How Perfect Is Perfect

I’m no fan of baseball. Even when Red Sox Nation cowboys up with the Idiots in the Fall (whatever that means), I just can’t get into it. That’s partly because I’ve got issues with relating the so-called “home team” (a corporation that contracts with individuals from all over the world to perform a job which involves significant travel, but is located about half of the time here) to my home town (a place where I’ve actually chosen to live). I find the concept of loving a player because he’s one of us and then despising him a year later because he signed a contract with another team completely ludicrous. He was one of us for the same reason he’s now one of them. If Boston’s teams were made up of Bostonians and New York’s teams were made up of New Yorkers, then maybe it would mean something to me when Boston’s team beat New York’s team.

Frankly, I’m not a sports fan in general, but baseball stands out for me as even more boring than the rest. About ten years ago, Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated made the following semi-scientific observations during a playoff game between the Yankees and the A’s:

Time of this A’s-Yankees game: 3 hours, 15 minutes.

Time the baseball was actually in play, including pitches, batted balls, foul balls, pickoff attempts, relays, throws to bases and anything else even Bob Costas might consider actual sporting activity (and I was being generous with the stopwatch): 12 minutes, 22 seconds.

Percentage of time that the ball wasn’t in play: 94.

Percentage of time my cerebrum wasn’t in play: 94.

Number of baseball players crushed by unexpected fiery chunk of Planet Zorbig hurtling to earth: Not nearly enough.

Times I plan on watching baseball on TV ever again: 0.

Sounds about right to me. Even if I’m not rooting for a particular team, I can enjoy and appreciate basketball, hockey, or football (no, not the misnamed American kind), but baseball just bores me.

Armando Galarraga - AP imageSo consider all of that my admission that I’m no expert on America’s Pastime. With that in mind, I’d like to talk about this concept of a “perfect game” — and I mean that in the sense of Major League Baseball’s definition of a perfect game rather than my own, which I guess would be one that’s rained out before it starts. It’s been in the news for the past few days because of this guy having his perfect game taken away by a bad call.

Here’s how Major League Baseball officially defines a perfect game:

An official perfect game occurs when a pitcher (or pitchers) retires each batter on the opposing team during the entire course of a game, which consists of at least nine innings. In a perfect game, no batter reaches any base during the course of the game.

So a perfect game is a step beyond a no-hitter, because none of the players get on base. 27 players come up to bat, and 27 batters fail to make it to first base. A pitcher can still get a no-hitter even if there are errors or walks. A no-hitter is a rare thing. A perfect game is far more rare. But is it perfect?

“Perfect” is an absolute. It’s one of those words that get misused when people try to apply some level to it. You can’t be somewhat unique, a little bit pregnant, or kind of perfect. You either are, or you aren’t.

We’ll give the great and powerful Founders a break and assume that when they wrote about the goal of “a more perfect union” they meant a union that was closer to perfect than it might have otherwise been, but a union is either perfect or it isn’t, and the same is true for a baseball game.

If a game is perfect, it’s as good as it’s possible for that game to be. How many pitches did Armando Galarraga throw that night? Would the game have been somehow better if he’d thrown less pitches? If a perfect game is defined by the performance of the pitcher, then wouldn’t a perfect game be one in which every player is thrown only one pitch: 27 batters, 27 pitches, 27 outs? I suppose one could argue that in a perfect game, the infielders and outfielders don’t have to do a thing, so how about one pitch to each batter, each batter swings on that one pitch, pops it up, and it’s caught by the pitcher? No, that’s not perfect either, because every batter made contact with the ball, even if that contact led to a measly pop fly that failed to get past the pitcher’s mound.

How about a game in which each batter is struck out in three pitches? That’s three times the number of pitches in the previous suggestion, and the ball is now getting touched by both the pitcher and the catcher, but if we stipulate that the batter never makes contact with the ball — not even to hit a foul ball — that’s certainly a better performance than any pitcher has ever delivered.

And if that’s better, whether it’s perfect or not, then what we call perfect clearly isn’t.

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Clash of the Titians

Clash of the Titians

Click image for larger version

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Mmmmm… Stew

Package of Bart's Stew Pack

Delicious, nutritious, and respectful of the unborn.

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Facts Are Fun(gible)

I just watched Obama’s first official State of the Union address. I thought he did a pretty good job, but it certainly wasn’t as memorable as some of his speeches in the past. I also thought it demonstrated his continued move to the political center, which doesn’t particularly thrill me.

Tom ForemanBut this post isn’t about Obama, or the speech, really. It’s about CNN, and my pal Tom Foreman, whom I’ve written about before, as I’m sure you’ll recall. (Sure, I’m sure.)

Wolf Blitzer told us that CNN’s great and powerful political team was going to be fact checking Obama’s speech. First he cut to Ali Velshi to discuss Obama’s claims about how many jobs have been created or saved by the stimulus, and Velshi was very clear from the outset: we don’t know.

Next Wolf introduced Foreman, who was posted at one of CNN’s touchscreen monitors (which I believe they still refer to as “magic”). Foreman’s monitor was filled by a form containing four checkboxes:

  • True
  • Somewhat True
  • Somewhat False
  • False

Foreman introduced video of this section of the address:

Let me repeat: we cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95% of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college. As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas, and food, and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers. And we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person. Not a single dime.

We cut back to Foreman, ready for the truth, and he, putting a big X in the “True” box, said something to the effect of “Surprisingly, that’s true.” I was shocked. Even with the “surprisingly” or the “believe it or not” or whatever word or phrase Foreman used, he put that X in the True box. Wow.

Then he pointed out that some folks would argue that giving tax credits to people who make so little that they don’t actually pay taxes shouldn’t really count as tax cuts, and that some might say that a one-time reduction in taxes isn’t exactly a tax cut per se. Then he added an X to the “Somewhat False” box.

He marked two of the four boxes in response to one question. So CNN’s crack fact checking team has determined that Obama’s statement regarding tax cuts is both true and somewhat false.

That’s not fact checking. It’s pointing out that people with different opinions are going to come to different conclusions. Why bother calling it “fact checking” if you’re just going to tell us that?

No wonder I never watch CNN anymore.

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A Tale of Two Joes

Joe the Plumber and Joe the Immigration Attorney

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No Prē For Mē

My ancient Nokia will be sleeping with the fishes soon. It works about half the time. When it works, everything’s just fine. The rest of the time, it’s silent — no ringer, no sound through the earpiece or the speaker, and that makes it kind of tough to make a call, or to notice that someone’s calling me.

Not that a mobile phone is vital for me, of course. I work at home, and I have no life, so my VoIP land line is all I need most of the time, but I do leave the house on occasion. In fact, I discovered that the cell was dying when I tried to phone for a taxi a few weeks ago. That’s when I discovered that public phones (remember those?) have become astonishingly rare these days.

So the time has come to get a new phone. This will only be my third cell phone, as I was pretty late in joining the mobile communications revolution (being stuck on a stopped train for an hour or two some time around 2002, unable to call the person I had left work early to meet to tell them I was stuck on a stopped train convinced me to get one) and I use my phones until they croak, oblivious as I am to fashion, technology, and fashion technology. The Nokia doesn’t even have a camera. Don’t ask me how I’ve survived. I guess I’ve just been lucky.

So, what to get… Friends of mine with iPhones and Androids just love them, but I’m on Sprint, so those are out. I suppose I could get a Palm Prē (which I like to pronounce as “pompry,” for some reason), but I’m not sure that’s a good idea. Aside from the fact that I just don’t need something that fancy, the advertising campaign for the phone has kind of put me off a bit.

There’s just something about that woman. I can’t quite put my finger on it… Oh, that’s it. She reminds me of this guy:

David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth

I saw The Man Who Fell to Earth when it first came out in the US, so I think I was about 13. I’ve got a thing about eyes, so I had nightmares about that face, along with the scene in which Bowie’s character first removes his human disguise, including the contact lenses.

I absolutely love the film. I even wrote a paper I’m fairly proud of about it in grad school: “Alienation and the Subsequent Development of Sexual Identity in The Man Who Fell to Earth.” But that doesn’t mean I want to buy a phone from Thomas Newton’s long-lost sister here. Hell, their species have sexual organs in their palms — remember how that moist touch made Candy Clark lose it? The phone probably has alien reproductive goo all over it.

I don’t know… CNET gave the LG LX370 a pretty positive review, and there was nothing in there about alien DNA. Maybe I’ll get one of those.

By the way, I think Tilda Swinton might be one of them too.

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Google Related Searches – Cheaters Rejoice

I have a tradition every Sunday morning: no matter how much work I need to catch up on, I always start the day with the New York Times crossword puzzle. I almost always finish it, too. (Thanks, Brandeis University Department of English and American Literature. It seems a liberal arts education has a purpose after all.)

Now and then — very rarely, I assure you — I find myself stumped. In such cases, I swallow my pride and run a web search to see if the internets hold the elusive answer. That happened today: 85 Across asked for “Carnaval sur la plage” artist and I was at a loss. I’d never heard of the painting, so I had no idea of who the painter might have been.

I went over to Google, ran the search, and there was my answer within the snippets of the second and fourth results on the SERP. I didn’t even have to click through to find out that it was that famed Belgian painter, immortalized by They Might Be Giants.

But here’s the really interesting thing: above the regular results, Google had inserted links to a couple of “searches related to carnaval sur la plage artist”:

carnaval sur la plage artist google search

Erm… “Ron Guidry nickname?” “Mario Puzo sequel?” Those searches are related to this painting?

Carnaval sur la plage by James Ensor

I don’t see any pitchers or gangsters in there. So how can those searches be related to the search I ran?

Well, if I cheated more, I might have noticed right away, because if you go to today’s puzzle, you’ll see that the clues for 94 Down and 21 Across are “Nickname for Ron Guidry” and “Mario Puzo sequel.” They’re related by the fact that they’re in the same puzzle.

I tried running searches based on other clues in the puzzle to see how much of the puzzle the engine had determined to have this relationship:

  • 4 Down: “My Fair Lady” composer returns related searches for Mario Puzo and Bad Moon Rising — the clue for 49 Down is “__ bad moon rising” – 1969 song lyric
  • 21 Across: Mario Puzo sequel returns related searches for Mario Puzo books and balalaikas — the clue for 22 Across is relatives of balalaikas
  • 22 Across: relatives of balalaikas returns no related searches
  • 54 Across: Chinese dynasty before the Shang and 103 Across: harmonica-like instrument both return related searches, but without any connection to the crossword
  • 42 Across: Chief city of Moravia and 48 Across: “Revelations” choreographer return no related searches

So apparently, Google hasn’t indexed the content of the puzzle and related every clue to it. Rather, it looks like it has detected a trend: someone searches on some of the clues, someone else searches on the same clues, someone else searches on some of those and a few others, and this all happens within a few hours, so Google determines that the searches are related to each other based on that, so when I come in and search on one of the clues, Google offers up some of the other searches that were run today by other people who ran that same search.

Interestingly, I’m finding that a search on the exact clue for 94 Down, Nickname for Ron Guidry, isn’t returning any related searches. That only comes up when I search on Ron Guidry nickname, which is the more likely search syntax, considering the absence of the stop word. (And by the way, the related searches now coming up for that one are now Mario Puzo sequel and state flowers — the latter being the theme of this week’s puzzle.)

Apparently, this is something new. A search for [google related searches crossword] didn’t give me any useful information, but I did locate a post from just over a week ago on the Official Google Blog: Two new improvements to Google results pages. Here’s some of the text from the post:

Starting today, we’re deploying a new technology that can better understand associations and concepts related to your search, and one of its first applications lets us offer you even more useful related searches (the terms found at the bottom, and sometimes at the top, of the search results page).

For example, if you search for [principles of physics], our algorithms understand that “angular momentum,” “special relativity,” “big bang” and “quantum mechanic” are related terms that could help you find what you need.

We are now able to target more queries, more languages, and make our suggestions more relevant to what you actually need to know. Additionally, we’re now offering refinements for longer queries — something that’s usually a challenging task. You’ll be able to see our new related searches starting today in 37 languages all around the world.

There’s nothing in there about tracking groups of searches over a short period of time and relating them to each other, but that seems to be what’s going on here.

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Body Modification Barbie

back of a Barbie dollIt seems everyone’s all up in arms over the fact that Barbie dolls now come with tattoos.

I don’t understand why they’re so upset. I’m no fan of tattoos, but they’re everywhere these days, so it just follows that they wouldn’t be the exclusive territory of Bratz. Admittedly, the “Ken” tramp stamp in the picture is kind of tacky, but you have to admit, the two of them have been together long enough that it’s hardly surprising.

Besides, these are removable tattoos, so if Babs ever dumps Ken in favor of G.I. Joe, she won’t even have to worry about getting the thing lasered off.

And it’s not as if Barbie’s gone and gotten herself pierced in the nipples or the genitals. Then again, you can’t pierce what you don’t have.

Personally, I find this tattoo controversy particularly hypocritical because people seem to be ignoring a far more serious issue. Take a closer look at Barbie’s back, above the tattoo.

back of Barbie doell with inset of closeup

She’s been branded!

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A Specter is Haunting Washington

Arlen SpecterI’m a little concerned about this business of Arlen Specter switching over to the Democratic party.

It’s clear why he’s jumping ship — he’s openly admitted it: the Republicans have moved far enough to the right that he can’t expect their support in a primary campaign, so he’d never make it to the general election (which he’d have a decent shot of winning) if he sought the Republican nomination.

And Obama and the Democrats are agreeing to this (and most likely telling him they’ll support him over any other Democratic candidates) because it means that he’ll be a little more cooperative with them over the next year, leading up to the election. They figure a Specter in the hand is worth two potential real progressives in the bush. (How’s that for a shredded maxim?)

Personally, I have my doubts about whether it’s worth it. Sure, if Specter was going to try to get his old party’s nomination, he’d have to take a giant step to the right, and that would mean the Democrats would get just about no cooperation from him over the next year, “independent record” or not. I think he knows that that wouldn’t be enough to convince the party base to keep him. He could pull a Lieberman and declare himself an independent. He may have been one of the three most moderate Republicans in the Senate, but that was still pretty far to the right of your average Democrat. Is this deal going to change any of his votes in the next year?

It seems to me he’s getting a lot more out of this deal than the rest of us are.

And there’s more to it than that. Let’s not forget that this is about Pennsyltucky, a place I’m personally not so quick to trust. Think about some of the people who currently represent the state:

Congressman Joe Sleestak, 7th District — that’s him with his son, Joe Jr.

Congressman Chaka Fattah, 2nd District

If you don’t see what I’m getting at, maybe this will help:

That’s right — I think Pennsyltucky may be the Land of the Lost. And if that’s the case, it’s unwise to make deals with any politicians from there. When he goes home on a routine campaign expedition, what are the odds that he’ll be eaten by a dinosaur? Hell, the whole state could be swept off to some distant time and place at any moment. What’s the DCCC supposed to do if that happens?

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A Cunning Plan

I’ve got a plan — a cunning plan.

I’m going to rob a bank.

I’m going to buy a gun on the black market and take it to a big, busy bank. I’m going to shoot the place up a bit and maybe take some hostages, just to show them I’m serious. And I’m going to get a lot of money. Cash money.

Is this a dangerous plan? Yeah, I suppose it is. Is it illegal? Don’t be so quick to answer. Wait until you hear what I’m going to do with all that money.

First off, I’m going to pay off a bunch of old credit card debt. That will free up the banks to loan that money to small businesses.

I’m going to take the rest of the money and spend it like there’s no tomorrow. I’ll walk into a store and just say, “Give me one of everything.” It won’t even matter what they sell. And I’ll give a bunch of money to someone else and tell them to do the same thing: just buy lots of stuff.

I bet the owner of that store is going to end up hiring one or two new employees after that.

Sure, I’ll have broken the law.

But results matter, right?

You can’t prosecute me if I help out the economy. I’m just serving my country.

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