papi, his son by his side, went on a bit as MVP, however, unhurried, pure poetry rising between pauses mostly independent of the words, honoring his organization, his teammates, the fans, the city, while doing baseball & humanity both proud in a uniquely humble, open & heroic way. It was a high moment in baseball history, showing why baseball matters, why sport matters.

He had become for awhile, & now for all time, not just the perfect embodiment of a legendary “slugger,” but playing for something bigger than himself, a mythic presence on the base path heading home, thoroughly a team man & part of the whole. A fierce competitor, he nevertheless radiated good will to all, even players & coaches on the other side, setting a wonderful example partly by being so thoroughly just himself.

Then again the team set an even better example as a whole, with its diverse individuals working so well together. It reminded me of two impressions from my boyhood north of Boston. One was of ethnically territorial gangs, in conflict at the borders & in raids elsewhere. The other was baseball, where to a kid near the mid-1950s, ethnicities only enhanced a team by falling away, teams made that much more beautiful by diversities working well together.

With its various positions & diverse set of skills, baseball has a unique capacity to forge unity out of diversity, teamwork out of individual performance, doing so not by making participants the same, but by each player responding at once  individually & all together to each situation. Teamwork includes how players  react to each other’s errors or other failures also, which in most cases will be more than 2/3 of the time at the plate, while even golden glovers will bobble a ball once in a while. Perfection isn’t a realistic expectation, only trying one’s best, with hustle, focus & attention.

The manager’s job is no different, yet goes beyond to include choosing who to delegate what responsibilities to & directing tactical moves as the game develops. At the professional level, many manager styles are possible, though even the differences may vary tremendously in how they expressed in different situations. Nor will the manager always guess right in when to switch pitchers, or any other tactical aspect, being simply another player doing his best.

There are two schools of thought about “winning” & “playing the game” that actually work best as complements, & worst as opposites. The idea that “winning is all” degrades the game, stripping it of both aesthetic & ethical dimensions. The idea that “it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game” ought not ignore the fact that a good part of how one plays the game is “with maximum effort to win,” a complement to playing with excellence.

Excellence wears many faces & takes many forms, including individual performance at the margin of the possible, grace under pressure, the spirit of comradeship within & across teams, love of the game. The game has its own aesthetics as well, including the framework provided by “organized baseball,” with responsibility for caretaking the evolving rules. Where flaws appear, it becomes necessary to tweak (but preferably not to jerk & twerk) the rules.

MLB did that a few years ago after an All-Star game ended in an unprecedented “draw,” when it became clear that the game needed to have some meaning, a consequence to winning or losig, and MLB responded by having the outcome determine which league would have the home team advantage in 4 of the 7-game inter-league world series (2 at home, 3 away, 2 at home until one team makes 4 wins). That was an aesthetically & ethically pleasing addition to the game as a whole, setting the stage for this year’s finish in iconic Fenway, with its green monster & other idiosyncratic quirks.

The series took on all the more meaning from the aftermath of the marathon bombing & subsequent community response. There may be a larger lesson here for policy makers & senior strategists, sometimes distorted by would-be provocateurs. The fact is that short of campaigns of total destruction, many, if not most, otherwise seemingly successful attacks do more to strengthen than to weaken the adversary. They can help create a unity & higher level of working together out of what had been otherwise conflicting elements, for example.

The more powerfully unsymmetrical, bullyish, unjust or cravenly terrorist the attack is perceived to have been, the more resolve to resist tends to be generated, the very opposite of capitulation. The “breaking point” may require not just overwhelming force, but its exercise for longer than all but the most locally committed tend to manage.

The body offers two obvious illustrations of how deeply such principles of resistance may be rooted. One is that toughening that takes place with repeated exercise, e.g., building a karate-punching edge. The other is the immune system reacting in response to a threat, turning the host hostile to that which has attacked it. The attack of a perceived invader can radically change the responsive host, in other words, soon strengthening what first seemed  weakened. The more virulent the attack, the sooner the attacker is either wiped out in the immune system’s counter-attack or loses its host by destroying it, presumably some inherent disadvantage to the organisms.

We are roaming far beyond sports here, into geopolitical & physiological dynamics, but that just emphasizes all the more how connected things are in a total ecology within which networks of all sorts are inherently symbiotic.


Most baseball fans (at least outside of St. Louis) knew something was wrong with the historic “obstruction” call that ended game 3 of this year’s world series by advancing the winning run to the plate, where the runner had otherwise been thrown out. Even the game announcers, committed to even-handedness, seemed shocked by the seemingly unprecedented ruling that ended the game on an umpire’s “gimmee.”

Ironically, the umpire who made the call, Jim Joyce (no relation to the Irish novelist), was, until this game, most famous for another botched call in an earlier series, calling a runner safe at first base when replays clearly showed he’d been beaten by the throw, ruining a pitcher’s “perfect game” in the process. In that case, he eventually admitted the error publicly, said he needed to “man up,” even co-writing  book on the episode with the pitcher whose achievement in the record books he’d blown.

Even more ironically, some may feel, MLB (major league baseball) was already planning to introduce new replay & appeal procedures for next year’s season. More ironically still, perhaps, was that Joyce’s botched call at third followed an earlier series game in which an umpire at second had glaringly botched a call (calling the runner out though the second baseman hadn’t caught the toss), with that call “unanimously” over-turned after an all-umpire conference during which Joyce had reported being “100% certain” the call had been wrong.

As you’ll see, his “obstruction” call could be called equally wrong & also should have been over-turned–not just to avoid the grossly unfair outcome the ruling produced, the wrong way to end the hard-fought contest, but even following the technical letter of the rule. The seemingly obvious unfairness stemmed from the impression that there had been no intent to obstruct. When commentators reported (not entirely accurately, it seems to me on a close reading) that the current wording of the rule makes intent irrelevant, they (along with many others) seemed to conclude that it was the rule, not the ruling that was at fault. It was shortly announced that the LB rules committee would visit this rule before the next season.

Joyce himself seemed convinced he had ruled correctly, given the specific wording of the rule, in that the runner’s path had indeed been obstructed in the tangle the two players got into, however unintentionally for both, thus entitled to be advanced a base. On the basis of the following facts, however, the ruling was almost certainly incorrect–botched from a technical standpoint, as well as in its implication. And here’s why.

When the third baseman dove to his left for the bad throw from the catcher, he landed stretched out on the ground with his feet toward third & his head straight on towards short & second. He is in the base path between 2nd & 3rd, not between 3rd & home. If there’s an obstruction, the runner would be advanced to third, but he got there on his own, whether diving or sliding. Nor was there obstruction at that time since the 3rd baseman was in the act of trying to field the ball. (For the same reason, the baserunner who is just trying to reach 3rd can’t be called for interference, even though his contact may have impeded the 3rd baseman’s chance of reaching the errant throw.)

Had the runner, Craig, simply stood straight up & run from third to home along that base path, he would not have tripped. He tripped only because he went up from third in the previous base path’s direction, the second base side of the bag, where the 3rd baseman was still sprawled after lunging towards second or the throw. The path between third, which he had reached, and home was clear, relatively unobstructed.

There is a little ambiguity here, in whether or not Middlebrook’s feet extend a little on the home plate side of third, which ay partly explain his initial raising of the feet, as if to get them out of the way. The runner rose coming further towards second, however, and tripped not on the third basemen’s feet, but higher up on the body, well out of the homeward path. The fact that the runner, Craig, was already operating with a foot injury complicates the matter further.

The final call was made by the home plate umpire, who ruled the clearly tagged runner safe at the plate on the basis of Joyce’s “obstruction” call at third, not on the basis of the actual tag. In fact, that final call should have been held in abeyance while the obstruction call itself was questioned in an all-umpire conference with the level of critical attention the context deserved.

The irony is that they might still have gotten it wrong. Someone needed to point out that the relevant base path remained essentially unobstructed, while the “obstruction” remained only on the second base side of third, where the inadvertent tangle had taken place in the course of trying to field & reach third, neither a rule infraction. Then there were two possible outcomes that might be considered fair.

The first, following both the technical reading of the rule & its historical implications, is that no obstruction had taken [place, so the runner was out at the plate. The technical basis for this is supported by there having been a sufficiently unobstructed base path from third to home had the runner untangled & gone straight before proceeding. Historical implication, meanwhile, suggests that the rule, with its own commentary, does NOT make intent irrelevant, just insufficient in itself, part of the total picture. Simply because professional baseball no longer includes reference to a “flagrant” effort to impede (while not in possession of the ball or pursuit of it) doesn’t mean intent of the agent isn’t part of the understood equation even so.

Comments to the rule make clear that it should only rarely be called, and only where the extreme circumstances warrant–for example, in a run-down, where the player without the ball stands in the runner’s way of running back. Otherwise, since contact is not a pre-requisite, a third baseman’s bluff that he was about to field a throw to encourage a runner to stay on second might be considered obstruction, simply by “impeding” the runner’s progress on the path. Where a fielder & runner have gotten entangled while both were within the rules, as these did on the play from second to third, the rule can’t subsequently blame the fellow who ended up on the bottom for the clumsy choice of how & where the fellow on top gets up & tries to proceed without proper footing, arguably not yet even on the home plate base path. From there, he was out because he was out, not from obstruction so much as from his diminished speed, playing with a prior injury.

Given the proper authority, a fairer & more aesthetically pleasing alternative outcome might have been agreeable to all, including the fans, giving standing to both arguments–that there had & hadn’t been a technical obstruction. (No one claimed an intentional obstruction.) This would have called the tag at the plate moot, but not advanced the runner before the last base reached safely. It would have left Craig on third, yet given the Cardinals back his out. They’d have had a fair chance to bring him home, while the Red Sox would have had a fair chance to end the inning still tied.

The play, not the iffy, technically justified, technically questionable, judgment of umpires would have determined the outcome. It may be that the same level of chance exists where such judgment makes the difference as it does in the play itself, which is why baseball is sometimes called a “game of inches.” Less, if you consider the dynamics by which swung bat & pitched ball meet, where a fraction of an inch this way or that ultimately makes most of the difference.

Any given game will have a number of just-barely-made plays that singly &/or collectively determine the outcome, fair or foul, called strike or ball, in a gap or not, surprise hop & skip or leap & incredible snag–like Beltan’s rib-injuring gymnastic grab of what was otherwise another Ortiz homer. These last are the plays fans & players alike live for–not the chance element, but the heroic.

The umpires are there to facilitate the play, calling the close ones, according to the rules, otherwise not getting themselves in the way–as they did in this game by over-ruling the outcome on the field of play on the basis of a highly unusual (& technically highly questionable) interpretation of technicalities. The game deserves better.

It’s one thing to miss a half dozen balls & strikes from behind the plate, only to be expected given the number of pitches in a game & the artistry of deception with which these are delivered. You’d expect both catcher & umpire to get fooled once in awhile, as well as the batters, without malice or a better alternative. Replays will show that most of the questionable calls were actually in the marginal area where either might be justified, whether a seam caught a corner or not, or was or wasn’t between the knees & letters of a moving batter’s strike zone. It’s still better to consider each call as final, & close enough to qualify, than to waste energy over the hair’s breadth.

The same isn’t so for most other calls, however. These should always be “right.” Chance may be chance, and in that, fair for all. But there’s no legitimate reason or excuse for getting other calls wrong–out or safe, for example, where the brilliant rule itself gives “ties” to the runner. Given the ability of media to focus on the fact itself, to show it from multiple angles & in slow motion, there’s no excuse for not getting the rare close plays that are made clear on replay as right as possible. That puts the facts first, not the split-second impression of one individual, no matter how well trained.

Putting facts first is another way of keeping the play first, with the umpires facilitators, not independent determiners. The first step in this is to empower the umpires as a group, with a role for the managers within a process for appealing an initial call. Even the umpire making that call ought to have more attachment to the call being made or rendered right than to his own image for having been right or wrong in the split or initial moment.

Perhaps, for important games, a “superior” umpire with some deep expertise in the rule-book would be available for the final ruling, with consideration of replays, arguments, etc. As in the legal system at large, it’s naïve to think all umpires would have the same insight and higher judgment of the existing rules. At the major league level, all presumably know what the statutes & rules say, but not all should be expected to have the same informed level of interpretive judgment. Important games deserve someone with that level having the final responsibility, however, quite a different skill set than having a keen eye for the strike-zone & ear for ball-in-glove, runner’s foot hitting the bag.

II. Putting the Judges First

In organized baseball, the umpires are important, but, despite some popular rhetoric, not generally first. They are third, at best. The other two, in whatever order you choose, are the player-teams & the rule-making body that determines (& tweaks) the regulations under which all participants agree to operate. The umpires only carry out these rules, according to instructions, being hirelings of the rule-setting organization. The players are hirelings, too, subject to the set rules & subsequent rulings.

Things get considerably trickier in sports that require a more dominant & determinative role for evaluative judgment of elements, as in figure skating. Something is invariably lost in the aesthetic realm trying to conform more & more precisely to a pre-set configuration of evaluative conventions stipulated by the judges, aside from more flagrant examples of things like point-trading.

To my taste, something is lost in the aesthetics of basketball from the importance of referees in the highly variable calling of fouls & charges. There’s already plenty of chance in the bounce of the ball on the rim & backboard, enough to make the difference in many contests. It’s all the worse, however, when that same level of chance shows up in referee judgments with an equal or greater effect on outcomes. There may not be a better way, given the nature of the sport, but it takes away from the artistic pleasure we get from sports when too many big games are decided by calls that are questionable or worse.

At first glance, an interest in keeping the play as the primary determiner of outcomes, not the umpires, may seem in keeping with the judicial view that judges should apply the laws, not make them. Although in many cases this is necessarily the judge’s job, to apply the laws to the circumstances at hand, in other cases, the laws themselves require interpretation. You can’t apply what you don’t understand, and understanding, by its very nature, is subject to being held at various levels or depths.

In addition, the higher you go in the system, the more issues center on the rules themselves, not on the circumstances. The lower courts establish matters of fact, in other words, whereas the higher courts consider things like the constitutionality of the laws as applied. In this case, there is a flaw in the existing law or its current interpretation, that needs a higher judgment than that which umpires on the field could render on the spur of the moment. Not only should the rule be clarified, but the appeal process on the spot.

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