A Fair Conversation About Sports

By Michael Hawkins

I want to consider five sports. One is loved around the world for some mysterious reason and the other four are the major ones in the U.S.: soccer, basketball, football, baseball, hockey.

Soccer – Does anyone understand this? It’s utterly perplexing, isn’t it? This is the most popular sport in the world yet it manages to be the most boring. Sure, I get the poorer people of the world playing it because it is so relatively cheap, but what is everyone else’s excuse? What about the organizations with all their money? Surely millions of dollars are not worth such immense boredom. And the players! They take dives more than Michael Phelps. “Ouchie, ouchie, my knee! This is the worst injury anyone has ever had! Ever! …oh, the ref has made his call and play is continuing? Well then, I guess I’m fine.” Sissies.

Basketball – Is there a sport where the final minutes are more boring than this (besides soccer)? Specifically, the NBA has royally screwed up the final two minutes of any close game. Here are the final plays from any given NBA game that is moderately close: foul, foul, time out, time out, foul, foul, TV time out, foul, TV time out, foul, foul, gun fight, foul, foul, time out, foul, game over.

Football – This is getting warmer, but still misses the mark a little, especially where the NFL is concerned. First of all, stop throwing so many flags. Some of the most exciting plays I’ve ever seen have been ruined because some jackass threw a flag. And roughing the passer? It’s football. Roger Goodell really messed this one up in recent years. But has there been a worse commissioner? For any sport? Ever? Maybe David Stern. Of course, to be fair, it should be noted that the way each guy has made his league into a matter of playing the clock – not anything remotely close to athletics – is equally terrible.

Baseball – Here we go. America’s pastime. Is it 0-0 in the ninth? Well, unlike soccer, this is an exciting score. It means there’s probably been a pitcher’s duel going on. Oh, is it 10-9 in the ninth? Who doesn’t love a slugfest? And how about the constant spectacular defense at the highest level? Now if only Bug Selig could get a real salary cap going.

Hockey – We have a winner. This is the most underrated sport around. Those sissy dives in soccer? Go to the box for two minutes. The constant time outs and clock management in the NBA? No problem. Teams only get one timeout per game. Hitting a guy too hard? There are protections so guys don’t get hurt, but they aren’t as silly as what Roger Goodell has done in the NFL. And do search for the YouTube video titled “Milan Lucic hits Mike Van Ryn through the Glass”.

And the final two minutes of a hockey game cannot be ignored. These are the most exciting minutes in sports. The flurry of shots, the fast pace, the pulled goalie. Nothing can beat the end of a close hockey game.

But of course, the biggest complaint people raise about the sport is fighting. First, no one seems to want to watch college hockey where fighting is non-existent, so one has to question the validity of this issue in terms of why people refuse to watch the NHL. Second, the fighting isn’t an arbitrary show of aggression. It’s a demonstration of passion – passion to fight for one’s team, passion to win the game. What’s more, it keeps things in check. Fighting is counter-intuitively what helps to keep the play clean.

There you have it. This assessment should be regarded as authoritative and objective. Any dissent is definitively wrong – especially if that dissent contends that any of this article is mere opinion about something relatively trivial.

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Do Not Go To T’s Golf

By Michael Hawkins

As some readers may recall, an article appeared in the very first edition of Without Apology which disparaged T’s Golf in Manchester. This article is a reminder of that disparagement.

T’s Golf is a dumpy little joint run by Rawn and Judy Torrington. The deteriorating mini golf course is absolute junk. Even if I didn’t have a terrible personal interaction with the bitter, little owners, I would still hate their ‘facilities’ – in fact, long before I knew anything about the nasty, old couple I would often reject suggestions of using their business. The fact – and it’s an obvious fact – is that they run one of the worst looking (and playing) mini golf courses in the state.

But Without Apology has built readership since that first edition, so let’s get everyone up-to-date: I went to use Rawn and Judy Torrington’s driving range to test out a new driver one summer day. My intent was to hit 4-5 balls out of my own bag and leave. But being greedy, life-hating misers, the pair objected to me not buying their balls. They chastised my innocent girlfriend, told us we should know better, and even took down my license plate number. I suppose that made Rawn feel like a big man. Goodness knows his ugly, little business doesn’t.

Now give this all a moment’s thought: these two selfish individuals were angry because I didn’t give them a dollar fifty or so for a few balls. No one is saying they can’t tell people to pay, but what they can’t do is screech at people to pay and then expect to see some sort of uptick in business. Had they been remotely intelligent in their approach, I would have paid the pocket change to whack a few balls a few yards. Instead, they whined and yelled and threw a big hissy fit, thus losing my business forever. Now, I’m no business major (I prefer degrees that don’t take one’s soul), but I reckon the angry owners of T’s Golf might rightly be described as “business dolts”. But then, maybe I’m too kind.

So this is a reminder: DO NOT GO TO T’S GOLF THIS SUMMER. Or ever, really. It’s run by people who have no idea how to interact with the public; they do not deserve your money. Go drive a few balls over at All-Steak Burger on Hospital Street. That’s a business that is run by decent people, and the facilities are ever-improving, from the Disc Golf course to the batting cage to the driving range.

T’s Golf is a cheap joint run by a couple of old fogies who are bitter about their lackluster place in life, their inability to run a decent business, and the fact that they are unable to maintaine decent facilities. But most of all, they take no evident joy in their interaction with people. Go ahead, ask around town. Find out just what sort of stunts Rawn and Judy Torrington pull – from stories of berating customers who have spent $1000+ with them, to tales of denying 10 year olds free mini golf games because neither disgruntled owner witnessed the hole-in-one on the final hole, the anecdotes are seemingly endless.

And here’s the kicker: no one needs T’s Golf. There are other driving ranges. There are other mini golf courses. There are competently run businesses owned by decent people. T’s Golf is a black hole that adds nothing to the area. It just takes and takes and takes all the joy of summer, of golf, of humanity and consumes it into a pit of bitter nothingness and failure.

Save yourself the headache. Do not go to T’s Golf.

Gene Therapy for Mouse Vision

This version of the article differs slightly from the Without Apology version.

By Michael Hawkins

Gene therapy is generally a good thing. Just last year it was used to cure color blindness in spider monkeys. In that instance, an adeno-virus was used to deliver the correct gene into the primates; that’s often how it is done. However, there are drawbacks to this. For instance, insertional mutagenesis may occur. This is where an inserted sequence causes a change in the expression of a nearby gene. In many cases, this will cause cancer. It doesn’t always happen and not all viruses will be the right kind to integrate themselves into the host’s genome, but the possibility is a very real one. Fortunately for the spider monkeys, no side effects have been noted.

Another way to go about fixing faulty genes is to do what Cai et al. did and deliver the correct DNA via nanoparticles. They injected mice which had retinitis pigmentosa, a disease of the eye, with saline, naked plasmid DNA (i.e., not compacted in a nanoparticle), and with nanoparticle compacted DNA (plus a control group that received nothing). The correct gene, the Rds gene, did nothing when it was given alone (and, of course, the saline did just the same). However, the nanoparticle DNA did prove to have an effect. In fact, not only did it retard further degeneration of vision, but it even caused healing in the form of functional and structural improvements.

There are still safety issues that need to be fleshed out with more research, but this method of correcting faulty genes is both promising and pretty exciting. What’s more, it even has opened the avenue for some good zingers.

“Making the blind see was once called a miracle,” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. “As we have expanded our understanding of evolution, genetics, and nanotechnology, chances are that “miraculous” cures will become as commonplace as those claimed by faith-healers past and present.”

1. X. Cai, S. M. Conley, Z. Nash, S. J. Fliesler, M. J. Cooper, M. I. Naash. Gene delivery to mitotic and postmitotic photoreceptors via compacted DNA nanoparticles results in improved phenotype in a mouse model of retinitis pigmentosa. The FASEB Journal, 2009; DOI: 10.1096/fj.09-139147

Non Sequiturs

By Michael Hawkins

~Who cares what Tiger does in his sex life? He’s good at a sport. That’s why I like him.

~Why do people listen to Glenn Beck? He’s wrong about pretty much everything.

~The Tea Party is the most ridiculous, haphazard mess since, well, the Bush Administration. I guess it hasn’t been that long.

~Obama has not earned the title “Socialist” yet. I hope he one day lives up to it.

~Time Warner is an awful company.

~So is Hannaford.

~Dogs clearly are better than cats.

~Remember Mystery Science Theater 3000? That was awesome.

~And Mr. Wizard? That was good times.

~The Caps are going to win it all this year. Damn it.

~ This is the last edition of Without Apology for some time. Maybe it will be back in the fall.

~It’s okay to weep.

~Mexican food really is awful. Just awful.

~What happened to Scrubs? Why would ABC ruin something that was once so great?

~The original aerial-view GTA was pretty awesome.

~Listen, Papi, we appreciate all you did, but that was so long ago. We don’t want to boo you, so please just hit the ball.

~And can it be said? Can it finally be said? As much as Manny would dog it down the line, Papi did, too. If anything, Papi did – and does – it far more than Manny.

~Baseball needs a serious salary cap.

~Evolution is true. Deal with it.

~Start watching Holmes on Homes.

~I wake up every day and thank my lucky stars I’m not from Mississippi.
~Of course, I don’t have lucky stars, though, because astrology is a bunch of malarkey.

~Oh, heck, I’ll mention him. Christopher Maloney is a quack.

~The best part of the Kennebec Journal is the comics.

~Except Mark Trail. Everyone HATES Mark Trail.

~Hiking is great.

~Despite popular belief, “Without Apology” does not reference a refusal to literally apologize for some given mistake. It actually refers to not qualifying every little statement with unnecessary pedantry. Nuance is okay. Not pedantry.

~Swimming across the pond at Bicentennial Park will get you “banned for life”. Trust me.

Mitochondria and Microsatellites

By Michael Hawkins

Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is useful for determining the phylogeny, or relationships, between closely related species. It is inherited, generally, only from mother to offspring, so it doesn’t face problems such as recombination since it isn’t recombining with other DNA before being passed on (except through horizontal transfer, or “genetic swapping” between bacteria).

One recent discovery using mtDNA has found that a sort of “pre-human” was walking around while humans and Neanderthals were still rocking out. Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany and his colleagues wrote in the journal Nature that they had sequenced mtDNA from a fossil discovered in a Siberian cave. Results showed that the former owner of those long dead bones had diverged from humans and Neanderthals a million years ago. (Human and Neanderthals then diverged 500,000 years later.)

The authors go on to state that more research is needed to determine just where the species qualitatively sits on the evolutionary tree. The point, however, is that mtDNA has proved useful in this analysis, giving a tentative quantitative determination and a tentative qualitative indication.

This is all in stark contrast to microsatellites. These are short tandem repeats, or units of repeating DNA sequences. For example, CACACACACACACACACACA is commonly seen throughout eukaryotes and the chloroplastic genomes of plants (usually every few thousand base pairs). They are generally neutral.

Microsatellites have relatively high mutational rates for a variety of reasons. Whereas in mitochondria the mutational rate can partially be chalked up to the fact that mitochondria is bacterial in origin, microsatellites have polymerase slippage to thank, or bad DNA replication, let’s say. Other studies suggest unequal crossing-over. At any rate, this mutation rate lends itself to population studies using microsatellites.

By using microsatellites as genetic markers, it is possible to determine genetic variation within a population. This works for investigating both temporal and spatial population structure, two important factors in management and conservation of species. For instance, Lage et al. 2004 looked at Atlantic cod populations ranging across Browns Bank, Georges Bank, and Nantucket Shoals.

At the time of the research, the Gulf of Maine cod were treated as a separate stock from the Nantucket Shoals and Georges Bank Atlantic cod. Browns Bank cod were even more separate as a stock since they are in Canadian waters. Using microsatellites, the researchers found Nantucket Shoals cod to have a distinct population structure from those on Georges Bank and Browns Bank, which were genetically similar. One likely reason is due to currents which keep Georges Bank cod on Georges Bank as well as somewhat rare currents which likely transport larvae from Browns Bank over the Fundian Channel (which adult cod are unlikely to traverse since they are ground-huggers and the channel is deep and cold). The conclusion is that the health of Atlantic cod populations might be better served by treating them as separate stocks based upon the discovered genetic variation, instead of the current method of utilizing particular geographical lines which may not reflect all population ‘barriers’.

The shortcoming, however, with microsatellites is that they are not useful for deep phylogenetic analysis. Their high mutation rate makes them virtually useless after a few thousand generations; they are good for pedigrees and population structure analysis, but they do not offer insights into distant relationships. Occasionally they may remain the same or nearly the same over long periods of time, but the rhyme and reason probably has nothing to do with the microsatellites themselves. Instead, they likely are located near a site of selection on a locus, thus conserving them for longer than just those few thousand generations.

Lage CR, Kuhn K, Kornfield I. (2004) Genetic differentiation among Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) from Browns Bank, Georges Bank, and Nantucket Shoals. Fishery Bulletin, 102:289-297.

Play a Fair Game, Goodell

This article had a few words cut off the end. It is unclear what those words should have been, so that final sentence has been cut from this version.

By Michael Hawkins

The No Fun League is a pretty terribly run organization. It’s certainly an excellent business, but it’s pretty crap as far as quality sporting goes. From the tinker bell Roughing the Passer rule to the 6 required flags per play, the games are sometimes difficult to watch. It’s still a great sport and I’m not about to abandon my patriots, but c’mon. The rules make it a little onerous to enjoy at times.

The worst rule, perhaps, is for overtime (OT). The team that wins the coin toss gets to win the game. Not literally, of course, but it may as well be that way. It’s sudden death, so it’s a matter of moving down the field within 45ish yards of a field goal and booting that through. If they make it, the game’s over. It’s inane. I mean, hell, a game of beer pong even allows for rebuttal (depending on house rules; check with your local party animal for details).

What the NFL needs to do is play a full 15 minutes in OT. Make it a real game; make it a fair game. They won’t be that sensible, but a new rule has been proposed.

The competition committee recommended…to the 32 owners that a team losing the coin toss and then surrendering a field goal on the first possession should have a series of its own in OT. Such a rules change would need 24 votes for ratification.

This is still fundamentally unfair since it only applies to field goals. The first team to get the ball still has a huge advantage because if it scores a touchdown, the other team has no offensive reply. This is effectively half a football game: one offense, one defense. Goodell et al are making progress, but they’re being jackasses about it. They aren’t managing the superior sport of hockey where the beginning to any period is fundamentally fair. They’re dealing with a different scenario, a different sport, and they need to realize that. If they play a full 15, the coin toss becomes less relevant; all sports should reject embracing the role of chance. Let it come on its own.

And hell, if they want to copy the NHL so much, take a man away for the OT quarter. That’s probably a terrible idea, but 1) it would be hilarious to see the league contend with such a radical change and 2) it would be better than giving the game away to the team that happens to win the coin toss.

Field of Dreams

By Michael Hawkins

When in discussions and/or debates with the religious, I cringe before I bring up the point that, yes, of course atheism does lack a certain sort of comfort. Afterall, do people really have no fear of death? But this does not mean that fear ought to motivate one to believe in any sort of god or afterlife. An emotion, no matter how strong, does not make something true. And, frankly, it’s bizarre that anyone would ever try to make that sort of argument. But alas, I’ve encountered it a number of times.

The reason, however, I cringe is that as soon as a lack of a certain comfort is admitted, the theist jumps up and proclaims, “Aha! So you do desire a god/an afterlife!” But this isn’t so. I certainly do not desire to live with the redneck described in the Bible. But what’s really perplexing is how illogical the theist’s whole point is. “You desire X, thus X is true.” Or sometimes with some condescension, “You desire X, so maybe you ought to reflect on that a little more.” The assumptions there are that 1) I haven’t reflected on these sort of issues and 2) all it takes is reflection on a desire to come to believe in a god. The first assumption is obviously wrong and the second shows the theist’s ignorance: I want evidence, not a belief motivated by fear.

Honestly. The logical argument is that people have fear and seek to soothe that feeling; religion makes sense in light of this fact (though it needs far more than that to explain it). The theist, however, then tries to turn logic on its head and say that fear is somehow a sensation put in place by some religion’s god and that’s why we feel it. Such shenanigans completely circumvent the whole giving-evidence-for-one’s-beliefs thing – it is such a nuisance for believers, after all.

The whole crazy argument is a Field of Dreams sort of fantasy: If you desire it, truth will come.