Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Qualified Qualifiers

(I began this post pre-compromise. The existence of the compromise may make my specific observation moot (then again, maybe not). However, in the end, I felt the observation retained enough value to merit publication. So, while this might no longer be insight from the cutting edge of the news cycle, it will hopefully provide you with a chuckle. Here's hoping.)

Over the last decade or so, I've noticed an amusing trend in the way that the news from sporting events is being reported. You see, sports broadcasters and reporters face a unique problem. Despite the fact that there are an enormous number of sporting events each year, most of what occurs within these events is perfectly ordinary.

Now, I'm not trying to say that sports are boring. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. My wife, who is graciously enduring my NBA playoff obsession, could testify to this fact.

However, as exciting as these events may be, almost everything we witness has been seen before. Home runs, touchdowns, and blocked shots are all everyday occurrences. Each event has individual beauty, but they all mean pretty much the same thing. The same is true when you examine athletic performance in a more holistic fashion. It may be a big deal when a basketball player scores 40 points in a game, but how many times did that happen in the last season alone? And, there are many times when nothing truly special happens at all. Everyone might turn in a solid performance without any individual standouts.

So, if there's nothing special about an event to highlight, and it's your job to discuss the highlights of the game, you've got a problem.

Traditionally, this is where statistics come to the rescue. If you can somehow numerically demonstrate that something special or unique occurred during a game, you suddenly have something to talk about. Unfortunately, there are limits to the strategy because there is always a finite number of statistical categories to monitor. It is quite easy to exhaust these possibilities without discovering anything worthy of mention. Once you've done that, you're stuck.

Unless… you start adding qualifiers.

It works like this. Let's say you have a pitcher who strikes out 10 batters on a certain day. That's certainly a good showing, but it's hardly unheard of. However, if it turns out that this pitcher is a rookie and that he turned in this performance in his first start in the majors, you suddenly have something to talk about: "Bob Jones is only the eighth player in major-league history to strike out 10 or more batters in his first major-league start."

Of course, like many rhetorical tools, this device can be used for both good and evil. Certain qualifiers, like those in the above example, serve to highlight meaningful, yet hidden, achievement. That isn't always the case, like in this example:

"Bob Jones is the first player in major-league history to strike out 10 or more batters in his first major-league start on a Tuesday while facing a team based south of the Mason-Dixon line."

By adding these additional qualifiers, you can now label this event as unique. But, as this example demonstrates, unique doesn't equal meaningful. The qualifiers have to matter.

If you're wondering why I'm bringing this up, observe the following statement made by Sean Hannity on Hannity & Colmes recently.
And let me repeat for our audience, and nobody can contradict this: This is the first time in 214 years, the first time that judicial nominees who would otherwise, if given an up-or-down vote would be approved, are being denied an up-or-down vote. It has never happened before ever.
So, yeah -- there have been filibusters, and filibusters of judicial nominees, and nominees that never made it out of committee, and nominees that were "blue-slipped", and nominees that never even got committee hearings. But, the current situation, as qualified, is unique -- and therefore wrong.

To be honest, when you qualify something that much, I don't even know what the issue is anymore. Except that you're pissed-off about the current state of affairs. That part is crystal clear -- I just don't care.

To repeat: unique doesn't equal meaningful. It doesn't matter whether it happens on ESPN or FOX News. It might give you something to talk about, but it guarantees no gravitas. You have to provide that on your own.
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