The Futility of Policy

If you are fan of anything sportsing, you know the anxiety of blown officiating calls, but lately, the agony of video replay has become unbearable, a system which satisfies only a vocal party within the sportsing community affectionately known as the “Get It Right Crowd” (GIRC). These nerds will rest at nothing to establish a policy or series of policies or layers of policies to somehow ensure sportsing fans that the sportsing officiating calls are regulated and correct, and corrected if they are not correct on the field.

The GIRC has at least accomplished hours and hours of interesting philoso-talk on Local Sports Talk Radio. Alas, the assumption is that officiating calls are always correctable.

In the sportsing called “The NFL” there is a boiling controversy over the application of the definition of a “football catch.” Now, to the casual observer, this may seem like a no-brainer. To wit: a receiver “catches” the “football.” That is a football catch.

But, no.  The policy, or “rulebook,” as it were, has a strict definition of what a “football catch” might actually be. It is a lengthy definition, with a main paragraph and many sub-paragraphs, each of which deal in minutiae, and each of which must be memorized by game officials, and which, in the rigors of a contact sportsing event, must be expertly and thoroughly applied at an instant.

Therefore, it has come to be expected that game officials apply the policy incorrectly. After all, they’re only human, and, in the NFL, they’re quasi-professional. Many millions of dollars hang on their competence, both in player salaries and in gambling money.

To resolve this given human propensity to actually err, a video replay system has been devised. It seems easy enough: if there is a question about the application of the policy, one simply projects a video of the play in question onto a large-screen, high-definition television set, and everyone has the luxury of studying the question from very many different angles at different speeds with as many repetitions as is desired, that is, until the officiating crew is satisfied that they have, indeed, the right application of the policy to the play in question.

In practice, however, there has been very little satisfaction within the sportsing community concerning this system to regulate and correct application of policy. The officials are making worse applications in the instant, and they are increasingly unable to correct themselves with video replay. So far, recriminations have flown against incompetence in officiating as a quasi-profession, but the same phenomenon is occurring in sportsing where the officials are full-time professionals. Recriminations have also flown against the video replay system, but the only solution there seems to include outrageous complexity, which everyone, even The GIRC, recognizes as detrimental to the playing of the game.

In my opinion, which I will label “obviously,” it is the policy itself. The policy is regulating that which cannot be regulated. A “football catch” is known only until it is atomized. After it is atomized, in an effort to define its characteristics and elements, no one knows with any confidence what a “football catch” might actually be.

The solution, then, is quite clear: jettison The GIRC altogether. Remove the policy of “football catch” from the rule book. Remove video review systems. Place officials who have been examined for competency into a properly defined role as judges, not as regulators or enforcers, except where necessary. Periodically grade the judges according to their performance in the instant, not according to camera angles or variable speeds of the videos. Assess, revisit, reassess.

Good men will make good judges, and good judges will make good men. When we have reestablished this principle, then sportsing events will become enjoyable again, or, at least in Buffalo, NY, less agonizing.

replay booth

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Good Fences Make Good Pluralism

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” the poet writes. A post I wrote was spiked. I didn’t spike it. Adam Gurri  didn’t spike it. Not even my wife’s fears spiked it. It was wisdom who spiked it, clear and simple. It was wisdom.

The post was only apple trees when you are most likely pines, only as harmful as words on a page can be. It’s not as though the words can do you any harm. “Good fences make good neighbors,” wisdom says, again and again.

But why do they make good neighbors? The wall was here before I was here, and before you were, but now the wall is being taken down, actively taken down, to make great gaps within it so that two can walk abreast. Who did that? Who made the gaps in the walls?

Was it the hunter?

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It was and it was not. I’ll tell you: I had a good idea, but the latest time series graphs showed that it was a bad idea, and not a mistaken idea (it was surely not mistaken) to make it bad, but frowned upon to make it bad. The time series graphs say, without shadow, that walls themselves are bad. I said no. No, the wall is good, I said.

Wisdom said, thou shalt not post what thou hast written. Thou shalt surely not.

Only wisdom says no nowadays, and who listens to wisdom?

So I wrote a code. The code is for everyone whose wall has gaps. First, the code is a signal that I am here, and you are there. You should stay there, and I should stay here. Do you read me? Second, the code is the first try to undo what the hunter has done, what the frost has done, and what the elves have done.

It is mean work, cruel work, to make a wall, but we are ashamed of being neighbors now. We must all be in communion, and that is never never never good. Never. That is why we are ashamed that there is no more shame. There is no more shame! Even Roger Waters knows that if he were a better man, he’d understand the spaces between friends. A better man: ha! Imagine that!

Remember: the wall is not made for thee; the wall is made for me.

Even Calls Me By My Name

The “Bastogne” episode of HBO’s Band of Brothers does some heavy lifting when it comes to Christianity’s relationship to society, as tested by the fires of absolute warfare. The setting is December 1944, in Bastogne, Belgium. The 101st Airborne Division is tasked with defending Bastogne from conquest by the German Army in the definitive battle of World War II known as “The Battle of the Bulge,” a counteroffensive launched by Hitler to break the steadily advancing Allied lines.

Here I’ll frame the episode with observations interspersed periodically with commentary.

Spoiler Alert

Instead of a rehearsal of battlefield events, “Bastogne” is a drama overlaying a historical event, complete with a clear plot progression, character development, and with rising and falling action. Everything following this paragraph is a reveal. I encourage you to watch the episode, read this, then re-watch it under the magical influence of the power of suggestion.

Continue reading “Even Calls Me By My Name”

The Spooky School

Glasgow at the turn of the 20th Century was bohemian, and if it weren’t for early 19th Century Parisian bohemians, turn of the century Glaswegian culture would define the term. More to the point, Glaswegian culture, by means of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, defines architecture to this very day. If you live in or around a city in Europe or North America which grew up before World War II, you see Charles Rennie Mackintosh everywhere, both in architectural design and in architectural embellishment, particularly the Mackintosh rose. You’ve seen that stylized rose everywhere, so much so that you probably don’t know you’re seeing it.

G112-1MackintoshRoseWhere did it come from, and how did it get such a wide distribution? This design, along with many of his design ideas, exploded into the arts and architecture world, as you might imagine happened if you study this specimen more closely, and perhaps if you study other specimens of the rose which he designed. All of Europe breathed a sigh of relief when that tension was released, and the relationship brought to bear by this explosion continued for twenty years, before Mackintosh succumbed to depression and tongue cancer in 1927.

Architectural design throughout the western world had become sclerotic and quite formalistic, suppressing artistic expression and craftsmanship. There were signs of growth and creativity, with such notable patrons as William Morris, but those who were trying to create new schools of architectural design were confined to certain pockets, quite literally confined, bound by physical walls within which individual creative thinking might be encouraged, but, aside from certain trade magazines, such thinking was all moot. In these terms, the political bound the individual so that he could not express. If he expresses as he is compelled to express from within himself, he can expect to lose his ability to eat.

Nevertheless, the Celtic revival movement was percolating, along with the English Arts and Crafts movement, but there was as yet no spearhead to bring the incredible talents into the larger professional world. Plenty of these artisans, however, were quite aware of their predicament, and they reacted quite predictably: they formed schools within schools.

In 1889, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was introduced to one of these schools within a school while he was working as an assistant for an architectural firm. They were a group of young women attending art school who called themselves the Immortals. Frances and Margaret Macdonald were among this group, and they struck up quite a relationship with Charles and his colleague Herbert McNair. The four of them began to collaborate, becoming known to the outside world as The Four, and the outside world began to take notice.

At first, their work was mocked and ridiculed, but, as they say in sports, “They don’t boo nobodies.” Something about their work had struck a chord and a nerve, so they were encouraged by the response. They received positive response to their work as well, from these other pockets of architectural bohemianism, particularly in Germany and Vienna. Being sensitive artist-types, however, they withdrew into a world of their own making, creating in their expressions a symbolic world whose interpretation is known only to the four of them. Soon, professional journals began to offer professional critique of their work, and they began to win prizes for submissions to open exhibitions. They gained no small notoriety throughout the architectural world as the principal representatives of the Glasgow School.

They relied so heavily on distorted female figures, flowers, and tears that outsiders began to call the Glasgow School the “Spooky School.” The Four had triumphed, but, as a foursome, they had reached their zenith; individual expression was still subverted to the political, albeit only four of them. Moreover, Herbert married Frances and moved away, leaving Charles and Margaret to look at each other, shrug, and marry. Their collaboration was remarkable.

It was the rose, however, Charles’ Glasgow Rose, which he made his own, that revolutionized the architectural world. Mackintosh had found freedom within this little school within a school within a school, developing a language to communicate with them and only them so that only those whom he trusted most could advise, criticize, and encourage him. Within that conclave he gestated, and from that conclave he was born with a brand new rose in hand.

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Part Seen, Imagined Part (1896)

For this post I leaned heavily on my repeated readings of John McKean’s Charles Rennie Mackintosh: Architect, Artist, Icon, and also Fanny Blake’s Essential Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Page numbers by request.