Monday, April 10, 2017

Screw You, Rules and Rules That Screw You

Rules. From the games we play to the governments that run nations, rules are everywhere. Sometimes we refer to them as "rules" and sometimes they carry a tad more gravity and we use the word "law".

An example of a generally good rule is the, "three strikes and you're out," one they have for baseball. You can't just have as many strikes as you want, that would be ridiculous, and limiting it to one or two seems like you're not giving the batter enough of a chance. Three seems like a good number. Three strikes and you're out is a keeper.

Another good one is, "Thou shalt not kill". I really like this one. If more people followed it I think the state of many things would improve.

But then, especially when it comes to less murder-related events such as sports, there are some pretty stupid rules. Just ask Lexi Thompson.

Lexi is a professional golfer on the LPGA and was playing in that league's first major championship (there are four majors in a single golf season and are considered to be the most elite competitions). Golf has a lot of rules, but the thing is, for just about everyone who plays, the rules - and the penalties that come with breaking them - are self-imposed. Yes, even the professionals. There are rules officials on course, but they can't be everywhere at every time. Most of the time the players police themselves, but on occasion, the viewers get involved. 

Lexi was twelve holes into the final round when a rules official notified her that a viewer had emailed the LPGA and said that a day earlier, Lexi had incorrectly placed her ball on the green before a putt. This is a rule in golf. When you're on the green you can mark your ball, pick it up, clean it, remove any debris from the area, and replace your ball. You must replace the ball in the exact same spot as it was when you marked it. In Lexi's case, she picked up her ball in order to reorient it to suit her needs and placed it back down - less than one inch away from where it was marked.

As insignificant as the infraction was, Lexi broke the rule. The penalty for this infraction is two strokes. The thing about this particular incident, however, was the email didn't come in notifying the league about it until after the round was completed. As such, Lexi had unknowingly signed an incorrect scorecard. The penalty for that is another two strokes (previously it has been a disqualification!)

So, more than halfway through her next round, Lexi found herself the recipient of a four-stroke penalty in a tournament that she was leading by two strokes with only five holes to play. She battled back to tie the score after eighteen holes but lost on the first playoff hole and was denied her first major championship victory - because of one stupid rule and one asshole viewer.

I think it's fine if you want to allow viewers to police golfers. I also think it's fine that there is a penalty for such an insignificant thing as half an inch distance discrepancy. What I don't think is fine is how Lexi was penalized for signing an incorrect card, that, at the time, she had no reason to believe was incorrect. Change the rule so that incorrect card signing penalties aren't levied if the round has ended.

If you want to see the video of Lexi's incorrect ball placement you can see it here:

http://www.golf.com/tour-news/2017/04/02/lexi-thompson-given-four-stroke-penalty-after-viewer-notifies-lpga-rules-violation

Let's go from a shitty rule that ended up costing one person several hundred thousand dollars to what I consider to be a great rule that could end up costing one company millions.

The rule: the Oxford comma.

The scenario: a contract document between a company and a union had a clause that was missing an Oxford comma.
"...people involved in the canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of..."
It's that last bit that's of interest. "Packing for shipment or distribution" is different than, "packing for shipment, or distribution." The company argued that "packing for shipment" and "distribution" were two separate functions but the union argued that, as it was written, it was one.

The result: the court agreed with the union. 

You can read more about it here:


I'm a big fan of the Oxford comma. Clearly, using it can help clarify a sentence and omitting it can cause confusion (and as we just saw, a lot if money). So my take on it is this: I think of using the Oxford comma the same as I approach fighting climate change. There are times when it doesn't seem necessary, but you're never going to make things worse by doing it.

If you're going to have a rule, why have a complicated rule when you can have a simple one? In other words, quit your suckitupbuttercup and just use the fricking Oxford comma already, and if you want me to stop using it you are going to have to pry it from my cold, pale, and dead hands.

~ Andrew

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