Monday, November 30, 2009

Rest in Peace, Ken Ober

In keeping with our recent but solidifying tendency to report news items long after they’ve been beaten into the ground by more timely and better-staffed news outlets, we would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and mourn the passing of Ken Ober, who died in his home in Santa Monica, California, on November 15, 2009, at the age of fifty-two.

A comedian, television producer, and radio personality, the affable Ober was probably best known for his late-1980s stint as the host of MTV’s game show Remote Control. On the air from 1987 to 1990, Remote Control was a goofy and irreverent homage to (and, later, a component of) pop culture, specifically television. Its oddball categories and characters—Sing Along with Colin, Dead or Canadian, Stickpin the Trivia Delinquent, the Fairy Pixie, Stud Boy, and Beat the Bishop—were funny and entertaining enough to be remembered by plenty of MTV viewers with a thirteen-year-old's mentality, which, of course, made up the bulk of its viewership.1

It’d be more than a little over-the-top to suggest that Remote Control was a cultural landmark—even in comparison to the formidably low standards of MTV, game shows, or television overall—but it was fun, unusual, and entertaining. However, the show also deserves a certain amount of dishonor for its role in bringing to life one of modern television’s most dismal plagues:

The reality show.

At the time Remote Control originally aired, MTV broadcast little to no original programming. They aired plenty of music videos,2 sometimes more or less randomly, sometimes grouped together thematically in shows like Yo! MTV Raps and Headbanger’s Ball,3 but their non–music video content consisted, according to my very hazy memories from twenty years ago, primarily of reruns of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which I for one watched almost religiously.4

Remote Control may have lasted only a handful of seasons, but its success was enough to get MTV thinking that if a more or less first-rate game show could get good ratings, there had to be a cheap ways to get second-rate entertainment out to its mostly undiscerning audience. Eventually somebody came up with the morally dubious but financially brilliant notion of grouping together a handful of young, self-absorbed, questionably mature, personally incompatible, unpaid and untrained strangers, shoving them under a microscope and poking them with a stick5 until they pissed each other off—and then filming the resulting explosions, editing out the parts that didn’t involve real or perceived racism and sexism, destruction and/or reinforcement of broad stereotypes (sometimes at the same time), booze, sex, aggression, narcissism, and confrontation. And The Real World was born.

Teenaged MTV viewers, with their underdeveloped ability to tell the difference between shit and Shinola—it’s science—moved enthusiastically from Remote Control to The Real World, which, after a few years, was followed by MTV’s Road Rules, a groundbreaking, never-been-seen-before all-new kind of reality television best described as “The Real World in a camper.”

Since then, the reality TV phenomenon has exploded like a
gremlin in a microwave
, its roster of shows including but not limited to

American Gladiator; Big Brother; The Apprentice; Celebrity Apprentice; I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here; Survivor; Fear Factor; The Mole; The Simple Life; American Gladiator again, for some reason; America’s Next Top Model; America’s Got Talent; American Idol; American Chopper; American Hot Rod; The Bachelor; The Bachelorette; The Biggest Loser; The Amazing Race; Wife Swap; Who Wants to be a Millionaire; Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire; Who Wants to Desecrate a Corpse; Who Wants to Desecrate a Celebrity’s Corpse; The Anna Nicole Show; and The Running Man.

I’m not about to tell you that any of the above shows6 destroyed Western culture as we know it, crapped on the Constitution, or made Jesus cry—although I’d like to think that Wife Swap, just because of the title, came close—but I’ll be damned if I can find anything in that list that didn’t lower television’s already dreadfully low standards for what passes as quality entertainment.

It’s not fair, though, to pin all of the blame—maybe not any of it—on Ken Ober. Granted, his game show did give exposure to Kari Wuhrer, Colin Quinn, and Adam Sandler, and if Ober were still alive and this thought had occurred to me, I’d probably want to give him some good-natured grief about it. But nobody—and I mean nobody—watching an goofy MTV game show in 1987 could have predicted that it would have led to Little Nicky or Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time, much less to the unholy spawn of reality shows that have been torpedoing IQs and TV standards for the last twenty years.

I’m not about to say that Ken Ober was a towering figure in my childhood, but he seemed like a friendly, funny guy, he hosted a fun show that is and deserves to be remembered warmly, and fifty-two is far too young to go. So a heartfelt goodbye to the quizmaster of 72 Whooping Cough Lane, Ken Ober; we’ll miss you. Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye.

1. I have a legitimate excuse: I was thirteen at the time.
2. That’s right, younguns, I’m old enough to remember when MTV actually played music videos. Gather ’round, I’ll tell you stories of the golden video days of yesteryear.
3. Which featured VJ Adam Curry, who fit into the heavy metal scene only slightly less comfortably than Downtown Julie Brown or, say, Elton John.
4. I would have had good odds of turning out to be a high school dork no matter what, but memorizing sketch after sketch of Monty Python’s Flying Circus pretty much made it a dead lock. But it was so, so worth it.
5. Apologies for the mixed metaphor here. It’s late.
6. The ones I didn’t make up, anyway.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving From Us. Specifically, From Me

The staff here at Bowling in the Dark, all the way from the overworked payroll department to the overstaffed executive lounge, would like to wish our readers a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving to share with their friends and family, or, if they're so inclined, with affable or even unfriendly strangers. Spend your Thanksgiving snowboarding with sasquatch if you want, for all we care—we’re not in the business of telling you how to enjoy your Thanksgiving. Not yet, anyway.

One thing for which we here at Bowling in the Dark are very thankful is the lively and free exchange of thoughts and ideas and shit. A good example of this exchange comes in the form of a recent post on the venerable blog The Year of the Beard.

In that post, The Year of the Beard’s host, our distinguished fellow blogman Dr. Brainsmart—who, if my sources are correct, has advanced degrees in both smartology and smartonomy—responds to our own Squid Bandit’s recent commentary on the possibility of a salary cap in major league baseball, and also researches the many faces of Alex Rodriguez and how they help him to be the well-rounded butthole he is. It's worth checking out, and not just because it's free almost embarrassingly easy to do so!

I’d throw my two cents in, but (1) I’m smart enough to get out of the way when two heavyweights start punching, and (2) I’ll be too busy stuffing turkey down my gullet to complete a coherent thought for at least a couple of days. The lack of coherent thought has never stopped me before, but I’m trying to mend my ways.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and remember, there are only 393 shopping days until Christmas 2010. So get cracking!

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Salary Cap Would've Stopped Hitler!

Alan Greenspan comes to me for discussions on economic theory and Bud Selig gets my input of baseball issues of the day, so I occasionally feel the need to spew my knowledge to the masses. It’s just the right thing to do, yo. Hence, we’re here to celebrate the Yankees of 2009 and World Series Champions (I hate that “world champions crap – did they beat everyone in the world? No!) as they prove the point about money being meaningless in baseball. Huh? you might ask? Didn’t the Yankees spend way more than everyone else and buy the title? In the words of the great White Goodman, let me hit you with some knowledge.

Rob Neyer of ESPN has a terrific blog, called Sweetspot. Check it out. It’s not quite as terrific as Bowling in the Dark…but not much is. Some Guy and I have a media behemoth on our hands, and the Rob Neyers of the world can get in line! Anyway, Neyer wrote a good blog entry about this topic. The basic point is that the Yankees can buy a playoff spot every year, but the last eight years (many of which the Yanks outspent everyone by even more than they did this year) taught us that the championship cannot be bought (only some timely talent and Lady Luck can grant that).

Isn’t revenue sharing a good thing? How about the luxury tax? The Yanks pay way more than anyone else – is that a bad thing? It’s a problem that the clubs are not required to re-invest monies earned through the luxury tax or in revenue sharing in the team. This has NOTHING to do with a salary cap. Simply implementing a rule that says “All clubs must invest the money they receive through the luxury tax or revenue sharing back into the team payroll” would probably alleviate a lot of what the lazy mainstream media types are complaining about.

I find it irritating when people talk about teams forcing cities to build them new stadia (plural of stadium?). It’s not true that a team does not have to pay for a new stadium. It’s simply market forces. The team says “you, Mr. City, build me a stadium or we’re leaving”. And most of the time Mr. City does just that, not calling the bluff of the team. The City of Tampa has called the bluff – no new stadium for a long time. It’s ludicrous when the team doesn’t build its own stadium. For the Yankees to get this grand new stadium (with some tickets costing $5K a game!) for free is a bunch of garbage. But no one made Mr. New York City do that for the Yankees. Screw you, Mr. New York City!

Next – we all talk about “small market” and “large market” teams. Do you know which teams are which? Below is a chart of the baseball markets arranged by population, using numbers from the 2000 census:

Markets of more than 10 million people

21,199,865 New York Mets, New York Yankees
16,373,645 Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers

Markets of 5-10 million people

9,157,540 Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox
7,608,070 Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals
7,039,362 Oakland Athletics, San Francisco Giants
6,188,463 Philadelphia Phillies
5,819,100 Boston Red Sox
5,456,428 Detroit Tigers
5,221,801 Texas Rangers

Markets of 3-5 million people

4,682,897 Toronto Blue Jays
4,669,571 Houston Astros
4,112,198 Atlanta Braves
3,878,380 Florida Marlins
3,554,760 Seattle Mariners
3,251,876 Arizona Diamondbacks

Markets of 2-3 million people

2,968,806 Minnesota Twins
2,945,831 Cleveland Indians
2,813,833 San Diego Padres
2,603,607 St Louis Cardinals
2,581,506 Colorado Rockies
2,395,997 Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2,358,695 Pittsburgh Pirates

Markets of 1-2 million people

1,979,202 Cincinnati Reds
1,776,062 Kansas City Royals
1,689,572 Milwaukee Brewers

A few things jump out on this list, at least to me. Look at the 5-10 group. Why are the Cubs, White Sox, Orioles, Nationals (get a pass for recent move), Phillies, Tigers and Rangers so bad more often than not? Okay, perhaps one could argue that more recently the salaries have grown more disproportionate, and the Cubs and Phillies (at least) have been competitive. But then why are the others so bad? One may also argue that the 5-10 is too large a spread to look at. Perhaps, but note that the first three cities share two teams each. The same person is highly unlikely to attend games of both teams or buy stuff from both teams. Next, look at the 2-5 million ranges (smushing two groups together – and yes, I just used the word “smushing”). Atlanta, Minnesota, Toronto, Cleveland, Arizona and St. Louis have been fairly regularly competitive. What advantage do they have over Houston (also pretty competitive, but less consistently so than the first group), Seattle, San Diego, Colorado, Tampa and Pittsburgh? Florida is a special case, as they have no attendance and build up for a run then tear down (no other team has this particular model). I also think Minnesota is a special case, as its owner is one of the richest in the league, and they don’t spend up to their revenue level. So how does one analyze that?

In fact, the most compelling argument FOR a cap may just be the final four teams on the list. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Milwaukee have certainly been the most inept teams over the last 20-30 years. But does correlation equal causation? Certainly, a significant part of the reason for their ineptitude is revenue-driven. But it’s important to recognize that a significant part is also inept-management-driven. Is the fortune of those four teams enough to drive the creation of a salary cap? And if you believe that it is, how do you explain the similar results seen by fans in Baltimore, Dallas, Detroit and Chicago (until recently)? Thus, I think that population is not what you’re looking for as an explanation.

Population is only a part of the equation. What you really should look at is team revenue. This is somewhat population-driven, but not always. Seattle is a large-revenue club. Oakland is a small-revenue club. Why? Too many reasons to list here. But the point is that if you talk population and not revenue, you’re not seeing the entire ball of wax. Is there a correlation between revenue and post-season potential? Of course. Let’s explore that next.

There is a good book that I have only read parts of thus far, called “Baseball Between The Numbers”. Since only 12 of 30 teams can make the playoffs in a given year, most teams won’t come close to making the playoffs (2008 being an outlier there, as deep into the season there was a disproportionately large number of teams still “in the running” for a playoff spot – I think this is also evidence against the need for a salary cap, but I digress). So let’s look at playoff appearances over time, since one of Some Guy’s main arguments has been that the higher-spending teams will be more consistently competitive than the lower-spending teams. Doing some statistical analysis that I am way too dumb to understand, the authors found that the correlation between team revenue and post-season appearances (the R-squared) is .51. Meaning that half of getting to the post-season is determined by revenue. Is that enough for a cap? I don’t know. But the authors make a good point – teams make a lot of money by getting to the post-season, so could the correlation really be telling us that those who make the post-season have higher revenues? Maybe, but this isn’t what we want to know. So they did a comparison of appearances in the playoffs to TV market size – go back to the above chart. It is here that my analysis above really shines (the chart was from a different source, and the analysis was all mine. Eat it Greenspan!). The correlation between post-season appearances and TV market size is only .11, meaning that only 11% of the reason for a team making the playoffs is due to TV market size. This, it should be obvious, is not enough to support creating a salary cap.

I really believe that when people say “a salary cap would be good for baseball” they really mean “I hate the Yankees for being able to buy all the best players.” “Baseball Between The Numbers” goes on to discuss how the authors believe a cap would (or would not) affect the competitive balance, and I won’t go into that here. But to quickly look at football’s cap – the Cowboys and the Raiders spent the most money on salary in 2008 (there are many complicated ways to fit lots of salary into a hard salary cap under the NFL rules). Where did that get both of those teams? The lesson, from this admittedly tiny sample size? Even with a cap, there are teams that have more money to spend than others – and even then, you’re still not guaranteed to be any better than any other team.

Rob Neyer thinks that the Yankees can buy their way to the playoffs every year. He’s a smart guy and maybe they can, but most large-revenue teams cannot. It’s pretty hard to argue, however, that revenue has no bearing on the fates of baseball teams. Spending has escalated in the past twenty years, but in 1990 the Baltimore Orioles were the highest spending team. The Dodgers have spent money like scary monkeys for a long time, with only the recent playoff fruit to show for it (and that is in SPITE of some terrible spending, on the likes of Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones and Jason Schmidt).

Okay, maybe money is not irrelevent, as the first paragraph of my post suggested with tongue firmly in cheek. But spend wisely, my billionaire team owning friends. Go ahead and try to buy your way to the playoffs. Good luck once you’re there.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Best Blog Ever Humbly Announces Fourth Follower

The word is out on Bowling in the Dark, the smash hit blog recently described by experts1 as “probably the best blog ever,” which today modestly announced that it had acquired its fourth follower in just its second month of existence.

This blindingly rapid expansion of Bowling in the Dark’s fan base is gratifying and humbling, despite being not at all unexpected. We are, after all, pretty darned cool.

Statistics2 suggest that, if the list of followers continues to quadruple each month—a perfectly reasonable expectation, as far as we know3—by February 2010, Bowling in the Dark will have more worldwide followers than L. Ron Hubbard; by September it will surpass the size of the Republican Party4, and by March 2011, Bowling in the Dark will reach approximately 17.1 billion followers.

After it was brought to our attention that this last number exceeded, by some 10.3 billion, the entire population of the Earth, Bowling in the Dark staff pseudoscientists conducted an in-depth analysis of the calculations and the fundamental assumptions upon which they were based. They have concluded that this admittedly unusual—even shocking—projection can mean one of only two things:

1. Years of scientific research by luminaries like Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey5 will finally pay off with meaningful communication between humans and animals. And these apes, after rapidly tiring of internet pornography, will gradually find their way to us. We’re confident they won’t be disappointed—they entertain themselves by throwing their own feces, for Pete’s sake; we’re at least a couple of notches classier than that.6

2.The human race will encounter extraterrestrial intelligence. The rest of the progression will be eerily similar: a. find internet, b. get tired of pornography, c. search blogosphere for intelligent life, d. settle enthusiastically on Bowling in the Dark. It’s quite possible that our blog will turn out to be the very reason an alien civilization would seek out our planet in the first place. Whether these extraterrestrials will be of the Reese’s Pieces–eating, glowing-tummy type or the “enslave all humanity” type—or even the friendly-Brian-Dennehy type who loves old people, or the susceptible-to-Earth’s-simple-viruses type—we can’t be sure. But frankly, as long as they read us and love us and occasionally leave entertaining and insightful responses to our posts, we don’t really care how many of Earth’s monuments they demolish with their colossal lasers.

That’s right, readers, a breakthrough of truly astounding, even cosmic proportions is right around the corner. Pretty soon you will be talking to, or potentially fleeing from, angry talking monkeys or our new alien pals and/or overlords.

What’s better is that you—yes, you—can help make this happen. Tell your friends about Bowling in the Dark, and tell them to read us and love us with all of their withered, inadequate little hearts.

We here at Bowling in the Dark are grateful and appreciative—in addition to other synonyms for “grateful”—for your support during our early struggle for survival, and that support will not be forgotten for hours or even days. But remember, if you don’t tell all you friends about us, the terrorists win. And if you tell only half your friends, the terrorists may make it to overtime and force a tie, which still moves them up in the standings.

Don’t let the terrorists make the playoffs! They’re better funded than the New York Yankees, and almost as evil.7 It’s up to you.

1. Source: Some Guy, personal communication, November 21, 2009.
2. That we have just made up.
3. Although we admit that have been drinking heavily.
4. The Republican Party of Puerto Rico.
5. You know her, she was played by Sigourney Weaver in that movie about the gorillas in our midst. I think it was called Project X.
6. Although we do admit to enjoying a good old-fashioned Feces Fight every once in a blue moon.
7. See note 3.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The End of the World is Nigh, if We’re Lucky

Recent events have led me to consider the possibility that the apocalypse may well be upon us after all, despite my previous confident statement to the contrary. The good news (if it can be called that) is that, given the horrific nature of this particular tragedy, it’s likely that at least some folks will actually start looking forward to the end of time.

There’s no good way to sugar-coat this, so I’m just going to come right out with it: Bob Dylan has released a Christmas album.

Quibble if you want with the fact that this “news” is actually more than a month old—the album was released on October 13, 2009—but to do so runs the risk of missing the fundamental point here, which is, at the risk of repeating myself, that Bob Dylan has released a Christmas album.

Now, before I get carried away, I should take time to make a couple of things perfectly clear:

1. I don’t hate Christmas music. I do wish that, even during the heart of the actual Christmas season (not to be confused with the Christmas retail season, which is roughly fifteen months longer), the stores I have to visit would sprinkle in a non-Christmas song every ten or twenty minutes. The universal Department Store Approved Christmas Song playlist is only about six songs long, and for me the repetition gets very old very quickly. And I do get more than a little irritated when I hear Christmas songs in stores well before Thanksgiving, or even before I’ve even finished my Halloween candy.1

2. I also don’t hate Bob Dylan. I’m not especially familiar with his work beyond the tracks that would end up on a greatest hits album,2 and I’m certainly not one of those self-important fans that humps his leg by calling him a prophet, but he’s not bad. In fact, I’m listening to him as I write this, in the hopes that I’ll be inspired by whatever the hell it is he’s trying to say.

Bob Dylan is, without a doubt, an intriguing and insightful lyricist and a gifted songwriter. “Shelter from the Storm” is one of my all-time favorite songs; “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Positively 4th Street” seethe with fascinating anger, and “Highway 61 Revisited” has that awesome Sideshow Bob whistle in it. “It Ain’t Me Babe” is great, too, although Johnny Cash did it better.3

I may be wrong here, but my assumption is that people who listen to Christmas music—and, more to the point, buy Christmas music—do so not because they want to hear an original, brand-new Christmas tune (name a good Christmas song that’s come out in the last thirty years) but because they want to hear an old, old, old song reinterpreted and revitalized by a gifted musician.4

And the obvious problem with Bob Dylan—and, thus, the main reason that I fear his Christmas in the Heart album is a sign of the apocalypse—is his voice. I’m not quite deluded enough to believe that I’m the first person to notice that his voice tends to suck, but yes, his voice does kind of suck.5 But even Dylan’s biggest fans, in their best efforts to put a positive spin on a voice that sounds like a man swallowing a clump of burning hair, can’t do much better than to use words like unique, distinctive, or unorthodox.

Good for these folks for their positive outlook and for having access to a Thesaurus, but let’s be honest, you could also use the words “unique” and “distinctive” to describe the sound of, say, a rhinoceros making love to a tuba, and that wouldn’t make me any more inclined to listen to it.6

You know who else has a distinctive and unique vocal delivery and enunciation? This kid here. He can barely stand, can’t remember to sing into his microphone, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t speak any English.7

If you’ve been waiting to hear a rendition of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” by a guy with a live, seizure-prone chicken shoved up at least one of his nostrils, now’s your chance. And if it’s narrow-minded for mocking this album without listening to it, I can accept being narrow-minded.8 The way I see it, the one thing that makes Dylan’s music truly interesting—his writing—is gone, and if my other option is to listen to him struggle his way through songs I’ve heard (by my count) around 1,600 times each, I’d prefer to hide out in my secret, soundproof underground bunker, crossing my fingers that Emmerich’s 2012 is actually a documentary.

1. I’ve been coming home with less and less Halloween candy since I hit my mid-thirties, but the songs seem to start playing earlier and earlier every year, so the change has been minimal.
2. Like, for example, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, which, not coincidentally, is the one Dylan album I have.
3. Johnny Cash had chunks of guys like Bob Dylan in his stool.
4. Which explains why Pat Boone’s In a Metal Mood was so totally, totally awesome.
5. And I’m the first person ever to notice it.
6. “Unorthodox” would apply if it’s the tuba that’s making love to the rhinoceros.
7. Of course, we all know that Paul is dead, but if he wasn't, I'm sure this video would make him feel good.
8. Which is a pretty broad-minded thing for me to say, isn’t it? Clever, huh?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tom Cable Is Worse Than Adolf Hitler!

No, sadly I do not have any neat Photoshop pictures of Tom Cable, the embattled (and battering - ha!) head coach of the NFL's Oakland Raiders, with a tiny mustache of the Hitler variety. But with all the press Cable has received recently one might reasonably think Cable to be more of a problem than a mustached Barak Obama, even if one thinks Cable may not rise to the level of the former Austrian-born leader of the Nazi party. But Cable hit people - he's worse than Hitler!

It doesn't take a Jessica Simpson level of intellect to grasp that battering your fellow human beings is not a generally good thing. Clocking an unsuspecting assistant coach is perhaps slightly worse than the average assault. Beating your wife or girlfriend is decidedly lower - pretty close to the bottom of the barrel actually. Of course saying that Tom Cable is akin to Adolf Hitler is the kind of belligerent, chest-beating, over-the-top-for-over-the-top's-sake argument is what Some Guy rightly despises. But sometimes, hidden in the idiocy, and sheer volume, of the enraged masses is a nugget of truth. No, Cable has not been charged with a crime yet, let alone been convicted of one. But since when does that matter in this era of instant analysis from talking head media types? This just in - it doesn't. There is a logical conclusion that that is perhaps being overlooked in the panic to have something to say. Maybe Tom Cable is not a good person.

The problem with sarcasm is sometimes my heart's not in it. Like now. Is it wrong of me to sort of agree with the enraged masses? I find myself in an odd position on this issue. Some Guy and I recently discussed this issue, and the topic of "innocent until proven guilty" was raised. As discussed in the Cable press article linked above, there has been discussion of suspending Cable due to his recent altercation with the assistant coach in addition to the allegations of violence made by his ex-wife. The United States Constitution, I think I read somewhere, provides that people in this country are free from prosecution by the government until it is established that an infraction was committed. Innocent until proven guilty. Note that, in spite of what the uneducated masses may believe, this is a protection only against government prosecution.

This does not apply in the private sector, or to one's reputation in society. Tom Cable is the leader of a popular (if wildly unsuccessful, recently) professional football team (yes, the Oakland Raiders for those of you not paying attention - or already asleep) playing in an incredibly profitable corporate entity (the NFL) with highly visible members (all the games on every TV in the country on Sundays). If this person, looked up to by the numerous Raiders' fanatics (and the dozens who actually think they are close to being a winning football team), is accused of something as serious as assault and battery on not only a current member of the coaching staff but also his former wife as well as another former girlfriend, why shouldn't the NFL suspend him during the investigative process?

On the other hand, is it right to judge a man based on his worst hour? A good friend of mine is a talented guy. Smart. Athletic. Funny. Handsome. A real triple threat. Unfortunately, when he runs fast, particularly in parking lots for some unknown reason, he can't help but fall sprawling to the pavement in a jumble of skinny arms and legs, blood and asphalt, usually with a confused look on his face. Yes, he ends up resembling squabling retards bleeding on the ground but that should not detract from the quality human being he otherwise is. Maybe it's not fair to judge Tom Cable on the strength of a few unproven allegations, when he may well be an upstanding guy.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) has pressed for Cable to be suspended. I happen to be of the opinion that the National Organization for Winners (yes, I just cleverly made that up!) should have pressed for Cable's firing before now due to the team's awful showing. I don't mean to make light of the situation - I believe these allegations, while indicating a man who needs professional anger management treatment, merely compound Cable's failure to do his job. I see no reason the NFL or the Oakland Raiders should feel obligated to treat this issue with kid gloves. Put him on the shelf and investigate - maybe he is a great guy, but don't you owe it to the fans of the NFL to make sure that he's not a danger to others before trotting him out in the spotlight (such as it is in Oakland) every Sunday? Then get the man some help. Oh, and while you're at it, get the Raiders some help too.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Enough with the Hitler Shit Already

The jury is still out on whether we, as a society or as individuals, are stupid by nature or merely stupid in select situations, but ample evidence suggests that stupidity is a
, very common human trait.

To me, though, there’s a big difference between the kind of self-inflicted stupidity that’s generally harmless to society as a whole—see, for example, almost any YouTube video involving a skateboard, dirt bike, or motorcycle—and the kind of stupidity that is deliberate, is destructive, and—simply by existing—is all too common.

For example: a small but disproportionately loud (and seemingly growing) segment of our society’s willingness to compare anyone you don’t like or disagree with to Adolf Hitler.

This ignorant and ineffective rhetorical tool—which has been described, semi-humorously, reductio ad Hitlerum—has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years,1 but from where I sit, it appears to have gained plenty of traction in the last decade or so, with folks who’ve used it in “criticism” of Presidents George W. Bush or Barack Obama.2 Rarely both of them at the same time.

The pictures in the links provided above (I’ve decided not to post more than the one at the top of the page; I’d rather not run any more risk of becoming part of the problem), on their own, prove only two things:

1. Assholes now have access to Photoshop.

2. For some folks, being simultaneously utterly uninformed and obnoxiously opinionated is creeping ever closer to becoming the rule, rather than the exception.

If it ended there, it’d probably be fine, because even with the power of the internet behind them, random assholes don’t generally get a lot of support.3 But increasingly, more-mainstream and noticeable sources are jumping on the “You’re just like Hitler” bandwagon. The very lowly regarded anti-evolution film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, rather than arguing a defensible point, more or less stated that an acceptance of the theory of evolution lead to the Holocaust.4 And perhaps worse yet, the very highly regarded late Kurt Vonnegut, famous for the kind of incisive, darkly humorous, sometimes silly, often stinging satire that suggests a fertile, active, and insightful mind, actually stated—willingly, for all I know—that “The only difference between Bush and Hitler is that Hitler was elected.”5

Folks, George W. Bush wasn’t (and still isn’t) like Hitler. Barack Obama isn’t like Hitler. There are people out there who can conceivably be compared to Hitler—Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, Cecil B. deMille—but if the best argument you can muster, at any time, anywhere, is “[insert name here] is like Hitler” or “The Nazis also were in favor of [some particular activity],” then either this actually is the best argument you can make because your position is garbage from the start, or this is the best you can do because you’re way too ignorant of the facts at hand to actually voice an opinion in the first place.

It doesn’t take much qualification to make this statement. Mine are:

(1) several hundred games of Axis and Allies, a World War II board game in which I suddenly (and quite coincidentally) lost interest right around the time I found out that our favorite whipping boy was suddenly much, much better at it than I was,

(2) a rudimentary understanding of the second World War, beefed up by couple of high-school history classes and some reading on my own time,

and most importantly,
(3) a willingness to think rationally, at least once in a while, and an unwillingness to barf out the most offensive, hyperbolic, and obviously mistaken bullcrap I can think of simply to get attention.

Clearly, if I can cobble together enough knowledge to make a reasonable and understandable argument, any trained seal can do it.6 To fall back on such a stupid argument shows not the harmless, occasionally amusing kind of stupid, but a willful and dangerous ignorance.

Vegetarians, failed painters, folks with one testicle, and people with stupid mustaches all have something in common with Adolf Hitler, but that commonality is irrelevant.7 It’s meaningless. If you’ve Photoshopped a little toothbrush mustache onto a picture of anybody,8 or made this argument and thought it was actually relevant or thoughtful instead of embarrassing to yourself and to logical thought and rational discourse, grow up, read a history book, and realize how stupid you’ve been making yourself look.

1. This is an obvious lie. Few if any comparisons to Hitler were made before, say, 1933, and certainly none at all before 1889, excluding, of course, possible remarks from psychics or time travelers.
2. I use quotation marks around the word criticism not because I’m one of those “people” who mistakenly “use” quotation marks for “emphasis.” I’m using them—the quotation marks, that is—for what they actually do in this context, which is to change the meaning of the word. For more of my disjointed thoughts on sarcasm, please see here. Cross-references are neat.
3. Too bad for me.
4. I haven’t seen the movie myself, and don’t expect to, but commentary supporting this statement can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Some of these sources may well be perfectly reputable instead of sneaky propaganda shills for Big Science.
5. A secondhand source for this quote can be found here. In a 2003 interview with the Utne Reader, Vonnegut quipped that he’s “mad about being old and I'm mad about being American. Apart from that, [I’m] OK.” As of November 8, 2009, he’s no longer old, American, or okay. So it goes.
6. With apologies to those of legions of Bowling in the Dark readers who are, in fact, trained seals.
7. I can’t prove the testicle thing. But, then, why would I want to?
8. You’re an asshole.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

An Apology from Some Guy

I had a tough time sleeping last night, and it wasn’t because my lovely and demented—er, devoted—future wife, Some Gal, was fidgety; I think she was out before she even hit the pillow. What was bothering me, I decided, was that I’d done something as shameless and lame as posting something written by some other writer, and my conscience—or, more accurately, the haphazard collection of misguided impulses and uninformed, illogical notions that I cobbled together to replace my actual conscience, which ran for the hills a long time ago—tweaked me for it.

Yeah, sure, I didn’t try to pass Sagan’s writing off as my own, and it was clearly a well-written and intriguing piece from a gifted writer, but still I worry that I’ve disappointed the legions of Bowling in the Dark fans who flock to this site at a rate of dozens per decade to read original content—the half-formed pearls of half-assed wisdom from Some Guy and his esteemed colleague, the Squid Bandit—not the warmed-over albeit insightful and even potentially moving musings of the brilliant, famous, and/or dead. From now on, if you want to read Carl Sagan’s thoughts, go check out his blog instead.1

So, for those of you who have stuck with Bowling in the Dark through its trying but thrilling month or so of existence, thank you, and my apologies for letting you down.2 It won’t happen again.3

I would also be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to apologize to my bestest pal ever, the English language, for failing to notice that the word “flashlight” in our banner was misspelled for almost twenty-four hours. There’s no excuse for this kind of bullshit. Sorry, buddy.

1. Good luck with that. Sagan may be a better writer than I am, but at this point in our careers, I’m a hell of a lot more prolific.
2. Unless, that is, you didn’t notice, don’t care, or approve. In which case, you can take my apology and stick it.
3. I am lying.

Monday, November 2, 2009

You Are Here

Almost twenty years ago, the spacecraft Voyager 1, having flown past the distant boundary of the solar system, was made to turn around in order to take a look back at the home it had left far behind. In the picture it took, Earth appears, from roughly four billion miles away, as a barely-discernible blue dot amid a vast sea of black.

For a while I sat and tried to figure out something smart, clever, or deep to say about this, but was essentially silenced by the enormity of empty space.1 So instead I’m just going to cop out, and simply reproduce here what astronomer and author Carl Sagan had to say about it.2 According to a page on, Sagan had to more or less badger NASA into turning Voyager around in the first place to take the photo, and I’m glad they listened:
Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”3

1. The marketing folks for Alien were right: in space, no one can hear you, uh, blog.
2. This blogging stuff is going to be easy if all I have to do is put down what other people say about things. I suppose I could pretend I’d written it all in the first place, but I’m not famous enough to get away with it, and I don’t have tenure.
3. Apologies if I’m using this text in violation of copyright. Believe me, I’m not making a cent off of it.