Tuesday, August 19, 2008
A forum for the world to set the best athletes of each country against each other in a fair and unbiased competition. Or so states the ideal. As we know, ideals are one thing, facts are quite another, and often fall miserably short of the stated ideals.
The Beijing Olympic Games of 2008 are no exception. There have been no shortages of egregious errors in judging, particularly noticeable in the gymnastics competition. In fact, it is one of the few, if not the only Olypmic arena in which the foilbles of human judgement come into play throughout the contest. Most of the other contests rely on super-accurate electronic timers.
There have been so many fiascos in these games as to render the entire concept laughable. This was not a contest of athletes; it was a contest of nationalities, ridiculously complicated rules, and faulty scoring systems. In an attempt to prevent national bias (an admirable ideal) the judging was faulty because the none of the judges were not allowed to be from any country entering a team in the competition. Sounds good, on the surface.
The end result, however, was that the judging was as badly skewed due to incompetence of the judges: if your country does not have a gymnastics team, then what in blazes to the "judges" think they know about the sport? Only so much can be gained from a rule book, or watching the sport a few times on TV. Significant nuances are missed, and massive flaws and mistakes get ignored.
The women's final on the vault is a prime example. Alicia Sacramone was, in the words of Bella Karolyi "ripped off" of her chance at a medal. How could the judges possibly have awarded a higher score to Chung Fei, who not only did not 'stick' her landing, but failed to complete the final rotation of her vault, and actually landed on her knees? This was not a matter of falling after landing: she never landed on her feet at all--she landed down on her knees. This was a huge mistake! Were the judges completely blind? Why did they not deduct the appropriate points for this 'fault on the vault'? Were they also blind to the fact that Alicia performed a very solid vault, and redeemed herself from the previous day's disasters in her routines? Did they still carry a bias of 'punishment' for her into the next event? It was just plain wrong.
Team USA should have filed a protest against this score.
Next, comes the finals on the uneven bars. Nastia Lukin and He Xing tied. The tiebreaker confusion controversy aside for the moment, there never should have been a tie in the first place. He made 2 very noticeable errors, including a side-step on her landing. There were other, more subtle errors within the routine. Nastia, meanwhile, did one of her very best routines, with much more minor 'faults' to be found within, and, she stuck her landing!
The outcome of the tiebreaker on the uneven bars was most unfortunate; it resulted in an undeserved gold for He, and a disappointing silver for Lukin. If the judging had been accurate to start with, there would have been no tie, and the ridiculously complex 'tiebreaker rules' would not have to have been applied. These rules were apparently taken out of 'human' hands, written into a computer program, and done automatically.
I'm not impressed! A human (or worse, a committee) had to think up the series of rules, and they then had to be entered into a computer program by another human. Mistakes can be made. Even if no mistakes were made in the programming, the first mistake was in making such a complex set of rules. The I.O.C. has apparently never heard of the "K.I.S.S." principle: "Keep It Simple, Stupid." The garbage that resulted reminds me of another aphorism relative to computers: "GIGO," meaning, "Garbage In, Garbage Out." It was certainly garbage that went into the concept of these new scoring and tiebreaker rules, and garbage that came out at the end.
Now, it strikes me, that complex rules or not, there is already well and fully in place the perfect mechanism for squaring up the judging, and making things absolutely fair, no matter who the judges are, even if they were from a country whose athletes were participating in the given contest. It has existed and been used for years in professional football, and even earlier in horse racing. It is the camera. The olympic venue is plastered with cameras viewing all the events from every conceivable angle, and there is not a network there without the capability to instantly retrieve and reply any shot, and do so in slow motion if necessary.
When there is a disputed call in football, the team managers and referees will go to the instant replay to settle the issue. The camera knows. If team USA had filed a protest over Cheng Fei's artificially inflated vault score, and if the judges had been forced to review a tape and really acknowledge the errors, (several besides the unfortunate landing), there would have been no excuse for such an incorrect score. She fell. She did not complete her rotation sufficiently to land properly. A 6-year-old with no gymnastics training could have seen that. Were the judges watching the audience instead, and taking cues from the cheers and shouts? Or were they wearing horse blinders? Perhaps using a mental dartboard, and tossing darts at random numbers?
The technology is here, and has been for many years. Let's rule in favor of fairness for all the athletes, not just those in timed events, and bring in instant replay review, and the ability for any team to challenge what is obviously an unfair and undeserved score.
Friday, July 11, 2008
That said, let's examine the entire concept of 'progress.' Progress has been beneficial in many ways, not so in other ways. Put another way, progress only for its own sake is not always the best course of action.
Conversely, maintaining a tradition only for its own sake is no better.
I am reminded of the story of a new bride fixing a roast for her husband. He observed as she cut off the end of the roast prior to placing it in the pan. Curious, he asked her why she did this. "I don't really know," was the answer, "except that's the way my mom always did it."
Seeking a reason for this odd custom, the couple called the bride's mother and asked her. Her reply? Exactly the same: "I don't know; that's how my mother always did it."
As luck would have it, Grandmama was still living, so the next call went to her. "Why, Grandma, did you always cut the ends off the roasts?" "Well," replied the old woman, "that was the only way it would fit in the pan I had."
Mystery solved, but not applicable to the current couple's situation, and proof that 'just because that's always how it's been done" is not a good reason in and of itself for continuing a tradition.
On the progress side of the equation, comes much of modern packaging. Just because we can package products in plastic 'clamshells' that require a chain saw to open and a trip to the emergency room to stitch up the fingers sliced on the resulting sharp edges, does not mean we should use such packages!
Bread wrappers also come to mind. When I was growing up, bread was packaged in cellophane wrap. It was rather fragile, usually tore beyond the point needed for getting the bread out, and it did not keep the bread especially fresh. Bread going stale was a common problem.
No matter. There are lots of uses for stale bread: make croutons for salad or turkey stuffing; make French toast; make bread pudding; grind it up for crumbs for breading food, or even go feed the ducks in the park.
Today, bread is wrapped in much stronger plastic bags which do not tear so easily, and keep the bread fresh down to the last slilce. Trouble is, unless your family goes through bread at a fantastic pace, it tends to get moldy instead of stale. In contrast to all the listed uses for stale bread, I can think of none for moldy bread. Putting it in the refrigerator keeps it from going moldy, but it also somehow makes it of a disagreeable consistency.
Milk used to come in waxed paper cartons. They were biodegradable; now, it comes in plastic jugs, which are not. There are howls galore about all the non-biodegradable 'stuff' going into landfills. Recycling programs are not what they are cracked up to be, and much so-called 'recyclable' waste ends up in the landfills anyway.
There is much hue and cry about recycling and "greening the planet," however, many of the concepts fall under yet more of the rampant "ideas not well-thought-through." For example:
One should not dump discards as litter on the side of the road. They should be taken to an appropriate disposal facility. In theory, not an issue. In practice, however, this is not an affordable option for many people. Not only is there a fee to offload a truck or carload at the dumps, but additional fees are imposed for certain categories of items. Where I live, for instance, the basic dump fee runs approximately $35. per load. Not too bad, so far.
But then add on a special fee on top of the basic fee at these rates: $25 for things such as microwave ovens, televisions, mattresses, $75 for refrigerators, and suddenly the 'affordable' dump fee jumps out of line and out of budget range for many, many people. You can easily tell which items generate the extra charges, for those are the very things seen dumped on roadsides or in vacant lots or even abandoned in front or back yards causing visual blight and resulting dereliction of the neighborhood.
If city/county managers want to see proper disposal, then they must not make such excess charges for said disposal. If they are going to insist on those charges, then they must not complain about roadside dumping. They cannot have it both ways.
Likewise, curbside recycling programs are for the most part very flawed. Again, taking my own general region as an example, our curbside recycle program has a long list of items it will not accept, including 'chipboard' (which it defines as cereal box-type cardboard), several kinds of plastics, and other items.
They cite "lack of a post-consumer market" for these items. Oh, really? How very interesting, because the very next-door town accepts all of these items, and more, including some of the types of things which would normally be found taken to the dumps, such as discarded clothing and broken appliances--all can go in the recycle bin. Hmmmm.......
On the other side of this ludicrous recycling effort is the 'green waste,' otherwise known as garden waste. Back in historic times, this was not waste...it was composted back into the soil for growing next season's crops. No matter that we no longer each grow our own food--such use is still the purported end result of our modern green waste curbside pickup services.
Once again, however, the powers that be have failed a test of logic in their scheduling. In the next-door community mentioned above, their green waste is picked up each week. This is a city of fairly large homes, some on good-sized lots with ample landscaping; precious few remaining rural or semi-rural areas, and a good measure of the new "zero lot" homes, for homeowners who do not wish to be bothered with yard work, and on which the home takes up the majority of the property.
In any case, not a green-waste-heavy area.
In my town, though, there is a much larger share of rural, semi-rural and large lot homes, yet our green waste is picked up only every other week. Once a week would be better. Who was in charge of these schedules, and what were they thinking?
Our curbside recyclables, however, are picked up each week, while those of our neighbors, (who, as mentioned, can place many more types of items for recycle), are picked up only on the rotating week schedule. Guess whose bins fill up faster?? A no-brainer!
Meanwhile, the cardboard recycle for our picky-picky recycle community is taken away regardless of whether or not 'chipboard' has been included. Obviously, the collectors do not have the time (or inclination) to sort through the bin, so how would they know if any was included or not? Right. They won't. And in the end, it all goes to the same facilities, and through the same processes, so what does it matter? It is getting recycled, and I thought that was the whole point!!
Monday, January 21, 2008
Contrary to popular belief, it is not too complex to fix. In fact, it is broken precisely because it has been made far more complex than it needs to be. You have to work hard at it to make things as complicated as they have become. Remember the "K.I.S.S." (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) principle? That is all we need to fix what has become an unwieldy and unworkable system.
First of all, there should be no attempt whatever made at salvaging the process as it now stands. Simply discard the current process and start all over again.
Here's how it would work:
1) All candidates for any elected office whatsoever, from the smallest city or township to the president of the United States itself, shall be placed under oath, and that oath is sworn at the time the papers to file intention to run for office are taken out. This means that politicians must not indulge in fabrications of "what they think the public wants to hear," when those statements may well be 180 degrees from the candidate's actual intentions or opinions. Simply put, if that candidate gains office, and proceeds in an opposite direction from campaign promises, they shall be ejected from office and charged with perjury, the office then being awarded to the runner-up. Such a diversion from promised course is usually easy to spot within a matter of weeks.
2) The problem of bribery and "buying" a candidate is the easiest problem to solve. Instead of worrying about campaign contribution caps, disclosures, and trying to decide if some tangible item was a 'gift' or 'contribution,' and must or must not be disclosed, simply relocate the focus.
If you instead place a cap on campaign spending, then any attempt to raise more money than the spending cap is an obvious violation, and besides would be patently useless.
3)The spending cap will work, because in addition, it will have a concomitant regulation requiring broadcast media in the pertinent markets, or national broadcast corporations, in the case of nationally elected offices) to provide each candidate with a one-minute PSA (Public Service Announcement) free of charge during which they may state their message. This message must air 2 times in each segment of the broadcast day (i.e., early morning, drive time, daytime, prime time, etc.), not more than 3 times per week in a one month period. Hence, no need for fancy fund-raising dinners, etc. Candidates may use their campaign funds to purchase one, and one only, additional message to air a single time at their choice of time slot and timing prior to the election.
Each candidate shall likewise be provided with a 2-time opportunity to make their case in print media in the large daily-circulation newspapers for each major metropolitan area. The print message shall be printed once at the beginning of the month, and once at near the end. However, all candidates' print statements must appear in the same edition on the same day in a grouping. Each statement shall be limited to 5 column inches. Candidates may use their campaign funds to purchase one, and one only, additonal print message ad to appear in their choice of print media and at their choice of timing prior to the election.
The candidates (including campaigns for various propositions) shall also be prohibited from flooding the nation's mailboxes with political advertising. They will be limited to a single mailing each, and if a mailing was their choice, it would count as the additional 'print media' ad which they would be allowed.
4) The entire campaign advertising and electioneering period shall be limited to a period of time not to exceed three months prior to any given national election, and two months prior to any local election. Therefore, because of new regulations (3) and (4) as just outlined, each candidate will want to be certain to make their message count, and concentrate on their own platform, and not waste their resources bad-mouthing the opponents, mud-slinging, and making slanderous or libelous statements about the other candidates. (They would be wisest and best served to not even mention the other candidates at all.)
In other words, the citizens do not give a rat's patoot about a candidate's opinion of his/her opponent; they just want to know where that candidate stands. They can find out about the other candidate in the same way!
5) For presidential elections only, the national broadcast media shall be required to televise a single debate amongst the candidates. All candidates to be included, regardless of status in the polls, political party, or any other criteria currently used to decide which will be "invited" to debate. This broadcast shall be paid out of funds currently being collected through the income tax system under the "check this box to contribute to campaign finance" action.
6) The national primary elections to establish who will be the final candidates in the general election shall be held all at once on the same day, just like the general elections in November. This works in conjunction with the limits on advertising as stated above. No longer will the population become jaded, bored, irritated and ultimately apathetic from listening to endless campaign advertsing lasting 6 months or longer. No longer will candidates need to spend months on the road trying to keep up with the varied elections schedules. Under the new system, candidates must make their message concise, to the point and make it count.
Better yet...scratch that!! Instead, along with #7, below, do away with the primary election altogether! At the end of the campaign period, the election is held, and the outcome is final; (with the exception of any legal challenges which may arise). This further shortens the time the populace must put up with endless political advertising.
7) The last, but certainly not least fix: in fact, it is probably the single most important revision of all. ABOLISH, DISMANTLE, ELIMINATE and forever ban the "electoral college" system. One citizen, one vote, and that is how it is to be counted. Period!! No haggling over 'districts' and 'pledges' to vote for this or that candidate. Simple majority or 2/3 majority...but one-to-one citizen votes only. One citizen, one vote, one count. Done.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Into the middle of all of these classes and categories is thrown a layer of commercial fuzzy thinking. You want to go see a movie with an "R" rating? Sorry, ' "Children" under 17 not admitted without a parent.' Ah, but you want to go have fun all day at an amusement park? All of a sudden, you're an adult, and pay adult price at age 12! Now you think you want to participate in the electoral process, and cast your vote, or write to your congressman? Oh, no! You're not an adult with those privileges until you reach the ripe old age of 18! What's that? You say you want a glass of wine with dinner on your 'official-adult-legally-able-to-enter-into-a-binding-contract' 18th birthday? Sorry, you're still not an adult until age 21! Want a smoke at 18? (No better for you than alcohol, by the way)...That's ok, though, go ahead and buy your cancer sticks to celebrate being able to vote your preference.
It happens at the other end of the age spectrum, as well. It used to be that we reached our "golden years" at retirement age, which formerly was age 65. The feds have now upped that 2 more years. Okay....but what about senior-citizen discounts? Well, it all depends on where you shop! One merchant may offer senior discounts a certain day of the week only, and you have to actually be 65. Another may have them every day, and you only need be 62. The AARP, the most famous of the 'senior citizen' organizations (at least the most politically powerful--and not necessarily in a way to actually benefit seniors!), lets you in at age 50! Some places offer senior discounts for showing your AARP card, regardless of age...others insist on that magical number with a "6" at the start.
Is it any wonder we are a confused, mixed up society, with idenity crises running rampant? We can't find our peer group, because the boundaries have gotten all scrambled about. I see two possible solutions. Either 1) legislate a standard for defining adulthood and seniorhood, and make it mandatory for all businesses to follow across the board (not my favorite option, as I think there is too much government interference already), or 2) stop trying to make all these pigeonholes into which to cram everyone. Let the legal definitions of adulthood stand, and let's see if we can get a consumer-driven effort out to have them honored, and not charge adult admission to 12-year-olds.
An interesting side-twist to all this: a person under age 21 cannot purchase alcoholic beverages, but they can be sent to the store to purchase a bottle of vanilla extract for mom (12% alcohol--about like wine), or cough syrup (many of which contain alcohol). Yet, they cannot buy non-alcoholic wines or beers, which contain less alcohol by far than the flavoring extract or the cough medicine.
For that matter, since when is chronological age an accurate determination of maturity? There are plenty of "adults" who still act like children, even though they may be 60+ years of age, and plenty of "children" who are wise beyond their years, and very mature and responsible by age 12. My grandfather, in fact, was fond of saying, "If a person has no common sense by the time they are 14, they never will."