Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Blame Game

Contributed by Auggie
Proud member of the dwindling "never-been-sued" group
We live in a blaming society, pure and simple. I’m not sure how it devolved to this point but negligent behavior is never the fault of the perpetrator, and accidents simply don’t happen. Every undesirable event can ultimately be blamed on a person or organization. This fact is clearly evident in the quantity and content of lawsuits that flood our legal system. There is purported to be a law against frivolous lawsuits, and lawyers could purportedly be disbarred for bringing such suits. But the frivolous lawsuit is a lot like Bigfoot – it’s never really been proven to exist.

I never cease to be amazed by the absurdity of lawsuits I read about. I believe you would be hard pressed to present a hypothetical lawsuit that could be deemed frivolous in the actual world. A hypothetical example I have often used when discussing the topic is this: If I went to the sporting goods store, purchased a baseball bat, and then beat myself to a pulp with the bat, could my family sue Hillerich & Bradsby? After all, the bat has a nice grip and it’s certainly made for hitting things. It’s “foreseeable use” as they like to say in the legal community.

I always thought of my hypothetical example as a sarcastic diatribe against our society’s pervasive and illogical pursuit of legal recourse. So imagine my surprise when I opened the paper this morning and read that someone had indeed sued H&B - and won! Not for the reason I described above, but on the spectrum of absurdity it’s darn close. The case involved the family of a 17 year old boy who was pitching in an American Legion baseball game when he was struck and killed by a batted ball. This is a sad and tragic story beyond words, but does that make the bat manufacturer negligible? Perhaps the family should go after the ball manufacturer as well, and even the organization that built the ball field. And the descendants of Nelson Doubleday could certainly be had. Honestly, I don’t know how any company dares to put any product on the market.

I’ll need to come up with a new hypothetical question to demonstrate how ludicrous I think our legal system is, but I’m no longer sure there are limits. Can I sue my neighbor for emotional distress if they don’t say ‘good morning’? Can I throw my dog out of a moving car and then sue the auto manufacturer for making windows that open? I would no longer be surprised if the answer to both is yes.

If anyone is offended or annoyed by anything I’ve written please remember, it’s not my fault.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I don't now what this says about me but I am sure it says something. I hate bellhops. Where did that word even come from?

I guess I don't really hate bellhops, I just hate being confronted by them. I know they mean well and it is their intention to help me but, for some inexplicable reason, I STRONGLY prefer to carry my own bags to my room.

Ditto for the whole valet parking concept.

Perhaps it is tied into my affinity for low maintenance people; I pride myself on being fairly low maintenance. Maybe all that unrequested help somehow undermines my self-image as an independent person. Like I said, I don't really know what it means, I just know that when I checked into my hotel today I found it annoying that a cheery bellhop snagged my bag from the taxi and whisked it to my room against my will.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Conference Room Comedy

Somewhere, in the conference room of a large corporation, I can imagine a certain ritual. The ritual is probably enacted a couple of times per year when the boss is on vacation. Elements of this ritual could block me from ever becoming President of the United States.

In my imagination, there is a group of workers involved in customer service. They are charged with improving the experience for callers who interact with the company's maddening, computerized phone interface. They survey customers, attend conferences where system improvements are discussed, and generally work to make the system better. They also review actual recordings of callers to gain insight into how effectively the system routes calls to the correct destination. To amuse themselves, they collect the digital audio files of particularly upset callers who lose their patience and go ballistic. They save the most prolific examples of exasperation and string them together in a "best of" collection.

I star in several of these recordings.

I imagine that, when the boss is away, they play these creations over lunch in the conference room and laugh until milk comes out of their noses. Perhaps they have a competition to see who can unearth footage of the most upset caller. It could be that such a competition has lead them to purposely build design-flaws into the system in order to illicit entertaining reactions from callers like me. I wouldn't be surprised.

Since I am usually calm and rational at the beginning of these calls, I offer all sorts of definitively identifying information. This means that if I run for President and these recording air, there will be no denying that it is me making the calls. The voters will know that I can sometimes be transformed into a vituperative lunatic spewing the raunchiest, curse-speckled diatribe imaginable.

I know it's a computer on the other end of the line -- just a bunch of electronic circuits and silicon with no empathy or consciousness. I realize that exploding in violent anger is a complete waste of energy and shows a lack of intelligence and control. It is totally embarrassing but entirely effective in terms of processing my frustration.

On the other hand, I might be completely wrong. Perhaps "the people" can relate. Maybe they would feel close to the chain of command if they knew that the President might be in the oval office at any given moment, tormented with rage, whacking the receiver repeatedly on the desk, and using the loudest voice he can muster to scream at a computer.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Non-News in the News

As is often the case in the for-profit world of media, stories are spawned, nurtured, and then beat to death based on the smallest of important or interesting nuggets of information. Case in point, Rush Limbaugh's recent role as a minor stakeholder in a bid to buy the St. Louis Rams.

I get that the ingredients are interesting. Rush is a blowhard with a following; a legitimate public figure. That's interesting. The NFL is the most popular and most profitable professional sports conglomerate in the country. That's interesting. The potential association of the two, therefore could reasonably command a modicum of media coverage. An actual association, like say if Rush really became an owner, would be bigger news -- perhaps worthy of a small article somewhere in the business section of a national publication and in the sports section of St. Louis publications.

What we have seen over the past few weeks makes no sense to me. He was part, a small part, of a bid, along with five or six other bids, and the story has been central in the national sports conversation for three weeks. He was dropped from the bid a week ago and the story is still going strong.

To be fair, the stories that continue to circulate are about racism and freedom of speech and whatever other social issues a journalist can shoe-horn into a column. I agree that such social issues can be (and should be) worked through in public forums. But all of those issues can be discussed without attaching them to a story where they were not really present.

We're talking about a business deal here. Nothing more. A group of bidders were aggregating capital to buy a team, Rush had some cash so he joined the group and they submitted a bid. The NFL, which can choose owners based on any criteria they wish, made it clear that Rush was not scoring well on their criteria so the bidding group kicked him out. No hurt feelings -- just a day in the business life.

In my opinion, all of the analysis of Rush's past quotes about the NFL and racism should never have been a part of this non-story. In fact, trying to analyze such complex social issues in a contrived setting, just because the protagonists are interesting, is a detriment to constructive discourse.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Icing the Kicker - a Strategy for the Absurd

Some things just don't add up. Let me lay a few things on the table to make my point.

It's a pretty common tactic for an NFL team to call a time-out prior to an important kick attempt by their opponent. They call this "icing the kicker" and the theory is that it gives him too much time to think which, supposedly reduces his ability to perform.

This is fairly consistent with the old adage spewed by "experts" in many sports that you need to learn your position and learn the game so well that you can just react and execute during the game as opposed to thinking. The notion is that, in live time, there is no time to think so reacting (reacting correctly based on your learning) is the only path to success.

The hurry-up offense contradicts this. Rushing to the line of scrimmage and starting a play before the defense can think through its schemes and coverages eliminates their opportunity to become paralyzed by thought. This is the anti-strategy to icing the kicker yet both are used by the same coaches. One way or another, we have stumbled onto something absurd.

Spare me the crap about how a hurry-up offense prevents defensive substitutions and down-specific packages (since the media no longer covers that level of depth, I can't be expected to know about it - don't get Auggie started). Besides, if minimizing defensive substitutions is so important, offenses should run the whole game at warp speed (in fact, I often wonder why they don't).

Let me lay it out for you NFL coaches: Icing the kicker helps your opponent. Giving any professional athlete an extra moment to collect his thoughts, visualize success, and prepare mentally for the play will increase his ability to perform well. I am especially dumbfounded by the recent tactic of icing him after the players have lined up and the snap count is in progression as this scenario brings an off-sides penalty into play (off-sides penalties out number false starts by a three to one margin in the NFL) that might result in a first down for the kicker's team .

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Jerks and Runners

One of my favorite cartoons from The Far Side shows God in his kitchen molding the orb of earth in his hands. He has a thought bubble over his head where he is thinking "Just to make things interesting..." as he sprinkles on some particles from a salt shaker that is labeled "Jerks".

Alas, it seems as though jerks are in fact everywhere. They are not really plentiful, but there seems to be one among nearly every large group you might encounter. Having said that, it has struck me recently that the running community appears to be refreshingly jerk-free.

I meet many runners on the trails, most wave or offer some type of head-nod greeting. I have gathered among thousands of runners at the starts of races, stretching and chatting, and noted nothing but courtesy and warmth. Same thing at the finish line. Sometimes I will sit next to a runner on a plane or at a public event (serious running shoes offer clear identification), and they are always amicable and unpretentious. They work and shop in running stores, they write in running magazines and on running websites, they volunteer at races, and generally permeate society. Yet, over the course of the last five years during which I have counted myself among this group, I cannot recall encountering a single jerk.

Could there be a causal relationship? Does running purge us of the stresses that cause jerk-like behaviors? Are jerks too busy annoying people to get out for a run? Anyone got a theory here?

Maybe...oh no...what you think it's me? Maybe I am the jerk that has been sprinkled into this group? I'll need to give this some thought.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

NFL Expands to Switzerland?

Or is this just more mindless brand dilution?

I was looking forward to the Patriots/Broncos telecast but when I tuned in, I noticed that the Broncos had given their slot to the Swiss Bumble Clowns whose uniforms were inspired by the Swiss guard.

I know the imaginary readership is not grasping this concept but I am telling you, the emotional bonds between fans and teams, already under pressure from fantasy games that diminish the importance of teams, are crumbling and the NFL is apparently either unaware of or unconcerned about this phenomenon.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Cleaning Vomit

Bear with me on this one.

You know there is a whole new class of "gurus" out there these days. They are experts in social media marketing. According to their claims, they know how to help entities build an electronic audience through savvy use of facebook, twitter, linked-in, blogging, search engine optimization, and the like.

A key tactic for engaging imaginary blog readers, according to this erudite group, is to write tantalizing titles. In fact, so they say, you can actually learn a lot about your audience by seeing which titles attract readership. (Note: If you are thinking about clicking away right now to conceal your morbid fascination with vomit, it is too late. I also took the expert advice of setting up some Google analytics on this blog which instantly track my reader's moves. I already know you are here.)

By the way, I did have the opportunity to clean vomit over the weekend and, as usual, I found it unpleasant. I may write a legitimate blog about it so keep an eye out and be sure to read it if it shows up again.

The "Wins and Losses" Farce

One of the key metrics for evaluating a pitcher in baseball is their record of wins and losses. It is essentially an accounting of how many runs opponents scored off the pitcher and his 8 defensive teammates relative to the number of runs the pitcher's 9-man batting order scored during the time when the pitcher was in the game. If it sounds like the pitcher plays only a fractional part (albeit an important fraction) in the final outcome, that is because it is so.

So why do we continue to track and consider this statistic as important? Obviously, good pitchers on poor teams can out-perform bad pitchers on strong teams and have an inferior Win/Loss record. It makes no sense.

Unless you look at it in relative terms.

Relative to the trend of looking at Win/Loss records for NFL quarterbacks, rating pitchers on that measure seems comparatively brilliant. Of course that is only due to the unfathomable absurdity of hanging a win or a loss for a 53-man football team on one player.

It is all over the news today. With last night's win over the Packers, Favre has become the first QB to defeat all 32 active NFL football teams in his career. I guess he did it all by himself. Forget the fact that the Vikings held the Packers to zero points through three trips to the red-zone and had 3 take-aways in the game. Forget the special teams play. Forget football's best running back, Adrian Peterson, who drew a stacked box all night and opened up the passing lanes for a talented core of Vikings receivers. Forget all the coaching, and scheming, and game-planning, and play-calling. Favre did it alone.

How can smart guys, who played the game and then became analysts, spew this crap? I can tolerate it in baseball because sometimes a pitcher throws nine innings of excellence and deserves recognition as the key contributor to a win. But in football, I cannot abide this emerging trend.

Monday, October 5, 2009

NFL and Madden and Branding and Vindication

Just a quick blurb to draw your attention to this story in today's LA Times. It's about John Madden, who has been featured in this blog before, and how he is spending time in retirement.

What is noteworthy is his comment (last full paragraph) about NFL uniforms and how their inconsistency is a detriment to the brand.