Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ix-nay on the My Way

 

A year before Frank Sinatra died, Sarah Vowell read an essay from her most recent book on NPR's This American Life. Aware that the end was nigh, her reading was a preemptive plea with American television broadcasters not to incorporate Sinatra's song My Way over the news reports when the legendary singer passed from the Earth. The song, she said, was "the most obvious, unsettled, disconcertingly dictatorial chestnut in the old man's vast and dazzling backlog." Later in the piece, she could also be heard saying that the lyrics of the tune could double as the last words spoken to Eva Braun.

Instead, Vowell, a certified Sinatraphile, suggested finally What is This Thing Called Love as an appropriate alternative to the "simplistic selfishness" of My Way upon the king's passing. The night after Sinatra's death on May 14, 1998, ABC's Nightline served as the only network television news program that skipped the ubiquitous Sinatra anthem. The producers of that show played the audio of Vowell's essay instead. That was the first time I heard it.

I think of Sarah Vowell's essay often, but distinctly today when Gatorade unveiled its (final?) commercial tribute to the Yankees' retiring shortstop Derek Jeter, coupling Sinatra again with Vowell's least favorite Sinatra tune. The Yankees, who blare FS's version of New York, New York at their stadium after every home win, are doubling up on their Sinatra love. You go, Frank. Still bigger than big. But again, where's the originality?

Well, good news. Deadspin has got it in long-lasting supply. The editing wizards behind America's greatest website took the Gatorade video and added some game footage highlighting Jeter's stark physical decline, and switched out tunes. Their choice for the commercial soundtrack: the Chairman's version of the Stephen Sondheim classic Send in the Clowns.

The Gatorade spot is the hit of the Big Apple today, but watch the Deadspin version and tell me you don't prefer it. To paraphrase another Sinatra classic, the difference is "night and day."

Also, FYI, Sinatra hated the Yankees. He was a Dodgers fan, from Brooklyn to L.A.




Monday, September 15, 2014

Vote for autonomy!

 
I don't understand what there is to debate. Scotland has a chance to make distance between itself and the British Empire, a political enterprise now diminished in stature but still responsible historically for most of the political trouble in the world today.

Consider the disgusting condescension towards the Scots this week from England's aristocratic prime minister ("There's no going back from this. No re-run.") or its repellent queen ("Think very carefully about the future"). Who would want to stay in a personal relationship that was like that? Theirs is exactly the brand of haughtiness that inspired to rebellion everyone from John Adams (USA) to Michael Collins (Ireland) to Mahatma Gandhi (India) to Abdel Nasser (Egypt) to Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya). None of those men-- or their countries-- came to independence from England so easily. Blood had to be spilled, and usually by the gallon. There was no option for them to simply check a box.

All I needed to hear to be willing to throw my weight in back of the Scottish independence movement was that the global banks were against it, but PM David Cameron has been unlikeable as well. He doubled down on the rhetoric of his Conservative Party today, trying, rather pathetically, to illicit loyalty to Britain. Strangely, he referenced the Industrial Revolution as a great moment of partnership between England and Scotland. Scotland lost two million people to North America and Australia between the years of 1841 and 1931. Today there are approximately as many Scottish Americans and Scottish Canadians-- five million-- as there are people living in the homeland. The Industrial Revolution is something that happened to Scotland.

Cameron has now warned the Scots against losing their currency, against losing access to British embassies. He's scared shitless. He knows that Scottish self-determination is good for Scotland, and bad for David Cameron. He knows that, at this moment, there is no waiting list of former British colonies pleading to get back into the Kingdom.

Get out now. Let freedom ring and the bagpipes wail. Leave the Empire and then concentrate on your own affairs. You might begin a trend. Make it about independence, not nationalism. Certainly you have the resources to prosper. Don't be afraid of yourselves. The timing is exquisite. You can develop strength in your own currency before the dollar collapses. Stage your walkout before another entitled brat is unveiled at Buckingham Palace.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A child abuser

Adrian Peterson stuffed leaves in his kid's mouth, and whipped him with the branch of a tree on his bare butt and around his inner thighs. And the kid is four years old. Peterson's lucky he's not looking at a sex charge as well. What the hell? The irony is that doing this to an adult would never be condoned, but doing it to a defenseless child is only "controversial."

People grow up and engage in the type of behavior that Ray Rice did because they have a parent or parents that engage in the type of behavior Adrian Peterson did.

Yeah, it's cultural alright. A culture of ignorance, violence, bullying, and criminality.

Competitive sports

       
Major League Baseball has a media problem. It's September and nobody is talking about it. Baseball is just not interesting enough these days. How do you compete against stories about violence against women-- now caught on video?! Against "reckless or negligent injury to a child?" Stories about how three in ten of your sport's participants will wind up experiencing Alzheimer's or dementia? Racist team nicknames? Homophobia? Player bullying? An owner being sued for sexual harassment? The National Football League has become a journalistic wet dream. There is even room now in the media pool for "liberal" sports reporters. (How I wish this had been the case a decade ago.) How are people supposed to discuss Major League Baseball next to the water cooler at work when NFL "scandals" are causing these water coolers to explode?

Many media outlets are declaring the decline and fall of baseball. I chose to link to three of them in the previous sentence, but actually I could probably pull almost-exactly-worded articles from one hundred years ago. The internet doesn't go back that far. The sport is "too slow." It's "out of pace" with these hectic times, we're told. This is patently untrue, however. Baseball continues to be as popular as its ever been-- at least in terms of attendance and profitability, and what else should baseball owners be expected to care about? At the very least, any recent dip in popularity or status has absolutely nothing to do with the product on the field. These calls for putting a clock on the competition or changing the rules somehow are asinine.

I listened to a couple idiots debate this topic on sports radio about a month ago. It wasn't really a debate because both men agreed: The NFL was #1 in popularity, and college football was an easy #2. Then they did argue a bit, I guess, as to whether the NBA or MLB came next in popularity. But the college football part is what got me. One of the guys suggested that college football had the popularity #2 slot purely based on "butts in the seats." Okay, that's absurd. Yes, college football stadiums fill up quickly on any given Saturday each fall, but what about Sunday through Monday?

Yesterday, the biggest college football game in the state of Iowa for the year was played in Iowa City. Seventy thousand people witnessed the two largest state universities go at it head-to-head. It was an easy sell-out, but neither of the two schools will sell out all of their home games this year, and both schools play only six home games. Six! When the game ended, I switched TV channels to watch the St. Louis Cardinals play the Colorado Rockies in St. Louis, a baseball game played roughly four hours south of Iowa City's Kinnick Stadium. According to the box score, 45,552 people were in attendance at that baseball game, 103.6% capacity for Busch Stadium. The Cardinals opponent had a record going in of only 59 and 88. The game had no special meaning. It was just one contest in the middle of a pennant race for the home team. Yet tickets were going for a minimum of $50 online. And the two teams will play again this afternoon in front of almost the same number of fans. And then the Cardinals will fill their ballpark in similar fashion six more times during the next week. That's as many home games in one week as college football teams prepare for in one year. How tough do you think Busch Stadium tickets would be to get if the Cardinals played only six home games a year instead of 81? That's what you call putting "butts in the seats."

It's funny that we only seem to read laments about baseball's dying popularity when the sports media's favorite teams suck. The Yankees season is slipping away, just barely above .500, and their most popular player over the last two decades is calling it quits. The Red Sox are worse. They're 65-84. And the Mets are 72-77 and still financially broken, thanks to Bernie Madoff's famous pyramid scheme. What baseball has now, that it didn't even have fifteen years ago, is on-the-field success for some of its historically-weaker markets. Baltimore, Kansas City, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Toronto, Cleveland, Washington, and Oakland are all in the thick of the playoff race this month. Isn't this exactly what people said was missing in Major League Baseball when the new century began? Sports observers at the New York Times and the New Yorker might think baseball is in a downswing, but ask people in any of these other cities if that's true. Baseball this fall actually has the opportunity to be the palette-cleanser that sports fans would seem to be looking for in the wake of the NFL's many recent humiliations. Mo'Ne Davis and the talented kids at the Little League World Series last month have already proven to be something of the sort.

Admittedly, baseball does have a marketing problem, but it's not the aging of its fan base that is the problem. Baseball will always be more popular with your older, more discriminating sports fan. It's a sport we now grow into. More literate, less pandering, more sustainable. Arguing that baseball has a problem because its fans will soon be dying off is like saying that Pfizer Pharmaceutical has a problem because Viagra customers will soon be dying off. I'm pretty sure there will be a new generation coming up behind. Am I calling the NFL a passing fad? Yes I am. Boxing was #1 or #2 in America also for a generation or two. Horse racing enjoyed a half-century of popular support. Pro golf has tumbled from a top tier television sport to irrelevant with the loss of just one player.

Baseball has a marketing problem that is connected instead to how its media partners cover their sport. (It would also help if the two teams that play in the major TV market of Chicago actually tried to field a winning team once in a while.) On the second-to-last day of the regular-season schedule, Saturday the 27th, two weeks from now, important games will be on the schedule. One or more playoff slots or positioning will be still undetermined, yet the FOX Network will be beaming a Yankees/Red Sox game to most of the nation. This is not a prediction. Look at the TV slate. It's already there. Two also-rans will be on national television that day, competing against a host of college football games, so that we can watch Derek Jeter play his second-to-last game. TBS will probably have the same match-up the following day. This is why America has never heard of Mike Trout-- not because Americans that are Mike Trout's age think baseball is "boring."

Major League Baseball may indeed be more "regional" in popularity than the NFL or the National Basketball Association. Trout and other MLB talent may be far less known nationally than LeBron James or Kobe Bryant, but I wouldn't trade positions with the NBA for my league. The NBA has made marketing its stars nationally its top priority, but the league's most passionate fans recognize that that's been at the cost of competitive balance-- and yes, even competitive integrity. The NBA's not healthier than MLB because it has more players seen on national TV ad campaigns. MLB is healthier than the NBA because it has fewer dead franchises. Baseball, admittedly, has a Florida problem (Miami and Tampa). But with LeBron James moving back to Cleveland, basketball now has a Florida problem too (Miami and Orlando). And a Philadelphia problem. And Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Sacramento, Denver, and New Orleans. Both the NFL and the NBA now sometimes fail to sell out some of their playoff games. Their TV popularity, unlike baseball, has come at the expense of attendance.

If Major League Baseball can boast, which it can, a recent resurgence for it's longest-moribund franchises, historically-notable competitive balance, record profits through television and online media deals, and record gate receipts over the last decade, not just in dollars earned, but in seats sold, and still be dying, what does that say about the future of soccer in America? It's been less than three months since the World Cup took place and the buzz for that sport, even with MLS games still being played, has already dried up.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The anniversary

Today is September 11th.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Goodell should be next

 

Keith Olbermann deserves accolades not only because he's the most prominent observer to date to call for Roger Goodell's job in the wake of the Ray Rice affair, but because he was doing so already on August 1st, before the video of Rice punching his girlfriend on a hotel elevator became public.

Clearly, Commissioner Goodell is lying when he says he had not seen the video, and if he truly hadn't, it's only because he didn't ask to see it. (For Goodell, it would be the cover-up, not the crime, that does him in.) Like the rest of us, he had definitely seen the surveillance video of the punch's result-- Rice dragging his unconscious then-fiance, Janay Palmer, out of the elevator into the hallway. If he doesn't lose his job over this-- and Roger Goodell has helped a lot of rich men get a lot richer, he will still have to live with having badly blown his one chance to disprove that he's a corporate executive without a conscience blinded by greed. 

Why do so many of us dismiss this type of violence unless we actually see it? It's because a ridiculous number still buy into the long-held fallacy that a woman who is struck in a domestic situation like this somehow "had it coming." (Last month, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith was only saying on television what many other men, and even some women, say privately.) Rice's idiot teammates are now stating that he lost their support only after they saw the video of Palmer being struck. Apparently, when only the initial video of Rice dragging the body surfaced, he convinced his colleagues that he had been "defending himself." As if.

Everybody in the Baltimore Ravens organization-- from management down-- has behaved abominably in this. None of them are bigger than the game-- not the P.R. staff, the head coach John Harbaugh, the general manager Ozzie Newsome, nor the ownership group headed by Steve Bisciotti. They are all enablers of a man who hits women-- to use Olbermann's description of Goodell. None of them should be considered bigger than the corporation-- and that includes the commissioner.

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Memo to President Obama and others: A "real man" doesn't hit other men either. It's not just women.

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What Roger Goodell is to Ray Rice, USA Today is to Henry Kissinger. Could somebody please arrest this war criminal already? Before he gives another interview.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

The tiny fiefdoms of St. Louis County

Journalism lives at the Washington Post. This is your 2014 Pulitzer piece, guys.

Joan again and forever

 

I called Joan Rivers a national treasure a couple months ago. She was that. The joke always came first. Who it was going to offend, always... somewhere after that. She would get hammered for her perceived insensitivity. The media could get nasty, opinionated. It would be like her wedding night. But there was a flip side to that part of her personality There was the woman she met at Overeaters Anonymous. The lady was crying, "They made me buy two seats on the airplane." But Joan told her, "Yeah, but you get two meals." And she perked right up.

She let other celebrities have it in her act and on her fashion show. To Joan, style was like herpes, either you have it or you don't. But the celebrities would get angry. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West wanted nothing to do with her. She said on her show that their baby was in "desperate need of a waxing." She piled on Mel Gibson, but then he drives a car with a bumper sticker that reads "My other car is an oven."  

Oh, grow up!

Joan was 81, but of course she didn't look it thanks to modern surgical science. She said she was worried that when she died, God wouldn't recognize her. But it was her energy level that most belied her age. In reality, she spent the latter part of her career auditioning for "all the old lady commercials." She lost out on the Depends ad-- but she did do one hell of an audition. She was in the business long enough that when she started in Greenwich Village, she opened for Juanita and her Amazing Vibrator. A lot of the future stars were there at the beginning-- Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Barbra Streisand. Joan tried to be a singer at first, but when she sang, Barbra's eyes crossed the other way. She stayed vibrant into her ninth decade, but it was her ninth decade. She had grown old enough that she could get a mammogram and a pedicure at the same time.

Can we talk? Some comedians stop being funny as they age. Joan got funnier. There was such a purity to that act of hers-- audacious and unapologetic. (I like Lena Dunham's word: "terrifying.") In these times of uptightness and fearfulness, she was a premium. And when your wife feeds on fashion and "red carpet" television, she becomes an absolute godsend. She made those shows entertaining. I don't know what I'm going to do now.

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Huge 4-game series tonight in Milwaukee. The Cards have gone from 2 down to 3 up on the Brewers in one week. When football season is starting everywhere else, you know that the deepest, truest part of the baseball season has arrived in St. Louis.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Threats here and abroad

Every new threat in the Middle East is the gravest threat to date. Yet when we act militarily, the next power is even worse. By all means, intervene again.

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The most powerful man in America, Charles Koch, whines that he and his brother have been "put in front of the firing squad." What a dispassionate statement. At least he had the good manners not to say "on the beheading table."

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The Nazis of the NYPD are charging a graffiti artist with a felony hate crime for calling them Nazis on a wall. Makes sense.

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The SEC defensive player of  the year-- the first one of those in a decade not to be drafted by an NFL team in one of its first two rounds, and a man who presented some stellar preseason play (one of only 12 players in the league to record 2.5 sacks)-- has finally made a team. Well, not a team, but a practice squad. The Dallas Cowboys did what the St. Louis Rams couldn't. I suspect we are going to see some historically-awesome play by defensive ends in the NFL this year since no team has a roster spot available for Michael Sam. That is sarcasm.

What an opportunity lost by the Rams to raise the historical currency of their franchise. I'm shaking my head at my favorite team. I have un-Friended them on Facebook. Sam's Rams jersey was already the sixth-best selling replica jersey in the league. Do you think the Brooklyn Fucking Dodgers will still be known for anything a century from now other than Jackie Robinson?

On a side note, the Washington Dead Indian Scalps passed on Sam during the waiver process because they didn't want to deal with any unnecessary distractions.

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A night of exciting September baseball in the Major Leagues-- yet the Yankees (70-66) hosting the Red Sox (61-77) is still your top story on ESPN.com. And then Big Baseball wonders why football is more popular.

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LOVE for the holdouts-- my favorite people.