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Archive for the ‘ridiculing the NYT for sport’ Category

Now, I know the NYT isn’t necessarily going to produce the most insightful reporting on the Tea Party movement, and articles with headlines like “With No Job, Time for Tea Party” smack of elitist smugness.

Still, it’s hard not to think that this air of condescension isn’t warranted, when you read about some of the illogic at work in the minds of Tea Partiers.

For instance, this story refers to a woman from the Philadelphia area, Diana Reimer, as one of the “stars” in the effort of a Tea Party group called FreedomWorks to fight health care reform.

On the one hand, you have to respect someone willing to toil so hard for a cause in which she believes.

Ms. Reimer often wells up talking about her work. “I’m respected,” she said, her voice breaking. “I don’t know why. I don’t know what is so special. But I’m willing to do it.”

On the other hand, you’d like to see a little more thought and reason put into that cause and her efforts to advance it.

She and others who receive government benefits like Medicare and Social Security said they paid into those programs, so they are getting what they deserve. [Emphasis added.]

“All I know is government was put here for certain reasons,” Ms. Reimer said. “They were not put here to run banks, insurance companies, and health care and automobile companies. They were put here to keep us safe.”

She has no patience for the Obama administration’s bailouts and its actions on health care. “I just don’t trust this government,” Ms. Reimer said.

So much to parse. There’s the objectionable premise that only those who “paid” into entitlement programs are, well, entitled to collect those benefits. By this logic, public education is a crock since there aren’t a whole lot of first-graders paying the property taxes that support their education. (And yes, I’m aware that most kids’ parents are paying in some form or another for the property taxes that finance public schools. But if you have to make that kind of a retort, it just illustrates how torturous your logic is.)

Then there’s also the part about finding it OK to accept Medicare while simultaneously railing against government-sponsored and -funded health care.

Honestly, we ought simply to repay these people the money they “paid” into the Medicare and Social Security systems over the years, then let them fend for themselves in the eternally virtuous free market when it comes to health care and retirement income. Maybe they won’t think so harshly of government involvement in health care when they find no corporation willing to insure a senior citizen without premiums that are astronomical above and beyond the currently stratospheric levels.

Then there’s Jeff McQueen, who got involved with Tea Partying in the Rust Belt after losing his job in auto parts sales.

He blames the government for his unemployment. “Government is absolutely responsible, not because of what they did recently with the car companies, but what they’ve done since the 1980s,” he said. “The government has allowed free trade and never set up any rules.”

He and others do not see any contradictions in their arguments for smaller government even as they argue that it should do more to prevent job loss or cuts to Medicare. After a year of angry debate, emotion outweighs fact.

If you don’t trust the mindset or the value system of the people running the system, you can’t even look at the facts anymore,” Mr. Grimes said. [Emphasis added.]

Well, you certainly can’t reason — or argue — with that (il-)logic. Though I do think it nicely encapsulates a problem pervasive in politics of all persuasions, and why it’s increasingly difficult to find any sort of common political ground on anything. After all, if you don’t share the mindset and value system of the person dispensing the facts, then you just can’t be bothered with facts.

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One of the ostensibly nice things about my beloved Los Angeles Kings’ resurgence this season is that it’s led to increased attention and coverage in the North American media.

However, I’ve come away largely unimpressed with most of these stories, either because they tell me nothing I don’t already know from having followed the team intensely for the better part of the past two decades, or because they remain stuck in tired cliches that reek of journalistic laziness.

Take, for instance, a story I spied on the NYT this morning with the intriguing headline, “With Little Fanfare, the Los Angeles Kings are in the Playoff Chase.”

Oddly enough, I clicked the headline expecting a story about how the Kings have largely flown under the radar nationally, since it’s hard as hell for a West Coast NHL team to garner more than a cursory mention in the national media.

Instead, I got treated to yet another story about how Los Angeles isn’t really a hockey market.

Needless to say, I found the premise deeply insulting, and the reporting superficial.

The question surrounding the Kings is whether anyone cares.

Years of losing and mismanagement and the lockout of 2004-5 have dented the fan base, but there are others who have lost interest, too. The Los Angeles Times, until recently, rarely traveled with the team, a circumstance that prompted the Kings to hire a popular newspaper blogger to cover the team for its Web site.

First, virtually everyone outside L.A. grossly underestimates (and understates) the devotion of the Kings’ fan base, which may be small but certainly not lacking in passion. (Exhibit A: The graffiti tributes to Anze Kopitar during his rookie season in 2006.) The more salient point is that fan interest is inevitably tied to the quality of the product on the ice. L.A., like any city, likes a winning team, something the Kings haven’t produced too often in their forty-three years. Even the diehards are bound to invest less time and money on the team when it sucks. But as the team starts winning — and playing actual playoff games — attendance is going to trend upward.

Second, the article makes it seem as if the L.A. Times cut back on road coverage of the Kings due to lack of interest. In fact, the decision to reduce coverage is more likely a function of the hard times on which the L.A. Times and other newspapers have fallen. It’s rather pricey to send a beat writer on the road for forty-one games, with the attendant travel expenses, when the wire services can provide game recaps. It doesn’t yield better coverage — quite the opposite — but it’s a tradeoff many financially struggling news outlets are willing to make.

Third, the article greatly slights the credentials of Rich Hammond, described with what sounds like a disparaging note as a “popular newspaper blogger.” In truth, Hammond, whom the Kings hired to serve as a beat writer who would cover the team full time at home and on the road, was not just some “blogger.” Rather, he was a longtime beat writer for the L.A. Daily News who covered the team on a part-time basis the past couple of seasons after being promoted to deputy sports editor. Hammond maintained a blog, Inside the Kings, that was exceptionally popular as the go-to source for Kings news (it routinely generated the most traffic of any Daily News blog). But it was also more credible than some guy running a blog from his basement (though there are actually more than a few reputable hockey blogs in the digital world).

It just irks me to see this kind of cliched writing. It’s so passé in hockey circles to dismiss L.A. for not being a “real hockey market,” just because sports talk radio isn’t endlessly bloviating about the Kings, plus it happens to be 70 degrees in the winter. It’s just funny how Canadians and folks from cold weather climes assume you have to have lousy winters to be passionate about hockey. I think it’s just some a way to mask their envy of the balmy weather.

Anyway, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the NYT, just like other national media outlets, offers little nuance or insight in what amounts to a hit-and-run piece.

Instead, I’ll be quite content to let the rest of the North American media go back to ignoring my team. I’d rather stick to my “popular newspaper blogger” of choice any day.

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A big part of the reason I stopped watching the History Channel eons ago was that I grew tired of the constant assault of programming fixated on the Second World War. It seemed like there was always some documentary or special touting some minor campaign in the Pacific, or cheering the heroes of D-Day, or (somewhat less frequently) pointing out the horrors of the Holocaust.

Of course, as I began training to become a professional historian and read more widely, I found the American perspective on the war tiresome and wanting. To watch the History Channel or, I’m guessing, to ask most Americans, the history of the Second World War went something as follows:

Hitler and the Nazis did some bad stuff, and there were evil deeds afoot in Japan, then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the war began, and it was a slog until D-Day, which turned the tide of the war and it was only a matter of time before the Allies defeated Nazi Germany and then Truman dropped the bomb on Hiroshima to end the war in Japan.

Certainly that version captures some of the general contours of the war. And it definitely covers the major American participation. But as tantalizing as it is to think that “our boys” single-handedly won the war, such a view just doesn’t do justice to what actually happened.

Then again, it’s convenient to forget that a bunch of Commies did a lot of the heavy lifting and bore the biggest human toll. Even if we occasionally remember that Stalin was an ally: remember “Uncle Joe”?

Anyway, I saw a headline for a story in the NYT op-ed section that piqued my interest: “How World War II Wasn’t Won.”

It seemed promising. I wasn’t offhand what occasioned such an audaciously headlined piece, but I thought it might be an attempted corrective on the narrative so entrenched in the American popular consciousness.

Naturally, I was wrong. Wrong to think this was going to challenge American perspectives. Wrong to think it would deflate the deification of D-Day, if only a little bit. And certainly wrong to think it might be something so simple as a think piece to say, “Actually, the turning point of the war in Europe came on the Eastern Front, where the Red Army did the real heavy lifting.”

Nope. None of that. In fact, there was no mention at all of “Soviet” (or “Russian,” which was and remains synonymous with “Soviet” in the American lexicon) or “Red Army” or “Eastern Front.” Nope. Nothing.

Instead, the piece focuses on a counter-factual about a possible “second D-Day” along the Western Front. Chance to end the war a few months earlier. Potential glory for the Americans. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Sigh.

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To read the scuttlebutt out of New York (I’m including you, NYT), you’d think Yankees fans had been waiting a lifetime for another chance at a World Series title.

(Actually, in the case of these tykes, they have waited a lifetime. But they can get back to me about being long-suffering Yanks fans after they hit puberty in a few years.)

It’s just the latest manifestation of the arrogance I associate with New Yorkers, and one that grates on my nerves in the worst way.

Fortunately, the Onion skewers this New York state of collective delusion mind perfectly in a story about another long-suffering fan base down in Philadelphia.

The last time the Philadelphia Phillies brought a World Series title back to the City of Brotherly Love, the nation’s financial sector was in complete ruin, the cost of a gallon of milk was only $2.74, fans watched the Fall Classic while huddled around their slightly-less-streamlined high-definition television sets, and Philadelphia slugger Ryan Howard was just 28 years old.

This week Howard, 29, hopes to lead the Phillies to their first World Series championship in more than 360 long days and end a title drought that has been punctuated by several embarrassing losses, including a 2009 opening-day defeat by the Atlanta Braves and a June loss to the Atlanta Braves. During its infamous dry spell, the team has also come up short twice, winning both an NLDS and an NLCS title but having absolutely no World Series ring to show for it.

To put into perspective just how long the Phillies have gone without a championship, the earth has almost made one full orbit of the sun since the franchise last paraded through downtown Philadelphia holding the famed Commissioner’s Trophy.

Wow. Has it has been a long time. Just ask this guy:

“Truthfully, I never thought I would live to see the Phillies get to another World Series,” longtime fan David Oswald said. “When I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last November, the doctor only gave me eight months.”

Amen.

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Lost amid the mindboggling reports of billions lost in Harvard’s endowment are the human impacts budget cuts are having on the Harvard community.

Fortunately, the intrepid reporting of the NYT helps to put a human face on this tragic story of Harvard budget cuts.

Gone are the hot breakfasts in most dorms and the pastries at Widener Library. Varsity athletes are no longer guaranteed free sweatsuits, and just this week came the jarring news that professors will go without cookies at faculty meetings.

No free lunches breakfasts? Egads!

We’ve known for some time that draconian budget cuts can happen anywhere. But Harvard? Perish the thought!

But many here assumed student life at Harvard, more than any other institution, was immune from hardship. The loss of scrambled eggs, bacon and other cooked breakfast foods in the dorms of upperclassmen on weekdays seems to have stirred the most ire.

“Students generally feel that if you come to Harvard, for what you’re paying, you should probably have the right to a hot breakfast,” said Andrea Flores, a senior who is president of the Undergraduate Council. “They want to preserve the things that are at Harvard that you can’t get anywhere else.”

If Harvard students don’t get their victuals gratis in the morning, or at the library, how will they be reminded on a daily basis that they’re better than everyone else?

Oh, and the 250 Harvard staff members who’ve actually lost their jobs as a result of budget cuts? They don’t rate more than that brief mention. Probably because they can still get a free hot breakfast on a breadline somewhere.

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Here’s an actual screen shot, captured moments ago, from the New York Times web site’s front page.

NYT headline writers exude the sense of understatement for which their fellow New Yorkers are renowned

NYT headline writers exude the sense of understatement for which their fellow New Yorkers are renowned

I loved loathed that second headline, which so neatly encapsulates everything I hate about New Yorkers, namely their obnoxious sense of superiority and total lack of self-awareness about same.

Moreover, the second headline especially captures the attribute that most compels me to revile the Yankees and their fans, since it suggests, without irony, that the Yankees should not only be in the playoffs every season, but should also win the World Series annually. It’s practically their birthright, can’t you see?

Thus, New York must be elated that the Bronx Bombers have returned to the postseason for the first time in — let’s see, 2009 minus 2007 — two years. Even a humanities scholar like me can do the math and figure out that the Yankees’ postseason drought had reached an onerous, soul-crushing, franchise-deflating, fan base-dejecting one year. And no longer counting.

OK, so the headline wasn’t alluding to that specific postseason drought. Making the playoffs is practically a formality for the Yanquís. (It’s beyond my comprehension how Yankee fans survived last season without a playoff berth.) I was actually surprised on some level to see the picture of the Yankees celebrating their division title with more emotion than they’d muster for burying the Royals in mid-May.

Rather, as the linked story describes, the Yankees are hoping to end their disappointing run of postseason flameouts that stretches back five, six or nine years, depending on what you take as the benchmark of success for the Yankees (hint: it’s not sweeping a mid-summer twin bill against the Orioles).

But the Yankees did not unload close to half a billion dollars to simply win the A.L. East. While the Yankees are pleased with what they have accomplished, their mandate, as always, is to win it all. The Yankees have journeyed to the postseason for 14 of the last 15 seasons, but they have not won a title since 2000 and have not been in the World Series since 2003 [emphasis added].

Gasp! Eek! Pow! Can you imagine that? I’m surprised such celebrated tormentors of the United States as Hugo Chávez, Muammar Qaddafi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn’t take the opportunity of their addresses at the United Nations this week to decry the egregious treatment of Americans living in the UN’s backyard.

I’m not even going to bother listing how many other teams have endured similar postseason “droughts” to the Yankees’. Suffice it to observe that the Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t had so much as a winning record, much less playoff success of any sort, since before the Yankees began their current run of postseason berths in fourteen of the past fifteen seasons.

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The good: the NYT has an article about Slovakia and the ongoing rivalry between Slovaks and Czechs (always nice to see some mainstream U.S. press on a topic vaguely pertaining to my research).

The bad: the article is probably oversimplifying things or overlooking key points (like the fact that the breakup of Czechoslovakia was relatively amicable and that Slovaks and Czechs still generally like each other).

The ugly: it’s a misinformed piece that also perpetuates some maddeningly inaccurate stereotypes about Slovaks.

Take, for instance, the “illustrative” photo that accompanies the article.

Slovakia: A little bit twenty-first century, a little bit nineteenth century?

The NYT’s caption describes this scene as “Slovaks walk past a polling station in northern Slovakia during elections for the European Parliament in June.” It strikes me as inappropriate on so many levels. For one, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a horse-drawn cart on the streets of Slovakia (though admittedly, having spent most of my time in its major cities, I’m unlikely to have come across the more rural and agricultural areas where such a scene would occur). I also find it amusing how the picture says, at least to me, “Look at how backward those Slovaks are — they’re still using horse-drawn carts to transport grain!” And yet, if you notice in the background, one of the buildings behind the cart is a kino or movie theater, a decidedly modern form of public entertainment, even if it’s not an American-style multiplex (which you can find in most Slovak cities).

Of course, the picture is also patently stupid — there’s no other adjective to describe it — since it evokes this idea of Slovakia as a land before (modern) time, yet the ensuing article mentions how successful Slovakia has been at attracting foreign investment, especially auto manufacturing, making it the “Detroit of Eastern Europe,” in the reporter’s phrase. It’s hard to imagine the NYT choosing to run a photo of a burro pulling a ramshackle vegetable cart alongside a story about the “Detroit of Detroit,” because that would be an obviously false and misleading juxtaposition of the modern and industrial alongside the premodern and preindustrial, even though Detroit is suffering from all sorts of urban blight — far more than Slovakia’s major cities.

Granted, the reporter can’t be blamed for what some idiot photo editor back in New York thought would make for a good visual. But if you want further proof that editors choosing pictures and writing headlines aren’t closely reading the stories in question, this would be Exhibit A.

Still, while the reporter, Dan Bilefsky, gets a pass on the photo, his article isn’t much better when it comes to dispelling common Western stereotypes of Slovakia.

Take, for instance, Bilefsky’s extended lead, which recalls the angry Slovak reaction to the way Slovakia was depicted in the Czech sculptor David Černý’s work “Entropa.” Sure, Slovaks didn’t appreciate being represented as a Hungarian salami.

But Bilefsky makes it sounds as though the Slovaks were the only ones outraged with “Entropa,” and the only ones urging the Czech government to apologize. Bulgarians were pissed about being depicted as a toilet. There were plenty of unflattering stereotypes being peddled as part of Černý’s goal of provoking a discussion of national stereotypes of the twenty-seven EU states.

Then there’s Bilefsky’s baffling characterization of the current Czech-Slovak dynamic as one of “ambivalence of relations between Slovakia and its richer, larger neighbor.” Frankly, if various opinion polls from the sixteen years since the split are any indication, there’s probably still more ambivalence over the decision to break up rather than any lingering tension between Slovaks and Czechs. I saw some survey data a couple of years ago that basically showed both peoples feeling they were worse off with the split while the other nation had benefited from it. There might be ambivalence, but I’d question whether it’s the sort of ambivalence Bilefsky seems to have in mind. After all, Czechs routinely name Slovaks as their favorite foreign ethnic group and vice versa.

Likewise, I don’t really get the sense that Czechs are lording over the Slovaks about the declining euro, since the Czech crown is hardly faring any better. And I would guess it’s probably a big disappointment to the Czechs (at least the non-Euroskeptics among them) that Slovakia adopted the euro first (and many other post-Communist countries remain in position to get there well ahead of the Czech Republic, which might well take until 2020, according to the projections of some Czech political leaders).

And while it’s true, as Milan Šimečka observes, that Czech culture remains more prevalent in Slovakia than Slovak culture is in the Czech Republic, the important point is that this is also a rather market-driven process, since there are roughly twice as many Czechs as Slovaks. Foreign TV shows and films are much more likely to be dubbed into Czech because most Slovaks can understand it anyway, whereas Czechs don’t have the same level of exposure to Slovak and the Slovak language. While the exchange of culture and influence remains skewed in favor of the Czechs, this is still a two-way street. Especially in Moravia, the eastern half of the Czech Republic that borders Slovakia, you find a lot more cultural proximity to the Slovaks than you’d find in Prague.

Plus, while some of the old mentalities remained entrenched — Czechs are probably still inclined to view Slovaks somewhat dismissively as “little brothers” while Slovaks probably still have a chip on their shoulder that inspires them to try to one up the Czechs — relations are probably a lot better today, after the breakup, than they had been for quite some time, since there’s no longer the mutual distrust bred from Czechs who thought they were subsidizing Slovakia and Slovaks who thought the Czechs were ruling over them.

I recall in December 2007, when both countries joined the Schengen Agreement the week before Christmas, there was a ceremony on the Slovak-Czech border with the Slovak prime minister Robert Fico and, I believe, his Czech counterpart. At the ceremony to dismantle the border, Fico said something to the effect that the barrier between the two peoples had always been artificial, and that it had never really been internalized.

Slovaks and Czechs might have had their differences in the past, and they might have a friendly rivalry today, but I think Bilefsky’s article is really overstating the salience of this rivalry for both sides.

On the other hand, maybe I shouldn’t be disabusing the American media of this notion of Czech-Slovak rivalry. After all, if I can get Americans thinking there are ongoing hostilities between the two peoples, it would probably enhance my job prospects. Though not as much as if the Slovaks and Czechs started shooting each other, which is probably less likely than a war between Canada and the United States, if “Canadian Bacon” and “South Park” are any indication.

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