Monday, December 7, 2015

Drive Time

Wow. . .

My Spartans are Big Ten champions, and earned a place in the 4-team national championship playoff, with a grueling victory in the conference championship game against Iowa Saturday night (and into Sunday morning).  That was one of the best football games I've seen in quite some time - just two really good, really solid, really strong teams going toe-to-toe for the full 60 minutes.  Another of those games that it's a shame one team has to lose.  Iowa came into the game undefeated, and while some made light of their schedule, I am never one to take lightly any team that hasn't lost a game, nor am I inclined to glibly predict that our team will be someone else's first loss.  I expected a tough, close, hard-fought game that would have my stomach in knots as the final minutes wound down, and in that expectation, I was not disappointed.

The Spartans won the game with a 22-play drive covering 82 yards, converting six first downs and using up over 9 minutes of time on the game clock, even with Iowa using their three time-outs along the way.  I mean, seriously - I don't think I've ever heard of a 22-play drive before; you couldn't use very many more plays than that, and still keep the chains moving.  I haven't seen a complete play-by-play transcript of The Drive, but off the top of my head, I can't think of any set of downs that was converted before third down, and we converted at least one fourth down.  It seemed every time we made another first down, it was by inches, rather than yards.  I'm almost as exhausted just from watching it, as the players were who executed it (of course, they're in much better physical condition than I am).

The final few plays of the drive were a high drama of sheer will.  We converted a fourth down by the length of the football, on the 3-yard line (after getting absolutely stuffed on third down), and then it took us three plays to score the winning touchdown (our only touchdown of the game) starting from first-and-goal at the three-yard-line.  On the winning score, it looked for all the world like our runner was stopped inches short of the goal line, but by some superhuman second effort, the runner surged again, stuck his hand out with the ball in it, and scored with 27 seconds left on the clock.  Just incredible.

(And I should give a special mention to the runner, LJ Scott, who will certainly go down in Spartan lore; I don't think I've ever seen a runner get so many yards on second effort, after he'd been, to all appearances, stopped dead in his tracks.  I'm a little in awe that he's a true freshman; I shudder to think of him, a year ago, playing against high school guys like my son.)

I tip my hat to the Hawkeyes; that was a really, REALLY good team, there, and it's not hard to see how they came into the game undefeated.  Their defense gave us darn little, and even by the fourth quarter, when our offensive line started to get it rolling a bit, we were getting three yards and four, not eight or ten.  And I don't think I've ever seen a defensive backfield knock so many passes out of the hands of receivers at the last instant.  And my goodness, when did Kirk Ferentz (the Iowa coach) become such a wide-open, go-for-broke coach?  There was a stretch early in the fourth quarter, where they passed deep on three plays out of five, including a picture-perfect (if you're an Iowa fan) 85-yard touchdown that put us in the position of needing a long drive to the winning score in the first place.  So hats off to our more-than-worthy opponents.

So now, we go on to the 4-team National Championship playoff.  Our first opponent is Alabama, which ought to be interesting enough, even if their coach hadn't been our coach once upon a time, and won four national championships at two schools since he left us.  I think we've gotten past wishing he was still our coach; Mark D'Antonio has had more success at MSU than Nick Saban ever did.  So God bless you, coach; we're doing just fine, thanks.  We played the Tide in a Citrus Bowl back in 2010, and they fairly well handed us our asses.  But I'm pretty sure we're a better team now than we were then.  Besides, our friends from Ohio State beat them in last year's playoff, and we've won two of our last three against the Buckeyes.  Which is to say, I expect it to be a competitive game, and I'm not conceding anything to our Southeastern friends; win or lose, they will know they've been in a football game.

And besides all that, our basketball team is #1, and looking as good as any team we've ever had.  Good times to be a Spartan, let me tell you. . .

Monday, November 23, 2015

No Time

Well, my Spartans did it again, winning our game over the weekend against the (previously) undefeated defending national champions; in Columbus, no less.  The Las Vegas types had installed us as 14-point underdogs, which, considering that we were ranked in the Top Ten going into the game, was a pretty stunning spread.  Suffice it to say, we weren't widely expected to win.

But win we did.  The final score was 17-14 in our favor, and we didn't actually hold the lead until the field goal that won the game on the final play.  But honestly, we fairly dominated the game, pretty much from start to finish.  If we hadn't turned the ball over twice, they might not have scored at all.

[As an aside, I didn't get to actually watch much of the game; 7M's high school team was playing in the state semi-finals an hour's drive from OurTown (or, it would normally be an hour's drive; in five inches of snow, it became more like two, at least on the homeward leg), and Jenn and I went to watch that.  Alas, they lost; their game was closer and more competitive than the final score would indicate, but our kids just made too many mistakes against a really good team (memo to the opposing coach - when you're ahead by 22 with 3 minutes to play, and you run a trick play to score again, that's. . . how shall I say it? . . . a real no-class move; I'd like to use more, um, colorful language, but you know, just sayin').]

So we only got to see the 4th quarter of the Spartan game on TV.  And I was just stunned to see our offensive line getting a 2-yard push on virtually every snap.  You're not supposed to be able to do that to the mighty Buckeyes, but there it was.

Since Urban Meyer has been the Ohio State coach, his Buckeyes have lost exactly two conference games - two years ago in the league championship game, to my Spartans, and now this past weekend, their first regular-season loss in the Big Ten under coach Meyer (over nearly four full seasons!), again to my Spartans.  Memo to the other twelve teams in the Big Ten - come on, you guys, somebody besides us has to figure out how to beat these guys. . .

So now, possibilities open up for us, just a bit.  If we win our game next Saturday, we'll be Big Ten East Division champs, and then we'll play Iowa for the overall league championship.  If we win that, we stand a decent chance of getting an invite to the 4-team national championship playoff (and if we hadn't sleep-walked our way to a loss at Nebraska, it would be more than merely a 'decent' chance; *sigh*).  So, woo-hoo!, and all that. . .

And then there's this fascinating little tidbit from our two big rivalry-game wins this season - we beat both Michigan and Ohio State, and in those two games combined, the total amount of time that my Spartans were actually in the lead was - exactly zero.  We never led either game, until the winning points were scored on the final play of the game. . .

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Fun With Fractions

Bijoux will like this one. . .

Recently, I got a letter from one of the oil companies with whom I hold a credit card.  They were returning my check to me because their bank had returned it to them, saying that the amount of the check was not clear, and would I please send them a replacement check?  WTH??  They helpfully included the offensive check with their correspondence, so I could see for myself the nature of the confusion.  The amount I owed was $5.75 (we use pre-paid cards for 99% of our gas purchases; but every so often, we run out on the pre-paid card before we can reload it, so we end up putting small amounts on the credit card).  And, in the box on the check, I had duly entered '5.75'.  But - horror of horrors! - on the amount line, I had written 'Five and three-quarters', rather than the 'canonical' form of 'Five and 75/100'.  Because, you know, sometimes you just want to have a little fun (and honestly, as fun goes, this ain't so much as all that) and do things a little bit differently, 'cuz that's just how I roll, sometimes.  Anyhow, this was 'unclear' to the bank, so they returned my check to the oil company, and what was the oil company supposed to do?  They just want their $5.75, and I want to give it to them.  But the bankers were being obtuse morons (I'd like to say they were being anal-retentive obtuse morons, because of how it connotes infantile toilet-training issues, and it sounds like I'm indirectly calling them a**holes; but I won't. . .)

So I sent them their replacement check (with 'Five and seventy-five hundredths' on the amount line) (I know, I know. . .), along with a photocopy of their letter to me, on which I had copied a quarter (you know, a 25-cent coin), and circled the words 'quarter dollar' on the face of the coin.  In a hand-written note, I said that they should consider changing banks to one which wasn't so easily confused as to whether 'three-quarters' was the same thing as '.75' or not, and the nature of the currency in which they trade, since the bank's stupidity had cost both of us time and aggravation.  Over five bucks - and three quarters. . .

If I knew which bank it was, I'd happily tell the world, but I don't.

Morons. . .


Which reminds of a similar anecdote from several years ago.  I was at the post office.  I don't remember exactly what my business there was; probably I was mailing a package that needed to be weighed, or picking up a package with postage due, or somesuch.  Anyway, the amount I owed was X dollars and 60 cents.  So, in a similarly whimsical mood, I wrote a check for 'X and three-fifths' and handed it to the clerk, along with my ID.  The clerk stared at the check with a withering scowl.  "Three-fifths?" he asked, glaring back at me.  "Why did you write 'three-fifths'?"  Without waiting for my answer, he turned to a woman who I took to be his supervisor, and asked her, "Can he DO that?  Three-fifths?"  The supervisor looked at the check for several seconds, then at me, then back at the check, without saying a word.

At this point, the other folks in line are glaring at me, like, 'What kind of troublemaker are you?  We're all here, just trying to get our packages mailed, and you're causing trouble and holding up the line.  Jerk.'  And I'm wondering if I'm going to need to dive under the marble countertop, 'cuz, you know, here was a postal worker, and he was getting agitated.  I'm sure I was messing up his throughput metrics, and causing trouble for him with his boss.  And all because some flight of fancy had induced me to write 'three-fifths' on my check.

Finally, the boss sighed, gave me another sneering glance, and said, "I guess that 'three-fifths' is the same as 60 cents," and shot me a final 'it's-people-like-you-that-make-guys-like-him-start-shooting' glance.  And everyone else in line breathed easier, and I went on my way, duly chastened.  And I resolved that I wouldn't deal in fifths of dollars anymore (I won't even mention the twenty-cent piece that circulated in the four years 1875-78 - one of the design proposals actually said '1/5 of a dollar' on the back - 'cuz that would only confuse things).

But I will still occasionally, when the right sort of mercurial mischief (or maybe it's the wrong sort) overtakes me, write 'tenths' or 'quarters', or 'one-half' since, you know, those fractions correspond to actual values on the coinage of the realm. . .


Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Miracle in Ann Arbor

This morning, during the announcements before Mass, our priest, Father Steve, made the following announcement:

"In honor of yesterday's Miracle in Ann Arbor, all Catholic priests around the world will be wearing Green and White vestments today."

(It was a joke, right?  See, according to the Liturgical Calendar, this is 'Ordinary Time' - which covers something like 33 weeks of the year, and during Ordinary Time, vestments and altar coverings are green; I'm pretty sure it had nothing to do with yesterday's events in Ann Arbor, no matter how miraculous.) (Pretty sure. . .)

But. . . Hoe. . . Lee. . . Crapp. . . It WAS kinda miraculous.  At least, if you're a Spartan like me.  Folks from our Sister Institution down the road might see it in more nightmarish terms. . .

I won't spend much time rehashing the final play of the game; you can go here to see it.  Suffice it to say that we were 10 seconds away from losing to our hated rivals, but. . . a miracle happened, and we beat them for the 7th time in the last 8 times we've played.  As to the play itself, everything had to happen just as it did, or we don't win the game.  If any single thing went differently, we lose (as the final play was being lined up, The ESPN Win Probability Tracker had our odds of winning at 0.02% - 1 in 5000).  And this wasn't a last-second trick play, or anything that the Spartans planned or designed; it was a pure, gratuitous gift from (I'm tempted to say Heaven; I don't really like references to 'the football gods'). . . well, it was a gift.  

I feel for the Michigan punter, I really do.  He'll take way more crap than he deserves over it (in fact, the Facebook/Twitter trolls have already been pretty vicious toward the kid, which is reprehensible in the extreme).  The fact is, it was a classic game between two pretty darn good teams; a great game (say it with me) if you didn't care who won.  But I did care, and so did a whole lot of people in my state, which only added to the intensity.

I will take the win, and the year's worth of alumni/institutional bragging rights.  But I know (and I want you all to know that I know) that there is NO ultimate significance inhering to this football game.  Good and Evil aren't at stake (well, maybe just a little bit) (I'm kidding!!), and nobody (I hope) is going to Heaven or Hell over the outcome (there were reports of a fan being taken from the stadium after the game, having suffered an apparent heart attack; no reports on whether his soul was in a state of grace or not).

But yeah, I'll take it. . . Oh, yeah, I'll definitely take it. . .

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Marking Time

My previous post got me to thinking. . .

There aren't any separate, uniquely 'metric' units of time - folks who use metric units to measure distance, mass, volume, speed, force, pressure, etc, etc, use the same seconds, minutes, hours, days, etc, as the rest of us.  And just as well, I'm sure; 24-hour days, and hours divided into 60 minutes of 60 seconds each are pretty well ingrained in us at a pretty fundamental, intuitive level.  But even so, it got me to thinking about how we measure time. . .

Just like the meter is marked off from the dimensions of the earth, the fundamental unit of time on all sorts of levels is the day - sunrise, sunset, 'the evening and the morning - one day'.  Our bodies are dialed into this daily rhythm of light and darkness on fundamental levels.  All things being equal, we're synched-up with the rotation of the earth on its axis, waking with the sunrise and sleeping during the hours of darkness (I once read a fascinating article discussing the 'daily rhythms' of people who get 'decoupled' from the 24-hour cycle - astronauts, crews of nuclear submarines, a few deep miners who spend long periods underground - and, left to themselves, they tended to settle into a 'day' of roughly 26 hours, give-or-take; so even when you take us out of the direct rhythm of light and darkness, our bodies don't want to vary all that much from what sunrise and sunset would 'impose' on us anyway).

I suppose there's nothing sacred about dividing a day into 24 hours, hours into 60 minutes, and minutes into 60 seconds (a direct 'analog' of how we divide angles, which seems somehow appropriate).  I mean, if we say that there are 86,400 seconds in a day, we could as easily divide a day into 100,000 small parts that wouldn't be very different from seconds, then collect 100 of these 'metric seconds' into 'metric minutes', 100 'metric minutes' into a 'metric hour', and then a day would be 10 'metric hours', and we'd have all the nice multiples of 10 that metric freaks are so fond of.  A work day could be 3.5 'metric hours', and so on.  But. . . why???

When we go bigger than days, we get into some fascinating stuff.  At the level above days, there are two more-or-less 'fundamental' measures of time - the year, marking off a complete revolution of the earth on its orbit around the sun, and the month, marking off the cycle of the phases of the moon. Neither is as 'fundamental' to our lives as the day, but both have rhythms of their own.  Especially in 'temperate' climates like ours, the year manifests itself in the passage of the seasons, cold winters and warm summers, longer and shorter periods of daylight and darkness (solstices and equinoxes), the cycles of growth and dormancy of plant life (most especially crops), etc, etc.  So the year has an intuitive rhythm to it, to the point that we count our own life spans in terms of it.  (I suppose, if I were 'King of the World', that I'd align the months with the solstices and equinoxes, so that the solstices and equinoxes were always the first of the month, and the winter solstice would be New Year's Day; but I'm not, and aren't you glad?)

The month seems less 'fundamental' than the year, but there is no denying the simple visual progression of the phases of the moon,  And those of us who live near the ocean are at least somewhat aware of the cycle of the tides.  Even something as 'bodily' as women's fertility cycles seems at least coincidentally (if not causally, and I can't imagine how it could be; but what do I know?) 'synched-up' with the phases of the moon.

The thing is, neither years nor months match up very cleanly with days.  A year is about 365-1/4 days, so as far back as the ancient Romans, folks would add an extra day to the calendar every four years, to get things 'lined back up' (the Gregorian calendar we use today removes three leap years every 400 from the Julian calendar, since the actual number of days in a year is closer to 365.2425).

Things are similarly 'messy' when we take a look at months.  The lunar phases complete a cycle in about 29.5 days.  Which means that there are more than 12 lunar cycles in a year (but less than 13, so whatchagonnado?).  On a 'solar' calendar like the one we're familiar with, the year is regarded as 'fundamental', and months are more-or-less 'arbitrary' - we divide the year into 12 months of 30-31 days ("excepting February, which alone has 28"), without regard to where the phases of the moon fall, so the full moon might fall (as it does this year) on the 29th of August, then the 28th of September (30 days later), and then the 27th of October (29 days later).  The phases of the moon have no necessary relationship to the day of the month, so they will 'drift' from month to month.

Some cultures have used 'lunar' calendars, in which the month is taken as 'fundamental' - the new moon, say, is always the 1st of the month - and years are adjusted around the progression of months.  For example, in the Hebrew calendar, there is a 19-year cycle of twelve 12-month years, and seven 13-month years (months alternate between 29 and 30 days), since 19 years contain very close to exactly 235 lunar cycles.  So, rather than adding a 'leap day' once every four years, the ancient Jews would add a 'leap month' seven out of every 19 years.  Different, but it still works out reasonably cleanly.

"But," I hear some of you saying, "what about weeks?"  To which I reply - I have no freakin' idea.  The Bible roots the seven-day cycle in Creation itself.  But virtually all ancient civilizations have some manner of the seven-day cycle built into themselves, whether they ever met a Jew or Christian, or not.  Which I find fascinating. . .

So there you have it.  Not quite as grandiose as Stephen Hawking's Brief History of Time, but I hope you've gotten at least some meager (or meagre, if you're the Brighton Pensioner) bit of enjoyment from it. . .

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Meters and Liters and Grams, Oh My!

I recently stumbled across an article about the Metric System.  In particular, Americans' resistance to it.  I've always found our collective national reluctance to adopt things metric to be a little bit. . . I dunno. . . odd.  I mean, what does it matter, really, whether it's 3 miles to the next town, or 5 kilometers?  Although I suppose it could get a little strange in places like suburban Detroit, where the main roads are named 15-Mile, 16-Mile, etc.  Would they have to change them to 24-Kilometer, 25.6-Kilometer, etc?  Would Eminem have to change the name of his movie to 12.8 Kilometer?  And I suppose nobody wants to hear Mary Poppins sing about 5 milliliters of sugar. . .

I suppose it's mainly a matter of what you're comfortable with.  We've all honed our sense of inches and feet since we were small, and we know what a pound is, or a gallon, and this metric stuff just seems weird, and not worth the effort.  Plus, I think some of the 'metrification' initiatives from back in the 70s/80s were kind-of heavy-handed, and inspired resistance just by pushing too hard.  But I also suspect that some of our national resistance to metric-ness is akin to why lots of us don't like soccer - it's something 'Foreigners' do, and dammit, we're Americans, and nobody is gonna make us do stuff like they do in the rest of the world, because, dammit, we're Americans, and we can do as we damn well please, and screw the rest of the world.  Dammit.

Most people don't know it, but the metric system isn't just arbitrary; it's based on the dimensions of the earth itself - by definition, there are 10,000 kilometers along a standard meridian from the equator to the poles. Which, I dunno, seems more reasonable than counting barleycorns, or keeping track of the king's nose, or whatever. And liters are derived from meters (a liter is 1000 cubic centimers, if you were wondering).  And a gram is the weight of a cubic centimeter of water.  And so forth.  I mean, heck, in Celsius (which are like 'metric degrees'), water freezes at 0 degrees, and boils at 100 degrees; does anybody even know what 32 and 212 are all about? I sure don't. . .

I've always smiled wryly at the notion that 'Americans don't do metric', anyway.  You see, I work as an engineer in the automotive industry.  From the day I walked off my college campus and into my first cubicle 30-odd years ago, I have never done my job with an inch, a pound, or a foot.  All your cars, whether domestic or imported, are designed and developed by engineers thinking and measuring in millimeters, kilograms, liters and Celsius.  Really.  Unless, you know, you're driving some American iron from the 60s or earlier.  In which case, the people from the Woodward Dream Cruise would like to hear from you.  And us engineers know (and nobody else wants to hear) that metric units are a lot easier to use, calculationally speaking.  It's true.

Truth to tell, you've already adopted more metric than you probably think you have.  How natural does it feel to buy a 2-liter of pop (that's soda for you non-midwesterners)?  Even so, a few years back, a local dairy in OurTown tried to sell milk in 4-liter jugs, 5% more milk, for the same price as a gallon.  And people simply wouldn't buy the 4-liters; I'll be darned if I can figure out why.  Alcoholic beverages are typically sold in 750 ml bottles (although you probably think of it as a fifth).  Track and field (and swimming, for what it's worth) events haven't been run in yard or mile distances in decades; we're used to hearing about 5k and 10k runs, and we know that a 100-meter time below 10 seconds is faster than hell.  Even the jumping (high jump, long jump, pole vault) and throwing (shot put, discus, javelin) records are 'officially' kept in metric distances, while being duly translated into feet and inches for American audiences (years ago, Javier Sotomayor, the Cuban high-jumper, asked that the bar be set at 2.44 meters because he knew the Americans would flip out over 8 feet).   And I won't say anything at all about, say, grams of cocaine. . .

Heck, some metric stuff is just plain more fun.  If you've ever driven in Canada, wasn't it fun to go 120 on the freeway (of course, if you're a typical Yank, and the sign says '120', you went 130, didn't you)?  All you 210-pound folks would become 95-kilos, and doesn't that just sound better?  I'm 5 feet, 11 inches tall, which is frustratingly just short of 6 feet; but in metric, I'm 180 centimeters, which is just more satisfying.  And eight inches (actually 7-7/8) becomes 20 centimeters.  For those of you to whom that matters. . .

Now, before anybody sets out to firebomb my house with a 2-liter Molotov cocktail, let me stress that I'm not proposing that anybody force anybody else to adopt metric.  If and when it happens, it will happen because people adopt it naturally, and 'organically'.  All I'm saying is that, in lots of ways, metric units are easier to use than the 'English' units we've grown up with, and there's really nothing to be afraid of.  Just like 2-liters of pop, you get used to 'em, and it really doesn't take all that much effort to 're-calibrate'.  But I'm not holding my breath. . .


And, on a completely different line of thought. . .

A week ago today was Jenn's-and-my 35th anniversary (and hey, at least there aren't separate 'metric' units of time, right?).  I can scarcely express the depth of my gratitude to my Best Beloved; my life is incredibly richer for having her in it.

Thank you, Sweetheart, from the bottom of my heart.  Further up and further in!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Stuff My Dad Said. . .

As you may have noticed, my bloggerly motivation has been pretty seriously on the wane in recent weeks.  I could say that I've been busy, and that would be (mostly) true.  But I could also say that my bloggity muse has been in seriously deep hibernation, and that would also be true.  So, rather than subject you all to mediocre forced ramblings (even more mediocre and forced than usual), I've gone into dormancy.

But, as you may also have noticed, I have, occasionally in the past, grabbed a comment I left on someone else's blog, and turned it into a post of my own, if I thought it was reasonably worthwhile.  And such is the case with this post.  My friend Bijoux recently put up a post, in honor of Father's Day, about weird stuff her dad used to say, and I left a comment there, which was more-or-less the kind of thing that I might post here on my own blog.  Since it's been almost four years since my dad died, and I'm all about honoring his memory (you can go here, for something more like actual, bona fide honoring), I'll reprise my comments to her post for you all here (or, you could just go drop in on Bijoux; she gives better party than I do. . .)


Everybody's dad, it seems, has a few 'signature phrases' - little oddball things that he says that end up sticking in our minds as uniquely his, and which we carry with us, most probably to reprise them on our own kids.

My friend Bijoux posted recently, in honor of Father's Day, about a few of her dad's favorites, including "That's for me to know, and you to find out," which was one of my dad's signature bits, as well.

Forthwith, a brief sampler of some of his other favorites -

'half-assed' - shoddy or careless work; usually how I was judged to have mowed the lawn

If he was getting annoyed by a barrage of questions asking 'Why?', he'd just answer with, "To make little boys ask questions."

Or, if I was whining/crying for no good reason - "If you don't stop it, I'll give you something to cry about."

A generic expression of surprise - "Holy mackerel, Andy!" (which, when he said it, came out sounding like two words - 'Holy mackrelandy').  I found out later that the phrase was a signature bit from the old Amos 'n' Andy radio show ('cuz when Dad was a boy, they didn't have TV).

And the ever-popular "running around like a chicken with your head cut off," when we were being aimlessly energetic, as kids will be, sometimes (This one always confused me, until I saw a video clip of chickens being butchered, and I saw how the headless chickens would run aimlessly, expending the last remnants of their life-force; Dad grew up on a farm, and was quite familiar with the phenomenon).

And the man couldn't remotely carry a tune in a basket (seriously, he had absolutely zero musical sense; maybe even negative), but he had a favorite ditty, probably from his Army days, that he'd regularly cut loose with, most likely after a few beers -

I'm a rambler, I'm a gambler, I'm a long way from home,
And if people don't like me, they can leave me alone.
I'll eat when I'm hungry and drink when I'm dry,
And if somebody don't shoot me, I'll live 'til I die.


So, those are some of my endearing memories of my dad.  Feel free to add your own below. . .

And, Happy Father's Day, to those of you fathers among my readers.  I will leave you with a saying that Jenn and I used to have on matching His-n-Hers, Mom-n-Dad sweatshirts:

If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy;
If Daddy ain't happy, ain't nobody cares. . .

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Middle School English Class. . .

8M, a 7th-grader about to turn 13, is having a lot of fun in his English class, just lately.  They're doing a unit on Poetry; his English teacher is a young woman who looks like she might not be much older than Middle School herself.  She's wonderfully creative, and puts across real joy and love for her subject, of which 8M, at least, seems to have caught a most virulent case.

She had them memorize two poems of their own choice.  8M asked Jenn and me what our favorite poems were; I told him Lewis Carroll's 'Jabberwocky' and Poe's 'The Bells' (inveterate lover of wordplay that I am; I thought about giving him 'I Am the Walrus', but wasn't sure if that would count as an actual poem).  Jenn gave him Rudyard Kipling's 'If'.  So the three of us spent a couple weeks memorizing all three poems, and had great fun doing so.

The class held a 'tournament' of everyone's favorite poems.  The teacher paired off the poems, and the class voted on which one of each pair they liked, one round every day.  Alas, 8M's poems were eliminated fairly early (evidently, our predilection for whimsical wordplay is not widely shared; pity).  The ultimate winner was a limerick by Ogden Nash (which seems about right for a middle school class):

A flea and a fly in a flue
Were imprisoned, so what could they do?
     Said the fly, "Let us flee!"
     "Let us fly!" said the flea.
So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

I love limericks. . .

Another recent assignment asked 8M to write a statement describing himself in three words.  He wrote, "I am a rebel," and showed if to 6F, who was standing nearby.  She looked at it and said, "But that's four words."  8M just looked at her, grinning. . .

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Seven Stanzas at Easter

Seven Stanzas at Easter by John Updike
(yes, that John Updike) (really)

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell's dissolution did not reverse,
          the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths
          and fuddled eyes of the
Eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That - pierced - died, withered,
          paused and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable,
          a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages;
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality
          that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck's quanta,
          vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour,
          we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Did Not See This Coming. . .

I almost hate to break into Holy Week with something so mundane as my sporting interests, but. . .

My Spartans are back in the Final Four, for the seventh time in Coach Izzo's 20-year tenure.  This has got to be the most improbable of all his Final Fours, or any of the others in the history of my alma mater (both of 'em).  We graduated a decorated group of players from last year's team, and this had all the earmarks of a rebuilding season.  We just didn't have the kind of players that make deep tournament runs (I mean, heck, we lost to Texas Southern in December - at home!).  Even as late as February, there were serious questions as to whether our string of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances (this is our 18th) would be coming to an end this year.  But things came together in the waning weeks of the season, and we made a solid showing in the conference tournament.

We got a 7th seed in the NCAAs, which seemed a tad low, by the time we got there (but only a tad; I thought we deserved a 6th seed, or maybe a 5th).  We duly won our first round game, and then threw a complete defensive blanket over Virginia, a highly-ranked team who won the regular-season championship of the vaunted ACC.  In the next two rounds, we came from behind in both games to pull out gritty, hard-fought victories.

And now we are in the Final Four.  Again.  We play Duke this Saturday, and we don't exactly have a long track record of success against them (Coach Izzo's teams have beaten Duke exactly once in nine tries); and they hung a ten-point loss on us back in November, just to reinforce the point.  But, you know, that was then, and this is now.  And even if we should somehow beat the Dookies, Kentucky is looming, and the conventional wisdom says that nobody can beat Kentucky this year.  But, you know, once you get to the rarefied air of the Final Four, you never know what might happen.  And no matter what happens, it's been a heckuva ride already.  So, we shall see what we shall see. . .


And, just for fun, there's this. . .

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Lest There Be Any Illusions. . .

This is what the Mediterranean Sea looked like in the aftermath of the 21 Coptic Martyrs.

"With their minds fixed on Christ, they despised the tortures of this world and purchased eternal life at the cost of one hour". . . (from The Martyrdom of Polycarp, 2nd century AD)

"Do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell."  (The Gospel According to St. Matthew; chapter 10, verse 28)

Or, as Tertullian might have said, way back in the 3rd century - seed for the gospel, right there. . .

And I am still a Nazarene. . .

Sunday, March 22, 2015

As the Ruin Falls

This poem by CS Lewis has long been one of my favorites.  It is a very 'Lenten' poem, and I offer it to you all, apropos of the season. . .


As the Ruin Falls by CS Lewis

All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, reassurance, pleasure are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin;
I talk of love - a scholar's parrot may talk Greek -
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack,
I see the chasm.  And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man.  And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls.  The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Taking It to the Most Basic Level. . .

"How do I know pornography depraves and corrupts? It depraves and corrupts me."
      ~ Malcolm Muggerridge

Me too, man. . . me too. . .

And then there's this. . .

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Wisdom of Einstein. . .

I really don't intend to turn this into a Xavierian clearing-house of humorous pictures and sayings, but this stuff is too good to pass up. . .

(Hat tip to The TOF Spot)


Often, when I leave a comment on another blog that I particularly like, I'll just save it, and turn it into its own post at a later date.  This seems to happen particularly often with comments I leave at Suldog's place; his mind and mine seem to resonate in some very, um, fertile ways.  Just recently, I left some particularly, shall we say colorful comments to a post of his, which I probably won't be posting here; a man's got his standards (and his wife reads this sometimes).  So, if you really wanna read 'em, you can find 'em here (scroll down to read the comments) (or, you know, read Suldog's post, and then, there you'll be). . .  You can thank me later.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Belated Happy Presidents Day to You All. . .

When I was a kid, we didn't have Presidents Day; we had separate observances for Lincoln's (Feb12) and Washington's (Feb22) birthdays.  It seemed like a bit of a ripoff (and honestly, kinda disrespectful) when they folded them together into a single holiday, lumping the two great men together with Chester A. Arthur and Warren G. Harding (among, you know, others). . .

Anyway, I know that Presidents Day was last week, but I just found this:

(Hat tip to The TOF Spot)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

It Be Like That, Sometimes. . .

Wishing a spiritually prosperous Lent to all my friends. . .

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Something Borrowed. . .

In honor of Valentine's Day, I'm borrowing this from something my friend Skip posted a few weeks ago; it's Number 8 on a list of Nine Important Facts to Remember as You Get Older, and it's just way too good for me to pass up. . .


Life is sexually transmitted.


Yup, that fits with our experience, fersure. . .

But seriously. . . way more there than meets the eye, and on so many levels. . .

Or at least, so it seems to me. . .

Thanks, Skip


In other news, Jenn and I are spending the weekend in a city an hour-and-a-half away from Our Town, helping to put on a marriage retreat.  Which seems suitably apropos of St. Valentine's feast day, in its own way. . .

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Tales From The Blizzard of '78 (Michigan version)

Given the recent winter weather, both here in OurTown, and (more prominently in the news) elsewhere, it seems a fitting moment to recall some winter-weather stories.  My friend Suldog has, on a couple of occasions,including just recently, posted about a massive snowstorm that whacked the New England area in February of 1978.

Well, we had a Blizzard of '78 here in Michigan, too, but ours was a week or two earlier, in mid/late January.  We got 18 inches of snow, and it pretty much shut down the southern half of the State of Michigan for a couple days.  The following October, the local birthrate was 30% higher than normal ('cuz, you know, you can only play so many games of Monopoly, right?).  And so, I offer you a few stories from the Blizzard of '78, mainly kluged together from comments I've left on other people's blogs (mainly Suldog's). . .


The massive snowfall forced my mega-university to close for only the second time in its history. And one should never underestimate the capacity of college students, whose classes have been cancelled, for some monumental feats of stupidity.

A group of guys on the top floor of our four-story dorm decided (with plenty of, uh, ‘lubrication’, you can be sure) that it would be really cool to jump out of their windows into the 8-10-foot-high snow drifts that had piled up against the wall. So, for an hour or so, guys were lining up to jump out of 4th-floor windows into the huge snow drift. They would let out a yell while they fell, and then they’d land with a muffled ‘WHUMP’ as they belly-flopped into the snow. And, wondrously to behold (heck, maybe miraculously; that whole bit about how God protects drunks and fools, and all that), the snow absorbed the energy of their fall quite nicely. The drift extended all along the outside wall of the dorm, so, as the drift got beaten down in one location, the jumpers just moved progressively down to the other rooms on the 4th floor. After a while, the supply of willing jumpers began to dwindle, and they started to grab guys out of the shower, to throw them, wet and naked, into the snow drift below. It was the very picture of drunken college hijinks.

Until one of the jumpers inadvertently discovered the bike rack concealed beneath the snow drift, which left him with a few broken bones. After that, the mood was kinda killed. . .


Being college students with a couple of serendipitously unscheduled days off, my roommate and I decided to go off in search of suitable convivial beverages (and in sufficient quantities). . .

We first headed to the small 7-11-type store across from our dorm, but there was a line out the door, snaking back-and-forth across the parking lot, then through all the aisles in the store, back to the beer fridge, and up to the registers.  The store was rationing beer to one 6-pack per customer, so everyone could get some, and even at that, it was likely that they would be sold out before we made our way back to the fridge.

So we decided to start hoofing it thru the 18-inch deep snow (drifted considerably deeper in spots, you can be sure), toward the larger town to the west of the college town (known to all my blog-friends as OurTown; the college town, being to the east of the larger town to the west, is East OurTown), having nothing particularly better to do for the next couple hours, anyway (walking into a raging blizzard, through thigh-deep snow with no particular plan beyond knowing we wanted to procure beer; good thinking, right?)

About 3/4 of a mile from our dorm, a stone's throw past the freeway underpass that loosely marks the boundary between OurTown and East OurTown, we found another, even smaller, hole-in-the-wall party store that managed to open that day, so we went in and asked the clerk how much beer he'd let us buy. Well, he was far enough from campus that he felt no need to ration his beer sales, and he told us he'd sell us whatever we could pay for. So we pooled our pocket cash, and managed to scrape together enough to buy two cases, and we started hoofing it back to the dorm, only now we each had a case of beer to lug thru the snowdrifts (a thumbnail calculation reveals that we were each carrying about 18 pounds of beer alone, saying nothing of the weight of the cans or the packaging; so it was a not-inconsiderable load, even if we weren't trudging through waist-deep snow) (But, you know, the beer must get through!). After a while, a guy with a 4-wheel-drive Jeep came along, and seeing how we were struggling through the snow with our barley-malt burden, graciously offered to drive us back to the dorm, if each of us gave him one can of beer.  Hmmmmm (rubbing our snow-encrusted chins as we weighed his offer). . . OK!

So, that night, we were the hosts of the floor blizzard party, since between us, we had almost eight times as much beer as anyone else. . .

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy New Year!

At least, for those of us denizens of Spartan Nation, it was (my apologies to those of my friends who are sports-disinclined; this will be my last sporting post for a while; I promise).

Against all odds, we won our Cotton Bowl game against the Battling Baptists of Baylor University.  The final score was 42-41, but going into the fourth quarter we were behind 41-21, and we hadn't looked very good getting there.  For that matter, even given the 21-0 differential in our favor for the final quarter, we didn't look all that good, even then.  So many things had to tilt our way, even just to keep us in the game long enough not to lose it.  Baylor had to miss a field goal (off the upright!) early in the quarter, which would have put the game out of reach.  So when we drove the field to pull within 41-28 with 12 minutes remaining, we still had hopes of winning.

We recovered an onside kick, but then a couple plays later, our quarterback threw the most gawd-awful interception I think I've ever seen (this was far beyond the realms of 'what the hell was he thinking?', WAY past 'what the hell was THAT?'; it was just. . . gawd-awful. . .), which was duly returned 85 yards for the clinching touchdown against us.  But wait, the referee is speaking on-camera - "illegal block in the back".  So, no touchdown against us, just yet; we're still only down 13.  Still and all, we failed to score, we lost the ball, and Baylor's offense, which we never really stopped all day, had the ball again.  But Baylor turned the ball back over to us on downs, failing on a 4th-and-2 at our 40-yard line, and this time, we drove the field and scored again, with about 5 minutes left, cutting the margin to 41-35.

Once again, Baylor began marching up the field, eventually lining up for a field goal attempt with just over a minute left, which, if they made it, would put them up nine points, and make it all but impossible for us to score twice with a minute left to play (Just before the field-goal attempt, ESPN's Win Probability Tracker gave the Spartans a 0.4% chance of winning - 1 in 250).  But we blocked the field goal, and returned the block to the Baylor 45-yard line.  Our QB continued his erratic play, badly missing a couple wide-open receivers, but completing just enough passes to keep the drive alive (converting once on 4th-and-10).  We finally scored the tying touchdown with 17 seconds left, and the extra point gave us our only lead of the second half.  Baylor got the ball back, but we sacked their quarterback twice, and intercepted his 3rd-down pass to seal the victory.

Looking back at the game, I still don't quite know how we won it.  Baylor threw for over 600 passing yards, completing over 70% of their passes.  Bryce Petty, their quarterback, was amazing all night long, threading passes through tiny openings to incredibly fast receivers.  Our defense, which has been the hallmark of our excellence in recent years, seemed to have no answers for him.  But late in the game, we found ways to stop them, or at least, slow them down, just enough to get lucky and win the game.  Unbelievable.  One of the most incredible never-say-die games I've ever seen, even if I didn't care who won.  Which, however, I did.  Go Green!

And then, in the evening's playoff games, Oregon beat Florida State, and Ohio State upset Alabama.  So, the only two teams to beat us all year will be playing each other for the national championship.  Does that make us Number Three?


Here we are in 2015, and we still don't have any snow to speak of in OurTown.  I've been able to ride outdoors right up to the present, even getting in 10 miles on December 30th, before the sub-freezing temperatures just made my toes hurt.  I ended with 74 miles in December (I've never even had half that before), and 1110 for the year 2014.  Funny to think that I was sweating getting to four digits a month ago, and ended up going over 100 miles past that.  Heck, this afternoon, I'm going out for my first 10 miles of the New Year, so 2015 is already well-begun.