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Archive for May 15th, 2009

CB021034“Slang is like a breeze; it softly comes and goes, as new times bring new buzzwords. Some stick (‘cool’ defiantly endures); some induce cringes when dusted off (‘groovy’ is now in the dustbin of irony). It’s obvious when slang becomes less funny or less meaningful through overuse: ‘Internets,’ for example, has become too widespread to be implicitly derisive of George W. Bush. Slang, in other words, is inevitably ephemeral–but it’s not always incidental. When hip-hop listeners crack the codes of songs en masse, rappers know it’s time to invent anew. The refusal of normative, dominant culture–beginning with the fundamentals of language–is embedded in the form. Baseball vernacular, for its part, isn’t so expressly political, nor is its obscurity as deliberate. Baseball belongs to the same class of folklore as, say, jazz, hamburgers and even hip-hop–but to employ Ken Burnsian hyperbole about the significance of its wordplay is a tough sell. It is what it is. As [Paul Dickson, author of The Dickson Baseball Dictionary] writes, it’s ‘low-key and light’–slang for its own sake. In other words, the richness of baseball’s old, weird vernacular is pure, pointless creativity. . . .

“Baseball slang is an avalanche of skewed logic. The commonest words take on very precise meanings. ‘Stuff’ refers quite specifically to the totality of a pitcher’s arsenal: his array of pitches and the velocity and movement with which he throws them. A pitcher can easily have good stuff but not succeed if his ‘command’–the ability to locate pitches accurately–is erratic. Terms associated with dirt and filth are highly complimentary. A hitter respectfully calls an excellent pitcher ‘filthy,’ a term that evolved out of common adjectives from a decade ago: ‘nasty’ and ‘dirty.’ ‘Dirtbags’ and ‘dirt dogs’ are consummate hustlers, guys with perpetually soiled uniforms and caps and batting helmets stained with sweat, tobacco juice and pine tar. Naturally, dirtbags and dirt dogs play ‘dirtball.’ A player who is ‘pretty’ is the opposite of a dirtbag, as is a ‘muffin.’ Food references are as prevalent as the television announcers who longingly mention the hallowed postgame buffet in the players’ clubhouse. The ball itself can be an egg, apricot, apple or stitched potato. ‘Jelly beans’ are rookies and inexperienced kids, the type a veteran might relentlessly call bush for a year before acknowledging him properly. Reaching base for your team’s big hitters is ‘setting the table.’ ‘Fat’ pitches are hittable ones, almost exclusively delectable treats, my favorite being ‘ham-and-cheese.'” (more @ The Nation)

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Kerouac Baseball“Almost all his life Jack Kerouac had a hobby that even close friends and fellow-Beats like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs never knew about. He obsessively played a fantasy baseball game of his own invention, charting the exploits of made-up players like Wino Love, Warby Pepper, Heinie Twiett, Phegus Cody and Zagg Parker, who toiled on imaginary teams named either for cars (the Pittsburgh Plymouths and New York Chevvies, for example) or for colors (the Boston Grays and Cincinnati Blacks).

“He collected their stats, analyzed their performance and, as a teenager, when he played most ardently, wrote about them in homemade newsletters and broadsides. He even covered financial news and imaginary contract disputes. During those same teenage years, he also ran a fantasy horse-racing circuit complete with illustrated tout sheets and racing reports. He created imaginary owners, imaginary jockeys, imaginary track conditions.

“All these ‘publications,’ some typed, some handwritten and often pasted into old-fashioned composition notebooks, are now part of the Kerouac archive at the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library. The curator, Isaac Gewirtz, has just written a 100-page book about them, ‘Kerouac at Bat: Fantasy Sports and the King of the Beats,’ to be published next week by the library and available, at least for now, only in the library gift shop.” (cont’d @ NY Times)

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Curveball“The three best visual illusions in the world were chosen at a gathering last weekend of neuroscientists and psychologists at the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Florida.

“The winning entry, from a Bucknell University professor, may help explain why curve balls in baseball are so tricky to hit.

“A properly thrown curve ball spins in a way that makes the air on one side move faster than on the other. This causes the ball to move along a gradual curve. From the point of view of a batter standing on home plate, though, curve balls seem to ‘break,’ or move suddenly in a new direction.

“This year’s winning illusion, created by Arthur Shapiro of Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, may explain this phenomena. His animation shows a spinning ball that, when watched directly, moves in a straight line. When seen out of the corner of the eye, however, the spin of the ball fools the brain into thinking that the ball is curving.

“So as a baseball flies towards home plate, the moment when it passes from central to peripheral vision could exaggerate the movement of the ball, causing its gradual curve to be seen as a sudden jerk.” (more @ Fox News)

A demonstration of the illusion of a baseball “breaking” can be found at the American Institute of Physics website.

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Hitler Badge“The items were sometimes delicate, often minimalist and always haunting: a monogrammed silver matchbox; a gold locket with a butterfly design; a letter-opener, its sturdy handle embellished with an eagle and a swastika. Up for auction here on Thursday, the relics fetched record prices and even spurred bidding wars, purely because of their history: They are believed to be among items owned by Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun.

“While the recession may mean that many Americans have been wrestling their overworked credit cards back into their wallets and cutting back on expenses large and small, some collectors have been paying record prices for historic artifacts. At Alexander Autographs, a small auctioneer that expected to generate about $800,000 in sales at its two-day auction, sales reached nearly $600,000 on Wednesday. By Thursday, they were edging toward $1 million. . . .

“The most interest — and higher prices — went to the Nazi-related items once owned by the collector John Lattimer: $4,000 for Braun’s compact; $4,250 for Hitler’s teacup and saucer, with a rose and chestnut print; and $3,000 for his dessert plate.” (more @ NY Times)

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