Friday, October 28, 2005

Week Eight

Just a quick one this week...

Last week's picks: 7-7 (55-47).

Last week's final scores: 0-12-2 (1-92-9), Pittsburgh's 27 and San Francisco's 17.

Last week's Challenge pick: Washington (W, 4-3).

This week's picks:

Dallas 28, Arizona 17
Chicago 17, Detroit 7
Houston 24, Cleveland 21
Cincinnati 24, Green Bay 14
St. Louis 23, Jacksonville 17
Carolina 27, Minnesota 14
Oakland 27, Tennessee 20
N.Y. Giants 20, Washington 17
Kansas City 24, San Diego 17
New Orleans 20, Miami 13
Denver 20, Philadelphia 17
Tampa Bay 24, San Francisco 3
New England 31, Buffalo 24
Pittsburgh 24, Baltimore 3

Challenge: Pittsburgh.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Week Seven

The Inner Columnist wins!

Except when he loses.

The Inner Columnist had a pretty decent week, as weeks go in the NFL predictions business. 10-4 is something to be happy about, good buddy, lifting as it does the overall record to 48-40.

But there is no excuse for picking the Minnesota Vikings in the Eliminator Challenge. None whatsoever. What was I thinking? No more NFC North picks - this week I'm taking Washington.

Now the final-score business...well, you might say that one's experiencing a bit of a boom.

Fourteen games.

Twelve losses.

One tie (courtesy the Houston Texans, predicted 21-10 losers who managed to lose 42-10.)

And one win.

That's right, folks. Your Inner Columnist correctly predicted a final score: San Diego 27, Oakland 14.

So with a 1-12-1 week, the overall tally goes to 1-80-7. I'll take that.

And now, the rest of this week's picks:

Kansas City 23, Miami 13
Cleveland 20, Detroit 7
Green Bay 27, Minnesota 14
Indianapolis 30, Houston 10
St. Louis 24, New Orleans 20
Cincinnati 30, Pittsburgh 27
San Diego 28, Philadelphia 24
Washington 24, San Francisco 17
Seattle 20, Dallas 17
Chicago 13, Baltimore 9
Buffalo 31, Oakland 24
N.Y. Giants 41, Denver 38
Tennessee 16, Arizona 7
Atlanta 34, N.Y. Jets 21

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

On Exile

The first time I was in college, there was a book for one of my classes called "Altogether Elsewhere: Writers On Exile." European writers, mostly, and most of them Eastern European, because the class was on Russian writers, and because the wars of the 20th century produced so very many exiles from that part of the world.

They wrote about leaving their homes. And they wrote about living as exiles in Paris or New York. And they wrote about wishing to return to the cities whence they had come.

What they did not write upon was their actual returning, because mostly they never did return. And they did not write upon the American South, because they did not know it.

And so I found it difficult to relate to their experiences.

For though you might not think it possible to be an exile in your own country, America is big enough, and American society mobile enough, that it is. But being free, from time to time we do have the luxury of going home.

And so to this I can relate.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Mardi Mishmash

It's too late for a Monday Mishmash. But it's never too late for alliteration. Alors, aujourd'hui je vous présente le "Mardi Mishmash."

***

It's a tough life, being an umpire. Strange plays. Tough calls. Hostile fans. Angry players. Earl Weaver. Sometimes I'm jealous of officials in other sports. If things get a little out of hand, football referees can throw a penalty flag. Basketball referees can call a technical foul. Tennis officials can assess code violations. But umpires have no middle ground available. It's either an argument or an ejection. Or both.

This time of year, though, what's worst for me is the weather. Sunday morning I tossed my uniform - which, I hasten to add, is shorts and a short-sleeved shirt that breathes very well, great for a hot summer day - in the car and went to my other job, concerned not at all about the morning chill.

Come the end of the day, I got into uniform and took off for the field. The first indication of trouble ahead was the stiff headwind en route. The second indication was when I got out of the car and felt that wind blowing hard across the field. Not a good sign.

The sun was down quickly and the mercury followed it. I don't know for sure, but I'd say it was in the 40s very early. That wasn't the worst, though. The worst was the wind, blowing from right to left, kicking up dust clouds so fierce that at times we had to turn away and wait for it to subside. Blowing pitches off course. Keeping anybody from hitting the ball very far. Getting me worried about frostbite in my fingers, until I was finally able to borrow some gloves. Howling through my facemask. I am not even kidding. It was like having my own personal ghost.

And frankly, when you see a very large formation of geese heading south, it's time for the season to be over.

***

I have a mouse! Well, I had a mouse before, but now I have the mouse I wanted, thanks to my father, who tracked one down for me in New Jersey after all the stores around here came up empty. The unloved Kensington goes back to the store today or tomorrow, and the little Apple Mouse sits there happily. Thanks, Dad.

***

The Inner Columnist has books scattered all over his apartment, and the most recent one he read is called "The Battle to Save the HOUSTON," by John Grider Miller. Originally published in 1985, last year the Inner Columnist acquired a copy of the 2000 reprint and has finally gotten around to reading it.

It's good. It's not edge-of-the-seat reading, but it is a fascinating and quite detailed book on the light cruiser USS HOUSTON (CL-81). Torpedoed off Formosa in October 1944, HOUSTON and her crew embarked on a months-long struggle to save their ship from both the Japanese and the sea. The book is a bit dry in places, and HOUSTON's Commanding Officer is virtually absent from the book - it is dominated by her Damage Control Officer, who was one of the primary sources of material for this book - but the technical details, well-illustrated by photos rarely published, are plentiful without being overwhelming. Recommended.

Also recommended: "We Will Stand By You: Serving In the PAWNEE, 1942-45," by Theodore C. Mason, who was a radioman in the fleet tug PAWNEE, which towed HOUSTON clear of the battle area. Mason's memoir is extremely candid and noteworthy for the youthful perspective it retains, despite being written so many years after the fact. His "Battleship Sailor," about his prewar service in the battleship CALIFORNIA, shares this characteristic, and both are well worth reading more than once.

***

Logic not doing the job for you? Try The People's Progressive Truth Generator! Here's what it says about me: "Inner Columnist, you are an exploiting rube because you don't root for Cuba!"

Au contraire, mon ami. I do root for Cuba. For a free, democratic Cuba. You know. Like the one being built in Iraq. Which, as you may or may not have heard, voted on the new constitution just the other day. And already there are accusations of fraud. Hey, maybe they are just like us!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Week Six

First, what you didn't get last week:

The Inner Columnist did well in Week Four, with a second consecutive winning week (9-5) that brought him over .500 for the first time this year, at 31-29. The final score prediction was typical at 0-13-1, this week's tie being due to Baltimore's 13-3 victory over the Jets (predicted final score: 13-7.) That ran the overall record to a thrilling 0-55-5. And the Bengals' win over Houston evened the Eliminator Challenge at 2-2, with a two-game winning streak. Not bad.

And now we return you to your regularly scheduled football post:

Last week, the Inner Columnist held serve by going 7-7, running his overall record to 38-36. Once again, he posted an 0-13-1 mark in final-score predictions (0-68-6 overall), this time getting the predicted 24 points out of Pittsburgh - except that he predicted Pittsburgh would be 31-24 losers at San Diego, rather than 24-22 winners. Considering the quality of this Monday night contest, and considering that the Inner Columnist has long been a Steeler fan, he will happily accept being wrong. Not that he has much choice, considering how often it happens. He was right again, however, in his Eliminator Challenge selection, this time taking Indianapolis and going to 3-2 for the year, with a three-game winning streak underway.

This week, the Inner Columnist selects Minnesota. Hey, somebody has to win these NFC North games.

This week's picks:

Atlanta 27, New Orleans 17
Carolina 37, Detroit 14
Cincinnati 28, Tennessee 17
Cleveland 19, Baltimore 9
Pittsburgh 24, Jacksonville 21
Tampa Bay 20, Miami 17
Minnesota 21, Chicago 6
Dallas 28, N.Y. Giants 24
Kansas City 24, Washington 16
New England 34, Denver 31
Buffalo 24, N.Y. Jets 20
San Diego 27, Oakland 14
Seattle 21, Houston 10
Indianapolis 38, St. Louis 24

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Monday Mishmash (II)

Because while it may be early Tuesday on the East Coast, it's Monday night somewhere.

***

Damien Cox has written an eminently reasonable piece on the subject of visors in the NHL.

Since I'm not eminently reasonable, I'll say what he didn't: you're a damned fool to play hockey without a visor.

I can't even begin to fathom why people would occupy the same patch of ice as a high-velocity slab of frozen rubber without face protection. I see so many injuries in slow-pitch softball that I think face masks ought to be mandatory for umpires and catchers in that game. (I'm the only umpire I know who does wear one. It paid for itself the first time a foul ball bounced off it.) And these people are playing hockey without so much as a sheet of plastic over their faces? Yegods.

***

I haven't read as much as I ought to on the Harriet Miers nomination. But that's not going to prevent me from having an opinion.

What really bugs me, more than the fact that she's largely an unknown, more than the questions over her conservative credentials, more than the concerns over her judicial qualifications, more even than the general alarm I feel whenever Democratic members of Congress approve of a Bush nomination, is that she was chosen because she is a she.

Since when did it become necessary for one female justice to be replaced by another? Why should the primary qualification for Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement be gender? When did Supreme Court racial and gender quotas get written into the Constitution? Have I missed something here?

Thurgood Marshall was replaced by Clarence Thomas. When in the fullness of time Justice Thomas departs the court, he will be replaced by another black person, regardless of whether there is another jurist of a different race more qualified.

Is a court composed only of white men the best court we can have? It might be, if those are the nine finest jurists in the land. If all are equal before the law, if the law is truly blind to color and gender, then the color and gender of those who enforce and interpret the law should not matter.

Is the law truly blind? Probably not. It's an imperfect institution. Is it good to have a mix of races and genders on the court? Maybe. To what extent do these differing backgrounds color (sorry) their perspectives on the law? I don't know. I'm not a lawyer. One in the family is enough.

But Harriet Miers? C'mon. Five hundred thousand lawyers in this country and she's the best? Not sold.

***

My beloved Apple Pro Mouse finally gave up the ghost over the weekend. I fear it may have gotten hold of some bad cheese. It had been acting up for a while, but I had put off buying a replacement, because I have this strange aversion to spending money I don't have to.

This was, as you will learn, a mistake.

Today I went to my friendly neighborhood Apple store to buy a replacement. The current version is white, not black, but that's okay. I don't believe in racial quotas for computer mice, either.

So I get to the store and look on the mouse racks.

And I look.

And I look.

And I look.

And I do not see the mouse I want.

Hmm.

I grab a salesman. Have you a mouse of this type? This type, right here, the one you have a dozen of attached to demonstration computers but precisely zero on the shelf.

We do not. Apple discontinued them.

They what?

Apple discontinued them.

I believe he saw the panic setting in. Would you like me to call the other area stores and ask if they have any left?

Oh, yes. Yes. Please. Yes.

Neither other store has them.

Can you sell me one of the mice currently in use on a demo computer?

Afraid not.

Darn it. Okay. Got to have a mouse. Cast about for an alternative. Settle on the Kensington PilotMouse Optical.

I can bring this back if I hate it, right?

Fourteen days.

Okay.

I get it home. I take it out. I plug and play. Yes! I have a mouse! I have merged back onto the information superhighway!

There is a problem.

I hate my new mouse.

It is an inoffensive little mouse, really. Well, actually, it is not little. This is part of the problem. I am used to the smooth plastic of the Pro Mouse, which fits so snugly into my hand, as though it were designed for my very hand. The PilotMouse is not smooth and does not fit snugly. It is quite rubbery and quite large and it is meant to be gripped, rather than becoming an extension of the hand. I find myself holding in the same way as I held the Pro Mouse, but what was familiar and intimate with the Pro Mouse is tentative and uncomfortable with the PilotMouse. And because it sits twice as high as my Pro Mouse, its position on the rollout part of my desk where it sits with the keyboard means that my hand scrapes against the underside of the desktop. Which I do not appreciate.

Another of the PilotMouse's less endearing traits is the funky shape of the clicking area. Whereas the whole of the Pro Mouse acts as a button, the PilotMouse has a strange U-shaped pad with two finger-width buttons and a wheel in the middle of the U. I have no strong feelings about wheeled mice, one way or the other, although this one does seem rather wasteful of space. But being a left-handed clicker and an Apple loyalist, I do have strong feelings about two-button mice. I do not like them. Not at all. Not on my Mac, thank you very much.

So I am searching for a Pro Mouse. Perhaps some retailer, somewhere, has one left. Perhaps someone out there has one they no longer need. And, if all else fails, maybe I can even repair it.

My poor mouse. I am afraid I yelled at it quite loudly when it was dying. Come back, Apple Pro Mouse, come back...

***

DC can be a very uptight city, I observed to one of our regular customers at the hobby shop on Sunday as we talked of cities we had been, and cities we might go.

Yes, he replied, but there are places in it that are not. You just have to find them.

And I got to thinking, and I said, you are right, and this is one of them. An oasis in the DC desert. A place of relaxation for customers and employees alike, because I do truly love my job. I am blessed in that. Many people have one job they hate. I have two I love. I must remember that, whenever I think on the things I do not like about this city, and think of leaving it.

Not that I won't leave it, necessarily. But time erases the bad and accentuates the good. When I remember this city, I will remember the good things I had, the good things which I have now. I must enjoy them now, because one day it may be that I will not have them, and I should not rush the leaving of the good so that I can escape the bad.

Because life is, after all, pretty darn good.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Week Five

Regrettably, the Inner Columnist is pressed for time this week, so we go straight to the picks:

Baltimore 13, Detroit 3
Cleveland 17, Chicago 7
Miami 24, Buffalo 10
New England 23, Atlanta 17
Green Bay 31, New Orleans 14
St. Louis 28, Seattle 14
Tampa Bay 27, N.Y. Jets 7
Tennessee 24, Houston 17
Indianapolis 38, San Francisco 16
Carolina 27, Arizona 17
Philadelphia 30, Dallas 17
Denver 23, Washington 10
Cincinnati 27, Jacksonville 24
San Diego 31, Pittsburgh 24

Eliminator Challenge: Indianapolis.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Week Four

At last, a winning week for the Inner Columnist.

After two straight 7-9 weeks, the Inner Columnist went 8-6 last weekend to bring his overall record to 22-24. What's more, he finally earned a check mark in the Eliminator Challenge by taking Tampa Bay, who eked out a one-point win over Green Bay. Hey, a win's a win. And the Inner Columnist managed to go 0-12-2 in picking final scores, running the overall record to 0-42-4. Tampa Bay (predicted to be 17-10 winners) won 17-16, while Atlanta (predicted to be 24-20 winners) won 24-16. One of these days, he's going to get a complete final score right. Maybe.

This week's Eliminator Challenge selection is Cincinnati. The Bengals are for real. How scary is that?

And now, this week's final-score predictions:

Week 4
Buffalo 23, New Orleans 16
Denver 24, Jacksonville 21
Tampa Bay 31, Detroit 17
Cincinnati 34, Houston 17
Indianapolis 17, Tennessee 7
New England 31, San Diego 28
Washington 23, Seattle 10
N.Y. Giants 38, St. Louis 31
Baltimore 13, N.Y. Jets 7
Dallas 24, Oakland 16
Atlanta 27, Minnesota 14
Kansas City 27, Philadelphia 24
San Francisco 28, Arizona 20
Carolina 30, Green Bay 16

Mmm, football...