Monday, March 28, 2011

cost-benefit analysis

A friend recommended that I read Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and I just finished it this morning. It is a good read in most, but not all, parts. In some sections it was written so well that I found myself making a spectacle of myself laughing out loud. Occasionally a few lines were so on target that I wanted to grab whoever was within the area and read a paragraph out loud.

One such part involves a conversation the Major, a 68 year old widower, is having with his son Roger. The Major is attempting to explain his interest in a widow.

"Unlike you, who must do a cost-benefit analysis of every human interaction, I have no idea what I hope to accomplish. I only know that I must try to see her. That's what love is about, Roger. It's when a woman drives all lucid thought from your head; when you are unable to contrive romantic stratagems, and the usual manipulations fail you; when all your carefully laid plans have no meaning and all you can do is stand mute in her presence. You hope she takes pity on you, and drops a few words of kindness in the vacuum of your mind."

The son responds while rolling his eyes. "Pigs'll fly before we see you at a loss for words."

Pigs will fly indeed because the Major courtesy of the author, Helen Simonson, is witty and eloquent throughout the novel.

But what about the Major's comments regarding cost-benefit analysis? Are we not wise, as his son suggests, to do a cost-benefit analysis even when it comes to family and romance?

Is there any accounting for what seems to be irrational emotion? Can someone explain why after each last second victory in the NCAA tournament players jump on top of their teammates in unrestrained glee? Why does this occur? In college sports, most players gain no pecuniary advantage for a victory. Maybe the stock of someone who could play professionally will go up, but for 90 percent of the players on the court, and every single one of the players on the bench, there is no benefit to outweigh the costs of acting like a crazy person, let alone the hours of travel and the loss of time in classes where one, ostensibly, will learn somethings that can add to out of school marketability.

I am fairly certain that many fans of Connecticut, Kentucky, Butler, and VCU spent work or school time today, poring over newspaper accounts of their teams' successes over the weekend. What is the benefit? For those who purchase tickets to the game and travel/lodging to watch the games, what are the benefits?

The Major and Roger are discussing love, not March Madness, but maybe it is the same thing. For some issues, if not for most, the wisest accounting is to let your heart record what passes for assets over debits. Can any reader write honestly, that the most significant moments in life were those in which there was a payday, as opposed to a time when a sweeheart "drives all lucid thought from your head; when you are unable to contrive romantic stratagems, and the usual manipulations fail you; when all your carefully laid plans have no meaning and all you can do is stand mute in your lover's presence."

Pigs'll fly when this ceases to be the case.

David and Goliath guaranteed

I occasionally wonder what, besides inertia, is stopping the NCAA from creating a tournament akin to March Madness, for its football season.

Before this current March Madness tournament began a fellow asked me if I was "into" this year's games. I responded by shrugging and saying something like "Not so much."

Well, now I am hooked. Riveted and for good reason. Ten of the twelve games this past weekend have been thrilling. Virginia Commonwealth's last second victory on Friday night against Florida State (on one of the best bounce passes I have ever seen) and the VCU victory again yesterday beating the overwhelming (11 point) favorite Kansas was stuff of theater. Then throw in Butler's two wins against favored opponents and this was a weekend for the dogs.

And if the David versus Goliath victories were not sufficient entertainment, how many games between the heavyweights came down to the last shot. Kentucky now has won several contests with a fellow named Brandon Knight demonstrating that he has no fear. It is startling to note, as it relates to Kentucky, that Princeton, another David, came close to beating Kentucky in the very first round. Had it not been for Brandon Knight's driving shot in the last seconds, the Princeton Tigers would have knocked out a team from the powerhouse SEC, that now finds itself in the final four.

When you see a play, there is--for those in the know--a predictable ending. I read a column over the weekend which alluded to the theater of sports but included the point that sports is the ultimate theater since, even those who claim to be in the know--don't know.

The tournament draws a tremendous audience, is beyond belief lucrative to the conferences and teams involved, spurs business (how many ads have you seen this week with some sale that is a take-off of March Madness) and is just fun.

So, explain to me why those who manage NCAA division I football continue to declare who shall play for the national championship game, without having a tournament that allows the combatants a chance to compete for the honor. If VCU can be in the final four and defeat USC (Pac 10), Georgetown (Big East), Purdue (Big Ten), Florida State (ACC) and Kansas (Big 12), in consecutive games, then maybe Boise State should have had a crack at a national title by playing games on the field.

Monday Aril 4th will be the national championship game. It is guaranteed to be a David vs. Goliath contest as either Butler or VCU will play either Connecticut or Kentucky. It will be great theater and a fitting finish to this year's tournament.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

divine retribution

With 35 plus seconds on the clock in a tie game, Florida was waiting for a final shot. If they missed the shot, BYU would have an opportunity to get the rebound and take a shot to win.

Florida missed. BYU would have had a chance, but Florida was able to get an offensive rebound with 13 seconds remaining. BYU did not get a chance to score and eventually Florida won in overtime.

Good chance if BYU had Brandon Davies, their leading rebounder all season, they would have gotten the rebound. Tough break.

Davies, one of the few black players on BYU, was suspended from the team before the NCAA tournament. He was suspended because he admitted to having sexual relations with his girlfriend. For shame.

For shame on BYU.

I am delighted that BYU lost tonight. I feel bad for the team who played valiantly without their best rebounder. I feel bad for Jimmer Fredette an outstanding scorer on BYU who lost one of his best complementary players in Davies. Fredette had 32 points tonight. With Davies's help Fredette and BYU might have continued on to a national championship.

BYU deserves no praise for adhering to moral high ground. There is no virtue in what BYU did to Brandon Davies. He did not deserve a scarlet letter. The letter should go to those who believe they can divine what is divine.

Monday, March 21, 2011

notes from the weekend

Various items that have coursed through my thinking apparatus after the whirlwind that is the first weekend of the tournament:

I was, apparently, incorrect about BYU losing to Wofford. I am, however, not incorrect regarding the hypocrisy of suspending the center for acknowledging to premarital intimate relations with his girlfriend. Does anyone think that other team members were interrogated subsequent to the center's revelations to ascertain if others had been similarly promiscuous. Do you think Jimmer was scrutinized?

The pontificators who are screaming for the Pitt coach's head because he had a player on the foul lane against Butler should view the last seconds of the Duke championship game against Butler last year. Up by two with Duke shooting a foul shot, Coach K--he of the 900 victories--has a player on the foul lane. The mistake on the play this weekend goes to the man in the striped shirt who called the foul.

The Michigan player who pulled up for what would have been the tying shot, instead of driving all the way to the hoop will replay that moment when he is in his 80s. He drives to the hoop, nobody gets in his way to risk a three point play. He would have stuffed it almost uncontested.

The call of five seconds against Texas seemed very fast.

I love Jim Boeheim, but Syracuse just did not seem to be awake against Marquette at the end.

VCU, now in the sweet 16, was defeated by Northeastern during the regular season by eleven points, 91-80. We, Northeastern, had a rebuilding year and finished 11-20. This is an example of how a team can get on a streak in the tournament and during the season not show up some nights. It also may reflect the powerhouse in training that is Northeastern.

Can anyone shoot better than Ohio State did last night? George Mason would have fared better if they were playing the Knicks.

I rarely think I have had enough, but last night I could not watch the last two games.

In a just for fun bracket pool that my brother and I are in, individually, my brother won a prize for finishing last, last year. He will not take last place this year. However there is a good chance that the honor will stay in the family. My wisdom notwithstanding, I have only Richmond, Kansas, Ohio State, Duke, Connecticut, and San Diego State remaining. 6 of the 16.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Wofford will defeat BYU today in the first round of the tournament. They will win despite the fact that BYU has the best scorer in the nation. They will win because the school, BYU, made a puzzling decision several weeks ago that resulted in the elimination of another key player on the team.

The starting center for BYU was suspended for inappropriate conduct. One might think the administration at the school deserves credit for sticking to principle despite the likelihood that the center's absence will preclude the team's advancing far in the potentially lucrative tournament. Maybe I will be wrong and Wofford will lose today, but I don't think so and even if BYU wins they are not going to win many more games without their starting center.

So, isn't this good? Isn't it good that a school adheres to rules and places conduct above basketball prowess and the financial bonanza that can come from victories in the ncaa tournament?

No. This is not good.

The center was suspended because he admitted to having sexual relations with his girlfriend.

I could write about my feeling about such an unnatural proscription that flies in the face of normal and healthy desires. There does seem to me to be a whole lot of shaking going on, and advertisers sure seem to me to acknowledge the lure of physical intimacy when they peddle their products, and movie producers sure seem to me to hire actors and actresses who, in addition to their acting capabilities, are alluring and suggestive. However, I don't have a corner on the philosophic wisdom market, and I am not going to write that BYU administrators are unequivocally wrong in their belief system.

But I will write that their suspension of this student is wrong.

It is wrong primarily because if you are to suspend him for having intimate sexual relations and do not suspend the others you are declaring that the other players on the team do not have intimate sexual relations. This, I doubt.

This player is being suspended because he acknowledged what he is doing, not because he is doing what he acknowledged.

BYU goes down today.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Love Walked In--book review

My parents are big readers. Always were.

In their home they have a coffee table in the den with a stack of books on it about nine deep. Underneath where they keep the few bottles of spirits in the house is a stash of about two dozen books. (Anyone who knows my folks also knows that the drawer that contains the books has been opened--by a factor of about 100--more regularly than the cabinets that contains the spirits).

In the spare bedroom my father had special bookcases made to house his book collection. And I noticed on a recent visit a few weeks back that inside the closet of this spare bedroom is a stack of books awaiting consumption.

I saw one in the closet pile entitled, Love Walked In. I asked to borrow it and neither of my parents were sure how they had acquired it, a likelihood when you buy or borrow books on a regular basis.

While the book has some flaws and is, in parts, a bit implausible, it is such a comforting read. The title will be misleading to anyone who assumes this is a classic love story. It is not, but nevertheless the title is apt. On the inside cover the publisher cites some favorable reviews. The Washington Post critic referred to the book as a "warmhearted fairy tale for grown-ups." This too is apt.

It is a debut novel (Marisa De Los Santos) and the author can turn a phrase. She cleverly alternates chapters from first person, to third person--an approach that would seem unlikely to work unless you read it.

Open the door and you let love in. Sometimes when you have the door open and are loving you're able to discover that you already have what you are looking for.

Very good. Worth a read.

Right or Wrong?

Is there something inappropriate about watching basketball games when on the other side of the world an earthquake has caused devastation?

Yesterday, I watched several games many of which affected the entire seasons for the teams playing. The NCAA begins its tournament on Tuesday and makes decisions today about who will be invited. In at least three conference championship games I saw yesterday, the winner would, automatically, be invited to the tournament and the loser would very likely be disqualified. In addition, two other games that I watched went down to the very end with a player making a key shot at the buzzer to assure a team of advancing to the tournament.

I was working out last night on the elliptical machine watching Kent State play Akron--two rivals a mere 14 miles apart. The winner would go to the tournament and the loser go home. Adjacent to me was another exercise crony watching Arizona play Washington for the PAC 10 championship. That game, like the Kent State game, would go into overtime and be decided by a last shot in OT. At the same time we were watching the game we could see on another channel the devastating effects of the earthquake in Japan.

In the morning I had watched Stony Brook lead Boston University the entire game, until the last seconds when a bogus call on Stony Brook put the main stud for Boston University at the foul line. He hit both shots with 2.4 seconds left and a last second heave by Stony Brook just missed at the buzzer. The fans mobbed the players on the court.

On Saturday afternoon, Princeton and Harvard were playing on a neutral court to decide the winner of the Ivy League and who would be invited to the tournament. In the last two minutes the lead changed hands a number of times. Finally, Harvard went ahead with seconds to go only to have a Princeton player hit a shot as the buzzer sounded. Wild Tigers raced onto the court to smother the victorious players as the Harvard Crimson walked off stunned.

Earlier on Saturday, North Carolina was getting whupped by Clemson, only to tie the game at the buzzer and go on to win in overtime to the joy of the fans. On Saturday night Connecticut won its fifth game in five days to win the Big East--a feat that is truly remarkable given the level of competition and the fatigue that would have exhausted mortals. In post game interviews, satisfaction oozed from the remarks and the face of the winning coach and star player.

On Friday night, I witnessed something I have not seen previously in years of watching games. In its contest against Florida State, Virginia Tech scored a basket to go ahead with seconds remaining. State raced down the court and hit the game winner at the buzzer. The State players were mobbed and the Virginia Tech coach and its players were astonished--until the officials went to the scorer's table and looked at a replay of the shot. It sure seemed to me that the State shot got off before the buzzer, but when I and the officials saw the replay, the ball was still on the shooter's fingertips when the clock went from .1 to 0.0. The officials waved off the State shot, triggering wild jubilation on the seconds earlier depressed Virginia Tech side. At the same time the cheering Florida State team deflated like a ballon with a sudden leak.

Yet this morning, and during the day yesterday, I kept seeing images and reading about what is happening in Japan. And these seemed to render inconsequential the "do or die" jump or foul shots that were thrilling spectators throughout the country.

Is there something wrong with jumping for joy on a day when thousands have died tragically and an entire country is in danger?

I think you do what you can do. Concern and support is deserved for tragic circumstances and victims. And the thrill of victory should never be confused with the thrill of life and love. Yet, there is nothing wrong about celebrating life when we are fortunate enough to have it.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


My plan this afternoon was to deplane at Logan and then take the subway to the commuter rail to get home.

Boston has a very efficient public transportation system from the airport. Unlike some cities where it can cost you an arm and a leg and some other appendages to get from the airport to your destination, there is a shuttle bus that takes one from your terminal to a subway line. From there, you can get almost anywhere in the region by combining the subway with the commuter rail.

Armed with my "Charlie card"...[for those of you not reared in, or in your, 60s, there was a song by the Kingston Trio called "Charlie of the MTA" (Mass Transit Authority). The song became popular and the MTA now requires one to buy a "Charlie card" to use the mass transit system.]

So armed with my Charlie card, I took the shuttle bus, arrived at the Blue Line and saw a sign that read that the subway was down. After one stop riders would be bussed. This was not what I wanted to read.

After one stop we, the riders, were herded like livestock into busses and taken downtown. My commuter train was at 530 and I thought I might miss it. As it turned out, I believe the bus driver took the wrong route which benefited me as I was deposited only steps from North Station where my train would be.

The Boston Garden-- now with some commercial name attached to it that keeps changing as businesses succumb to bad economic times--is above North Station. Just like in New York where Madison Square Garden sits above Penn Station, fans of the Bruins and the Celtics can take the train into North Station to watch a game and not have to shake much of a leg to get to their seats.

As I walked from where the bus stopped, I began to see armies of fans adorned in Bruins paraphernalia on the streets surrounding the train station. There must be a dozen restaurant/bars near the Garden catering to the Celtic and Bruin fans, and each seemed packed. I walked into North Station, still 90 minutes before the game and the station was mobbed.

When I first walked in I saw the real crazies, the ones who line up hoping to see a player come into the arena and get an autograph. Then, throughout the train station, all I saw were people adorned in their Bruin gear. By the ticket window there was a long and at one point serpentine line of aficionados hoping to get a ticket from those who could not make the contest.

All this brought a smile to my face which was not easy to do after being herded onto a bus. The people in North Station were excited like children on a birthday morning waiting for a regular season hockey game. There was an energy that you rarely see in other settings.

If you do not get sports, you should have been at North Station at 530 this evening, a full 90 minutes before game time and seen hundreds of adults busting with excited energy waiting to see a sporting event.