Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Of Whom Are The Newspapers Really Afraid?

Published at Townhall.com--November 14, 2006

Recently, a certain Senator from Massachusetts made some rather uncharitable remarks about the educational level of our troops in harms way. The varying ways in which he chose to initially and then subsequently insult both their intelligence and ours are the parts of the story that have been widely covered.

What has not received much coverage is the fact that a few days after his remarks, some of our troops in the field decided they would reply to Senator Kerry as only military folks would. Their effort is represented in a picture that was all over the Internet but nowhere in the mainstream print media. The obvious question is, “Why was this widely available picture so blatantly ignored by newspapers and newsmagazines prior to a major election?”

I suggest there are five logically possible reasons:

Explanation 1.
All the editors and contributing journalists at all the nation’s major newspapers simply hadn’t seen the picture. If they hadn’t seen it, surely it would have been unfair to expect them to print it. Of course, given the nature of the Internet and email, this explanation is possible only in the logical sense, much like the way it’s logically possible that Bigfoot exists or that there’s really a rotund gift-giver up North.

Explanation 2.
They saw the picture, but did not consider it newsworthy. This is surely the most charitable interpretation, and I hope it’s the true one. Nonetheless, it speaks to a great incompetence in judging what is a good news story, deciding which stories demand a balanced perspective, and, most obviously, being able to understand the interests of the American public. Every person I showed this picture to found it highly entertaining and very newsworthy. Using the disconnect between the news editors and the American public as an excuse here seems like a dubious strategy for vindication given that it is essentially an appeal to ineptitude.

Explanation 3.
They saw the picture and considered it newsworthy, but didn’t feel that the military personnel portrayed should be allowed to exercise their free speech rights in American newsprint. At the risk of being juvenilely obvious, I would think that of all people our servicemen and women are entitled to the greatest regard for their views. Unless, that is, the newspaper editors all agree with the original content of Senator Kerry’s comments and were afraid that the people in the picture did not realize they were misspelling so many words.

Explanation 4.
They saw the picture, knew it was newsworthy, and believed the military should be heard, but they thought it would harm their preferred political party in the upcoming elections. I am reluctant to believe this because I prefer not to believe that there is such a widespread pattern of deliberate politically-motivated distortion of the news. Some of you may consider my preference naïve, but there it is. Given the proximity to the election and the further embarrassment which this picture would have given to the Democratic Party, I am troubled by my reluctant acknowledgement that this may be the most likely explanation.

Explanation 5.
They saw the picture, knew it was newsworthy, believed the military should be heard, and were willing to let it harm their party, but they were afraid of what their Democratic readers might do to them for such a breach of loyalty. Forgive me if I sound dramatic here, but this option sounds rather nasty. In fact, it sounds very much like the kind of reasoning which went into the decision not to publish another set of pictures not very long ago.

Even though the aftermath of the Danish Mohammed cartoons was covered widely in the news, the pictures themselves (which served as the convenient pretext for such outrageously disproportionate violence) were almost never printed. Whether for fear of the consequences or for fear that the patent mildness of the cartoons compared with the most ordinary of American editorial page drawings would further embarrass the reactionary Muslims, almost no newspapers or magazines in the United States reprinted them. Which I suppose leads me to my most sincere question. If the people running American news media had seen this picture, were not too dense to realize it was newsworthy, didn’t feel like censoring the military, and weren’t afraid to run content which might harm the Democrats in the election, did the decision to not print it mean that they were just as afraid of Democrats as they are of radical Muslims?

I suspect that many people will be considering whether they want to give their money, either by subscription or advertising, to newspapers and magazines who showed us something very troubling about themselves by failing to publish this picture prior to the election. It makes me wonder just what sort of free press it is that the very men in this picture are fighting to protect and export around the world. Then again, perhaps the freedom they fight for is poignantly demonstrated by the fact that we all knew about this picture in spite of the failure to publish it by those increasingly irrelevant sources of information called newspapers.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

When Penalties Aren’t (A Modest Baseball Proposal)

Published at Townhall.com--October 03, 2007

Ask yourself this question: have you ever gone to a baseball game hoping to see an intentional walk?

The purpose of issuing walks is to encourage pitchers to give batters something worth hitting and to reward them if he doesn’t. But what happens when the reward is not a reward…when the penalty is so desirable that a team says, in effect, “Please, sir, penalize us?” At these times, the rule designed to make the game interesting actually reduces its entertainment value.

What if you could guarantee that every time Jim Thome or Albert Pujols came up to bat the confrontation would either end by a strikeout or a ball put in play? Would the game be less exciting or more? I say more, and here is my suggestion:

Whenever a walk is issued, the batting team gets to decide whether the batter himself goes to first and the next player bats or whether a pinch runner (whose use doesn’t disqualify him for later use as a sub) goes to first and the batter starts over with an 0-0 count. In other words, no more intentional walks. No more bypassing the at-bats of the players most likely to make the game worth watching.

Baseball thrives on confrontations. There is nothing more thrilling than watching Randy Johnson try to blow three fastballs past David Ortiz or seeing if Chris Carpenter can sneak three pitches on the corner past Lance Berkman. People might have their own personal opinion of Barry Bonds, but nobody goes for hot dogs while he is at bat. And if baseball is thrilling because of the tension that comes from these great confrontations, then surely there is nothing more deflating to the joy of watching the game than letting a team avoid one by issuing a walk.

My proposal preserves such titanic clashes, particularly in close games. In fact, it guarantees them. And ultimately, isn’t that why people pay money to watch? I recently went to all four games St. Louis (my team) played here in Arizona. It went badly for us, but I couldn’t care less. The only thing I remember from that long weekend was seeing a towering blast from the 2005 MVP, Albert Pujols. And even when he didn’t hit one, which was true every other time he went to bat last weekend, didn’t we fans deserve to see him have the chance? And if baseball is a game designed to teach character, why should it allow teams to avoid danger by ducking good hitters to get at weaker ones behind them?

Now, lest we forget that baseball is a game of balance, I want to point out that this still gives the defense part of what they want. Putting a man on first can enable a double play and sometimes a force at home, both of which are strategic decisions teams should be able to pick.

Walking a batter makes sense on occasion, but everyone feels a bit sheepish and guilty about the decision. As a fan, of course I hate to see my team lose, but no true fan of the game cheers the decision to walk Frank Thomas or Derek Lee. Why? Because, simply put, there’s no honor in it.

Besides, how depressing is it to know that some base runners deliberately don’t try to steal because it would encourage the defense to walk the big hitter at the plate? I have personally watched the number two hitter hold up at first base instead of trying for a double just because Phat Albert was coming up next.

Before we finish this little discussion, let’s consider some of the fine points. First, perhaps we would make an exception for the player batting in front of the pitcher in the National League? I can go either way on this one because making the pitcher bat is truly an important part of National League ball, since it often forces a manager to go to the bullpen earlier than he would like. So call this the “8-hole exception” if you like, but I will say this in contrast to the other scenarios…people rarely go to the ball park to watch the catcher bat.

Second, this change would certainly mean that batting and home run records will become easier to break because sluggers will now get pitches when they would have previously gotten passes. New records might have to say “in the no-walks era,” but that’s a tolerable footnote for the sake of a game which would be made so much more exciting by the change. Incidentally, under this system, players in pursuit of individual records will no longer be disadvantaged just for playing on a contending team with meaningful games at the end of the season.

But maybe letting players decline all walks seems like too much of a shift to you. So perhaps the umpire should have to rule whether the walk was intentional. My problem with this is that it puts too much judgment on the ump, and it would only help in obvious situations. It’s not only the intentional walks which deflate the game, but also declining to give a good hitter any decent pitches. Of course, hit batters would also have to be given the same options. If you don’t include hit batsmen in this rule, then pitchers are just going to go hunting when they would have previously issued an intentional walk.

But seriously, what better way to punish a pitcher for hitting a batter than by letting the same player take more swings at the ball? In a game where the pitcher already has such a clear advantage (.300 is a good average…), why not give batters more good pitches to look at? After all, a guy shouldn’t get punished for being the only star in a weak line-up.

Of course, while I’m changing games, I would humbly suggest that basketball be adjusted so that the team who has been fouled over the limit always has the choice either to shoot free throws or get a new shot clock and keep the ball. I know CBS would never allow it because so much of their money is made by stretching out the last 1:38 of every NCAA tournament game for 20 minutes. There’s too much advertising money at stake.

So I’ll settle to just see this modest change in my beloved game of baseball. Remember, a penalty is not a penalty if a team would rather take it voluntarily because they think it gives them an advantage. And if the ultimate point of having walks is to benefit the hitting team, it seems rather strange that we would force them to take a base when they don’t think it does.

So again, ask yourself a simple question. Doesn’t every 8-year-old in the bleachers deserve a chance to catch a blast off the bat of Ryan Howard? And as you’re watching teams in the playoffs issue walks to superstars we’d rather see take their swings, keep in mind that next year things could be different.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Stand Up For What You Believe?

Published at Townhall.com--September 9, 2006

I was raised by a very loving, very open-minded, and very liberal mother. Although many of her beliefs did not replicate themselves in me, one vital life principle did: my mom taught me to always stand up for my beliefs.

No matter how many people were against me and no matter how unpopular it made me, she was adamant that I should be true to whatever I knew in my heart was right. And even though we grew to disagree about so many important things, our mutual commitment to this key maxim never wavered.

When friends were passing around a cigarette in a tent when I was eleven, it meant that I said, “No,” and even left the tent because they said I had to smoke if I stayed. When my pastor said things in confirmation class that I thought were wrong, it meant I questioned him about it. When I wrote papers in college disagreeing with my professors, it meant I wrote them twice as well just because I wanted to make sure my ideas were considered. And when I do my radio show every day, it means I say what I believe, though it challenges every single listener I have and runs the risk of them switching channels stations over it.

Stand up for what you believe, no matter what.

It’s the principle Martin Luther King died for following. It’s the principle Gandhi changed India by following. It’s the principle that got Christ crucified. And it’s the one great rally cry of liberal thinkers everywhere.

Which is why I find it so baffling that those who proclaim it the loudest turn right around and forget it when they attack the actions of our President, George W. Bush. Instead of encouraging him in his often unpopular choices as courageous and visionary, they criticize him for risking unpopularity with his peers by doing what he thinks is right, which they then deride as “acting unilaterally.”

But what if the others are all wrong? And what if he is right?

For years now, I have been hearing from liberal thinkers how crucial it is that we Americans listen carefully to the legal, political, moral, and religious ideas of people around the world. We should adjust our laws to reflect their notions. We should adjust our foreign policy to cater to their tastes. We must alter our notions of appropriate and inappropriate living to coincide with theirs. And we must never allow ourselves to be deceived into thinking that we might know something about God that they have forgotten or rejected.

But what if they’re all wrong? And what if we’re right?

But more to the point, what about the idea that even if the whole world is against you, you should stand for what you believe, no matter what?

Liberals aren’t suddenly supporters of the notion that all unpopular causes should be abandoned, are they? If so, they must uncomfortably note that virtually every one of their progressive objectives either is still or was originally very unpopular. Are they going to be suddenly defer to the broader population in matters regarding abortion, homosexuality, guns, capital punishment, drugs, and pornography? They would be compelled to do so if they were to become consistent with the principle they are using to criticize the President and this country. I hope they don’t, however, because, even though in this particular context they seem to have forgotten it, they and I both heartily agree that truth is not a popularity contest. I may not agree with many liberal views, but I resist the seductive temptation to dismiss them for their unpopularity.

But beyond particular current issues, just imagine how history would look if the few who believed in their cause had simply given up and deferred to the rest of the world. Professional athletes would all be white. Women would not be able to vote. Slavery would still be legal. America would still be a British territory. The Reformation wouldn’t have happened. And we’d still think of the Sun revolving around the Earth. These are all examples liberals proudly (and rightly) recount of people standing for unpopular truths over the peer pressure to accept popular errors.

This is no small principle they are abandoning.

The great liberal theme has always been to challenge the popular opinions and the authorities who proclaim them if they seem wrong, and I hope that never changes. So instead of forsaking the single most identifiable maxim liberals everywhere have always stood for in one awful moment of political hypocrisy, I would encourage them to say to President Bush, “We’re sorry. You’re the President. And even though we disagree with you, we will defend with our lives your right to do what you believe is in the best interests of our country. And if the rest of the world is against you, that’s okay. We, too, disagree with you, but we know that all right ideas encounter steep opposition. Don’t succumb to international peer pressure. Be courageous, and continue to stand up for what you believe. In this we will defend you. Not because we agree with you, but because we believe in that principle. For a while there, we had forgotten that this is what we truly believe. And we’re grateful somebody who disagrees with us cared enough to take the time to remind us of that fact.”