White On This Side

I am visiting a companion in a Victorian by the sea one fine year, and a lady from upstairs drops down. She very soon launches into what I can tell is her prime motivational activity, the fight against a local school board on behalf of her son. She goes on and on about his special needs so tragically ignored.

He is not good in his lessons, I take it, and lazy, so he doesn’t pay attention in class. I knew plenty of ’em in my day. Only nowadays, there is a diagnosis to maintain self esteem in such cases and coincidentally meds provided by Big Pharm. He isn’t lazy or sluggish, he suffers innocently from ADD.

It becomes obvious this is an ongoing fight, and I realize the issue came up during the last school year. So why is she still engaged on that front? She wants to be paid for the special counseling and classes which should have been provided!

My companion is a programmer, so the conversation is leveraged over to that field, and she immediately ties her tattered battle flag to his mast. Why not use computers in court? Sure! You just in-put the data and the machine perfectly spits out the answer!

The crusader said over and over, "You can’t dispute the law!"

I said, "Sure you can; they do it down at the courthouse all the day long."

But what she meant was something else. A perfect judgment was one in which her point of view was upheld. Any other result was simply not justified.

In the current hearings we hear often from the Repugnants about the perfect judge as an "umpire." In the springtime of the land, when slavery was in flower and none dared challenge a Rockefeller, we had none of these intrusions of "empathy" to gum the gears of commerce.

An umpire might be the sort of judge they are looking for, if not the type they mean. I suspect their knowledge of this particular metaphor is shallow and mistaken, as is their view on practically everything else.

When I was young, these Men in Blue were stoic as Buckingham guards and wise as Soloman. You would see a hothead fool like Billy Martin kicking dirt on their shoes and their ancestors and they would pay him no more mind than a fire across the river.

The perfect judge might be what Heinlein called a Fair Witness in his Stranger in a Strange Land. Remember the young lady on the diving board asked by her mentor, hey, what color is the house across the way? She glanced. "White on this side," then dived into the pool.

Yet authority is a corrosive which acts on its wielders as the sea does the shore. The umps, they became more aggressive, they might follow a hitter to his dugout, only now they are the ones insulting someone’s mother. They move their strike zones as if the game is played to accomodate them. I once watched a part of an inning in which Pettit was gifted with strikes which were ludicrously wide, and the ump later shrugged; "They know my strike zone."

The strike zone runs from the knees to a line even with the underarms in the rulebook but no ump calls a strike above the belt. The double play begins with the keystone in touch with both the ball and second base, but sometimes that feature isn’t truly coordinated, and the ump don’t mind.

And just look at what the great Biologist Paleontologist Steven jay Gould had to say in his Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville: A Lifelong Passion for Baseball:

What could be more elusive than perfection? And what would you rather be – the agent or the judge? Babe Pinelli played the role of chief umpire in baseball’s unique episode of perfection – a perfect game in the World Series. It was also his last official game as arbiter – October 8, 1956. Twenty-seven Dodgers up; twenty-seven Bums down. The catalyst was a competent but otherwise undistinguished Yankee pitcher, Don Larsen.

The dramatic end was all Pinelli’s, and controversial ever since. Dale Mitchell, pinch hitting for Sal Maglie, was the twenty-seventh batter. With a count of one ball and two strikes, Larsen delivered a pitch [high] and outside – close, but surely not, by any technical definition, a strike. Mitchell let the pitch go by, but Pinelli didn’t hesitate. Up went the right arm for a called strike three. Out went Yogi Berra from behind the plate, nearly tackling Larsen in a frontal jump of joy.

"Outside by a foot," groused Mitchell later. He exaggerated, for it was outside by only a few inches, but he was right. Babe Pinelli, however, was even more right. A man may not take a close pitch with so much on the line. Context matters. Truth is a circumstance, not a spot.

I’ve thought about this call, and the call by Gould on it, for some years now. I take it to mean a true judgment is an analog; it must follow the narrative. And the narrative was the only perfect game in World Series history. Whereas a call based upon the simple transit of the ball out of the strike zone might mean something less.

This is the sort of umpiring performed by the Five Flaky Fixers on the Extreme Court in November of 2000, the year this country became just another banana republic. Their "context" was a circumstance featuring their Midland Midget as the most powerful human on the planet, with disastrous results. But, then, truth is not a spot.

Mr Gould goes to traffic court, or, a reconstruction of a transcript recalled second-hand, Leonard, TX, the fifties. The case involves Lem backing out of his parking space up on the square quite early one morning and Billy Paul running right into the back of him. Note how the interrogation shifts from the spot to the context.

Judge: Lem, didn’t you look afore you pulled out?
Lem: I sure did, George, just afore I mounted into my pickup. Anyway, what was Billy Paul doing up thar so early? Lumber yard don’t open ’till 9:00.
Judge: Yeah, Billy Paul, what was you doin’ uptown so early?

Exit mobile version