Football Fields

In a review article written by an affirmed intellectual in a sophisticated source such as The Atlantic dealing with an austere and symbolic piece of European architecture, one does not expect the following parentheses:

Built for Philip II between 1563 and 1582 of blue-gray granite quarried from the surrounding mountains, [the Escorial] measures 675 feet (nearly two football fields) by 530 feet (one and a half football fields), and contains 100 miles of corridors, 4,000 rooms, 16 courtyards.

Reading that, it occurred to me that the English system of measurements were no longer defined by mere inches, feet, yards and miles. One commonly used but not officially acknowledged unit appears to be ‘the football field’.

In the long tradition of creating measures out of visible things (unlike the metric system: “a meter is the length of the path travelled by light in vacuum during a time interval of 1⁄299,792,458 of a second”) the football field has become a standard for conveying a sense of size that is immediately accessible to most. Just like the cubit or foot, the football field gives us an immediate frame of reference by which to picture a matter of scale.

So far so good. But what is a football field?

Fans of American football know, of course, that the field of play is 100 yards. But does the football field measurement include the end zones? That is, is one football field really equal to 120 yards? Thus, is the Escorial “nearly” 200 yards or 240 yards?

Perhaps the international football field is in view (the ‘soccer’ field to us Americans). Surprising to this soccer non-initiate is the fact that the length of the soccer field is not precisely defined. FIFA rules (pardon me, ‘laws‘) state that the field must be between 90 meters and 120 meters (helpfully adding that this is roughly equivalent to 100-130 yards).

One wonders just what unit of measure the author of the article which started my musings really had in mind. Two football fields, using the wide range of standards available to us, would be anywhere from 600-780 feet. He states that the Escorial measures in one direction 675 feet, nearly two football fields. Given that range, an argument could be made that it measures EXACTLY 2.0 football fields, give or take 75 – 100 feet in either direction.

Certainly we are in need of some standardization for ‘the football field’ to become an adequate unit of measurement. We need to start a movement. Once that is settled, then we can address ‘car length’.

P. D. James, Observer of Human Nature

I read little crime fiction, but during a recent few days away I had occasion to finish a P. D. James Adam Dalgliesh mystery A Mind to Murder. I was delighted to find in James occasional wry side comments regarding the human and social condition, a few of which seem sharable:

“His Marriage…had been doomed from the start, as any marriage must be when husband and wife have a basic ignorance of each other’s needs coupled with the illusion that they understand each other perfectly.”

“Her house was the centre for a collection of resting actors, one-volume poets, aesthetes posing on the fringe of the ballet world, and writers more anxious to talk about their craft in an atmosphere of sympathetic understanding than to practice it.”

“‘I was also with my brother-in-law who happens to be a bishop. A High Church bishop,’ she added complacently, as if incense and chasuble set a seal on episcopal virtue and veracity.”

“People did not automatically become kind because they had become religious.”

Finding such quips is one of the joys of reading. Unless, of course, the sting is aimed too much in my direction.

“‘I should be relieved if I could produce even an evangelical curate to vouch for me between six-fifteen and seven o’clock yesterday evening.'”

Yes. Even one of those, suspect as they may be, would do.

The Second Marshmallow

I’m not sure how this is germane to David Brooks’ new book, or to the reviewer’s critique of it, but I find it fascinating nonetheless:

And a famous experiment conducted around 1970 demonstrated that the ability of 4-year-olds to postpone gratification by leaving a marshmallow uneaten for a time as a condition of receiving a second marshmallow was a very good predictor of success in life: “The kids who could wait a full 15 minutes had, 13 years later, SAT scores that were 210 points higher than the kids who could wait only 30 seconds. . . . Twenty years later, they had much higher college-completion rates, and 30 years later, they had much higher incomes. The kids who could not wait at all had much higher incarceration rates. They were much more likely to suffer from drug- and alcohol-addiction problems.”

I think I would have been a single marshmallow guy, no matter what the consequences.

“I Might Have Been Boring”

I introduced Sunday’s sermon with a reflection on the difficulty that Steve Martin had connecting with an audience in New York last Monday. The article which spawned this is here.

Being interviewed by a NY Times writer, Deborah Solomon, the audience grew impatient with their discussion of art, and wanted, apparently, Mr. Martin to talk about his career. So,

“Midway through the conversation, a Y representative handed Ms. Solomon a note asking her to talk more about Mr. Martin’s career and, implicitly, less about the art world, the subject of his latest novel, An Object of Beauty.”

Fitting that story into the sermon was probably a stretch, but I am impressed by Steve Martin’s breadth and depth and found the incident interesting. My mention of it did inspire one creative attendee to plot the delivery of a note to me mid-sermon to encourage me to shift focus, a plot that he never got the gumption to effect.

To bring this full circle, readers might enjoy Mr. Martin’s response to the whole matter, which is printed here. The comedian and the preacher share a common concern that we not lose our audience. Mr. Martin says this:

“Now let me try to answer the question you might be asking yourself at this point: was I boring? Yes, I might have been.”

No one wants to lose an audience and for this reason the comedian and the preacher struggle to NOT be boring. And both, apparently, occasionally fee that they are. But Martin goes on to say that when he is boring, he KNOWS it. So do I.

“I have been performing a long time, and I can tell when the audience’s attention is straying. I do not need a note.”

There is not as much difference between performing and preaching as some might like to think.

Snooty: an Acquired Taste?

I lived for nearly 25 years in Manatee County, Florida which has, as it’s mascot, Snooty, the longest living (in captivity) West Indian Manatee.


I admit that Snooty is not the best looking guy in the animal kingdom, but I never really considered him repulsive. But now I find out that his cousin, the West African Manatee, whose looks are not all that distinguishable, is famous for being overlooked. This article in the NY Times on ugly animals says this:

Assessing the publication database for the years 1994 through 2008, the researchers found 1,855 papers about chimpanzees, 1,241 on leopards and 562 about lions — but only 14 for that mammalian equivalent of the blobfish, the African manatee.

“The manatee was the least studied large mammal,” Ms. Trimble said. Speculating on a possible reason for the disparity, she said, “Most scientists are in it for the love of what they do, and a lot of them are interested in big, furry cute things.”

Where’s Summer Springs?

We now live in Oviedo, Florida.

Oviedo is in northeast Orlando. It borders Winter Springs and Winter Park.

A friend of mine is being considered for a ministry opportunity in nearby Winter Garden. Another friend lives in Winter Haven.

There is some kind of pattern here.

So, I wonder. In New York, or Ohio, or Michigan, or North Dakota, are there towns called Summer Springs, Summer Park, Summer Garden, or Summer Haven?

Just wondering.

That Is How You Become Smart

I was looking at the moon last night, and for the first time in fifty three, years of life wondered why some portions of it are darker than others. I suppose the difference is caused by lunar landscape features, light reflecting differently off plains and mountains, but I may be wrong. What struck me is that over 53 years of living, I had never thought to ask the question.

In 1995, Hope Presbyterian Church hosted a conference featuring James Montgomery Boice. Dr. Boice was an evangelical leader of tremendous grace and skill, pastor of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church, and featured speaker on a broadly heard radio program.

He was not only a gifted communicator, he was, it was clear, a very smart man. He was not one, it should be noted, who used his intelligence as a perch from which to look down upon others. He was the paradigm of the Christian gentleman.

I soon learned that in addition to a clear abundance of intellectual gifts, he was smart because he was curious. He would have asked about the moon much, much earlier.

After the conference, I drove Dr. Boice to Tampa to catch a train to return to Philadelphia. Along the way, he asked many questions about the places we passed. Questions I had never thought to ask, and questions, therefore, for which I had no answers.

I told my kids later that this is how one gets smart. But asking lots of questions.

And by reading.

On that same trip, Dr. Boice told me that he was beginning to re-read Will and Ariel Durant’s 11-volume world history set The Story of Civilization.

This was his second time reading it.

He did not tell me this to impress me. I was impressed, anyway.

I’m a late bloomer. By the time Dr. Boice had reached my age, he was nearing the end of his life due to the sudden and overwhelming onslaught of liver cancer. But I’m learning to ask questions, and I’m learning to read (not Durant, but this).

And I’m wondering how many other curious things in my world are right there in front of me but which I’ve failed to see?


Too early to assess this book as great, as some have done, but the author certainly endears herself to me with this profound and highly accurate observation:

“The only purpose of cats is that they constitute mobile decorative objects….” (page 51)

(Pictured is the only cat ever allowed to live in my house, which my daughter brought home and hoped to endear to me by giving him the name ‘Calvin’. Nice try.)