Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for the ‘digglahhh’ Category

The fine line between insanity and madness

Posted by digglahhh on 12 May 2007

There’s a fine line between genius and insanity.
I have erased this line.
— Oscar Levant

There is a thin line between ignorance and arrogance, and only
I have managed to erase that line.
— Dr Science

So too, there’s a fine line between bad reality, bad journalism, and flat-out humor. Let’s see if we can erase it. Two of these stories were published by real-news organizations and the third was published in The Onion. Your task is simple: identify the fake news story.

Pa. teen wins text-messaging contest in New York :-)

NEW YORK – Thirteen-year-old Morgan Pozgar, of Claysburg, Pa., was crowned LG National Texting champion on Saturday after she typed the first two lines of the “Mary Poppins” song “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” in 15 seconds.

“I’m going to go shopping and buy lots of clothes,” the teen said after winning her $25,000 prize from the electronics company LG.

Morgan defeated nearly 200 other competitors at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan to become East Coast champion and then beat West Coast champion Eli Tirosh, 21, of Los Angeles.

She estimated that she sends more than 8,000 text messages a month to her friends and family.

Congress Launches National Congress-Awareness Week

WASHINGTON, DC—Hoping to counter ignorance of the national legislative body among U.S. citizens, congressional leaders named the first week in August National Congress Awareness Week. “This special week is designed to call attention to America’s very important federal lawmaking body,” Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert said. “At least three citizens in every state, and as many as 55 in California, presently have some form of congressional duty, whether it’s as a senator or as a representative.” The festivities will kick off with a 10-mile Walk for Congress Awareness, when blue ribbons will be handed out in honor of those who served in the first 107 congresses.

Parents Convicted in Baby’s Death

ATLANTA (AP) A Superior Court jury in Atlanta convicted a vegan couple of murder and cruelty to children Wednesday in the death of their six-week old, who was fed a diet largely consisting of soy milk and apple juice.

27-year-old Jade Sanders and 31-year-old and Lamont Thomas will receive automatic life sentences for starving the boy, who weighed just 3.5 pounds when he died.

Defense lawyers said the first-time parents did the best they could while adhering to the lifestyle of vegans, who typically use no animal products. They said Sanders and Thomas did not realize the baby, who was born at home, was in danger until minutes before he died.

But prosecutor Mike Carlson told the jury yesterday during closing arguments that they are “baby killers.”

Hopefully (if we see hope in not being able to differentiate real and fake news), some of you will be fooled. Answer will be posted Sunday evening.


Posted in digglahhh, journalism, pop culture | 7 Comments »

White men can’t jump, but maybe they don’t have to

Posted by digglahhh on 5 May 2007

The New York times reports on a paper written by Justin Wolfers and Joseph Price, a University of Pennsylvania assistant professor and a Cornell graduate student, respectively. The paper has yet to be published or peer reviewed. It claims that, in the NBA, white referees call fouls on black players at a higher rate than they do against white players. It also notes a reciprocal but weaker relationship between black officials and white players. The study covers thirteen seasons worth of data and attempts to control for an inordinate amount of variables, including just about all of the ones that first popped into my head when thinking about potential problems with such a study.

The idea of implicit racial associations playing a role in how we view sports and athletes is not only not new to me, I’ve been arguing on this behalf for years. I was recently involved in not one, but two, on-line discussions started by fellows who believe that modern baseball players who wear baggy uniform pants and/or slightly tilted caps disrespect the game with their “sloppiness” and “unprofessional” appearance. Beyond the notion that “professionalism” is a social construct, I was struck by the historical ignorance these statements. (This was a forum for baseball junkies, after all.)

See, baseball heroes of yesteryear wore baggy pants and tilted hats. The Hall of Fame is full of them. Many of the actual plaques of old-time Hall of Famers even depict the player wearing a crooked hat. Oh yeah, old time ballplayers were white.

One of the members dryly noted, after a series of photos of old time players in baggy pants and cocked caps:

“You also have to remember that the players back then were white so it was okay. Nowadays minority athletes are doing it so it is bad.”

The concept of implicit racial association is simple; you are subconsciously conditioned to associate positive characteristics with light skin and negative characteristics with dark skin. This is not an indictment of the person who makes such an association as a racist; but simply a statement of race’s place in how we are conditioned to think. Still, in knee-jerk fashion, people categorically deny that race informs their decisions and opinions.

The NBA’s reaction to these allegations didn’t really surprise me. It claims no racial bias in its officiating, and it claims it has done its own studies to support their claim. Maybe the NBA is right, but their officials are social beings like the rest of us. To be sure, more than a few league officials and players deny the phenomenon, but a conscious denial of a subconscious relationship is just what you’d expect. Notably, two black coaches declined to comment.

A racial bias could have real implications in terms of game outcomes. Wolfers notes:
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in digglahhh, journalism, language, sports, Times-watch | 13 Comments »

By whose rules are we playing?

Posted by digglahhh on 5 May 2007

The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY is an entity unto itself. It is certainly not affiliated with any legal system within the United States. It is not even operated by Major League Baseball. It governs itself and sets its own standards.

Barry Bonds is now a dozen or so homers from becoming the all-time leader. At his current pace, sometime around the All-Star break, he will overtake what is allegedly the most hallowed record in all of professional sports.

Bonds is a surly figure and his ongoing feud with the media has included tactics just as low as those of his chemically-induced assault on the record books. His antics have included bringing his son to the podium of a press conference to show the media “what they are doing to his family” and telling sports reporters they should be writing about cigarettes when they questioned the effect his steroid use might have on the health of our children. The media, for its part, has played dirty too, neglecting the omnipresence of cheating in baseball’s history, releasing confidential testimony, and painting Bonds as a racist super villain.

An article in today’s New York Times that initially seems to be about the upcoming investigation into steroid use in Major League Baseball, lead by Senator George Mitchell (D-ME) , quickly turns to the subject of Barry Bonds and his pursuit of Aaron’s record. This is where the media perpetuates the witch hunt. The act of deceit is in the intent, not in the outcome. I don’t doubt that Bonds has taken myriad performance enhancing drugs, but he, unlike others, has never failed a test. Those who have actually failed tests face nowhere near the scrutiny that Bonds does. And why? Because on their best days they aren’t remotely similar to Bonds on a baseball diamond. It is predictable, but categorically unfair, that Bonds is at the center of this whole issue, not because he is the only player involved, but because he is the most successful player involved. For all the labeling of the media as “liberal,” they are primarily concerned about the bottom line when it comes to steroids and baseball being launched into orbit, giving dishonesty a pass if it doesn’t translate into performance.

The grand irony is that Barry Bonds is an immortal of the game, while many of those who failed tests in the past were fringe Major Leaguers. There’s a place in the game for Bonds regardless. It is some borderline middle reliever’s use of performance enhancing drugs that is keeping him in the bigs, and in turn keeping a talented, young kid in the minor leagues living a pedestrian lifestyle in comparison those in “the show.” Funny how the morality crusaders never bring that one up…

The unproven, but credible, allegations of cheating, combined with Bonds’ self-entitled, tempermental and diva-like attitudes have inspired a substantial base of fans who lobby to keep Barry Bonds out of the Hall of Fame. I offer no opinion on that vital question here. But the two common arguments of those who rally for his exclusion seem to be lacking, confused, and even paradoxical.

The first argument against his inclusion is offered in response to the idea that that Bonds has not been convicted of anything and that he is afforded the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The anti-Bonds crowd are fond of noting the Hall of Fame’s independent standing, and that, as such, no conviction in a court of law is needed to exclude him. The Hall-of-Fame voters are well within their rights to not vote for Bonds simply because of their suspicion and presumption of guilt.

Got it. No argument from me there.

Another point of contention is that steroids were not deemed illegal by Major League Baseball until 2003 (The authoritative book, Game of Shadows alleges Bonds began using in 1999). Some people argue that even if we assume that he was taking steroids, they weren’t illegal and Bonds has not failed a drug test since they began testing for them. Those who would like to see a Bonds-less Hall are quick to point out that the rules of the United States trump that of Major League Baseball and that steroids are illegal in the country. This argument usually takes the form of ridiculous hyperbole like “murder isn’t specifically against the rules of baseball either, but you can’t kill your opponent.” Well, that is true. The problem with that argument is that the two cases are no different in the sense that MLB doesn’t have the jurisdiction to prosecute either.

What does the legal status of any substance Bonds may have taken have to do with his Hall of Fame candidacy? Even if Bonds were convicted of a crime, say, using a criminal substance, and thrown in jail, the Hall is not obliged to keep him off the ballot.

The anti-Bondsians can’t have it both ways! They can’t say that what Bonds did was implicitly against the rules of baseball because it was against the rules of the United States and then turn around and say that the Hall of Fame voters aren’t required to adopt the legal standards of the same body that is solely responsible for the contention that he was cheating (meaning, breaking the rules) in the first place.

At face value, Bonds is at least the fourth-best player of all time. To vote against him you have to determine he cheated, which means you have to adopt the legal system’s definitions of legitimacy over Major League Baseball’s. In turn, you have to adopt their standards of proof, which means Bonds has to either fail a drug test or be convicted in a court of law. If the legal system trumps Major League Baseball, it trumps the Hall of Fame too.

So, you can get wrapped up in the complicated semantics of overlapping standards of proof and legality and fact and conjecture. Or you can keep it simple and realize that even before 1999, for a period of ten years Barry Bonds was far and away the best player in the game. You can notice he would have deserved first-ballot induction if he had been hit by a bus the day before he first touched anything more powerful than a greenie, and vote for him on the basis of that.

Okay, I lied, I did give my opinion.

Posted in digglahhh, sports, Times-watch | 8 Comments »

The glass dugout

Posted by digglahhh on 28 April 2007

So, Alyssa Milano who played Samantha on “Who’s the Boss” and provided masturbatory fodder for teenage boys on “Charmed” has a baseball related blog. For purposes of this discussion, let’s us set aside the fact that she launched a clothing line that is being sold on mlb.com and that the blog itself is at least partially a form of cross promotion. Perhaps that calls into question Ms. Millano’s passion for the game. But, I figured, why not read what she has to say about baseball and her favorite team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Her first post was a little cheesy and promoted her clothing line, but how many bloggers don’t do a little self-promotion? She didn’t make any references to players’ physical attractiveness; nor did she come off like a ditz in any other way. It was a non-descript light-hearted post that romanticized the game. A nice antidote to my post from two weeks ago in fact. As a person quite familiar with the world of Internet baseball talk, from the brilliant to the banal, and as a person who lives with someone equally knowledgeable—a woman, as it happens—take my word; there’s stuff written everyday that makes this look like the revolutionary statistical analysis of a young Bill James.

Here is an excerpt from Milano’s first post:

Honestly, this is what I love about baseball. It’s just like life. The ride. The journey. Every year when the season starts, I think I have a pretty good idea of how the season is going to go. Oh, I think I’m such an expert — I read every magazine, I read MLB.com everyday (OK, maybe four or five times a day), I watch the Spring Training games. And yet despite all the preparation, I realize I simply have no idea what twists or turns the season will take. As much as I try to peer into the future, the future is unpredictable. A ball bounces under a player’s legs, and the Red Sox lose their lead and the World Series. A fan interferes with a ball, and the Cubs lose their lead, and the playoff series. A-Rod finally silences the boo’s and steps up to the plate. That’s baseball. In life, we have our own rhythms, our own ups and downs, our own teammates, and all we can do is hold on and prepare for the challenges along the journey.

You see this kind of writing everywhere; nonetheless, that first post’s comment section was filled with accusations that she didn’t write the blog herself, questions about whether she really likes baseball, and thinly veiled pick-up lines.

I’m sure Alyssa Milano is flattered that through the power of baseball she can still be the same fantasy fodder she was in the days of Charmed. I’m equally sure these sexually frustrated dorks would have swam the English Channel to scrub her toilet regardless of whether she knew which season Fernando Valenzuela won the Cy Young (1981, in case you were wondering).

The most common comment reaction was surprise. Wow, Alyssa, it’s real cool you’re a baseball fan… Some other things about Alyssa that these commenters may find cool are that she can own property, vote, and correctly identify a screwdriver. What they might not find so cool is that she quite probably has no desire to sleep with them. Seriously, the comment section was like the worst parody of “The Aristocrats” one could imagine, countless pinheads reiterating slightly different versions of the same hopelessly pathetic jokes and amorous proposals.

See for yourself:

You are absolutely the most gorgeous woman on the planet and a baseball fan as well. {Sigh}

…I first saw you in Commando with our governator. After that, I didn’t miss an episode of Who’s the Boss cause I had a crush on you, but who can blame me? Anyway, now that I find out you are almost as big a Dodger fan as I am, you once again reclaim the title of the perfect woman, and my crush may come back, regardless of your marital status..lol

I have followed your career for many, many years. You are truly a PRINCESS!
I am a die-hard Yankee fan but I am sure that if we were to meet that all I had to do is look once into your eyes and I would switch to the Dodgers forever!!!

Girl, what do you know about baseball?

Much like the in the Kathy Sierra episode, Milano’s sex is placed at the forefront of the commenters’ remarks.

In 2007 we still have not evolved, as a society, to the point at which it is not shocking that an attractive woman could possibly enjoy and follow baseball. Worse, we still have a double-standard about sports “expertise” and gender. I heard Mets fan and actor Tim Robbins as a guest in the announcer’s booth during last season’s NLDS. He commented that he was looking forward to Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez getting a shot to face the Dodgers. Hernandez was injured and not even on the roster at the time! Yet, for some reason the Internet firing squad didn’t really take aim at Nuke Laloosh.

My girlfriend works for Major League Baseball; she oversees official scoring decisions and corrects the mistakes of official scorers who have spent their lives watching baseball. Still, when we go out to a bar or a game, she is often given the backhanded compliment of being very knowledgeable for a girl. Excuse me? For a girl? She can recite entire sections of the rulebook and has a better grasp or the history, strategy and rules of the game than 99% of those of either sex. But that doesn’t make her immune from being stereotyped.

In one particularly egregious instance an official from one of the teams called the office seeking clarification on a ruling that was made in the previous night’s game. When she asked him to elaborate, he asked to be connected to a male. Frustrated, but politely, she made clear that there was no confusion; she was not the office secretary but one of the department managers. He still asked to speak to a man.

This attitude in sports places an unfair onus on women who proudly show their interest in sports. My girlfriend sometimes feels like she is speaking for all women and that if she errs in her job it very well might reinforce somebody’s pre-existing stereotype. A similar mistake by a male co-worker carries none of that sociological baggage. A woman I know is trying to start women’s baseball leagues in Detroit. In Internet discussions about the best ways to build and market the leagues, she and her cause are routinely mocked amid flagrant, non-sequiturs that assert male athletic superiority.

Many male fans are eager to point out a female fan’s ignorance in order to dismiss them or to label them groupies. Yet often these same men babble on freely and incessantly about sports with all the acumen and rhetorical skill of George Bush at a science fair.

Posted in digglahhh, language, sports | 3 Comments »

Confessions of a brand whore

Posted by digglahhh on 22 April 2007

The New York City Subway system is a graduate school in conceit and humility, though not everyone signs up for its workshops. Earlier this week, I overheard a conversation between two women who appeared to be in their late twenties to early thirties. One of them complimented the other on her new designer handbag and a conversation ensued. Eventually, the question was asked. “How much?”

“500,” replied the woman. “But, if you want quality, you have to pay for it.”

What does that mean?… Nothing of course! It is a meaningless platitude.

When a piece of merchandise doubles as a status symbol, all forms of insincerity and misrepresentation occurs. Ask a woman about her Jimmy Choos and you’ll hear remarks about how she just needed a pair of black heels or how her feet are an irregular shape and only a few (outrageously expensive) types of shoes really feel comfortable. Sometimes you’ll hear her reference the amazing craftsmanship – all of a sudden she’s a cobbler from Lynn, Massachusetts. I’m sorry, m’am, from the pristine French-tip manicure you are sporting, I wasn’t aware that you were such the student of the craftsmanship of leather goods.

I should know. When I was in high school, the style was oversized rugby and polo shirts by Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and other upscale white designers. I was fully on the bandwagon. Predictably, taste and price were rationalized as quality, not the brand. There was only one problem, the blaring contradiction that the most sought-after articles were those that most prominently displayed the brand name.

Our behavior was understandable. It was high school. We were pimply-faced, insecure kids who were deathly afraid of rejection and yearned for anything that could potentially give us the confidence to make a move on our crushes.

We are not in high school anymore but many of us, like the woman on the train still purchase luxury items for the status they confer. Why are they so ashamed to say so? Do they feel guilty about being shallow?

I have some respect for the woman who says with quiet confidence, “500, it’s Chanel.” There is honesty in that statement. Perhaps she is shallow and rich, but maybe she is not. Somebody actually in the fashion industry would likely give an assured response. It’s the sort of “it is what it is” response that implies security in the notion that to some people spending that kind of money makes sense and to most it does not. It is unapologetic.

Of course, the incendiary version of this response is when somebody will tell you how “nice” or “cute” something is. Now, perhaps Burberry did extensive research involving psychological color and pattern association and concluded that this plaid is the most appealing possible arrangement to women with self esteem issues, ages 18-65. I tend to doubt, though. Monograms that can’t confine themselves to a corner of a garment or handbag are even worse. Is there an inherent beauty to interlocking “C”s or “LV”s that simply escapes my aesthetic sensitivities and is not shared by other letter combinations? Perhaps. But, I’ve been appreciating the art of graffiti since I was in junior high school, so once again, I have my doubts.

And yet, I too have my indulgences, such as a rather large rotation of sneakers and fitted baseball hats. Personally, I feel that my two indulgences are carefully chosen as they both relate to two loves of my life; hip-hop and sports. My mother, with whom I’ve had many political arguments, has called me a hypocrite. She would say that our conversations end with me lecturing her about Marx, but almost always in a different pair of sneakers.

Even as I condemn excess consumption I wrestle with my own purchasing patterns. Am I allowed to buy another pair of Air Maxes? Can my footwear invalidate my professed political sensibilities? It can’t, can it? It doesn’t seem fair but, at least to some, it does. We preach moderation, but think in absolutes – we are socially conditioned to do so.

Thus the hypocrisy is to unilaterally condemn people for their consumerist indulgences. Not all consumerism is mindless. We should, however, indulge moderately and choose our indulgences carefully. This is how I’ve come to think about things– make sense of, or rationalize my own behavior in other words, depending on how guilty you think I should feel about it.

The way we talk about our purchases is a reflection of our personal relationship with consumer goods. A reference to “quality,” “style,” “means of expression,” “craftsmanship” and so forth is almost always irrelevant in the context of consumer culture. Sure there is a relationship between price and quality/craftsmanship, but the cost-benefit ratio is usually closer to the median price point than to the high end. Expressing yourself through your clothing is more about style than cost, unless of course you just want to express your wealth. And style, well, style is in the eye of the beholder. Just ask Christine what she thought of Theo’s Gordon Gartelle, um, I mean Ichy Amorada…

I don’t apologize for what I own. I do realize though, that back in high school, while I was a rather independent thinker in social studies, I was a sheep fashion-wise. I won several “best dressed” polls in high school, which ironically proves the point. Also ironic is that as I become nostalgic about the culture of that era, I really wish I still had a lot of things that I got rid of because they temporarily fell out of popularity. I can’t believe that I find myself purchasing the re-released versions of sneakers I owned and got rid of, or that I could have sold the originals for a small fortune if I had kept them. My junior high school sneakers are my father’s Mickey Mantle rookie cards shred by the spokes of his first bicycle.

I am ashamed to admit that I made fun of my peers who couldn’t afford the newer styles. I shoplifted items I couldn’t afford in order to keep myself looking fresh. With a little bit of revisionist history, though, voila! I can reframe shoplifting as a latent political act. But there’s no excusing making fun of somebody because they are poor. If it’s not the height of insensitivity, it’s pretty near it. I’m ashamed that I judged people on such a shallow basis, especially the outcasts who were wise beyond their years for not caring about such trivial matters. But, I am also proud that I grew up, and out of such a childish mind state. I am proud that I’m secure enough to no longer define myself by what I purchase, but not feel the need to defend my purchases either.

What I am sad about is that so many have not, that consumer society is still one big high school cafeteria where the cool table makes fun of everyone else. Where most of those not at the cool table yearn to be, thinking that they are only one designer handbag away from ruling the school.

That woman on the train is proud to flaunt her new designer bag, but embarrassed of what it says about her. She knows it too, and she makes it most evident when she tries to pretend otherwise.

Posted in digglahhh, language, pop culture | 12 Comments »

Our national pastime

Posted by digglahhh on 15 April 2007

It’s no accident that the canonical dismissal of George Bush (the first, as it happens) was a baseball metaphor—that he “was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.” As baseball is a metaphor for life, life is a metaphor for baseball. Professional sports, for better and for worse, are reflections of the societies in which they are played.

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson walked past baseball’s color line onto the infield of Ebbet’s Field. As another season of major league baseball hits its stride, it’s time to look at the dark truth lurking inside our sunny conception of baseball as “the national pastime.”

1.Disparity of resources

It seems obvious that richer teams will do better, but the question of whether dollars-spent translates linearly to success in the Major Leauges has been the subject of much debate. Within the mid-range payrolls, there is plenty of room for savvy general managerial skills to make a bigger difference than finances, but at the top and bottom of the distribution there’s not much argument. The teams with the very highest payroll are often the best and the teams with the lowest payrolls are almost always the worst.

The NFL, which has created an unparalleled following with it “any given Sunday” excitement, has a pay structure in which the gap between the sport’s highest and lowest payroll is smaller than the gap between baseball’s highest and second highest payrolls. How égalité!—perhaps a little too much so. Baseball’s notion that certain teams have inherent market advantages, and deeper pockets, independent of quality of play is more in keeping with the ideological underpinnings of American society. As is the reluctance to institute salary caps (à la the NFL) or meaningful revenue sharing systems. The supporters of the free market are almost always those with the most bountiful resources and in baseball, not surprisingly, more often times, the invisible hand dons the World Series ring.

2.Better living through chemistry

Is it surprising that performance-enhancing drugs have run rampant throughout the sport? The hankering for home runs over pitching duels is a poignant metaphor for contemporary cultural values. America has chosen, as its pastime, the most individualistic of team sports. It is the one that is most closely tied to numbers and the one in which you can most precisely measure an individual’s performance. Unlike basketball, hockey or soccer, a play begins as an individual showdown between batter and pitcher. The switches from offense to defense are deliberate and orderly, not instantaneous and unpredictable. Baseball’s individual nature and reliance on precise statistical would make it capitalism if it had to be portrayed as an economic system. Soccer’s low scoring, team-oriented style that produces many unsung heroes has a socialist feel to it. Americans are not interested in soccer, though it is the most popular sport in the world.

If the biochemical hybrids that are assaulting some of the sport’s most esteemed records are objects of public scorn, they still exemplify our love affair with simulacra, and our reactions to the subsequent scandals exemplify a national cognitive dissonance. In this country, images of success and health are a greater priority than the real thing, hence eating disorders, stomach stapling, personal “deficit spending” and myriad other behaviors endemic to and reflective of the U.S. value system.

As consumers of sport, culture, or product we Americans revere outcome more than process. So, we destroy our health, minds and integrity to show the uncritical and awestruck observer how pretty, wealthy or strong we are. Those who raise suspicion are dismissed as bitter, jealous or Luddites. It is in just as much bad taste to question the achievements of a player who comes out of nowhere to put up forty plus homerun seasons, as it is to disparage corporations using “creative accounting” practices to create an inaccurate picture of their wealth. Then when the inevitable scandal ensues, we tar and feather the perpetrators for taking advantage of our trust and innocence. The public was simply mislead by Mark McGwire, and Kenneth Lay on Enron’s “success” too… To an astute observer, only the naive could have been genuinely shocked to find that baseball players were using disingenuous means to succeed, all the while getting praised for their conditioning regimens or that our government was manufacturing a war on an innocent country all the while proclaiming to be the defenders of all that is moral.

3. From green card to line-up card

For decades, America has attracted the best and the brightest from around the world. When we provide laboratories and tenured chairs for scientists who go on to earn Nobel Prizes, everybody wins. When we strip-mine India and the Philippines of most of their trained nurses, only we win.

Baseball exhibits more than a little of each of these models. Should we be surprised to learn the dirty truth hidden beneath the veneer of successful Latin American ballplayers? The decrepit ball fields of Latin America are pillaged for any semblance of athletic talent. Players are harvested in bulk and coerced to sign English contracts without translation. Once property of professional teams, these players are exploited just like any other natural resource indigenous to Central and South America. The Vladimir Guerreros are then paraded as the Horatio Algiers of professional sports. The truth is that Latin American scouts fish not with rods, but nets, insuring that the success of a statistically insignificant minority will define the situation of a wretchedly under-served majority. It is far simpler and cheaper to harvest Latin players in bulk hoping to find some diamonds in the ruff than to invest time, money and risk into domestic prospects who have legal and financial counsel and command market value for their potential.

Many are quick to dismiss these concerns by saying the game provides Latinos with opportunities beyond those available in their homelands, yet that destitution exists largely because of American foreign policy in the first place. Latino youth are herded by droves into MLB organizations, completely unaware that they are entirely expendable. Even those who prove themselves must contend with the pride of front offices, eager to justify the investments in domestic blue-chippers that they choose to make.

4. “All men are created equal”

Some champion baseball’s history as a bastion of progress and equality, noting that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier seven years prior to Brown v. Board of Ed. However, from first team to last, it took another 15 years for, the Boston Red Sox to finally sign a black player. Front office racism resulted in several teams passing on Robinson himself, as well as Willie Mays and other legends of the game. The first black coach wasn’t until 1962, the first black manager, 1975. Thirty-seven years after integration, Hank Aaron received death threats while chasing Babe Ruth’s career homerun record. Today, black players comprise a mere eight percent of players on Major League rosters and six percent of players on Division I collegiate baseball teams.

Avenues that open the game up to women are limited, girls are encouraged to pursue softball at a young age (that’s where the scholarships are) and MLB has not taken much initiative to develop a women’s professional league, like the NBA did.

Baseball’s identity as a national pastime goes beyond the innumerable youngsters who pound their mitts on Little League diamonds and sandlots. It speaks to who those children are and what they are willing to sacrifice on the path to the Big Leagues. It speaks to the American Dream, and the way most of us watch it speed by, like a 98 mile per hour fastball, without a realistic chance of us catching up to it.

Posted in digglahhh, language, politics, sports | Leave a Comment »

Imust ask…

Posted by digglahhh on 14 April 2007

Little noticed in the Don Imus “nappy headed hos” fiasco was producer Bernard McGuirk’s follow-up of “the Jigaboos vs. the Wannabes,” a reference to Spike Lee’s 1988 film, “School Daze.”

Spike Lee gets to make off-color, borderline offensive references to black people, in fact, he gets to make off-color, borderline offensive references to white people, as he does when Mookie and Pino trade insults in “Do The Right Thing.” But can a white person ever get to a point where he or she can make off-color, borderline offensive jokes about the black race and not get flamed for it?

Imus, needless to say, didn’t achieve such a coveted position, and he has paid a steep price for mistakingly acting as if he had. And it’s worth pointing out that that he crossed two lines, and the sin that isn’t being talked about much, the remark’s extreme sexism, was in my opinion more egregious and direct than its racism. I’m going to address the latter issue though, in part because it’s center stage in the public debate (in other words, because everyone else is), and because the Spike Lee reference is the perfect entrance point to the question that everyone isn’t talking about: are there any circumstances in which an Imus-style remark could be made?

Let’s look a little more closely at the Imus show exchange, going beyond the point at which the CNN’s cut off the tape. Here’s a clip of the whole thing.

The exchange went like this ( I did my best to label who said each, though I am not perfectly sure) :

Imus: Ah, some rough girls from Rutgers, man. They got tattoos, and…

McGuirk: Some hard-core hos.

Imus: (Chuckle) That’s some nappy-headed hos there, I’m gonna tell you that (laughter)… man, that’s some, whew… and uh, the girls from Tennessee, they all look cute, y’know. Kinda like, uh, I dunno

McGuirk: Like a Spike Lee thing

Imus: Yeah

McGuirk: The Jigaboos vs the Wannabes, wha—was that movie that he had

Imus: That was a tough one,

McCord: Do the Right Thing

Imus: Yeah

As I say, when you look at the whole exchange, the sexism leaps out as far worse than the racism. It’s not just that “ho” is arguably worse than “nappy-headed.” The reference to the Tennessee women reduces the entire NCAA championship to a beauty contest between the cute girls vs the ugly ones. It’s literally impossible to imagine the men’s championship game being talked about the same way. But I digress.

As we can see, Imus’s cohost, Charles McCord responded by acknowledging the reference to “the Jigaboos vs the Wannabes,” but applied it to Do the Right Thing (The entire script can be found here; a simple search shows the absence of “Jigaboo” and “Wannabe.”) Imus affirmed McCord’s reply.

Now, if I’m a black guy listening to Imus and haven’t fully decided whether what I’m hearing is blatantly racist or just an attempt at off-color humor that didn’t work well, this is something of a litmus test. If, Imus gets the correct Spike Lee reference, at least that might indicate that he has an understanding and appreciation of black culture and perhaps earn himself some leeway.

This is a pretty basic concept, whether we are talking economics, politics, art or culture, you have to prove an understanding of the topic at hand before you can joke about it and not be perceived as simply ignorant. Especially when entering the no-man’s-land of race, sophisticated understanding of the experiences and culture of the group you are joking about is a prerequisite if you want your remarks to be understood as jokes and not insults.

Today, the hardest such line to cross is for a white comedian to make fun of black culture. In addition to the ugly history of slavery, we have its legacy in entertainment: minstrel shows, blackface, Amos & Andy. There are plenty of reasons why this joke telling privilege is rarely, if ever, granted. Many white people, too ignorant of the depths of our culture’s intact inner core of racism, chalk this up to simple and unfair double standard. Well, there is a double standard – and rightfully so. There have been different standards for whites and non-whites regarding civil rights, education, zoning laws, lending practices, etc. throughout the history of our country. Complaining about the few social double standards that are not advantageous to you is evidence of a substantial lack of historical and sociological perspective.

How may one arrive at this sought-after repercussionless comedic utopia where, even if they bomb, all jokes are taken as jokes? Jerry Seinfled even joked about this sought-after “joke telling immunity.” In the Yada Yada Episode, Jerry becomes suspicious that his dentist, Tim Whatley, has converted to Judaism just to gain the ability to make Jewish jokes. Seinfeld quips, “Don’t you see what Whatley is after? Total joke telling immunity. He’s already got the two big religions covered, if he ever gets Polish citizenship there’ll be no stopping him.”

The question remains, is there any white person out there who could make remarks like that with impunity? As far as I can guess, there are three potential routes to the promised land, some may have gotten there, but rarely are the most sacred boundaries tested, so it is hard to be sure.

The first possible route is to establish yourself as a very intelligent and extremely witty comic who is critical of all and well studied on the history of racism. Basically, you have to define yourself as somebody who is respected for their talent and understood as not harboring racism. In this land, George Carlin is the unquestioned ruler, but others who may reside there are the Bill Mahers and Jon Stewarts of the world. If I had to guess, Maher couldn’t do it; he supports racial profiling, at least in airports. Stewart has Jewish jokes in his repertoire, but it seems out of place for him to make a comment like Imus’s and that alone makes him unlikely to be bulletproof. Carlin is probably the best bet here, and of any of the groups, to be able to get away with a comment like that. But a joke that simple and flat wouldn’t even be found in Carlin’s trash can.

The other possible route is to be one of two types that both lead to the same outcome. Either you have just be plain crazy (obviously crazier than Michael Richards though) or you can be an over-the-top shtick driven personality whose basic act is to be crude, and offensive. The shtick based comedy is basically a caricature of a one-dimensional stereotype. For the former, maybe we can nominate Andy Dick, for the latter you have your Andrew Dice Clays. Imus is in a particularly precarious position because he is shtick heavy, but comes off genuine. It is hard to tell where his radio personality ends and his actual views and character begin. Howard Stern can probably be described most accurately as a shtick and non-racist hybrid. I’d say that he might have a chance at getting away with this comment, but he is disliked (and misunderstood) by too many women. Stern might be able to make the male-targeted equivalent of this remark though. This route of the “crazy” comic is unique because it is not that these types could potentially earn the right to say such things, but that nobody takes seriously what they say and the repercussions of one’s word can probably be only as strong as the speaker of them is credible. Perhaps, Al Sharpton (and he really is a comedian, albeit an unintentional one) is an exception to this rule, as the serious reactions to many of his comments and antics belie his almost non-existent credibility.

The third route is to be widely accepted as a white stepchild of the black community. I can’t think of any comics who have achieved this. Michael Rapaport comes close, but he’s more of a comedic actor than a comedian. (I’m really at a loss as to why Rapaport, specifically, seems to be embraced so much by black culture, but he clearly is, since he pops up in Jay-Z videos, in movies with nearly all-black casts. And so on.) This scenario is perhaps the most interesting to me. I remain undecided as to whether I believe that Eminem could get away with using the word “nigga” on a record, but he seems to think he can’t, or at least is not interested in taking the risk.

I’m not confident that any of these individuals have reached this immunity, but if I had to guess, I’d say Carlin has the best chances. Since I’ve raised a question I can’t answer, let’s close with some more questions.

How strict is the line Imus crossed and does it ever move, depending on who is walking it? Could Howard Stern, Bill Maher, Andy Dick, Eminem, George Carlin or any other white person make that comment and get away with it, and why? If you are a minority, who, if anyone, outside that group, have you granted permission to joke at the expense of the group, and why? How well does all this carry over to gender? Do gay comedians automatically get some kind of Rapaport/Eminem free ride?

Posted in digglahhh, language, politics, pop culture, the arts | 6 Comments »

Reading, writing, and recruiting

Posted by digglahhh on 7 April 2007

No discussion of higher education, graduation rates and the dumbing-down of universities would be complete without consideration of the oxymoronic euphemism, “student athlete.” This is not to say that all student athletes are students by label alone, but a substantial number of the most visible, successful and revenue-producing ones are. It turns out this should come as no surprise. Many up and coming NBA stars probably went to a Potemkin Village high school where only the basketball court was real. First, let’s look at those graduation rates.

The most recent episode of HBO’s Costas Now featured a story about the loose academic requirements and special treatment afforded to athletes who play for major collegiate teams (mainly basketball and football) and the pressure, economic and otherwise, put on professors to pass those athletes, in effect, on the basis of their athletic instead of academic performance.

A roundtable discussion on the poor graduation rates of student athletes followed, in which we saw Costas exhibit an increasingly rare journalistic acumen. When NCAA President, Myles Brand crowed that student athletes had higher graduation rates than students overall, Costas called out the apples to oranges analogy, noting that students frequently leave school for non-academic reasons that range from career opportunities (as was the case with Costas himself during his senior year at Syracuse) to financial burdens.

Brand continued to talk about student athletes on the whole. Once again, Costas admonished him for quoting the statistics in a manner that groups Ivy League fencing teams with Big East basketball teams. The bottom line is that several perennial college basketball and football powerhouses graduate fewer than half of their players. The roster of the UNLV’s 1990-91 undefeated basketball team can boast more Final Four appearances than degrees. Not surprisingly, UNLV soon found themselves in some pretty hot water ranging from gambling to booster scandals. (I self-nominate that sentence for pun of the month; take a look at this photo of three of the members of that UNLV basketball team in a jacuzzi with Gambino Family member Richie “The Fixer” Perry.)

These student athletes arrive at college able to solve the half court trap. But do they come qualified to solve a quadratic equation? As it turns out, more and more of them never see one in high school, coming, as they do, from fly-by-night, storefront prep schools.

Yes, prep schools, though not those stiflingly proper institutions where seersucker-clad young Republicans are sent to hobnob with other future subjects of Michael Moore documentaries, where Oliver was taught not to fall in love with girls like Jenny, where Gene and Phineas made their separate peace. After all, I doubt, even, if Finny were able to dunk from the free throw line, he probably would have considered it unsporting…

The baskeball prep-school mill was the focus recently of HBO’s other sports journalism show, the phenomenal Real Sports. It recently featured a story that will be disturbing to anyone except, well, the strictest caveat-emptor libertarian subject of a Michael Moore documentary. In many states, the process of starting up a private school is incredibly simple. So, spirited entrepreneurs assemble high school Dream Teams and then create a school for them to attend. These schools are often nothing more than warehouses with a few chairs and a chalkboard (probably used primarily for diagramming defensive schemes, not equations). Academics barely exist, if at all. But, there’s more.

The NCAA’s academic requirements are based on a sliding scale of G.P.A. and S.A.T scores. The higher a student’s G.P.A., the lower he needs to score on his SATs to be granted academic eligibility. At a 3.55, a student literally does not need to answer a single SAT question correctly to meet the NCAA’s academic standards. So, the stupider your power forward, the more you have to inflate his grades.

NCAA review boards eventually investigate these schools, but by that time the adroit founders have packed up and moved to a different location, with a different name and a new set of 6’5” fifteen year olds who for whom it is easier to reverse dunk than calculate the hoop’s circumference. For one school that Real Sports looked into, the NCAA announced that it completed an investigation and would no longer be honoring its transcripts. The school had been closed down for over a year.

Meanwhile, the morally bankrupt venture capitalists who organize these schools profit from their next nationally known high school basketball team,are playing the role of mentor to young men in fractured living situations with the athletic talent to become multi-millionaires.

Both episodes of these shows are currently available on HBO On-Demand, for those who have it.

A lot of times we find ourselves asking questions unprepared for their disturbing answers. For many of these “student” athletes, how they got into college in the first place is one of them.

Posted in digglahhh, language, sports | 5 Comments »