Category Archives: essay

Custer’s Last Stand, or The Battle of the (Great Grey-Green) Greasy Grass Creek

June 25th, 1876
With apologizes to Rudyard Kipling

In the High and Far-Off Times of the 1870s, George Armstrong Custer, O Best Beloved, desired a fight.  He had fought in the Musty-Pusty Civil War and he desired another, for he was full of ‘satiable courage, and that means he sought ever so many fights.

The President Grant, his lips to a bottle, desired that the Army should fight the Sioux Indians who did not want to live on their reservations.  So Custer went to President Grant and asked him to send him to fight the Sioux, and President Grant spanked Custer with his hard, hard bottle.  And still Custer was filled with ‘satiable courage!  So he asked his patron General Sheridan, who appealed to President Grant on Custer’s behalf.  And President Grant told Custer, with a throaty cry, “Go to the banks of the (Great Grey-Green) Greasy Grass Creek, all set about with fever-trees, and fight the Sioux!”

So one fine morning, as the Destiny was Manifesting just so, Custer went away, a little warm, but not at all astonished, to fight the Sioux. Continue reading

Jonathan Papelbon Will Waste 236,000 Hours Of Philadelphia’s Precious Time

Papelbon celebrating another 30-minute 1-2-3 inning

Jonathan Papelbon will be the Phillies’s closer for the next four years.  Concerns about the size and length of the contract aside, Papelbon’s arrival brings a larger cost to the City of Philadelphia.

Jonathan Papelbon takes 45 minutes between each pitch.

So that’s an exaggeration, but it is a peer-reviewed non-exaggeration to say that he takes an infuriatingly long time between pitches.

So I did some math to answer this question: How much of our time will Papelbon waste over the next 4 years? I addressed this question by using the Fangraphs’s ‘pace’ statistic which tracks time per pitch.

  • As a point of comparison, fast-pitching Cliff Lee took 20.4 seconds between pitches in 2011.
  • Ryan Madson, our previous closer, took 23.0 seconds between pitches last season.*
  • Jonathan Papelbon took 1,714.3 seconds between pitches in 2011.  No, ok, he took 31.9 seconds.

*The Rules of Baseball (cue angelic choir) give a pitcher 12 seconds to pitch after receiving the ball from the catcher. If every pitcher used 12 seconds, that would mean that Carlos Ruiz takes 11 seconds to get the ball back to Madson, and 8 seconds to get the ball back to Cliff Lee.  Obviously, umpires are not enforcing this rule.

Continue reading

Beer Commercials: A Rumination On Homophobia And Reverse-Wish-Fulfillment

[It’s time for another disparate-point essay about something I was thinking about today.  Today’s topic: light beer commercials.  This is a rewrite of a post I threw up yesterday, briefly, half-baked.]

Look at the calendar.  It’s January.  That means it must be NFL playoff season, which in turn means it must be time for American macrobrewries to continue their assault upon the intelligence of their consumers.

In the recent past, Coors Light has conspicuously avoided discussing their beer and instead has found new, astoundingly moronic ways of advertising the packaging.  Last year, Miller Lite showed us men more interested in their relationship with their beer than in the hot women mystifying interested in these meatheads.  Budweiser claims that guys who drink beer rejoice in homophobic “kidding” as the highest form of camaraderie.

This topic has been covered here before.  And a quick Google search will show plenty of discussion on how these commercials are insulting to everyone who views them.  But there are two points I want to make about the new Miller Lite “Man Up” commercial series.  Two examples can be found here.

Point one: Miller Lite should “Man Up” and confess to what the real message of these commercials is: “Don’t be a f*ggot – drink our beer.”  They’re not allowed to say that, of course, but that’s the message, and they believe their audience trades in such moldy currency.  These beautiful bartenders mock men for fashion decisions, most which carry effeminate connotations (even fashion itself is effeminate).  The Budweiser “kidding” commercial contains witty lines such as, “Has he told you about his scrapbooking?” and, “Even Europe thinks your pants are too tight.”  Every single one of these commercials is a disguised gay joke.

It’s satisfying when the schoolyard bully gets called out by the playground monitor.  It would be nice if we could do a better job of calling out these beer companies as being homophobic.  It would be fun, but it would also present an interesting parallel between homophobia and beer brewing.  These macrobrews have successfully branded “real men” as liking beer.  BUT! real men don’t have a varied palette for beer (thus they drink beer made in batches by the billion).  By implication, then, microbreweries and the men who enjoy their beer are not manly, ie, gay.

In the same way that jocky homophobes feel threatened by gay men, so big beer companies feel threatened by microbreweries.  It’s cool when you can map consumer preferences, marketing theory, and societal tensions all on top of one another.

Okay, on to point number two:

no role models for hot women

Wish fulfillment goes both ways.  In the story of the beggar and the genie, we rarely think about the genie’s feelings.  Sure, these ads use hot women to sell beer, and in doing so objectify these women.  But these ads are also offensive to hot women, a demographic not accustomed to much societal sympathy.

Imagine the op-ed letter written on behalf of hot women (we pick it up halfway):

…Miller Lite structured an entire, ubiquitous campaign around hot women on dates, in relationships, or clearly in love with knuckleheaded men who don’t know body language from boogie boarding.

These commercials are offensive to hot women.  Everywhere we turn, we see ourselves being treated badly by schlubby men and drinking (or serving) lousy beer.  We are depicted as having terrible taste in beer, in men, and little or no backbone.  For every wish-fulfillment you bestow upon your consumer base, you strip a wish away from a hot woman.

Look, it is very hard to be a hot woman in modern America.  Young hot girls need dynamic, multifaceted media portrayals of hot women, so they are not pressured away from the rewarding life decisions many hot women have made.  Family support and social service organizations can only give hot girls so much help.  (Not to detract from the critical work undertaken by groups like Curvy Paths and the NAAHW.)

I want my hot daughters to believe that they are allowed to drink, and prefer, double IPAs.  I want them to have high expectations of the dating pool, and not assume they will end up with watery-beer-loving jerkoffs with gelled hair and emotional tin ear.  Show us those hot women, Anheuser-Busch, and maybe then we will end our embargo against talking to macrobrewery and advertising executives.  Maybe.

For every objectification, there is an object, and an -ification.  Too often we only think about the ification.

Griffey + Randy + A-Rod + Edgar + Ichiro + Felix = .500 Mariners baseball

Felix Hernandez’s well-deserved Cy Young Award, announced last week, places a bookend (I hope) on 20 years of maddening Seattle Mariners baseball.  Being an M’s fan over the past two decades has given me the unique and aggravating experience of watching some of the best baseball players in the world, playing on some of the most mediocre teams in the league.

The 1990s Mariners had four of the best players of the past 25 years: Ken Griffey Jr, Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, and Randy Johnson.  Consider what Griffey, A-Rod and Edgar did during their time with Seattle:

This does not include two second-place finishes for the AL MVP (Griffey, 1994; A-Rod, 1996).  In 1996, the Mariners scored 993 runs.  In 1997, they set the major league record for team home runs with 264.  Oh man, were they fun to watch hit.

I'm coming for ya, Kruk

Meanwhile, Randy Johnson morphed from the stuff of John Kruk’s nightmares into one of the most dominant (and terrifying) pitchers in the game.  The tallest pitcher in the history of the game (at the time), he threw two pitches: a high-90’s fastball and a sweeping 80’s slider.  He led the American league in strikeouts from 1992-1995 (as well as hit-by-pitches 92-93) and won the 1995 AL CY Young award (he finished 2nd in the voting in 1993, 4th in 1996, and 2nd again in 1997).  He.  Was.  Awesome.

What did these Mariners teams do, with four Hall of Fame-calibur players?  From 1992 through 2000, the Mariners won 695 games and lost 694.  One game over .500.  They went to the playoffs three times (1995, 1997, 2000), advancing to the AL Championship series twice (95, ’00).  A decent showing, but nothing that could be mistaken for a perennial contender.

If the 1990s Mariners were the teams of Randy, Griffey and Edgar, the 2000’s are Ichiro’s teams.  We’ve had Ichiro all decade, and now we have Felix, and the trend continues.  Ichiro won the AL MVP, Rookie of the Year, and Batting title in 2001.  He won another batting title in 2004, and has led the league in hits in seven of the past ten years.  Felix finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting last year, and won it this year.

These teams?  With Ichiro, the Mariners are dead even over the past ten years, at 813-813.  Over Felix’s last two dominant seasons, the M’s are 146-178.  Take out the miraculous 2001 season, and the Mariners haven’t been to the playoffs since 2000.

In new-fangled stat terms

What’s the takeaway here?  Mariner fans have watched, up close, the best individual pitching and hitting in all of baseball over the past 20 years.  Those twenty years have resulted in teams cumulatively one game above .500.  I’d argue that no fanbase has a better appreciation for the ways in which baseball is a team sport masquerading as an individual sport.  Would I trade Griffey’s brilliance for a trip to the World Series?  Probably not.  But would I trade Felix’s 2012 Cy Young Award for a trip to the playoffs?  Absolutely.

A treatise on crappy genre writing wherein we posit the existence of millions of dollars to be made off of these people, if only we knew how to lower our standards

This is a very long and rambling post about fantasy/sci fi literature and how most of it is terrible.  I’m hiding it after a jump so as not to make the front page of my blog really long, and to hide all the cool points I’m losing for posting this.  Still, if you have thoughts on the matter, I’d love to have a discussion about it.  I’m out of college, I can’t take comp lit classes anymore, so to the Internet I turn.

On to the musings

Education as Political Vaccination

It’s cold and flu season, when our immune systems encounter this year’s strains.  It’s also election season, when the body politic is assailed by this season’s political rhetoric.  A massively simplified conception of a vaccine is the injection into the body of an agent which familiarizes the body’s immune system with a bacteria or virus, prompting the body to prepare itself against the future arrival of that strain.

Our educational system needs to do this with political arguments.  Education as political vaccination.  We need to bring debate and rhetoric classes back into the curriculum.  Vaccinate our children against the most common strains of manipulative reasoning, and that investment will eventually result in a better political environment.

I think most people would agree that, in an ideal world, they want to see civil political discourse.  We want candidates explaining their positions and their best ideas, drawing clear but professional contrasts between themselves and their opponents, and drawing upon whatever characteristics or experience they have to show why they would be dutiful and superior public servants.  We don’t get that.  Instead, we get xenophobia, racism, classicism, personal attacks, money, volume, fear and manipulation.  The life of our political arena is rich, nasty, brutish and cyclical.  Constitution-as-holy-scripture seems to be this season’s political H1N1.

a common political ad, in a nutshell

Virtually all underhanded and deceitful political strategies being employed today are not new.  They have been around for as long as there have been manipulative people seeking power.  No matter whether they are used by liberals, conservatives, Christians, Muslims, bakers or dentists.  They are not new.  And they are not helpful.  They do not allow us to make better decisions about who should represent us in government.  In fact, they cloud our judgement.  A candidate’s talent for scaring the locals about his opponent’s possible “otherness” does not prove his qualifications to be county treasurer.

(To listen to our national political discourse is to be told that America is a nation filled entirely with honest, hard-working, humble Christians and that the only disreputable people anywhere are the ones seeking election (or re-election).  If only one of those honest guys would run for office, right?)

We’re getting this kind of politicking because it works.  Through our susceptibility to campaign tactics that do not accurately reflect the candidates’ abilities for the job, we have created (and are responsible for) that oily sheen on politicians’ fur that makes us wretch when we breathe too deeply.

I believe we have created a national political atmosphere where your opponent’s failure is your success, and where no progress is preferable to progress credited to your opponent.  Better the ship sink, than the other guy save the day.  I believe this is profoundly obnoxious at best, and dangerous to the country’s livelihood and long-term prospects at worst.  One way to stem this infection is to teach our children to identify some of the most common forms of manipulative and disingenuous argument.  Forewarned is forearmed.

Teacher, what’s a straw man argument again?

Dissect political campaigns in the classroom.  Examine historical examples of political and social oppression, not just for what happened but how it happened and why it worked.  If our children know that correlation does not imply causation (“Our state has lost X jobs while my opponent was in office”), if they know what it means to demand negative proof (“Prove Obama isn’t a Muslim”), and if they know that statistics are only as reliable as the person quoting them (any budgetary conversation of any kind), we can force future politicians to raise their game.

Do this with debate class.  Rhetorical lessons.  Use scenarios to allow students to employ these techniques for themselves.  Teach students about the times in history when tricky concepts like patriotism, religion, and “the Other” have been used as weapons.  Explain how and why these arguments work, and that people seeking power will attempt to use them again.  Expose students to these germs early, so when they hear them again as voting adults, they will demand more from the speaker.

Teach our children humility in the face of a complicated world.  Vaccinate the body politic.  Give our children a healthy skepticism of easy answers, too-bad-to-not-be-true accusations, and anyone who wants to be in charge.  Future generations might demand more from their elected leaders, and we will eventually get the leaders we want, not just the leaders we deserve.

Review: The Onion misfires with Glenn Beck article

I love The Onion and I loathe Glenn Beck, but their recent article mocking him is a notable misfire.

Nation Once Again Comes Under Sway of Pink-Faced Half-Wit

When The Onion steps into social or political satire, it does its best work by rephrasing its subject in mocking, sarcastic, or ironic terms.  The piece relies on the reader’s knowledge of the topic, and the absurdity of what the article is literally saying, to bring the mockery into focus.  The “Giuliani To Run For President Of 9/11” article is a good example of this.

Sadly, this latest article on Glenn Beck lacks the ironic observations or tongue-in-cheek journalism of good Onion pieces.  It’s clear upon reading (and this is feeling I almost never get from reading The Onion) that the writer merely hates Glenn Beck and is out to insult him.

The biggest tell of this is the fact that the article does not flesh out its decent premise.  Pointing out a history of “pink-faced half-wits” in American politics is a funny idea, and using Charles Coughlin, Michael Moore, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck as data points is a start.  But the article doesn’t run with that.  Rather, it seems to be mainly trying to fit as many disparaging adjectives about Beck into 677 words.  I counted 77 words or phrases employed in some way to disparage Glenn Beck and, to a lesser extent, the school of pink-faced half-wits:

pink-faced, half-wit, spewing, reactionary, manipulative, diatribes, bloated, hateful, multimillionaire, exploiting, vain, avaricious, self-interests, fleecing, bombastic, demagogues, disgusting, ambitious, narcissistic, outlandish, easily debunked, shameless, self-promotion, lack of credentials, pasty, shallow, dullards, inane, thinly veiled, untenable, fringe, ideological, truly baffling, irresponsible, without fear of accountability, frothing, shouting, dim-bulbs, porcine, loudmouth, incendiary, virulent, shamelessly, preying, intellectually corrupt, piece of shit, asshole, fat, disgusting, pig mouth, jowly, nitwits, false, moral superiority, rash, philandering, steal, vociferous, foaming, morons, nauseating, self-aggrandizing, hypocritical, outright racism, arrogant, self-important, bullshit, fleshy hole, invincible, ruddy, pabulum-spewing, cretin, perjure, fanatical, oversimplified, jingoistic polemics, enchant

I guess that list, by itself, is somewhat funny.  But it doesn’t save the article.  Rather than taking its customary high ground by showing Beck’s inanity through an exaggeratedly-literal depiction of his behavior (such as the Giuliani article), the Onion here loses points to Beck by appearing childish and petty.

The Onion can have a dud, that’s fine, comedy is tricky.  It was a strange feeling of being disappointed in The Onion that prompted me to write this piece.  It doesn’t matter that I am glad the article points out certain things (“Anytime followers heed his advice and do something illegal, [the pink-faced half-wit] can simply claim that his work is intended only for entertainment purposes“) with which I agree.  The Onion’s satire is better, and taken more seriously, when it doesn’t show its cards so clumsily.

Fixing Baseball For Us, Or For Football Fans?

Tom Verducci at SI.com posted an argument for baseball adding a second wild card team and having the two wild cards play a win-or-go-home playoff game at the end of the regular season.  The thesis of his argument is that baseball needs to do more to ‘fix’ its September calendar, which (according to Verducci) rarely contains drama and too easily gets overwhelmed by the start of football season.

I agree with aspects of his essay.  Imagining his system, Verducci makes the strongest argument for his idea:

The Yankees and Rays are in a real race. Now it’s much more important to win your division than the wild card, in which you could get knocked out of the playoffs with one game. It keeps meaning in September games for runaway leaders.

Of course, Texas’s 7-game lead is not seriously challenged by any other team in their division, so this format won’t help all runaway leaders play meaningful games in September.

Other aspects of Verducci’s article are worrisome, however.  Take this quote:

Every NFL game has the feeling of being self-contained, with the stand-alone quality of say a movie as opposed to the serial quality of a baseball series. Baseball games rise to that level of urgency when they are “ultimate” games.

Many baseball fans and writers (this one included) have an inferiority complex in relation to football.  Football is glamorous, sexy, arrogant, and made-for-television.  Yet one of the best parts of baseball is the 162-game schedule, the grind of the season.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Photo finishes are exciting, sure, but they are much more exciting when they happen at the end of a marathon.  Baseball will never be like football, and we shouldn’t change our game to resemble football for the sake of trying to appease football fans.  Please baseball fans first.

Verducci, as a serious baseball fan, is probably quite interested in this September’s games.  Seven of the Yankees’ last 20 games are against the Rays.  Atlanta and Philadelphia have been jockeying for first place for a month, and with Philly, Atlanta, San Diego, San Francisco, Colorado, and St. Louis all within 6 games of each other, winning the NL East is very important indeed.  San Diego’s collapse has suddenly made the NL West a 3-team race.  All this is exciting to any fan who follows the baseball season, or is a fan of any of these teams.  And the notion that the Wild Card makes winning a division less meaningful?  Ask the 22 teams going home in October if  winning the division is meaningful.

The real question here is money, as it usually is with high-level baseball decisions these days.  How much does baseball want to tailor itself to casual fans?  Would baseball tamper with aspects of the game cherished by season ticket holders in favor of the few million disinterested households who would watch an out-of-market elimination playoff game?  From which group does baseball stand to make more money?

Verducci frames his argument with numbers about baseball’s increased TV numbers for the recent elimination playoff games.  In this particular instance, I agree with the proposal to “revamp” baseball’s playoffs.  As long as the extra game did not push the playoffs irretrievably into November, I’m for it.  But we baseball fans who view ourselves as guardians of, and witnesses to, a hallowed sport should analyze our motivations whenever we consider changing the game’s constitution.  Are we improving the game for ourselves?  Or are we sacrificing our values in trying to please an ambivalent football audience whom we will never truly satisfy?