If ever there was a no-brainer for Time magazine’s selection of Person of the Year, it is this amazing Pope. There’s an interesting new survey that explains how he is resonating with Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
The Washington Post/ABC News poll finds an amazing 92% have a positive view of Francis and 95% of the Catholic Church in general. Pope Benedict was at 73% after the announcement of his retirement last February.
There is a slight political divide. His ratings are highest among Catholics who describe themselves as moderate or liberal. But even “conservative” Catholics give him a 91% approval rating. Non-Catholics give him a 62-18 favorable/unfavorable, compared to 48/31 for Benedict.
The reasons for the amazing appeal of this Pope seem fairly obvious to me. His humility, his call for economic justice and equality, his warnings about the excesses of capitalism all echo the words and philosophies credited to Christ himself. Those who know Francis say his own experiences as a Cardinal in Argentina inform these views, especially on economic issues. Through Argentina’s rough, depression-like economic downswings he saw first-hand the massively wide gulf between the poor and the rich. At a time when this disparity has never been greater in the United States and throughout the world, his message resonates powerfully.
But those on the moderate/liberal side of the equation should not misconstrue the Pope’s populist positions as a change in Church doctrine on a host of controversial issues. What has changed is the emphasis.
Agree or disagree with aspects of these doctrines, for example, there is a basic consistency to them. On abortion, it is completely consistent to be anti-abortion and anti-death penalty. Conversely, in my opinion, there is a dissonance in espousing pro-choice/anti-death penalty views or anti-abortion/pro death penalty positions. I mean sanctity of life is sanctity of life. And while I admit I am still in the “dissonant” camp, I can still step outside my views and see the inconsistencies of my own political beliefs.
The point in regard to the Pope’s emphasis on certain issues is that the Church often lands on both sides of the political ledger, with positions on economic equality and against the death penalty, for example, falling on the liberal side and policies on abortion and homosexuality on the conservative side. The most recent Popes have dwelt exclusively on the conservative side of things and in the process have alienated moderates and progressives. Francis, meanwhile, is emphasizing things like economic equality and brings his great sense of humility to bear on topics like homosexuality in which he states, in his own words- “Who am I to judge?”
Ultimately, I think it is his disarming humility that is the foundation of his appeal. He walks the walk. He lives in a modest apartment. You won’t ever see him wearing Benedict’s famous red Prada slippers. He has literally washed the feet of convicts and beggars. Vatican security confirms he regularly sneaks out at night to mingle with normal people. He classifies himself first and foremost, not as Pope, but as a sinner.
I know there remains a very deep well of anger against the Catholic Church for its past actions; from sexual abuse and attendant cover-ups to economic hypocrisy in building wealth- quite literally through the contributions from the poor and dispossessed.
But in this miracle of a Pope, there is hope. Hope that humility, enlightenment and the philosophies of Christ himself, will lead the Church, and the rest of us, to a much, much better place.
The last 300 company-owned Blockbuster stores are closing and I, for one, am laughing really hard. And no, it’s not because I forgot to return a 15 year-old video and now my $400 thousand late fee won’t be collected. It’s because in the annals of corporate history, the schmucks who ran Blockbuster were greedy morons who will go down in history as a case study in total strategic cluelessness.
I am not laughing really hard that 2,800 people will be out of work- that’s sad. Though I must say, I find it hard to believe those poor folks thought there was still much of a future in brick and mortar video rental businesses in 2013, A.D. I urge them all right now to avoid sending their resumes to the last Barnes and Noble left in town.
But back to the corporate idiots. First and foremost among them is Viacom which bought Blockbuster for $8.4 billion back in 1994. Dish Network would shell out $320 million a couple of years ago to buy the bankruptcy-riddled company. Let’s put those numbers in relief. $8.4 billion versus $.3 billion. That puts the idiots at Viacom right up there with Rupert Murdoch’s trendy acquisition of My Space for $580 million which he would end up selling six years later for $30 million.
So what were the major mistakes? Oh, not much- other than failing to anticipate the major consumer and technological trends of the 21st century. Like digital streaming. Like the concept of on-demand viewing. In 2000, Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, offered to merge with Blockbuster and the video rental store executives basically laughed him out of their offices. In 2002, Blockbuster executives were still unsure of the veracity of this thing called the Internet. A “niche” market, they called it.
Viacom’s idea of remaining competitive against new-fangled competitors like Netflix was to create- and this is really original- a video rental business that would ship directly to consumers! Oops, day late and a dollar short. By the way, showing they now understand the new trends of the past 20 years, Dish network just announced they are also killing off the Blockbuster video-by-mail service, which most people also did not know still existed.
But mostly, Blockbuster sucked because they put really cool, independent, often family-owned video rental stores, out of business. They replaced neat, eclectic movie titles at the indie’s with mass-marketed crap. They also sucked because whatever family fun was to be had hitting the neighborhood Blockbuster on a Friday night, was a huge and expensive pain-in-the-ass by Tuesday morning, when you realized you’d forgotten to return the videos on Monday and now ended up owing pretty much the price of the original rentals in late fees. And then you had to, like, drive an actual car through snow storms and monsoons to return said late videos.
At least the nice Blockbuster employees knew their cinema! Oh, that’s right. Most had no clue about the motion picture industry. Well, as you were checking out paying last week’s late fees and about to incur the following week’s penalties, you could also pick up overpriced bags of popcorn, Twizzlers and Raisinets. That was something.
But we really do have a debt of gratitude to pay to Blockbuster. Turns out, Netflix founder, Hastings, forgot to return his copy of Apollo 13 to Blockbuster way back when and owed some $40. It was his fault but he felt so stupid about it that he purposely avoided telling his wife about the late charge. He started thinking about that and found it insane he was willing to compromise the integrity of his marriage over a video store late fee. That same day he went to the gym and realized he was paying about $30 a month for unlimited use of the workout facilities.
Hey, now there’s an idea, he thought- what if somebody rented videos by mail with unlimited due dates and no late fees?
Netflix now has over $3.5 billion in annual revenues. And though they initially botched their transition from a mostly mail-delivered service to a streaming model, they were obviously savvy and smart to see the digital writing on the wall in the first place, and now with the creation of their own content like the Emmy-nominated “House of Cards,” they show they are creative too.
And that’s the difference between those who at least try to envision the future- and those who don’t.
Clearly, the kid only has one speed and it’s no longer fun to watch. Without an offensive line to protect him, a defense that defends and a play-caller who is sane enough to know you run when you have a lead, Robert Griffin III is taking the entire team on his shoulders and taking a physical beating. It’s not his re-built knee that’s in danger – it’s his brain and his very life.
We now know those impressive hits we see in the NFL cause permanent harm. Former Cowboys running back, Tony Dorsett, is but the latest in a long line of players who have suffered permanent brain injury from the thousands of hits they‘ve absorbed through their college and NFL careers. Every time RGIII incurs a brutal blow, as he did at least a dozen times in the most recent Redskins’ debacle against the Minnesota Vikings, his brain is literally crashing against his skull and creating the scar tissue that eventually causes memory loss, suicidal thoughts and severe depression.
Someday, when he’s no longer a kid and turns, say 50, will he be able to walk? Will he remember to take his kids to school? Will he shoot himself in the chest like Junior Seau did, in order to preserve his brain for clinical study?
I know this sounds sick and extreme. But it is the reality for NFL players. It’s why watching this sport is getting to be increasingly uncomfortable. It’s why I feel very little joy and actually a great deal of sadness when I see this poor kid playing his heart out for a team that cannot protect him and a coaching staff and owner that could care less if they literally break him again and again, only to leave him to recover enough in the off-season to take next year’s beatings.
As you look back at it and understand the frighteningly consistent dysfunction of Daniel Snyder’s Washington Redskins for well over a decade, it makes you wish someone had told this intelligent, charming and supremely talented young man to RUN- far, far away from Landover and the clutches of the Snyders and the Shanahans. They’re not only using you, RG- they may very well be killing you.
True, I’m about three days late reacting to the breakthrough development over at Fox News but I thought it best to let it ferment for 72 hours or so. The reaction seems to have taken hold and it’s unanimous. What the hell are they smoking over there and can we get some?
Fox News, having just celebrated its 17th birthday, has decided that it has to modernize its news presentation so in addition to a massive revision to its primetime lineup, it has revealed its Jetsons-like view of the future of journalism.
It involves human units called “information specialists” who toil before enormous 55-inch screens which they can be seen touching and swiping as they appear to scour for news on Twitter. This all happens behind news anchor, Shepard Smith, who speaks to the camera and jauntily meanders to a large panoramic-type screen whose visual contents he can rearrange with yet more swiping. You can see the amazing new interactive-ish, information-like newsroom here.
And now a sampling of reaction to the most embarrassing news use of pseudo-technology since CNN tried holigraphically transporting its reporters to its election news set in 2008.
From The Verge:
Fox News has just unveiled a breathtakingly ridiculous newsroom, complete with novelty-sized Windows-based touchscreens, a Twitter wall, and a wannabe Minority Report-style display, which it hopes will connect it with generations of viewers who use smartphones and apps…
Smith later demonstrates a gigantic 38-foot-long video wall with a device “never been used in broadcast television before.” It’s a remote control that allows Smith to shuffle through an image carousel with no apparent journalistic purpose. “For instance, I can take this lady who’s been evacuating from a hurricane zone and move it over here,” Smith says.
Rather than regular computers sitting atop standard desks you’d find spread across any typical newsroom, Fox News has come roaring into the 21st century by replacing those desks with comically enormous touchscreens; one cartoon-sized touchscreen per person.
From New York magazine:
Fox News Has the Biggest Computers on Cable, for Facts and Stuff
In the future, Shepard Smith will control an army of news bots who work 24 hours a day to prove Obama is a Muslim. The future is now: As the new editor of the breaking-news division, Smith will lord over what he’s referring to as “information specialists” — reporters, maybe, kind of, in Fox News speak — and their comically oversize computing machines called BATs, “big area touchscreens.”
From Death and Taxes:
Fox News debuts its new, tiny journalists
Fox News revealed on Monday their attempt to build the newsroom of the future. This apparently involves implementing giant tablet computers, which make it seem like they physically shrank everyone on their staff.
Why Is the Fox News Room Full of Absurdly Giant iPads?
Over on Fox News’ website, Shepard Smith gives us a tour of the Fox News Deck’s upgraded studio which inexplicably features a team of staffers in the background working at what appear to be gigantic tablets. According to Smith, those are actually “information specialists” frantically pawing away at what Fox calls BATS—or big area touchscreens (most likely Microsoft hardware running Windows 8)—that puts 55-inches of Twitter feeds and other news sources at their fingertips. What?
Ok, so if this is the new Jetson’s version of journalism, I have to say that I prefer the Flintstones version better. A typewriter and some clanking wire machines in the background. A fedora with a piece of paper in the band that says “Press” on it. Edward R. Murrow knows what I’m talking about.
The bearded man was not clean. He did not smell of cologne. His long, unkempt hair fell to his shoulders. He wore simple, nondescript clothing, streaked with the dirt of the city. Pedestrians walked past him, clutching their pocketbooks and their wallets just a little tighter. But he asked for nothing- nothing material. He was not begging. He stood on the street corner talking about love.
He asked anyone who might listen or accidently listen, to consider the plight of those less fortunate than themselves. He talked about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and caring for the lonely and disaffected. In the end, he said, these miserable, poverty-stricken street urchins; these pitiful, sad and needy people that no one seems to care about- these are the people who would inherit the earth, not the mighty titans of Wall Street or the politically powerful or connected. Because the world- the real world- was populated more by the urchins than these Masters of the Universe who would eventually lose everything through their own undisciplined greed.
He did not yell. He spoke in a controlled, soft voice. There was sadness but also a tenderness in his eyes. The men in well-pressed suits walked around him. And the fashionable women paid no heed. And a teenager nearly ran into him as she texted furiously on her smart phone, startled as she caught a whiff of him.
It did not make any Cable News program. There were no breathless, “Breaking News” crawls along the bottom of the TV screen. No one tweeted it. Social media missed it.
It is possible many of those who walked past him attended church the next Sunday. But it turned out that not one of them picked up on the resemblance between the crazy bum on the street corner and the tortured porcelain figure that loomed right in front of them, nailed to a cross. He had come back because the world had never needed him more.
And no one noticed.
OK, Nationals fans. It was ugly and dispiriting for most of the year. Every bounce went the other way. They led the National league in errors. If they had the bases loaded and nobody out, they’d figure out a way of stranding all of them. It was so bad, I was waiting for a headline like Strasburg tosses no-hitter, Nats lose 1-0.
The absolute low point was reached at 10:26 pm, ET on Wednesday, August 7th. The Atlanta Braves entered the 9th inning at Nationals ballpark with a 12-game winning streak, a 6-3 lead and, adding insult to injury, had escaped without repercussions after drilling Bryce Harper repeatedly in the series.
A Harper double and a Jason Werth walk gave the 29,000 fans a glimmer of hope. Then Ian Desmond struck out looking and Anthony Rendon fanned swinging. Wilson “Buffalo” Ramos stepped into the batter’s box representing the tying run. He stung the baseball the opposite way toward right field; Harper and Werth in full sprint as the line drive shot out over the infield. It would end up falling into the glove of Jason Heyward. Game over.
The once mighty Washington Nationals had fallen six games below .500. The National League Eastern Division was put away for good that night. The tomahawk chops at Nationals Ballpark made for a painful reminder of the utter failure of a season gone dreadfully and inexplicably wrong.
Inexplicably, because there wasn’t a single starter in that Washington lineup you’d want to get rid of. Adam LaRoche maybe but there’s that stylish defense of his at 1st. And last year he carried the club offensively for an entire month. Rendon and Lombardozzi at 2nd. How lucky are we? Desmond at SS. Perennial all-star. Zimmerman scary at 3rd defensively and offensively anemic at the time- but the cornerstone of the franchise, regardless. The outfield of Harper, Span and Werth- untouchable. Even struggling at the plate, Span’s defense in center is gold glove quality. Wilson Ramos. Power, smarts and feel for handling our pitchers.
And who would you knock off the pitching staff? Dan Haren is the most likely answer because if he hadn’t literally been the worst pitcher in the entire sport for the entire first half of the season, the Nats would have been contending all along. But the rest of them? Really, folks, this is one of the top 5 pitching staffs in the game. And when he’s the “good Haren” he looks like he can throw a no-hitter.
But in the midst of the misery of that humid August night when they were whipped by their arch-rivals, the Baseball Gods seemed to awaken. They may be Gods but, in the end, they must abide by the rules of the universe, and specifically- the statistical theory called Regression toward the Mean. From our friends at Wikipedia:
…the phenomenon that if a variable is extreme on its first measurement, it will tend to be closer to the average on its second measurement—and, paradoxically, if it is extreme on its second measurement, it will tend to have been closer to the average on its first.
Statistics really do mean something in baseball. If a player has averaged X amount of production in pitching and hitting stats, over a 162-game season and accounting for their aging, the result is invariably within 10-15% of their career average.
Ryan Zimmerman is Exhibit A. Jason Werth is Exhibit B.
Zimmerman was showing the worst power numbers of his career. Until September. The man has hit 9 homeruns in his last 11 games. He now leads the club in that department. Nine homeruns is an insane amount for a month, much less a week and a half. That’s a pace to hit 132 homeruns over a season. Zimmerman’s Regression to the Mean has been absolutely breathtaking.
Jason Werth’s story spans three years. His first year as a National, Werth hit .232 with 20 homers and only 58 RBI’s. His injury plagued second year saw his average climb to .300 but only 5 homers. In his 3rd year is currently in third in the battle for the National League batting title. He has been the best offensive player in the game for over two months. He’s hitting .323, with 23 homers and 71 RBI’s. Werth’s Regression to the Mean is complete now.
Since the stinging loss to the Atlanta Braves August 7th, the Washington Nationals have the best record in the sport. They were 54-60 after the sweep. They have now gone 24-9. They were 6 games under .500. They are now 9 games above .500 at 78-69. They have won 7 in a row, 9 of their last 10, 13 of their last 17, 18 of their last 23.
For a team that won 98 games last year, clearly, Regression to the Mean was due and is in full swing.
To Nat’s fans- a note of caution over the next 15 games. So yes, they have gone 24-9 since the Atlanta sweep, but remember that after each of the 9 losses, the conventional wisdom was that the season had just ended. Some of the 9 losses were ugly. So ugly they obscured the winning tempo that was beginning to build. We almost didn’t see it, even as it was happening. Baseball and its 162 game marathon have a funny way of doing that to you.
But the trend is unmistakable now. The Nationals have found themselves but only at the very last possible, friggin’ moment. They will not win out. They can afford to lose probably three games at most. Do not panic when one of those three losses happen. The other 12 wins will have us “crashing the party,” in one of the most inspiring turn-arounds since the 2011 World Champion, St.Louis Cardinals.
And if they don’t get to the playoffs, rejoice that you got to see this kind of drama and heart and grit and pressure in the middle of September. Most ball clubs don’t get to the cooler temperatures of autumn with much of any hope at all.
So the President is throwing the issue to Congress. From the White House perspective, it’s so crazy it just might work.
It was looking bad. Like the president had painted himself into a corner with his own words about “red lines” being crossed if there were ever to be proof of chemical attacks in Syria. Astoundingly, the British parted with their American cousins for the first time since
Lexington the War of 1812 and refused to go along.
The United Nations, which President Obama generally decried as feckless today, was a dead end with the Russians and the Chinese exercising veto power in the Security Council. Plus, uselessly, the U.N. inspection team that just left Syria is charged only with confirming that a chemical attack occurred, not which party was responsible for initiating it.
The vote in Congress on whether the U.S. will strike Syria in response to the Assad regime’s alleged involvement in the gassing of hundreds of its own citizens is not going to be along party lines. Strange bedfellows will be plentiful as hard core, dovish liberals join forces with folks like Republican, Rand Paul, whose libertarian views render him a foreign isolationist. Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner will be working for the President.
Commanders in Chief don’t have to do this and Mr. Obama, protecting Oval office power as best he can, says he could have moved on his own but insists he has an important moral case to make and that we may as well have a public debate about it. This is a good thing for democracy. Historians may argue Obama has just seriously diluted Presidential authority.
This move also gets the President off the hook. If Congress balks, it was them. More than that- it was the “people.” If they approve, he has the moral high ground he’d never have received from the United Nations anyway. The stunning defeat of a pro-American resolution in the British parliament had to have affected this move by the White House as well. It didn’t look good that the Brits could debate this but our Congress couldn’t. It also didn’t square with Senator Barack Obama’s own views years ago that Congress should have a say on matters involving military action.
Former Vice President Dan Quayle probably doesn’t have the greatest legacy for gravitas, but he was a savvy politician and it was he who suggested to George H.W. Bush that Congress get a vote on approving the use of force in the first Gulf War in the early 1990’s. The resolution passed, the nation was united on the military action and within months President Bush would be sporting a 91% approval rating.
In his response to the President today, Republican Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell said the nation is at its best when President and Congress act together in common voice and he is right. There is much more riding on the coming Congressional vote than just a few surgical cruise missile strikes in Syria. The debate will encompass the totality of American foreign policy; the U.S. as global policeman, the lines that can and cannot be crossed in regard to how we respond to future atrocities- the proof needed to determine they happened and who was behind them.
Impressive throughout the debate has been the prominence of the Iraq experience in coloring the world perception of U.S. intervention in foreign affairs. The blow to American credibility has been severe. It was Iraq and the wild goose chase for weapons of mass destruction that led the Brits to decide that this go round- no thanks.
So the debate to come is also about how we, ourselves, come to terms with Iraq. Does the U.S. become reticent, like in the post-Vietnam period, to project power on the world stage forever more? Can exceptions be supported when there are issues of genocide and crimes against mankind that shock us and shake our consciences. Do we even have an international conscience?
All worthy questions to be debated in the days ahead. For President Obama, good move from a civics lesson point of view. And brilliant move, politically.