From Round to Square (and back)

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A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
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Monday, June 11, 2012

The Real Ideal—Introduction

One year ago on Round and Square (11 June 2011)—Living and Learning Management: Losing the Way
[a] Not a one RF
Among the many things that I didn't understand while I was growing up was the tendency for some adults (happily for me, not my parents) who would puff themselves up, pause briefly, and then utter in ever-so-serious tones (usually while telling me that I wouldn't ever get a pony): "I'm a realist, you see."

I couldn't really see it. I just saw that pony.

Among the many things that continue to confuse and annoy me as an adult is the tendency for people to say "I'm a realist" in hundreds of big and little ways that I never considered possible as a child with a limited experiential arsenal. In other words, I was irritated by the pony-less imaginations of the "realists," and I never got over it.

I keep thinking about it, and it is not hard to see why that little process would eventually bump into Round and Square. Let's start with a wee thought experiment that plays upon America's pastime—an idealistic and storied game for the ages, baseball.

[b] No pony RF
Let's see. It is early June—only about a third of the way through the major league baseball season. Your team's pitcher has a no-hitter going through five innings. This is his first start after missing the better part of two seasons with a serious shoulder injury. You're the manager, and have committed to a "pitch count" that will not put too much stress on his healing arm. 

But it's a no-hitter, so let's see how the sixth inning works out. ✓Check. No hits. Now what? Three innings remain, and his shoulder is only human, for Cy Young's sake.

Well, do you pull him out, Monsieur Réaliste? Do you tell yourself that it is only a "no-hitter" (not a perfect game), that this is his first game back from a serious injury? Do you reflect that "pacing" matters as you get him ready for a long season that might last well into October? Do you walk up to the pitcher's mound and tap one of your arms, signalling to the bullpen that you want a right-handed pitcher or a left-handed one to replace him? Do you take the ball out of your pitcher's mitt (according to tribal custom) and give him a healthy slap on the ol' backside?

Do you brace yourself for the possible argument you'll get from the pitcher who is pitching a no-hitter, albeit only part way through the game? 

Have you even thought about how badly you are likely to be booed by the hometown fans for breaking up their no-hitter?

"I'm a realist," the manager might say. Pitch-count is all that matters. We need him in September and October." 

[c] Triple-A perfect (2003) RF
But what if your team is playing in its fiftieth season—over 8,000 baseball games—and has never had a no-hitter? Not even one. What do you do then?

This realism and idealism thing is a lot more difficult than trying to figure out what Gustave Flaubert or Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was thinking, isn't it? If you thought that we could wrap this up with a simple comparison of Marc Chagall and Calvin Coolidge, well, you'd be badly mistaken.
 ***  ***
These issues have bothered and intrigued me so much over the years that I once taught a three-semester seminar in which we investigated the tensions between the ways we use (and live) the words "real" and "ideal." The no-hit burdens of the New York Mets this past month are just a tiny example of how challenged we are in our thinking about these words. And that is what this series will be about—those words. We will take a look at self-styled "realists" as well as "idealists," without fear of bursting the various bubbles in which they have encased themselves. We also won't be afraid to express admiration, even when it might go against the grain of our own ways of seeing the world. 
[d] RF
Those are the ground rules for "The Real Ideal" on Round and Square. In everyday life, we throw the terms around like so many sliders and 0-2 fastballs, rarely knowing what we mean by them. "The Real Ideal" will slow down and consider everything from verbal taunts to store names (I am thinking in particular of the Ideal Cafe in Northfield, Minnesota c. 1980, as well as a car repair shop in Madison, Wisconsin, c. now—Ideal Body Shop). 

I am also thinking of politicians who call themselves realists and make fun of others whom they call idealists. And I am thinking of the reverse, too. Is a bean counter a realist? Is a poet an idealist? Is it possible to be both at the same time? (T.S. Eliot was a banker and a lyricist).
***  ***
Let's get started, and let's see where these questions take us.

Oh, and one more thing. On June 1, 2012 the manager of the Mets left Johan Santana in the game. He pitched a no-hitter in the 8,020th game in Mets history.

Oh, and one thing more. The manager let Santana have an extra two-days of rest to help his shoulder recover. 

Draw your own conclusions. Better yet, resist the temptation to "conclude." We have some challenging territory to cover, and humility in the face of human nature...and language...might serve us well on the journey.
[e] Perfect RF

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