Monday, October 31, 2011

Fall Classic Side Notes

I know full well that everyone's not a baseball fan. Still, I try to get myself in front of a TV when the World Series happens, because you can see and hear surprising things IF you're alert enough to notice. In August it certainly looked as though the Cardinals would have a long off season to consider how much to pay hitting monster and free agent to be Albert Pujols. Instead, the Cards made fools of all the analysts with a late summer run that ended in their being crowned champions for the 11th time in their long history.
The game-to-game record of hits, runs and errors is pretty easy to find and analyze, and others do it much better, so I'm honing in on little things that I noticed, most of which have nothing to do with the games themselves.

There was the contrast, for instance, between Cardinal manager Tony LaRusa and Texas Rangers' skipper Ron Washington. The former seems strictly analytical as he ponders his next move while the latter is more of an enthusiastic type. It just shows that there is more than one way to succeed in this assignment, because both managers (and LaRusa announced his retirement as manager today at age 66) are well-liked by their players. Ever notice that big league managers never punch each others' lights out or bicker the way NFL coaches do?

Nolan Ryan is a Hall of Fame pitcher who has become an executive for the Rangers. He's now 64, and is considered a big help to the team, but his body has gone to seed. He now looks a little like a slightly younger Dick Cheney.

Speaking of which, did you notice who was sitting next to Ryan at the games played in Arlington? Yes, it was George W. Bush and Laura, down in the first row near the on deck circle. Funny how the Fox people never made mention of the former first couple's presence. At least, I didn't hear any. Of course, being front man for the Rangers helped Bush become well enough known to run for governor in the 1990's. His own investment in the club was minimal, but the leverage of the deal also made him rich when he sold out. I thought Laura looked great, and I think they made the right choice to sit by the field instead of up in the luxury boxes.

Then there were the sponsors Fox lined up. Toyota isn't exactly American, but they are made here, and anyway Japan is a major baseball country, right?'Mazda had a commercial which featured a car tooling around the inside of an empty prison, which I thought was odd. But I liked the music they used - slide guitar sounds that we associate with early delta blues. Volkswagen? Not really a name we associate with baseball, but the ads were pretty good. I guess the male side of the audience was confirmed with both Viagra and Cialis as sponsors.

Fox shows plenty of baseball every year, but really only have one "A" broadcast team - Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. Fox has a tendency to think of the audience as old, I guess, or the network wouldn't keep feeding loads of mostly meaningless statistics from bygone days to McCarver, which he dutifully repeats. The man's playing career goes back to the 1960's and he was citing things from the 1940's for gosh sake! Oy. I thought the TBS guys did a much better job in the earlier playoff series that they broadcast of helping the viewers get inside the game.

If you saw a group of baseball players at a beach, you might not be too impressed. As a group, they're kind of - fleshy. But seeing them in these pressure packed situations makes you appreciate their skills IF you're paying attention. Pitching, fielding and hitting are all very difficult, especially at the big league level. Sure, they're overpaid and prone to outsize egos, but what are you going to do instead, watch triathlon?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mitt Gets the Kissoff

Mormons in this country share many things that go even beyond the obvious matters of a common thrology. The church is made up of overwhelmingly white folks, many of whom could trace their families back to 19th century European convert immigrants. The members are predominantly family people and typically find themselves on the same side of many public questions.
And it gets even weirder to folks outside the church. Sunday meetings are always presided over by volunteers, with the men all in white shirts and ties. Things like Sunday School lessons always seem to emphasize proper thoughts and actions for TODAY, while actual scriptural knowledge often gets consigned to the back seat.
The desire to be one of the "fold" stretches to include things that haven't actually been mentioned by church leaders but seem to spill over into what others call Mormon "culture". Holiday observations, courting practices, demographic norms, musical tastes, shoe styles and many other things get included, many merely by "custom".
I bring this up in order to confess: Mitt Romney and I share some things that wouldn't show up on a political poll. My preference is, naturally, that he show himself a person of principles, foresight, wisdom and inspiration. I waited through the '08 campaign for him to say things that spoke to ME, his fellow Latter-Day Saint, but never got much. Sometimes Mitt, I must say, seems no deeper than a deep dish pizza, albeit one topped with precious metals and cash.
This week I fear he passed the point of no return. As recently as June, Mitt was committed to the union-busting strategy employed by certain new GOP governors, particularly in voter-rich Ohio. There's been a public uproar over public unions' rights to organize and conduct collective bargaining. The Governor, Mr. Kasich, rammed through legislation greatly restricting public
union stature, but then opponents have put on the state's ballot a measure to rescind the anti-union policies. The measure seems to have the edge in current Ohio polls.
Mitt came to the Buckeye State earlier this week and spent time at a party-run phone center drumming up opposition to the ballot measure, but then, when asked about it on camera, said he had no real dog in this local issue fight, backing off his earlier (earlier THIS year) stance to one of feigned neutrality. THEN, when others cited his stance of just the past summer, he tried to rescue the fiasco by claiming to be "110%" with the guv, the position he originally held but tried to sneak away from.
You just can't do this kind of thing by accident, and so even though I could give you any number of Mitt opinions on theology, the raising of sons and dozens of other things, I have absolutely crossed him off my list of people worthy of a vote, EVEN if he seems more level-headed than the kooks who surround him as GOP presidential wannabes. If you think you can get away with this type of poll-driven cynical flip flop as a candidate, think of the blank canvas you then bring to the Oval Office. I'll see you at church, Brother Romney, but politically, I've kissed you off.

Monday, October 17, 2011

HWJ Benched

Does anyone remember a TV program with Bill Maher - "Politically Incorrect"? Someone thought it would be fun to get the opinions (mostly political) of people who were famous for reasons OTHER then their associations with the political/news media world. I tried watching it a few times, but really just couldn't stomach the idea of people, famous though they might be, being rich in spite of their, shall we say, poorly thought out conclusions. I even AGREED with some of them, but their reasoning often wouldn't have earned a C- in some of my old classes.
Still, there seems to be no shortage of faces and names we know being asked, and GIVING their opinions, sometimes with surprising consequences.
Take, for instance, this month's flap over Hank Williams Jr.'s intemperate remarks about the president, comparing him to Hitler. I went to the original footage to see three Fox News folks on a morning show of some kind, who probably don't get three serious comments from guests in a month, but on this day they have HWJ hooked to a studio in Nashville.
He looks a little angry, and seems to be in no mood to suffer fools for long. Maybe it's too early, or the traffic was bad. Who knows? But there he is, trademark sunglasses in place, wearing some kind of shapeless sweatsuit and what looks like a deer hunter's hat.
It doesn't take him long to take the Foxsters to task for not seeing things exactly the way he does. He's deeply offended that John Boehner would play golf with the President, who he not only compares to Hitler, but, a la Rush, calls "the enemy". It's clear that probably every opinion he has is from the "redneck" handbook, though HWJ has more reason to feel that way because, unlike most of the tea party crowd, he has money.
But then, actions have consequences, and it wasn't long before ESPN and THEIR owners had made the decision to dump HWJ from the Monday Night Football package (doing the opening song), a gig he had held for many years. It's hard to know what he really felt, but his parting response (done electronically, of course) included the accusation that the TV folks had trampled on his "freedom of speech".
It's hard for me to overstate the ignorance of that last HWJ verbal salvo. Freedom of Speech means that a person can legally say plenty of offensive things without retaliation by the government. It DOESN"T protect the speaker from bad reaction from employers, news media or the general public. Nor is there a guarantee that like-thinking media will simply hide offending remarks, given casually or seriously. Surely HWJ has access to lawyers who could confirm all this, which they probably learned the first week in law school.
No, like others before him, the big guy has no one to blame but himself for coming on like a "durn fool" when he had no obligation to even talk to the Fox trio. But they (no doubt) knew he had a record of blurting things out, and people in that business live for the "big quote". Who could have foreseen it would put a hit on HWJ's bottom line? Will the NFL, ESPN, ABC or the Disney company also suffer a post-Hank dip? Evidently they don't think so.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A "Mormon" Term

Every church has its own special jargon, understood by the faithful but often opaque to outsiders. The Christian churches are not exempt from the practice, which regrettably often adds to confusion and misunderstanding. Some of the misunderstanding seems to be almost deliberate, as we feign amazement, throw our hands in the air and wonder, having received a murky explanation of someone else's doctrines, who could ever believe all this stuff?
With the Mormons, it's there from the start. The church's only official name is the admittedly cumbersome The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The term Mormon has reference to one of the Church's four books of scripture, The Book of Mormon. Mormon himself, according to the record, was its chief compiler. The Church is not fond of being called The Mormon Church, but does not resent members being called Mormons. As the saying goes, we've been called much worse. The church even uses Mormon for one of its websites.
Confused yet? If not, here's a term that, as far as I know, is a Latter-Day Saint exclusive. Ready? It's priestcraft. It sounds benign enough, but it actually has a more sinister meaning - the deliberate misleading of religious followers for personal gain. It is found in the Book of Mormon, describing the technique of setting oneself up as connected to God, but functioning strictly for power and gain.
But this term, too, deserves a little clarification. If your all day, every day effort is in religious teaching, then it's no sin to be paid. We all have bills, right? Even Jesus, traveling with the twelve disciples received donations from sympathetic folks, and Judas, it is said, had the job of handling the group's funds. Most ministers, priests, nuns or church employees of some kind, it follows, are not the people the term refers to.
But given today's range of religious entrepreneurs, priestcraft isn't hard to spot. Jim Jones? Yup. David Koresh? No doubt. Benny Hinn? Jim Baaker? Jerry Falwell? Pat Robertson? Ralph Reed? The host of gay-bashing clergy, many of whom turn out to be gay? Yes, yes and yes.
Now, to finally make a point. Last week was the annual Washington convention of Values Voters, a regular orgy of priestcraft which attracts candidates for office like a new banking rule attracts lawyers. Texas Governor Perry was there, and was introduced by Rev. Robert Jeffrees, a Southern Baptist bigshot who made it clear that he believes that "Mormonism" to be "a cult". The regular news media, reluctant to appear to be bullying a man of the cloth, did little to push back, and Perry's spokesperson was notably tepid in saying that "he (Perry) does not believe it (Mormonism) is a cult." A pretty neat trick, giving something to both sides while not risking anything, except perhaps Mitt Romney's good will, which he probably cares nothing about, or else why would he be running at all?
Democrats are not invulnerable to priestcraft, but it's the GOP that's shot through with the stuff. There's no religious requirement of any kind for any office described in the Constitution, but these guys loudly insist on political leaders who look, think and say pretty much the same as they do. Priestcraft may be a Mormon term originating before Christ, but it's as current as today's headlines.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Demo Dissent

This isn't exactly a town that's famous for cars. Of course, there are plenty of old guys with too much money who sink it into antique vehicles which they rebuild and then show off at certain events. But that happens in lots of places.
Anyway, last week I noticed, parked a few blocks from our place, one of those Chrysler 300 cars, the kind I associate with "gangstas". This one seemed unique, in that it was painted dark purple, a color I came to appreciate back in high school, but had never seen on that model.
I knew my Sweetheart would have seen the car, and asked what she thought of it. This has been the start to many short conversations over the years. "What do you think of that color. You like it?" The response is almost always negative, because, for reasons I don't get, she usually just wears shades of black and white. Think I'm going to argue? No sir.
I don't recall every word she used in describing the car in question, but I'm pretty sure the word "pimp" came up. Maybe this was not its original color anyway, but I learned my lesson. No purple cars, Dude. For the record, I do own a purple necktie or two.

Before diving headlong into this week's subject, let's recall for a minute,....George Washington. Of course, Washington had no predecessor, but, much more than later presidents, he took the long view of the future. He knew that both things he did and, perhaps more importantly, didn't do would be regarded as precedents. Being someone who felt no need for heavy-handed government and with no personal goal beyond that of helping the new nation get off on the right foot, he governed carefully, deliberately and lightly, and was correct, in his time, to do so.
Other presidents have used power differently, not always successfully. The problem in being the first to do something is that your political opponents, when given the chance, might use your tactic against you or your allies. Nixon, for instance, was not the first president to use offices of the executive branch of government against his personal enemies, but he did it in such a ruthless manor that he caused public faith in American government to drop, perhaps never again to hit the high numbers enjoyed by Eisenhower or Kennedy.
So I'm not crazy about the reported assassination last week of the radical Muslim cleric, Mr al Awlaki. It's not that I will grieve over Mr. A's loss. The man was no angel, and given certain tools, might have found a way to do real harm to innocent people. I can't pretend that these guys are just movie stereotypes, or that they don't deserve plenty of attention devoted to stopping them.
But that's not the whole story, either. Mr. A. was born in this country. He was a US citizen. He hadn't been convicted of a crime, was not a prisoner, had had no judgments against him. He was killed pretty much on the say so of one man - the president.
And that last part makes me uncomfortable. It's not that I think Barack Obama is a cold-blooded thug, or that ruthless things can't be done during a war. Sending an unmanned drone after someone? I'm all for it IF it protects innocent people, and is aimed at aomeone who's not.
There's the politics, too. A Democratic president is under more pressure to whack a would-be enemy, lest someone from the other side (and, of course, they'll do this anyway) labels him as "soft on (name of whatever terrifies you)". But what about when the Republicans regain the White House? Would you trust Rick Santorum or Michelle Bachmann or Rick Perry to only go after a real enemy?
And, sure, the cold war brought to death to people on both sides in large numbers, with totals that we'll probably never know. Does that mean it was right? All of it?
I'm normally with Obama on his decisions, and I expect I'll be with him more often than against him in the future. A president, as I have written before, makes so many decisions that they can't ALL be right. But the precedent concerns me. All I can say is that this is one time a Democrat has to dissent.