Baseball reason

It’s been raining all weekend, which means spring is almost here and also baseball. And for that reason I was thinking about this: back in the late eighties, the Yankees radio announcers were a bunch of Greatest Generation-aged meathead ex-athletes. They included the beloved Phil Rizzuto and some other lesser personalities. They knew a lot about baseball and very little about anything else.

For example, once they were talking about a letter they received from a fan, who told them that because the baseball field was a “diamond,” the distance between the bases couldn’t have been exactly 90 feet, but some number fractionally short of that. The announcers spent at least half an inning trying to figure it out, probably only dropping it after their producer, or somebody else with at least a fourth grade education, told them they were being put on.

Another time they were talking about a new player for the Toronto Blue Jays, Cecil Fielder. They noted that he pronounced his name SEH-sil, rather than SEE-sil, as in the well-known Cecil Cooper of the Milwaukee Brewers. They reasoned that north of the border, Canadians said SEH-sil and south of it Americans said SEE-sil.

I mention this because I consider it the only downside to baseball season: a multi-billion dollar sport played by, run by, and announced by complete idiots.

Suzyn Waldman

The Yankees have a female radio announcer, Suzyn Waldman. She’s sort of like your Jewish friend’s mother who happens to know a lot about baseball. Some typically endearing remarks from tonight’s game:

On Nick Swisher, who is in a dreadful slump, “You can’t just stand there at the plate and look at the ball like it’s where you think it should be.”

On Pedro Strop, who was having trouble finding the plate, “Strop is out there kicking the dirt. That’s not very good body language.”

Leave them teachers alone

A story on NPR about research into motivating teachers got my attention. Researchers experimented with offering Chicago-area teachers different types of bonuses to see how they affected student performance (as measured by test scores). They found that test scores improved the most if the bonus was given to the teachers up front with the threat of taking it away when students didn’t perform.

(So what group of right-wingers conducted this research? Let’s see…, oh, economists at the University of Chicago. Figures. Wait, didn’t Milton Friedman already come up with the solutions to all of our economic problems? No?)

A couple of things gall me about this story. Why did the researchers choose teachers? Why not experiment on people in the Chicago area who are legitimately overpaid like hedge fund managers or CEOs or Theo Epstein? Take their perks away and see how they perform. But teachers are popular punching bags theses days, and no one needs an excuse to draw the inevitable conclusion that they don’t work hard enough. It won’t take a lot of imagination for someone to suggest dispensing with the bonus and simply take teachers’ pay away when the test scores don’t triple every year. Maybe the real problem with teacher motivation is the blame they get for your and your kids’ educational shortcomings.

Then the reporter admits at the end that the results have not been replicated or sustained. I can’t tell if this is bad research or bad reporting. Either way, NPR’s selection of which research breakthroughs to report on could be a little more rigorous.

An archaic barbarism persists

NPR aired a story today about the Kenyan government promoting circumcision as a way to reduce the transmission of HIV. The story claims  that

Studies have shown that circumcision can reduce the risk of a man’s contracting the virus by as much as 60 percent.

The AIDS epidemic in Africa is apparently nothing a little unnecessary surgery can’t fix. NPR didn’t bother to explain why male genital mutilation might reduce disease transmission. Presumably because circumcision makes cleaning oneself easier, and circumcision is a much better method of disease control than, say, teaching men how to clean themselves or practice safe sex.

Nor did the reporters ask the obvious question: why not chop off all body parts, male and female, related to sexually transmitted diseases and drug use? Infection rates would be reduced to almost zero, and Africa would the kind of amputee-populated place that Joseph Kony and monsters like him have been fighting for all their lives.

Nittany jurors

A radio commentator last weekend said of the Jerry Sandusky verdict something like, “Several of the jurors were Penn State alumni or employees, and there was some concern that they wouldn’t convict Sandusky because of their ties to the university.” That’s about the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard. I bet that in a smallish college town like State College, Pennsylvania, defendants connected with the university are tried and convicted by jurors also connected with the university all the damn time. Did this commentator really think the jurors’ school spirit would overwhelm the nausea they probably felt listening to evidence about how this guy raped children?

This is typical of the news media, creating controversy where it doesn’t exist. Some “trial expert” pundit probably cooked that one up.

The agony and ecstasy of General Tso

After hearing some of last weekend’s “This American Life” I was thinking that I’d like to hear Mike Daisey review local Chinese restaurants.

The old cook held out a plate of moo goo gai pan with his gnarled, claw-like hands. “Since the price of chicken went up,” he croaked, “my wages have been cut in half and we have to turn off the kitchen fan to save on electricity costs. Please tell Steve Jobs to right this terrible wrong and that we have a lunch special for $6.95 from 10:00 to 2:00, Monday through Friday.”

The mangled guardrails on the highway to national decline

NPR reported today about Mitt Romney campaigning in Ohio. He was in a factory telling the workers:

And I look at this campaign right now and I see a lot of folks all talking about lots of things, but what we need to talk about to defeat Barack Obama is getting good jobs and scaling back the size of government. And that’s what I do.

According to the same story this factory, Gregory Industries, Inc. in Canton, Ohio “transforms huge roles [sic] of steel into highway guardrails.” I thought perhaps they export to some highway-building foreign country, but the company’s website proclaims it is “developing, producing and delivering safety solutions to meet the challenges of America’s highways.”

In other words, “the government”, by which Romney really means “the people’s government, steward of the people’s highways”, is paying for the orders that those people are employed to produce. When Mitt Romney tells those workers that creating jobs for them is “what I do,” he’s wrong. Somebody else (us) is already doing it, and probably has been for a long time.

NPR’s reporters were so focused on how many convention delegates the nominees might get next Tuesday, that they let this blow past them completely.

The sensitive state

So there’s a big kerfuffle here in Iowa about an article in The Atlantic. In it author Stephen Bloom, a professor at the University of Iowa, offers a pretty warty portrait of the state. “Talk of Iowa” on Iowa Public Radio had a lengthy discussion today about the controversy. Among the article’s more noxious excerpts:

[T]oday, Keokuk, is a depressed, crime-infested slum town. Almost every other Mississippi river town is the same; they’re some of the skuzziest cities I’ve ever been to, and that’s saying something.

For what it’s worth, Keokuk is pretty a depressing city, precisely because it’s so pretty and sad at the same time. But wait, there’s more:

Those who stay in rural Iowa are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in educated [sic]) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Annie, that “The sun’ll come out tomorrow.”

Plus my favorite:

Almost every Iowa house has a mudroom, so you don’t track mud or pig shit into the kitchen or living room, even though the aroma of pig shit is absolutely venerated in Iowa: It’s known to one and all here as “the smell of money.”

Which are all pretty harsh, but after reading the whole article I found it a little more thoughtful than, say, an angry blog rant. I think the point, and maybe his snooty, condescending, college professor tone obscured this, is not to romanticize the rural Heartland as a vast prairie of bucolic serenity.

The great amounts of umbrage taken surprises me. It shows an un-Iowan kind of insecurity. I suspect that, even though Bloom is a 20-year resident of Iowa and is intimately familiar with the state, some Iowans are worried that he is maleducating The Atlantic‘s readership in the outer forty-nine. Iowans should be used to setting straight us fools by now.

Radio men

I tuned in to the Brewers-Diamondbacks radio broadcast online and… is that Bob Uecker announcing the play by play? Indeed it is.

The Yankees exited the postseason with their dishrag-like performance last night. As usual, the Division Series was only on cable, so I subscribed to audio in order to hear the games. It gave me a chance to hear John Sterling; a rare treat for me. I could do without all the hokey home run calls he’s developed, but he’s still a terrific announcer.

Of course we’ll all be stuck with Tim McCarver for the rest of the postseason. Somebody kill me know.

The desperate listener

So I haven’t seen an actual playoff game yet, mostly because I don’t have cable. But Friday night we were driving up to McGregor. From a previous trip, I knew we could get a Cleveland station on AM radio, so I tuned in and listened through the static to the eleven-inning heart breaker at the Jake. Susan got to see me in all of my play-off engrossed glory, swearing at the radio and such.

I’m sure the Yankees are just setting the stage for a glorious comeback at The Stadium.

Technology gap

Turns out I’m a musical caveman.

I got my previous car, the Ubiquitous Red Plymouth, from my grandfather after he died about 10 years ago. Aside from being red, it was no-frills and didn’t have a tape deck. I don’t have a Walkman or a Discman or an I-Pod or any such thing. I just got used to playing with the seek button on the radio when I wanted to hear music on long trips.

My present car has a tape deck, but I still don’t have any tapes. In fact, I was so used to not playing tapes in the car that I (without thinking) got rid of my cassettes before I moved last year.

I think this was all for the better–it forces me to listen to the local radio stations (insofar as they exist) and therefore something different–but by the time I got to Nebraska yesterday I was feeling a little desperate to hear music I wanted to hear. Nobody sells cassettes anymore, though, except for thrift shops and I couldn’t find anything good. The man in a CD store in Omaha said, “You’re in the wrong century.” “I know,” I retorted, “but so is my car.”

No problem. Nebraska Public Radio is saving the day. Classical music is a decent soundtrack to another vacation adventure.

Mississippi Public Broadcasting

I wrote this letter about a radio segment I endured every morning in Mississippi. The Mississippi Public Broadcasting official who wrote back actually thought I wanted them to program a segment on aquariums.

June 7, 2004

Norman Winter must be stopped. His radio show “Southern Gardening” has no place on public radio.

I do not have a garden and I am not interested in starting one. I do not even have a yard. However, if I had a garden or wanted to start one, I would not find his show useful. Every morning, five days a week, this guy gets on the radio and tells me about the latest new colorful strain of flower I should buy and plant. I have learned nothing about botany, or about the planning, arrangement, and maintenance of a garden in a year and a half of listening.

Say Norman Winter had a show about aquariums. If I took his advice, my tank would be filled with fish after a couple of weeks. There would be no water. The fish on the bottom would be suffocated and at the same time crushed by the weight of successive layers of the latest new fish. The stench would be horrible.

None of this, of course, would teach me anything about fish or make me want to keep an aquarium.

Norman Winter’s radio spots, which are veiled advertisements for garden supply retailers, are not of educational value to any listener, gardener or not. Accordingly, the show should be cancelled and replaced with, perhaps, a show about aquariums.

Therefore, I propose an embargo: for every day I hear Norman Winter’s imbecilic radio show while I am brushing my teeth, I will reduce or delay my generous contributions to Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

Thank you for your prompt and favorable action on this matter.

A code of conduct for the Web?

I heard a story on NPR about call for a “Code of Conduct” for the World Wide Web. The idea has been floated and debated by some influential tech bloggers. Proponents claim it would restore civility, accountability, and the confidence of bloggers who get heaped with offensive and threatening messages. Critics call it censorship.

I rarely get legitimate comments (those that aren’t spam) on this blog, but last month someone submitted a comment that I interpreted as a veiled threat. I wasn’t sure if I should post it or not. It’s never been my intention to censor people who want to post here, but that intention failed an early test. I’ve written my share of vitriol aimed at public officials, celebrities, the Boston Red Sox, and other scoundrels. But I decided not to post that comment or any future comments that I consider abusive to me or (the few) others who use this blog. Here’s why: I maintain this site for fun and at my own expense. When it stops being fun, I will stop posting. For now, that will stand as my code of conduct for Adam’s artificial habitat.

Good riddance to bad rubbish

Well, Augusto Pinochet is finally dead. Good riddance, but I’m sorry he managed to evade all accountability for his actions. He won the race to brutalize Chile’s citizens before the communists got to brutalize them. But at least he freed up Chile’s market economy so they could export cyanide-laced grapes (in 1989) to the U.S. And Jean Kirkpatrick croaked this week too. She wrote the intellectual justification of American support for people like Pinochet. And Saddam Hussein. Maybe he’ll get executed this week for an asshole trifecta.

Can’t contain my glee

Well, I’ll be honest. I’m thrilled to death with the election results. I really wanted to stick it to the Republicans, but I thought it would be a very long time before they lost control of Congress. Though George Allen intends to wrap Virginia up in recounts and court battles for the next two months. When you can’t get elected, sue. It’s the Republican way.

And then Rumsfeld resigned this morning! That bastard. I was looking forward to him spending the next two years sweating through Congressional hearings. The president said the “time had come” Duh. The time came and went a long time ago.

You’re next Bushy-boy! My dream is to see you on TV being hauled out, a la Saddam Hussein, of the little hole in the ground you’ve been hiding in near your Crawford ranch and then watching an Army doctor check your teeth. Can’t wait.

And Katherine Harris lost! And Rick Santorum! And Richard Pombo! It’s like the end of fascism all over again. Sniff.

Speaking of Katherine Harris, whom I consider to be a criminal, I never knew she had such a rack. I had no idea what I was missing.

What I will and won’t miss about Mississippi

I will miss:

  • Working on a beach on an island in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • The Cajun butcher
  • Friendliness
  • Politeness
  • Good catfish and crawfish
  • The scenic beachfront (already gone)
  • The artistic heritage
  • A few good people
  • The way French Louisianans cook
  • The Sound-off page in the Sun Herald
  • Downtown Ocean Springs
  • The pretty good pizza at the Mellow Mushroom
  • Amazing Fort Massachusetts, my own little kingdom
  • My perfectly liveable apartment
  • 90 miles from New Orleans, for whatever that is worth
  • The feeling that you’re not just a rat in a cage full of rats

I won’t miss:

  • Neo-confederates and their flag
  • Living in a “deep-red” state
  • Hurricanes
  • Insincerity
  • Circumspectness
  • Living in the state that ranks 49th and 50th (or in some cases 1st or 2nd) in just about everything. It is worst in highway safety, lowest in per capita income, has the highest rates of STDs. It has at once the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and infant mortality, but it’s nearly impossible to get an abortion. Ah, the “culture of life.”
  • Writing to redneck elected officials (Senators Lott and Cochrane I mean you) who you don’t give a shit about your point of view.
  • The way French Louisianans dress
  • The state pastime of “letting loose crap fall out of the back of your pickup onto the roadway”
  • The absolutely filthy roads
  • “Southern Gardening with Norman Winter”
  • The amazingly slack service at the Mellow Mushroom
  • People who have apparently never seen a picture of the 8,000 year old Pyramids of Giza commenting on how amazing a feat of engineering is Fort Massachusetts (built 1859-1867)
  • The increasingly dangerous traffic at the entrance to my apartment complex
  • Other drivers who wave you on even though you have the right of way. This is more annoying than it might seem at first
  • The total lack of ambition of the local youths
  • Single Southern women

I’m sure there’s more of each.