Saturday, March 20, 2010

There's only one Perfect Playoff System, and the NCAA Ain't It. (Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!)

I love the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament as much as the next guy... well, that's not exactly true. I love it more than I probably should, given that I don't care for basketball, and I don't care for college sports, so a college basketball tournament shouldn't get me excited at all, but it still does. I do love March Madness (that's right: Screw you, NCAA and IHSA. I'm going to say it) to the point where yesterday I even enjoyed listening to the Villanova/St. Mary's game on the radio, thrilling to the part where the one guy from St. Mary's fell down but kept dribbling and then made a 3-pointer, a shot I only saw on the radio but then saw here:

And I watched a bit of the end of the Wake Forest game last night (remarking to Sweetie as she came into the room "Wake Forest won't be rolling the quad tonight," and causing her to not want to talk to me even more.)(You know what rolling the quad is if you read this, which you did read, right?)

Maybe because I'm no starry-eyed basketball/college sports fan, though, I can look at the NCAA Tournament realistically and tell people -- you -- that it's not the perfect playoff system, not ideal, not what Mike Golick of ESPN briefly espoused this past Monday before I got even more tired of listening to Mike & Mike In The Morning than I usually do and turned off their show in favor of Bob & Tom saying "monkey pockets."

The NCAA Mens' Tournament has a lot going for it, true -- in its sheer spectacle and size and with the way, for about three weeks, it dominates the media via that size and spectacle, it drums up interest in people who couldn't otherwise care less about the sport; everywhere, people are filling out brackets and discussing how a 12-seed always wins a first-round game, and whether this number one will do such-and-such.

An NCAA pool in our office lured in almost everyone (except me) -- getting even the elderly secretaries to fill out brackets. To get an idea how successful that was, I had trouble getting 10 people to join a fantasy football league last fall; most people said they were "not interested in sports" and didn't want to sign up. Those same not interested people now filled out brackets to win the NCAA pool.

On a side note generated by that: Every year a figure or two are bandied about in which some news outlet or other claims that someone somewhere said that the NCAA Tournament will cost employers some amount of money. This year the figure is $1.8 billion. The source for that figure says they estimate people spend twenty minutes per day during the tournament talking about the pool or the tournament; that's 100 minutes a week in a work-week, which is apparently the base figure they use to calculate the $1.8 billion we've lost.

But consider this: That survey did not ask "Would you spend that 20 minutes, ordinarily, working?" Because if you look around at any office, at any time on any day, you'll find a certain number of people not working -- they're watching Youtube or playing Farmville or going to get a cup of coffee or something, and many of them are just talking. If today those people talk for 20 minutes about the NCAA Tournament, whereas on February 21, they spent twenty minutes talking about, say, Modern Family, then the NCAA Tournament hasn't cost employers anything it's just changed the way those workers waste 20 minutes, 20 minutes that was previously being wasted on something else.

So that survey -- done by "Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc." appears to be more junk thinking of the kind I rail against so frequently, and I suggest you ignore it, and ignore their company, too.

The NCAA Tournament, for all its glory, as I started out saying, isn't perfect, even though it's frequently heralded as the perfect playoff system and held up, all the time, as a counterpoint to the much-maligned BCS. People like Mike Golick (flagbearer for junk thinking) complain about the BCS and proclaim that the NCAA Tournament is the greatest way to have a playoff, and suggest shoving that down the throats of all the college football fans (just me) who like the BCS.

But is it? Is it really such a great playoff system? Or are there still flaws in that system, too. Is there, in the end, a perfect playoff system? One that will unfailingly pick the objectively-the-best team?

In a word, yes, but there's only one way. There's only one way to ever pick the objectively-the-best team in a sport, and that way involves a complicated system I once worked out while on a five-hour drive in the snow on the way home from a deposition way up north, a system that involves doing away with divisions and conferences and having two rotating wheels of teams, ranked 1 to 32... and it'd take a lot more time to tell you about than I have right now, because later today I have to take Mr F and Mr Bunches grocery shopping and still have enough time to watch Zombieland with Sweetie and see the Wisconsin game this afternoon.

So the Perfect Playoff System will have to wait for another day. In the meantime, here's some flaws with the NCAA Tournament that'll help you objectively ignore Mike Golick and see that it's (a) not so different than the BCS, and (b) in some ways inferior to the BCS.

1. The NCAA Tournament Is Still Largely Based On Voting... But the Voting Is Secret. Unlike Republicans, I'm a fan of democracy, and that love of democracy extends to sports. So I don't mind that the BCS, and the NCAA Tournament, are vote-based; I don't mind that teams make it in based not solely on performance but on how others subjectively view that performance.

But critics of the BCS, and fans of the Tournament ignore that both the BCS and the Tournament are vote-based -- but that the BCS does it better because it shows you the votes. In the BCS, coaches and writers vote and rank teams, and those rankings are taken into account by the computers, and are published weekly for public consumption.

The NCAA Tournament doesn't bother with openness and the public. It has a Tournament Selection Committee that meets behind closed doors to determine who's in and who's out and where they'll play and who they'll play. And the number of people on the committee is significantly less than the number of coaches voting in the polls, so each person's opinion carries much more weight.

Don't like that your team didn't make it? Don't like your seeding? Tough. You can't even find out who voted which way to see if there was a conflict of interest -- something that's possible since the committee includes officials from Division I schools.

2. The Tournament Ignores Home Field Advantage and Punishes Loyal Fans. That's right: The Tournament hates you, the loyal fan, and despises your home field that gave your team such an edge in the regular season. Games are played all over the U.S., in a rotation that's known before the Tournament. The rules say that no team can be placed in its region for the first round, so Marquette couldn't go into the bracket that played in Milwaukee this year in the first round.

Only one other sport makes teams play a neutral field for the first round of the playoffs. In most pro sports, a team with a good record gets to play at home in the first round, and maybe thereafter.

What's the one sport that sends teams to a neutral field for their first game in the playoffs? The BCS, which has a Bowl pre-selected before the season begins and then sends the championship teams there to play. But that at least gives fans a pretty good length of time to plan to travel there -- fans of teams that expect to contend for the national championship can make tentative plans to go see the game in January, and since the college season ends about a month before the BCS Title game, there's plenty of time to book travel plans.

Not so for the NCAA Tournament, which tells you fans on late Sunday night where your team will be playing on Thursday. Do you like paying that extra surcharge on a last-minute ticket to Milwaukee? Send a thank-you note to the selection committee. The last minute arrangemetns are so hard to make that some small schools have been known to bus in students to root for their teams.

Even after the first round, teams get yanked around the country, playing in different venues each time they play, making it even harder for their fans to follow them, and turning the Tournament into one massive road trip for the winning team. While that makes winning the Tournament even more of a feat, it strips the ability of a team's fans to enjoy seeing their team win the game in person -- to get tickets for a Final Four game or the Championship, you'll have to buy them in advance and hope your team gets there.

3. The Tournament Leaves Out Good Teams And Lets Losers In. A frequent complaint about the BCS is that it makes good teams sit on the sidelines, with no chance to compete for the title, simply because of their strength-of-schedule or because they came from a lesser-known conference, or because of the rule of two (only two teams from a given conference can be in a BCS Bowl.)

That's a ridiculous argument, every bit as stupid, in its own way, as the sports "analysts" argument against sudden death overtime in the NFL, because those teams like Boise State can compete for the title: All they have to do is play quality opponents and beat them. Teams like Texas and Alabama play quality opponents almost every week by virtue of being in a good conference. Boise State is in a bad conference, but it could schedule high-caliber nonconference opponents, or join a better conference (the Big 10 was open to expansion this year.)

Ignored in that argument, too, is the fact that the NCAA's "automatic bid" system has the potential to let a loser team in and thereby keep a better team out. 31 teams get in automatically by winning their conference tournament -- making it into March Madness even if their conference was terrible and even if they themselves had a losing record. Five teams in recent years have made the Tournament with a losing record.

To account for all the automatic bids that get slots now, the NCAA expanded to the 64-team size, and then, to make up for not giving an automatic bid to the Mountain West conference, the NCAA created the "Play-In" game, that game between two teams on the Tuesday before the Tournament, which determines the 64th team. So as more and more teams make it into the Tournament automatically, the NCAA just keeps expanding -- but does that increase the caliber of play? I doubt it, considering that in the history of the 64-team Tournament, no 16-seed has ever won so much as one game.

The NCAA is mostly handing a first-round bye to the 1 and 2 seeds, and claiming to be expansive by letting in the losers-- and those losers who got in via automatic bids (the Ivy League bid doesn't even have to win a tournament; that slot goes to the Ivy League team with the best in-conference record) kept a better team from being in the Tournament.

The BCS does the exact opposite: it weeds out the losers, early on. In the BCS, you have to win, period, to have a chance. Teams with 2 losses rarely factor into the BCS, and teams with 1 loss generally are on the outside looking in. Which means that not only does every regular-season game count (unlike the NCAA Tournament, where none of them count -- a team could go 0-22 and still get into the playoffs by winning a conference championship), but the championship is almost always the first time one team will lose a game that season.

As I said: I like the NCAA Tournament. I like it a lot. But it shouldn't be put up on a pedestal as the be-all, end-all of playoffs. (That position belongs to my Perfect Playoff System.)

One Percent, Day 21: A vote against reform is a vote in favor of punching women.

What's this all about? Click here for details.

Today's supposed to be the big House vote on ObamaCare, and unless you enjoy women getting beat up, you'll be rooting for the bill to pass.

I say that because Obamacare will make it illegal to refuse coverage for "pre-existing conditions," which would, in turn, change the laws where insurers are allowed to refuse to provide coverage to victims of domestic violence. In 8 states and the District of Columbia, insurers are free to tell abused wives and husbands that they can't get insurance coverage... because they're victims of abuse.

You'd do a lot of stuff if you were smart like me. Like, you'd never mention that you've got a Snickers' bar hidden in the freezer.

If you write even half as much as I do, you're in constant need of new printer ink, and printer ink is EXPENSIVE... unless you get your HP Replacement Printer Ink Cartridges at, the way I do. They've got replacement printer ink cartridges at great prices, so you'll never run out of ink, or money. also has interesting and unique deals on other electronic items -- so you can go there for your printer ink and come back with not just that but a $29 mp3 player. You can't say that about a lot of stores. But it's the ink refills that made me bookmark the page, and you will, too. If you're smart. Like me.

If it's SELF-defense, he can't use it to come beat me up for making fun of it, right? (Sweetie's Hunk of the Week 54)

You have to give Sweetie credit. She has an impressive list of Hunks -- as she pointed out, she tends to pick not the obvious ones, but the more-obscure hunks that you may have missed.

Sweetie didn't miss them. She has a categorical knowledge of every hunky guy who's ever appeared on TV or in a movie. Like Hunk 54:

Cam Gigandet.

You don't know him without you have
both a basic understanding of how to pronounce kind-of-French names, and seen Twilight. Which is to say "you don't know him without you are a 15-year-old girl, or Sweetie."

Cam Gigandet is the star of Twilight. Or maybe he's not. I'm not sure: whenever I try to Google Twilight my computer monitor just curls up, wiggles its base, and squeals in anticipation of all the emotions that movie-and-book is fraught with, and then goes off to write little notes.

But I'm assured by Sweetie that Cam Gigandet was in Twilight, and also that he was in the movie The Unborn, a movie I did go look up just to be sure, but then I wasn't really sure whether I'd seen it or not, as I get many of those lesser horror movies confused. There was a period of time there when Sweetie was buying and renting horror movies by the bushel (they sell them that way) and we were trying to watch them, usually late on Fridays or Saturdays after the Babies! were in bed (note that I never say the Babies! were asleep. They never are. They never sleep. I'm pretty sure that Mr F hasn't slept more than 10 minutes, total, since he was born.)(He's spent the rest of the time knocking down his dresser.)

As a result of trying to watch movies late at night when I was already tired, and amidst the din of dressers being knocked over, I tended to doze off and not follow those movies very closely, the result being that I now believe that the plot of every single horror movie I've seen in the past five years is this:

A woman goes back to a deserted house in Russia and then walks through some sewers under it, for some reason, finding out that she was raised as twins and that someone in the house is trying to kill her. Maybe her twin.

When Sweetie reads that, she's going to go nuts because, for every horror movie she brings up, I say to her "Wasn't that the one where a woman goes back to a deserted house in Russia and then walks through some sewers under it, for some reason, finding out that she was raised as twins and that someone in the house is trying to kill her. Maybe her twin?"

Or I try to say that to her, because I now get as far as saying "... a woman" and Sweetie says "No! Don't say it! That was not the one!"


Cam Gigandet -- who, according to his IMDB page, pronounces his last name "Ji-GON-Day" (which you'd know if you had that basic understanding of how to pronounce kind-of-French names -- was in that one movie about a woman who goes back... etc., and also in Twilight.

Thing That Makes You Go Hmmm About Him: You can buy his website domain name, for one thing. If you Google Cam Gigandet, as I've done once and Sweetie has done 462 times in the past 24 hours, you'll see that a first-screen result is the opportunity to buy the domain name, for only $50 -- a price that's only good until March, 2011.

And you'll get lots of pictures like this:

Also for sale on that site:, for only $5. So if you're starting a fan website, and you're on a budget, you may want to look up this Trent Ford character and see if you can't obsess over him.

(Sweetie, that's aimed at you. I'm trying to save you money.)

Which wouldn't be a bad idea, because Trent Ford actually played Mr. Mxyzptlk on Smallville, and the more I read about that show, the more I think I might want to watch that show -- it's got Aquaman, and Mr. Mxyzptlk and all those other great superheroes, but then, I think "I'm not sure that they actually do superhero stuff on the show," and I wouldn't want to watch it if they don't because I don't want to watch a bunch of moody teenagers glomming around not doing superhero stuff. That's my real life.

That and furniture being knocked over by Mr F, who does do super stuff, but it's more super villain stuff.

Cam Gigandet was never on Smallville. Nor was he, as far as I can tell, ever on any version of Law & Order, which means that we've still got a little time before the L&O-Geddon hits.

The other thing that makes you go Hmmm about him is that he's a practitioner of "Krav Maga," a self-defense form that was supposedly invented by the Israeli army, and is, therefore, I assume slightly more functional, and slightly less dorkily-hilarious than every other self-defense form.

I don't know about you, but I lose respect for someone the moment they tell me they put on pajamas and pretend-fight other people, and that's all "self-defense" and "martial arts" are, even Krav Maga: Pajama Pretend Fighting. Which might be fun for people to imagine...

... Sweetie, you'd better be imagining me Pajama Pretend Fighting with you...

... but is lame in real life.

Reason I Assumed Sweetie Liked Him: Sweetie first saw him, I'm sure, in Twilight, and Sweetie liked everything about Twilight, the movie, even the soundtrack, which she bought, and even songs on the soundtrack that she wouldn't ordinarily like. (Sweetie especially liked Robert Pattinson.) I just assumed she was Twilighted into liking him.

Actual Reason Sweetie Likes Him: I asked Sweetie to write it down for me, as I was coming into the office today and was going to post this between "work," and here's exactly what she wrote down:

Does things to my insides.

Point I'd Like To Make About Sweetie's Actual Reason For Liking Him: When I read that, I went back to her and said "What, exactly, does he do to your insides?"

And she wouldn't tell me. She just smiled, and changed the subject. I'm pretty sure, though, that she was thinking about Pajama Fights with him:

The front car is the best on a roller-coaster. Don't let anyone sucker you into believing otherwise.

Summer's coming -- even though it's snowing outside my window -- and that means your summer vacation is coming, too, and I've got the destination for you this year, the same one I'd like to go to: Morey's Pier.

Morey's Pier, in New Jersey, is home to some of the best and newest NJ Amusement Rides and has become a destination for families looking to have a great time. Shows, rides, games, food, the entire package is available at Morey's Pier, from roller coasters and slingshots to things for the kids.

I love a great amusement park, and Morey's is just that: a great amusement park where an entire family can spend more than just a day: You could spend days, weeks, even at Morey's and not run out of fun.

You know what you WON'T spend at Morey's? Money -- or much of it, because Morey's right now is offering a 35% DISCOUNT on tickets -- that's like getting 1 out of every 3 tickets free. Maybe. My math isn't very good, to be honest. But it's a 35% savings!

So get your tickets and get your plans, and then get behind me because I want to sit in the front car.

One Percent, Day Twenty: These sexy volleyball players have a point to make about insurance premiums and your job.

What's this about? Click here for an explanation.

Health care reform doesn't just affect the uninsured. Recently, I had to consider whether or not to hire someone at our firm, and after considering how much to pay that person, I had to consider the hidden costs-- the money employers pay for an employee, not to an employee.

Here's one such number: Health insurance premiums. 61% of Americans get their insurance through an employer... right now. I say right now because in 2010, 80% of employers plan to increase employee contributions to health plans in 2010, and 18% plan to eliminate generous health care plans. (Source.)

That's happening because in the last ten years, premiums for employer-provided health insurance have risen 120%. (Source.)

If you get your insurance through your employer, how much longer will they be able to bear that cost? One day, you may come in and find out that your boss is shifting some or all of the costs of that insurance to you? And what will you do then?

Until we get single-payer health care, the current health reform package that'll be voted on tomorrow is the best thing to do, and here's why: Every big job starts somewhere. Almost everyone in the universe looks at a large task and thinks I'll never get that done... and that can lead to stasis, to an inability to get going, period.

I'm not in favor of incremental change, except when incremental change is the only way to get change going, and if that incremental change is a step in the right direction, then I support the small step if the big step won't be taken.

This health reform package is a good thing, as I've pointed out on various days throughout (and will continue to do until it's passed.) It's not the best thing but it's a good step. It's a big job getting started, and a job that's long overdue.

Since 1911 people have been trying to get a law passed that will provide health insurance coverage for all Americans. Ninety-nine years later, we're still trying.

The bill should pass, because it will take us closer to that goal than we have yet come, and because it will show people that health care and insurance can be reformed.


When I'm not blogging, I'm writing -- legal briefs and novels, as you know. Which means I run through a lot of ink -- a LOT of ink. I save money by getting my HP Ink Cartridges through -- so that I don't spend more than I have to, and I never run out of ink... or ideas for stories. Like this one I just got, about a guy who orders some printer ink through an online service, but when it comes, in the package are not just inks, but DIAMONDS, and a weird note written in some kind of code...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It really is remarkable how many of these feature leftover pizza. (3 Good Things From 3/16/10)

Sweetie complained yesterday that she's never one of my 3 Good Things, which I think is inaccurate, but to rectify the situation, my 3 Good Things from yesterday are all Sweetie-based. And partially pizza-based, as well.

1. My lunch included leftover pizza. On Monday night, Sweetie made pizzas, and before she even served the pizza for dinner, she'd already packed up some as my lunch for Tuesday, so not only did I get pizza on Monday night, but I had it to look forward to on Tuesday, and, also, Sweetie's action gave me this little thought to ponder: Is it truly "leftover" pizza if you took it right out of the oven and packed it into a lunch?

Yeah. Think about that one for a while.

2. Sweetie brought me my favorite dessert, cheeseburgers. After dinner, Sweetie went to work out, while I focused on more important things like "teaching Mr F to play Pac-Man" and "Not, technically, knowing that while I taught Mr F to play Pac-Man, Mr Bunches was downstairs in the laundry room turning off the hot water heater and running a load of laundry."

That last one is true: While I taught Mr F the intricacies of Pac-Man ("Don't worry about eating the cherries") Mr Bunches was down in the laundry room. We discovered later that he'd taken the clean laundry out of the dryer and thrown it on the floor, that he'd turned off the hot water heater... and that he'd loaded a set of clothes into the washer and started the washer.

Here's a confession: I don't know how to run our washer. But Mr Bunches does.

Anyway, while I was doing all that, Sweetie was working out at the health club, and when she returned, she'd brought me home a couple of McDonald's cheeseburgers for dessert, so I got to relax and watch The Heffalump Movie with the Babies! and eat cheeseburgers.

3. Sweetie didn't get too mad when she discovered, this morning, that the hot water heater was off and she had no hot water for a bath. That's technically from this morning, but it would've happened last night if we'd discovered it then, so I'm counting it.

101 Down, 10,613 to go: Today's song is from the Avenue Q soundtrack, a soundtrack I got after one day setting my Pandora to showtunes, and hearing the whole thing. I've never seen the musical, but I bet I'd love it. It's What Do You Do With A B.A. In English/It Sucks To Be Me

One Percent: Day Nineteen: Today its some sexy superheroes!

If Dennis Kucinich coming around to vote for ObamaCare doesn't get you to read up on the proposed health care reform, maybe a bevy of sexy superheroes will lure you into reading that the health care reform bill proposed will provide $40 billion in tax credits for small businesses to help pay for health insurance.

The bill would not require any employer to provide insurance, but would help pay the costs of those that do, and would impose surcharges on some employers if that employer opts not to provide coverage and the taxpayers end up paying the costs. (About that latter: a company that doesn't provide health insurance, and whose employees end up being taxpayer-funded liabilities, would have to pay a relatively nominal amount to defray the taxpayer costs.)

So remember, when lying foolish child-hating Republicans like Michele Bachmann tell you the health care reform will kill small businesses, well... they're lying, foolish child-hating Republicans who have sold their souls to insurance companies.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I hereby apologize to Sweetie. (Quote of the Day 42)

I didn't know whether to jump or duck.

Sweetie, in response to a joke I made a long time ago.

The joke was this: We were walking along, at night, outside the park where our wedding reception was held. There was a plane up overhead, a jet, and Sweetie looked up at it and said "Isn't that plane kind of low?"

I looked up and said "Yeah, it is. In fact, it's coming right at us!"

And Sweetie got scared and screamed and huddled at me and then got mad and said I wasn't funny and that she'd believed me. That's when she said the quote, which I've always thought was a funny one, and have always chuckled about, because who gets hit by an airplane, right?

Then I heard the news today.

I was going to put in one from Friday, but I can't remember back that far. ([more than] 3 Good Things From The Last Couple Days.)

It's actually, like the title says, more than three good things. And I didn't even mention, as one of them, that I taught Mr Bunches to say "Bust it" like it's said at the beginning of Bust A Move.

1. Saturday: I got to watch three episodes of Lost in the afternoon, getting almost done with season 3. And Charlie [SPOILER ALERT IN CASE YOU'RE FURTHER BEHIND THAN I AM] hasn't died yet.

2. Sunday: Bubbles with Mr F and Mr Bunches. Mr F and Mr Bunches got reintroduced to bubbles -- you know, those cheap little plastic wand soap-and-water bubbles -- last week, and on Sunday, I spent an enjoyable 40 minutes just blowing bubbles for them while they popped them and jumped around. (I don't get the reaction to my bubbles that Sweetie does: When she blows bubbles, Mr Bunches says "Wow!")

And also, on Sunday, I got to take the first walk of the year with Mr F and Mr Bunches, as we took a late-evening walk to get some candy bars after dinner, holding hands and looking at cars and otherwise enjoying the first really nice night of 2010.

3. Monday: Ketchup-and-french fry potato chips. These are totally a real thing, and I bought them yesterday on my drive home from depositions in Milwaukee. I opted to not go to McDonald's for lunch/dinner -- I hadn't eaten lunch, but it was 6 p.m. -- and instead stopped at a gas station to get my usual road-trip Honey BBQ Fritos, but they didn't have those, and the bags of Cheesburger Doritos they did have felt skimpy -- I've noticed that Doritos are holding the line at 99 cents per snack bag, but have been reducing the number of chips you get for that price, so to them I say: "Doritos, just give in and sell us a full-size bag for more than $0.99." I got, instead, the Ketchup & French Fry chips that I'd never tried before, and I can report that they are exactly like eating a french fry with ketchup. Exactly. I'm not making that up and I'm not paid to say it: It's somehow the exact same experience as eating a ketchup-covered-fry, but with a crunch thrown in.

It's a beautiful world we live in.

And, it's 100 Down, 10,614 to go:
To celebrate the 100th song from my iPod, I picked a barnburner that I first heard over the weekend, and which was so great that I picked up Mr Bunches and danced with him to the song like we were in a mosh pit: It's There Goes My Love, by The Blue Van:

One Percent, Day Eighteen: Check Out This Shirtless Guy In A Towel!

The countdown continues to the big vote on whether you'll be afforded a basic right, or whether Republicans will guarantee that kids continue to die. Before you decide where to cast your lot, consider that the President's plan includes a lot of things you don't know about, including that It would prevent lifetime caps on insurance coverage and ban pre-existing condition exclusions.

So if the health care reform bill passes, all insurance companies will be on a level playing field: each will have to cover all conditions you have, and cannot cap coverage -- so that you will have the ability to shop your insurance around, and won't have to pay whatever your current company charges for fear of not getting something covered in the future. In other words, if you hurt your knee, and your insurance company ups your premiums because of it, you'll have the option to go to a different company and pay less for your coverage.

And if you get diagnosed with a serious or life-long condition, your insurance company won't be able to tell you "we're not going to pay anymore."

Remember: all other insurers cover "pre-existing conditions." Insurers cover drivers regardless of how many accidents they've been in -- they just charge more. And there's no cap on how much your insurer can charge you, so why should they get to cap how much you charge them?

By the way: the picture has nothing to do with this post. I'm just hoping that someone will read the post because of it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Final Score: Sports Zero, Lawyers 1,000,000 (and counting) (Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!)

The NCAA Mens' Basketball Tournament -- which would be commonly referred to as "March Madness" -- starts this week.

The Tournament would be commonly referred to as "March Madness" if doing so wouldn't end up with you being sued into oblivion faster than you can say "J.K. Rowling didn't need the profits from that encyclopedia." "March Madness," after all, is a trademark of the NCAA, which got the right to use the phrase as a trademark after CBS stole the phrase from the Illinois High School Association (IHSA).

That's a true story: The IHSA used the phrase March Madness as far back as 1939, only to have a CBS reporter from Chicago then apply March Madness to the NCAA Mens' Tournament, only to then have the IHSA sue over the use of the phrase in a video game -- and lose, because the IHSA hadn't bothered to protect the phrase for about 16 years, so it was available for the NCAA Tournament to use, and license, leading to a cooperative agreement between IHSA and the NCAA whereby they agreed to share the name, and they later agreed to sue some people who tried to use the website url, which is why, today, if you type the phrase "" into your web browser, you'll be magically transported to

And which is also why it's great to be a lawyer: even though my job would be entirely irrelevant, and entirely useless, if everyone just agreed to not use lawyers, as long as one person uses a lawyer, everyone else will need to use one, too, and I am therefore guaranteed job security for all eternity, or until I retire, whichever comes first.

So I'm not using the phrase March Madness to describe The Best Postseason Sporting Event. And I am vigorously defending my copyright on Sticky Waffle Sandwiches, which I see is under attack from my archnemesis... well, one of my archnemeses, as I have many, Dunkin' Donuts.

You may recall that briefly over the summer I toyed with a feature called Mourning Gnus, and as part of that I periodically updated everyone on how I, Thinking The Lions, was the number one destination for people who did a Google search for Sticky Waffle Sandwiches. (If you don't remember that, click here and you'll get all the posts that mentioned this all-important issue.)

I did that back in May and June, after Sweetie packed me a lunch that included... you guessed it... a sticky waffle sandwich.

Then, I found out that Dunkin' Donuts, which has become one of my archnemeses by doing this, has introduced a sticky waffle sandwich on their menu -- they don't call it a sticky sandwich but you know it's sticky; it's a waffle, how could it not be? -- thereby copying me and, more importantly, robbing me of the right to make billions off of Sweetie's invention of this major breakthrough in breakfastry.

Breakfastry: that's a word I just coined and it's my word. Remember that, Dunkin' Donuts.

I should sue Dunkin' Donuts within an inch of its corporate life, the way J.K. Rowling sues anyone who says anything that even remotely sounds like Harry Potter -- because a failure to vigorously protect my trademark will cede the right to use it to Dunkin' Donuts, and eventually, when you type Sticky Waffle Sandwiches into Google, you'll be redirected to the NCAA site. I know how things work.

I should also vigorously defend my trademark in Sticky Waffle Sandwiches because doing so helps guarantee that I'll have more than enough work for my lifetime, keeping me busy in the way that only lawyers can be kept busy: by creating a system of complicated rules that only we can navigate, and then making you pay us to navigate those rules.

Lawyers, as a whole, are an entirely unnecessary occupation. Lawyers are one of those rare groups of people who, if you eliminated them entirely from the earth -- if you snapped your fingers and suddenly there were no more lawyers period -- the world wouldn't be any worse off in any significant respect. If lawyers stopped lawyering today, people would still have disputes and would still need to settle them -- and they would settle them, by filing lawsuits and going to court and otherwise doing the things they do now to settle disputes (having Jerry Seinfeld and his buddies make fun of them on TV), but they'd do it without lawyers, and if everyone realized that, I'd have to go find another career.

Like, say, something in the sitting on a tropical island for a year and telling what that's like category of jobs. (That's a real job, by the way. Aren't you sorry you didn't major in that? I am.)

Things That Are Jobs:




Luckily for me, people keep on doing stuff that lets me sue them, and, if you're wondering how this all relates to sports, beyond the little I'm-not-going-to-refer-to-it-as-March-Madness- intro, rest assured, it does: Because in the world of sports, there are winners, there are losers, there are losers that we pretend are winners because we want to claim that that US "won" the Olympics so we pretend a silver medal is okay to get, and then there are the lawyers, who always win.

Lawyers have had dramatic, readily-apparent impacts on sports, and then they have had not-so-dramatic, not-so-apparent, but equally (if not more so) important impacts on sports. And sometimes it's not so clear which is which.

Take the Casey Martin lawsuit. Back at the turn of the century, lawyers used the Americans With Disabilities Act to get Casey Martin the right to use a golf cart on tour. That lawsuit was met with outcries both for and against, with people announcing it would be the end of golf, and people announcing it was a new day in the world, a day when anyone could dream of playing a professional sport even if they were completely unable, physically, to do so.

And the earth-shattering result of Martin's court-ordered and Congressionally-mandated permissive use of a golf cart on the PGA Tour was... nothing much. Martin finished in 179th place on his only year on the PGA Tour, having to then go back to Q-School to qualify for the tour again, and not doing so. (Q-School is the qualifying event for those who hope to get onto the PGA Tour, a series of tournaments a player must go through to get on the tour.)

In the end, all that lawyering was for nothing. The PGA spent hundreds of thousands of dollars defending that case, and in the end, the result was that all the golfers who would have finished at 179th or lower were pushed one slot back -- meaning all the bad golfers were a little tiny bit worse off, and the effect on the golf world was nil.

That's one reason why I so frequently say that lawyers, as a whole, are not necessary to the functioning of society -- not necessary so long as everyone would agree not to use them. If one person uses a lawyer, everyone else has to or they're at a disadvantage. The Casey Martin case shows that all that lawyering was unnecessary, and counterproductive: Not only would Martin and the PGA have resolved their differences even without teams of lawyers making their arguments for them, but the end result was a tempest in a teapot, with Martin winning the chance to play on the Tour using a cart, but never having much impact on golf anyway.

That doesn't stop lawyers from changing the games you play, and the games you watch, in greater or lesser degrees. Consider how lawyers affected the outcome of the NFL's last two seasons, through maneuvering involving the Giant Williamses of Minnesota.

Defensive linemen Kevin Williams and Pat Williams -- no relation to each other, apparently -- tested positive for banned substances in training camp in 2008. The Giant Williamses said that the substance (bumetanide), which can be used to mask steroids, was used by them not for that, but to meet their weigh-in goals and get a $400,000 bonus.

The Williamses acknowledged taking bumetanide, via an over-the-counter weight loss product they took the night before the weigh in. (They say.) The NFL acknowledged that bumetanide, which is on the NFL's banned substances list, isn't on the weight-loss product's label.

So the NFL suspended the Giant Williamses for four games.

Remember -- that positive test was in 2008. The media announced recently that the Giant Williamses might, soon, serve the four-game suspension that the NFL imposed.

In 2008.

What happened was, as you'd guessed, the lawyers rolled in. The Giant Williamses had a lawyer who claimed that the NFL violated Minnesota's state law requiring notice of a positive drug test within three days of the test. Note how the Giant Williamses do not dispute they failed the test, or that the test was improperly administered: They simply said that the NFL didn't tell them soon enough that they'd failed.

That claim, plus some others about inconsistent punishments, has been enough to let the Giant Williamses play in the 2008 and 2009 season, reaching overtime in the 2009 NFC Championship Game, all the while without ever serving that four-game suspension.

That four-game suspension is important if you are, say, a Packer fan. The Packers finished one game behind the Vikings in 2009, heading to a loss in Arizona in the wild-card round instead of relaxing at home singing Pants On The Ground like the Vikings did in the recently-concluded playoffs. Had the Giant Williamses been suspended for four games, the season might have gone differently for the Packers and the situation may have been reversed -- sending Minnesota to Arizona... and Minnesota had lost badly to Arizona on the road in the regular season.

Minnesota also made the playoffs in 2008 as a wild-card, so lawyers helped shape the NFL's postseason for two years running -- helping put Minnesota in and keeping the Packers out of the NFC Championship this past year.

Lawyers don't just destroy, no matter what you might think; it's not true that all law schools have a secret shrine to Shiva. (Only the accredited law schools do.) Lawyers can also make you rich off your football career even if you never actually had a football career per se: a lawyer can make your virtual football career generate real money.

Or, that's the hope of several litigious college students who decided they ought to get something out of the fact that kids everywhere are able to make them (virtually) go for it on 4th-and-57, as I always make my teams do whenever I play video-game football, which I don't do anymore because video-game football got way too complicated for me. As someone who began his video-game football career playing that little Mattel hand-held football game where you were represented by a little red LED, and you had to get past 3 or 4 other little red LEDs, I have no ability or patience for a game in which there are 11 different buttons on one controller, each of which has to be pressed in order to get your player to do something. The last time I played Madden against The Boy, I was mostly a spectator to what the computer had my team do, with my input being limited to never punting.

(I read somewhere, but can't find it, an article that said that John Madden made the game designers put in a feature that punished players who "go for it" on 4th-and-57 and other ridiculous downs and distances. Aside from the fact that, statistically speaking, punting is for suckers and never punting can help you win championships, what business is it of Madden's how I run my virtual team? If he wants to wuss out as a coach, fine, but to make the computer punish me for being gutsy, and to take away the what-if aspect of playing a video game, seems stupid, to me. What's next? Will Madden punish players who opt to play as a losing team, like the Raiders? "You should have picked Dallas," the game will say, and will short-circuit.)

College students who play an NCAA-run sport have to sign a paper that says they won't profit off their likeness or sports career. That's a rule that's only enforced against teams that aren't USC or Ohio State, and people who aren't Tim Tebow (since Tebow was allowed to participate in a commercial on national TV during the Super Bowl, a commercial that even if he didn't get paid for it no doubt helped his profile and will, in the long run, earn him some money.)

But nobody, it turns out, signs a paper saying that everyone else in the world can't profit off of a college student's career and likeness, "everyone else in the world" including video-game makers, who have been putting players into their videogames for years and making billions off of them.

Videogame makers using NCAA teams do not use the players' names, but that hardly matters. Consider a few examples:

The quarterback for the University of Florida in NCAA Football 2009 is, like real-life Tim Tebow, a 6'3" lefty who wears number 15 and is from Florida. (Why a player in a video game has to have a hometown is beyond me, but the NCAA Video Number 15 is from Brandon, Florida, while Tebow is from Jacksonville, Florida.)

The 2005 NCAA Football game had an Arizona player who wore number 9, played quarterback, and was the same height, weight, and even skin tone and hair color as the real-life Arizona State QB at the time, Sam Keller. (Like Real Tebow and Virtual Tebow, Keller and Fake Keller shared the same home state, too.)

(It makes me wonder how long it'll be before we get a back story on Mario and Luigi, who are, so far as I know, sadly without any origins whatsoever.)

Deciding that something had to be done about it, and "something" in America almost always meaning sue, Keller and others have now filed lawsuits against the NCAA for using their likenesses without compensating them -- joining such luminaries as Woody Allen, who also claimed once that his likeness was used without his permission on a billboard put up by American Apparel.

The college guys have something to sue for: The NFL Players Association is paid about $35 million a year for licensing players' images to the video games, and a past lawsuit by NFL players against Madden's game maker netted more than $26 million in a settlement. If you're, say, Ed O'Bannon, that's big bucks.

O'Bannon was a UCLA basketball player who was drafted into the NBA but didn't last long there. After some time playing basketball overseas, O'Bannon finished his bachelor's degree and now works as a car salesman and coaches a Henderson, Nevada high school team.

O'Bannon is the lead plaintiff in a suit against the NCAA seeking compensation for using his likeness -- there are other suits going besides his -- and may gain a lot of money as a result of you using O'Bannon to dunk on your son's videogame counterparts.

(O'Bannon, and the others, are simply examples of the reasoning behind my proposal that college athletes just be paid, already.)

All of which serves as just a few examples of the reason why I'm glad to be a lawyer, and even more glad that society, for some reason, continues to tolerate lawyers and lets us exist instead of forcing us to go get real jobs: because as a lawyer, I have the kind of job that lets me spend Sunday mornings writing about how my job isn't all that demanding, or necessary. I have the kind of job that lets me make money off of people making money off of other people -- people like the NCAA, who make tons of money off of college athletes, and then pay tons of that money to lawyers to keep from having to pay any of that money to the athletes.

And I have the kind of job could let me have an impact on sports without going through this:

One Percent, Day Seventeen:

What's this about? Click here.

For a couple of days, not long ago, the media was all abuzz about the skyrocketing cost of health insurance premiums. Now that they've gone back to covering Jennifer Aniston, it would seem that the crisis is over... only it's not. Health insurance premiums will continue to rise, and will continue to outstrip your ability to pay them (unless you get annual 39% raises).

The bill Obama wants to pass will require that health insurers submit proposed rate increases to a state or federal authority for approval.

The bill doesn't say they can't raise rates -- just that the increases must be approved, by the state. We already regulate rates charged by utilities, and banks face regulations on how much interest they can charge and how much cash they have to keep on hand, and require minimum markups on consumer goods. Why not regulate how much your health insurer can raise your premium in a single year?

Glasses glasses bobassess bananafana momasses... or something like that.

If you've never had to wear glasses, you probably don't appreciate just how necessary they are to those who DO need them. As a former glasses wearer myself, I understand that a pair of glasses isn't just a fashion accessory -- it's a necessity.

But society treats eyeglasses as something else, as some sort of accoutrement that people can opt out of. Glasses are sold in their own stores, like purses or socks or purses full of socks, and they're "designed" by people and otherwise treated like haute couture rather than medical need. And because of that, eyeglasses are expensive. Too expensive, if you ask me.

Zenni Optical thinks glasses are too expensive, too, and unlike me, they don't just talk about it, they DO something about it. That something, in this case, being "sell them for $8 or so per pair."

Zenni Optical sells glasses for as little as $8 per pair -- getting fashionable and well-made frames for that low price by designing them on their own, having them made overseas, and not having expensive mall-based stores or fancy advertising budgets. As a result, Zenni is able to sell you glasses (including progressive lens, tinted, sunglasses and more) that look great and cost about what you'll spend on lunch tomorrow. (Today being Sunday, I assume you'll eat at home, so lunch will be cheaper.)

It's not just me that thinks it's great that glasses can be bought at super-low prices. Check out the review in the Brooklyn Examiner (Find it at and you'll see that others are agreeing with me, too.