Sneaking Suspicions

Archives-- June 16-22, 2002 (Week 24)

Commentary from a practical perspective

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This page includes posts from June 16-22, 2002 in the usual reverse order. Each week's postings on the home page are perma-linked to these pages.

June 21, 2002

Luckless Gamblers Plucked by Cluckers

An Associated Press story this week called to mind the great writer Calvin Trillin and one of his famous stories of living in New York City.

The Aztar Corporation runs casinos in Indiana, Las Vegas, and Atlantic City. Among the company’s newest schemes to separate gamblers from their money is a variation on an old theme—a chicken that plays tic-tac-toe.

Naturally, the folks at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) are not amused:

PETA's Amy Rhodes told the Evansville Courier & Press … that the group had received "many calls of concern" about the game.

"Some callers are concerned about the poor quality of life for the chickens kept in the tiny boxes, others are irritated about the message of disrespect conveyed by the game, and still others are outraged by both," Rhodes said.

The company argues that the working and living conditions for the 15 chickens that take turns in the booth are actually pretty good:

Casino Aztar spokeswoman Pam Martin said … a new chicken is placed in the game booth every hour.

Martin said all the chickens were kept in a temperature-controlled, smoke-free environment where they are regularly cared for and fed.

"I think it's a considerate environment for any animal," Martin said. "It's a much better life than some chickens are subjected to."

Based on the way millions of chickens are treated every week in my home county, Martin has the far better argument. A typical broiler raised in Sussex County has a short, crowded life, limited largely to stuffing itself for about 8 weeks, at which point it is whisked off to a factory to be converted to someone’s dinner.

By comparison, these casino birds reside in a chicken’s heaven on earth.

In addition, as Trillin pointed out in his story about the Mott Street Chicken, the bird usually wins.

Surely that kind of success has to count for something.

Given the chickens’ win-loss record in tic-tac-toe, in fact, I’m curious about the allegation about "disrespect conveyed by the game" reported in the story.

Who’s dissing whom here? The gamblers are the ones who lose the money.

At least the birds don’t engage in trash-talk after beating their hapless human competition.

I suggest the PETA folks stop squawking and enjoy this little bit of poultry pride.

June 20, 2002

Notes from the 2002 U.S. Open Continued

The 18th hole at Bethpage Black was no gimme on the tournament’s last day. The hole for the 418 yard par 4 sat in a classic sucker location toward the back, with the huge bunker ready to gather shots that were not only too bold but too right.

As the golfers finished their final Open round, I was impressed in two respects:

First, it was obvious that almost all of the golfers were trying very hard to finish with at least a par, if not a birdie, no matter how far back they were from the leaders. Second, many players showed a keen sense of their role as sports entertainers.

When John Daly drove into the left fairway bunker, the crowd groaned slightly when he simply punched out for his second shot instead of trying for the green. The fans roared their approval, however, when he stuck his third shot to 6 feet, and made the putt for par. They clapped even louder when he blew a kiss to the crowd, which also earned him a standing ovation.

Donnie Hammond’s drive was a bit shorter than most, but made the fairway. His long iron approach drifted right, into the bunker. From my seat five rows up in the center stands, I could only see the top of his head as he blasted out to only 6 inches from the hole. It was the best up-and-down from that bunker all day, and he grinned broadly as he tapped in for par.

Kenny Perry hit a beautiful approach to a spot hole high and 15 feet left. He curled a slow-rolling putt in for the first birdie of the day, earning a big ovation.

In the very next pairing, Shingo Katayama followed Perry with an even better second shot and the day’s second birdie, from 10 feet above the hole. He’s the golfer that made an immediate impression on American golf fans during last year’s PGA Championship, with his brightly colored cowboy hats with the sides held up by a long string. Katayama maintained his sense of fashion and fan appeal with a vibrantly red shirt, a white cowboy hat, and a nearly omnipresent grin.

Chris DiMarco parred the hole, and turned to the stands. He then began applauding the crowd, to show his appreciation for their support. This gesture earned him a standing ovation.

Corey Pavin showed why he’s a perennial favorite of golf fans, despite his own troubles on the course. He came to the 18th hole 8 over par for the day, well down the leaderboard. After slinging a shot from the fairway to a spot 20 feet left and a bit above the hole, he walked up the steep hill toward the green.

Somehow, Pavin appeared to shrink as he neared the front fringe. The reason became obvious almost immediately—he was literally crawling onto the green, as if he’d been completely beaten down by the difficult course. The crowd roared with laughter.

As Pavin lined up his putt, his caddie called out "Quiet, please!" in a voice that cut through the din. The grandstands silenced immediately, leaving only a sharp buzzing noise coming from a small plane pulling a banner overhead announcing that "MERRILL LYNCH DISCRIMINATES AGAINST WOMEN!" (BTW, it did not appear that the fans at Bethpage were at all inspired by this message.)

Pavin put a finger to his lips, and pointed his putter in the air while looking back at the caddie, as if to have him silence the plane. The crowd laughed heartily at the pantomime, and then gave Pavin and playing partner Kevin Sutherland another standing ovation as they completed their rounds (Pavin-par, Sutherland-bogey).

During the day, we developed a sense for what was happening on other holes, based on the applause we could hear rolling toward us. A close approach on the par-3 17th hole a few hundred yards away sounded different than a successful birdie putt, for example.

All at once we heard a huge, sustained ovation from the stands on the 17th. It lasted so long and was so loud compared to everything else we heard thus far that I said to KC, "That was a hole-in-one. It had to be." Sure enough, Scott Hoch had flown one in from 207 yards with a 3-iron.

Hoch was obviously a bit pumped after that performance, and overshot the green with his appoach on the 18th. He hit a great flop shot that singed the cup and rolled to a stop about 4 feet below the hole, and then made the par putt.

Jay Haas, playing alongside Hoch, almost outdid his playing partner’s performance on the 17th with his second shot from the 18th fairway. It came in very high with a slight fade, and stopped dead 3 feet above the hole. It was the closest anyone came all day to eagling the hole, and he easily made his birdie putt. The combined Hoch and Haas show earned yet another standing ovation.

As Nick Price and Craig Stadler finished up, the clouds rolled in and the rain poured down. As soon as the announcers told us we had to leave the stands, I heard a clap of thunder as if to underscore the point.

KC and I decided that we should go home at that point, since we had a long way home and no way to know how long the delay would be.

We were in the middle of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge when Tiger rolled in his putt to win the Open. We reached home at midnight.

What a great weekend!

June 19, 2002

She Wears a Size Negative-2

An article in the New York Post describes an apparently expanding trend in women’s fashion:

What passed for a size 12 in 1999 is now called a size 8 - it's called "vanity sizing," and designers everywhere are doing it, having learned that flattery equals profits.

George Simonton, a professor at FIT, says some companies now cut clothes larger to accommodate the American shoppers' ever-expanding rear ends, without adjusting the sizes on the tags.

"They're deluding the customer, making her think she's a smaller size when she knows in reality she's not any smaller," he says.

With three of the four people in our home being of the female persuasion, this issue sometimes creates occasional havoc when it comes to clothes shopping.

While none of the three could be accused of being excessively fashion-conscious, they all enjoy the occasional addition to their wardrobe. It certainly helps that the Rehoboth Outlets stores include most of the famous brands, from Ann Taylor to J.Crew to Tommy Hilfiger to The Gap to Brooks Brothers to Old Navy. In addition, there are many other clothes stores in the area where my daughters also enjoy the search for fashion fun.

I used to be able to purchase clothes for my wife and daughters. I can’t do it any more. It’s just way too much guesswork.

I think one daughter runs from a 0 up to a 4, depending on which brand and sometimes the particular outfit. If I’m not mistaken, the other daughter is a 5 or 7, but maybe she’s a 3. My wife’s size options are even more confusing, since she chooses from a wider range of acceptable designers.

All three are extremely grateful when I give them gift certificates instead of guessing badly.

Under most conditions, vanity sizing is just not a problem for guys. With rare exceptions, a 40 regular is a 40 regular is a 40 regular. This doesn’t mean that men don’t have to try clothes on before purchasing them; they should, especially if they haven’t bought anything from that designer or store previously.

It’s just not an absolutely mandatory part of the shopping experience, as it is for women.

To me, the funny part of all this is that the biggest fibbers about sizing are usually the labels that charge the higher prices. A size 16 housedress at Value City is probably the same size 16 that the Post article points out was first determined in the 1942 U.S. Department of Commerce study that came up with the Size 2-20 standards.

If a similar dress could be found in the aisles of haute couture, I’m sure it’d be no more than a 10, if that.

Apparently self-delusion in fashion correlates with income.

(Please note that I do not say that higher income causes self-delusion. I’m just saying.)

This sizing issue is not just limited to normal fashions. It can also make an appearance in the uniform business, surprisingly enough.

For example, a friend of my older daughter just began working at the new Hooters Restaurant in Rehoboth Beach. As many male bloggers probably already know, the required outfit for the service staff includes a pair of bright orange short shorts. According to my daughter, there are three available sizes for these items: Small, Extra Small, and Extra Extra Small.

I assume that one of these shorts is the equivalent of a Size Negative-2, but for me that is likely to remain one of life’s little mysteries.

June 18, 2002

Notes from the 2002 U.S. Open Continued

KC and I reached Bethpage State Park early Sunday morning, well before the first pairing began play at 9:40 a.m. John Daly was to play with Kevin Warrick, the sole remaining amateur, so we knew there’d be a bit of a crowd for them. We decided to walk around and see some of the course long before the players reached the holes, and then to sit in the stands at the 18th green to watch everyone finish.

As we walked along the 18th fairway, the expanse between the two sets of fairway bunkers looked a bit wide for a U.S. Open event--at least 30 yards.

I didn’t walk it off to confirm it, but wished I did when we stood on the hill at the 18th tee and looked down at the landing area. Thanks to A.W. Tillinghast’s original design and the reconstruction work done by Rees Jones, the visual tricks they played made the fairway look tiny from that perspective.

The crowd appeared to be gaining size faster than the day before, so we walked back to the 18th hole’s grandstand after checking out the 15th and 3rd holes. We ended up in chairs five rows back from the front edge, looking out over the center of the green.

Perfect. Now all we had to do was wait.

In the meantime, there was much to observe. Here are a few examples:

Cutting the hole

Two staff members came out to cut the hole in the green in the late morning. The first step required a few putts to a spot marked with a ball. By this time the stands were about half-full, and filling fast. He earned applause for hitting the ball twice with two putts.

The next stage included the use of a Stimpmeter to determine the green speed and confirm the appropriateness of the proposed hole location.

A Stimpmeter is a metal slantboard with two legs at one end that raise the board about a foot above the green. They carefully placed three golf balls in parallel formation along the top. After picking a spot along the right side near the massive bunker, they let the balls drop in sequence and roll down the green. A tape measure determined the average distance in feet, producing what looked like a Stimpmeter reading of at least 12.

After the greenspeed calculations finished, another staffer came out with a bright red hole-cutter, and carefully removed a plug. He carried the plug to a spot down near the left front of the green, still in the cutter, and placed it in the hole location used the day before. Another man then walked over to the fresh hole, and installed a metal cylinder inside it, tapping it down very slowly. Yet another groundskeeper then appeared, holding a collection of tools in a small box.

He first put into the hole a round red insert with a white-colored pin rising above it. The young man then laid a green and white tea-towel-sized cloth on the green, with its own hole centered in the freshly cut opening. He then placed a small red cylinder into the hole, with its flange fitting over the cloth. After vigorously shaking a can of white spray paint, he then inserted it into the hole, turning the can as he pushed down. The pin in the red insert activated the spray knob, painting the dirt on the top half-inch or so above the metal cylinder.

After a few turns spraying, the staffer removed all the materials. He then took up a pair of tiny scissors that would have fit in well at a hair salon, and nipped a few stray leaves of grass from the top of the hole.

As he finished, the crowd applauded, and he graciously acknowledged their cheers. My friend then said, "No wonder my scores don’t improve. They don’t do all that at my home course." The dozen or so fans around us all laughed and agreed.

The flag appears

By now the grandstand seats were nearly full. Daly and Warrick were certain to appear soon, based on the fact that (a) there was no one in front of them, (b) Daly is a very fast player, and (c) their only goal at that point was probably just to avoid finishing dead last.

Nonetheless, preparations remained incomplete. A few minutes later, the crowd started cheering as they began to notice the staffer approaching the hole with the pin and flag. He carefully placed it in the hole, and the crowd clapped and cheered. They roared even louder when he turned and waved to the crowd, his mission complete.

Television preparations

Johnny Miller, the NBC color commentator, then appeared on the green with a man wearing a USGA blazer and carrying a putter. Miller directed the other man to spots about 12 feet away from the hole all around it, putting to the hole as Miller took careful noted on a special pad.

Several in the crowd called out to Miller. On occasion he would turn and smile, but he remained primarily focused on his note taking.

For those who wonder how Miller and similar announcers can speak so confidently about how a ball will break as it nears the hole, here was the answer—preparation ahead of time has its advantages.

Not long thereafter, we heard applause from the stands surrounding the 17th green. Daly and Warrick were finishing up. We watched the fans near the 18th tee begin to make way for the caddies, and knew that we were about to watch the Open field complete their final round.

There will be more Notes from the Open in a later post or two.

June 17, 2002

Notes from the 2002 U.S. Open

The fifth hole on Bethpage State Park's Black Course is a 451-yard, slightly dogleg left par 4 that plays even longer. A carry of 280 yards over a fairway bunker places the ball in the best position for an uphill shot to a smallish green that seems to slope away rather than toward the golfer.

Shorter drives to the left will reach the fairway, but make the approach far more difficult. Some fairway landings force the second hit to clear a stand of trees to reach the green.

Green-side bunkers in the front and right side are deeply cut into the hillside below the green, with classic U.S. Open tall grass beckoning errant shots going left and short. A back bunker, not visible from the fairway but known to the golfers, will gladly accept a ball coming in at too low an angle, skidding across the green.

My buddy KC and I figured out that this was the place to be on Saturday. Except for the first two pairs of competitors, we watched the entire Open field play this hole.

We tromped from the clubhouse area over hills and through the mud from the prior day’s downpour to the back of the fifth green, adjacent to the chute lines that guided the golfers to the sixth tee.

Standing at this spot gave us several advantages. We could easily see the drives, nearly all of the approach shots, and we had a clear view of the entire green. We could also hear the golfers and their caddies discuss the putts if they were close. In addition, we were in a position to talk briefly to the golfers as they strode by us, if they were so inclined. Most of them were, showing that they’re not a bunch of uptight stiffs.

Here’s some of what we observed:

Jeev Mikha Singh drove into the front bunker, and hit a fine recovery to a spot 3 feet below the hole. His par-saving putt rolled nearly 360 degrees around the cup before falling in, causing a huge laugh and boisterous applause. Singh looked directly at us and said with a grin, "I was testing the hole."

Len Mattiace is at least 6 feet tall. His approach landed in the right front bunker. Once Mattiace entered the bunker we couldn’t see him until after his shot.

Scott McCarron pitched his third shot from off the green to about 6 feet. He carefully lined up his long putter, and then missed. As he walked off the green, he looked at his caddie and said, "Boy, that thing broke twice as much as I thought."

It’s nice to hear the pros react the same way the rest of us do. We simply have many more occasions to say it.

To some extent the fans at golf tournaments are more than mere spectators; their presence directly affects the competition. For example, the approach shot by Phil Mickelson flew over the right edge of the green and straight into a fan, causing a huge gasp from the crowd. The ball stopped far closer to the hole that it would have otherwise.

Mickelson walked up to the person and asked, "Are you all right? Sorry about that." His flop shot rolled close to the hole, but he missed the par putt and bogeyed the hole. He then tossed the ball back to the person he hit, earning a loud cheer.

Jeff Maggert showed why he’s so good at playing hard golf courses. His drive went into the edge of the trees way right of the fairway bunker, where the fans had been walking. The mud and turf there were basically awful. Maggert simply pitched out, and with his third shot hit a high iron that landed 6 feet above the hole, and sucked back to a spot about 7 feet below it. The crowd roared.

Maggert calmly rolled in his par putt and strolled to the next tee, quietly saying thanks to those of us congratulating his recovery.

Sweden’s Niclas Fasth gave the crowd a lesson in how to play a downhill shot from deep rough when the green speed is running about the usual U.S. Open Mach 1. His approach landed in the thick turf just above the green, near the back bunker. Fasth opened his lob wedge up until it was nearly flat, and took a surprisingly strong swing. The ball flopped out of the rough and landed in the fringe only 18 inches away, where it then slowly rolled to a stop 15 inches parallel to the hole.

He made the putt for par.

It was a great illustration of the skill difference between the pros and the rest of us.

There will be more Notes from the Open in a later post or two.

June 14, 2002

Children’s Sports Fatigue Hits Home

I highly recommend a very funny, very true piece in this morning’s Washington Post:

End of Little League Meets Parent Fatigue
Playoff Success Prompts Secret Groans

Here’s a sample:

T-ball, machine-pitch, coach-pitch and, in the bigger leagues, kid-pitch baseball games are winding down. And not a moment too soon, at least as far as time-pressed, McDonald's-weary moms are concerned. For months, their weeknights and weekends have been consumed by games that can stretch for hours. At this point, they loathe Little League, and end-of-season tournaments are prolonging their agony.

"Usually, they've lost by now," groans Cindy Palamone, a Howard County mom dismayed by the stellar playoff performances of her sons' teams this week. "This is getting on my nerves."

Our family experienced the joys of Little League for at least six years. They were great fun, really, but I can also vouch for the sense of exhaustion and relief that comes with the end of each season.

For a few months each spring, the most important document in the entire house was the calendar, magnetically attached to the refrigerator. It contained the all-important practice and game schedule for the girls, and required daily checking for confirmation and negotiation over who was taking whom to which game, and when.

It was fine for the one year in which both girls were on the same team, but somehow the scheduling became exponentially more complex when they played on two different teams, with three different ball fields spread about 15 miles apart.

My wife and I changed our diet completely from April through June, subsisting on a weekday regimen of hot dogs, soft pretzels, and watery sodas at the concession stands.

As dutiful LL parents, we also took our turns working the stands. We learned each year the intricate varieties of popular candies the kids bought in startling quantities. Children’s tastes in candy are at least as prone to massive shifts in popularity as anything produced by the haute couture fashion merchants of Paris.

The article also reminded me of a great book that all parents of LL kids should read at least every other year, Bill Geist’s Little League Confidential. The many types of kids, parents, and coaches you experience as part of Little League are well represented in this funny yet moving memoir.

Road Trip

No posts this weekend. My buddy and I are going north to watch the third and fourth rounds of the U.S. Open at New York's Bethpage State Park. There will be at least one golf column and maybe even a post or two on this site as a result.

In the meantime, click here for the table of essays, and here for this week’s golf column, if you’d like.

P.S. to other bloggers: If you post something that Steven Green, Glenn Reynolds, and Paul Palubicki like enough to recommend, expect a massive increase in site traffic--something on the order of 20 times the usual visitors.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Contact Information:

Fritz Schranck
P.O. Box 88
Nassau, DE  19969


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Official small print disclaimer: This is, after all, a personal web site. Any opinions or comments I express here are my own, and don't necessarily reflect the official position of my work as a government attorney or any of my clients.

That fact may become obvious later on, but it needs to be said here anyway.

Frederick H. Schranck 2002