THANK YOU, THANK YOU: It's always a great honor when your work is recognized, and I'm proud to note that I've received my first two links on other bloggers' web pages. Thanks to Craig Schamp, who has a terrific blog of his own and Howard Fienberg of Kesher Talk, who is my first source for all Jewish-related news. Those two, along with 10 or so other blogs, have been singled out for blogging excellence in my links section.
A BETTER LINK: I updated the link to Dean of Students' Gail Hanson's press release on the Ben Wetmore scandal. The press release can be found here.
Friday, July 26, 2002
JOURNALISM SCHOOL REFORM: Here's a brilliant thought by Columbia University president Lee Bollinger. He proposes that journalism students actually take courses in the areas that affect society -- history, economics, political science, instead of redundant courses in copy editing and writing. It's about time. So many journalism schools are cluttered with worthless classes relentlessly encouraging the memorization of the AP Style Manual and endless courses in "pretend journalism."
It's no surprise that most graduates of the Columbia School of Journalism have such little influence on the upper reaches of American journalism.
THATS NOT AMORE: Apparently a lot of Italians don't particularly like those Olive Garden commercials. The Wall Street Journal tells all, in an amusing piece.
IVY LEAGUE HACKER RIVALRY: Which Ivy League school graduates better computer hackers? Apparently Princeton, whose admissions director has been suspended after hacking into Yale's student applicant directory and snooping into student records. The Washington Post explains.
AU "GADFLY" ON O'REILLY FACTOR: Set your VCRs to record because American University renegade Ben Wetmore will be on Bill O'Reilly's FOX News show at 8 p.m. and re-aired at 11 p.m. EST. I, for one, will be watching.
FROM FOOTBALL TO MORTGAGE LENDING: Eric Zeier, once the Baltimore Ravens backup quarterback, has retired from football to pursue a career in -- mortgage lending. Here's more from the AP.
THE TRAFICANT STORY: Here's a terrific, well-reported, well-written piece from the New Republic, giving the background behind expelled Congressman Jim Traficant's crimes. It's a lot more sobering than reading about his "fart jokes" and Star Trek-referenced speeches on Capitol Hill.
(Thanks to OxBlog for the link.)
Wednesday, July 24, 2002
THE JEWISH JORDAN: Tamir Goodman, the religiously observant basketball star who got his scholarship to the University of Maryland rescinded, now is playing for the top Israeli basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv, according to this article from the Jerusalem Post.
Here and now, we enjoy some of the greatest players to ever step on a baseball diamond. This could be -- no, this is -- a golden age for baseball, played with incredible skill and unprecedented dedication, in some of the most beautiful ballparks this side of what you read about Ebbets Field in that book. You know, the one written by the guy with the bow tie.
But what happens? We gripe about ticket prices (if they're so out of reach, why's it so hard to get a good box seat?). We gripe about commercialism (funny, the guy with the bow tie remembers the Ebbets Field outfield wall with fondness). We gripe about publicly funded ballparks (clue: it takes a public to make something "publicly funded"). And to top it off, we do much of the griping while we're watching the damn game!
Do you curse the oil companies for their corporate irresponsibility during a car trip? Do you pause your Hawaiian vacation to grouse about the $4 headset charge on the plane ("I remember when they were free! And all the in-flight movies starred Rock Hudson -- now there was an actor!")? Do you get tanked on cheap vodka and call talk show hosts, frothing at the mouth to discuss Tommy Lee Jones' "obscene" salary for MIB II?
So do yourself a favor: stop and smell the roses. Or the horsehide, or the grass clippings. Just smell something other than the increasing amount of invective being tossed around by sour old (and young) men with press box access. Most of them are griping because if there's a strike they'll have to buy their own dinners for the rest of the summer. Mike Lupica for one could do without free coffee for a while.
Even before the big dust-up at the Tipper Gore appearance, Ben Wetmore was a gadfly of some notoriety at American University. The poli-sci major from Texas had elbowed his way into the ranks of student government but ended up getting impeached after a dispute with fellow legislators.
Then he started a Web journal devoted to criticizing and lampooning campus leaders -- particularly President Benjamin Ladner, whose stately home and car Wetmore took to photographing and posting on his site as evidence of what he saw as administrative extravagance.
"He's kind of like a Matt Drudge, but more immature," a fellow student politician said of Wetmore.
The debate echoes the political correctness battles of the 1980s and 1990s, when campus administrators tried to ban hate speech and some conservatives complained of an academic climate that shouted down their voices. The Wetmore case, though, might be driven less by ideology than by something noted by another of his supporters: "He's annoying."
It's fine for someone to be quoted as bashing Wetmore and all, but shouldn't a paper like the Post refuse to print anonymous ad hominem attacks? "A fellow student politician? Another of his supporters?" Even with the less-than-stellar journalism, it's good to see this issue out in the public and American U. officials having to defend their actions in public. It's interesting that in the "AU in the News" email sent out daily, Dean of Students Faith Leonard was not mentioned for being quoted in this article. Clearly, the university sees this as negative publicity -- as they should.
And, what's up with the headline "Student Gadfly Runs Afoul of American U."? Gadfly? Quite the obscure headline, methinks.
UPDATE: Here's a copy of the letter that I wrote to the Washington Post on the story:
Since when did the Washington Post allow reporters to anonymously quote sources for the sole purpose of personal attack? That's precisely what Metro writer Amy Argetsinger does in her July 22 story "Student Gadfly Runs Afoul of American U," quoting two students anonymously who claim American University student Benjamin Wetmore is annoying and immature.
As an AU student and acquaintance of Wetmore's, I can attest that he is neither. Furthermore, when did the Post engage in the practice of allowing sources to be anonymously quoted? Usually, this only occurs in cases of national security. I certainly don't believe that someone who chooses to personally criticize a student in the Washington Post should be allowed conceal their identity.
I'm sure you'll find a solid number of students who would refer to AU President Ladner or Dean of Students Gail Hanson in less than glowing terms. Yet they are not characterized in similarly negative terms.
The only immature behavior taking place is by students who choose to personally bash classmates to reporters, while refusing to reveal their identity. And, equally annoying are reporters like Argetsinger who allow this behavior to occur by quoting them extensively in their stories.
Sunday, July 21, 2002
BASEBALL'S SMART SHOPPERS: Terrific piece by Rich Rifkin in the Baseball Primer on the theme of the day -- baseball economics.
DID YOU KNOW?: ...that eccentric FOX baseball announcer Tim McCarver lives alone on the beach on the Gulf of Mexico? Or that ESPN SportsCenter host Rich Eisen once aspired to become a professional stand-up comedian, doing imitations of Howard Cosell reading Penthouse?
Somehow in the course of a football game, Madden lets you know it's O.K. to be fat, even borderline obese, no big deal to be ugly, bearable to be lonely. Madden's every unslick flailing gesture and blurted syllable is a source of comfort to the unsexy, unripped, underpaid and underappreciated lonely American man.
Madden's virtual club is the fraternity of the American big guy, and both ''big'' and ''guy'' are important. For Madden the word ''guy'' is the cornerstone of his worldview and saturated with affection and respect. ''Football,'' says Madden, ''is 22 guys, 11 guys on offense and 11 guys on defense,'' his ex-players are ''my guys'' and when I ask him if he sees himself as a journalist, he succinctly disabuses me. ''No,'' he says. ''I'm just a football guy.''
UPDATE 2: Another amusing anecdote:
McCarver has no use for statistical abstracts. He says he tosses the latest Bill James into the trash as soon as it arrives.
Considering the eminent Bill James has only written three books in the last, oh, 15 years, it's good to note how Tim McCarver thinks of his work. After all, he wrote the epic "Baseball for Dummies."
UPDATE 3: After fully reading this article -- as opposed to skimming it -- I have come to realize why the New York Times should no longer be considered a dominant news product. The whole, lengthy article was filled with cliches, factual errors (like the one I mentioned about James -- hasn't published an annual abstract in years), and the author's smarmy tone throughout the piece compares unfavorably to McCarver's. And, according to the people who actually saw Rich Eisen and Chili Davis's telecast of the Pads-Expos game, it was a horrid telecast. This is an article you'd see out of a high school literary magazine, but not the New York Times. Great mastery of descriptive language, but no mastery of reporting or any background about his subjects.
REVENUE SHARING: My American U. roommate and blogger Phil Kahn of "On The Right Side" says that "baseball 2002 style" is emblematic of why baseball needs revenue sharing. As I mention below, I'm not 100% against revenue sharing as long as it's done right. But, if history is any indication with Bud Selig and baseball, it probably won't be. (Read more of Keith Woolner's BP piece below to see the right type of revenue sharing.) Last time I checked, the Twins were 12 games up on their "big-market" rivals Chicago and Cleveland; Oakland and Anaheim are playing the best baseball in the majors, and Montreal just acquired two of the best players in baseball to contend for the stretch drive. Add Cincinnati to the list, and you've got four of the "poorest" teams in baseball contending for the eight playoff spots handed out each year.
As for the whole competitive imbalance argument, look at the NBA. The Bulls and Lakers -- easily mega-markets -- have won 8 out of the last 10 championships. And the Vancouver Grizzlies, LA Clippers, and Washington Wizards have forever been in the league's basement. The NBA has a salary cap designed to limit player salaries yet NBA players make the highest salaries in any sport each year. How about the NFL? Well, true, it is a prototype for competitive balance. (It's also a prototype for having star players released every year because of the damn salary cap.) But there's something to having a team or teams that can win consistently -- the whole notion of a dynasty. The Cowboys were good for the NFL -- everyone hated them and tuned to see their favorite teams play them. It's good economically to have a team that everyone looks up to and tries to knock off.
The converse is also true. Big-spending teams are losing -- big-time, in 2002. Texas, the New York Mets, and the Chicago Cubs have all struggled mightily to get to .500. They've stunk. And the Mets essentially bought their whole team, the Cubs paid big money for free agents like Moises Alou and Texas also loaded up on many free agent signings from A-Rod to Carl Everett.
Phil's mentioned many times that the reason the Yankees are successful is because they have a long-term model of success -- they build their teams through the farm system. Steinbrenner puts a ton of money into scouting and player development -- and it pays off. That's why they're so damn good -- they have great management. If it was true that only the big markets win each year, then the Mets would be sitting alongside the Yanks in the World Series. They've only done that once in their history -- in 2000. It's also true that the Yankees throughout the 1980s weren't successful at all. They made poor front office decisions and were among the worst teams in the American League.
The one advantage that large-market teams, like New York, have over teams like the A's is wiggle room. The A's can't afford to offer a Raul Mondesi $15 million/yr in a long-term contract because it will financially cripple them. That's what happened to the Blue Jays. They signed mediocre players to hefty, long-term contracts and have been desperately trying to move them ever since. (This is a team that as recently as 1994 drew over 50,000 fans a game!) But if you know the economic rules of the game, anyone with 1/2 a brain can compete. (Unfortuantely, not that many GMs have 1/2 a brain.) Players don't make big bucks as free agents till their sixth year of eligibility. So, smart general managers will lock star, young players up to contracts long before the free agency period comes. This saves teams tons of money, but also benefits players too. If I'm Barry Zito and I'm making only 900,000 a year as a 3rd year player, I'll take a contract that'll increase my salary six-fold, even though it will depress my long-term salary. It gives players financial security; like insurance for injury or unforeseen circumstances. Most players peak at age 27-28; smart GMs can lock star players up at below-market prices during these star years.
The Minnesota Twins have the 28th-highest payroll and have basically locked their AL Central title in mid-July. The Oakland A's are playing near .600 ball -- for the third year in a row. The New York Yankees continue to dominate the baseball world, and the Atlanta Braves are about to win their 12th straight division title. What do these teams all have in common? Not payroll or revenue stream. It's smart management -- that's what wins ballgames.
UPDATE: With all the talk about the Yankees' buying Mondesi and Weaver this year, it's worth pointing out that Mondesi has hit only .190 with the Yankees and continues to be one of the most-expensive, mediocre outfielders in major league baseball. (The Yanks are paying about 7 million/yr for the next couple of years for him.) And, Weaver has continued to get shelled as a Yankee (he's given up eight runs against the BoSox as I'm writing this) and Lilly has clearly outpitched him.