Saturday, September 21, 2013

National Pretentious Radio


I have a secret to confess. I despise NPR. Always have, even though I once tried out for a job there.
 
My dander is currently raised because when I turned off “Wait Wait” today and then returned to my car an hour and a half later, I heard a most tendentious “An American Life” report from someone who unfortunately shares my first name – a whiny left-winger on an hour-long rant against the makers of Tylenol and the FDA because – get this – 150 people out of the tens of millions who take Tylenol every year die from accidental overdose. 

On this, I am with the extreme right wing. People who are too fucking stupid to adhere to either warning labels or to common wisdom (an overwhelmingly number of people surveyed know the potential risk of overdosing) deserve their fate. Could the labeling be stronger? Sure. And it is. But the portion of the report I heard – produced in association with Pro Publica – was a smarmy indictment of the government and Johnson & Johnson with no smoking pill in evidence.
 
Every fact sounded accurate, but in totality it would seem that despite the slow grinding wheel of science, there is no scandal. Yet NPR made it seem like people are dying willy nilly because the government is in bed with Big Pharma. It may well be in the long run. But the portion of this report I heard was about an OTC drug that is objectively safer than its competitors but can present dangers to people who can’t read or can’t think. [I also object to the tone of Mr. Glass who said the producer worked a long time on the story and found out things he never knew. Well two points: 1) That is the point of reporting, finding out things you didn’t know, and 2) Working a long time on a story doesn’t mean it’s a good one.] 

But back to NPR. What I can’t stand  is the supercilious delivery of its performers; its reliance on people who  sound like Arthur Schlesinger or Truman Capote; its sleep-inducing subject matter; and – I don’t know if they do this anymore – instead of taking voicers from U.S. experts or journalists – they rely on foreign sources sounding like they were speaking with pinched noses through a cardboard paper towel roll. As if American voices aren't smart enough to be understood.
 
From the very beginning of public broadcasting, I secretly harbored doubts, believing in the free market of ideas. When there were only three major TV networks and a minimal number of radio outlets broadcasting serious content, maybe there was a need for public seed money. But the irony is that the big donors who fund NPR, the ease with which new players can enter the information industry, the advent of satellite radio and the existence of groups like Pro Publica all make the case against the need for public broadcasting. There’s a market for the pompous crap emanating from NPR and plenty of pretentious donors to provide it succor.

In general, the entire tone of NPR is “I am smarter than you, and you are smarter than your friends because you listen to this supposedly commercial-free (hah!) taxpayer-supported drivel." I want to be entertained while I am being enlightened. That accounts for “Car Talk” and “Wait Wait” as the only times I purposely listen to the station supported by taxpayers like me. 

 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Dogpaddling or Just Plain Floundering?

This is the halfway mark of the 2013 baseball season, and it is pretty depressing for the Nationals. Last year, they won more games than any other team in the regular season through luck and weak opposition plus a couple of guys on offense having career years. 

Management’s failure to recognize the thin margin between luck and success resulted in Stephen Strasburg sitting on the bench when they could have used him most, and karma suggests the Nats will not any time soon come as close to glory as they did last year.

I think it was basketball guru Phil Jackson who said, “You are what your record says you are.” For about six weeks, the Nats have been dogpaddling around the .500 mark, meaning they are the mediocrity that direct observation confirms they are. Since fish stink from the head, Davey Johnson’s retirement cannot come too soon. Unfortunately, his continued presence will doom the Nats to underperformance the rest of the year.

Who knows how many games the Nats might have won in the first half had the clown in the outfield had even the brains of a scarecrow. But, no, Bryce Harper has no regard for outfield walls, his own body or the opinion of veteran players and his own management. He may come back strong, in terms of batting and fielding, but stupid is forever, and the question is how many games he will cost versus how many he will help win.

As for the rest:

Denard Span – terrific centerfielder, needs to hit for higher average.
Anthony Rendon – Fantastic, for a guy with a mullet
Ryan Zimmerman – Over the hill. Good for some clutch hitting, but every ground ball hit in his direction is an adventure. He needs to move to first base, but he can’t because idiot management signed Adam LaRoche for too much money to play the position.
Adam LaRoche – Too much of a streak hitter to be counted on. Can play the hell out of first base, but good fielders are a dime a dozen. He is too caught up in the beauty of his swing to be as productive at the plate as he should be. If you haven’t seen that beauteous swing, watch his next strikeout.
Jayson Werth – One of the worst free-agent signings in history, and we are stuck with him for several more years. At best, he is a No. 6 hitter. Can’t play the outfield at a major league level and lately has been playing injured, which simply means he is giving away runs and not scoring runs.
Ian Desmond – the best player on the team.
Kurt Suzuki – For someone with such a low batting average, he tends to keep rallies going at critical times and is a damn good defensive catcher. He should be batting seventh, instead of eighth, so that he won’t be pitched around.
Steve Lombardozzi – Destined to be a utility player, and the more he plays, the less utility he has.
Danny Espinosa– An argument can be made with statistics that he is the worst hitter in the Major Leagues, except he is no longer in the majors, thank God. But that he was here for so long is further proof of Davey Johnson’s malfeasance.
Roger Bernadina –A fan favorite and fun guy, but after all these years, the most senior member of the franchise, going back to Montreal, has yet to show he can hit. Use him in a trade with a contender that needs late-inning defensive help.
Chad Tracy – A godawful waste of bench space, but he is a “gamer”  and gets his uniform dirty, whatever that means. It would be nice if he could hit.  Unfortunately for him, when Davey retires, his own career may be over.
Tyler Moore – I nickname him “Mary” for obvious reasons (and Harper, “Valerie”), and he may one day became an average Major Leaguer. In the meantime he is ideal trade bait for a decent starting pitcher.
Wilson Ramos – One day he may no longer be injured, but this namesake of a volleyball has not been useful for years. To paraphrase Casey Stengel, "He's 25. In 10 years he has a good chance of being 35."

Stephen Strasburg – A thoroughbred, capable of strong, breathtaking performances, but also as fragile physically and mentally as a prize racehorse.
Gio Gonzalez – Entertaining and good, but has to stop visibly reacting to setbacks during a game. Batters take advantage of every pitcher who shows emotion, and Gio does a great Pagliacci every time he goes out there.
Jordan Zimmermann – What Strasburg ought to be. The best starter in the league, in both talent and mental makeup.
Ross Detwiler – Likeable and has tremendous potential, but big league hitters can hit any fastball, and he throws his about 95 percent of the time. Like Richard Wagner, “his music is better than it sounds.”
Ross Ohlendorf – Great pickup for long relief or spot starting. A Princetonian who was an intern at the Ag Department. I am afraid, however, that the Nats – with Princeton, Stanford, Berkeley, Virginia and Rice represented on the roster – will prove the Crash Davis warning: “Don’t think. You’re only hurting the team.”
Dan Haren – Human garbage who everyone but General Manager Frank Rizzo knew was three years into his over-the-hill act.
Taylor Jordan – Not bad in his one start so far. Unfortunately Ryan Zimmerman played in that game, for which Jordan was accorded the loss.
Tyler Clippard – His numbers look good (his glasses don’t), but I have never trusted him in critical situations. He is better suited to starting or long relief.
Drew Storen – A Dolly Parton-sized bust since he personally lost the playoffs last year. His meltdown stayed with him all winter and half this season, and apparently he is pouting because he lost the role of closer and complains that he doesn’t have the adrenaline rush for being a set-up man. Keep him around, but on a short leash.
Fernando Abad – Can’t complain so far, except he has been released or traded by a number of really bad teams in the past. Hence his last name.
Craig Stammen – Overlooked but possibly the best pitcher in the bullpen.
Ian Krol – New guy who looks like the real thing.
Erik Davis -- Too early to tell, but he has an uncanny resemblance to Tyler Clippard. Which is not good.
Rafael Soriano – The numbers are there in terms of saves, which is the only real metric for a closer. But he does it ugly, and soon will blow a bunch of games. Expensive, but only for a year, I hope.








Monday, May 27, 2013

Nine Reasons I No Longer Love Baseball

I have been in love with our once national pastime since 1955, when I first attended a Senators game and rooted for immortals such as Jose Valdevielso, Bob Chakales and Roy Sievers. I indoctrinated a wife and two children into love and loyalty for the game, which I believe transcends all others in appeal to whatever intellect attaches to being a fan.

Now, with the 2013 season one-third over, I find I enjoy attending -- and watching games on TV -- less and less. Not even mentioning the $6 hotdog and $9 beer, here are nine reasons why:

Noise

From an hour before the first pitch, there is not a moment of silence in the park, what with inane “entertainment professionals” running contests, vapid interviews with fans and advertising, which also takes up every available space on electronic scoreboards between, and even during, innings when a serious fan might actually want to know about lineup changes, or, God forbid, the score, the number of outs and the count.

"Walkup music” is by itself a reason to avoid the stadium.  At best, a live organist used to play a few bars of something clever attached to the batter’s persona, such as the “Star Wars” theme for ex-Cardinal Ken (“Obi”) Oberkfell.  After that, players demanded their own signature chords, with the club oblivious to racist, sexist, violent lyrics. Now, the p.a. system blares deafening samples of salsa, dubstep, hip hop or other music that supposedly helps the batter hit better. Only a handful has country as a genre choice
 Clubhouse fights have occurred over music choices, but we fans have no say in the matter.

Fan Behavior

The Wave -- it’s a football thing for cold weather blood circulation! It has no place at a baseball game. For one thing, it is most often done when the home team is pitching and in the field, exactly the wrong time to rouse animal passion. It does not consistently go in the same direction. It gets in the way of the action. Did the people come to a game to stand up in unison like mindless sheep or did they come to watch a game? The reality seems to be they came to annoy people who came for the game.

Entering a row in the middle of the pitch should be a capital offense. It’s fine to get a hotdog or go to the bathroom during the action, but when returning, please note what is happening on the field and stop, kneel or time your entry so as not to block the view of the game’s essential – the pitch to the batter. And for God’s sakes, why do you have to stand up in the middle of a row in the middle of a pitch to buy beer?

Ushers have a new authoritarian policy to stop people from entering a section during an at-bat, but it only works for people with seats near the top of the row. For those lower down, it takes so much time for the beer-laden fans to return, that a new batter is up and sightlines are once again blocked. If anyone ever read any of the popular social psychology books, it would be clear that people on their own will solve this problem better than bureaucratic automatons who possess usher shirts and severe authoritarian personalities. 

Ticket Policies

Since I was a little boy in a family of modest means, I always dreamed of having season tickets. I have been fortunate enough to have had them since the first moments of the Nationals creation in 2005. But I am no longer a “ticket holder.” I am a “plan holder” because the team has done away with tickets. For us plan holders, we enter the stadium and can pay for concessions with a plastic card, which also notes, Orwellianly, what time you entered the stadium. Since most of us are not going to attend all 81 games, we sell or otherwise transfer unusused “tickets.” But now it is a complicated computerized mess. The “reward points” we plan holders have, which enables us to get perks, including extra seats to games of our choice, has been severely restricted in terms of both points required for a perk and in the unavailability of many games and many premium seats.

The rewards cutbacks and the misbegotten and rapidly rectified raincheck policy of no refunds/no exchanges conjures the irony of Yogi Berra, who might observe that the attendance is so high these days that nobody goes to games anymore.

Uniforms

The word uniform means “identical or consistent” … “an identifying outfit or style of dress worn by the members of a given profession, organization, or rank.”  It doesn’t mean jerseys opened to midchest to reveal team-color tee-shirts; it doesn’t mean some guys wear socks to their knees and others wear pajama bottoms so long that they are clipped to the spikes so the player won’t fall down on the way around the bases; and it doesn’t mean the baseball cap – the perfect combination of form and function (to absorb sweat and shadow the eyes from the sun) – should be worn backwards or, even more bizarrely, with the bill at a 45-degree angle.

The back pockets should be tucked in and not flap around. Everyone is wearing beaded jewelry around the neck on the fraudulent basis that magnets somehow affect circulation. These necklaces are the equivalent of peach pits as cancer cures. Beyond that, if the pitcher is wearing one and the batter is wearing one, who gets the advantage? They just look stupid. The only necklace of note was that worn by the fearsome slugger and baserunner George Scott, who claimed they were made of second-basemen’s teeth. 

The Military-Sports Complex

At one recent game, there were six official recognitions of the military by the fourth inning. Yes, the national anthem should be played at the beginning, and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the middle of the 7th inning. Beyond that, “God Bless America” and “God Bless the USA” (written for an used by the Reagan campaign of 1984 ) have no place at an athletic contest where on any given day most of the players are not American.  A baseball game is not a Bund rally. 

This Memorial Day was a vomit-inducing spectacle of trailer-park patriotism  and redneck “kick-ass-America” music written and performed by entertainers who can only wave the flag to sell a CD. Announcers reminded us that we paying tribute to those who keep us free. Really? Many of those servicemen are serial sexual abusers and sociopaths. Please let me thank those I know to be honorable. Besides,  I am less free now than I ever was thanks to U.S. military policy since the end of World War II.  And our freedom as a nation has not been threatened by anyone since VE and VJ Day. On this, one of four salute to the military days, sponsored by the defense contractor SAIC which profits off of war, players wore “digital” camouflage uniforms. Why? As the scoreboard kept reminding us, you can now buy the uniforms as a souvenir.

Several years ago the Nationals started paying tribute to “wounded warriors” with free seats behind home plate and public recognition in the 4th inning. That was easy when no one else wanted to go to games. But soon they ran out of actual wounded soldiers and invited family and friends. If the time comes that all games are sold out, say goodbye to “wounded warriors.”

Have you noticed the Nats’ TV promotions in which Bryce Harper talks of his warrior mentality? Bryce, if you want to be called a warrior, join the Army! They would love to have an athletic gung-ho 20 year-old. (Note: They don’t cotton to slamming your helmet.) Jonny Gomes, then of the Nats, proudly displayed his leg tattoo with the Marine Corps logo. I wondered why the heck he didn’t just trade uniforms and actually risk something by joining up. The answer, no doubt, lay in his refusal to jeopardize his body or his seven-figure income. 

Giving Balls to Kids

Why does the ballclub announce that fans should give foul balls to a kid? I was 41 years old before I caught a foul ball, and haven’t since. Sure, it’s a nice gesture, but what if there are siblings next to you – which one gets the ball? What is you have a child or grandchild at home who would like to have the souvenir. And why can’t I keep what is mine?

When batboys, ballgirls, players and coaches toss a used ball into the stands, have you noticed it’s always to a kid in the first rows whose family could afford to buy balls by the gross? By the way, now when a ball goes out of play but stays on the field, the batboy gives it to an official Major League “authenticator” who notes who hit it, who pitched it and what the count was, and stamps a hologram on the ball so it can be sold by the club after the 4th inning. This not only directly extracts more money from souvenir-hunters fans but also means they are paying indirectly through ticket prices for more balls to replace the marred out-of-play balls that were once used for batting practice. 

Cliches

As annoying as it is to attend a game now, sitting home and watching one on TV is just as irritating. The TV screen, no matter how high-def or wide is covered by multiple logos, game information and news crawling in from other games. The broadcast booths are manned by pre-lingual sub-intelligent babblers who reward us each year with the latest clubhouse clich├ęs invented by baseball players, whom I believe are in the cellar of the professional athletic IQ league. Nats pitcher Ryan Mattheus  was only the latest example of critical thinking when he broke his throwing hand by punching a locker.

A batter no longer lets a ball go by, he “spits on it.” A hitter clouts a ball a good distance because he “barreled up on it.” The pitcher’s mound becomes “the bump.” A guy in a slump is “scufflin’.” A player who has no special skills but who plays hard and “gets his uniform dirty”  is either “a blue-collar player” who has “grinded” his way to the “show” – and most definitely “a clubhouse guy.” A player so described is always Caucasian. The black or Latino players who excel are always ” excellent athletes.”  

Now that Major League Baseball has its own network and one can watch several games a day, I am surprised to learn that each and every one of the 30 teams has “clubhouse chemistry” in which players subordinate their own ego to the overriding goal of “winning a ring.” To twist Rodney King a bit, I maintain that they can’t all get along. In baseball lore, if not fact, the Gashouse Gang of the 1930s, the Oakland A’s of the early 1970s and the Los Angeles Dodgers of the late 1970s had players who hated one another – and won. 

New Names for Pitches

What the heck is a “cutter?”  It didn’t used to exist, or if it did it was called, charmingly, an “inshoot.” We don’t just have fastballs anymore, we have two-seamers and four-seamers, plus something called the “swingback fastball.” We also can hear announcers yammer about “yakkers” or the blather about the “backup slider” and “front-door breaking ball.” 

Voting for the All-Star Teams in April

This is self-evident crazy – “voting” by going online 35 times to pick the best players three weeks after the season starts. This all but guarantees the selection of players from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia and/or players who are on the disabled list.  As part of the Commissioner Bud Selig’s (and isn’t “Bud” a dorky nickname for a kid going on age 79?) subservience to the Pentagon, this year fans can nominate active duty military members to be honored as heroes at the All-Star Game.

Somehow, I don’t expect to see my choice, Pvt. Bradley Manning.




Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Toppling a Lie

Today is the 10th anniversary of one of television’s biggest lies.

As a reporter trained to look for himself at the edges of the screen after covering a public event, my eyes scanned the perimeter of that TV shot in Baghdad when a few Iraqis were throwing shoes at the Saddam Hussein statue on April 9, 2003.

As the CNN camera pulled back, it exposed the typical distortion of television, specifically the fact there were only about a dozen people in the square. But at the edge of wide shot was a U.S. military vehicle with a crane on it and soldiers hanging off the side just watching -- and waiting. As the CNN live coverage drew even more Iraqis to the square as willing participants in a U.S. TV propaganda production, that military vehicle edged closer to the action until, unbidden, it pulled down the statue. Eventually a rogue soldier mounted a U.S. flag over the scene until some general made him take it down.

The footage and still photographs became an icon of how wonderful America was in bringing “freedom” to Iraq. It was, and remains, a lie; another example in a long history of television and the U.S. military manipulating the truth.

As with the staged photo of Marines raising the flag atop Mt. Suribachi, be skeptical of everything;  for as the basic rule of journalism states: "Believe nothing of what you read and only half of what you see."

And ask yourself if Iraqis, or Americans, are better off today than they were 10 years ago.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Fried Rice


Pardon me, but I am not that exercised about the Rutgers coach fired for verbally abusing and throwing basketballs at players in practice. I am exercised about the context in which the episode occurred, however. 

If coach Mike Rice had not used “anti-gay slurs” but used profanity or other insults, he would still be employed. It doesn’t mean he is anti-gay; it means he used whatever juvenile playground insult he thought (mistakenly) would motivate the players to play better. Clearly calling them faggots did not have the intended effect. But denigrating masculinity, politically incorrect as it may be, is a staple of coaching. Always has been. Maybe it won’t be anymore, and I don’t defend it. It is just another in a long list of immoral Neanderthal attributes of organized sports.

Collegiate sports has nothing to do with education or sportsmanship. It’ s a professional undertaking whose only purpose is bringing money into a university. Mike Rice follows in a long line of atavistic psychotic coaches in college and pro sports. His problem is not what he did, but what he did not do, and that is win. When an employee sought to extort Rutgers by presenting the athletic director with a tape of Rice’s antics, the A.D., suspended and fined the coach, who said he would clean up his act. The university president was informed and let the A.D. handle it. (The A.D., of course, is untouchable because he is the one who is bringing tens of millions of dollars into the state university of New Jersey by joining the Big Ten conference.) The system seemed to have worked, until ESPN got hold of the disgruntled employee’s tape. The A.D., and the university president, made a decision to fire the coach – based on bad publicity and the intervention of Gov. Chris Christie.

Other than elections, I don’t believe public opinion (especially on sports radio and the Internet) ought to be the basis for making decisions. As a student in the late 1960s when governors routinely interfered in the affairs of state universities, I will always object to craven university presidents caving in to political yokels whose commitment to public education goes only so far as cutting budgets and showing up at games.

I don’t think college sports has a place in American educational or cultural life. But since it isn’t going anywhere, I have little problem with these pissant incidents that supposedly compromise the uncompromisable.