Saturday, December 15, 2012

"...and I'm gonna get the guns."


Facebook was on fire yesterday with sympathy and support for the families who have been affected by this horrible tragedy in Connecticut.  And unfortunately, influenced by the news channels, a lot of the comments I saw were about guns and gun control and the right to bear arms.
Here are two of the typical ideas I saw, paraphrased:

"If we had better gun laws, this wouldn't keep happening!"

"If all teachers were armed, this wouldn't keep happening!"

People keep saying this tragedy brings the gun issue into focus and that in it's aftermath, it is NOW the time to DO something.  That's silly, of course.  This isn't an easy problem to solve.  Guns have been part of the American culture since their invention.  We used them to kill off the Native Americans we found here.  We used them to fight off our enemies and even each other when we disagreed.  At various points in our history, we needed our guns to survive and to keep our families safe.  Many still believe that they do.  Historically speaking, in our country, it's hard to argue with them.
The problem is that right now, those who oppose guns are feeling self-righteous.  The problem is that right now those who advocate their right to own guns feel cornered and vilified.

And the big problem is that politicians are involved which means instead of dealing on this issue from common ground, we deal with it from polarized strongholds.

The thing is:  I honestly don't think that the majority of gun-owners would have a problem with legislation that made sense as long it also re-certified their rights, both currently and moving forward.  I don't think that gun-owners want those with mental disabilities owning guns.  I don't think gun advocates, outside of a the extremists, feel that there's a need for semi-automatic or automatic weapons being legal.
We have to start with this understanding.  Guns aren't going to disappear.  It's great that so many countries don't have guns and that they have such a small amount of violence.  Our own country is still too new and guns are too much of a part of our identity for that to happen here.

What we need to do is very simple.  Anti-gun people need to step back from the ridiculous idea that getting all guns off the streets is possible.  They need to concede and recognize the right of our citizens to have guns.  Then gun-owners, who don't feel threatened anymore and don't feel like giving and inch will take a mile from them, can concede to some reform that makes sense and makes things better.

There are very few issues that are cut and dried.  The idea that the only win is a total win is one that infects our country and our political system like cancer.  There is common ground among the people.  It's the politicians and activists who are so divided.  They are the ones who want a complete win and want to destroy the opposition.  For the sake of our country though, we need to take this issue away from them.  We can't vilify people for wanting to own guns and wanting to retain their rights to do so.  Just because we don't agree with them doesn't make them wrong.  More importantly, it doesn't make us right.
There is common ground out there.  Fear keeps the two sides from finding it though.  Fear of each other and fear of the consequences of compromising even a little bit.

This morning, ever parent in the country has reason, once again, to consider where they stand on the issue of guns and gun control.  People who normally never even think about the issue, are suddenly in the middle of it.  And that is where I advise them to stay.  In the middle.  This isn't an issue of right and wrong.  It's not an issue that needs to be resolved by going left or right.  It's an issue that needs to be resolved by those in the middle.  It's one where common ground exists but is simply ignored.

No one.  NO ONE wants to see images of 5 year old kids running out of a school that's just been shot up by some lunatic.  And we can't just eliminate the possibility of it ever happening.  We can't.  We're far too ingrained in our personal beliefs on the issue.  But we can come together with the intention of uniting on the middle ground that does exist and making real, actual and immediate change that would make things better now.  We can make it harder for things like this to happen even if we can't stop them altogether.

You can call this idea wishy-washy if you want.  You can say that the fight has to go on until one side or the other wins and if you think the possibility  exists that one side can convince the other that they are right quickly enough to help save the next bunch of kids at the next school, which could easily be the one your own children attend, then I suppose you just carry on and continue the stalemate.  If, however, you understand that there will always be danger to kids--in one form or another--you may want to consider the fact that making your kids as safe as you can make them is the best you can do.  And to allow anything less is a failure.

The gun issue is currently populated by those on one side of the issue or the other.  It needs to be populated by us all.  We need to find common ground and common sense.  We don't live in a world that offers absolute safety to anyone.  We could live in a safer world though.  That goal is out there.  It's attainable.  If we can get the polarized nuts from each side out of it, if we can get the politicians who are swayed by their lobbyists and special interest money instead of their constituents out of it.  If all the parents who cared about their kids and wanted to make them safer came together with the goal of not even trying to decide the gun issue, but instead using common sense to bring about real change, possible change that makes kids more safe, then we could actually make them safer--not safe, never safe, not in this world--but safer.

Safer.  More safe.  Wouldn't that be better?  Or, should we all meet back here in a few months to cry over dead children again?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Illusion of "The Media"


A dear friend recently wrote an article in which it was concluded that the media objectifies and holds certain portions of society back.  The article was written from a feminist slant, but it just as easily could have been written from the perspective of the rich, the poor, minorities, the majority or any segment of society you’d care to name.  In fact, after I’d read that first article I read another, this one from a woman who is deeply conservative/Republican sees a climate of fear and despair everywhere she goes because of the recent travesty of the re-election of our President.  Our opinions are colored by our perspective; our perspective is colored by our experience and our experience is colored by how we define ourselves.  In other words, it’s very difficult to separate ourselves and our experiences and the way we perceive them from the way others may.

I should also confess that I’m currently re-reading Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and my own perspective is currently clouded with humanist thoughts and ideas.  It is through that lens that I am currently seeing the world around me.  I say that because it would be extremely arrogant (okay, that wouldn’t be entirely out of character, would it?) to sit here and say that other’s opinions are clouded while my own is clear and true.  We all think our opinions are clear and true.  We’re all right about that.  We’re also all wrong about it.

And perhaps that’s what’s so troubling to me.  We live in such a world of absolutes.  Our opinions are so black and white.  Those are such scary colors. 

One thing we can all seem to agree upon though is the ironclad fact that the media is at least partly to blame, which leads me to the real question and topic I want to talk about today.  Is there still such a thing as the media?  No.  That’s a poor question.  Of course the media exists because the media is simply this and nothing more, it’s a means of communication and we live in a world that it inundated with more means of communication than can possibly be good for us.

However, for the sake of our argument, let’s look at “the media.”  And by “the media,” of course, we mean the mainstream channels of communication we have available to us such as newspapers, magazines and news programming.  We still pretend that such things exist in the form that we came to understand them in the past.  But the idea that they do exist in that previous form that encompassed journalistic integrity is absurd, is it not?

The newspaper business is a dying one.  In the age of the internet, we want our news now, not a day later.  The reporting of facts in newsprint is laughable.  By the time our morning paper arrives, we very likely know the facts it contains.  So, papers started reporting fewer facts and focused more on commentary about those facts.  It’s a natural progression.  Unfortunately, when you enter the area of commentary and steer away from a straight out reporting of the facts, you get into the area of perception of those facts and the opinions they spawn.  And so we read opinions in newspapers that we associate with being fact delivery systems and walk away misperceiving what we’ve read. 

Television news is even worse.  With the advent of the 24 hours news cycle came the burden of filling it.  And with newspapers and television news both it becomes necessary to sell the advertising to support it making “the media” a business.  A business has a bottom line.  A business has a responsibility to make a profit and then to maximize that profit.  The fact that there are so many news outlets available, each trying to make a profit has forced those news outlets to cater to specifically targeted demographics.  They tailor their news to fit that demographic.  They tell them the things they want to hear. 

If you think you have a completely unbiased, journalistically reliable source of news you are deluded.  Somewhere along the way those stopped existing.  It didn’t happen with a bang, so it’s hard to point to the exact spot where it occurred, but it’s safe to say it’s in our rear view mirror, yet our perception of “the media” and journalism remains. 

Have you ever tried watching the news on a conservative news station and then followed it up by watching the news on a liberal one?  You’d think that you were listening to news on two entirely different dimensions where good and evil, right and wrong, truth and lie were entirely reversed.  In one dimension, there is an evil, tyrannical dictator named Obama who is trying to ruin a leading country.  In the other there is a benevolent leader of the same name who is beset on all sides by evil men and women who, despite his best efforts, are trying to destroy that country. 

Ask most people and they take a side on this.  They have one viewpoint or the other.  If they say they don’t, you shouldn’t be offended.  It’s not you they are lying to, it’s themselves.  Just ask them for a political opinion and observe which newscast’s talking points they parrot.

The idea of “the media” as we once understood it is extinct.  “The media” is now nothing more or less than a loosely affiliated group of businesses whose primary aim is profit through the dissemination of opinions. 

Let that sink in for a moment.

If you own a conservative based newspaper there is no profit in reporting news with anything but a completely conservative slanted set of opinions.  If you own a liberal based news network you must always appease your advertisers who determine whether or not your business is profitable and you keep your job. 

And still, we perceive what we read and what we see as “news.”  We still perceive “the media” as having journalistic integrity.  Take a moment to laugh at the absurdity of that concept—journalistic integrity.  If you believe in it perhaps you’d like to go unicorn hunting with me sometime?

The problem comes when we start blaming “the media” for this or that.  How can you blame people for having opinions?  Opinions, it’s famously said, are like assholes.  Everyone has one and they usually stink.  In order to believe that “the media” is to blame for anything you have to first believe in the idea that “the media” exists as more than some mythical ideal.  You may as well believe in unicorns that fart glittery rainbows.  “The media” isn’t a thing.  It probably never truly was but in this day and age, it clearly only exists in our minds.  We perceive the opinions that please us as news.  Facts are jokes.  You can make facts of lies as easily as you can make piles of shit.  You can make a survey say whatever you’d like it to say.  You can make people believe whatever you want them to believe.  We live in a sales and marketing world and believe in the facts that get us to buy what they are selling if they target us properly. 

So, how can we possibly blame the unicorns for all that ails us?  I’ve done it.  It’s an easy thing to do.  We want to believe in “the media.”  We want to believe in journalistic integrity.  Wake up.  Your doctor’s primary business is making money, not making you healthy.  Your priest’s primary business is getting butts in seats and donations in the baskets, not helping you get to heaven.  And “the media” exists to sell you things, not to report the news. 

If you read a magazine with offensive articles and advertisements you can’t blame the magazine.  They simply cater to a targeted demographic that has statistically proven to buy whatever they are selling in it.  You have to blame the people who read that magazine.  People don’t read those things and look at those ads despite the fact that they exist.  They read them because they exist.

Adam Levine, the lead singer of the group Maroon 5 recently said this about the television show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, “Seriously, Honey Boo Boo is the DECAY of Western civilization.  Just because so many people watch the show doesn’t mean it’s good.  So many people witness atrocities and can’t take their eyes away from them, but that doesn’t mean they’re good...” 

“That show is literally The. Worst. Thing. That’s. Ever. Happened.  It’s complete f****g ignorance and the most despicable way to treat your kids. “F*** those people. You can put that in the magazine: F*** those idiots.  They’re just the worst.  Sorry, I’m so sensitive to that — like, I don’t know, man, it’s upsetting.  Just to clarify, I said, ‘F*** THOSE PEOPLE.’”

I’m sure many of us feel that way.  And still, every week, people tune in to watch it.  If they didn’t it wouldn’t exist.  That show depends on advertising revenue.  Without it, the show would be cancelled.  It’s profitable to televise that show, as it’s profitable to televise the show were Adam Levine sits in judgment of the talent of other people, because people want to watch and advertisers will pay to advertise on shows that people watch.

It’s not the show’s fault.  It’s not the network’s fault.  It’s not the advertiser’s fault.  It’s the fault of those who watch the show.  We reap what we sow.  That show is broadcast on The Learning Channel.  I can’t even begin to understand what it is we’re supposed to be learning?  I suppose it’s that an audience exists for this show.  It’s that television shows that feature people going on to see the results of paternity tests have an audience.

I think of the Russell Crowe line in the movie Gladiator.  “Are you not entertained?”  He says that line after killing another man in the name of entertainment for a crowd.  The contest was put on by an emperor who did it to keep the common folk happy.  It was part of a celebration of their nation’s power and prominence. 

It’s silly, I think, to blame the media for anything.  They are simply giving us what we want.  If we didn’t want to see, hear, read, watch whatever it is they are putting out, we wouldn’t and the advertising for it would dry up and then it wouldn’t exist.  We find “the media” to be so abominable not because of what it puts out.  We simply hate what it says about us.  We hate that it is nothing more than a mirror and it shows us something very ugly—something we’d rather not see and certainly don’t want to acknowledge. 

Nothing exists without our consent and nothing lasts without our approval.

    

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

ESPN is the Devil.


I quit ESPN.  No, that’s not entirely accurate.  It might be more accurate to say that I stepped away from ESPN for a while.  I took a little vacation from ESPN.  It was driving me crazy.  I had to do it.  And now that I have, I’m so glad that I did.  ESPN was slowly driving me insane.

I should start by saying that I was an ESPN junkie.  I could easily take in 3 SportsCenter’s, an Outside the Lines, Around the Horn and Pardon The Interruption in a single day.  Sometimes it was more.  Maybe it’s not really meant to be watched that much?  It’s certainly not healthy.  

The problem became that I started loathing certain people.  It began with Brett Favre, it continued to LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Jerry Sandusky and of course, Tim Tebow.  I hate them.  I hate all with a mighty passion.  Sandusky, clearly deserves my hatred, but the others?  What have they done?  Brett Favre should be someone I hate as a lifelong Bears fan, but until ESPN ruined him, what I had was a grudging respect for him.  He was a warrior on the field and I wished that he could have played for my team.  He was a class act and fun to watch.  Now, I get the anger shakes the second someone mentions his name and if I ever see Rachel Nichols reporting live from a high school in Favre’s home town again I cannot be held responsible for whatever it is I do next.  I will plead ESPN-induced insanity and no judge in the country would lock me up.

It’s not easy filling a 24-hour news cycle.  Or, perhaps it’s that ESPN tries to make it easy.  Instead of finding the best stories out there from the many professional athletes available for study, ESPN finds a story, makes it bigger than it needs to be, inundates us and saturates us with so much of the story that we start to resent the person it’s about because we grow tired of them and then bleeds the story of every last drop of blood it can give.

ESPN is a vampire.

Take Tim Tebow as an example.  There isn’t any reason to hate him.  None.  He is a good guy.  I could do without the, “All praise to Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior,” stuff.  Jesus didn’t help you win the game Tim.  He doesn’t care about football.  Trust me.  He also doesn’t want to be in a sentence that’s butted up against another where you praise your rotund, loud-mouthed coach.  I think Jesus prefers to remain as separate as possible from Rex Ryan.  But that’s it.  That’s my only complaint about him.  I’ll give him this much, Tebow walks the walk too.  He reaches out to the poor, to prisoners, to children suffering across the globe.  He doesn’t say bad things about his teammates or the other team.  He plays hard.  He gives his all.  There really isn’t anything to dislike about him.

But, I hate him.  I do.  I hate Tim Tebow.  Why do I hate Tim Tebow?  Because every time he brushes his teeth ESPN puts together a panel of former players to discuss how he did it, if he did it good enough and if he should be allowed to continue to do it—or if he should be made to let his teeth rot.  In fact, that Tebow hasn’t snapped and choked a sideline reporter to death is yet another reason to like the man, but I am so sick of even hearing his name that I could find out tomorrow that he’s the Second Coming and I’d wind up converting to Judaism.

And these former players!  ESPN hires all of these former players to do commentary and I hate most of them too!  Tim Hasselbeck?  Tim Hasselbeck is going to sit on that fancy set and criticize professional football players?  Tim Hasselbeck once had a 0.0% passer rating in game against the Dallas Cowboys!  He threw 6 completions and 4 interceptions in that game!  He may quite possibly be one of the worst players to ever play his position but that doesn’t stop him for a moment from spewing absolute venom at current players.  At least Mark Schlereth had a notable career and achieved some success as a player, but it’s hard listening to him talk too. 

Angry and loud, that’s what ESPN seems to coach their analysts to be.  Then they pair them up on a set and let them scream at each other about how horrible today’s players are and how tough it was back when they played.  ESPN has become a retirement community filled with angry, grumpy, retired old men who sit around and bitch about how easy these young fellers have it these days and how they ought better appreciate the struggles they went through to give them the opportunity they have today.  I can only hope that ESPN hires one hell of an Arts & Crafts director to help get these guys blood pressure down after doing all of their rant sessions.

It was during a Tim Hasselbeck rant that I finally lost all patience and started flipping channels.  I came across The Dan Patrick Show, which, in addition to being a sports radio show, is now also broadcast on television.  Patrick, a former SportsCenter host who did his share to put ESPN on the map, is now more like the anti-ESPN.  When his producer mentions Tim Tebow, Patrick actually, physically cringes.  There was no yelling.  No one was screaming.  The former athletes that he had on as guests gave insightful opinions and when they went astray, Patrick reeled them back in—or at very least offered contrast to outrageous opinions. 

I had an epiphany.  I needed to give up ESPN.  I was in deep.  I was an addict, but I needed to give it up.  ESPN, the “Worldwide Leader In Sports” was making me…hate sports.

So, I did.  I gave up ESPN, with one exception.  I still DVR Pardon The Interruption every day.  I enjoy Wilbon & Kornheiser.  Wilbon, in particular, seems to be leery himself of the over-hype and over-saturation of some players, teams and stories that ESPN pounds home with the relentlessness of Fox News crafting story lines for the Republican base.  And it was with that analogy that I understood exactly what had been done to me.  I came looking for news and got sucked into a deliberate and crafted narrative that was aimed at getting me riled up, getting me to hate certain sports figures, getting me to be angry and most importantly, getting me to keep coming back for more. 

I had to get away.  And get away, I did.  It’s not easy though.  I love sports.  I love talking about sports, I love thinking about sports, I love hearing about sports and I love watching sports.  But aside from PTI, I have made myself a promise to only use ESPN for the latter.  I’ll use ESPN.com for news and stay up to date with the goings on and scores.  I’ll watch PTI because I enjoy the banter of two old friends who, at their hearts, are sports journalists and not rally men.  I’ll watch Monday Night Football or a college game, but I’m done with all other ESPN programming.  Enough is enough. 

I don’t like being manipulated.  Sports are interesting enough that you don’t need to manipulate anything.  There are enough compelling characters to choose from that you don’t need to create new ones.  I’m tired of angry old men, has-beens and never-weres, howling at the moon.  I’m tried of hating people whose greatest crime is being mentioned every 2 seconds on SportsCenter.

I’ll miss the reasoned, intelligent discourse by people like Jay Bilas and Kirk Herbstreit.  ESPN doesn’t always get it wrong when they hire former players to talk about they games they played, but my sanity was on the line.  They are amazing at sucking you in, keeping you and not letting you go.  It’s good business.  But it’s bad for sports and it’s bad for me and it’s bad for you. 

ESPN is the devil.  Don’t believe me?  Ask, Tim Tebow.             

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Gay Marriage: Giving to Caesar


So, the big news here is the State of North Carolina passing an amendment to their state constitution declaring that marriage is between a man and a woman.  The amendment is stated in affirmative language, a technicality, which to some means it’s not discriminating, but rather affirming of what already is the law.  However, by stating that marriage is between a man and woman, of course, that precludes gay marriage from being possible.

Gay marriage.  The subject kind of pisses me off.  I mean no offense to those who are deeply effected by this issue, it’s just that it doesn’t effect the majority of us—and yet so many people get their panties in a bunch over it.  The idea of preserving the sanctity of marriage is a joke—we had a married President of the United States get a blowjob from a lusty wench in a blue dress after he flavored up his cigar by dipping it in her honey pot.  The divorce rates are through the roof.  Marriage is a joke.  It really fucking is.  It seems to me that if we want to protect the sanctity of it, we might spend some time working on making the houses we live in from something stronger than glass.

It’s an issue that politicians love to fight about though.  It raises passions.  Gay people just want equal rights.  You know—the very spirit of the founding of our country?  The people against gay marriage play to a largely religious base and make them feel like it’s something of which they should be afraid.  And it’s a grand issue for election season.  I think that’s the part people don’t get.  We’re rolling around to a presidential election and if you think this is about the issue itself, you’re a fool.  Even though this is state issue, not a national one, it is an issue that is a hot button and serves to galvanize groups of people. 

A Republican Party with a candidate who doesn’t have a shot in hell of winning the presidency tries to stir the pot to make people afraid of what they don’t know or understand and in doing so, put heat on the incumbent president and try to trip him up and organize a vote against him—rather than FOR their candidate.  Or, a Democrat Party who, after winning the White House and then losing Congress fears the Republican candidate without a chance and wants to make sure they get a second term so they stir a debate that will rally the youth vote that was so important to electing their guy in the first place.

Pawns.  We’re pawns.  The issue is a pawn.  If you really think, at the end of the day, that this is truly about gay marriage, you have the wool pulled over your eyes, or you’re one of the people who is too closely involved in the issue to feel the puppet masters pulling strings.

Please don’t misunderstand.  It’s not that this issue isn’t important.  To those who are fighting for the simple freedom of equality, it means the world—and should.  It’s just that this issue doesn’t impact the lives of most of us.  I appreciate and applaud those who fight for equality and for basic human rights and taken as a general subject, we should all support it.  My point is simply that statistically, the number of people who are impacted by this issue directly is very small.  Whenever that’s the case, and an issue blows up like this one has, it’s time to look beyond the immediate players and understand the people moving the chess pieces around the board.

The other sign that this is one thing masquerading as another is how very simple the solution is for both sides.  The government of our country needs to get out of the marriage business.  Period.  The word marriage should be removed from all governmental files.  As far as the government is concerned there should be no such thing as marriage.  All tax advantages and other perks of being married should be removed.  Our current system discriminates not only against gay people, but single people as well.  Take marriage out of the equation.  There is no need for it to be anything but a religious/sociological function. 

If there is need for some documentation of legal couplings then let’s call all of those pairings Civil Unions.  Let’s let marriage be a kind of civil union—a religious kind.  Let each religion decide who can get married for themselves.  If my religion says no and yours says yes then that’s fine.  If you practice my religion but can’t get married by their rules, start your own sect of the religion with only that one change.  If your spouse is dying in the hospital and you want the rights to make decisions on their behalf and any other legal benefits, get your marriage licensed as a civil union.  When you talk about the sanctity of marriage you’re talking about the sacredness or holiness of it.  Those ideas aren’t a part of government or the rights it bestows. 

Government is about legalities.  Religion is about spirituality.  A civil union is legality.  A marriage is a spiritual concept.  The government that supposedly separates church and state needs to take spiritual unions and couplings out of it’s equation.  Yes.  We all should be equal, but the word marriage, the buzz word, needs to be taken out of this debate.  Our government should not recognize any marriage.  Not gay, not straight, not any.  Our government, for the few small—yet important—spousal rights should see coupling/pairing/legal bonding as a purely legal issue.  And the only rights or privileges a legally bonded couple should get that the rest of us don’t have are the ability to make decisions for one and other.  There should be no legal, economic or other benefit based on the choice to be paired with someone. 

There’s no sanctity to protect in a civil union.  It’s legality.  There is no sanctity in legality.  There is nothing to protect.  Let the various religions protect sanctity.  That is their job.  That is their right.  That is their place.  If a religion feels that marriage is between only a man and woman, that is their right.  If a religion feels that a marriage is between a man and a man or a woman and woman, then that’s their right too.  The state shouldn’t give a flying shit what the religions consider a marriage.  If a couple wants to make their marriage legal in the eyes of the state, they should apply for a civil union license—not a marriage license. All legal marriages should be changed to civil unions.  Marriage should not exist in the eyes of the state, except and unless it’s been registered as a legal civil union. 

One of the Pharisees once tried to trip Jesus up.  He was trying to get Him to say that people shouldn’t pay their taxes and thereby have a reason to lock him up.  Jesus very wisely asked the Pharisee who was depicted on the coins that the tax collectors took.  The answer, of course, was Caesar.  And Jesus said, “’Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and God the things that are God’s.’ And they marveled at Him.”

Let God deal with God’s business.  Let the government deal with what’s their business.  It’s simple.  No one gets hurt.  Everyone gets what they want.  No one forces your religion to accept gay marriage.  You worship as you please.  The government gives people the rights that any human who chooses to couple should have—and no additional rights or benefits that those who remain single are precluded from having.  There’s your equality.  There’s your sanctity.  There’s no reason why Caesar, God and all the rest of us can’t all be happy, and equal.     

Friday, April 13, 2012

Trayvon Martin: Reality News Show


I love when I get requests.  I got once recently asking what my take on the whole Trayvon Martin situation might be.  Well, here it is:

My take on the whole Trayvon Martin situation is…well…to tell the truth, what I know about the case I only about in the periphery.  I mean, you can’t turn a television on, you can’t read a newspaper, you can’t go clicky-clicky on the interwebs without running into bits and pieces of it, so I know the basics but it’s not a story I’m actively following. 

I’ll tell you why:  This story feels very contrived to me.  Please don’t misunderstand.  I think it’s horrible that this poor kid got shot.  I think it’s horrible that this man shot him and that Florida seems to have laws that make it a gray area as to whether or not shooting an unarmed boy is legal or not.  It is unquestionably a tragedy.  One life lost, one life probably ruined, many other lives forever changed—this is going to reverberate. 

It feels contrived to me though because you can almost feel the hand of the media wherever you turn in this story and frankly, I’m starting to wonder if perhaps this is how the media in Florida rolls?  First, let me dispel any notion that I’m ignorant of the FACT that the media contrives all of the “news” we hear today.  They do.  News used to be about gathering and disseminating facts.  Now, news is a business and it has been for some time now.  Now, news is about the story, the narrative and about entertaining the audience.

Here are some cold, hard truths:  People get killed in tragic circumstances every single day.  Kids are gunned down by adults every single day.  A lot of them look like what Obama’s son might look like.  A lot of them are wearing hoodies when they die.  A lot of mothers kill their kids.  It’s sad.  It’s true.  So, what’s so important about THESE specific cases that they seem to warrant national media attention and the inundation of every television, radio, computer, phone and conversation? 

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both of these stories originate in Florida.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Trayvon Martin story comes so closely on the heels of the conclusion of Casey Anthony being every day news.  When Casey Anthony was flogged to death as a story, a vacuum came into existence and demanded that SOMETHING fill it.  Let’s play Big Shot News Executive for a moment.  Your ratings go through the roof during the Casey Anthony story and trial.  You make such a story of it that it gets national attention, which fuels and feeds the local stories even more.  The constant attention it gets almost forces everyone to have an opinion and having opinions leads to argument and further attention on the story and then our basic need and desire to be “right” keeps us riveted.  The results?  Higher ratings, increased ad revenue, professional notoriety—in short, the result is financial and professional success for all involved in the telling of the story.

Then it goes away.

Ratings go back down to more normal numbers.  Fickle advertisers come and go with more regularity.  You go from being a professional success to being yesterday’s news.  In short, the financial and professional success you saw rise begins to fade away.  You can almost see the board room filled with stuffy suits and everyone with an opinion on what can be done to get things back to good.

And it’s not just the board rooms.  Writers, reporters, cameramen, editors, all of the people who had a connection to fame for a moment feel the void and the emptiness and they all want it back.  It was like a drug and now…  Now, they feel like they’re in withdrawal.   

It sets up an environment where everyone feels pressure to make things as good as they were before.  So, whether it’s conscious (as I feel it is) or not, instead of looking for news stories, these news agencies start looking for characters.  They report what they must, but they keep their eyes open because they are casting for the next big thing.  They are looking for compelling characters for the next Reality News Show.

Enter Trayvon Martin.  Enter George Zimmerman.  Enter (bless his heart) Geraldo Rivera.  Enter President Obama.  Enter The Miami Heat.  Stir it up, add some chocolate chips, bake for 3-5 months at 451 degrees Fahrenheit and all that financial and personal and professional success comes back in the pre-packaged, delicious treat that makes mouths water.

What I think about the Trayvon Martin situation is that it’s an example of mass manipulation.  I think it’s a local news story that’s gotten national attention because of great casting and excellent production.  Is Trayvon Martin the angel that he seems he must be in so many of the pictures that have been released? Or, is he a hoodie-wearing thug with a gangster limp?  Is George Zimmerman a concerned citizen trying to protect his family and the families of those in his beloved neighborhood or is he a racist, trigger-happy killer who saw an opportunity to kill a human being and get away with it?  Is this a race thing?  Is it a Second Amendment issue?  Is this controversial Florida Law about using firearms just?  The answers are irrelevant, that fact that there’s so much to talk about, so many story lines for the producers to exploit as this Reality News Show goes on is all that matters.

What do I think about the Trayvon Martin situation?  I think the shooting occurred on February 26th.  I think that the Nielson Winter Sweeps period where ratings are established for shows, often deciding how much ad revenue will be earned for a quarter ran from February 2nd through February 29th.  In other words, if the ratings for the various news shows were down—it was the final week, the final few days to turn those numbers around before advertisers starting considering other options.

THAT is what I think about the Trayvon Martin situation.  I think it’s a local story that became a national story because the Florida media knows how to cast and produce a Reality Show.  I think they have practice at it.  I think they were desperate to fill the void left by the conclusion of the final season of The Casey Anthony Show.  I feel like the sad reality is that kids get killed all too often and I notice that not all of them become national news sensations—in fact, few do. 

I feel manipulated.  Say what you will about Snooki, The Situation and the rest of the Jersey Shore gang, but at least with them, what you see is what you get.  With the news—THE NEWS—we are told that we are getting journalism, but what we truly get it Must-See TV.  No thanks.  I’ve got better things to do with my time.       

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

To Everyone: Turn, Turn, Turn...


Your car can make a 45-degree turn.  Trust me.  Please?  If you don’t, you’re going to kill someone.  

People have driven like idiots since the day Henry Ford started churning cars off his assembly lines and Herbert Hoover put a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.  It only stands to reason.  People are idiots.  Drivers are people.  I’m no math genius, but I’m fairly certain that conclusively proves that drivers are idiots too.  And the way people drive has been a sore subject for me for many years.  The seeming inability of people to grasp the four-way stop sign, tailgating, how drivers turn into “instant idiots” any time you add water (frozen or liquid form), I could go on for days about the long list of sins I have committed against me daily.

This, however, is a new one.  It’s not that it’s never happened to me before, I’m sure we’ve all experienced it, in fact.  What’s new is the frequency with which it’s happening lately.  I’m starting to worry that it’s actually being taught this way.  I’m speaking, of course, about the people’s propensity to veer left before making a right hand turn, or veer right before making a left turn.

I’ll repeat again, because it’s worth a little redundancy, YOUR CAR IS CAPABLE OF MAKING A 45-DEGREE TURN—especially when it’s already moving forward.  You do not need to veer into my lane before making your turn.  I promise.  Just turn.  It’ll be okay and I won’t need to have a heart attack and that’s just a win-win situation if I’ve ever heard one, okay?

It seems like everywhere I go now I’m coming across these idiots who can’t even execute a proper turn.  Next to going straight, turning left or right is probably the easiest thing about driving, but lately, it’s like people can’t even do that anymore.

The worst part is that these people, when they veer into my lane, so they can make their turn, are doing it without even looking.  It’s like they think that when they drive somewhere, it’s everyone else’s responsibility to get out of their way.  Oops!  Sorry I was driving my car in my lane!  I should have realized you might need to turn and that would require the use of half of my lane.  My bad!  Have a nice day!  I hope my existence didn’t inconvenience you in any way!

So:  I just wanted to get this out there.  Consider it public service.  Maybe you don’t realize the full and amazing capabilities of your automobile.  You can trust me on this one though.  Even a box truck, like your local FedEx or UPS delivery man drives, doesn’t need to veer into my lane in order to execute a simple turn at an intersection.  I think it’s safe to assume your Prius is even more agile than those bulky boxes with wheels so go ahead.  Give it a try!  Just turn, baby!  Just turn the wheel until your car is pointing in the direction you want to go.  It’ll work.  I promise.  You can practice in the parking lot of your local grocery store if you want.  But…the next time you’re out in the world driving, especially if you’re anywhere near me, please, for the love of all that’s good and right, STAY THE FUCK OUT OF MY LANE WHEN TURNING OR I WILL HUNT YOU DOWN AND PUNCH YOU IN THE THROAT!

Thank you.


Monday, March 26, 2012

The Mirage by Matt Ruff: A Book Review

I need to introduce you to my friend Matt. Okay, so he’s not my friend, he’s an author whose books I enjoy, but still…you need to get to know him, if you don’t already. For googling purposes, his full name is Matt Ruff.

I first met Matt one day when I was walking around in Borders. I saw a book with a bright yellow cover—and what seemed from a distance to be a Darth Vader helmet, though upon closer inspection it was a monkey—and I picked it up, read it over, put it back down and walked away. It wasn’t that the book didn’t interest me; it just wasn’t what I was in the mood to start reading that day. As often happened back in the day of the actual book store, I spent a good hour walking around picking up books, reading the back covers, sampling the first pages and moving on to see what else might strike my fancy.

I kept coming back to the Matt Ruff book. I sampled it like an old woman in a grocery store inspecting the fruit. I remember not liking the shape of the book (yes, I’m THAT picky). It was a trade paperback, but it was narrower that I felt it should have been. And who was this Matt Ruff guy? I’d never heard of him before.

In the end though, I came back one final time and after an hour of searching and not finding what I was in the mood to read, the numerous re-reads of the back cover and first few pages of Ruff’s book Bad Monkeys finally convinced me to pull the trigger and take it home with me.

It didn’t take very long at all before I found myself very much in the mood to his book though. To say it hooked me is a vast understatement. Bad Monkeys is a fast paced, smart, witty and fun read. It’s one of those rare books that keeps jerking you back and forth, constantly diverting your attention until you can no longer tell which cup the red ball is hiding underneath.

The next time I read a Matt Ruff book was approximately 30 minutes after I finished Bad Monkeys. If immediately driving to the book store to find another book by an author doesn’t tell you all you need to know about how much I liked the first book of his I read then—well, you’re stupid. Stop it.

I was skeptical about the second book. It had a few words in the title that no man wants to read and never wants to be seen holding. I dreaded the question, “So, what are you reading?” Fortunately though, Set This House In Order, A Romance of Souls was my second Matt Ruff book. I wouldn’t have chosen it if my book store had had another of his books in stock, but like the way Bad Monkeys kept calling me back, this books seemed destined to find it’s way into my hands as well. Once again, I was very much surprised and pleased.

The thing about Matt Ruff that you can’t help but enjoy is the complexity of his stories and his characters while neither ever actually overwhelms the reader. There are lots of complex characters but after a while you lose them or worse, you lose your personal connection to them because they are inaccessible to you. And complex plots—well, nothing fails bigger than a complex plot gone wrong. So often, an author obviously writes a story with a complex plot without first outlining it and the result is that they wind up getting lost somewhere in the middle and then rush to conclude it in the end, in a way that leaves you feeling dissatisfied.

Matt Ruff’s books, conversely, read like a season of LOST, only with a more satisfying finish. He doesn’t try to outfox his readers. He’s confident enough in his storytelling that he wants you to get it all. He wants you see every clue and every red herring and then he turns it all in ways you didn’t think of and always seem like a surprise when you read them. He keeps you on your toes, but more importantly, he keeps you involved. He doesn’t inundate you with information to hide his clues. He says, look, here’s a clue! You make the logical conclusion about where it will go, and then he proves you wrong.


***


When I heard the premise of Ruff’s latest book, I was, once again, skeptical. It had been some time since I’d read his books and while I remembered his ability to turn a story on it’s ear, something about the premise of the new book just made me think it wasn’t going to work. Predictably, in my experience with Matt Ruff books by now, I was wrong.

The Mirage is his latest title. It almost defies explanation. In an alternate reality, the United States does not exist; worse, we are a backward, third world grouping of countries. Christian Fundamentalists, in opposition to the constant involvement of the United Arab States—a world Superpower—in the affairs of their world, hijack four airliners on 11/9 and crash them into twin towers in Bagdad, another into a government building and, of course, the final airliner was taken back by it’s passengers before crashing.

The UAS has no choice but to declare a War on Terror. Rumors of Weapons of Mass Destructions in North America cannot be ignored.

The story revolves around three UAS Homeland Security Agents. In the course of their duties, they break up a terrorist plot and arrest one of its conspirators. Before the prisoner is disappeared into one of the secret prisons, he tells the investigators of The Mirage.
The Mirage, he explains, is the wool that’s been pulled over the eyes of the world. Everything is backwards. The USA is the world Superpower. The Arab states are backwater, third world countries. It was Muslim Fundamentalists who started a War of Terror against America.

The agents, obviously, think their prisoner is delusional, but they find an artifact amongst the prisoner’s things: A newspaper called the New York Times, printed on 9/12, a day after airliners were flown into two twin towers there.

Obviously, a fake; but Homeland Security must stay up to date on these terrorist myths so the investigation goes on, and when more artifacts begin showing up they raise question after question without an intelligent answer. Could The Mirage be true?

This book ties history into knots and then slowly untangles them again. In typical Matt Ruff fashion, up is often down, left is often right and the lines between good and bad, altruistic and evil get brilliantly blurred.

Along the way, you’ll meet alternate versions of characters you already know: Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Tariq Aziz, Donald Rumsfeld, “The Quail Hunter,” Timothy McVeigh, David Koresh and a father and son with the same name—one called H, the other W.

The most interesting of these characters is Osama bin Laden. It is said only about him and repeatedly so that, “an evil prince in one world is an evil prince in any world.” Though, by a continuation of that logic it can, of course, be said of all the “real world” characters we meet, which greatly indicts “The Quail Hunter,” and Mr. Rumsfeld.

Since finishing this book I’ve read some criticism that it doesn’t take sides. What’s given to you isn’t the work of an author with an agenda. He’s not telling you what to think. He’s asking you to think about it in a different way that you previously had. And in that, I find the criticism unfounded. Not all books are meant to tell you what to think—or to even tell you what the writer thinks. Some books are simply written to make you think. The conclusions are left for you to draw on your own. The implications are such that it leaves many different interpretations. Ruff isn’t interested in telling anyone that they are wrong. He isn’t interested in telling anyone that he is right. He very simply retells history in a way that makes you walk a mile in a different pair of shoes. How you feel about the information when it’s presented in a new way is up to you.

It was an ambitious undertaking and one that could have gone wrong in so many different ways. Ruff’s skilled writing and storytelling skills, along with what must have been exhaustive and extensive research culminate in an extremely well written, interesting and thought-provoking book. And like Luke Skywalker in the cave on Dagobah, what waits inside is only what you bring with you. Your weapons…you will not need them. What you face inside is yourself and if you’re honest and true, you just might come away with a different point of view.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Rush Limbaugh: Undercover Democrat

I think the time has finally come to consider a conspiracy theory. There was a time when this would have seemed preposterous, but now? I have to wonder. Is Rush Limbaugh on the payroll of President Obama and the Democratic Party?

Ridiculous! Right?

Limbaugh makes a living howling at the moon about how Obama is the devil and our country is going straight to hell under his leadership and he seemingly offers up the Republican Party as the only possible way to save the country, the American way of life and our mortal souls. How could he possibly be playing for the other team?

Then you think about it though. For better or worse, the Republicans have had the spotlight now, in terms of the upcoming presidential election, for a few months. They’ve had the chance to set the table, pick the issues, and pound away at the job President Obama has done for the past 4 years. And, let’s face it, the job he has done is a far from the “Change we [could] believe in!” You can point out, all day long, that it’s been the Republicans of Congress who have stood in Obama’s way of enacting that CHANGE all you want, but Obama’s pre-election rhetoric never took the tone of, “Change you can believe in (if the Republicans do what I tell them to in complete opposition to the trend of polarized politics that has our country in it’s grip.” It’s also worth pointing out that while Obama did have the majority in Congress, he chose to prioritize his health care reform over the economy which led to the congressional purge that placed the Republicans in power there.

In short, had the Republicans fielded a charismatic, intelligent, level-headed candidate for the presidency, he or she may have actually had a chance. Instead, they fielded a cast from Clown College and Ron Paul who never had a chance in the first place. So, things were looking good for the president. Still, they say that any publicity is good publicity and the final few candidates who have survived the reality show-like eliminations have been front and center.

And the debate has turned to contraception. Sex sells. The Republicans have drawn a line in the sand. It’s a brilliant move because surely the youth and moderates will flock to this Republican effort, right? College kids hardly ever have sex and when they do it’s only for the purpose of procreation. Moderates with high-school and college-aged kids are so eager to be grandparents that they will, obviously, side with the Republicans on any issue that will help take them remove easy access of contraception to more kids. Nothing fills the parent of a kid away at college with more pride than announcing that little Betty is dropping out to have the baby of some guy whose name she thinks was Pete at the frat party a few weekends ago!

Only a Republican can understand the logic behind a move that only solidifies their already hard-core base and alienates the majority of the rest of us, but we’ll let the strategy slide, and the actual issue, which only involves the health care of religious institutions slide because those things are only background to the point at hand. Let’s get back to President Obama’s secret weapon: Rush Limbaugh.

Between Obama’s not living up to his promise of Change and the Republican’s seemingly poor strategy of alienating large portions of the votes they need to win the upcoming election this presidential race could have been an interesting one. Enter Rush Limbaugh. Leave it to Rush to truly offer President Obama the best opportunity he’s had to remind the youth and women voters that he is the only choice for them. Rush went on the radio and called a woman, who spoke before Congress on the issue, “a slut.” He suggested that if we had to pay for her contraception that she was essentially a sex worker and that we were entitled to see a video tape of all the fun stuff.

Let’s look at that another way: A seemingly intelligent, articulate, young woman who works for and spoke with the support of a faith-based employer who would be affected by this legislation spoke her mind before her elected officials to offer evidence on behalf of others in her situation and our friend Rush, who is, as I understand, a big proponent of the First Amendment, calls her a slut for doing so. He didn’t call her a great American for participating in the political process. He didn’t laud her for her courage and conviction. He called her a slut. He suggested that his tax dollars being involved entitled him to see a tape of her having sex. He objectified women. He disrespected them. He singled out this one woman in particular and called her a name that women voters will not forget.

Say what you will, but while it may only be a very loud, very vocal segment of Republicans that Rush speaks for—the perception (which is much more important than the reality) is that he is the voice of the party, to those outside of the party. Some of those people outside the party might even be referred to as moderates or the swing vote and now, they have, perhaps reluctantly, slid themselves firmly back into President Obama’s pocket because, let’s face it, the alternative is the party that calls women’s who express their opinions in the manner of a good American, as sluts.

President Obama has reached out to the woman in question and spoken to her by phone, thanking her for her bravery and intelligence and offering to be of aid to her in any way he can. It’s almost reminiscent of a cowboy in a white hat coming to the defense of the picked upon woman. You can almost hear the collective swoon of women voters.

You can also, almost hear the collective eye-roll of the Republican candidates who must now stay true to their base while backtracking against the idea that any woman who uses contraception is a slut. It doesn’t matter if their opinion on the subject is right or wrong now, what matters is that they have to fight for what they believe in from a defensive standpoint. President Obama gets to fight for what he believes in from the role of gentlemanly hero.

President Obama’s next call should have been to Rush Limbaugh, just to say thank you.

The Republicans, through their strategy, have seemingly decided that Obama has done a poor enough job that the presidency can be won by simply solidifying the base. They felt that the youth and moderate votes that swung things President Obama’s way in the last election were going to stay home this time around, be it due to complacency or disappointment. They’ve only touched on issues that appeal to their own base. They’ve felt no need to venture out to get the votes of those in the middle. They thought it would be an election of us versus them and that the majority of us, the disillusioned middle, would stay out of it.

At the start of World War II, after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Admiral responsible for that attack, Isoroku Yamamoto famously said, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve." When the Republicans look back at this election and try to figure out why they lost—not only the White House, but at least a part of their power in Congress as well—they would do well to remember the efforts of party cheerleader, Rush Limbaugh, who helped to wake the sleeping giant that hadn’t planned on taking sides, until he decided to be a bully and call a woman, exercising her right as an American, a slut.

It was such an obvious, boneheaded move on Rush’s part, you almost have to wonder if it was purposeful? I mean, no one could possibly be THAT stupid. Could they?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sham-Wow! The Ryan Braun Story

It’s amazing what being well spoken can do for a person. Don’t believe me? Ask Ryan Braun. The Milwaukee Brewers’ star, left fielder, was suspended by Major League Baseball for testing positive on a drug test. His test allegedly came back with a hormone testosterone to hormone epitestosterone level of 20:1. It should be 1:1. Yours is 1:1. Mine is 1:1. Braun’s was 20:1.

A funny thing happened on the way to his suspension though. A few days back an independent panel of arbitrators revoked it and reinstated Braun immediately. Even though Braun’s test showed higher levels than any other player in the history of testing, the suspension was overturned.

It begs the question, why? Even more so, it begs the question, why is the media letting him off so easy, even though the arbitrators have done so?

The first question is simple to answer. The 3-person panel of arbitrators was made up of one person representing the interests of MLB, one person representing the interests of the MLB Players Union and one person who was truly independent. In other words, the vote was tied 1-1 before any evidence was presented. The MLB rep certainly wanted to uphold the decision made by MLB. The MLB Players Union rep certainly wanted to overturn it in favor of it’s constituent. That left one person with an impartial vote.

That vote was cast in favor of Braun after facts about improper protocol being followed for the sending of the test sample to the lab where the testing was to be done. It’s actually a simple thing. The protocol exists to protect the players rights. It wasn’t followed. The arbitrator with the only vote that counted obviously felt this was important. Braun gets off.

The real question is why the media is letting him get off that easy? Why isn’t ESPN camping out at the Brewers training facility and reporting every time Ryan Braun coughs, scratches or blinks? After all, this is how the media typically operates these days. And for someone who has gotten off on a technicality, it seems tormenting him would be a fun way for the 24-hour a day sports media to spend their time.

The answer to that is that while Ryan Braun is a cheat, he’s a very smart one. And he has something that many professional athletes lack. He is well spoken. Many athletes are charismatic. Many are fun-loving and entertaining. Few, however, are well spoken. Ryan Braun is though and for him, it’s made all the difference. A good orator can convince even intelligent people that the sky is green, grass is purple and that everyone HAS to have a Sham-Wow!

Among the things that Ryan Braun convinced people of when he gave an impassioned and moving speech after the overturning of his suspension were these gems: He convinced us that the fact that he tested higher than any other player in the history of testing means that there was a flaw in the test. The reasonable conclusion from a high test might be that he was a more frequent user or possibly that he had just injected himself before the random test was sprung on him. Braun used his degree of guilt as a reason for innocence. He stated it well. We bought it.

Without coming right out and saying there was a conspiracy, he led us to that very conclusion repeatedly. He actually listed every FedEx location that his sample could have been taken to by the tester so that it would have been in accordance with the MLB testing protocol. He repeatedly stated that he didn’t know why the sample wasn’t immediately taken to one of those locations. He neglected to mention that while the protocol was violated—ensuring his suspension would be lifted—that the sample container was tamper-proof, that the lapse in time before the sample was sent in no way would change the results and that while he offered to take subsequent tests to make sure the sample was really his sample that there was no reason to do so because whose sample it was isn’t something that was ever in doubt.

And in his best piece of rhetoric, Braun made it about mom’s apple pie and Chevrolet’s. He challenged the Americanism of a policy that goes against the democratic principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty. In the case of MLB drug testing, once you test positive, you are presumed guilty unless you can prove yourself innocent. It sounds harsh until you think about it. First, this isn’t his liberty being challenged. He isn’t going to prison. His boss is suspending him from work. And he’s only doing so AFTER the person tests guilty for having done something that is against company policy. Does your job work on the principles of democracy? When your boss penalizes you for not showing up on time for your shift as shown by your time cards do you cry about it being un-American?

Of course not.

Braun also offered the fact that he didn’t get one degree faster, one degree stronger, one degree better as proof that he is innocent. He forgot to mention that with his sample testing as high as it did, perhaps we should be taking a wider view of his metrics than just in the aftermath of the testing. If he’d been on something for a while, he may have been juicing since the day after his last test. I’ll buy the fact that post-test, Braun didn’t get any faster or stronger, even though the only people measuring those facts is his own team who has an interest in keeping him on the field. I’ll also point out that Ryan Braun had his best year as a professional athlete last year. Overall, his numbers were up. He went from being in the top 20 players in the game to being the MVP of the league. I’d say that’s a significant jump in the metrics. Braun painted it differently though.

Two types of people proclaim innocence after being accused of a crime or indiscretion, the innocent and the guilty. In the aftermath of his press conference, all anyone could talk about was how convincing he was in his statement; how assured of his innocence he was and how directly he challenged his accusers. Player after player was interviewed and all of them spoke about how “stand-up” Braun had been. The talking heads echoed that sentiment. The legal experts spoke of only one thing though: The test was invalid because of the improper following of the MLB testing protocol.

Braun was brilliant. He got off on a technicality, but didn’t settle for that. He pressed the issue. He wanted his name back and he used his skills with speech to get it. It worked. It’s a dead issue. ESPN hasn’t mentioned it in days. Masses of articles aren’t being written about it. Braun spun the technicality into a presumption of innocence despite the fact that he still failed the test.

In the aftermath of his speech, several of the sharper talking heads noted how smart it was of Braun to constantly defend and protect MLB throughout his speech. He mentioned his love of the game and his need to protect that game and to place the game above himself repeatedly throughout his speech. Look for no further proof of the manipulative nature of everything he said than that fact. This man hinted at a conspiracy, he questioned protocol, he insinuated witch-hunt and persecution but above all, he wants to protect the conspirators and persecutors. He isn’t angry. He doesn’t want to crusade against the system. He doesn’t want to take the man down. He wants to protect the system that he feels acted improperly.

Does that seem right to you? Does that ring true? Or does it, perhaps, seem like a very strategic thing to say? Does it seem, perhaps, like he’s taking the high road, while actually putting MLB in a very difficult position if they wanted to pursue things further? Does it seem, just maybe, like a calculated move by Braun to step out of the corner where he was trapped and put MLB into it?

To pursue this further now, the already “un-American” MLB who presumes guilt until innocence is proven would come off as a bully. Well played, Mr. Braun. Well played.

Of course, if that much of his speech was obviously calculated and manipulative then how much of the rest of it was folks? How “stand up” was Braun really being? Maybe he was just saying the things that he needed to say to solicit the reaction that he wanted. Judging by the fact that we live in a 24 hour news cycle and Braun is already a non-story, I’d say he got the exact reaction he wanted. Wouldn’t you?

Now, just for fun, imagine a Latin-born player had been in this position and in broken English had tried to present this same argument. Imagine an inner city athlete had been in this position and he wasn’t capable of using words to so subtly and thoroughly move us. What would happen then? If those athletes had stood up for themselves they would meet a much different reaction. Some would say it was racial and cultural that it would be so. It’s not. It’s all very simple in the end. Words are weapons. Ryan Braun is well armed. And Sham-Wow should be his next big endorsement deal.