03/18/14

Insider Trading

There is a billion dollars at stake. That’s like 10 or 12 times a million dollars. At least. Let’s just say it’s a LOT. Like graphing calculator type stuff. And, so I have spared no resource in preparing my NCAA March Madness bracket this year. Expert statisticians. Advanced metrics. Historical trends. Time travel. I took 50 jumpers. Wore a tank top.  

And, no matter how improbable it may seem, know that I made these recommendations based on my own research and analysis and prior to this past week’s games. Just check the publication date. Totally ahead of time. Not after I watched all the games or specifically the Monday after all the games. Totally last Tuesday. Errr, I mean today.  I know some of these are pretty dubious but I just have a really good feeling. Almost like I’ve seen them already.

So, I would like to make the following, way-ahead, totally legitimate picks:

Mercer over Duke. I mean nothing crazy here. Pretty popular upset choice.

Harvard over Cincinnati. Sure.

North Dakota State over Oklahoma. Uh huh.

Dayton over Ohio State. Duh.

Then Dayton over Syracuse. Double duh.

Stanford over Kansas. Obviously.

And, of course Tennessee in the Sweet 16. I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know though.

So, I’m sure none of this will happen. But, if it does, it’s because I’m a total basketball genius.

The ipoetlaureate knows a little thing about banging on the boards:

me and kris rotated updated

Not to be racist but guess who’s not getting the rebound here?

Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by djclutch.

Today’s song blog and annual tradition here:

The Madness

12/8/13

Sour Purple Grapes

I hate Las Vegas.

They beat us by exactly 31?! Unbelievable.

For those that don’t remember or didn’t know or who still don’t care, my Furman University Paladins played two-time defending National Champions, North Dakota State Bison, in the second round of the Division I FCS football playoffs last night. They lost 38-7. I had incited an infinitesimal but virulent segment of the Bison fan base with this song.

NDSU responses were of three predictable varieties:

1. “It’s pronounced BIZON.” Without the pronunciation cues, I’m still not sure if they mean Bizon, as in rhymes with risin’ or Bizon, as in “Get your prize on.” Regardless, noted.

2. “Bizon are already on ice.” In the chorus to the song, I was not attempting to express a literal aspiration about the physical location of Bison. But, again, got it.

3. And, indecipherable.

In all, Bison fans were good sports about it, except on the rare occasion when I was invited to peruse the hairy underside of said school’s mascot. (I’m not sure if they meant the actual costumed mascot or the real animal version of said mascot.)

Couple things about the game, first.

1. Congrats to a deserving team in North Dakota State;

2. The final score says different, but two very questionable calls against Furman on consecutive attempts to score in the first half greatly affected momentum in the game. The Paladins weather the quick touchdown drives by NDSU, early in the second half, a lot differently with 14 on the board instead of 7; and

3. Their head coach was so impressed with the win that he apparently is taking the head coaching job at Wyoming. Which is super insulting because Wyoming football is the exact same thing as NDSU except worse and with more chaps and lariats.

So why would I continue to expend an embarrassing quantity of time taunting an entire state, after my team got housed and the Bison faithful have moved on? I’m sure even Furman fans are cringing at the thought.

Well, first, I need to just close the loop. I ran my mouth. Ate my words. I can’t just disappear on the subject like I wasn’t jawing.

Second, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to this site with the exception of automated bot comments.

And, third, there is something that needs to be said about FCS football, implicated here. I alluded to it in my original post. And, I know my audience can’t get enough editorializing on second-rate football.

Quick primer. Historically, the biggest colleges in the country played football at the NCAA Division I level. Oregon. Notre Dame. Alabama. Michigan. Florida State. Ohio State. University of Phoenix Online. (I believe that’s where Larry Fitzgerald played his college ball.)

Below that was a Division I-AA. Furman. Georgia Southern. Richmond. William & Mary. JMU. Montana.

Below the Division I levels were Divisions II and III and something called an NAIA. Apparently, the College of Charleston is very proud of all the basketball national championships it won at the NAIA level, against basketball teams taken from 6 small colleges, two group homes, and a chess club.

Just recently, a semantic slight of hand attempted to conjoin Division I and Division I-AA into a single Division I with two subdivisions: The Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and The Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). See how that’s different than just Division I and Division I-AA? Obviously.

Anyway, like the FBS, the FCS has private and public colleges. But, some of those public colleges are the biggest educational institutions of their respective states. Delaware. Maine. Montana. Montana State. North Dakota State. Institutions where either (1) the name of the college is a State or (2) is the name of a State plus the word “State” or “Tech.” Think Michigan and Michigan State. Or Georgia and Georgia Tech. Or Devry and Devry Institute. Granted most of these FCS institutions were located in less populated states but these are still the flagship schools of a card-carrying member of our great Union.

For a long, long time, nobody cared about Division I-AA/FCS football. But, then it became increasingly clear that television exposure and the opportunity to upset a major FBS school could raise a school’s admissions and money profile through FCS football success similar to a good run in March Madness.

And, when people started caring, the publicly funded institutions were well-suited to capitalize.

North Dakota State University is one such example. But, it applies equally to the Delaware’s and Montana’s of the world as well.

Which is all fine. But, this advantage that comes with size and the support of either half or nearly all of a state’s population and coffers, should temper their pride in success against less comparably postured institutions. It inflames it.

It seems to me that a major state institution has two options. Either (1) qualify your arrogance over winning multiple National Championships by beating private schools an eighth your size or (2) move up to FBS with all the other state schools.

Like, I don’t know, Wyoming?

wyoming

Congrats, Cowboys. Err . . . Bizon. I suppose they’re both winners today.

How’s that for magnanimity? Go Chanticleers.

Performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced by Fab da Eclectic.
Today’s blong here. Updated and final version of the original with new third verse:

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed herein do not reflect the views of Furman University or even its football team. They are exclusively the ramblings of a too compulsive fan acting entirely alone. As in, without any friends to speak of.

12/5/13

Sweet Home

In case you’ve been on hold over at the Affordable Care Act website for the last five days, the fate of a defending, two-time national championship team is on the line. A series of improbable events have put a dynasty in jeopardy. Its mascot, a rumbling, horned behemoth of a creature, hunted for millennia, looks to escape an extinction level event.

That’s right.

The North Dakota State Bison are on the run.

The Bison are the current back-to-back NCAA Division I FCS National Champions, with a 39-2 record since 2011. Sound familiar? Their relative dominance makes Alabama’s run look replicable by comparison. As a current member of the tier, formerly known as Division I-AA, the Bison have cooly beat Division I FBS schools, Kansas State and Minnesota, the last two seasons on the road. That would be like the Crimson Tide mixing in a couple wins over the AFC South in Houston and Jacksonville.

And, who, you might suppose, is the Bison’s fearless hunter?

As it turns out . . . my Furman University Paladins.

fu

A team with a rich football tradition itself, including a I-AA National Championship and more conference championships in the storied Southern Conference (whose historical members boast Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, LSU, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Clemson, and South Carolina among others) than any other member school, Furman has recently fallen on hard football times. But for a host of comparable improbabilities to rival that which has recently played out in the SEC, the Paladins (8-5) shouldn’t have even sniffed the playoffs.

(Did I mention the inventor of the laser is a Furman alumn? You know. THE laser. Laser pointers. LASIK surgery. Light Sabers.)

My kids and I were there when they clinched as co-champions of the SoCon and secured the FCS playoff automatic bid.

fu me and j

(Actually, to clinch the auto berth also required the Samford Bulldogs to beat the Elon Golden Phoenix in its final game of the season, thereby creating a three-way first place tie with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Mocs and Furman, which the Paladins would win by virtue of the applicable tie-break. I know. Have you ever read a college football sentence with fewer recognizable teams?)

The Paladins promptly beat in-state bretheren, South Carolina State Bulldogs out of the MEAC, last weekend, in the opening round of the playoffs. They now face North Dakota State in Fargo Saturday.

For those unfamiliar, a “playoff” is a single or multi-elimination game tournament format in which eligible teams compete, head-to-head, in an attempt to decide a single champion on the merits. Admittedly, it’s a pretty bizarro way to crown a champion, I know, but that’s all the FCS has for now.

Anyway, you think the odds of Duke beating Florida State and Michigan State beating Ohio State, to keep Alabama’s national championship prospects alive, are long?

Furman was a 31-point dog at one point.

There were shorter odds on the Christmas Raccoons in their conservationist-minded grudge match against Cyril Sneer’s Hockey Bears to preserve Evergreen Lake.

Which is pretty appropriate, as my crusading Paladins prepare to take on the bigger, uglier, and generally more malodorous team from the icey North where hockey matters a whole lot more than football . (As an aside, if your school is one of the top two flagship public colleges of your state, get the what out of the FCS. That would be like the Texans playing in the SEC and thinking they had done something. You too Montana and Montana Jr.)

And, by “bigger” and “uglier,” I mean “1/8 viking.”

North Dakota State designed it’s punt rush after a Capital One Card commercial.

They forge their own helmets.

The quarterback’s wristband cheat sheet is written in rune.

The Fargodome doubles as a smokehouse in the offseason.

“The pigskin” is not euphemistic in North Dakota.

So, to the point — Alabama’s remaining shred of hope. As a disclaimer, my dad’s family is from Alabama and he attended for like 6 semesters before eventually graduating, ironically enough, from the aforementioned Samford where he met my mother. As a result, I pulled for Alabama my entire childhood including through the time of this National Championship and historic play:

But, in my adult life I became a Paladin, first, and, shortly thereafter, a Gamecock, during my time at USC School of Law, which happened to correspond with the Lou Holtz era. And, as USC plays in the SEC, that was pretty much the end of my Alabama loyalties.

Sooooooooo, it’s been a long, long time since I felt any real allegiance to the Tide. But, in the recesses of my nostalgia lingers some little wish that they succeed, so long as their success doesn’t otherwise interfere with my real teams (which in the case of Furman and the University of South Carolina is essentially never).

In addition to these dormant childhood loyalties, Alabama’s dynastic run has implicated an important aspect of my heirarchy of fandom that historic streaks and accomplishments not be disrupted. And, so I root for a third national championship, and fourth in five years, just like I did with the USC Trojans, because it’s essentially impossible to do and our society’s infatuation with empire destroying is pretty petty.

Taken together, all of this amounted to some investment in the outcome of last Saturday’s Iron Bowl that Alabama prevail. And, again, in case you’re still buffering through the Obamacare Insurance Exchange, they didn’t.

Speaking of improbable plays, isn’t it time that a creative playbook, built exclusively around the hook-and-ladder, be designed? It’s considered such a high-risk play, relegated only to hail-marry situations, because of the lateral involved. But, what makes an orchestrated, discretionary open-field lateral any more risky than the triple option? You practice the play just like other offensive schemes so that it’s familiar. The receivers have discretion to not make any lateral that’s dubious. What am I missing? You could have all these mid-field variations of wideouts crossing underneath each other creating a sort of secondary option effect. Someone’s going to do this and I’m going to get no credit. Quick. Give me a team to coach.

hook and ladder

So, now finally to the point. I wanted Alabama to three peat. They aren’t going to, barring something as nearly as improbable as Furman beating the Bison. So what am I pulling for? There is still a streak on the line and one hardly anyone has mentioned, although Forbes led with it here.

The State of Alabama streak. It’s won the last FOUR National Championships. Forget SEC dominance. Or the South’s dominance. Arguably one of the poorest, most marginalized states in our union owns college football. And, but for it having cannibalized itself on rivalry weekend, would be particularly poised to make it five.

But, the feat is still very much alive. Whereas both FSU and Ohio State must lose for Alabama to have any shot, only one has to lose for the State of Alabama, in its other son, Auburn, to keep the streak going.

Sweet home, indeed.

Oh. I almost forgot.

To the visigoths who await us in Fargo, in the indelicate words of Furman’s late President, John E. Johns, “F.U. one time! F.U. two times! F.U. three times! . . .

F.U. all the time!”

Performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced by Fab da Eclectic.
Today’s blong here:

09/26/13

Sailing is Not a Sport

I realize that the future of the nation’s access to Hydrocodone and suppositories presently hangs in the balance, but an opportunity to explain one of my longstanding personal theories on a deep cosmic question has finally presented itself, in the sailing of the America’s Cup and historic victory of Team USA this week.

What is sport?

The eternal debate over which activities constitute “sport” and which do not, ends now. For too long, we’ve been left to our own individual view. Bass fishing. Ice skating. The WNBA. What are they? We need an objective test. A standardized list. Even the so-called Worldwide Leader in Sports, without distinction, sloppily conflates the performances of Kelly Slater and Jimmie Johnson and Shaun White with those of Kobe Bryant and Michael Vick and Albert Pujols. All world class athletes for sure. Not all participants of sport. But, how can we know for sure?

So, presently, I think we’re all working with a kind of intuitive definition of sport that includes three generalized elements:

1. An activity;
2. requiring some threshold level of physical exertion/skill; and
3. performed within a measurable and competitive context.

These three elements by themselves lead to all kinds of controversy. Is race car driving a sport? It requires an above-resting-heart-rate level of cardio; physical strength; and world class eye hand coordination. It’s also a race. But, it sure looks a lot like just driving a car. Is surfing a sport? The physical element is plainly satisfied. But, what really is a surfing “contest”? Non-standardized playing environment. And, physical techniques poorly suited for quantification and measurement. How about billiards? A kind of low-grade eye-hand coordination, relative to something like baseball or golf. But, plainly an objectively measurable competitive outcome.

Most people think the controversy is all in the second element. Are you being “athletic” enough to constitute sport? But, an emphasis on the second element leads to unnecessarily forced accusations like “soccer players are bed wetters” in order to try and discount an activity as sport, when plainly the physical element is present. And, while there is admittedly some grey area caused by our intuition that sport requires “physicality,” I actually think the real confusion is almost entirely in the third element.

When we doubt sport, we are really subconsciously reacting to an activity out of context.

See the problem is that we live in a “game” culture. And, so we are constantly turning everything into a measurable test of wills and talent. Pie eating contests. iPad math games. Iron Chef. Seed spitting. Spelling Bees. Madden Bowl. Project Runway. Jeopardy. Last Comic Standing. That cup stacking thing. Otherwise non-competitive activities that we simply decide to score. And, then we’re stuck wondering if it is a sport. There really isn’t any activity that we can’t quantify and make competitive. And, so we wind up shrugging our shoulders at ESPN’s 2:00 am time slot and reluctantly accepting that the Lumberjack Games must be a sport. “They’re really strong. And they get a trophy carved from a tree trunk.” Check and check.

But, intuitively we know this isn’t right. And, when we can’t clearly challenge on the basis of athleticism, like with The World’s Strongest Man competition or American Ninja Warrior, it’s all the more frustrating. “I know he’s pulling a transport truck with his teeth, but that can’t possibly be a sport.”

Consider the mystery solved. Our definition of sport simply needs to include the following clarification.

If an activity has some context other than its competitive one, it is NOT A SPORT, even if it also now enjoys a competitive context; it is just an activity. By contrast, sport has no other context for its activity than its competitive one.

Football doesn’t have a non-competitive context. Football was invented for football’s sake. You can choose to not keep score but that doesn’t make the performance of the activity any less advesarial. It is always pitting, so to speak. Some activity called “footballing” did not predate the competitive, sport version of football. The activity is a priori, in philosophical parlance. Same with basketball or golf or hockey.

Certainly you can break down the individual elements of an inherently competitive activity into non-competitive ones. Like hitting balls at the range. Or throwing a baseball off a brick wall. But, that’s just practice; not the actual and full activity itself. When you play baseball. You’re playing baseball. And, if you want to say that spinning the football with your dad in the backyard isn’t a sport, we can agree to agree. It’s an activity. Football, however, is a sport.

So, let’s look at the modified rule in application.

Skateboarding? Not a sport. Skateboards were toys and transportation first. X-games came later. It’s an activity. And a public nuisance.

Horseback riding? Not a sport. Horses were for transportation, hunting, and nation-state imperialism originally. The track came later. It’s an activity. And a farm animal.

Car racing? Not a sport. It’s an activity. You may have heard of it. It’s called driving.

And, cycling? Yep. Not a sport. It’s an activity. Horn. Woven basket. Tandem seats. Picnic. The Tour came later.

Surfing. Uh uh. Any activity that includes the risk of shark attack is not a sport. It’s survival.

To be clear, all of these are athletic or rather require athleticism. But, so does hand-to-hand guerrilla warfare. That doesn’t make it a sport.

To the point, this “original context” view eliminates the sort of qualitative judgment the debate about sport presently implies. So, currently, the race car driver has to behave sort of defensively that the athleticism and physicality required of him is high, whenever his racing is not accepted by some as a sport. But, this proposed addendum to the definition of sport effectively shifts the debate from athletic v. non-athletic to activity v. sport. And, truthfully this view is already in line with the culture of these activities. Competition and scoring were imposed on many of these activities, like surfing and skateboarding and axe hurling, whose participants philosophically already see contests and competitions as a kind of existential threat to the purity of the real experience and culture of those things. A definition, which focuses on the original purpose of the activity, therefore, removes this more judgmental and artificial exercise in critisizing the physical talent or skill or difficulty of relative sports.

How about foot races you might ask or long jump? People have been jumping over and running from and after things for as long as we’ve been bi-pedal. And, mostly for non-competitive reasons. How can the 100m or triple jump not be a sport simply because they have other non-competitive contexts?

And, so, I have promulgated an important corollary to our definition, called the “Antiquities Exception.” It goes as follows:

If the activity was originally considered a sport, in antiquity, then it remains a sport in modernity.

Running.

Jumping.

Wrestling/Boxing/Fighting Arts.

Object hurling. Javelins. Shot puts.

All of these were “sport” in antiquity. They’re grandfathered in, so to speak. If it was a “sport” before the invention of pants, let’s say, you can continue to claim it now.

Before I continue, it’s critical that we say a little more about the second element — that physical exertion/skill be present. Although this is where most people believe the debate lies, I think it’s pretty straightforward.

If an activity requires two or more of speed/quickness, strength, agility, flexibility, and eye-hand coordination, it satisfies the physical exertion demands of sport.

Period.

This working definition quickly helps identify inherently competitive activity without physicality, as “game,” and inherently competitive activity with physicality, as sport. Things like board and yard games, therefore, pretty rapidly find their water level as games.

Monopoly. Game.
Chess. Game.
Cornhole. A passion.

It also relegates something like billiards to the game category for its reliance essentially on only one attribute in eye hand coordination but solidifies something like ping pong or table tennis as sport for demanding quickness plus coordination.

Here are some interesting test cases.

The sleddings. Bob, dog, snow. Ancient activities. But, not necessarily ancient sports. 1967 was the first Iditarod. Not a sport. Anything that involves “packing” or “food stores” is not a sport.

Skiing. As a means of snow escape, maybe as old as 5 to 6 thousand years. As a sport, relatively new. It’s, at best, an activity, at worst, suicide.

Sailing. You already saw the spoiler. Not a sport. Anything used to “circumnavigate” cannot be sport. Satellites. Shuttles. Boats.

Roller Derby. Although roller skating itself is an activity, punching women in the face while roller skating has no other context. Sport.

Lumberjack Olympics. Not a sport. Anything that scores or measures “job performance” is an evaluation not a sport.

Arm wrestling. Have you seen Over the Top? Sport.

Fishing. As with the sleddings, if the activity also doubles as a food source or other life necessity, not a sport.

One of my favorites. Cheerleading. Not a sport. It has another context. Called cheerleading.

Horseshoes. A game. Eye hand coordination only.

Ice skating. Regardless of the definition used, ice skating will never, ever, ever be a sport. Panty hose = no sport.

Women’s softball. Begrudgingly a sport.

Clemson football. Not a sport. It plainly has no competitive context. It is strictly non-competitive.

How about swimming? Evidence of “swim meets” and Speedo in the Ancient World is admittedly a little thin, but it has such a high association with modern sport, like track, that it’s hard to not deem swimming a sport. So, is swimming more like skiing, essentially a type of environmentally specific transportation, or more like sprinting, an old sport? To resolve it, the Antiquities Exception should reasonably be extended to cover any competition based on an irreducibly singular athletic movement that doesn’t include equipment. Like running or jumping. Whereas skiing and sailing are an activity in human/equipment hybrid, swimming is a base athletic activity. A sport. You’re lucky, Phelps. Real lucky.

One more canard: gymnastics.

Trust me. The the back layout with a half twist has no other context. And, no one can quibble with the physical requirements. But, it gets such a bad rap for scoring that it seems to fail the measurable/competitive element as simply not well-suited to assessment. I would offer that although the current judging system is an abomination, as with boxing, that doesn’t mean you can’t imagine a more technical and objective type of adjudication. Sport. By the skin of your leotard, Tim Daggett.

So, let’s review. A “sport” is

1. Any activity;
2. requiring physical exertion, to include two or more of the following physical attributes – speed, agility, flexibility, strength, or eye-hand coordination; and
3. performed within a competitive context, so long as the activity has no other non-competitive context,

otherwise, it is a game or an activity.

Antiquities Exception: Any physical activity deemed a “sport” in antiquity is a sport in modernity, to include any competition based on an irreducibly singular athletic movement that doesn’t include equipment.

Got it?

To summarize:

Baseball. A sport.

Sailing. Not a sport.

Lacrosse. A sport.

Fantasy sports. Not a sport. Even if you’re in an auction, keeper, league-specific, PPR, rotisserie, War Room league.

So next time someone invites you to a NASCAR event or the Kentucky Derby or the Billabong Pipeline Masters, you can confidently say, “Why thank you. I’d love to attend that ‘activity competition’ with you.”

(And, yes, please use air quotes, when you do.)

Written and performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced Fab da Eclectic.

Today’s blong here:

Bad Sport

09/1/13

64

That’s how old Diana Nyad is now, as she makes her 5th attempt to swim the 103 miles from Cuba to Florida. She’s nearly there. I expressed my infatuation with her last year, here.

I had so much fun at the turn of the millennium that I vowed, with the aid of bio-engineering and blood doping, to make it to 2100. (For a second, right at midnight, I thought that the entire power and technology grid had gone down, as forecasted, and prematurely yelled, “This is the greatest millennium ever!” As it happened, my father-in-law had cut the lights. Funny guy.)

In 2100, I’ll be 125. I believe 123 is the modern record. So, with advances in technology and cheating this is totally realistic.

Diana’s repeated attempts remind us to keep moving. To the end, there are new things to do and accomplish. Change your diet. Take a class. Move to a new country. Adopt a child. Become a pantomime. (Can you imagine waking every morning in a fake tug-of-war?)

I’m not even a third of my projected, albeit genetically modified, life expectancy. The fact that by 2100 I’ll only be legally 6% actual human (83% android, like Darth Vader, and 11% bovine), doesn’t mean I won’t be “alive” and expectant.

I love an opportunity to recycle my favorite blongs. So, here’s to Diana. Again.

diana nyad crying

Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by djclutch.

Today’s retread blong here:

Surf and Turf

08/25/13

Football Fantasy

The hardest fantasy football song ever written.

This is for all the “girls” in my fantasy football league that I’m going to embarrass again this year at not-real football.

[My apologies to real girls everywhere for using your gender so pejoratively. While I don’t think you’re less capable at fantasy football than men, all the cheauvanist pig Neanderthals in my fantasy football league do, and so it still makes for an effective insult. I’m using their own bigotry against them, even as I’m plainly enlightened.]

I wrote this anthem last year for my favorite fantasy football podcast, “Fantasy Focus,” hosted by ESPN’s Matthew Berry, Nate Ravitz, Stephania Bell, and Podvader.

In spite of the song’s obvious merits, they still refuse to make it their standard intro. Matthew Berry did “favorite” my tweet about it and my challenge to Eric Hutchinson, whose song is presently the Fantasy Focus anthem, to a fantasy football song battle.

Now, to suggest that Eric is a “chicken” would be more than I feel comfortable doing. But, maybe a yellow belly? Or coward?

As far as their failure to make my song their official anthem, I’m sure the crew over at Fantasy Focus just forgot. So, I would encourage you all to spend the remainder of the week reminding them.

@MatthewBerryTMR
@NateRavitz
@Stephania_ESPN
@TheRealPodVader

fantasyfocus@ESPNradio

You might also want to ask @EricHutchinson why he’s so lilly livered?

Please be respectful, however, to abide by the Twitter daily limit and keep your tweets to Matthew, Nate, Stephania, and PodVader south of 1000 tweets a day. Thanks in advance.

08/14/13

Man of the Cloth

Like a miniature Podcast Hadron Collider, my recently upgraded-to iPhone 5 nearly destroyed the known universe.

Without warning, my two most severe passions circled back on each other at speeds approaching that of light, when the Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, this week, dedicated an entire podcast to the cinema career of Jodie Foster. Like two tiny neutrinos of cultural icon, my favorite sports analyst collided with the star of my indisputably favorite movie, when he declared Contact “unwatchable,” nearly tearing a small earbud shaped black hole in the ESPN Podcenter of space/time. (Actually, I believe he said that this masterpiece of movie story telling “put the ‘un’ in unwatchable,” if I remember correctly. At the time, my body was being stretched infinitely high by the extreme gravitational effects of the microscopic black hole, so I can’t be certain.)

Ask my wife. After years of reading him, I just whisper, in a delicate Boston brogue, “That’s Bill Simmons – That’s Bill Simmons – That’s Bill Simmons,” whenever he does NBA Countdown or appears on PTI or calls in to Colin Cowherd.

Ask my friends. How many times I’ve made them watch Contact. On Blu-Ray. And, repeat:

I guess you could say, “I’m a man of the cloth . . .

without the cloth.”

We all eventually disagree with someone we admire. But, to pursue with such august, over so long a time, such weirdly disparate enthusiasms, as Bill and Contact, and for them to so impossibly and ruthlessly meet on a sports podcast, is to feel as though you’ve reached a kind of event horizon of your interests. Like finding the end of the internet. Only, when you get there, you realize that at the intersection of all you love, your one passion thinks your other passion is a piece of crap.

I’ve been reading Jim Holt’s book, Why Does the World Exist?

I didn’t invite any, but my daughter naively answered the cover, “Because God made it.” I laughed at her and told her that she was not very smart.

Holt’s book is subtitled an “existential detective story,” which I think can be roughly translated, “Small moves, Ellie. Small moves.” (Yep. Contact quote. Won’t be the last.)

To various know-it-alls, scientific and philosophical, Holt asks, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” Which really is the most fundamental question one can ask, whether or not you are a person of faith. I suppose, on its face, it sounds irreligious or sacrilegious. But, it’s not.

For atheists and other variety of secular humanists, the question obviously focuses on what proceeded the singularity in the big bang. Nothing. Or Something. Did the dot of matter and energy at the dawn of time materialize from a real kind of nothingness or is there some alternative explanation of oscillating or infinite regression?

But, the question is true for any Divine belief, as well. How do you explain the existence of a Creator God? Either It came from nothing or always was.

Both theories are imponderable, of course. But, they are the only two possible explanations regardless of your conception of creation, religious or secular.

Since Einstein, the concepts in quantum physics have slowly increased in their philosophical influence over the culture of how we understand our origins and purposes. And, I generally love it. The New York Times Bestsellers List, every year, is guaranteed to have offerings of this kind. As Holt’s subtitle suggests, we love collecting the clues. And, the 13 particles (including Higgs Boson) of the Standard Model are like galactic breadcrumbs, through the universe, back home.

But, it dawned on me, what a weird perspective this is. To look at the manufacturing or components of our existence to draw conclusions about origin or purpose.

I mean, you would never presume to look at a sparkplug to guess about the purpose or design of a Ferrari.

Or to the electrode in the sparkplug.

Or to the copper-core of the electrode in the sparkplug.

Or to the atomic structure of the copper-core of the electrode in the sparkplug.

There is nothing about this “drilling down” that brings you closer to knowing or explaining the joy that the Italian sports car brings to sentient, testosterone fueled bipeds.

spark_plug

I mean a sparkplug tells you something about a Ferrari. It’s electrical. It’s a machine. But, the view at best is fairly myopic and provincial. The truth is wildly more spectacular.

Driving the Ferrari on the Autobahn? Everything you need to know.

So, why isn’t this generally true of humanity? Why doesn’t this personal and relational consciousness we experience, inclined towards morality albeit imperfectly so, tell us more about our origins and purpose than the randomized, inhuman, subatomic particles from which we exploded?

In the same way, driving a car to the store or work or graduation should tell you a good bit more about it’s actual purpose than reverse engineering one of its gaskets or spark plugs.

I won’t make a full defense of Contact, here. The last 30 minutes, however, are essentially flawless. They include (1) the most likely and realistically depicted extraterrestrial encounter ever shown on screen (embedded above) and (2) one of the most poignant expressions of existential faith and experience (embedded below), since Chewy screamed when they slammed the Rebel Base blast doors shut on Han and Luke still trapped out in the perilous subzero landscape of Hoth.

In her earlier disbelief, Jodie Foster’s character, Dr. Arroway, at one point challenges the fully believable priest character, portrayed by Matthew McConaughy at the height of his smarm:

So what’s more likely? That an all-powerful, mysterious God created the Universe, and decided not to give any proof of his existence? Or, that He simply doesn’t exist at all, and that we created Him, so that we wouldn’t have to feel so small and alone?

I have been conditioned my whole life to believe the former. So, my take is not very objective. But, when you look at the Ferrari of our existence, in contrast to the gasket of our quantum origins, I would disagree that a mysterious and relational God has given us no proof of Its existence.

And, in our disagreement with Foster, Bill Simmons and I appear to, in fact, agree. Again.

Black hole averted.

Written and performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced Haralduz7.

Today’s blong here:

Wrong End

08/6/13

My Favorite Player

I have three things to say about Alex Rodriguez.

1. He did this to himself. He isn’t very cool. He’s too rehearsed. He probably shouldn’t have chased big money contracts to Texas and then New York. He shouldn’t allow celebrity actresses to feed him popcorn from a bag, Constantine or, rather, middle school, style. He shouldn’t have done this. He shouldn’t have taken PEDs. He shouldn’t have lied about it. He shouldn’t have taken PEDs, again. He shouldn’t keep lying about it. He has no one to blame but himself.

2. Alex Rodriguez was my favorite player. Only a few months younger than me, I followed every rumor about him as I played out my own modest baseball career. That he hit over .700 in high school. That he was a tall, rangy shortstop, a mutant combination of Barry Larkin and Cal Ripken, Jr. It really doesn’t seem that long ago that I was still identifying him as the kind of athlete I would want my kids to be like. Polite. Diplomatic. Great. And, you will never hear me call A-Rod a fraud. God made him one of the best baseball players that ever lived. He’s probably the only PEDs abuser who was actually worse for having taken them. A-Rod was lithe not hulking. He hit to all fields not just with power. He was a shortstop. Not a third baseman. Where PEDs gave us a sort of exaggerated version of every other offender, in A-Rod’s abuse, I truly believe we got something less.

3. We will look back on this time with some embarrassment. I’ve said it before. We cannot expect to live in a world with clean sports. It’s not going to happen. Within 100 or 200 or 500 years our entire society will participate in genetic modification of some kind. Sports will not be immune from this phenomenon. The demonization of our athletes from this time period will be remembered as petty. You won’t be around to see it. But, it will. Now, that’s not to say that the athletes of this generation weren’t wrong to cheat and break the law. But, our sanctimony about it will eventually look small. Guaranteed.

I’m on vacation this week and may not be able to record anything new.

But, in light of the breaking news regarding A-Rod’s 211 game suspension for steroids, I thought it was fitting to reprise my lament for our “National Pastime’s” general decline.

a rod high school

Performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced by djclutch.

Today’s retread blong here:

(Not) Good Times

04/22/13

Freedom Trail

If you’ve ever been to Boston you’ve probably been forced to walk, likely by a mom or wife, some portion of the “Freedom Trail” against your will. You have to wonder why one must abandon so much self determination to walk a trail named “freedom” but, anyway. The Freedom Trail is, of course, a walking tour of Boston’s historic sites, where I’m proud to say I had a pair of Stan Smith’s re-cobbled only a few years ago. I also had a bracelet smithed out of a soup spoon.

Liberty is a type of collusion. An agreement among everyone to respect the rule of law in service of freedom. It’s completely voluntary.

Collusions, however, are easily broken. In fact, there is extraordinarily high incentive to do so. Our susceptibility to violence, therefore, is evidence of how well and complete the collusion of our liberty is working. We’re easy pickings. When an assailant from within or without violates the contract — the agreement not to fall into anarchy — they exact from us a cost. A toll for being so free, so open, so liberated. Our martyrs, whether at a marathon or in an elementary school or on a skyscraper, are a kind of penance paid to democracy and inalienable rights. Like a soldier or revolutionary, when we are murdered exercising our freedoms, even ones as routine as a road race, it is literally a kind of patriotic act. Every mundane act of our lives is a declaration that we would be free in spite of the ongoing danger to do so.

They’ll run again next year. A marathon and a freedom trail.

Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by juiceboxjackson.

Today’s blong here:

Pronation

03/17/13

One Shining Moment

It took me most of the evening but I feel pretty confident about my pick:

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) v. The Nashville Predators

SCAD cuts down the nets.

Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by djclutch.

Today’s song blog here:

The Madness