Monday, November 14, 2016

WITS: Kicking It

What I Think, Sports edition

I was going to call this the "kicking chaos" week, but so many of the top teams lost in college football that the chaos was minimal.

Dabo Sweeney had to be kicking himself after calling for two failed runs to try and put the game away when his team had thrown for over 580 yards (vs 50 rushing) during the game.  A short Pitt drive and 43 yard field goal later, and Clemson's latest tightrope walk of a game (see also Auburn, Troy, Louisville, Florida State, and NC State) ended in a loss for the Tigers.

Michigan also lost on a last minute field goal by Iowa this weekend. And Washington's decisive home loss to So Cal at home concluded the trifecta of CFP top four teams losing.  Al-a-bama rolled (Tide) on.

Despite all that, Clemson and Michigan still control their own destinies. Win out, you're probably in the playoff.  The Huskies, maybe not so much.  They can still finish the season with with one loss and a conference championship, but the committee proved in their first poll they don't think much of Washington's schedule.

The PAC-12 is far from clear. Utah, Colorado, Washington State, and Washington are all in position to win out and claim the conference crown.

Ohio State is in the unenviable position of potentially having a one loss season, beating rival Michigan and another top 10 team (Oklahoma), and not even making their conference championship game.  They could be sitting home watching Wisconsin and Penn state battle for the Big 10 title.

Which raises the question: If 3 conference champions (Big 10, Big XII, and PAC-12) all have 2 loses, and Ohio State and Louisville finish with one loss, who joins Alabama in the playoff?  (Potentially 4 conference champs if Virginia Tech beats Clemson for the ACC title.)

And the kicker for this post, the Carolina Panthers lost their 4th game of the season due to a last minute field goal, three made by their opponents and one missed by them.

Cherish your kickers, coaches; cherish your kickers.

P.S. Shout out to the John Carroll Blue Streaks for ending the 112 game win streak of Division III football powerhouse Mount Union.  The loss also ended the Purple Raiders 21 year stranglehold on the Ohio Athletic Conference title.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

WITS: Playoff Chaos

What I Think, Sports edition: The College Football Playoff hits and near misses

Things got a little easier for the playoff committee's first rankings.  Three Big Five conference undefeateds, Nebraska, West Virginia, and Baylor fell at the hands of conference foes.  And the race for the Group of Five representative in the New Years Six bowls has a leader on the track: the mighty Western Michigan Broncos are last remaining undefeated team outside the Big Five after Boise State's narrow loss to Wyoming. 

The final and deciding points on that one were from a safety on a fumble.  You just never know in college football.

But things could have gone much differently.  Alabama had a bye week and Michigan took control of their rivalry game with the Spartans of Michigan state in the first half, so were never in danger.  Undefeated Clemson of the ACC and Washington of the PAC-12 had tough, close, road victories over ranked, conference opponents.  The top one loss teams, Louisville and Ohio State, also had to make plays late in their respective games to pull out wins.  A little more sprinkling of chaos and there would have been a big two and multitude of everybody elses.

Of course, that could still happen.

Alabama has road contest with a ranked LSU team this weekend.  And a date with a surging Auburn at season's end.

Michigan has its own rivalry challenge with Ohio State, which is still alive in the race for the Big Ten championship, pending an elimination game this Saturday with Nebraska.  A victory over the Buckeyes would propel the Wolverines into a championship game showdown with either Nebraska or Wisconsin.

The Badgers have virtually spent this season as the agents of chaos.  In addition to knocking off Nebraska, they have given Michigan and Ohio State all they could handle.  And a Buckeye victory over the Cornhuskers would give Wisconsin another shot against the winner of the Ohio State-Michigan tilt at season's end.  And they started the year pinning a nonconfersnce loss on LSU, something no SEC school can afford to suffer.

There are other agents of chaos lurking.  Two loss Oklahoma can win the Big XII, burying any hope of that conference to place a team in the playoff.  Washington State, Colorado, or Utah could put a blemish on Washington's record and deny them the Pac-12 title.  Clemson has played close games all season, making virtually every opponent a stumbling block, including potential ACC Coastal champ Virginia Tech and ever improving rival South Carolina.

And there's rarely just one Chaos Weekend.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The fallacy of #Nevervoting

As a US citizen it is your right to vote.  And a lot of celebrities, politicians, religious leaders, activists, etc. are encouraging you to do so.  Unfortunately this year appears to be the election in #Never land.  #NeverTrump, #NeverHillary, or too disgusted never going to vote are the choices put into our faces.  If you don't vote for "X" it's the same as a vote for "Y" the arguement goes.


Voting should always be a positive experience.  Not "feel good" positive, because if you vote for something or someone you feel strongly about, defeat can be a gut punch.  Positive as in not voting against a candidate or a policy or a law, but for values you hold dear.  Voting to move forward rather than hold someone else back.

But that requires effort.  The two dominant parties will spoon feed you if you wish.  They will give you their narrative, lock you into their orbits, give their voice to your frustration.  And change nothing.

But whether you identify as pure conservative or pure liberal or some combination thereof, there are alternatives. And in the Internet Age, they aren't that hard to find.  But it will take effort to search, and to think, and maybe even to lend some precious time and effort to get out the word or help obtain ballot access.

The Libertarian and Green parties have been getting a fair amount of press this year.  Independent candidate Evan McMullin has gotten some press for a very strong poll showing in Utah.  My fellow South Carolinians will also have presidential options from the Constitution party and homegrown American party. That gives several choices for conservatives (both fiscal and social) and an option for liberals as well.

Our state and local races have fewer choices (sometimes even just one!).  But this is our fault.  We've treated politics with an unswerving faith left only to religious beliefs.  Until we change, until half the voters quit hitting straight ticket, until the couch sitters get registered, until we start thinking and stop simply believing the good vs evil line the parties in power feed us things won't change.

They'll only get worse.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

WITS focus: The College Football Playoff

What I Think: Sports edition

Road to the Fin...Last Four?

Here we are at the midpoint of the college football season.  Depending on their bye week every team has played 6 or 7 games.  So where do we stand on the road to the playoff?

11 undefeated teams:  Two of these are "Group of Five" teams with weak schedules.  Even if they stay unbeaten they have virtually no chance of making the playoff.  Of the nine Power Five conference teams, 4 will lose to a fellow unbeaten in the regular season.  Theoretically five teams can go undefeated and claim Power Five conference championships.  This would be playoff nightmare scenario number 1.

9 one loss teams:  Five of these are Group of Five teams, of which only Houston has any cachet as a national level team.  At least 4 of the current unbeatens will fall into this category.  But there are spoilers out there, teams that can really muddy the waters.

Oklahoma and TCU - Every team in the Big 12 plays every other team.  And these two loss powers can inflict losses on Baylor and West Virginia, leaving the Big 12 with no undefeated team, or even no team with fewer than 2 losses.  Oklahoma State could also enter into this equation.

Florida State - Clemson coach Dabo Sweeney said Clemson has beaten everyone but Clemson.  Not for lack of trying.  Five turnovers against Louisville and four against NC State were offset only by clutch plays, stout defense, and the home field advantage.  But the Seminoles are not coming to Death Valley, and they could easily derail the tigers' unbeaten season if given a chance.

Wisconsin - The Badgers had close losses to Michigan and Ohio State.  But if Ohio State puts a loss on fellow unbeaten Nebraska, Wisconsin could seize the division with a victory of their own against the Cornhuskers, setting up a grudge match with the Wolverines-Buckeyes winner in the Big Ten title game.

Utah and Washington State - The Washington Huskies have the straight line to an undefeated season and PAC 12 championship.  But that line leads through the home field of the Utah Utes, the Apple Cup with the rival Cougars, and a potential rematch with Utah in the championship game.

A few of these occurrences could lead to a fairly straight forward mix of four zero or one loss conference champs for the playoff.  But too many, or too few, could lead to five undefeated conference champions,  a bunch of one loss teams, or even some two loss conference champ.

The College Football Playoff Committee may have some interesting choices ahead.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

To WIT: Votepocalypse

What I Think, Political Style

The Votepocalypse is upon us! 

Because: a) early voting has begun across the country and b) no matter what happens November 8th a large group of people will think the end of the world is upon us.

Think being the key word.  There are a lot of misnomers in this campaign.
  • That the presidency is some sort of ramrod
This is largely the fault of a no thinking Congress and the "War on Terror".  The Previous Occupant of the White House took a lot of liberties in the name of national security. Literally.  And Congress went along with it in the name of flag waving and to "do something".  Acting on fear will do that.

And of course the Current Occupant has faced a bad decision the last 6 years. He can either sit around the Oval Office waiting for Congress to do something other than try to repeal his signature healthcare plan or expand the boundaries of his power until one (or both) of the other two branches pushes back.

I believe, if elected, Mr. Trump will be disappointed when he realizes the President is actually not as powerful as a lot of CEOs.
  • That the makeup of our economy can be "rolled back"

Even if the factories that moved overseas come back, the jobs of the past won't.  Automation has spread through the manufacturing world.  Advances in robotics and logistics have raised the skills needed to work in those plants and reduced the number of people needed.
  • That "the rich" have enough money to solve our economic woes
Ummm, no.  Yes, the middle class is getting squeezed.  And yes, the tippy top of the economic ladder is getting wa-a-ay too much of the wealth.  But you can't solve those conundrums and send everyone to college for free and balance the budget and eliminate the sequester and save the entitlements and...etc. on the backs of the rich.  Sacrifice will be needed all the way around.
  • That better background checks and gun registration will stop terrorism and lead to gun confiscations
 I've been living for 45 years, and not even the strictest gun control law has eliminated all gun violence or led to law enforcement raiding the homes of law abiding citizens.  The boogey men the "no guns" lobby and NRA serve up are nonsensical.  And all the extremism does is give would be lone wolves or troubled souls access to ways of killing lots of people.

Sadly, the Republican, Democrat,, and alt-right cartels have managed to reduce a lot of people to sheep.  And they did it by telling people, "If you believe us, heart and soul, you'll be the only ones who aren't sheep."  Neat trick.

So gather your pitchforks and torches.  If your "side" loses rage against the night. And if your "side" wins, and other chase you, point ahead while yelling, "There he goes! Follow me!"

(But really don't do any of that.  You have far more in common with the people you despise on the Net or in your community than any of us have with the folks running for office.)

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Quick WITS

What I Think, Sports edition

Oh, Furman.  You hurt me so. It would help if you'd get the offense rolling before the 4th quarter.

I don't know what Notre Done and Oklahonot are going to do with the rest of their season.

Speaking of being eliminated, if Clemson were to be Louisville, Florida state would be able to single-handedly deny their own conference a playoff berth by winning out.

If Clemson doesn't win the ACC, at least their season so far has given coaches a lot of film to teach players. The score so far - dropped passes, letting an inferior opponent hang around, dropping the ball before reaching the endzone, and (by SC State) tossing a kickoff to a ref in the endzone without downing it.

So if North Dakota St wins a 6th consecutive FCS championship to go with its 6 wins in a row over FBS schools, can we just slot them into the FBS playoff?

Because unless Baylor wins out or the PAC 12 doesn't cannibalize itself, there's going to be an open slot.  more than one if Houston stumbles.

At this point the Big 12 might want Houston

The ACC contenders are going to be making noise in the first half of the season, the Big 10 the second half.  Be interesting to see how the national championship committee scores that as time goes on.

I feel like I'm forgetting something.  Oh yeah...

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Nerd Culture - A Golden Enterprise: 50 years of Star Trek

Fair Warning: If you aren't a fan of "block of text" posts or Star Trek this post isn't for.
Forgive me my nerd indulgence. :)  I'll try to find a nice meme or apropos Garfield next time.

Space, the final frontier, these are the voyages of the starship Enterprise.  It's five year reaching the 50 year mark.

Fifty years ago today, the crew of the Enterprise first hit the "small screen". (A term that used to mean TV but today better refers to a phone or watch of some sort.  But I digress.)

Nerd Nation hasn't been the same since.  In the days before the immediacy of email, social media, online polls, and live streaming, and the ability to organize allowed by fan sites, message boards, and subreddits,  Star Trek fans were able to flex their collective muscle to save their show from cancellation through a concerted (snail) mail campaign and then continued to keep the flame burning through pre-photo copier fanzines,  The fandom grew through nearly unprecedented syndication viewership.  Oh, and their passion basically invented the modern fan convention scene.

Future editions of the franchise spearheaded the practice of shows being first released in syndication (Next Generation) and as the cornerstone of a broadcast network (Voyager on UPN, which ironically became part of the CW network that now has almost an entire lineup of geeky shows).  CBS will try to use a new Star Trek show to drive its online streaming network early next year.

But that (along with the progressive casting choices) is the meta.  This is about the personal.

For me it was about the ideas.  Don't get me wrong, I've grown attached to the characters. I still get misty-eyed at the end of The Wrath of Khan.

But the voyage into the unknown, new life forms, the interplay of ideas and philosophy, that was for me.  And yes, I hear some of you yawning about how slow some of the plots were.  And chuckling about Spock walking around without his brain or the giant space amoeba.  Or lamenting some of the inconsistencies from episode to episode.

But for me I settled in for each to episode to see what's next, what's new.  It's best summed up at the end of The Motion Picture when Kirk is asked for a course and he leans forward and responds with an awed and reverent "Out there!"

That's why the original series and The Next Generation pulled me in.  (And other series continued.)  What's out there? And what will we discover about ourselves? 

The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine. (A quote or variation of which has been attributed to J.B.S. Haldane, Sir Arthur Harrington, and Werner von Heisenburg.)

I also like the hopeful and positive tone of the Star Trek universe.  The idea that humanity can create a society where basic and even some advanced needs are met, where each individual has both the means and desire to pursue their highest level of achievement in science, art, philosophy.

I hope fifty years from now, we're closer to that future.  I firmly believe that whether we are or not, Star Trek will be there.

Thank you, Mr Roddenberry.  And to all those who have made this franchise come alive.