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Archive for September, 2011

God Loves Baseball

September 29, 2011 4 comments


What else can explain the most amazing night of any final day of any baseball season since the dawn of time?

Even the weather, a long rain delay, conspired to ensure that events in Baltimore, Maryland and St. Petersburg, Florida would play out in a perfectly simultaneous symmetry; the crushing collapse of the Boston Red Sox and within four minutes, the improbable, insane rally from a 7-run deficit, punctuated by a sudden line-drive homerun in the bottom of the 12th that propelled the Tampa Bay Devil Rays into baseball’s post-season.

Oh, and over in the other league, they played a game in Atlanta that went 13 innings that sealed the same awful fate for the Braves that befell the Red Sox. Twin epic collapses. On September 1st, the Red Sox had a 9-game lead for the final American League playoff spot and the Braves were up in the National League by 8 and half.

In Baltimore, the Red Sox were one strike away from winning their final game of the regular season.

In St. Petersburg, the Rays were looking straight into the abyss and the end of their season, down to their last strike in the bottom of the 9th.

In Atlanta, the Braves had to get through just one more inning.

For fans of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the St. Louis Cardinals the game is sublime. Each team goes on to fight another day and both had to depend on the historic failures of others to reach the promised land. For those who give their hearts to the Red Sox and the Braves, it is a cruel and unforgiving sport.

But I will never be convinced baseball is anything less than the perfect game. It creates story lines and heroes and failures and drama that, in real life, surpass anything that can be imagined in fiction.

Let the playoffs begin. Get some rest, God. You must be exhausted from what you arranged to transpire on this memorable September night. I do understand if residents of Boston and Atlanta do not share this sentiment.

Hallmark’s Job-Loss Sympathy Cards

September 28, 2011 Leave a comment


There is a card for every occasion and so it seems only appropriate Hallmark is tapping into the recession market to offer a little sympathy to those suddenly facing unemployment. I’ve been there.

Some of these cards are fairly amusing.

“Don’t think of it as losing your job….think of it as a time-out between stupid bosses.”

Or: “I just dare somebody to steal my identity now.”

There are somber ones too, though I think the humorous ones would have been nice to get while I was in my own state of panicked limbo just a couple of years ago. This does open a fairly large potential arena for other cards that address all the possible nuances of economic distress people are feeling these days.

There’s also rampant underemployment:

“So sorry about your new job as a Wal-Mart greeter!”

“Now you can have fries to go along with that new, tiny little paycheck!”

There’s the long-term unemployed:

“Don’t worry! Congress is working on the off-setting cuts to pay for your extended unemployment benefits…in between fundraisers and golf outings with lobbyists!”

There’s the couple hundred thousand folks who were ripped off by Bernie Madoff:

“Oooh. Heard about that whole Madoff thing…join the club! Price Club!”

There’s losing your job to outsourcing:

“Sorry your job went overseas! Have you considered moving to suburban Shanghai???”

And two all-purpose recession-oriented sympathy cards dripping with irony:

“Imagine someone trying to make a profit from your unemployment! If you’re reading this- we just did!”

“Look on the bright side, you could be writing Hallmark Greeting cards!”

Baseball: Closing the Deal is the Hardest Task of All

September 26, 2011 Leave a comment


The Bruins are the defending NHL champs. The Celtics regularly make the playoffs. The Patriots are perennial Super Bowl contenders and the Bosox have won two World Series titles over the past decade.

But the entire city has been humbled recently and Sunday was particularly tough on the psyche of the Boston sports fan. Their beloved Patriots lost to the heretofore lowly Buffalo Bills and the Red Sox are teetering on the edge of an epic collapse that would set a new standard for epic collapses.

With tongue firmly planted in cheek but sharing the general angst being felt by the city’s sports fans, Boston Globe sports columnist, Dan Shaughenessy, went so far last Friday as to ask the Commissioner of Baseball to disqualify the Red Sox from the playoffs even if they do somehow manage to back into post-season play, saying they just don’t deserve the honor given the horrific way they have played in September.

Their brilliant centerfielder, Jacoby Ellsbury, may have saved their season with a two-out, 14th inning, 3-run homer that beat the Yankees last night, but even so, they cling to a 1-game lead over Tampa Bay and the paranoia in Bean Town is palpable. Their starting pitching is in tatters, their dugout demeanor has been deflated and defeated.

On Saturday, the horror of this September that they opened with a 9-game Wild Card lead, was in abundant display as Red Sox leftfield bust, Carl Crawford, botched a line-drive out that led to a pair of 2nd-inning runs, followed shortly thereafter by a Derek Jeter 3-run blast that put the Bosox hopelessly behind 6-0. Carl Crawford was supposed to be one of their free-agent saviors after the Washington Nationals unexpectedly stole the guy they wanted, former Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth, in an off-season acquisition.

Aside from accidently screwing the Red Sox by forcing them to pick up Crawford, the Nationals have had a good old time over the past couple of weeks derailing hopes and planting doubts in otherwise, really good baseball teams. They took four games from the Phillies in Philadelphia after the Phils had clinched the division. Oh, big deal, you say, the games were meaningless. Yes, but that set the stage for baseball’s best team to go into an 8-game slide they finally ended Sunday. Probably not the way you want to go into the playoffs.

And the Nats took two out of three this weekend from the Atlanta Braves who are vying with the Red Sox for an almost equally disastrous National League epic collapse.

Getting the last three outs in a baseball game is a famously difficult task. Getting the final victories at the close of baseball’s marathon 162-game season is even more difficult. White knuckles and fear seem to overwhelm the emotions of normally rational and competitive men.

For perspective, here in Washington, D.C., we are immensely proud that our baseball team is about to finish in third place in their division. We are ecstatic that our football team has started the season with two victories and we appear to be on the road to a .500 season. For all those Phillies, Braves and Red Sox/Patriots fans accustomed to the rarefied air of constant success- this week in sports is proving that, at the very least, you should be really grateful your teams are even in the position of disappointing you.

Netflix: The Streaming Gamble

September 20, 2011 Leave a comment


I’m getting dizzy reading all the contrasting views from business analysts trying to make heads or tails of what Netflix is up to. My conclusion: unless they figure out the content piece of their streaming services, they’re cooked.

First, they angered their customers by unapologetically raising their rates 60%. Their stock price tumbled and they managed to lose a million subscribers. Then this week, Netflix CEO and co-founder, Reed Hastings, sent a belated e-mail apologizing for all the arrogance and announcing the company would be split in two. Setting the PR debacle aside, the strategy is quite the riverboat gamble.

Netflix will now be streaming the TV Shows and horrible movies you’d never see in theatres that you can access on everything from your lap top to your Xbox 360. Qwixter is the new name for the DVD-delivery service that was the initial business model that put the company on the map and helped bury Blockbuster and similar companies that charged the outrageous late fees for movie rentals that Netflix didn’t.

The services will be completely separate, from billing to menus to websites. You’ll no longer be able to go to one place to figure out whether the video you want to see is streamed or available by mail delivery. Terribly inconvenient and done so on purpose. They apparently see their future in streaming not the resource-intensive mailing and processing of DVD deliveries. They seem to think Netflix, the streaming model, will survive and thrive and the DVD business will sink of its own weight and eventually go away.

I think they’re right about the DVD’s. Not so sure they’re right about the streaming. If you think for one second you can give up cable TV, FIOS or dish services and still watch streaming movies you’ve actually heard of for 7 bucks a month, you’d be sadly mistaken. Netflix and Starz failed to renew the deal that provides about 20% of the streaming content and the few movies they have that are worth watching. That content will be gone as of early next year.

And Hollywood cheered. The folks who make our motion pictures would prefer to make money from a public that will pay anywhere from 5 to 8 dollars through their cable systems for a single movie. They are not so keen on having their product made available to an outfit that allows unlimited monthly viewing for the price you’d pay for one on-demand cable TV movie.

So who is going to work with Netflix to provide any decent content? Where in the world are they going to get it? Streaming would work if you had the same variety you have with the DVD deliveries. But it doesn’t have that variety and it never will.

Netflix was about the DVD’s delivered to your home that you could keep as long as you wanted. It was genius. But it’s hard to see any scenario in which the streaming portion of Netflix will ever be more than garbage in and garbage out. And that’s too bad because I’m rooting for these guys and their ability to make movie-viewing an affordable proposition. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the old axiom is applicable here. You get what you pay for.

Goodbye Borders- Mixed Feelings about the Death of the Book

September 15, 2011 4 comments

Someday we’ll tell our grandkids that people used to read books that were comprised of paper, binding, a front cover and a back cover. Books you actually held and required you to physically turn the pages by hand.

I love the two remaining book cases I have in my apartment. They’re all sorted in categories; Biographies, Science Fiction, Politics, Science, the American Civil War, Baseball, Reference, even a section on Chess. I’ve read every one of them and I keep them because of the fond memories I had experiencing them. And they tell your guests something about who you are; what you care about, what interests you. It’s a peak into the soul, really.

I noticed the other day that with a few exceptions they’re all five years old or way older. I don’t really buy books anymore. They are now transmitted into my Kindle through thin air and appear magically seconds after I purchase them with hardly any effort at all. I can change the font sizes too, so my 54-year old eyes can comfortably read the print without strain. I can bookmark and make notes and highlight passages. And, yes, I can curl up with the Kindle on my couch just as I used to do with a real book.

So blame me for the closing of the local Borders book store. It was supremely sad. For a month they had their close-out sales. Each day, it seemed, the sales got bigger and bigger until by the end, the scavenged book cases had nothing left except the last thing anyone wanted to read. But you could buy it for 50 cents. And soon the store was empty and stripped bare, and today it sits vacant and barren and lonely-looking- a ghost of a retail space and yet another victim of the digital age.

Books take space and they’re heavy. If you move a lot, as I have, they’re a bit of a pain. And I’ve gotten rid of hundreds of them through the years so I have distilled the collection down to the bare basics of who I am and what I once read. I will always keep them, though. Because you could buy one case with one shelf and just put the Kindle on a stand- but it’s not the same effect.

And what of human history? A thousand years from now, after the great apocalypse that forever takes down the electrical grid; will anyone remember us without physical books? Will there be manuscripts and parchment from 100 A.D. but nothing from 2008 on? Will people think we just stopped reading and writing because without the electrical grid and wireless networks and credit cards- there’s no way to actually access the books of the early 21st century?

I wonder sometimes that if our entire existence ends up getting stored in some huge Digital Cloud designed by Apple- if we run the risk that someday no one will ever be able to ascertain that we even walked the earth. No connectivity-no history.

That’s the thing about clouds. They’re just vapor. Maybe we should keep a few real books around- just in case.

Dan Snyder’s Law Suit: Never Mind

September 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Redskins owner, Daniel Snyder, has decided to drop his lawsuit against Washington City Paper officially ending his attack on the 1st amendment of the constitution.

If you need background on his actions that became a cause célèbre for lovers of free expression in America, you can find my finely honed criticisms over this matter here, here and here.

I don’t think this legal action was going to work out well for him. First, free speech rights regarding public figures are pretty sacrosanct in American courts (see Falwell vs Flynt). Plus, DC has a statute that allows for prosecution for law suits aimed to intimidate freedom of speech. The Snyder legal team’s approach to this was not to question the merits of such a case were it to have been enforced, but to claim the DC City Council had no right to pass such a law.

Of all the things Snyder complained about regarding City Paper’s scathing synopsis of all the goofy things the Redskins owner has done through the years- he had pretty much dropped his outrage for all elements of the article except one; the impression the piece gave that Snyder himself, was personally involved in “slamming,” the practice of changing people’s phone services without their knowledge, back when he ran Snyder Communications many, many years ago. An out-of-court settlement was reached at the time in which Snyder admitted no wrongdoing. City Paper conceded they may have left the impression Snyder himself was involved in slamming practices but insisted they did so without malice.

Wisely, a word not ordinarily associated with Dan Snyder, he backed down. The pre-season-opener announcement cleared the decks for a new era of good feelings as he seemed to sense the Redskins may actually be a decent team this season and further distractions on the frivolous law suit-front would be counter-productive.

Bravo, Snyder. This is almost as big a victory for free speech rights as the 28-14 Redskin win over the Giants was a statement about how good and how loved his team could be if he just stops meddling with the front office and causing self-inflicted public relations wounds.

Contemplating 9/11

September 9, 2011 Leave a comment


Reminders of the threat that never really goes away. A prudent heads-up has gone out to law enforcement agencies about an unconfirmed but credible terrorism threat in connection to the 9/11 anniversary Sunday.

Resisting the panic-inducing breaking news graphics on Cable TV is a good idea. This is not about panic- this is about everybody being vigilant. We killed bin Laden this year. The 10th anniversary is upon us and we found documents in his hideout that indicated he may have been planning a terrorist act in the U.S. timed for the anniversary. There are sources in Pakistan that have reportedly come through over the past 48 hours indicating something may be up. Every intelligence service in the country is on it and that’s a good thing.

Reliving this terrorism stuff is not pleasant. Reliving the events of ten years ago stokes a lot of emotions in the country and particularly for folks in New York and Washington who have deeply personal memories of the chaos and evil that befell the nation on that “severe clear” autumn day in September.

I’m trying to revisit these memories in small doses. I’m not anxious to relive 9/11. But we do owe it to those who perished that day; to their families; to the courageous 1st responders- to never forget.

For a couple of years I lived in a Manhattan apartment that offered a view of the two powerful blue beams of light that are projected into the sky from Ground Zero on the anniversaries of 9/11. Two years ago, the moon, shrouded in clouds, appeared to teeter directly above the beams. I found a picture of it tonight on the web. It was one o’clock in the morning and I remember thinking how it appeared those mystical lights were melding with the moon and shooting up into the heavens themselves.