Category Archives: News

Advice From a Man With a Condo

Bill Conlin is known in these parts (well, “these parts” loosely referring to blogs, though not necessarily this site) as a sort of crotchety old sportswriter.  He overwrites.  He harangues.  He says that Hitler would’ve wiped bloggers from the blessed earth.

Personally, I’ve got a soft-spot for Conlin.  I loved him when I was young.  When I was coming of age, baseball-wise.  Yes, he over-wrote then, too, but he was comfortable in his element, and his columns were more inclined to praise the merits of the bullpen than to lament that catastrophe of the owners.  At this point, he’s cranky more often than not, and when he goes too far, I feel mostly disappointment.  He’s been a good writer for a long time, and I expect better of him.

Every once in a while though, Conlin refinds his stroke.  Today, he writes a column giving advice to young people who want to get into Conlin’s “industry in crisis”.  My favorite bit:

All religious references are out, of course, from Anglican to Zoroastrianism. And never tell a joke that begins, “A Protestant, Catholic and Jew were . . . ” Everybody will laugh but the guy who e-mails the editor.

Other individuals to avoid hooking up to snappy one-liners during your TV appearances include: Charles Manson, Charlie Starkweather, Ted Bundy, The Boston Strangler (unless the line involves a Boston team choking), Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, David Berkowitz (Son of Sam killings) and the Zodiac Killer. Hannibal Lecter is probably OK; he was only a movie.

Nor is it trendy or cool these vigilante days to toss any of these names into your copy and hope they slip past an editor: Genghis Khan, Attila The Hun, Tamerlane, Joseph Stalin, Pontius Pilate, Torquemada, Chairman Mao, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, John Dillinger or Jesse James.

It goes without saying that entendres are finis, both single and double. And be careful, very careful, when writing about any sporting event involving male figure skaters and female professional golfers or basketball players. Not that there’s anything wrong with them.

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The Problem With the Debate

Last night, Bob Costas hosted a live (or partially live) episode of his HBO show, Costas Now, to address the changing sports media landscape.  The press release:

Segment Two: The Internet and Impact of Bloggers. Video package interviews: editor Will Leitch, TV writer and media critic Michael Schur and Washington Post columnist and PTI host Michael Wilbon. Live panel: Pulitzer Prize winning author Buzz Bissinger, Will Leitch and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards.

So, there was a taped roundtable with Will Leitch of Deadspin, Michael Schur of FireJoeMorgan, and Michael Wilbon of ESPN and the Washington Post, which was followed by a live discussion with Leitch, Buzz Bissinger, and, bizarrely, Braylon Edwards.  I haven’t seen the show, but I assume Costas was involved in every segment as well.

The seemingly uniform reaction, at least from blogs (I haven’t found any mainstream opinions on the episode yet), is that Bissinger, simply put, lost his mind.  From MDS at the AOL Fanhouse (who had the first reaction I could find):

Bissinger launched into a profane rant against Leitch, Deadspin, blogs in general and “Big Daddy Balls,” the latter being the name that Bissinger incorrectly used for the blogger who goes by the pen name Big Daddy Drew. Bissinger was completely unhinged. Cleveland Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who for some odd reason was on the panel as well, looked frightened.

“This guy, whether we like it or not, is the future,” Bissinger said, jabbing his finger in Leitch’s direction. “The future in the hands of guys like you is really going to dumb us down to a degree that I don’t think we can recover from.”

Of course, Bissinger couldn’t be bothered to cite even one example of anything “dumb” Leitch has ever written. And neither Bissinger nor Costas seemed to know the difference between a blog post and a blog comment.

Summing up: Costas holds a live panel featuring old-head sportswriter Buzz Bissinger, and new-guy Will Leitch.  Buzz bashes blogging in the person of Will so fervently that Leitch doesn’t even has a chance to defend himself.  Not that he needs to, as the fervor of the attack is absurd enough to sink itself.

Again, I haven’t seen the segment (though I hope someone will post it shortly), so the following comments are based on the idea that the essential uniform reaction from the various commenting members of Blogfrica weren’t, ya know, lying or exaggerating or whatever.  Given the tone (somber) and the (unsettling) lack of swearing and snark, I can only assume that we’re all taking this pretty seriously.

Leitch himself checked in this morning with a couple of salient thoughts, most notably, this leading remark:

Here’s the important thing to remember about Buzz Bissinger, and whatever the heck happened on “Costas Now” about two hours ago: Buzz is not alone. Sure, he might be metaphorically alone, raining spittle on the imaginary demons that clearly haunt him. But if you don’t think that almost every single person — with obvious, clear exceptions — who was on all those panels last night didn’t come up to him afterwards and give him a fist pound and a “yeah, we really struck back tonight!” well, you weren’t there. This really is what many of them think. Though most are a little calmer about it.

Leitch doesn’t indicate who those exceptions might be (though I assume “obvious” and “clear” would work nicely for those who saw the program), but it seems that the segment was designed to publicly hang the appointed representative of Blog.  If, indeed, many of the other panel member congratulated Bissinger on his rantings, the only reasonable conclusion is that the program was less a discussion of the changing face of sport media, and more a reminder of who’s in charge around here, who’s sitting pretty in the press box, and who’s watching athletes from their mom’s basements.  People who share Bissinger’s view possess a mentality of Writers vs Bloggers, Us vs Them.

And there lies the first issue.  There is no “them”, or rather, changing perspectives, there is no “us”.  Sports bloggers have only a few connecting points.  Generally, they all like or love sports.  They have personal interest in the topic about which they write.  Beyond that, though, I’m unsure what there is.  I’m not certain if Orland Kurtenblog and Free Darko have much in common, in terms of content.  Kurtenblog (The KB, to you), consists of enthusiastic fandom for hockey as a sport, which is coupled with frequent, short posts to dissect the news of the game while maintaining the lighthearted spirit that helps make the sport, itself, so wonderful.  Free Darko is more nebulous, interpreting basketball as something poetic and revolutionary, composing posts as manifestos as though the Atlanta Hawks represent something greater, more significant, than one of the better teams in the NBA.  They’re both wonderful blogs, but for totally separate reasons. Any criticism you can apply to Free Darko almost certainly does not apply to the KB, and vice versa.

Criticizing blogs for being inaccurate or inelegant or vulgar on the basis of a few selected posts is like criticizing magazines because of Hustler, or bashing newspapers because of the Weekly World News.  I used to work for an environmental company, and was asked to represent the company at a national meeting for a student’s environmental action group.  Unbeknownst to me, the group had opinions and did work in non-enviromental areas.  One of these areas was (and I assume still is) GLBTQ relations.  They argued against discrimination against queers (their umbrella term) by saying that “everyone is queer”.  They accomplished this feat–of making everyone queer–by defining “straight sex” as “a man having sex with his wife, in bed, man on top, for the purpose of procreation”.  I cannot recall if the procreating has to be successful or not.  Anything else, is, at least a little bit, queer.  This, of course, is a silly tactic, defining your opponent by using incredible narrow terms.

Of course, this is what Bissinger is doing.  He’s trying to reduce the thousands and thousands of blogs out there to some kind of narrow definition of the term, imagining a sports blogger as a Rick Reilly ripoff crossed with cheap tabloid journalism, David Mamet’s vocabulary (but not his plotting), and just a bit of Larry Flint, for flourish.  And while many blogs contain one or more of those elements, hardly any contain all of them.  And far more blogs focus on elements not included in Bissinger’s narrow view.  Blogs, simply put, are far too diverse for any sort of singular criticism to be reasonably applied across most of the board.

Here’s the other problem I have with the apparent nature of the program last night.  There is no discussion from the mainstream media about the changing nature of sports writing.  Rather, there is only a recognition of something different, blogs, and an immense crush against what these blogs fail to do.  For that matter, many blogs, in their criticism of the mainstream media, either ignore or downplay what newspapers do well, and focus instead on what they do poorly, or do not do at all.  What needs to occur that hasn’t, I think, is a thoughtful recognition of the successes and failures of both media formats: blogs and newspapers (including online newspapers).

Bissinger isn’t the man to have that conversation, and, even if it ever takes place in a meaningful way, it seems unlikely that Buzz would care for it.  If it ever happens, I’m not even sure if Leitch is the guy to represent the vast and vaguely associated legions of sports bloggers out there.  He might be, but I’m not sure.  But there are significant differences between journalism and blogging, and it would be nice if the mainstream media could come around and think of blogs as something different, instead of something inferior and dangerous.

UPDATE: I just saw the segment in question (or, at least, most of it) on Awful Announcing.  Even hearing about it, so much this morning, I found the whole thing somewhat shocking.  While haranguing Leitch, Bissinger asks, about blogs, “What does it add?  What does it contribute?”  I’d love to redirect that question to Costas and Bissinger.  What did they add last night, other than bile and venom, to the landscape of sports media?  Bissinger’s hysteria seems, to me, akin to the cries of “Witch!  Witch!” in Salem, MA.  Bissinger didn’t seek to inform anyone about blogs–not even of their faults.  He merely evoked the authority of volume and pronounced blogs a retardant of society.  And I’m unsure why, exactly.

Other posts about this:

Every Day Should Be Saturday: A Brief Statement on Blogging

Awful Announcing: First Reactions to Bob Costas’ Foray Into Sports Media

Deadspin: Friday Night Blights

Fire Joe Morgan: A Few Words on “The Internet”.

Dan Shanoff: Buzz Bissinger vs Will Leitch: The Day After

Dodger Thoughts: The Rime of the Ancient Sportswriter

The Big Lead: “You’re Like Jimmy Olsen on Percocet” and Bob Costas’ Feeble Attempt to Destroy Blogs

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Bloggers For Life

A few weeks back, the New York Times wrote a ludicrous article about bloggers dying from, ya know, blogging.  For a refresher, here’s a short quote from the piece:

To be sure, there is no official diagnosis of death by blogging, and the premature demise of two people obviously does not qualify as an epidemic. There is also no certainty that the stress of the work contributed to their deaths. But friends and family of the deceased, and fellow information workers, say those deaths have them thinking about the dangers of their work style.

Well, finally, an official rebuttal, thanks to CNN.  Apparently, while 3 weeks ago, blogging could kill you, now, blogging can save your life:

James Karl Buck helped free himself from an Egyptian jail with a one-word blog post from his cell phone.

Buck, a graduate student from the University of California-Berkeley, was in Mahalla, Egypt, covering an anti-government protest when he and his translator, Mohammed Maree, were arrested April 10.

On his way to the police station, Buck took out his cell phone and sent a message to his friends and contacts using the micro-blogging site Twitter.

The message only had one word. “Arrested.”

Within seconds, colleagues in the United States and his blogger-friends in Egypt — the same ones who had taught him the tool only a week earlier — were alerted that he was being held.

So, there ya go.  Blog at home, and die of a heart attack.  But, take that shit on the road, and it’s like a Get Out of Jail Free card.  Glad to know that the bloggers, at least, will be safe at the Olympics this year.  In all seriousness, we hope Buck’s translator, Mohammed Maree, is safe and sound, wherever he is.

CNN:  If One Word Posts Can Save a Life, What Am I Doing All This Typing For?

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My Own Private Liquor Store

Lew Bryson wants to dismantle the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board:

The PLCB exists because at the time of Repeal, Pennsylvania had a governor, Gifford Pinchot, who still ardently believed in Prohibition, and a legislature that believed Repeal may well be temporary and that Prohibition was still a strong political force — to be fair, a belief that was prevalent in the day. Few people knew that Prohibition as a political force was deader than a doornail, in a state of complete collapse.

Working with what they knew, Pennsylvania’s legislators put together a “control” system that was actually fairly common among states. They would control all sales of wine and liquor (note that beer was not included) through state-run stores. The clerks would simply deliver the bottle; they would not make recommendations of any one brand over another, a policy rooted in a brute force approach to fairness that would unfortunately lead to a total lack of any kind of service mentality. “We got it, you want it: play by our rules or get lost” was the attitude that ruled in the State Stores, and largely still does, despite the recent development of a human face.

The PLCB justifies itself by the revenues it brings in, by the supposition that it ‘controls’ abusive and underage drinking better than privately-owned businesses would, and by the money it “infuses” into the state economy by paying landlords for leases on the stores and the wages it pays its employees. It is a system that works so well that Pennsylvania is surrounded by great liquor stores across its borders.

I say we take it down.

If nothing else, you have to love Lew’s enthusiasm.  He’s right, too.  PA possesses some of the more archaic liquor laws around, and just about everyone in the Philadelphia area (at least, the ones who are into wine and liquor, and even beer) have headed down to Delaware and Maryland, or just across the river to New Jersey, for the better selections and (often) better prices of private liquor merchants.

Naturally, Pennsylvania, being a government and all, is slow to change, especially in regards to making drinks with alcohol more available to its residents (after all, think of the children!).  So, even though Lew is getting plenty of support, this is going to take time.  There are a lot of surrounding issues for privatizing liquor sales (for instance, the state employs a lot of people in those stores), but we have no doubt that between now and the Rapture, Uncle Lew will cover most of them.

Of course, the next question, the next step can only be: who is going to go undercover in the enemy’s lair?

Lew Bryson: The Revolution Is Nigh, PLCB

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The Professor, in the Library, with the Message

Nobel Prize winner Muhammed Yunus spoke at the Free Library of Philadelphia yesterday, and signed copies of his book, “Creating a World Without Poverty”.  Hopefully, a bit later, we’ll have a little report on his speech, his message, and, perhaps, some commentary on the larger issues.  Maybe later today.  Maybe tomorrow.

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The Most Amazing Man in the World

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Alexis Lemaire, mathlete.


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Progressive New Jersey

New Jersey has a lousy reputation in the US.  Especially in the Philadelphia and New York metropolitan areas, Jersey is often derided as a second-class state, filled with the northeast corridor’s version of hillbillies and hicks.  A state filled with urban pollution, but without the vaunted urban cosmopolitanism.  A state with the backwoods ideals, personalities, and mullets of the Deep South, but without any of the beauty.

Of course, given the sympathies and general contrarianism of the Curious Mechanism, this site wholly endorses New Jersey as one of the very best states in the US.  It has gambling in Atlantic City, for those who like to gamble.  It has easy access to two major cities, Philly and NYC.  It has a passable shore.  And somewhere it’s got the best corn  east of the Mississippi.   Oh, and it has a few thousand 24 hour diners, and really, the value of being able to get decent eggs and toast, and a bottomless cup of strong coffee at 3AM cannot be undervalued.

Well, New Jersey has just raised the bar for a lot of other states.  It’s officially abolishing its death penalty.

Now, this isn’t a hugely significant in terms of prison sentences, as Jersey’s death row only has eight inmates presently, and NJ hasn’t executed anyone since the 1960s.  While all eight inmates will now have life sentences instead of death sentences, the biggest impact will come as, perhaps, New Jersey’s actions could lead other states to their own abolishments of the death penalty.  By the time I’m an old, old man, the federal government might be seriously talking about abolishing the death penalty.

It’s a good step in the right direction.


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