A time for that annual moment of reflection …

March 30, 2013

… in times of sorrow, it gives a great escape;  not an escape to a fantasy world or to a world of violence, but to something that is what it is, something urban that recalls pastoral settings … something slow that requires such speed.

… two years after Woodrow Wilson started asking that The Star Spangled Banner be played at official and military occasions which few common people attended, it gave the common man an excuse to start singing what would soon become the national anthem.

… it is a philosophical game that inspires thought and contemplation.

(It is) our game; that’s the chief fact in connection with it: America’s game; it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere; it belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly as our Constitution’s laws; is just as important in the sum total of our historic life.

— Walt Whitman (poet and philosopher)

(It)  is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world.  If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can’t get you off.

— Willliam Veeck, Jr. (impressario and philosopher)

(It)  is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.

— Saul Steinberg (cartonist for the New Yorker)

(It) is a game dominated by vital ghosts; it’s a fraternity, like no other we have, of the active and the no-longer-so, the living and the dead.

–Richard Gilman (literary critic)

(It) is a ballet without music. Drama without words.

–Ernie Harwell (The Voice of Summer)

The game has a cleanness. If you do a good job, the numbers say so. You don’t have to ask anyone or play politics. You don’t have to wait for reviews.

–Sandy Koufax (Grandmaster)

… like most great things, it is reflective of humanity, which is to say that it is as dramatic as it is comic.

(It) is ninety percent mental.  The other half is physical.

–Lawrence Peter Berra (master of the English language)

We made too many wrong mistakes.

–Lawrence Peter Berra (on losing)

We know we’re better than this, but we can’t prove it.

–Anthony Keith Gwynn (Grandmaster)

There’s a thin line between genius and insanity, and in Larry’s case it was so thin you could see him drifting back and forth across it.

–Leo Durocher (on his boss, Larry MacPhail)

One time, I got pulled over at four a.m. I was fined seventy-five dollars for being intoxicated and four-hundred for being with the Phillies.

–Robert G. Uecker (Broadcaster)

… it has given us remarkable combinations of food and drink to make a person feel like a king at a banquet.  A hot dog with mustard, and an ice cold drink of your choice …. what more could you ever want?

… it forced us to confront terrible realities.  When a percent of the population was willfully excluded, no one seemed to care.  When Jackie Robinson arrived, it forced people to think and rethink where they stood.  Would the Civil Rights movement have occurred without Jackie Robinson?  Certainly!  Would it have happened as quickly?  That’s a good question.

… it is inspirational in so many ways … the novella Shoeless Joe (and the film it is based on) …. even non-fiction works like Moneyball can inspire good films.  The jazz standard “Van Lingle Mungo” … Bernard Malamud’s The Natural … the end scene of The Naked GunJohn Fogerty’s Centerfield … one of the greatest comedy skits in the history of comedy …. and even that song about Katie Casey by Norworth and Von Tilzer.

… it is a contradictory mix of staid tradition and ever changing and evolving ideas.  60′ 6″ hasn’t changed in over a century, but it also gave us astroturf.  Camden Yards is a good thing, but places like Veteran’s Stadium and Three Rivers Stadium were abominations.  In 1884, a trio of telegraph operators had the idea to transmit play-by-play to a theater in Memphis, where another would announce the results, while a third person moved players on a giant scoreboard and changed the score.  For the better part of the next 50 years, this is how most people in big cities “saw” games … at the time it was incredibly innovative.  Many of these were outdoors, but some were installed in opera houses as a means of generating revenue during the summer months.  Today it is quaintly antiquated.

… it has altered our language.  A strange new idea comes from left field.  Workers who have to take someone’s place in a tight spot are relief pitchers or pinch hitters.  Successes are home runs, and big successes are grand slams. Being wrong is a swing and a miss.  A collection of cubicles with people ready to swoop in an save the day is the bullpen.  Something tricky is a curve ball.  When you are wrong about something, you have struck out.

… it combines those two enigmatic contradictions that we embrace in ourselves:  conformity and originality.  We unconsciously seek symmetry, which our brains interpret as beauty in a face, but we also revile conformity of spirit … we look for people with dynamic originality … those who break the mold.  A baseball’s infield is perfectly symmetrical left-to-right.  The outfields of the best stadiums are not symmetric in any way.

… it teaches harsh realities.  We often times lose more than we win in life, and as we mature, we learn to deal with the fact that life isn’t fair.  It teaches us that sometimes 3-out-of-10 is pretty good, and one-third will get you to the Hall-of-Fame.  Umpires are human, they make mistakes, and that is part of the game.  Sometimes you are lucky and you get a bonus … extra innings.  Sometimes the rain and cold conspire to end things early.  Some are born Yankees fans and grow up happy and well adjusted members of society, while some are born Cubs fans and grow up suspicious of everything and grumpy.

Sunday is Easter … a celebration of resurrection, of reflecting on mistakes, and beginning life a new.  Sunday in Texas, the Rangers play the Astros to begin the season … a different kind of resurrection.  On Monday, the rest of the Major Leagues get underway.

April 1 … time for baseball to return … it has been away far too long.


Mom update …

March 25, 2013

I have very temporarily moved in to mom’s house since Spring Break is this week.  It has shortened trips to the hospital and will allow me to be with her as she transitions home.


The doctors are likely releasing her tomorrow.  She will be on oxygen, likely for the rest of her life.  She will also start pulmonary rehabilitation a few times a week.  Her breathing has improved for the most part, but yesterday they had to drastically increase her oxygen for a few hours after her exercise.  When she visits the University of Chicago, she will be assessed for entrance onto the lung transplant list.

She is starting to get down a bit.  She loves her job, and she worries that she will have to give that up.  While she is down a little, she is still in relatively good spirits, and really wants to get home to get cleaned up (tomorrow is her 7th day there).

Harvard quiz bowl cheating scandal

March 24, 2013

If you have been asleep for the past few days, you missed quiz bowl getting its biggest publicity boost ever.

A former player for Harvard was discovered to have accessed questions in the time leading up to national championship tournaments which he and his team happened to go on and win.  While cheating on his part had been suspected for a couple of years, it took a crack computer whiz reviewing the sponsoring company’s computer system history and some security upgrades to catch this guy (and three others).

I never actually met the guy, though I was probably in a room with him a few times.  He may have been pointed out to me.  He was greatly disliked in the quizbowl community.  Quizbowl attracts a slightly larger than normal (to the general population) group of people who are “on the spectrum” as we would say professionally, so the amount of over-the-top rage and wild speculation is rampant.  There have been those who have taken it on themselves to question the entire environment at Harvard because this is the second cheating scandal to hit Harvard in the past two years (and as anyone knows, cheating does not occur at the university level …. because if it did, it would make the news … which is why you know places like Virginia Commonwealth are clean).  Make sure your sarcasm detector was on for that last sentence.

However, there is a legitimate question that comes up, and that is security.  Quiz bowl tournaments occur all over the country practically every weekend from September through June.  The host school is generally responsible for the security of the questions, even though a vast majority of the host schools are fielding teams in that competition.  There is an unwritten honor system that exists among competitors since a very dedicated individual could probably get those questions if they really, really wanted to.

That said, the security of questions at the college and national level is practically airtight compared to the high school level (at least in Illinois).  In our state, the state tournament questions are sent to the host school a week before the tournament.  At many schools, the head coach is the only one who knows anything about the competition, and thus handles the questions, turning them over to the moderators.  It is far from a good system.  When I coached, I was always uncomfortable handling them, and did my best to make sure that I saw or heard nothing in advance.  Despite that, I still had a coach accuse me of cheating once (it was a situation where the coach was ignorant of the rules, and thought I was giving advice that could only come from a knowledge of the questions vs. knowledge of the rules).  It still irks me that there is someone out there who thinks I would stoop so low to cheat.

That said, I know there are coaches out there I wouldn’t trust with anything.  Some of them win quite a bit.  There’s no evidence, but I still wonder.

How do you clean up a competition that relies so heavily on the honor system?


For that matter, I think the company involved (NAQT) should be commended for ferreting out the problem and going public with the issue.  I hope in the future they will be more careful with who they hire, but I have had nothing but great relationships with the representatives of the company (including its president).

Not so good news …

March 23, 2013

Last week, mom started becoming a bit, progressively short of breath.  Naturally she did or said nothing to anyone.

By Tuesday, she was at work and gasping for breath.  Her boss the doctor admitted her to the hospital for testing.  Initially, the thought was a blood clot.  On Wednesday, as I was arriving to visit her, I found out that she was in surgery.  I also learned that when she was admitted, she was looking cyanotic, and had an oxygen blood saturation of about 67% (under 92% is considered abnormal).

When she came out, she was largely under anesthesia with a breathing tube down her throat.  The doctor informed me that the surgery (laproscopic) was to get pictures of the lungs,and to get a sample for a biopsy.  The doctor acknowledged that cancer was unlikely based on their observations, and noted that it was presenting in both lungs … more like an allergic reaction or hyper sensitivity.  He said it would be a few days to get the results.  The tube came out Thursday, and by today they had reduced the oxygen they were feeding her by nose.  The chest tube came out this morning.

This morning, the doctors finally arrived at a preliminary diagnosis.  Usual Interstitial pneumonia (UIP).  It is a condition that is a form of fibrosis … scarring of the lung tissue.  There are some treatments that have some limited success, and mom will next go on to the University of Chicago for further diagnosis and to investigate potential treatment.  However, the condition is chronic.  It is unlikely that she will be able to move around without oxygen again.  The condition will continue to deteriorate her lungs (which after decades of smoking were not in great condition anyway), and there is a strong chance that this will ultimately kill her in a few years.

I always suspected that it would be unlikely that mom would make it to an age like 80, and even 75 seemed to be pushing it with her health.  So, on the one hand, knowing that mom won’t be around in ten years is not as upsetting to me as worrying about how mom will react to this.  That will be the next challenge.

Dedications …

March 13, 2013

I have been extremely busy on some time sensitive material, which isn’t necessarily new, but there have been a lot of extra add-ons to the schedule this year that are eating up valuable time, and impacting my teaching in bad ways.  I have some pretty good students this year, and the overall product of teaching is seriously lacking at this time.   That story will have to wait for the summer.

Tomorrow, I am heading to Peoria for the state Quizbowl tournament.  It gives me a little time.


About two weeks ago, I was visited by a former student.  He had been in really bad shape when I met him … drugs, alcohol. cutting.  His parents had tried getting him some help while keeping him in school, but eventually, they realized that he could not continue.  We decided to spot him his credits, and let him go get help with about 3 months left in his senior year.

The good news, is that he is sober, and has been for a year.  He is still dealing with the after effects of heavy drug use, and still has to deal with cutting.  However, he seems to be in a healthier mental state.  He was very grateful for the time and encouragement and effort I gave him … I even told him about dad and his problems.  It was an unexpected piece of good news in a time when good news seems rather sparse.


The other kind of neat thing:  I have a student now who is a really nice kid … I think she is burned out a bit after 12 years of school, and physics, by her own admission, might not be her favorite cup of tea … but she still manages to come in and try, and that is something.  She recently competed in slam poetry competition … she made the semis with the following composition:


I don’t dedicate my pieces to people, for the people who normally inspire me are either dead, hard to contact, or are in my inner circle of love. However, my first dedication is for this piece and it is to my Physics teacher, Mr. Tom Egan. He’s shown me that the passion to create and discover, starts with curiosity, an unanswered question, and determination.


Stupid is.

by I. O.


Word on the street is

stupid is as stupid does,

but is stupid me doing the same thing as the guy next to me, the one who’s

standing in the direction of the arrow on my “I’m with stupid” shirt?

Or its denotation of repeating the same mistake over and over again, while

every single time I cocoon myself in devastation, or is that plain


I’m from the second city with the number one skyline.

Men, men with their own two bare hands and radical minds thought alike

to create art that towers to the sky.

This girl, asks me for my GPA, 3.2 I say, oh good luck making something of yourself someday.

Me? Create something of myself?

What’s the purpose of that when I’m too busy welting together words,

Black smithing stories, and inspiring not only myself but those who’s ears

are touched by my voice.

I’ve seen artists from all over the world from the exterior square of the Daley Plaza to the Lourve.

I’ve read about the great paths and failures of Rosalind Franklin, John Lennon, Martin Luther King Junior, and Neil Patrick Harris,

Attempting to patch a correlation between their lives and mine.

searching for the next big bang to cure the insanity of mankind.

I’ve seen modern street art curated on sides of city buildings, powerful

quotes sketched onto the oak of my classroom seats.

That girl tells me good luck on making it out on the streets because my mind cannot compute numbers at accelerating speeds, or apply physics conceptually.

But I remind her that those people, the ones who were bizarre enough to create the

towers that scraped the sky, not only were they making industry and

history, but they were creating art.

They welted pieces of useless steel to make something greater than it

originally was.

The bigots with their big noses only know big bucks.

They don’t know of the sweat, fear, and cosmic dust racing through our finger tips as we attempt to defy our existence with threaded words.

Stupid is racist, a broken hymn with no desire to be fixed.

Stupid is trading morals for tokens and shushing ideas because they won’t be revolutionized for years until after we are gone.

We are artists. We are scientists. We form hypotheses that will cause us to be called crazy. We are poets.  We are the children destined to change the world. We think alike, yet nobody thinks like us.

We see color in every corner of every chromosome of ever broken human being.

Stupid is as stupid does,

but stupid does not and will not have the desire to create this.


So, I have this going for me.