One Million Monkeys

…because 999,999 just isn't enough.

Archive for the month “February, 2012”

Baseball Justice

Baseball season is nearly upon us, and I for one could not be happier about this. I love the St. Louis Cardinals and cannot wait to see the new team in action this spring. As we approach the 2012 season, though, a bit of news was all the talk recently: the Ryan Braun steroids appeal.

First, a summary for those who may not follow baseball. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers’ outfielder and the 2011 National League Most Valuable Player, tested positive for “performance enhancing drugs,” PEDs (aka steroids) last October. This news was leaked to the press along with the detail that a second test a week or so later came back clean. Naturally, Braun appealed  50-game suspension that was handed down from Major League Baseball. This is no surprise, as every player that gets caught using PEDs appeals the suspension with claims that, “My trainer gave it to me and I didn’t know what it was,” or “It was just a supplement or prescription or fertility treatment.” These excuses never go anywhere, because MLB’s policy is that regardless of the source, each player is responsible for what goes into his body. If you don’t know what’s in a supplement, you probably shouldn’t take it.

The surprise came in the Braun case last week, when, for the first time ever, a player’s appeal was actually successful, and here’s why: Braun’s defense wasn’t some lame excuse for why he took PEDs but didn’t mean to. Instead, he argued that the original result was invalid because the sample was improperly handled. The story, last I read, was that the collector couldn’t get the sample to FedEx to send to the lab before the FedEx office closed, so he took t sample home with him over the weekend. Predictably, fans were incensed that “just because he’s the MVP, he gets off on a technicality.” The spokesman for the League stated that MLB “vehemently disagrees with the decision rendered today by arbitrator Shyam Das.” and MLB columnist Richard Justice warns that Braun should be careful not to squander the gift of a second chance that he’s received. Apprently fashionable outrage trumps common sense, justice and proper science.

In any laboratory procedure, there are certain protocols that must be followed to ensure that what you measure is what you think you’re measuring and what you intended to measure. If you aren’t confident in the integrity of the sample you’re analyzing, your results are exactly meaningless. In other words, if some guy takes a bottle of Ryan Braun’s pee home for the weekend, it raises some questions. First of all, who takes Ryan Braun’s pee home for the weekend? Second, if you’re going to take Ryan Braun’s pee home, wouldn’t you think that selling it on eBay would be more lucrative than a career as a pee courier? Finally, What might have happened to the urine sample between when it was collected, and when it finally made it to the lab? Since it was out of the proper sample-handling chain of custody for a significant period, we don’t know. And that’s the point. You don’t really know what you’re analyzing at all  anymore, and is it fair punish someone for an analysis of what could just as easily some bike messenger’s bong water?

An acquaintance told me the other day that none of these sample-handling arguments are relevant, because, “everyone knows he used drugs, and he just got off on a technicality.” How does everyone know he’s guilty, if the positive test result is suspect? At best, it’s ambiguous. You didn’t “know he’s guilty” before the test result was leaked, so you’re basing your conclusion on bad evidence. I wish the courier had spilled some gasoline in the sample on his way to FedEx. If he had, it would confirm my suspicion that Ryan Braun is a robot with an internal combustion engine.

Now listen, I am no Brewers’ fan. In fact, my team, the Cardinals, would really benefit from Braun’s absence for almost a third of the season. But I have to agree with the arbitrator on this. Braun’s suspension should have been reversed as it was, and MLB should apologize to him for wrecking his off-season. Besides, it will be more fun watching the Cards thump the Brewers without any excuses. Besides, the mouthing off by that goofy little center-fielder they have (what’s his silly self-applied nickname? Timmy the Teddy Bear? Something like that…) will certainly be more entertaining this way, rather than him pouting that “You only beat us ’cause Braun is out.”

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I Love to Fly, and Here’s Why

So I’m flying home from a business trip this evening. In fact I’m sitting in a plane right now typing this, reflecting on my experience thus far, and pondering how it could have gone better. If I was telling this directly to executives at American Airlines I could collect a handsome consulting fee. As it is, I’ll tell you, some stranger on the internet, for free.

Here’s what happened, along with references to my typical traveling experience for comparison. I arrived at the terminal well in advance of my scheduled departure time. I do this I order to have a better shot at success when requesting an exit row seat. So I walked into the ticketing area, looking for a self service kiosk at which to check myself in, select my own seats, print my own boarding pass, and essentially do the job of the ticket agents for them, and then pay a checked baggage fee as my reward for faithful service to the company. As has become the norm, there were several kiosks labeled “For Military Customers” or something to that effect. Now at my departure airport, on several occasions, I have been faced with similarly labeled kiosks when no service men or women were anywhere to be found. In those cases I’ve been instructed by the ticket agent to go ahead and use the otherwise idle terminal. So today, seeing no soldiers, sailors, airmen, or marines lining up to check in at their dedicated kiosk, I decided to avail myself of its service.

I got about half way through the check-in process,when a very sour-looking woman asked me from behind the desk if I was an active-duty military member. “No, I’m not,” I replied.

“Well, you’re not supposed to use that kiosk. It’s for military only,” she scolded as she approached from behind the counter. I looked around at the nearly empty terminal, wondering if I had wandered into a reenactment of Meet the Parents. Not only were there no military members anywhere to be found, there were maybe seven other people in total anywhere in the vicinity of the American Airlines counter, and three of them were employees, including Mrs. Sunshine who was presently scowling at me. I was a bit taken aback, not knowing exactly what response was expected from me, so I continued checking in, while my new friend watched over my shoulder. After my boarding pass printed, I collected my document, gathered my bags, expecting to follow her back to the counter to have the baggage tag fixed to my suitcase. But she just stood there, frowning at me.

“Where should I go to get my luggage tagged?” I asked.

“Did you pay the checked baggage fee at that machine?” she simpered.

“It didn’t ask me to pay a baggage fee,” I reported. Somehow this caused her face to pinch into an even tighter, more menacing glower. I think she might have hurt herself a little, because she made some sort of pained sighing sound as she climbed back across the threshold, into the source of ticket agent power behind the counter. I think she was disappointed that my luggage tag had actually printed, because she then repeated her assertion that had I followed the directions and used the non-military kiosk I would have been assessed a $25 baggage fee. First of all, this is not much of an incentive to follow the rules. Second of all, I know this assertion to be false, because I’ve used the military kiosk before and not only been assessed a fee, I’ve paid it without being publicly berated by Satan’s sister-in-law. I’m confident the software controlling the check-in procedure can keep track of the details of my ticket class and determine whether I’m to be charged the fee or not. I didn’t pay extra on my trip out, either, incidentally.

“What would you like me to do about it?” I asked.

At this point, ticket agent backup arrived on the scene. The deputy scowler was a somewhat younger version of the check-in sheriff I’d been dealing with so far.

“All she’s saying is that you weren’t supposed to use that kiosk, and not to do it again.”

This obviously was quite helpful information, because up until this point I was unclear on what the problem was. Unfortunately, it did nothing to answer my question of how to make amends for my egregious sin. I took my boarding pass, collected my bag and carried it to the baggage screening area.

So I’ve learned my lesson. I’ll never use the military only check-in kiosk at Reagan National Airport again. Unless its not being used by anyone else. Also I’d like to publicly apologize all of our brave military men and women, for my callous behavior, even though none of you were there to be offended by it.  So, you know…sorry for that.

A Little Help For My Liberal Friends

I’ve been hearing a lot of noise lately from my left-leaning acquaintances about how conservatives are mean and selfish and would rather give tax breaks to the wealthy than help the poor and needy. The liberal ethos, being enamored of the prospect of taking other people’s money to assuage their guilt, can’t grasp the possibility that there are other, usually better, means of expressing charity. In fact, there is compelling evidence that conservatives as a group are more generous that their liberal counterparts.

Never fear, though–I, your friendly neighborhood libertarian, have great news for you: the Treasury Department has made donating to the U.S. government as easy as wagging a self-righteous finger in the general direction of some vague “1%.” Let me know how the site works for you.

Get Off of My Lawn!

I have traditionally spent a fair bit of time pondering what life is all about and what I want out of it. As I get older, though, my reflections on these weighty issues are becoming less and less complex. In fact, I was just thinking about this the other day, and I have come to the realization that all I really want from life is to be left alone.

I don’t mean this in any sort of metaphysical, philosophical, or any other symbolic sense. I mean literally, I don’t want other people bothering me. That’s it. My life would be completely satisfying if I could just be left alone.

A few recent situations have come together to weave this tapestry of revelation for me. First, my neighbors: they’re renting the house and moved in sometime last year. I don’t even remember exactly when it was because it seems like they’ve been there, irritating me, forever. Like a wart that won’t go away. I’m not even sure exactly how many people actually live there. They seem pretty young–mid twenties, probably–and apparently don’t have a lot of experience being around people. They moved in at 10 PM on a Sunday night, with a big rental truck that they parked right in front of my house, so our first encounter went something like, “Hi, you must be the new neighbors. Welcome to the neighborhood, and get your truck out of my yard. Thanks.” This was the first seed of my epiphany.

Within a few weeks I found myself going to the fence between our houses, saying things like, “Hey fellas, it’s about 11:30 on weeknight…do you think the basketball game could be put on hold until a more…normal time,”  “Hey kids, I’d really love to continue listening to your frat buddy learn to play the guitar, but maybe Tuesday night at 1 AM isn’t best time for that,” and “Mondaypalooza? What the hell is Mondaypalooza?” The leave-me-alone seed was being watered by all of this.

It’s winter, now, and a little too cold to be outside bothering me with noise at all hours, so lately they’ve taken to inviting all of their friends over to see how many cars will fit in front of my house. After they’ve used every foot of my curb, they all pile into one Nissan Sentra and head out for the day. Yesterday, after I noticed the cars accumulating, I went outside and found one of them wandering around the yard. “Are these cars all here for you?” I asked. “Yeah, why?” came the muttered response. Could you ask their owners to move them from in front of my house, please?” “Why?” he asked. “Why?” I repeated incredulously, “because I don’t want your friends’ cars parked in front of my house.” He pointed to the one closest to their driveway, “That one’s sort of in front of both of our houses.” All I could do was turn around and walk back inside.

The second situation that has fostered my new outlook on life is the parade of school children knocking on my door asking for money. Most of them want it for the school, which, honestly makes it worse. Let me explain: my wife and I home school our two elementary aged kids, yet we still have to contribute to the public schools through our property taxes. And it turns out we pay significantly more tax than most of our neighbors. Now look, I know this was and still is our choice…we don’t like having to pay for services that we don’t use, but we choose to do it in order to best serve our kids. But when the schools then send other people’s kids to my house to ask me to buy wrapping paper or popcorn or coupon books or whatever it is they’re selling, that’s just too much. The way I figure, as much as I pay for services that I get absolutely no benefit from, I’m entitled to not be bothered by fourth graders selling chocolate bars for the same cost as a tour of great Swiss chocolatiers. If I can educate my own children for a fraction of what the public schools get from me and every other taxpayer, I have a right for the schools to then leave me alone. Don’t I?

Anyway, all of this makes me realize that all I really want, at this point in my life, is to be left alone. I don’t want you to remodel my basement, so don’t knock on my door to ask. I don’t want to look out my window and see your girlfriend’s 1999 Hyundai Sonata rusting in the street in front of my house. I don’t need to be told which light bulbs to buy or what to feed my kids for lunch. Just let me sit on my porch in a chest high pair of pants, shaking my fist at the kids getting off the school bus. Stupid kids…get off my lawn!

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