Tuesday, May 19, 2015

No tomorrow

Here's something else about David Letterman. I'm pretty sure that the website for his show is one of the first two I would have ever visited on the internet. In 1996, when I first explored the internet in the "computer room" at Iowa State, there was the St. Louis Cardinals site, upon which the club sent me an Ozzie Smith "photo ball" basically just for checking a box and proving I was on the site, and there was The Late Show site, in which, before long, I was hooked on Bob Borden's Wahoo Gazette.

The blog is going dark tomorrow to mark the date of Dave's final show after 33 marvelous years. Paul, do we have music for this? Well, not really dark. I would hide it from the internet for a day, but I'm afraid I would delete it instead. I'm getting a cab though. I'm outta here. All other websites should also take the day off, like me and Jimmy Kimmel. The decision not to be a distraction has come down from the home office in Wahoo, Nebraska. The day is too special. Or as they say in Indiana, spayshul. I have a lump in my throat, kids, the size of a canned ham, and I wouldn't give my troubles to a monkey on a rock, ladies and gentleman. Does this look infected to you? You're making us all sick. I've frightened the audience again, haven't I?

So wake the kids, put 'em in front of the TV, and fill 'em full of hot, black coffee. You know him, you love him, you can't live without him. The only thing on CBS right now. A man with the strength of ten men. Hold on to your wigs and keys. He's here to blow the roof off this dump... the stuff in lieu of actual entertainment. The most powerful man in American broadcasting... David Letterman. Your TV pal. And for the kids, free balloons. Goodnight, everybody. (Cue Paul and the band.)

Pants Pants Pants.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mid-May observations

According to Gallup polling records, 75% of Americans disapproved of interracial marriage in 1968. The percentage of Americans that supported the Chicago police after the '68 Democratic National Convention was 56%. The following year, 42% of parents told the pollster they would turn in their own child to the authorities for using drugs. "Greatest Generation," my ass. The Boomers are currently the team to beat.

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Do viewers want Mad Men to end with Don Draper returning in triumph to the advertising game and reinventing himself one more time? Because I don't. I think the entire series has been about his escape from an unholy business.

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Mad Men made small moments expansive, said someone anonymously online. The show has been an absolute treasure.

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Jorge Posada thinks Alex Rodriguez is unworthy of the Hall of Fame, which he says is for players "that played with no controversy." He says that guys who used PEDs took titles away from others. He's referring to the American League MVP "title" he might have won over A-Rod in 2003. He's not referring to the four World Series titles won by Posada and the Yankees between 1996 and 2000. Twelve players on those Yankees teams were named as steroid cheats in the Mitchell Report in 2007. I've listed them below for reference. Andy Pettitte will have his uniform number retired by the Yankees this summer, along with Posada..

Ricky Bones

Jose Canseco
Roger Clemens

Jason Grimsley
Glenallen Hill
Darren Holmes
David Justice
Chuck Knoblauch
Dan Naulty
Denny Neagle
Andy Pettitte

Mike Stanton

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Only eight NBA franchises have won championships since 1983. Since that year, 18 different Major League Baseball franchises have won the World Series.

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Former Cardinals All-Star Jim Edmonds and his wife Meghan have been officially cast on the new season of Bravo's Real Housewives of Orange County. The show is produced by St. Louisan Andy Cohen and the new season begins June 8th. My source tells me that the Edmondses married in October so I must be remembering a different wife.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The roots of Ben Affleck and a nation

One of the most interesting stories to come out of April was the discovery, via hacked emails, that Oscar-winner Ben Affleck had lobbied Henry Louis Gates Jr. at Finding Your Roots to scrub the fact of his ancestors' slave-owning from a PBS telecast.

The director of the film Argo, which turned a real-life story of a hostage rescue effort in Iran into a parable about the patriotism of the film industry, is one of us in more ways than one. One of White America, that is. We ain't proud of ourselves deep down in our guts-- and we shouldn't be. But, unlike Ben, we should at least try to own up to our ill-gotten gains. I like to believe my ancestors were honorable people too. Basically each branch of my family tree leads back to a group of German agriculturalists that arrived at New York's Castle Island in the middle of the 19th century. Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, I now like to imagine them as akin to Christoph Waltz' German character King Schultz in 2012's Django Unchained-- cultured and intelligent first-generation Americans with a strong social conscience brought over from Europe during a time when Karl Marx was scaring the hell out of the feudal aristocracies. But this is an affectation on my part. The clans I belong to have too infrequently been out front on the great social issues of the day, and anyway, the issue of slavery has never been about who owned slaves and who didn't. It's about who benefited from slavery, and all of White America sure as hell has, even those whose ancestors came after. The suffering and forced labor of African-Americans, principal among all factors, made us the richest country on Earth. The past, as you certainly know, isn't even past. Today, the median net worth of white households is 13 times that of black ones. The sport of economic violence has only undergone some minor plastic surgery. The institution of slavery, it was once said-- by someone really smart-- is just capitalism with its clothes off. And capitalism endures.

Most Americans buy into the myth of our Founding Fathers' omnipotence. A lot of us prefer to think of slavery as simply a long-ago challenge from which we disengaged as the victor, another example of the United States advancing on its generally-upward social and economic trajectory, slavery not so much a permanent stain but a conquered opponent. And while we're on the topic, why can't black people just get over it already?

Pretending this shit never existed is something we do every day. It's part of our collective routine. If you continue to dwell on institutional terrorism, you're not going to sell a lot of Chevy Silverados. Ironically, Affleck has his cherished (and financially-lucrative) public image to blame for uncovering this inconvenient truth about his ancestry. He's a celebrity, and that made him an attractive subject. Gates hasn't been fact-checking my family history, and for the entertainment of a television audience besides.

The sins of Affleck's forefather don't tell us anything at all about Ben as a man, but his attempt to cover it up tells us quite a lot. A little context might have saved him a lot of bad publicity, however. Think of it this way, Ben: If Gates' show had uncovered that you were a direct descendent, instead, of our estimable first president, George Washington, or the guiding hand of our enduring Constitution, Thomas Jefferson, your public image would have been given a tremendous boost, yet the results would be technically the same.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Zero Dark Thirty was a political lie

Another Pulitzer coming for Seymour Hersh at age 78? The bin Laden story goes the way of Jessica Lynch.

Sorry

... for the long delay. New Orleans says hi, come visit us, we're still resisting American assimilation. The situation in the Lower Delta remains, as has been reported here before, desperate but not serious.

Highlights this year included a respect-filled dust-up between historical revisionists and historical re-revisionists on a formal tour of Laura Plantation, as well as our first-ever Bourbon Street Parade, Saturday the 2nd, the first-annual Gay Krewe of Krewes Parade.

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Go Bernie Go! Independents comprise the only Democrats worth voting for.

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The failure of many progressives to defend Pam Gellar, and of some to even assign her blame, has been shameful. You don't like her, fine, but you're making her claims of an imminent Islamist threat to democracy even more convincing. The Muslim gunmen and enforcers of Shariah that opened fire on the "Draw Muhammad" cartoon contest in Garland, Texas did so because the participants at the event were drawing cartoon depictions of Muhammad, not for reasons of Western colonization or anything else, just as another group opened fire on the staff of Charlie Hebdo in Paris for similar reasons of punishing satirical speech. You can make the claim that ISIS, al Qaeda, al Shabaab, Boko Haram, and others "distort" Islam, and I appreciate that the sway of moderate Muslims holds the key to the planet's future, but their holy book kind of speaks for itself.

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White privilege, a partial list of examples:
Running from police
Right to carry
Amateur hooliganism
Active resistance
Tax base
Generations of government-guaranteed housing loans
The sport of hunting
Toy guns



Childhood
Second chances


Generations of government-guaranteed housing loans

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The Cardinals have started the season 22-8. At this point, the 1906 Cubs are more competition than the 2015 Cubs.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Letterman Tribute #8

Dave will leave one particular void in late night that hasn't been discussed when he goes next month on the 20th. He's the last guy on the network shows that doesn't just sell what his network wants him to sell. His segments don't have corporate sponsorships. He doesn't give away free gifts to audience members courtesy of this corporation or that one. The show's sponsors are frequently the butt of the joke.

There's nothing on TV anymore resembling the guy that slapped General Electric around for seven years back on NBC. At CBS, he didn't parade out the stars of the network's nightly news or This Morning. You were more likely to see his buddies Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams from NBC then you were Scott Pelley or one of the 60 Minutes correspondents. He had his own theater, and the separation of several blocks from CBS in midtown Manhattan had meaning. When the "castoffs" from CBS's Survivor were first forced on him as guests a decade and a half ago, and reality shows were becoming ubiquitous on TV, he refused to let them sit in the guest chairs. He would interview the Survivor losers with him seated at his desk and them standing by the studio door next to his producers 40 feet away. After a couple seasons, that segment died out completely. Compare that treatment to what we see on late night TV now with the nightly parade of contestants and participants from The Bachelor or The Voice.

He was the last host that had enough power not to have to do it. Since Letterman accounts for about 95% of the network late night TV that I watch, I'm unsettled when I see his competitors hock their products and buddy up with celebrities that only their bosses consider to be interesting. And I don't think I'll ever get used to seeing this either.

For a couple weeks, and now until the end, Dave has been dedicating the second segment of his show each night to some video memories of the show's glorious past, and next week I'll be watching the show remotely from New Orleans, so this is the last one of these tributes there will be on the blog. Johnny Carson was on TV throughout my father's lifetime, from Dad's age 12 to 42. Letterman was on late night for me and Aaron from our ages 6 to 40. I went as Dave for Halloween in 1991. There was one 10-year period, the beginning at CBS, where I only missed 12 episodes, total. That was before On Demand and DVR, but fortunately not before VCRs. I think I've written enough now going back ten years to have fully made my point on the subject. The last month will just be me watching. I love you, David. I'm going to miss you. I'll probably be alright, but I have no memory of the time before you so I can't be sure.

Here's Warren Zevon singing a song called "Mutineer" during his last Late Show appearance. He was dying of cancer, and was the only guest on the show October 30th, 2002. His untimely death less than a year later certainly prevented him from performing this song on the show May 20th, 2015. There ain't no room on board for the insincere.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

An endangered species

Chris Rock made an entertaining video for Bryant Gumbel’s HBO show addressing black people’s fading interest in baseball. The gist of the message is that, if Black America doesn’t think the sport is cool, Young America won’t think it’s cool. He’s basically right about that, although he’s a comedian and therefore, he has exaggerated some items, such as the damage being done by ballpark organs (they are a very small part of any baseball game and can also be heard on occasion at NBA venues). Also, baseball is not, as Rock claims, dying. (Not referring to Rock here specifically, but it’s funny how we hear these arguments loudest when the Yankees suck.) The business is financially very strong, and still very much of the culture. Baseball could long outlive its competitors based on the support of only white people and Hispanics, but do we want that to be the scenario that plays out? Of course not. Black America does decide what’s cool.

The corporation of Major League Baseball does have a major problem in its promotion of the game. As Rock points out, MLB has bizarrely promoted the sport as a period piece, and at that, a period in history that black players were excluded. Beginning in the 1990’s, the ballparks and the uniforms started reverting back to “vintage” form, vintage being the era of the 1930s and 40s, and let’s not forget how this was a widely-celebrated change. Gone, or vanishing, from player fashion were the pullover jerseys, the form-fitting uniforms-- the “pajama” look basically, but those were fashion trends started by African-American players when they were at their peak population of about 20% of the total number of big league players. (In 2015, they are only 8%.) Also, the smaller, “retro” parks and the removal of artificial turf at about a dozen big league facilities reverted the game back to one of lumbering batsmen and station-to-station baserunning.

Observers, white and black, frequently make the case that black kids don’t play baseball anymore, and that’s probably true, but what’s also true is that MLB front offices don’t value the traits anymore that African-American players have traditionally brought to the game. The stolen base, an art form perfected by African-Americans almost exclusively, fell out of favor with the rise of Sabermetrics. Teams began to defend against it better, but also the smaller parks, and by extension, the increased likelihood of a long ball, meant that a stolen base had become an unnecessary gamble. Now it should swing back though. Home runs are markedly down, so is scoring in general, and the new commissioner makes dumb statements like that he might consider banning the defensive shifts that are being successfully employed against pull hitters. (Why does this also make me fear that he will ultimately be the commissioner that forces the designated hitter rule into the National League?) Maybe the solution to beating the shift—and bringing some of the offense back-- is employing players that spray the ball from foul line to foul line and put pressure on the defense with speed and cunning. The latter round of “new” parks have also seen increased green space, which favors speedy outfielders over home run sluggers. Parks in Miami, San Diego, St. Louis, Seattle, and Queens, New York all would seem to warrant a new offensive and team-building approach over what worked five years ago.

Let's talk about my Cardinals as an example of the current environment. Chris Rock did. They play in a majority-black city. Among their greatest living players are African-American Hall-of-Famers Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Ozzie Smith. As recently as the 1996 season, the club had more than a half-dozen “core” black players-- Ron Gant, Ray Lankford, Brian Jordan, Ozzie, Willie McGee, Dmitri Young, Royce Clayton, and Bernard Gilkey, more than 30% of their roster. Last year they had one on their postseason roster, relief pitcher Sam Freeman. Close to zero, but not zero, as Rock claimed. African-Americans seem to still be well-represented on All-Star teams. In our quest for retro-fitted baseball, have we reverted back to the time where there’s still roster space for elite players, but the marginal spots get filled by white players?

Sometimes I wonder with the Cardinals. First, they seem to draft very few black players. The last “core” black Cardinal before Jason Heyward’s acquisition this off-season was Reggie Sanders a decade ago. Where does field manager Mike Matheny stand on this issue? On Jackie Robinson Day in 2013, he was asked by the local paper for his reaction to the fact that there were no black players on the Cardinals’ roster on the anniversary, one of only two teams in the league for which that was the case. His response, "I had no idea. It's just not something that enters my mind because it's not the way I view people... I guess there are people that pay attention to that, but we're just trying to find the best players we can put out there." Okay. Matheny had Freeman on the postseason roster last year, but he grounded the left-hander for the duration of October after an appearance in the first game against the Dodgers. He lost confidence in the hurler after he came from the bullpen and walked two left-handers in succession (on long at-bats each). Yet he brought in another lefty, Randy Choate, to face one left-hander in the same game and he gave up a home run to Adrian Gonzalez. Choate continued to be used through the postseason, making four appearances against San Francisco, recording only three outs of the eight batters he faced, walking three, giving up a hit, and throwing a ball away-- and a game-- fielding his position. During the regular season, Freeman’s ERA (2.61) was nearly than two runs lower than Choate’s (4.50). That game at Dodger Stadium was also Freeman’s last as a Cardinal. He was traded to Texas.

Matheny has no African-Americans on his eight-man coaching staff. In fact, he hasn’t for any of the four years he’s been the Cardinals manager even though he’s been turning over his staff by at least one or two heads each season. I’m certain he would tell you that, like his roster of players, he’s putting the “best” candidate at each coaching position, but isn’t that always how it works in America? Matheny, incidentally, was given one of the premier jobs in Major League Baseball, the one he currently has, despite having had no minor or major league coaching or managing experience. Jose Oquendo, from Puerto Rico, had been on Tony LaRussa’s coaching staff for more than 15 years, and had managed the Puerto Rican team at the World Baseball Classic, but I guess Matheny was the better candidate there.

Young African-American athletes are hopefully considering baseball as a worthy pursuit. It is fifty times safer than football. Its retirees don’t walk around crippled or dazed, for the most part. The potential for longevity and earnings can match, if not surpass, any other sport. Major League Baseball has the only union in North American professional team sports that’s worth its salt. You can get paid as you develop your talent, unlike football or basketball, where the plantation mentality still abides. You don’t get your summers off, but you’re in the fresh air for the duration of each one. You can’t be quite as expressive with your game as you can in basketball, but you can still do beautiful things with a piece of lumber or leather. You can also pick your own walk-up music. What other sport offers the opportunity for a theme song for each player?

Rock’s argument that old-fashioned rules suppress expression are largely overblown, especially when placed in the context of race. The African-Caribbean players are still doing their thing The day Rock’s video hit the internet, a player blew a gasket on the field over a rival player admiring his own home run, and that severely-miffed player was Adam Jones, an African-American All-Star. Does football really tolerate celebrating more than baseball does? In football, there’s literally a penalty assessed when you do it. Don’t we always hear that NFL stands for the “No Fun League”?

For African-American fans, I can’t make as strong a case for investing yourself in the game. It’s the least expensive option to attend among the big four, but still too much. You also need to feel wanted, and for that, some work is definitely needed. If Major League Baseball desires to be “cool” with the young and the African-American, and it definitely should, it would do better to bail on so much of the pro-family rhetoric. That recruits the kids when they’re 10 or 11, but then they’re rebelling against you when they rebel against mom and dad at 15 or 16. Be more subtle about it. Families need to know that attending a game is rated PG-13, but this “what about the children?” crap regarding performance-enhancing drugs has been as self-defeating as any other recent trend in the game. Football treats steroids as superficially as it thinks it can get away with. In baseball, people around the game won’t shut up about it. You have a once-in-a-lifetime African-American superslugger in Barry Bonds, and you do nothing but try to destroy him. (This week, the one charge that stuck against him was overturned.) Compare what he was accused of doing to anything the worst football or basketball players have done. This has been in insane business strategy.

Also, enough with the flag-waving. Ever since 9-11, the goo has our shoes sticking to the stadium floor like bubble gum. The National Anthem’s not enough anymore. “God Bless America,” a joyless, targeted fuck-you to atheists and agnostics, has been added to it, and during some games, it's replaced the jovial and glorious “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” I’m forced to stand for it and remove my cap even though it was written by a song-plugger hawking sheet music in the New York City Bowery. The league acts like it has to honor military heroes at every turn, but never does it honor any other kind of hero. The flyovers, the constant glorification of the warrior state-- African-Americans are our collective national conscience. They, along with most young people, see easily through this pandering plea to patriotism.

How about African-American Heritage Night at the park? The Phillies have one, to complement heritage nights for Greeks, Irish, Jews, and Latinos. St. Louis could use some ethnic heritage education too. The team had to deal last year with online videos showing redneck Cardinals fans arguing with Ferguson protestors outside Busch Stadium during the playoffs. The organization stood shockingly silent after that embarrassment, failing to make the link that needs to be made when you are representing a city on your uniforms, and both the local and national public is perceiving that you’re on one side of an issue because the racial make-up of your employees and your customers is so monolithic.

The team's corporate partners need to get on board with this too. The commercials during the game focus heavily on the white families. During last night's telecast, Dobbs Tire and Auto (the Cardinals’ official tire center or whatever) ran a commercial where the joke is that all the mechanics delay the start of their work day to listen to the National Anthem. It’s humorous, but all six mechanics in the ad are white guys. Have you been in an auto shop during the last decade that didn’t have an African-American or an Hispanic guy working in the garage? For a year, I went to a place for oil changes that was all lesbians. The world is changing.

Trading for Jason Heyward with an eye towards making him a core player on your club for years to come becomes a shockingly important priority, business-wise as well as baseball-wise. To those so many white Cardinals fans that say the team make-up should be color-blind, like their manager's outlook on life, I say what so many wise men have been saying recently about similar statements: that pleas for color-blindness, when the concept is nowhere near a reality, is just another example of white privilege. Race does matter, and that’s what Rock is saying to Major League Baseball when he points out correctly that black people don’t need baseball, but baseball needs black people.

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4/24/15- This kind of thing would help.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

California water wars

Our trip to Southern California was lovely, and I look upon it like I look at a trip to Venice: See it while you can. Both locations will become inhabitable, possibly within my lifetime. In Venice, the water level is coming up and the city is sinking. Throughout the American West, they've been living like Easterners, but the desert is slowly returning to claim its own.

The pioneers of the frontier west have done just about all the irrigating they’re going to be able to do. The mountains and the dams have provided the water supply for generations, but the climate is getting hotter and drier. The snow in the high altitudes of the Sierras is now coming down as rain, and the rain dissipates. It doesn’t offer the gradual replenishment through the spring and summer months that the melting snowpack does. In Central and Southern California already, nothing is green that isn’t being farmed, and there’s hot political debate over the governor allowing the farmers to continue irrigating while the sprinklers have been ordered off for everybody else into the fourth year of the state's epic drought. The bottled water we drink in the rest of the United States comes largely from California too, so their thirst is being aggravated by ours, by capitalism and our reluctance to drink from the tap.

I won’t feel bad for the conspicuous and idle rich when these drought conditions become the norm, when drought becomes fire, but the poor, as always, will feel the effects first and suffer the most—the poor in south central Los Angeles, the people that rely heavily on fruit and vegetable production in the farming and ranching areas. The economic stratification of the region will become even more stark as water becomes more scarce. That industrial divide has been a blemish on the region since the founding of modern Los Angeles. In 1974, Roman Polanski and Robert Evans made a dramatized noir picture about the William Mulholland water hustle of the early part of the century. The movie was called Chinatown, and it's in the National Registry now. The water has always been limited, and the land generally uninhabitable (or unsustainable) for more than a few humans, let alone North America's second-most-populous urban area, but the moneyed interests behind Mulholland saw to it that what existed was piped to where the moneyed interests lied, away from the farming lands of the Owens Valley in eastern California into the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles proper. Then after Owens Lake was dry, Mono Lake was the next to drain. Now the best solution anybody has for the current and everlasting shortage belongs to Captain Kirk. Actor and sage William Shatner wants to beam the water in via a giant pipe from Seattle, a city eleven hundred miles away, as far to the north of Los Angeles as Midland, Texas is to the east. The wet stuff will have to come from another region for sure. During the last century, vegetation has died in the Owens Valley, the lake remains a dry bed, and the valley's been left with frequent alkali dust storms. That valley has always been akin to a pair of those two-by-fours that hold up the phony building fronts on a Hollywood studio set-- the reality behind the perception of magic. The other side of paradise.