Archive for the 'Media' Category

How Perfect Is Perfect

I’m no fan of baseball. Even when Red Sox Nation cowboys up with the Idiots in the Fall (whatever that means), I just can’t get into it. That’s partly because I’ve got issues with relating the so-called “home team” (a corporation that contracts with individuals from all over the world to perform a job which involves significant travel, but is located about half of the time here) to my home town (a place where I’ve actually chosen to live). I find the concept of loving a player because he’s one of us and then despising him a year later because he signed a contract with another team completely ludicrous. He was one of us for the same reason he’s now one of them. If Boston’s teams were made up of Bostonians and New York’s teams were made up of New Yorkers, then maybe it would mean something to me when Boston’s team beat New York’s team.

Frankly, I’m not a sports fan in general, but baseball stands out for me as even more boring than the rest. About ten years ago, Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated made the following semi-scientific observations during a playoff game between the Yankees and the A’s:

Time of this A’s-Yankees game: 3 hours, 15 minutes.

Time the baseball was actually in play, including pitches, batted balls, foul balls, pickoff attempts, relays, throws to bases and anything else even Bob Costas might consider actual sporting activity (and I was being generous with the stopwatch): 12 minutes, 22 seconds.

Percentage of time that the ball wasn’t in play: 94.

Percentage of time my cerebrum wasn’t in play: 94.

Number of baseball players crushed by unexpected fiery chunk of Planet Zorbig hurtling to earth: Not nearly enough.

Times I plan on watching baseball on TV ever again: 0.

Sounds about right to me. Even if I’m not rooting for a particular team, I can enjoy and appreciate basketball, hockey, or football (no, not the misnamed American kind), but baseball just bores me.

Armando Galarraga - AP imageSo consider all of that my admission that I’m no expert on America’s Pastime. With that in mind, I’d like to talk about this concept of a “perfect game” — and I mean that in the sense of Major League Baseball’s definition of a perfect game rather than my own, which I guess would be one that’s rained out before it starts. It’s been in the news for the past few days because of this guy having his perfect game taken away by a bad call.

Here’s how Major League Baseball officially defines a perfect game:

An official perfect game occurs when a pitcher (or pitchers) retires each batter on the opposing team during the entire course of a game, which consists of at least nine innings. In a perfect game, no batter reaches any base during the course of the game.

So a perfect game is a step beyond a no-hitter, because none of the players get on base. 27 players come up to bat, and 27 batters fail to make it to first base. A pitcher can still get a no-hitter even if there are errors or walks. A no-hitter is a rare thing. A perfect game is far more rare. But is it perfect?

“Perfect” is an absolute. It’s one of those words that get misused when people try to apply some level to it. You can’t be somewhat unique, a little bit pregnant, or kind of perfect. You either are, or you aren’t.

We’ll give the great and powerful Founders a break and assume that when they wrote about the goal of “a more perfect union” they meant a union that was closer to perfect than it might have otherwise been, but a union is either perfect or it isn’t, and the same is true for a baseball game.

If a game is perfect, it’s as good as it’s possible for that game to be. How many pitches did Armando Galarraga throw that night? Would the game have been somehow better if he’d thrown less pitches? If a perfect game is defined by the performance of the pitcher, then wouldn’t a perfect game be one in which every player is thrown only one pitch: 27 batters, 27 pitches, 27 outs? I suppose one could argue that in a perfect game, the infielders and outfielders don’t have to do a thing, so how about one pitch to each batter, each batter swings on that one pitch, pops it up, and it’s caught by the pitcher? No, that’s not perfect either, because every batter made contact with the ball, even if that contact led to a measly pop fly that failed to get past the pitcher’s mound.

How about a game in which each batter is struck out in three pitches? That’s three times the number of pitches in the previous suggestion, and the ball is now getting touched by both the pitcher and the catcher, but if we stipulate that the batter never makes contact with the ball — not even to hit a foul ball — that’s certainly a better performance than any pitcher has ever delivered.

And if that’s better, whether it’s perfect or not, then what we call perfect clearly isn’t.

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Facts Are Fun(gible)

I just watched Obama’s first official State of the Union address. I thought he did a pretty good job, but it certainly wasn’t as memorable as some of his speeches in the past. I also thought it demonstrated his continued move to the political center, which doesn’t particularly thrill me.

Tom ForemanBut this post isn’t about Obama, or the speech, really. It’s about CNN, and my pal Tom Foreman, whom I’ve written about before, as I’m sure you’ll recall. (Sure, I’m sure.)

Wolf Blitzer told us that CNN’s great and powerful political team was going to be fact checking Obama’s speech. First he cut to Ali Velshi to discuss Obama’s claims about how many jobs have been created or saved by the stimulus, and Velshi was very clear from the outset: we don’t know.

Next Wolf introduced Foreman, who was posted at one of CNN’s touchscreen monitors (which I believe they still refer to as “magic”). Foreman’s monitor was filled by a form containing four checkboxes:

  • True
  • Somewhat True
  • Somewhat False
  • False

Foreman introduced video of this section of the address:

Let me repeat: we cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95% of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college. As a result, millions of Americans had more to spend on gas, and food, and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers. And we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person. Not a single dime.

We cut back to Foreman, ready for the truth, and he, putting a big X in the “True” box, said something to the effect of “Surprisingly, that’s true.” I was shocked. Even with the “surprisingly” or the “believe it or not” or whatever word or phrase Foreman used, he put that X in the True box. Wow.

Then he pointed out that some folks would argue that giving tax credits to people who make so little that they don’t actually pay taxes shouldn’t really count as tax cuts, and that some might say that a one-time reduction in taxes isn’t exactly a tax cut per se. Then he added an X to the “Somewhat False” box.

He marked two of the four boxes in response to one question. So CNN’s crack fact checking team has determined that Obama’s statement regarding tax cuts is both true and somewhat false.

That’s not fact checking. It’s pointing out that people with different opinions are going to come to different conclusions. Why bother calling it “fact checking” if you’re just going to tell us that?

No wonder I never watch CNN anymore.

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Well, Well, Wells Fargo

Ed Schultz“Big” Ed Schultz (personally, I prefer to call anyone with that moniker “Eddie Baby”), on his shiny new show on MSNBC, just welcomed Senator Chris Dodd (D – Troubled Assets) to kvell about the fact that Wells Fargo, a bank that received about 25 billion in bailout bucks, has announced a record quarterly profit of $3 billion.

Now, I don’t claim to be any sort of phynancial expert. When I hear the name of that bank, I think of that awful song we had to sing back in elementary school chorus… that song that harked back to a more innocent day in the life of capitalism:

O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’ down the street,
Oh please let it be for me!
It could be curtains!
Or dishes!
Or a double boiler!
Or it could be
Somethin’ special
Just for meeeeeeee!

Wells Fargo logoAnyway, I’m not sure the bank’s profits are something to celebrate. Sure, I suppose it’s better than seeing them lose money. But what did Wells Fargo do with their share of the TARP funds?

For one thing, they bought Wachovia. (I’m going to miss that name. It always made me think of the axiom, “What do big banking corporations do? They Wachovia.”) We all know what happens when one bank buys another. This is from a November article in the Charlotte Observer, the paper in Wachovia’s erstwhile home town:

The San Francisco-based bank has started to lay out where it will get $5 billion in annual cost cuts, about 10 percent of combined expenses. High-level plans have been drafted for key businesses, and Wells is working to impose its own lending policies, according to a Wells presentation this week.

Wells is likely to cut jobs in Charlotte but hasn’t provided specifics. It signaled this week, however, that it will pare areas such as corporate and investment banking. For Wachovia employees, long in the driver’s seat during their bank’s decades of acquisitions, it’s an unfamiliar position – following another bank’s procedures for implementing a merger.

While much is still to be determined, Wells has roughly fleshed out where it plans to get its $5 billion in savings. About $3 billion will come from cuts in overlapping businesses such as general banking and investment banking. Another $1.4 billion will come from reductions in duplicative corporate functions, including jobs and expenses such as marketing and director fees. About $0.6 billion would come from office and branch closures and other cuts.

Yippee! Cost cutting! Job cutting!

And then there’s this piece from today’s Seattle Times:

The earnings news does not clearly signal a recovery of the banking sector. Even Wells risks projecting too much optimism — it hasn’t really absorbed the financial death star that is Wachovia. At that former banking giant, a great institution run into the ground on subprime gambles, most of the huge layoffs have yet to fall in its very vulnerable headquarters city of Charlotte. Crosstown rival Bank of America faces continued weakness across the board, especially from its misbegotten merger with Merrill Lynch (Marry in haste, repent at leisure). Wells is trumpeting its big mortgage share gain from Wachovia, but it will be interesting to see how it manages Wachovia’s troubles. (And Wells is a TARP recipient, $25 billion of your money).

Yippee.

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Sleepy Surfing

Dude, surfing is so totally mundane and tedious. If I didn’t guzzle a can or two of this speed-laced cough syrup every couple of hours, I’d probably fall asleep in the middle of a pipeline.

My life totally blows. I don’t know why I didn’t choose an interesting career, like quality control at an underwear plant, or accounting. Triple-checking the data on some enormous spreadsheet — now that’s a rush, my man. I bet those folks don’t have to worry about staying alert on the job. The sheer excitement of their work is enough to keep them totally pumped 24/7.

Totally.

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Wrestling With the Numbers

George the Animal SteeleI admit it. I used to watch professional wrestling on the eye of hell. But this was some twenty or twenty-five years ago, back when the WWE still had an F, when Hulk Hogan was a “real American,” who’d “fight for the right of every man,” when George the Animal Steele fell deep into puppy love with Miss Elizabeth, the “manager” of Macho Man Randy Savage. He loved her even more than he loved eating the foam inside turnbuckles.

At the time, I watched for the same reason I watched a couple of soap operas: for the sheer theatricality of it. I used to try to impress people with my theories about the connections between professional wrestling and Kabuki theatre. Did you know that Kabuki was created for the masses, who weren’t considered sophisticated enough to comprehend Noh drama? Did you know that the stage in wrestling is actually built over another stage with a space between them, so that when a character slams his foot down it reverberates, just like in Kabuki?

I lost interest when I felt that things had gone too far over the top. Even I have my limits. Similarly, I gave up on Days of Our Lives after Dr. Marlena Evans became demonically possessed and had to be exorcised by John Black, her lover who may have also been her former husband Roman Brady, but who apparently had at one time also been a Catholic priest.

So why, after all these years, am I writing about professional wrestling again? Well, I’ve seen the adverts for the upcoming Wrestlemania XXV on the eye of hell, and it seems the WWE is in dire need of a math and vocabulary lesson. Watch:

Here’s the text of the voice-over announcer:

In March of 1985, it began.

And every year thereafter, we celebrated the action, the amazement, the thrills.

Now, after 24 years, it all leads here.

On Sunday, April 5th, experience the 25th anniversary of Wrestlemania.

Live, Sunday, April 5th, on pay-per-view.

Assuming they’re correct in stating that Wrestlemania has taken place once each year since March 31, 1985, this is indeed the 25th annual event, and the moniker “Wrestlemania XXV” is perfectly fine.

But that doesn’t make this the 25th anniversary of Wrestlemania. Dictionary.com defines “anniversary” as the yearly recurrence of the date of a past event. And if you’re interested in the source of the word, the Online Etymology Dictionary provides this information:

anniversary
c.1230, from L. anniversarius “returning annually,” from annus “year” (see annual) + versus, pp. of vertere “to turn” (see versus). The adj. came to be used as a noun in Church L. as anniversaria (dies) in ref. to saints’ days.

Your wedding day is not your first anniversary. That comes a year later. Similarly, you’re not popped out of the womb on your first birthday. You’re born on your date of birth. Your first birthday is the first anniversary of your date of birth, one year later.

So Wrestlemania XXV, the 25th annual Wrestlemania, is not Wrestlemania’s 25th anniversary. That will occur on March 31, 2010, 25 years after the first event. And that means this isn’t even going to be the 24th anniversary. That’s six days from today.

Give Leapin’ Lanny Poffo a buzz. If he’s still in his “the Genius” persona, I’m sure he can answer any questions about this.

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Viva Commerce! (#23)

Dear Chrysler,

Your current ads on the eye of hell feature the following proclamation:

We don’t want to be just any car company,
We want to be your car company.

Chrysler logo

That’s a lovely sentiment. It really is. But I have to tell you, you’re not going to be my car company. I haven’t owned a car since I gave my thirteen-year-old VW (“das Spiff”) to charity in the spring of 2000. I’d just paid about $500 for some repairs, brought it in for its annual inspection, and was told that it would need another $600 or so in repairs to pass. That was the end of the road for das Spiff. Since then, I’ve weaned myself from the need and I wouldn’t want a car now — not from you or anyone else. I’ve got no use for one.

True, if I were interested in buying a car, it probably wouldn’t be one of yours, but that’s hardly the point.

Personally, I’d advise just a little patience on your part, Chrysler.

Six months from now, the idea of being just any car company is probably going to seem like a real prize to you.

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The Florida Keys Have a Lousy Domain Name

Two posts in a day! (And they’re my first two posts all month.)

I was watching CNN this morning, and right after Howie Kurtz spanked Sports Illustrated for failing to be seriously journalistic about its bikini photography, they cut to an advertisement for the Florida Keys — perfectly normal tourism stuff. At the end of the advert, the announcer suggested checking out the tourism board’s website at “FLA Keys.com,” that is to say, what I heard was “eff ell ay keys dot com,” which one would expect would be written out as “flakeys.com.” Of course, one would probably read such a domain name as “flakeys dot com,” which is maybe not the image the Keys want to promote. That would explain why the domain name that appeared at the bottom of my screen was “fla-keys.com”. But the announcer had made no mention of the hyphen.

Naturally, that got me wondering. I was online at the time, and I might not have been looking at the eye of hell while the ad was running, so I would have thought the site was located at flakeys.com. What would happen if I tried to navigate to that address?

Sure enough, a request for flakeys.com redirects (via a 302 instead of a 301 — stupid IIS) to fla-keys.com, so those flakey Floridians at least have that covered.

But couldn’t they have gotten a domain name that would both allow them to easily say and spell the address the same way (that is, without the much-despised hyphen) and not require a redirect? That question led to some quick exploration:

  • Florida Keys logofloridakeys.com, which looks like it could be the official site of the local tourism board, complete with a “Florida Keys” logo, is owned by a company called Cooke Communications, which apparently publishes some local newspapers and magazines.
  • thefloridakeys.com is the home of “Best of the Florida Keys,” which is kind of archaic looking. Dig the animated gif of the hurricane on the home page!
  • flkeys.com is a local realtor.

    And what of the hyphenated variations?

  • florida-keys.com is apparently for sale and is currently hosting one of those parked made-for-AdSense “search” pages.
  • the-florida-keys.com is registered to some guy in New Jersey, but nothing is published there.
  • fl-keys.com contains a meta refresh that sends the user to fl-keys.com/floridakeys.htm, which then fires a script that redirects to fl-keys.com/search/load.php, which in turn fires another JS redirect to fl-keys.com/search/re.htm, where you’re hit with yet another script that send you off to fl-keys.com/search/index.htm (wheeeeeeeeee!), which is another sponsored search page.

It seems that unless they’re willing to buy what could be a pretty costly domain name, the folks at the official tourism council got beaten to the punch. Flakeys indeed.

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Serious Journalism – Bikini Edition

Howard KurtzI was watching Howard Kurtz on CNN this morning, and he weighed in on the controversy (which I hadn’t even heard about) regarding Sports Illustrated retouching out a tattoo on Danica Patrick’s back.

Kurtz’ view is that retouching is wrong because this is supposed to be journalism. No, I don’t think he was joking. Here’s the transcript:

By the way, Sports Illustrated also did something this week. It airbrushed a photo of racecar driver Danica Patrick to remove a tattoo that she had on her back. SI thinks this is just fine. I don’t. This is a journalistic magazine.

Come on, guys. Keep it real.

This was a picture of Danica Patrick, the race car driver, in a bikini. Is that what she wears when she’s racing? And was the picture for a serious journalistic piece about her career, which could have included some discussion of the fact that, in addition to racing cars, she’s viewed as a sex symbol? Plenty of sports figures pose for posters, calendars and such that are about subjects other than the human drama of athletic competition. Often they’re about the human drama of being hot. Would Kurtz have a problem with those pictures getting the Photoshop treatment?

The picture was not for a serious article on Patrick’s career, by the way. It was for SI’s annual swimsuit edition, the purpose of which isn’t exactly serious journalism about sport. Go ahead and click through on that link if you want to see the purpose of the magazine. You’ll probably see the same pop-up ad I saw for Planter’s Big Nut Bar, with the tagline “Make It Big.” Message received.

This is not sports journalism. It’s part fashion (selling the swimsuits), but for the most part, it’s cheesecake — pin-ups.

And fashion and glamour model pictures are retouched all the time. Hell, I’ve got a friend who works both as a fashion model and a photo retoucher. There she is below, working her photoshoppery magic.

Anna

Keep it real, Howie.

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Viva Commerce! (#22)

Dear Aleve,

Aleve boxYour adverts on the eye of hell say that “only two Aleve can stop pain all day.”

I don’t see how that’s supposed to convince me to shell out my hard-earned cash to buy a bottle of your little pills. I mean, what are the odds that, of the millions of Aleves out there, I’m going to be the lucky sod who wins the jackpot and gets the two that can stop pain all day?

What if I just get one of the two? That’d be like getting cherry – cherry – cherry – lemon on a slot machine, and then no one would have a shot at stopping pain all day.

What a waste!

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It’s No Toyotathon Without You

Squire FridellThey say it’s Toyotathon time.

They’re calling it “The Toyotathon of Toyotathons.”

They lie.

Without my man Squire Fridell whipping us into a frenzy, I say it’s no Toyotathon at all.

Come back to us, Squire, we need you! I’m sure you’re very busy running your little winery, but come on, man! It’s Toyotathon time, and you’re the Toyotathon guy! Can’t you come out of retirement once a year, at this extra special time, to bring back the spirit of the Toyotathon?

If you can’t make it, do you think your daughter would consider taking up the tradition?

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