Tuesday, September 25, 2018

"What's In A Hyphenate?"

“Hunter-Gatherers.”

Repeatedly proclaimed a TV documentary, inherited from a now sleeping spouse, a show not particularly to my liking, though I am loath to change channels, fearing a mumblingly angry, “I was watching that!”

Still, the descriptive caught my curious attention:

“Hunter-Gatherers.”

The show concerns scientists of some sort, unearthing a prehistoric skeleton and trying to “date” it on the broad spectrum of human existence.  (It turned out to be a “Farmer” skeleton.  How do they know?  They found traces of wheat under its fingernails.  Okay, they didn’t.   But somehow, they “scienced” it out.  And with no five thousand-year old farmers around to disprove it, who’s to tell them they’re wrong?)

Anyway…

Trapped in a National Geographicprogram I was disinterested in watching, waiting to inevitably be “bored to sleep”, I considered the term “Hunter-Gatherers”, wondering whence that now familiar contraction originally evolved.

And here’s what I imagined.

A prehistoric “Hunter-Father” engages in diligent activity, as his marriageable “Hunter-Daughter” purposefully approaches.

“Poppa?  I need to talk to you.”

“Not now, Daughter.  I am honing my work tools.”

“It’s important, Poppa.”

(POINTEDLY GLARING)  “You want me facing the Woolly Mammoth with unsharpened equipment?”

“This won’t take long, Poppa.  And I have to tell you right now.”

THE MAN BREAKS OFF HIS ACTIVITIES WITH SIGH, RECOGNIZED EVEN TODAY AS “FATHERLY FOREBEARANCE.”  (PROVING HUMAN EMOTIONS ARE DURABLY TIMELESS.)

“What is it, Daughter?”

“I’ve met a man, Poppa. Actually, I’ve known him for some time. But I was afraid to tell you about him.”

“Why?”

“He’s a wonderful man, Poppa.  But he’s not… ‘One of us.’”

“He walks erect, doesn’t he?”

“I’m not that rebellious, Poppa.  It’s just that…”

“Out with it, Daughter.”

“Well, it’s just… (TAKING A DEEP BREATH, FEARING THE INEVITABLE “BLOWBACK”)… Okay.  He’s a ‘Gatherer.’”

“NO!”

HE GOES BACK TO WORK, SHARPENDING HIS SPEARPOINT.  

“Please, Poppa.  He’s not just any ‘Gatherer.’  He’s from a highly respected ‘Gatherer’ family.  A ‘Prince of Gatherers’, if ever there was one.”

I said ‘No!”

“But I love him!”

“I don’t care.  (SNEERING)  ‘Gatherers.’ I hunt the Woolly Mammoth.  They hunt nuts and berries.”

And insects and plants.”

“Insects!  How many of those do you eat till you’re full?  And plants?  I finish a  bowlful of plants and it’s, like, ‘When’s dinner?’”

“They also collect acorns.”

“Who can eat acorns?”

“Acorns are highly decorative.  I know they’re not ‘us’, Poppa.   But what’s wrong with ‘Gatherers’?”

“‘What they do… it’s ‘unmanly.’  Did you ever once see a cave painting of a ‘Gatherer’?  ‘Confronting a Woolly Mammoth’ – that’sa cave painting.  Not a man bending down to pick up a blueberry.”

“That’s just the point, Poppa.  ‘Gathering’s’ safer.”

“‘The Perilous Challenge of the Hunt.’  That’s what life’s all about.  Look at me.  I have hundreds of scars on my body.”   

“Hundreds?”

“Okay, dozens.  And a lot of them are ugly.”

“’Gatherers’ get hurt too, Poppa.”

“By what?”

“Thorns and thistles.”

(DERISIVELY) “‘Thorns and thistles.’  ‘Ooh, my arm’soff!’ – ‘Ooh!  There’s a pointy thing sticking out of my finger.’  You see the distinction?  There’s no honor in ‘gathering.’  Missing appendages.  That’s a husband!

“Times have changed, Poppa. The Woolly Mammoth’s not as woolly as it once was.”

It’s still plenty ‘woolly.’ I’ve spent many a spear-point, battling its tufted terrain.”

“That’s quite lyrical, Poppa.”

“A bloodthirsty hunter can’t have a ‘flair’?  I’m sorry, Daughter.  There will be no unions between ‘Hunters’ and ‘Gatherers.’  It’s unnatural.  We’re ‘Lions.’ They’re ‘Grub Catchers.’  

“But, Poppa…”

“And that’s the end of it! This family has no place for ‘Stoopers.’ A ‘Hunter’s Daughter’ marries a hunter!”

“Oh, Poppa…

 THE DAUGHTER BURSTS INTO A WAILING TORRENT OF UNCEASING TEARS.

“Now stop that!  You are rusting my arrowheads!” 

THE DAUGHTER’S WATERWORKS CONTINUE, MORE FORCEFULLY THAN EVER.  THE “SOFTY” FATHER FINALLY RELENTS.

“All right.  I’ll meet him.”

(REGAINING COMPOSURE, SUSPICIOUSLY QUICKLY) “Great!”  

“And tell him, I'm expecting an animal offering.  Not a basket of cherries.” 

“I promise, Poppa, someday you will love him as much as do. And just think.  Our children will be the first generation in history of ‘Gatherer-Hunters.’”

“‘Hunter-Gatherers.’  And that’s a ‘Deal Breaker.’”

And there you have it.

A frivolous fantasy?  

Perhaps.

Still, I can’t imagine a “Hunter-Father” taking unwelcome “Gatherer” news lying down.

And yet they say “Hunter-Gatherers” like it’s the easiest thing in the world.

Savvy of skeletons.

But clueless about people.

Monday, September 24, 2018

"The Missing 'Edge'"

If a baseball team has good pitching, good hitting and good fielding, and they are virtually the same team as the one that went to the World Series, and came within one game of winning it last year, and thisyear with virtually exactly the same roster they are struggling desperately to make playoffs, it is then reasonable to point the accusing finger for this lackluster season notat the participants on the field but instead at the participants off the field – meaning the executive “Front Office”, which, after the longest sentence I have ever written, I hereby blamingly call out.

Whew.

A little baseball history… but not too much.  I promise. 

Back in 2002, burdened with the smallest payroll in baseball, the Oakland A’s (for “Athletics”) needed to find low-priced “diamonds-in-the-rough” to make them competitive with teams with substantially larger budgets.

Following a “sabermetric” approach, constructed by legendary baseball analyst Bill James, the A’s studied previously neglected statistics – “on-base percentage”, which includes walks notjust hits, (because who cares how you get on base?), “fielding percentage” (assessing run-saving defensiveability), etc. – the A’s execs unearthed low-priced talent, overlooked because they rated less highly by the less scrupulous standards of the day, which, beyond affordability, helped the Athletics to win.  

Using unconsidered statistics, the A’swon more games than an impoverished franchise predictably should.  (They are doing surprisingly well this season.)  Soon, other teams, like the Boston Red Soxcaught the statistical fever, and, combining the innovative techniques with an opulent payroll, the Red Sox won three World Series since 2004, after winning none since 1918.

Watching the winning, the sabermetric tidal wave inevitably swelled.  A Red Sox chief executive moved to the Chicago Cubs, where, in 2016, applying similar techniques, he brought the Cubs their first World Series championship since 1908.

The Dodgers too ascended the sabermetrical bandwagon, and, in 2017, they made their first World Series appearance since 1988.

So what happened this "down" season? 

Too much “numbers.”  

Not enough “feel for the game.”

Here’s how that worked. Or, based on this year’s Dodgers’ “Won-Lost” record, doesn’t work.

Hubristically energized by last season’s success, every “Game Day”, the Dodgers executives, through their compliant manager, assemble a lineup based on  statistically reliable winning-edge “match-ups” – determining which hitters are likely to prevail against which pitchers – the most reliable predictor being that if the opponents’ “Starting Pitcher” is a “Lefty”, you strategically load up your lineup with right-handed hitters.  And, of course, vice versa.  (Which, being smart people, you can figure out for yourselves.)

That’s how they construct each individual game’s batting order, calibrating their chances of winning strictly according to “match-ups.”   

It sounds good, a “Blackjack” aficionado, cleverly “counting the cards.”  But here’s what happens when you go entirely by “match-ups.”

Focusing solely on “winning-edge” advantage determining by which batters are in here, throughout this entire season, the Dodgers have had no set outfield.  The Dodgers also have had no predictable batting order.  And the Dodgers infielders, meant to execute like a well-calibrated timepiece, are moved in and out of position, dependent entirely on who’s pitching against them.

Most egregious example:

(Note:  This has nothing to do with injuries.  Just statistical strategy.)

The Dodgers’ left-handed first baseman is often positioned in center field, although only against right-handed pitchers.  (So his replacement at "first", another left-handed batter, can be inserted into the lineup.)  By my unofficial count, five different Dodgers have played first base this year.  And only one of them is consistently good at it.  And that guy’s out in the outfield.  Where he is not necessarily the best outfielder.

Hey, guys.  What happened to “Fielding Percentage”?

But more importantly… and I heard a retired ballplayer say this on TV just yesterday, his critical gist being:

“Hey, “Brain Trust”!  They’re not robots!  They are not interchangeable parts!  Yes, they’re wonderful athletes.  And they’ll never complain because they‘re professionals.  But, believe me, I was a player.  They do not enjoy what you are telling them to do. 

“There is something intrinsically valuable in running out the same line-up and batting order on a regular basis.  It provides structural stability, a measure of ‘team cohesion’ and a predictable ‘comfort zone’ for the players.”

With a hyper-reliance on statistical analysis, the players’ “predictable comfort zone” has been effectively obliterated.   And along with it, the razor-slim winning-edge sabermetrics was originally intended to supply.

If the players the Dodgers Front Office assembled can’t win, they should get new players.  Having selected the players they have, however, it would be helpful if they trusted them.  And they remember they’re human.

A "team" is more than uniformed chess pieces.

Paraphrasing the Muppets,

You gotta put down the “Stats Sheet” if you want to play the saxophone.

Friday, September 21, 2018

"Sunday Morning Reading - A Selected Section Of The Newspaper"

Today’s focus being the New York Times Sunday “Book Review” section, September the 9th, 2018.  (I am nothing if not untimely.  Call it “Warm off the Presses”, and leave it at that.)

I have mentioned before that the thoughts and beliefs we take inare crucially significant.  You know “You are what you eat”?  Well, in my unscientific but my hopefully not entirely dismissible opinion, you are also what you mentally absorb.  And I mean totally.

Where else would our ideas come from?  We are born with “Goo goo.”

“Newborn baby, how did we get to this sorry state of political affairs?... Ooh, you just spit up. Was that a coincidence or ‘non-verbal communication?’”

Will Rogers famously observed, “All I know is what I read in the papers.”  If he were alive today, he’d have added the Internet.  And then skillfully circled his lasso, and winked.

Our “Library of Wisdom” comes comprehensively from “outside.”  Nothing we believe is internally derived.  

What is “internally derived” is our inherent “filtering system.”

Let me (necessarily) explain.

As with the foods we consume, there is something internally programmed about us, allowing us to absorb some “intellectual nutrients” and reject others. This natural selection process is what makes us, individually, who we are.  

I know this from experience. I see a guy on TV talking about Physics – I “remote” away fast as my fingers can carry me.  I find a guy talking about the Battle of Gettysburg, and I stay for the entire lecture, plus the following “Q & A.”     

That is simply the way I am. And – who knows? – possibly others are, as well.  Something about the subject matter generically holds our attention, or sends us scrambling for something that will.  

Okay, so I am perusing the “Book Review” section of the Sunday New York Times.  I check the “Table of Contents”, skimming the “Fiction” section, for recognizable authors – otherwise, I’m off to “Non Fiction”, where I am more comfortably at home. 

Meaning, my personalized “filtering system” is already at work.

Though not entirely.

Casually scanning the “Fiction” listings – to confirm my visceral disinterest – the name Yazmina Reza suddenly catches my attention.  I recognize that name.  Yazmina Reza wrote two plays I saw and semi-enjoyed – Art and The God of Carnage.

I turn to the review of her book, Babylon(Reviewed by Erica Wagner), about a social gathering that ends in catastrophe.  There is no chance I will ever read Babylon.  Still, I am powerfully drawn to a line from it quoted in the review’s final paragraph, which says:

“People who think there’s some orderly system to life – they’re lucky.”

Why does that line intrigue me?  

Because the author and I hold similar beliefs – that people who believe there’s some orderly system to life (as well as other helpful beliefs) make no deliberate decision to do so.  They’re just chromosomally lucky. 

Moving on…

Boom Town, by Sam Anderson (Reviewed by Will Blythe.)

Boom Town chronicles the history of Oklahoma City.  I enjoy history, and I am further attracted by the book’s subtitle:  “The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dreams of Becoming a World-Class Metropolis.”  So I read the review.   

Again, I recall very little about the book (other than the author’s calling OKC “… the great minor city of America.”)  What I more dominantly recall is the included mention of the term “Sooners.”  

The settling of Oklahoma was famous for its precipitating “Land Rush”, where, on a signaling cannon shot, thousands of people tore off to stake claims to free land.  (Taken from the Indians.)  Skullduggerous sneaks who left early were pejoratively called “Sooners.”

Now “Sooners” in the Oklahoma football team’s celebrated nickname.

How did that happen? They’d never call them the “Oklahoma Land Grabbers.”

I had always wondered about that curious transformation, where, as the author reports, the appellation “Sooner”“… had been whitewashed into a folksy moniker and team nickname. It felt vindicating, knowing authorized historians were equally perplexed.

And then finally…
“21 Lessons For the 21stCentury”by Yuval Noah Harari, which captured the coveted front page of theTimes “Book Review” section, partly because it’s an “important” book, and – perhaps more significantly – because the book’s reviewer was Bill Gates.

I also recall very little about thatbook.  I read the review.  But not a single lesson for the 21th century stayed with me.  

Although this included paragraph did.

Quoting from Gates’s review:

“Here’s another worry that Harari deals with:  In an increasingly complex world, how can any of us have enough information to make educated decisions?  It’s tempting to turn to experts, but how do you know they’re not just following the herd?  ‘The problem of group-think and individual ignorance besets not just ordinary voters and customers’, he writes, ‘but also presidents and C.E.O’s.’  That rang true to me from my experience at both Microsoft and the Gates Foundation.  I have to be careful not to fool myself into thinking things are better – or worse – than they actually are.” 

With his troubling concern about knowing “how things actually are”, Gates summarizes half of my blog posts.  (The other half being about when I actually did things, and not, less excitingly, thought things.)  

The above-cited paragraph readily jumped into my head, where it was enthusiastically received by a like-minded contention.

Leading me finally to wonder…

Did I learn anything, reading the Sunday Times “Book Review” section?

Or had I spent forty-five minutes, 

patting myself on the back?

Thursday, September 20, 2018

"Written During The Kavanaugh Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings"

Here’s the thing.  

Which I assert with neither professional knowledge nor training, or individualized personal study, even.  When you write a blog, you get a certificate that says, “You don’t have to know anything. Just write.”  So that’s what I’m doing.  While harboring an outside chance of tripping over a reasonable perspective. Or at least one you won’t haughtily dismiss.  

Hopefully.  (And by the way, who made you so haughty?)

Two recent nominees for Supreme Court appointments, first, Chief Justice Roberts (during his confirmation hearing in 2005) and now Brett Kavanaugh, have compared being a judge to being a baseball umpire.  Their decisions are not personal.  They simply call the judicial version of “balls and strikes”, following accepted codified instructions.

Interrupting Note: There has been serious talk about doing away with home plate umpires and have balls and strikes called by replacing computers.  Following the aforementioned analogy, does that mean computers will soon be occupying the bench?  

“All rise for the Apple iJudge 11!” 

Just asking…

Anyway,

Assailing the (self-servingly – there it is again – inaccurate) comparison of judges to umpires, Erwin Chemerinsky, distinguished Dean of the Berkeley Law School op-eds,

“… justices are not umpires at all.  Umpires apply rules and have little leeway in determining how those rules should be interpreted.  The Supreme Court {on the other hand} creates the rules and justices have enormous discretion in how they interpret the law.”

Chemerinsky goes on – at unnecessary length, which I shall prove with condensing brevity – to explain that “the Constitution was written – intentionally – in broad open-ended language…” requiring determining interpretations on disputed issues presented to the court, many of which were not foreseeable in the 18thCentury.  (When the Constitution was written. But you probably knew that already.)

Examples are offered demonstrating how different Justices regularly adhere to contrasting “readings” of Constitutional pronouncements, like for example, the issue of whether limiting campaign contributions is an infringement on “Free Speech”, or whether the Second Amendment about gun ownership involves individuals or militias.  (Even though the word “militia” is specifically mentioned in the amendment, causing some people to immediately stop typing, slapping their foreheads with the palm of their hands.  I mean, how much clearer can it be?) 

Chemerinsky’s blanketing contention is that “How a justice votes is very much a result of his or her ideologies and views…”

Which is where me and Dean Erwin part company.

In terms of “primary focus.”

Chemerinsky’s summarizing point is, “Don’t say ‘umpire” because it creates…

“…a misleading sense of constitutional law to the Senate Judiciary Committee {and} the American people.”

Okay, fine.  But, to me, that’s small potatoes.

A guy angling for a job on the Supreme Court proclaims his impartiality, promising he will assiduously “follow the rules.” Chemerinsky, however, says that never happens.  Judges, he authoritatively asserts, make their decisions, thumbs-on-the-scalesedly influenced by “his or her ideologies and views.” 

So tell me, what’s more important?

A fawning job applicant applying a faulty analogy?  Or a Justice with a clear ideological record voting exactly the way you expect them to vote, filling the august body with biased ideologues whose final decisions depend entirely – at least nowadays – on the court’s “liberal-conservative” balance at the time?

I mean, come on.  On the cases that matter, how many votes are an actual surprise?

Sitting Justices I’ve seen interviewed adamantly insist the Supreme Court is not “political.”  Tell me, what exactly is making decisions based on “personal ideologies and views”? (By judges appointed by “political” presidents, expressly because of their personal ideologies and views) 

Yes, nominee Kavanaugh is misleading about “umpire.”

But the Supreme Court is misleading its head off about “impartial.”

Me and Erwin have similar concerns about distorting reality.

It’s just, 

My issue is bigger.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

"Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) 5779"

Last chance to be inscribed in "The Book of Life."

I am here twice today.

Doubling down on my begging for life.

Stay tuned...

As I will.

What else are my choices?

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

"Playing Strictly To Type"

“It is better to be ‘type cast’ than not cast at all.”

– A “Character Actor” I once knew.

We were watching an English murder mystery, and, typically in such programming, there is a “Person of Interest” instantly characterized as “mousy.”

(I was watching a “prototypical” one when this pondering came to me.)

Which made me wonder:

How does it feel to be constantly characterized as “mousy”?

I mean, an actor’s characterized as “Manly”, they go – Clooneyishly humbly – “I guess I could fool them with that.” 

A “Blonde Bombshell”? You might get some dates expecting more than you are willing to deliver – cameramen soliciting your phone number between “takes.”  But overall, it’s not terrible.  

On the other hand…

“Mousy”?

Do you really want to go through life the human equivalent of a rodent?

What if you are actually not“mousy” at all?  What if, in an annoying twist of Fate, you only look“ mousy” but are in realitya “A Blonde Bombshell.”  (Alternate hair color notwithstanding.)  Though you can never be cast as a “Blonde Bombshell”, looking inarguably “mousy.”  

(Until some bold director, detecting “Bombshell” potential beneath the veneer of overt “mousiness”, wants you for “The Lead”, but the conventional studio says “No.” 

Too ‘mousy.’”

Is it actually – inescapably – possible, wonders a man with a thin frame and no muscles, that our outward appearance is more causally determinative of our destiny that we would comfortably like to believe?  That’s “us”, and that’s it?

There are examples when “type” has been successfully overridden by, I don’t know… driving ambition.

In 1980, there was this joke around the Republican nominating process:

“Ronald Reagan for president.”

To which the savvy reaction was,

“No.  Ralph Bellamy for president.  Ronald Reagan for ‘Best Friend.’”

Still, Ronald Reagan became president.  (Bellamy costarring instead in Trading Places.)  

So it can happen. Stick a nose on classically English Sir Alec Guinness and he’s an Arab.  Great actors can do that.  British “Outside-Inside” actors, where “physical exterior” says, “That is precisely who I am.”

“Ah, yes, the ‘nose.’ Call me ‘Prince Faisal.’  Except at ‘Tea Break.’”

Geniuses aside, most actors predominantly bestplay one thing.  And if they’re lucky, they’ll make a nice living at it.  (Note:  This limiting practice was even more prominent during the “Studio Era” where actors were repeatedly requiredto play the same character.  “Gabby Hayes” as Hamlet?

“Not at Republic, he’s not.”  

“GABBY” HAYES:  “Are they holdin’ me back?  Yer dern tootin’!

Okay, so you’re “mousy.” And here’s another audition.  

What do you do?

Maneuvering for the part,, you dress decidedly “mousy.”  Maintain a distinctively “mousy” hairstyle.  Adopt a tentative gait in your nondescript footwear.  

And off you go.  (Hoping to contract a sniffle along the way.  Daubing your drizzling nose, a crumpled Kleenexplucked from the sleeve of your unfitting cardigan?  

Nothing says “mousy” more than “a congenital drip.”  

You park your car, step into the “Production Office” – 

It’s wall-to-wall “mousiness.”

(Except for the “Personal Assistant”, who’s authoritative.  Which likely got them the job in the first place.)

You nod to your competitors in cowering passivity, and wait.
  
They call you in, thank you for coming, and they offer you a seat.  Already “in character”, you simperingly sit down, anxiously clutching your “sides.”  (The extracted portion of the script highlighting your character’s signature behavior.)

No one is fooling anyone. The stage directions describethe character as “mousy.”  Or, transparently sparing the feelings of the actor, “on the ‘mousy-ish’ side”, dodging “'Lazy Writing' Cliché” on a weasely technicality. 

You stumble awkwardly through your audition – a credible “mousy” performance requirement – they say, “Thank you”, and you leave.

Reasonably certain you got the job.  

Nobody does “mousy” better than youdo.  (Belated “gender balancing”:  “Milquetoasty” for men.)  

Over the years of “honing your craft” you’ve perfected “mousy” down to a science –  look in the dictionary under “mousy”, there is a picture of you.  Or if you had a better agent, there would be.

Your bracing confidence belies the labeling characteristic.  

You’renot “mousy.” 

“Mousy” is only what you do.

And yet…

Good as you are, like the gunfighter who inevitably meets their match,

There is always somebody out there who’s “mousier.”

Who knows?  Maybe you arenaturally “mousy.”

If you weren’t, you would kill them.

And “mousily” act like you didn’t.   

Monday, September 17, 2018

"Me Frist"

Let’s start with the Talmud, segue to NFL Football and end up at the White House.

Top that, popular blog destinations!

I recall very little of my very little amount of Talmudic studies at the Toronto Hebrew Day School,making this, in terms of personal understanding, a tenuous sliver of a tenuous sliver.

But that’s all I‘ve got so I’m using it.

Aside from the issues relating to your ox wandering onto your neighbor’s property (Who did it subsequently belong to?), which barely captured my attention, my family not owning an ox, I recall a more interesting conundrum concerning,

“If you and another person are stranded in the desert, and you have only enough water to sustain one of you, who gets to drink it – you, in which case the other person is a goner, or the other person, in which case youare?”

“And the answer is… “, cracking the envelope at the “Talmies”, the annual Talmud Awards extravaganza – 

You drink it.”

To which my reaction is – and probably was when I was twelve –  

“Phew!”

Apparently, somewhere in the Bible, Talmudic scholars, poring assiduously over its contents, gleaned that “You drink it” was not a personal option – so no “Sydney Cartoning” it in the desert – it was “Divine Instruction.”

And who wants ignore that!  

And so, at least for Talmud followers, the Celestial Sanction for “Self-Preservation” was officially codified:

“If it comes down to you or them – you are instructed to save you.”  

Self-interested action was not deemed to be selfish.  It was the normal and natural – and Divinely ordained, for that matter – way to behave.

The question then is,

If self-interest is normal and natural, does the word “selfish” have any functional meaning at all, or was it just the “guilting” last word of a person, denied life-saving water in the desert?

Or any paralleling arrangement where someone puts themselves first and you angrily respond, “Don’t be like that.”

Okay, on to NFL Football.  More specifically a recent article in the newspaper (which for those of you scoring at home is the germinal genesis of this blog post.)  

NFL ratings are dropping.  Ten percent last season, after an eight percent tumble the season before. The football season is starting. A probing investigation seems thoroughly appropriate.

Reading that article, my interest was not about the NFL losing significant viewership.  I took note, instead, of the people quoted in it.

Specifically, what they said and, imaginably, why they said it.

First came Jim Nantz, a longtime network football announcer, meaning he’s prominent and he’s rich. (Two good things you want to hold on to.)  

In the context of the publicized issue of life-altering concussions and its affect on the popularity of the game, Nantz’s response, to whether he’d let his two year-old son play football (the words,  “… when he gets older” being naturally understood) was:

“It’s too early to make that decision… My wife, the daughter of a high school football coach – she’ll tell you ‘no’.  We’ll wait and see.  They are trying to make the game safer.  That is undeniable.”

Did you spot any screaming “self-interest” in that answer? Or is that me, being grumpily cynical?

Next.  (In the same article.)

“Even though the ratings have been down the last few years, {football’s} still very attractive to advertisers.  It wouldn’t surprise me if the ratings bounce back this year. I’m hoping that they do.”

Would it surprise youto learn that that cheery prognostiction was delivered by CBS Chairman Sean McManus? (Who reportedly paid close to a billion dollars for the rights to broadcast NFL ballgames?)  

How do you spell “self-interest”?  

Ignoring the facts and saying what helps you.

Finally – following the unwavering “Rule of Threes”, plus there was a topping pertinent example in the article – here’s Mike Mulvihill, executive vice president for research, league operations and strategy at Fox Sports (who also shelled out close to a cool billion for NFL broadcast rights):

“Because of the movement of scripted consumption to ad-free environments, I think out position as a seller is actually the strongest it’s ever been.”

Down 18% in two years. And their position is actually stronger than it’s ever been.

I wonder, do journalists bite their cheeks when they take down these prejudiced pronouncements?  Or do they think:  “These ludicrous whoppers are (“self-servingly”) good for my story.”  Pleasing their editors, and allowing people to joyfully snort milk out their noses while they’re reading it.

The “Final Jump” in this narrative Tic-Tac-Toe:

The White House.

If acting from “self interest” is strategically acceptable – even to “De Lawd” – how do you fault a president in serious legal difficulties for lying “self-servingly” to escape them?  

“Tell the truth?  That’s giving the last water the Mueller!

No “Big Finish” here. The issue of “limiting boundaries” in this behavior is so dizzily confounding to me the best I can do is just lay the thing out.  

A “self-serving” disclaimer? 

Hey, back off.

I’m just joining the parade.

Friday, September 14, 2018

"The Oracle Of Television" *

* Me.  **

** No entrails were involved in the execution of this prediction.   Chicken or otherwise.

GRATEFUL CHICKEN:  “Thank you.”

GRATEFUL OTHERWISE:  “Us too.  Whoever we are.”

In truth, my prediction was less oracular than intuitive. ***

*** Making “oracular” more a metaphorical device.

“DEAR MR. POMERANTZ:  I HAVE BEEN AUTHORIZED TO NOTIFY YOU THAT YOU HAVE EXPENDED YOU ASTIRISKAL ALLOTMENT FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS CALENDAR YEAR.  IF YOU PERSIST IN THIS EXCESSIVE ASTERISK ABUSE, THERE WILL BE SERIOUS, PUNITIVE CONSEQUENCES.  THANK YOU.” 

Sorry.  I didn’t know there was a quota.

“WELL THERE IS.  TO YOUR ALLOTMENT OF ASTERISKS.  AND TO OUR PATIENCE.”

Got it.

Okay.  So I made this prediction.  

And it turned out to be correct.

… was all I was trying to convey.

For some reason – perhaps because I was riding high with a TV series I had developed called Major Dad (which ran for four seasons, affording me and my family a swimming pool) – anyway… for whatever reason, they asked me participate on this panel, whose “Topic in Question” was:

“The Skyrocketing Costs of Television Production.”

It was effectively a business panel, exemplified by the fact that the four other panelists were top tier television executives – presidents of networks, studios and major production companies.

And then there was me. 

Who knew nothing about the business he was in, except that it paid well and it kept me from doing something that paid less.  I should perhaps end that sentence right there.   Though an equally fortuitous element was that my involvement in show business meant I did not have to do anything else, which is good, because I am unsuited to do anything else.

Everyone on the panel was asked for an “Opening Statement” concerning the issue of runaway production expenses.  The preset seating arrangement – deliberate or otherwise – meant that I would speak last.

The first four speakers, in differing formulations, said virtually the same thing.  TV shows’ budgets were ballooning due to rapidly rising expenditures for “Above-the-Line” talent.  (Actors, writers, directors.  I’d have put an asterisk after “talent”, but I have apparently used them all up.)  The obvious solution was a contractual “roll- back.”

Finally, it was my turn. 

Speaking slowly and deliberately, I said,

“There are a lot of smart people on this panel.  And they all agree on the solution to this problem.  They all say – and who would contradict four extremely smart people? – that the way to reduce the costs of runaway television production….

“… is to cut my salary.”

The room exploded in laughter.  And this was a roomful of businessmen.  They only laugh when they’re receiving their bonuses.  And that’s more a maniacal cackle.

I had struck a nerve by exposing an inequity.  No television executive I’m aware of ever entered into negotiations with their employers during tough economic times, saying,

“I am willing to take less.” 

But they wanted meto.

(NOTE:  Any corrective information involving TV executives who took less would be greatly appreciated.  I have no interest in trading in falsehoods.)

My auguring prediction occurred later in the festivities when I suggested that writers would be willing to receive lower salaries in exchange for more creative control, meaning, less outside interference in the content and execution of the programming.

A brave voice from the darkness proclaimed,

“Have your agent give me a call.”

Which got a laugh from the television business executives, although it was nothing like mine, showing that truth is funnier than a cynical retort.

This panel discussion took place in the early 90’s.  Cable television had arrived, providing growing competition for the reigning “Big Three” – CBSNBC and ABC.   

But – and herein lies the underlying point of my prescient prognostication –  

Though the “Above the Line” talent on cable – and now the streaming services – accepted lower paychecks than they’d receive working on network TV…

Trumpeting Accompaniment:  “Bump-bada-bum-bum-bum-baaaaaaahhhh!!!”

They received more creative control!

(Bring cable and streaming services bushels of Emmys for “Excellence”, and “The Big Three” networks virtually none.

As Taxi’s Louie Da Palma would say, inserting the triumphing needle:

“Nyeh!”

In a way, I am better than the Oracles of Antiquity.

Their pronouncements were always enigmatic, open to varying interpretations.

My prediction was clear as a bell.

And no chickens were mutilated in the process.

UNDAMAGED CHICKEN:  “Explaining your framed picture in henhouses across the nation.”

I am honored by the acknowledgement.  

Though television executives may not remember, 

At least I am appreciated by poultry. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

"The Way I See Things"

Dead giveaways…

I watch Congressional hearings on C-SPAN and try to guess which party the current speaker belongs to, exclusively by their haircuts.

I am almost always correct. “Hair that won’t move.”  “Hair covering the ears.”  “A telltale beard.”  The signs are clear to anyone who can read them.  An Indian scout studying a war arrow, going, “Comanche!”

All the evidence is before you.  You just have to take notice.

Similarly – although less visibly provable – almost anything I read betrays in its presentation – down to the specific word choices – a primary – and to me, most explanatorily significant – characteristic about the writer:

Are they an optimist, or are they a pessimist?  

(Note: Pessimists, at least in this country, find it more difficult to get published.  Compare two titles:  “The End of the World” and “The End of the World… And How We Can Avoid it.”)

I am a pessimist. (Which you probably already know. By personal intuition, or because I have mentioned it on numerous occasions.)

My innate negativity seeps to the cellular level.  I believe it’s genetic.  I am sure I came into this world, anxiously shaking my newborn head.

“This is not going to be pleasant.”

Consider this revelatory example:

An “Innate Pessimist” going to breakfast.

Shoop’s is a nearby deli/diner, serving great coffee and magnificent blueberry pancakes.  I step in one Sunday morning for breakfast, “weekend early” – about seven-thirty in the morning.  Looking around, I see an astonishing tableau.

The entire diner – not large, eight or so tables – is filled with Santa Monica police officers.  It’s a veritable “Cops’ Convention.”  There are literally no other customers.  The place is wall-to-wall “eggs, any style”, and loaded firearms.

An Optimist’s Reaction

“This is the safest restaurant in the entire city.”

A Congenital Pessimist’s Reaction:
  
“Early this morning, a crazed gunman with a vendetta towards law enforcement burst into a Santa Monica diner…”  

Lower down in the report:

“Also slain, a retired comedy writer, eating blueberry pancakes.”  

I cannot help it; that is exactly the way I think.  Where others see idyllic safety, I see unscheduled mayhem, with me, an accidental includee, signaling the waiter who had forgotten the syrup.

A more recent example, occurring at this very desk… (although, this time, nobody was injured.)

I complete the opening draft of a blog post.  I print it up.  I make handwritten changes on the pages.  I turn to the computer to type the revisions into my first draft.  

I check the screen…

The first draft has entirely disappeared.

The screen is astonishingly empty, save for the empty whiteness signaling “You’re first draft is gone.”

I nervously scroll up.

No first draft.

I press the “Reverse” arrow that brings deleted material back up.

No dice.

I “Exit” the program. Count ten.  And then enter back in.

The draft remains nowhere to be seen.

I check my program file’s “Recent” list.

The post’s designating title is not included.

I do not know what happened. 

But I do know it’s trouble.

What do I do then?

I curse.  I sigh.  I laugh sardonically.  I cry.  (The last two added for rhyming purposes only.)  

And then, using the available printeddraft, I type the whole thing over again.  Which takes about forty-five minutes.

When I am done typing, I do this one last thing.  I scroll down to the bottom of the post, and I delete any accidentally included spaces that would make the printer crank out a subsequent page with no words on it, which frequently happens when the previous page types down to the bottom.  

And when I execute that final maneuver…

I find the original draft of my blog post.

In its entirety.

That’s the “Pessimist’s Brain” in action.  Believing you’ve exhausted all the ameliorating possibilities, you surrender to the “inevitable” and start again, the controlling truth – that kept “Scrolling Down” entirely absent from your consciousness – being the subliminal belief – from the beginning– that all was lost.

The optimist may believe all will ultimately be well.  The pessimist’s “Default Position”:  It most definitely won’t be.  (And that optimists are idiots.)  (Who seem to get more accomplished than they do.)

On some occasions – like the foregoing – guaranteeing that outcome.

Wait.  You know what, darnit!  (I say “Darnit!” when I am serious about something.)

It’s okay – and cautionarily helpful – to be aware of your natural proclivities.   But you do not have to give into them.  

“No!” says I. “No!”  And “No!” again!

I am determined to end this on an “up.”  

Let’s see now.

……………………………………………………

……………………………………………………

Um…

……………………………………………………

……………………………………………………

Hold on.

This might take a minute….