Blockin' the Plate
This past Saturday, I got the opportunity to play softball with my friends' church team. It's a C-league team made up of people about my age that I usually go watch and hang out with, but due to a couple injuries, I was given the opportunity to fill in for a game.
Now, bear in mind that I haven't actually played softball or baseball in years. I've wanted to, but I had difficulty finding a team to join and with (in recent days) paying for a roster spot for myself. That said, I watch so much baseball on television or at the stadium that I feel pretty well-versed in how to play most positions and how to position myself on a variety of plays.
Normally, I would play shortstop or first base, given that those are my preferred positions. I try to shy away from the outfield because I have a weak right shoulder (my throwing arm) from an injury back in 10th grade. I can throw, but my shoulder tires very quickly and if I make certain throwing motions with a high degree of torque, I can strain it. For Saturday's game, however, I made my first ever start at catcher.
Now, in softball, the catcher's job is pretty much nothing like you'd see in a baseball game. There's no real required stance, no setting up of one's glove as a target, no pads or face guards, and the only real job duty is "grab the ball as it comes bouncing toward you if the batter (somehow) misses hitting it." It's a fairly routine position without much danger involved, save for when you're attempting to block the plate and tag out a runner (as I'll explain later).
Anyway, when I got out onto the field, our pitcher got a couple warm-up tosses in and the first batter dug in. We were playing another C-league church team composed of people a few years older than the average of our team, though that didn't stop them from being tough competitors. Two pitches in, batter #1 grounded out to shortstop. Batter number two hit the first pitch he saw to left-center for a double. #2 was a bigger guy, solid with a bit of a gut and a few inches shorter than me. I knew that if batter #3 got a hit, I might get a chance at the plate. Sure enough, #3 laced a rope into left field, and #2 came racing around third. The throw came in to home about two steps ahead of the batter. Somehow I managed to (a) catch the ball, (b) tag the runner, and (c) hold on to the ball. As I made the tag, #2 went into a slide and took out my right knee, causing me to fall to the dirt and scraping my legs up nicely in the process. However, the umpire saw that I had held the ball and called the runner out at the plate!
I got a nice cheer from my teammates in the dugout and on the field, which I heard in the back of my mind as I was rolling around. If you've never had a 280-pound person throw himself into your legs causing hyperextension of the knee before blunt force trauma and abrasion of the same knee, I don't really recommend it. It hurts. I was able after a couple seconds to get to my feet on my own, but for some reason, the slide had caused my entire right knee to go completely numb. I had difficulty walking on it, though I did try to walk it off. It was apparently obvious that it was bothering me, though, and my team brought in another person to play catcher while I was walking it off the remainder of the inning. After taking a couple laps around the complex, I tried running on it and succeeded without any pain, so I was good to go.
My first time at bat was in the second inning, and I struck out in spectacular fashion. Remember, I hadn't batted in years, so I was definitely rusty. I fouled off the first pitch at the plate, then utterly, completely, and totally missed the second pitch to complete the K.
In the third inning, I was back out at catcher in an inning which seemed to go on forever. About the fifth or sixth batter of the frame, with runners on first and second, the batter ripped another liner to left field, and the runner on second charged home. The throw came in to me a bit off the mark, but I snared it, turned, and tagged the runner a half-step before he crossed home plate standing. It was the second out of the inning, and I got overexcited that I'd actually made the play so (not thinking) I gave a fist pump and allowed a runner to advance to third (oops... I wasn't actually trying to show up anyone... I was just thrilled to have succeeded in making the out!).
Back up at bat in the fourth, I took the first pitch to get a look at it... right over the exact center of the plate. I mean, if the pitch could possibly have been thrown more perfectly, I don't see how. I felt a little stupid for taking it, but I did get a feel for the pitch and vowed to swing at #2. I did, and I connected solidly for a little bloop single to center. Power hitting, perhaps not, but I did get on. As I pulled into first base, my knee was beginning to ache, and I didn't even make a move toward second. The team coach I think saw this and pulled me for a pinch-runner, for which I was grateful - he came around to score.
Later in the bottom of the fourth, I had a third chance to assist in getting an out. Runners on second and third, one out. The batter hit a fly ball to shallow left-center field, which was misplayed. The runner from second went to third while the runner on third scored. The throw came in to me and I looked the runner back at third as the batter-runner moved toward second. I threw to second right on the money, and the ball was dropped as the runner slid in. Had it been played cleanly, I think it would have been an easy out, but that's what happens. I feel comfortable saying that my throw was a good one regardless.
My third time at bat was nothing special. I swung at the first pitch again because I saw it well and felt I could get it, and I popped it up softly to shortstop. I barely got out of the batter's box before it was caught, but at least it was only the first out of the inning. So, my batting totals for the day were 1-for-3 with a single, no RBI, no runs scored, one total base. My defensive totals would be two outs at the plate on three chances, one failed attempted assist at second, no errors (my judgement, of course), and no passed balls.
I found out later from my teammates that they'd never had a catcher make two outs at the plate in the same game for them before, so I can now claim that, too. We won the game, 16-7. Afterward, we all high fived the other team (reminded me of little league, really!) and I went and found the guy that took me out. I told him, "nice slide" and he asked if I was okay. I told him I was and thanks for asking.
After that, I sat out game two as there were other people promised to play in that contest, though I did keep score and play first base coach (which I found that I am TERRIBLE at). I was secretly a little glad I didn't try to play the second game, as my knee was starting to stiffen up and ache again. The team ended up losing game two 19-9, though in their defense it was a one-run game until the final inning of play when the other team scored 10 runs. After the games, we all went to IHOP for food and to wind down. I treated myself to an ice cream sundae, which was delicious, and then went home to relax.
I took some Excedrin for my knee, and the caffeine in that (as a pain reducer) kept me awake for a while to watch Baseball Tonight on TV. All yesterday, I hobbled around as it was painful... well, I don't know if it was painful or just a strong ache... to bend my knee. Today, it's much better and hardly hurts except for right when I try to stand for just a second. There is, however, still a numb spot around the area where I got all scraped up. It's not worrysome as much as it intrigues me. It's just the skin, not the underlying muscles or tendons, but it's definitely numb. Kind of cool in a weird, I-hope-it's-not-permanent sort of way.
With only two games left in the C-league season, I hope to get another chance to play next Saturday, provided that my knee's back to normal. I had a great time with it despite the injury... and either way, the adrenaline from making a couple of really good plays kept me focused on the game rather than my knee!
Is Political Science A Science?
Last week, I read an interesting article from The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled "Senator Proposes an End to Federal Support for Political Science." In it, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) was reported as having submitted an amendment to the annual appropriations bill for the Departments of Justice, Commerce, Science, and Related Agencies for FY2010 (H.R. 2847 - link goes to the Library of Congress search page. Search for HR 2847). This amendment, S.A. 2631, says:
SA 2631. Mr. COBURN submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by him to the bill H.R. 2847, making appropriations for the Departments of Commerce and Justice, and Science, and Related Agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2010, and for other purposes; which was ordered to lie on the table; as follows:
At the appropriate place in title III, insert the following:
Sec. __. None of the funds appropriated under this Act may be used to carry out the functions of the Political Science Program in the Division of Social and Economic Sciences of the Directorate for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences of the National Science Foundation.
This got me thinking, since as a political science major at college this was, and still is, very important to me. So, being a good little politico, I called up Senator Coburn's Washington, DC office. I wasn't really expecting anything. Just to maybe talk to one of the Senator's interns, have my comments taken down, and then go about my business and call Senators Kyl and McCain to also voice my opinion. Instead, I got to talk with one of the Senator's staff members, Charlotte Pineda.
When I called, she answered, and I introduced myself and said I had just read the Chronicle news story, and wanted more information about why the Senator was so keen on stopping political science research in the National Science Foundation. Instead of sidestepping me, since I wasn't a constituent of Sen. Coburn (as I've seen happen many times before), Ms. Pineda took almost 40 minutes out of her schedule to talk with me and help me understand the Senator's point of view on the issue. I was impressed, to say the least.
Here's the argument according to Ms. Pineda on behalf of Sen. Coburn: political science, as it stands, is not a hard science. It does not bring about breakthroughs and developments which can help humanity - as sciences like chemistry, biology, engineering, etc can (she called them "transformative results") - and it creates very few, if any, jobs in the national job market. Political science, as a social science, has trouble even producing fact from theories, since it cannot demonstrably prove any of its conjectures.
Ms. Pineda also provided me with a copy of the research that the Senator's office had done in support of their claim. On the one hand, NSF-"hard"-science projects certainly do produce transformative results: biofuels research, medical engineering for disabled persons, a microchip-sized fan for laptop computers which helps with cooling the system more efficiently, and "fiber-reinforced concrete" which has the ability to bend without cracking or breaking to a certain point and is 40% lighter in weight. On the other side of the coin, the NSF programs in political science that they listed included answering the question "why do political candidates make vague statements, and what are the consequences?" NSF also held a conference in the effects of YouTube on the 2008 election cycle, research by universities studying why white middle-class voters vote Republican, and the production of "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer" for coverage of the 2008 Republican and Democratic National Conventions.
On the surface, it certainly seems like a lopsided use of taxpayer dollars. But the real thing that struck me in the Senator's research was a line which read, "The National Science Foundation has misspent tens of millions of dollars examining political science issues which in reality have little, if anything, to do with science."
I started to wonder, what constitutes "science?" According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (1997), "science n. 1. an area of knowledge that is an object of study." (#2 deals with "natural science" which in my mind is a substrate of science itself and not a definition of just the word science.) The word hails from the Latin "scientia" meaning "knowledge," and according to a variety of internet definitions, refers best to the system of practices which result in the production of a prediction or a predictable outcome for an event. In contemporary form, science is defined by the use of the scientific method, the process of developing a theory, testing that theory, observing and then analyzing results for any given event.
Obviously, we all associate science as dealing with subjects like chemistry (soda pop, anyone?), biology (cancer research), physics (Isaac Newton), and applied sciences such as engineering or health science. We even recognize to some extent "formal science" in the field of mathematics, even though mathematics does not conform to the scientific method. Why not political science - or social sciences as a whole?
I believe that political science research can produce transformative results in society, even though those may not be monetary or tangible or affecting the creation of jobs. NSF-sponsored research on the continuing trends of globalization, for example, with respect to developing societies, when given the weight of validity equal to other observed and verifiable events as a science, may in turn help us preserve cultures and histories which would otherwise be lost to oblivion as a result of rapid forced modernization. Studying how people react in times of crisis could help our leaders produce better responsiveness and readiness plans for a major disaster. Here in Arizona, studying the aftereffects of propositions like Clean Elections Law could help us develop a better system for ensuring fairness in campaign elections reform (this one is actually ongoing, by the way).
Do these studies create jobs? No. Do they produce some tangible good that you can go out and buy? No. Are they any less important to study than the projects in the "hard" sciences? No. And here's the important question: could an entity not backed by government funding adequately carry out research like this? My answer is probably not.
This brings me to my final point. One thing in both the research provided by Sen. Coburn's office and in my conversation with Ms. Pineda that I found some fault in was the argument that any number of smaller, non-governmental entities could carry out research like this. For example, the Coburn research says "The [American National Studies grant] is to 'inform explanations of election outcomes.' The University of Michigan may have some interesting theories about recent elections, but Americans who have an interest in electoral politics can turn to CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, the print media, and a seemingly endless number of political commentators on the internet who pour over this data and provide a myriad of viewpoints to answer the same questions."
While it is true that major news networks and a wide number of internet spectators (yours truly being in a position through this blog to provide a qualified comment) do help with political research and commentary, for the most part those entities provide opinion analysis and a few major statistics for the benefit of the current television audience that day. It's a one-and-done conversation between talking heads about the highlights of white or black or Hispanic voters in rural California that isn't comprehended, much less a matter of concern, for a television audience with an attention span numbering in the tens of seconds. Why else would TV news have a flashy graphic every 30 seconds?
This is not research. This is not an acceptable form of applying scientific principles to observed events in order to try to predict the outcome. And it certainly is not something that can be peer reviewed, thought out, and rationalized in a manner which befits the scientific community.
Science is an area of knowledge that is the object of study. That includes social sciences just as much as hard sciences, and political research deserves the backing grants and funding from the government just as much as anything else the NSF researches. As for the argument that political science studies some things which may seem like a waste of money or tries to answer questions that a private survey corporation can do just as easily, well, the annual appropriations bills for the United States currently contain so much money for pork projects that it's not even funny, including millions of dollars for scientific projects such as "$4,545,000 for wood utilization research in 10 states by 19 senators and 10 representatives (engineering)," "$1,791,000 by Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee member Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) for swine odor and manure management research in Ames (chemistry)," and "$150,000 by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), then-Rep. Thomas Allen (D-Maine), and Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine) for the Maine Department of Natural Resources to conduct lobster research (I'll call this one biology)." These examples are from Citizens Against Government Waste's Pig Book 2009.
I urge the Senators from Arizona and across the nation to vote no this week (as I believe that is when it comes for a vote) on SA 2631, amending HR 2847.
Eight Years Later
Since today does mark the 8th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Virginia, and the attempted attack on the White House or Capitol Building in Washington, DC, I wanted to make sure I acknowledged the day with a little rememberance.
I searched through my blog for the other posts I've made about this day, and I found that I really haven't written about it. Probably partially because I was involved with 9/11 events at college last year, and partially because it's still disconcerting to discuss it.
Like most people, I remember exactly where I was when I saw smoke billowing out of the first hole in the towers early in the morning here in Phoenix. I was at home getting ready for my fifth week of tenth grade at Life School Gold charter school, and my dad flipped on the news in his bedroom and told us all to come see what was going on.
I think I remember recognizing the impact of the situation when a second plane hit the towers, and while Mom was ushering us out to get into the car I said, "We can't go to school right now... this is too important!" Not out of an I-don't-wanna-go-to-school mentality, but rather out of a "Holy crap!" line of thought. Mom actually ended up leaving me at home for my dad to drop me off at school a little closer to start time on his way to work.
Naturally, school was effectively cancelled, with all of us students remaining in homeroom for most of the day. I was in the southeastern-most room, facing west, watching the broadcast on CNN on a television that they had wheeled in on a cart. I remember early on the confusion and chaos that reigned as my classmates and teachers watched the twin towers succumb to the heat of the fires and tumble to the ground, engulfing cameramen and reporters and citizens in ash-like powder.
I remember the first time an anchor had "breaking news" about a third plane reportedly hitting the Pentagon, and thinking that it was surreal that we were being attacked by our own jetliners. I remember the video of the smoldering wreckage of Flight 93, brought down in Shanksville, PA by a determined group of heroic passengers resisting the terrorists in the air.
I can still picture the blank-slated shock on the face of the President - actually, on everyone's faces - as he was told by his Chief of Staff that America was under attack at a school in Florida, and hearing his brief statement before being whisked off to an "undisclosed location."
My feelings on that black day were of numbness, even as a high school student in a small charter school in Mesa, Arizona. I was scared that someone might try to fly a plane into the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant. I was in disbelief that something of this magnitude could even be accomplished, and I found myself unable to tear myself away from the television and the incoming redundancy of the news reports.
In the days following, I watched with resolve the President's speech from the rubble of the Trade Center on September 14, 2001, and I must have looked up hundreds of news reports online and on television. The dark gray clouds that could be seen from space over Manhattan Island of the smoke and ash that lingered for weeks it seemed, I see clearly. I remember feeling anger and hatred for Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network, and a sense of helplessness from realizing I was too young even to volunteer to go to New York and help in the rescue and recovery efforts.
Eight years later, when I watch the History Channel broadcasts of the news stories and the photographs taken on 9/11/01, my chest still finds a way of tightening up, and my blood boils when at 12:06pm EST they show the first photo of Osama bin Laden on the Today Show's coverage. It's especially hard to see the pictures of folks who decided to jump from the highest stories of the towers rather than be burned alive in the flaming plane wreckage or choke to death on thick, black smoke. It can be even more difficult to see the photos of people with eyes larger than saucers, mouths open, screaming in abject terror at a nameless, faceless perpetrator and the sense of impending death.
To this very day, I know that the events of 9/11 are what inspired my interest in and love of politics. Not really because anything political happened that day, but because in the weeks and months and even years to follow, I strove to understand why the attacks happened, what caused the failures of security and flaws in communications here in America, and followed the writings and speeches of the President, his cabinet members, the legislators who responded with the PATRIOT Act, the Attornies General charged with upholding and interpreting the new security legislation, journalists, and ordinary citizens who were directly or indirectly involved.
I still don't think I can ever know all the details of 9/11, but authors like Bob Woodward with "insider" perspective on the day, the 9/11 Commission charged with rooting out those details, and accounts and stories of the victims in the towers, planes, and Pentagon have helped to sate my curiousity.
I remember 9/11, and I firmly hold that it something we collectively should never allow to be forgotten. God bless America.
How To Score A Baseball Game
In Two Easy Steps....
Okay, maybe more than just TWO steps. Because of my little hobby, I've been asked a few times what I mean by "scoring" a baseball game, and how it's done. Most people that regularly go to the ballpark probably know you can buy a program and you get a complementary scorecard filled with a grid of boxes that you're supposed to write on, but how many of you actually know HOW to keep score? Well, if you've ever been interested, see below!
Typically, I've found two main types of scorecards: cards for the casual fan, and cards for statisticians. The scorecard you get at the ballpark is a casual one. Places for players' names, numbers, and boxes to fill in what happens at that person's at-bat. This is a pretty typical scorecard you might find at a ballpark. The spaces on the far left are for names/numbers of players, the white boxes in the center are for plays during the game, and the right side is reserved for statistics (how many hits each player had, RBI, walks, etc.):
My scorecards are a bit more complicated, because I like to keep track of eachpitch during the game, not just the end results of an at-bat. Here's a scan of my scorecard from 4/14/2009, the St. Louis Cardinals vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks. First, the away team (Cardinals):Then the Diamondbacks:At the top of each page is the score and number of innings (you'll notice that this game was won by the Diamondbacks 6-7 in ten innings) and the stadium in which the game was played (Chase Field). Below that are the gameday conditions: home team/visiting team, date, my name, start time of game, end time, time played, attendance, wind and weather. These don't really affect anything, but they're nice reminders of what it was like that day. This game was GORGEOUS at 85 degrees and overcast with a nice strong 15mph breeze coming from the west. And it was a typical game, attended by about the average 25,000 people.
At the bottom of the page there's a "SUMS" table, which shows the inning-by-inning accumulation of runs, hits, errors, and men left on base (LOB). For example, in the Diamondbacks' half of the 5th inning, they scored 2 runs, collected one hit, the opposing team made two errors, and the DBacks left one man on base. The last column in that grid is the accumulation of hits, runs, errors, and LOB for the whole game. The Cardinals scored 6 runs on 11 hits, the DBacks made no errors against them, and the Cards stranded 9 on base.
Below this, there are the stats for the game's pitchers. The pitcher's name goes in the first column, followed by spaces for whether he won/lost/held/saved the game, how many innings he pitched, hits allowed, runs allowed, earned runs allowed (a technical term for runs allowed that didn't happen because of errors), walks (bb = base on balls), strikeouts, hit batters, balks, wild pitches thrown, and total batters faced. In this game, Max Scherzer (of Arizona) pitched 5 innings, gave up 3 runs (all earned) on 5 hits and 2 walks, struck out one, and faced 22 batters.
Below that, there's spaces for catchers' statistics (passed balls, of which there are almost never any), and for the names of the four umpires for the game.
The middle of the scorecard's where it's all at. The first columns allow spaces for batters' numbers, their names, and their fielding positions. Each position on the field is given a number: 1 = pitcher, 2 = catcher, 3 = 1st baseman, 4 = 2nd baseman, 5 = 3rd baseman, 6 = shortstop, and 7/8/9 = left/center/right fielder respectively. The squares in the center serve to show how each of these nine players fared in each at-bat of the game. There are other symbols too, but the main ones when scoring a game are F#, #-#, L#, P#, and K or a backwards K.
F# means that the batter hit a ball to one of the outfielders who caught it in the air before it hit the ground, expressed as "flyout to the centerfielder" (or right fielder, or left fielder). Both L# and P# mean that the ball was hit to an infielder who caught it in the air before it hit the ground. L for lineout (a very sharply hit ball the went directly to the infielder) and P for pop-up (a softly hit ball or one that went straight up in the air before coming back down into the infield).
#-# means that two (or more) infielders were part of a play resulting in an out (or outs). When you hear an announcer mention a "6-4-3 double play" what he means is that the shortstop (position 6, remember) got the ball on the ground, threw it to the second baseman (#4) who got a runner from first base out, then threw the ball to the first baseman (#3) who got the batter who was running from home out. Rarely, a runner will get in what is known as a "rundown" where the fielders have "trapped" him between two bases. In these cases, you could have a single play that looks like this: 2-5-2-6-1-7-2. That would mean that the catcher fielded the ball, threw it to the 3rd baseman, who threw it back to the catcher, who threw it to the shortstop who was covering third base, who threw it to the pitcher covering home plate, who threw it back to the left fielder covering third base, who threw it back to the catcher covering home plate who finally (FINALLY!) tagged the runner out. The runner, meanwhile, is just doing wind sprints back and forth between 3rd base and home, trying not to get tagged! Confused yet?
Other important things to learn would be how to score hits, walks, and errors. The little diamond in the center of each square box is a representation of the base path. The right corner of the diamond represents 1st base, the top corner represents 2nd base, and so on. When someone hits a single, you draw a line between "home plate" and "first base" and write "1B" (meaning "single") next to it. A double would have "2B", and a home run would have "HR." On my scorecard, Conor Jackson (#34, pinch hitter - PH as a fielding position) hit a home run in the 8th inning. The dot in the center of his box means that he touched all four bases safely during his time as a batter and runner, and scored one run for the team. The three small dots in the upper right corner of his box mean that he got 3 RBI - Runs Batted In - because of his home run. Essentially, during his time at bat, three runs scored, including him because of the home run. Also, notice how when Jackson hit his homer, I filled in the lines around the diamond for all the other players who scored on the play, and I put the little number 34 between third and home for them? That tells me which player moved that runner to home.
Walks and errors are similarly easy: on a walk, instead of "1B" you write "BB" for bsae on balls - the batter was given first base because he got four balls from the pitcher while at bat. On error, you would write E#, the number being the position number of the player who committed the error (shortstop, 3rd base, and 2nd base generally have the most errors). Sometimes, a player will bat and hit a ground ball which would have put him out, but the defense throws the ball to put out a different runner instead, and the batter reaches first base safely. This is called a "fielder's choice" play, represented by FC on the scorecard. It's not a hit, statistics-wise, and it's not an out. It just means that the fielder who initially got the batted ball decided to get a runner who was closer to scoring a run out instead of the batter. It was the fielder's choice... get it?
Aside from that, ignore most of my other weird markings until you've gotten some practice. They're things that are either uninportant and just quirks I like to do on my scorecards or they're for rarer plays which you won't see every game. Good luck trying it out, and don't get discouraged if you make your own errors... I know I have to scribble out something every game I watch still! (Notice the scribbles on the final score of the game on the DBacks side of the scorecard? Um yeah....)
The last two weeks I've been working for my dad's company as a fill-in receptionist while Lisa, the full time person I replaced, was on a leave of absence. I guess she comes back Monday, so my estimate of 3 weeks worth of work is now only going to last two, but hey, pocket change is pocket change. I did get a raise since the last time I worked, so that's pretty awesome (thanks, Julie!). Point is, since I'm not the real deal as far as receptionists go, I don't get near the workload I could handle in a front desk position such as ordering supplies, typing, filing, etc. This gives me time to read, an activity I've not done for pleasure in many years, since the summer of 2005 at least. During the past two weeks at O'Neil Construction, I have gone through three books, and all three were good enough for me to give short reviews of them here at "The View from Arizona." 1. As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires by Bruce Weber Trivia question: What association is more universally despised by the average American citizen than almost any other in today's society, and where it's perfectly normal for a person to espouse his or her disgust with the people filling the job description? That would be the association of Major League Baseball umpires. From the workweariness of umpiring school, where amatures are intensively schooled in the rules of the game and trained mercilessly in learning umpiring mechanics and positions, to the minor league systems where the pay is akin to the level of a paid intern and the working conditions are vitriolic at best, finally, after a decade or more of abuse, the most senior umpires might hive a shot at dealing with whiny players and hateful MLB staffers in the Majors. The world of the Umps is filled with racism (how many black umpires do you see calling games?), segregation (ever seen a woman signaling a home run?), and treatment that at any other job would be considered grounds for a lawsuit - seriously, the old catchphrase among fans used to be "Kill the Ump!" Despite all this, though, every umpire in Weber's novel has one common goal: to uphold the traditions of the sport of baseball. While not without their faults - and of their vices there can be no doubt - on the field umpires are truly the caretakers of the American Pastime. I would encourage all baseball fans and all who claim to love the game to read this biography of the stewards of the sport! 2. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card I first read this sci-fi classic when I was much younger, around ten or so, perhaps, and in rereading it, I have come to appreciate the complexities that Card grants his characters so much more than I ever did at that young age. The novel, set amidst the dark shadow of alien invasion by a race (the only one humans have made contact with at this time) called the "buggers" weaves the story of Andrew Wiggin, the Wunderkind nicknamed "Ender" who at the age of 6 is drafted into a specialized officer training school to become a tool used to defend Earth from the second invasion of bugger forces. Ender, whose modified genes give him a military mind sharper than that of any adult, trains in the school's Battle Room practicing military formations with the other child-trainees and adapting to the most intense challenges the adults can think to throw at him to help him grow. Throughout it all, though, Ender wishes for nothing else except to return home to his family - his sister Valentine in particular - and be done with killing and training. My words do not do justice to Card's grand juxtaposition of love and hate, the innocence of childhood against the harshness of the human survival instinct, and above all else, truth versus deception. If you are a lover of the classics, this book as much as any from centuries past, will stand the test of time. 3. Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card Card's sequel to "Ender's Game," Speaker is the story of what happened AFTER Ender the Xenocide won the Bugger Wars for the humans. After traveling the stars in search of a final resting place for the last surviving bugger queen, whose race Ender utterly wiped out three thousand years earlier, Andrew Wiggin is now the Speaker for the Dead - a eulogizer whose purpose if uncovering the truth of a person's life after he or she has died and Speaking that truth to his or her family and acquaintances. When Speaker Andrew is called to Speak for a biologist on a distant world inhabited by the second sentient species humankind has found among the stars - but which is also seemingly predestined to be exterminated by humankind no matter how well-intentioned - he accepts the offer with the hope that it will be the trip which finally allows him to undo his guilty conscience and allow the bugger queen to be reborn. In no other book have a ever found myself so profoundly moved by the notion that the truth - the honest-to-God, blunt and in-your-face, spoken without judgement truth - can really free the soul. This book can be read alone or as the sequel to "Ender's Game" but regardless of which you choose, "Speaker for the Dead" is astounding literature. 4. Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card The newest Ender novel by Card, published in 2008, Ender in Exile tells the story of what happens to Andrew Wiggin between "Ender's Game" and "Speaker for the Dead." Andrew, traveling to Shakespeare Colony some 22 light years from Earth after being appointed Governor of the colony makes the transition from wartime commanding to peacetime commanding and diplomacy. The novel's main sticking point is its development of, specifically, Ender's character, and believe me, Card does it brilliantly.
Carville & Matalin: Washington's Best-Loved Couple
As requested by A Fish Out of Water: Early last week (maybe even two weeks ago, I don't remember), Ryan called me with an offer I couldn't refuse: a chance to hear James Carville (CNN news analyst and Uber politico) and his wife Mary Matalin (FOX News analyst and Uber politico) speak at the Biltmore this past Thursday. Of course I said yes. (Thanks for buying the tickets, Ryan!) So I put on my nice new red dress shirt and my nice new red, white, and blue tie to match, and met Ryan at the Biltmore Fashion Park and we drove over to the Biltmore together. What I didn't know, and he didn't tell me, was that the event in question was the annual mega event for the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix. I think that Ryan and I may have actually been the only two non-Jews in the entire 1500-person population that went to the event. Kinda awkward. Anyway, after some introductions by the Foundation's chairman, and a recap of the previous year's events and those in the year-to-come, Carville and Matalin took the stage. Now, mind you, I haven't really listened to either of them intently before considering I usually have ABC15 local news, C-SPAN, or MSNBC on when I want to watch TV news. I'd rather hit up the internet news to pick out just the stories I'm interested in. But they were really funny! Mary Matalin went first, and gave a rundown of how it was sometimes awkward, sometimes frustrating, but always awesome to be married to someone on the polar opposite political spectrum from herself. Except on Israel - that's apparently their one issue point of agreement: a strong and sovereign Israel. Mary also talked about President Obama's cabinet picks and briefly touched on the need for support for the president, even though we may not support the president's policies right now (especially this stimulus plan). James Carville got up next and detailed some more of his thought's on Obama's first 30 days in office, made a few predictions about Israel, like that a peace treaty between Syria and Israel would be signed within 2 years. I don't know about that; I think it's a bit lofty to assume it, but hey, it's James Carville predicting it, so there must be some reasoning behind it. He discussed Bejamin Netanyahu in Israel and his formation of the Israeli government in the near future. Then there was a brief Q&A session of questions submitted by people who had attended a different function a week prior to the Carville/Matalin event, mostly all about Israel and issues of importance to persons of Jewish faith. After the event, Ryan and I snagged some dinner (the event had a nice little dessert plate for guests) and I went home. It was a good time, although, had I known the event was for Jewish Foundation members, I probably would have been expecting all the questions on Israel instead of hoping to hear them talk more about the stimulus and the economy. Sorry I took no pictures. My cell camera was useless in the big event hall, and my digital camera is currently not working.