The law of comparative advantage

Our interest in the World Cup plummeted after the quarterfinals so Lore has returned her attention to another staple of Argentinian entertainment: “Showmatch”. It’s a long-running television show which in its current incarnation is sort of like “Dancing With the Stars” but with fewer clothes. It’s also a brilliant example of the law of comparative advantage, as Argentina mobilizes one of its primary resources–vast reserves of beautiful women willing to dance in thongs on television.

It’s raining, play ball

A sidewalk is covered with white and pink flower petals.
Carpet of flower petals
The rains have come for the weekend, knocking all of the nice flowers off the trees. There is a carpet of flower petals on the walkway outside our building. Walking over them makes me feel like royalty.

While it was raining here, it was sunny in Anaheim, and since FOX was broadcasting it, I got to watch my first Yankees game of the season. It was a nice, crisp win for the Yankees over the Angels featuring excellent pitching, fielding, and hitting. It was the kind of game you watch and wonder how they ever lose.

Joyfully I discovered that Tim McCarver (“Is he that old guy you hate?” Lore asked) was absent from the broadcast booth. I don’t know where he was&#151perhaps quietly reflecting on a career of horribleness&#151but I hope he stays there.

The Muppet Show

The Iowa City Public Library has everything, including a complete collection of “The Muppet Show” on DVDs. We borrowed one. I haven’t seen “The Muppet Show” in years and had forgotten:

  1. How a kid could think the Muppets were real.
  2. What an innovative and gutsy show it was.
  3. How Kermit goes into a full body spasm when introducing “Mister Fozzie Bear!

The Yankees are back

I didn’t watch much baseball this summer–I had some other things going on–but now the clock is striking October. My folks are in town for the weekend, and if you think we are out “doing lots of stuff”, think again. My family watches baseball in October.

For their part, the Yankees clobbered their way back into the postseason and immediately got to work playing white-knuckle, extra-inning, walk-off baseball. Just hook it up to my veins.

I verbally abuse FOX’s announcers the way football fans heckle NFL referees, so the best part of last night’s five-hour, 13-inning game was the on-air admission of the dipstick duo that they were wrong. They went on and on and on about the inconsistency of an umpire’s call that benefited the Yankees. After reviewing the tapes they admitted that the umpire was correct. A little moral victory of sorts.

The Changeling

No, not the Clint Eastwood-Angelina Jolie film “Changeling”. I mean “The Changeling”, my favorite “Star Trek” episode featuring a malfunctioning satellite out to sterilize the universe against “biological infestations”. As usual, Kirk outsmarts his foe by convincing the foul machine it’s not as perfect as it thinks.

“I am Nomad! I am perfect!”

The National Parks

I wondered how Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan would wrap up “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” last night. The first five episodes of the series only took us up to the Second World War, leaving sixty years of national parks history and experiences for the last two hours. It ended appropriately enough, after leapfrogging from decade to decade, with the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone in the 1990s.

I liked it. At work, the whole agency has been waiting for this broadcast, hoping it will reawaken interest in the parks. It had some of the best scenic video photography I’ve ever seen on television. For the first time I regret not having a high-definition television.

In terms of storytelling, the first couple of episodes were the best, emphasizing the wild and uncertain days of the earliest parks, their defenders, and their opponents. Burns and Duncan told the separate stories of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir before bringing them together and then pulling them apart again. There were some slow stretches, too, but the filmmakers kept the emphasis on the people and the places, instead of on the onerous bureaucratic history.

A park ranger stands on a granite bridge in front of a waterfall.
Ranger Adam on one of Mr. Rockefeller's bridges
The highlight for me was the retelling of a story I told as an interpreter almost ten years ago: John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s building of the recreational carriage road system at Acadia National Park where his sensitivity to the landscape and the scenery was evident in the design of the roads’ bridges. I used to lead the “Mr. Rockefeller’s Bridges” walking tour twice a week and even have a VHS videotape of one of my tours.

There was also some of that hokum I can’t stand from a few of the talking heads, like: American parks were for the people while European parks were the dominions of the aristocracy. I will scream if I hear that again. As the film amply showed, establishing this country’s national parks was at first largely an elitist, though visionary, idea and undertaking. Droppings of fuzzy-bunny commentary from environmental writers, which Lore calls guitarreo (it translates roughly if not literally into “b.s.”) made me roll my eyes a few times, too.

“The National Parks” is worth seeing if you haven’t yet. It is a good reminder that the places that help define our national identity are still out there and that they are ours.

Star Trek

I love the Iowa City Public Library. It has cool stuff, like a full set of “Star Trek: The Original Series” on DVD. Lore and I have just finished watching the first season. I haven’t seen it in a very long time (reruns on broadcast TV became scarce after “Star Trek: The Next Generation”), and Lore had never seen any of it. Lore loves Spock.

The new “Star Trek” movie this summer renewed my interest in the original series. Because of the film’s focus on the relationship between Kirk and Spock, I wanted to go back and see how the characters were originally developed. I thought the movie made Spock a little more of a cowboy than I remembered him to be, but so far the first season shows him to be a more complex figure than the popular caricature.

Best episodes from season one:

  • Space Seed
  • The Corbomite Maneuver
  • The Man Trap
  • Balance of Terror
  • A Taste of Armageddon

Wayne Brady

My bachelor party involved going with my father, uncle, and brother to see Wayne Brady at the Venetian. The show was my choice. I liked Wayne Brady from “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” and was always surprised that his career never took off more than it has. It’s clear he would rather not be performing in Vegas, and though he has recorded an album that netted him a Grammy nomination, I think his genius is still in improvisational comedy. The show was great. I hope he makes it.

V

Some movies and TV shows have maintained their charm since my childhood, and some have not. “V: The Original Miniseries” is one of the latter. We were really excited to find it at the library, and it does have a decent story, but it suffers from unusually bad acting for a TV miniseries. The make-up for the aliens is good, but when the story veers into “Star War” territory, the visual effects get really lame. Didn’t the creators understand that advance spacecraft shouldn’t just look futuristic, but that they should be faster and shoot more stuff than, say, a Cessna?

“V” was cool when I was a kid, but it’s a little insufferable for me now. Also, as I have rediscovered, the miniseries introduces the story rather than resolves anything so we’d have to sit through the other miniseries “V: The Final Battle” to see the conclusion. I’d be up for that, but not the 19-episode TV series. If I waste any more time watching old sci-fi TV shows, it will be watching “Star Trek”.

John Adams

Do you like John Adams? I do.

I read David McCullough’s “John Adams” a few years back. I guess I thought I was done reading about him forever until a colleague recommended “Passionate Sage” by Joseph J. Ellis.

But first…

I borrowed “John Adams”, the HBO miniseries based on McCullough’s book, from the library. Paul Giamatti plays Adams. It is very good. I like Giamatti. Maybe I can identify with him because he’s short and bald. I think it lands him too many loser roles, though. Giamatti is a good Adams, and Laura Linney (another actor I like) is a good Abigail.

In “Passionate Sage”, subtitled “The Character and Legacy of John Adams”, Ellis first tries to get into Adams’ head and then explain what that meant for the United States of America. Because the Declaration of Independence has become known as the defining moment of the Revolution, Thomas Jefferson is regarded more prominently while Adams’ contributions tend to get overlooked.

Adams’ theories of government advocated a mix of liberty and authority, and so tended to be more realistic than idealistic. His personality was bombastic and blunt but also iconoclastic and objective; he snarled at the mythologizing of the Revolution and was only cautiously optimistic about the republican experiment. Ellis argues that while Americans historically identified with Jeffersonian ideals of individualism and limited government, Adams’ more practical approach better describes the attempt to balance democracy and stability:

In his political thinking, to be sure, Adams did embrace two of the central tenets of the liberal tradition… the notion that political power ultimately derives from the people, and the principle of equality before the law… Beyond these seminal commitments, however, he was unprepared to go. He was, in all other respects, the archetypal, unreconstructed republican, fundamentally resistant to an individualist ethic, as well as to the belief in the benign effect of the marketplace, to the faith in the infallibility of popular majorities, to the conviction that America enjoyed providential protection from the corruptions of history, to celebrations of freedom undisciplined by government or, at the personal level, the release of passionate energies unmitigated by internal checks and balances.

I’ve always been fascinated by the founders. I know that contradicts my usual distaste for the dead white man approach to history, but they were a most remarkable coincidence of minds and personalities. John Murphy, my high school history teacher, used to ask, “Why did they get Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and James Madison and we get George Bush and Dan Quayle?”

I’m also reading another book by Ellis, about Thomas Jefferson.

The NIT

I went down to the bar hoping there might be a decent sporting event on TV. Instead, the NIT championship game was on, Baylor versus Penn State.

I didn’t even know they still played the NIT. What’s the point? I can’t imagine those time outs in the last two minutes had anything to do with game strategy. I still don’t know why Penn State was celebrating when they won. What did they win?

I propose a National Crapitation Tournament. The worst college basketball teams play a month-long, 64-bracket ritual of athletic humiliation. They don’t get to go home until they win a game.

“Cramer vs. Not Cramer”

I’ve been following the Jon Stewart-Jim Cramer feud this week, which came to a climax with Cramer’s appearance on “The Daily Show” last night.

I was surprised by Cramer’s contriteness and Stewart unfunniness. Yet it was a very powerful interview, and underscores how unfortunate it is that I have to tune into a comedy show for any serious accounting of reporting lapses by big TV networks.

As usual, there is a better analysis of this elsewhere.

Ken Burns

Ken Burns was one of the keynote speakers this morning. He and his partner Dayton Duncan previewed a few parts of their documentary on National Parks that will air on PBS in September. I’m pretty stoked about it.

I didn’t watch much of the last one, “The War”. I think I’m just sick of World War II nostalgia. I loved “Baseball”. It aired while I was still away at college. My mom taped it and then one weekend I went home and watched the whole 18 hours or something like that.

I took pictures, but they’re so blurry they make a Loch Ness Monster out of Ken Burns. I really did see him speak though. That’s not just a guy in a Ken Burns costume.

Wild card

The World Series is getting started. I can hear the television in the other room. More precisely, I can hear the numbskull FOX announcers. In the introduction, John McCain and Barack Obama each provided a couple of voice-overs. God only knows why they bothered. Jeannie Zelasko commented afterward, “…JOHN MCCAIN and (mumbling) barackobama…”. Gotta love FOX.

I was ruminating about the ALCS on Sunday after the Rays sent the Red Sox packing. I had nothing better to think about, of course, and the wild card playoff spot always annoyed me. The typical wild card team is a Florida Marlins or Colorado Rockies that puts in half a season of quality baseball. The announcers usually say something like, “they had the best record in baseball since the All-Star break”. They are theoretically but not actually good enough to win a division. Yet they get to compete in the postseason on an equal basis to the team that had the best record in baseball since spring training. This is the first year since 2001 that a wild card didn’t make the World Series. This is a penalty against winning and a reward for mediocrity. There is no reason the Rays (and often in past years, the Yankees), who already eliminated the Red Sox in the regular season, should not have to do it again with nothing more than home-field advantage.

Here’s my idea: the wild card team has to win their playoff series by two games. In other words, make it a six game Division Series and an eight game League Championship Series. A tie means the division champion moves to the next round. The World Series can remain a best-of-seven, since if the wild card gets that far they’ve earned a fair shot.

I ought to write to Bud Selig. Or if I really want something done, George Mitchell. Because he’s a fair and balanced member of the Boston Red Sox board of directors, right?

Vox idioti

Tonight the NLCS starts with the first postseason games on broadcast television, which means nothing except that I can watch them at home. This is always a mixed blessing, for when I tuned into FOX I heard the voice which bores into my soul “as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror”: Tim McCarver.

He was already over-praising Derek Lowe, who had thrown all of five pitches in the first inning. When will he mention that Lowe has made a career of not quite meeting his considerable talent? Later in the game after the Phillies start hitting him. First-guess, Tim, first-guess. And you’re not off the hook, broadcast partner Joe Buck, because God hates dickhead-enablers.

Now, as I type, I can hear McCarver yammering about how Lowe’s sinker ball might not be effective enough because he’s had too much rest. This is a typical load of Timshit. Maybe they should sentence sinker ball pitchers to hard labor between starts? Several years ago McCarver disagreed with a scientist’s claim that a so-called rising fastball is a physical impossibility. “Of course it rises,” McCarver said, “if you throw up. Why can’t you throw up?” Throw up indeed. That’s I feel like doing now.

As usual highly competitive professional athletes will go about their business oblivious to McCarver’s insights, and as usual I will endure this yearly ritual of baseball pain and pleasure.

Octoberfest

I missed a really good baseball game tonight.

Because I am a Yankees fan “abroad” I have to subscribe to Major League Baseball’s online service to watch their games in low-quality streaming video. Except when they are in the Midwest–my “local market”–then the games are blacked out. Evidently I’m supposed to subscribe to cable or satellite as well. This means I wasn’t able to watch the 1-0 White Sox-Twins game, even though they were playing four hours away from here.

But it sounds like a great game. I look forward to reading about it in the paper tomorrow. I’m glad to see an underachieving team like the White Sox was able squeak past the vastly inferior Twins into the playoffs. Why can’t the Yankees be in the Central Division?

To commemorate this dreadful Yankees season, I wanted to write a player-by-player airing of grievances, but since I don’t have anything truly original to say about them I’ll desist.

So here are my foster teams for October: the Tampa Bay Rays and the Chicago Cubs. The Rays are the real deal. They not only won the toughest division in baseball but they exceeded expectations with astonishing consistency. As for the Cubs, they were the only truly excellent team in the National League. They just won’t be endearing anymore if they screw it up again.