Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cap & Trade

At the suggestion of a reader, Within Reason has decided to tackle the topic of a potential salary cap in Major League Baseball. This is a hot topic in the world of sports talk, and pops up every time the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets set new payroll records while low payroll teams like the Pirates, Royals and Nationals continue to dwell in their respective division cellars.

For this topic, I decided to reach out to my friend Randy, a knowledgeable source for all things sport, and fellow Fantasy Baseball addict.
Please feel free to weigh in by posting a comment, and enjoy.

Within Reason: It was suggested by a commenter that I write about the issue of a potential salary cap in MLB - where do you stand on the issue?

Randy: Oh my. My neighbor and I had a huge discussion on this. He knew more about the compensatory draft picks than I do, but we both fell on the side of wanting a cap. However, I will say that I also want a minimum team salary number as well.

You?

WR: Is there a particular reason you think a cap is necessary?

R: I tend to like competitive balance and while there are examples that this already exists (the Twins, A's, etc.), I think those teams are extreme exceptions. And don't get me started on Tampa...they were AWFUL for all those years and are finally reaping the benefits of all those drafts because the new owner decided to spend some money. A team should not expect to get top 5 picks every year for a decade.

Anyway, my main issue is that this pattern looks to be taking over for some teams:

1. Team with under $60M in salary ends up below 0.500
2. Team then drafts early, but can't pick a top pick for fear of signability/long term costs
3. Even if they do sign their top picks, they often have them for their 1st contract only
4. So unless you can have your young guys sign a "Longoria" contract (and not all will do this), they have, in essence, become the minor leagues to about 8 teams
5. And if you can't sign "your" guy, you get the reward of a compensatory pick that you can't afford...ouch!!!

WR: All good points.

Let me ask a hypothetical: If you had to choose between a salary cap OR draft reform - wherein a rookie cap would be put in place, and teams would be given the opportunity to trade future picks (which they cannot do now), which would you pick?

R: Good question.

My gut response (and I will think more about this) is that I would choose the draft reform that you spell out below. But I really want a minimum team salary number too. I think some owners take the luxury tax "check" and just pocket it. I think that is junk!

As an aside, I think the NFL needs a rookie cap too.

WR: Okay, another hypothetical:

Should the luxury tax be redesigned so that the revenue it generates must be applied to the payroll of the recipient teams? This would have a two-fold effect: First, it would aid the payroll of the lower tier teams that draw your concern. Second, it would bring about a situation where the Yankees are actually funding a portion of the Rays salary - which may cause them to think twice about oh, say, A.J. Burnett...

I know it sounds too simple to work, and - as anything more than a hypothetical - it is. However, you brought up the NFL, just as I was about to. Here's why I think the NFL is a nice example of why a salary cap may not be all it is cracked up to be: Realistically, you have the same number of contenders now as you did pre-1994, the year the cap was put into place. Remember, salary cap does not mean "required payroll" - it's just a cap. The management of personnel is the biggest factor in manufacturing and maintaining a successful franchise.

Since 1995 17 different MLB teams have appeared in the World Series. In that same span, only 2 more NFL teams (19 - if you're keeping score), have appeared in the Super Bowl. If the NFL has used a salary cap to achieve "parity" - it could be argued that this sort of parity already exists in MLB.

R: 2 follow-up points for me:

1. How could you distinguish between salary tax money and owner money? Better stated, an owner could spend "xxx" less than normal (where "xxx" is the salary tax money)...this is why I want a minimum team salary.
2. In the NFL, every fans thinks that within a 4 year span, anything is possible (see Seattle, Arizona). I don't think Kansas City or San Diego or Pittsburgh baseball fans have that feeling)

WR: On your first point - you're totally right. That's why it will stay a hypothetical, destined for the bargain bin sports domain of talk radio and blogging (I feel dirty). Your second point I have a bit of an issue with, because I do not think that if I ever get around to completing my time machine, and go back to N'Orleans in 2004, I could convince Saints fans that they were 3 years out from a shot at the NFC Championship. For that matter, I could not go back and convince the August 2001 version of myself that The Patriots were 6 months away from a Super Bowl championship.

There are a few things that make this analogy less than rock solid - the most important being the proportional impact that one player can have on a football team as opposed to one player having on a baseball team, but surprises still happen in baseball, and I still feel comfortable saying that in all sports, talent management is at least as important as team's salaries - and the discrepancies between them.

R: So if you live in Kansas City and both of your teams are awful as of today. Who do you think has the best chance to turn it around in the next 3 years...and actually WIN a title?

I do agree with you on the talent management side of things with baseball, but like we discussed yesterday, the small market teams need to win on almost every early draft pick. And baseball is far and away the hardest sport to draft in. Just think that there are 7 rounds in football, 2 in basketball, and 30+ in baseball (where a much bigger percentage of the players are under the age of 20)...

WR: If I had to gamble, I'd go with The Chiefs. Matt Cassell is a definite upgrade over Thigpen and Croyle - Vrabel will add leadership to the defense, Larry Johnson has a year or two left in the tank - all good positive signs. Pair that with the fact that they play in a sub par division - won last year by an 8-8 team - and you can't count them out.

As far as the Royals, who saw Zack Greinke having the kind of season he's having? Who saw Luke Hochevar developing into a solid #2 outside of Kansas City (excluding fantasy geeks - of whom plenty probably went with Hochevar over Greinke anyway - but that's another discussion)? Point being, they're a bat or two away from contending. If they can develop some talent through their farm system, they may be able to do so without breaking the bank, and enjoy a run like Detroit did 2 years ago. Or they'll just just stink.

Saving the biggest point in my argument for the Chiefs for last - I'll point to their most important off-season acquisition: Scott Pioli. Having a GM like that will perk the ears of even your most pessimistic fans for 1 or 2 off-seasons, while Pioli brings in "his guys." This is the case regardless of sport - get a solid GM, and wins will come.

R: Agree that Pioli was the Chiefs biggest addition, but even if you are considered to be a great GM (see Billy Bean), you need to spend money to keep a team together. Here is my best broken record interpretation...baseball needs a salary minimum.

There definitely are examples where great management overcomes cheap/poor owners, but if you spend money, you are almost guaranteed to be in the mix (unless you are the Mets). To be fair, I think the Giants and their limited bankroll are a real threat this year. But I really think that is due to one draft pick that they hit on...Timmy (Lincecum)!

WR: Okay - I think we agree. There should be a minimum team salary. However, I would not put it past certain owners (and by extension, their GMs) to use 1 or 2 high profile, fan attracting free agent signings to gobble up too much of that $$, and keep the team sub-.500 for years.

Let's say MLB institutes a $54 million salary minimum for 2011. Kansas City gives aging, embattled slugger Manny Ramirez - coming off 2 decent years in L.A. - a 2 year, $28 million contract, and signs closer Jonathan Papelbon to a 4 year, $60 million deal. However, they lose Greinke in the process, because The (insert Mets, Yankees, Red Sox or Angels here) offer him a staggering 6 year, $148 million. That leaves roughly 46% of the salary to account for the remaining 92% of their roster - this assumes tthe Royals are going to keep it close to the minimum, so the figures are give or take a few million.

In "example land" - where every other roster in the game remains unchanged (we'll say Bowden or Tazawa turns into a closer for the Sox) - do the Royals compete?

R: Like the example...interesting.

So, for me, I want a minimum of 60-75M, but that is splitting hairs isn't it.
If this example plays out (and it might), 2 things should happen:
1. The GM should be run out of town
2. The fans would lose interest watching (or not watching) a high-profile closer sit in the bullpen.

At least it would be a fair fight. We can't solve the issue that some owners would rather look good and lose...but it would be a start!

WR: Agreed. There will always be owners looking to turn a buck at the expense of winning. I guess it just comes down to how much of our own personal values we place on, or within, the sports we love to watch. If it's just entertainment, then you'll enjoy Mannywood, the Favre saga, and don't really care about steroids. If you look to sports as an outlet within which to validate your beliefs in hard work, integrity, and honest emotion - well, lately you're S.O.L.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Over, Under, Spot On

Time for another round of "Over-rated, Under-rated, Spot On" with our old friend "Smack." Though a bit brief, we do manage to stay on topic, for the most part.

Feel free to weigh in by posting a comment, and enjoy.

Within Reason: The ultimate pop-culture OUSO: The Beatles.

Smack: Spot on. You can’t say that the Beatles are under- or over-rated. They were pop sensations and the object of every teenage girl’s fantasy. Then later on, they were acclaimed for their musicianship, song writing, and innovation. So I don’t see any facet of the Beatles being under appreciated. And all the praise was deserved. They could crank out a catchy pop song like nobody’s business; they could write songs that really showcased mastery of their instruments; they could explore new territory with psychedelic music and incorporate different cultures. The only over-rated aspect of the band would be Ringo Starr being a heartthrob. Honestly, the dude is just plain ugly.

WR: Do you think, though, that their influence on subsequent generations is a bit over-rated? Influence is a metric that does not diminish over time, and I think the case could be made that The Beatles are having less and less of an impact on the music we're hearing today.

S: I’d like to see you make that case. Can you expand your comment about influence never diminishing? I think it gets diluted as artists build and build upon what they started.

WR: What I mean is that as time goes by, there are fewer and fewer bands that would list (or whom it could be listed for) The Beatles as primary influences. Further, it becomes less and less common to hear bands for whom The Beatles are even secondary influences.

This is going to sound crazy, but I don't think, musically, that The Beatles can even be called the most influential of their contemporaries.

S: I don’t know about this. I mean, how many current bands would throw out Chuck Berry or Elvis? I don’t think that discounts their influence on the direction of rock music.

Which contemporaries are you talking about? The Beach Boys? Name a modern band that they primarily influenced.

WR: Weezer.
And I would contend that the Rolling Stones have had a far greater lasting influence on pop/rock music than have The Beatles.
S: I think you can attribute any use of fuzz and/or feedback as a direct Beatles influence. I’d agree that the Rolling Stones had a bigger influence on straight Rock music, but I think the Beatles just stepped across so many genre lines that they are a bigger part of the big picture. They touched on rock and roll, metal, psychedelic rock, folk, pop rock, etc.
Also The Beach Boys would be secondary for Weezer. I think you’ve gotta go with Nirvana or maybe Cheap Trick.
WR: I disagree on the fuzz/feedback. I give that to The Kinks - another deceptively influential band. "You Really Got Me" was released in August of '64, only 4 months after The Beatles' Ed Sullivan appearance. I'd give The Kinks the edge in the 1964 fuzz/feedback battle.
The Rolling Stones also hit the scene in 1964, and by 1965 had also out fuzzed the Beatles with "Satisfaction." To complete the tangent, if you want to make the argument that The Beatles had the most innovative song of '66 - "Tomorrow Never Knows" (I'm lumping innovation and fuzz/feedback together), then it was a one year reign, because '67 saw the arrival of Jimi Hendrix.
Where I think the Beatles have diminished as influences has been more on the pop side of things. I don't think they were ever as influential - musically - rock n' roll wise as they were given credit for. I think their contemporaries were just so overshadowed that their individual influences get sucked into one giant answer of "Huh? The early to mid-Sixties? The Beatles, of course!!"
I think the disappearance of traditional 'bands' making the Top 40, in the late 80s - coupled with the rise of more techno or rock driven pop has really pulled a few groups even with, if not ahead of The Beatles in the influence category.
S: Ok, so who is the single biggest influence on today’s music scene?
Sounds like you’re leaning toward Michael Jackson.
WR: That's a tough question. If I can change the 'who' to a 'what' - I'll go with MTV.
If I could list a few 'whos' (and these may seem random - you can pick apart those you disagree with): Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Kiss, The Eagles, Neil Young, Pearl Jam (by way of Jethro Tull) - that's rock. For pop: Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Motown as a whole (say Dozier Holland Dozier, the studio rhythm section), The Bee Gees, Donna Summer, Grandmaster Flash, Public Enemy, George Michael (by way of Elvis).
S: I’m going to go with Cher for pioneering the vocoder.
WR: The vocoder's been around awhile.
Speaking of synth pop, I wonder if the case could be made that Duran Duran has been as influential on the musicians that have followed them as were The Beatles on the musicians that followed them - up to the release of "Rio" by Duran Duran in 1982.
Did The Beatles pass the torch to Duran Duran?
S: I meant Auto-tune. It’s actually different. Cher is the first instance in mainstream music that I can think of, and it’s the same effect now championed by T-Pain, Kanye, Lil Wayne, etc.
WR: Special thanks to Wikipedia for that one.
I don't think that the 'auto tune/vocoder' has had as big an effect on recorded music as it has on live performance - and I think we're veering dangerously close to Kanye West territory - who is the single most over-rated anything in the history of popular culture.
We've debated the decline of music in the past (we're kind of doing it now), and when I heard Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy refer to Kanye West as "the Prince of his generation" I thought, "Prince had The New Power Generation." Then I thought "That's sad, because it might actually be true. Problem is, it's not really a compliment." That's like saying "The tortoise is one of the mighty dinosaurs of this generation."
S: Kanye is a terrible singer, but I have to assume he’s a good producer and he definitely knows what sells.
WR: Plus, it seems that his audience has a very high opinion of him.
Final verdict: Beatles - over-rated.
S: I have a problem with just saying that the Beatles are over-rated.Please qualify that statement with “…with regard to their lasting influence on today’s Top 40, in Ian’s not-so-humble opinion."
WR: A) You are not the boss of me, and 2) Nope. Over-rated.
Musically they were very proficient, and Lennon/McCartney is the greatest song writing duo of all time. However, it's not as if they invented Eastern music, they merely incorporated it into their sound - and got credited with inventing psychedelic music. I would argue that the Pink Floyd/San Francisco version of psychedelic music - again contemporary to The Beatles - has proven more influential and enduring. The Beatles' brand of straight pop music was widely influential on many of their contemporaries, and on many that followed in the 2 decades following their breakup. However, I think that there are dozens of bands out their nowadays (speaking on rock terms) who owe more to Pearl Jam than The Beatles. That sounds sacrilegious, but I stand by it. Oasis, sure - Beatles. But even Pearl Jam themselves can veer into Beatles-land. "All Those Yesterdays" comes up, and when you hear it, you think "Beatles pop" - just like when you hear Oasis - and even Oasis sounds more like The Stones than they do The Beatles.
The Beatles were incredibly popular, the likes of their popularity had never been seen before, nor has it been seen since. Popularity does not directly correlate with proper ratings, though - ask Kanye (on second thought, don't). Due to their overwhelming popularity, I believe they are often times credited with feats that they did not accomplish - including "changing the world."
The way I look at it is: In 1964, the world was changing, and The Beatles were there. If they hadn't been, some one else would have.
S: To say that the Beatles were just in the right place at the right time is too dismissive. Maybe America had a void just waiting to be filled by a British boy band with mop tops… But they had some serious chops, staying power and creative genius. Agree to disagree, I guess.
WR: We agree about what The Beatles were, I think we just disagree on their lasting impact - most of which is out of their control anyhow.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Worst Case Scenario

Time once again for some "Smack" talk, this time focusing, albeit vaguely, on pet owners. Feel free to weigh in by posting a comment, and enjoy.

Ed. note: Pictures reprinted from Boston.com

Smack: This is what's wrong with America. Check out this slideshow on people who thinks their pets look like celebrities:


Pets


Within Reason: Why have you done this to me? Those poor animals are all blinking "Call the police" in Morse Code.

S: Personal favorite was the poodle that “looks like Cookie Monster."

WR: Or anyone who thinks their cat looks like Barbara Streisand. That's like a horror movie.

Actually, there are a few pretty disturbing ones. The Sean Connery one - okay. He's pretty much a living caricature, and I'll give you Yoda, too. But the ones like Keira Knightly. Or that actor with the beard- Ryan Reynolds. That is legitimately scary stuff.

Let's assemble the Top Ten things you don't want to hear from the person you're stranded on a desert island with:

1) "Here's a picture of my poodle. He looks just like Cookie Monster, right!?! Ha ha, Hmmm. I'm hungry."

S: 2) "Is that a plane? Made ya look!"

WR: 3) "As lonely as this may seem, let me tell you, solitary confinement is waaay worse. Every time - the hole never gets easier."

S: 4) “This looks like a good place to camp. No schools within 500 feet of here, right? Heh heh.”

WR: 5) "I, uh, I love you."

S: 6) “I haven’t set my drums up yet. See, the thing about that is… I haven’t set ‘em up yet.”

WR: 7) "Stop following me! What? What the hell are YOU LOOKING AT??" (That would actually be more scary if it was not directed at you. Again, you being the only other person on the island.)

S: 8) "So… You ever see that movie, 'Alive'?..."

WR: 9) "Check it out. Yeah, I made this thong out of leaves. Here, I made you one, too. Man, I feel so free in this thing."

S: 10) "If you were a character on Sex and the City, which one would you be? OMG, that’s such a Samantha thing to say!"

WR: BONUS: "Holy Crap, look!! My guitar is washing ashore! YESSS! Hope you like Toby Keith and Hootie!!"

It's All Relative

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Blinded by the Right

Time for another exciting round of "Smack" talk, this time focusing on the world of politics. Please feel free to weigh in by posting a comment, and enjoy.
Within Reason: I've tried to think of 100 different ways to pose this - but I think I'll just get it out there and let the details come through in the follow up:
Do you think Judge Sonia Sotomayor should be required to explain, in detail, exactly what she meant by her "wise Latina woman" quote?
Smack: What do you mean by required?
I thought her comments were pretty strange for a judge. Every statement I’ve ever heard or read from a judge was very well thought out and reasoned, whether I agreed with it or not. To read what she said about a wise Latina woman reaching a better decision, you’d think she took lessons at the Joe Biden school of public speaking. I’m sure I speak for a large majority of the population when I say I would love to hear some further explanation of that.
WR: That's what I'm getting at. By required, I mean before she is confirmed. What I did find troubling is that this was not a single event. There are several recorded instances where she makes this specific remark, and I do think that Congress should push her on this. Since we do not elect our judges, I think any potentially sensitive issue like this needs to come out during the confirmation process.
This is not to say that these hearings need to be witch hunts (for Sotomayor or any other nominee), but they should be thorough - and be built upon not only past rulings, but relevant public statements such as this.
S: Yeah, our thoughts are the same on this one.
WR: Taking it a step forward, do you believe that this is a potential mark against her as a nominee?
S: It’s definitely a question mark. Whether it’s a mark against her depends on her response to further questioning. To me, she makes an obvious point that people with different backgrounds can arrive at different opinions on certain issues. But I can’t imagine that she actually means “better” with regard to a decision that a wise Latina woman would make. It just doesn’t follow.If I’m wrong and that is what she means then I wouldn’t want her confirmed.
WR: This is where I think it gets very dicey. Here are the two Federal Judicial Oaths of the United States (federal judges are required to make both):
1) I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as XXX under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.
2) I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
The first oath is where some questions about background - vs. experience - begin to arise. To maintain a truly equal and impartial system of any kind - is the system required to maintain 'blindness' on each side? Meaning: If a court is not allowed to consider a party's backround, wealth, etc. when hearing a case, should they be able to openly consider their own?
S: No, and that’s why I would want clarification on her statement.We’ve discussed this briefly before and I mentioned that, with regard to judicial process, we should be striving for the image of the blind Lady of Justice rather than embracing socioeconomic diversity. While I won’t argue her point that different backgrounds can lead to different opinions, I don’t think that it’s something to be celebrated when you’re talking about administering law and justice.
Save the Latina influence for your decisions about what to cook for dinner tonight.
WR: Ouch. I'm not going to touch that last comment, but we're in agreement about the initial premise. Lady Justice's blindfold also prevents her from looking in the mirror, so to speak.
Another interesting piece to this story is the array of responses from 'white males.' It is so rare that a comment can be deemed offensive to this segment of the population (of which you and I are members), that it is as once both a hot potato and a tongue twister when trying to come up with an appropriate response. The initial cries of "reverse racism!!" were most likely too harsh, while the "that can't be what she meant" most likely do not go far enough. I do not agree that there should be an allowance for certain segments of the population (whatever they are) to speak in ways that would be offensive if the perspective, and words, were reversed. If during his confirmation hearings, John Roberts had said "As a white male, I think my expriences will afford me the ability to reach a better decision than (insert ANYONE else here), not only would he not be Chief Justice, he'd probably been unemployed (well, maybe he'd be a former Justice Department official by now...).
S: Ha… I just re-read my last comment and I honestly didn’t mean that to be a chauvinistic dig. I just meant that if you’re going to celebrate your Latina heritage, the bench isn’t the place to do it. Make plantains and rice for dinner, teach your kids Spanish, hang a Puerto Rican flag from your porch…I don’t care what you do, so long as it’s Lady Jusice, not SeƱorita de Justicia.
¿No?
WR: Well, maybe. You raise another interesting point: are we truly a melting pot, wherein there is an inherent conformity expected of all citizens - whether born or naturalized (Hmm, maybe the terminology we use is a hint), or are we more than that? I've heard it called a fruit salad...so I'll pose it this way: Are we a fruit salad or a fruit smoothie? I think we strive for the ideal of 'fruit salad' - a place where people of different backgrounds, races, ethnicities, religions, on and on - can come and carry on their way of life in a setting of equality and freedom. However, the 'fruit smoothie' is more likely the closer analogy. Many Americans (regardless of any demographic factors) expect a sort of conformity from those who settle here.
The Pilgrims themselves - the settlers (sorry, Native Americans) of this country (sorry, Virginia), were not exactly the most tolerant bunch. We're taught in elementary school all about the 'freedom of religion' and 'freedom from oppression' that these settlers sought, but in reality they were looking for freedom to practice their own version of intolerance - and freedom to turn around and oppress some one else (again, sorry Native Americans).
Should we use this as a template for our current society, and scoff at the idea of dual language immersion for schoolchildren - for example, or should we rather choose to strive to embrace the transformed ideals that have arisen from years of glossing over the nastier side of history?
S: I’d like to think that our country is a fruit smoo… Point of order: do we have to use fruit salad/fruit smoothie? It’s a pretty silly metaphor. Let’s go with kebab/hotdog.
Ahem… I’d like to think that our country is one big hotdog when it comes to our national identity/culture, and yet the pig snouts, cow tongues, and raccoon tails can still retain and celebrate their individuality.
We’ve come a long way since the Pilgrims. I’m ok with immigrants coming into this country and keeping their heritage alive. You’re right, though, that I do expect them to learn English, drive on the right side of the road, pay taxes, etc.
I subscribe to the hotdog/melting pot model, so if I need to sharpen up my Spanish someday, so be it. You always hear people saying, “This is America. If you don’t want to learn English then go back to ____.” Well, doesn’t majority rule in this country? If/when the majority speaks Spanish, I think we should have to learn Spanish. And if we don’t like it then we can go back to ____.
WR: Mmmm...hot dogs.
As far as majority rules - there is a limit to that, and without opening a whole other bag of....condiments, I'll point to California - where the boundaries of majority rules are being pushed to the brink. Regardless of personal opinions, it seems foolish that one group of people can restrict the rights of another group simply because they are 'the majority.' Remember - it's just as important to protect the freedoms of others that you personally do not like - because plenty of people do not like yours.
This brings us full circle, I guess. Regardless of whether we're a hot dog covered in fruit, or a kabab stirring a smoothie - or some genetically modified version all four - the bottom line is that no one likes a hot dog that's burnt at one end, or a smoothie that's all juice at the top and ice at the bottom. We need to treat one another equally - as if between every one of us there were an = sign. Sometimes that may require a bit of algebra, but the difference between >, <, and = is apparent no matter where you are from, what language you speak, or how rich your experiences.
S: That was like a Jerry Springer final thought. It was inspiring. Thank you. Of course you’re right about infringing upon individual rights, but I mean our national language should be whatever language the majority of Americans speak. “Majority rules” wasn’t meant to be a blanket statement, or a basis for law and policy. Can’t we just be a bacon explosion and end the discussion?
WR: Well, I'll assume this is resonating in Cincinnati, at least.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Part of a Balanced Diet

For the latest round of "Smack" talk, our friend and I tackle the question that is on everyone's mind these days. Feel free to weigh in by posting a comment, and enjoy.

Smack: Would you rather have to eat McDonald’s breakfast every day for a year or live on a vegan diet for a year? I’m talking breakfast value meals, no fruit & yogurt parfaits.

Within Reason: Wow. Are we talking true vegan? As in no animal by-products at all? Man, that's hard. As I'm considering this, those stupid McDonald's commercials are streaming through my head...and I think that might be the deciding factor. This is like choosing between anemia and diabetes - literally.

Are there animal products in beer?

S: Yes, I mean 100% vegan.

Some beers are vegan, but some are filtered through animal byproducts such as gelatin or isinglass so they’d be off limits. Guinness is an example of this. Also, any beers flavored with honey would be off limits. Anheuser-Busch products would technically be ok, but you’d have to be gravely concerned about their ties to SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, not to mention their signature Clydesdales.

WR: It feels so wrong to say this, but after you brought up the whole ancillary animal tie-in issue, I think I'd go with McDonald's. I just don't think I have the patience to wonder if Polar Seltzer is kosher to drink because it uses an animal mascot. I don't feel like shopping in the vegan aisle and overhearing tofu recipes. I really don't want overhear arguments about whether it's okay to 'pretend it's meat.'

Man this is a hard question. What would you choose?

S: At first it seems like an easy choice: McDonald’s breakfast. But then when I play it out in my head, I think, “Wait, I would be starting every day with 880 calories and 44g of fat* in my stomach.” Despite the fat kid inside of me that would be lovin’ it, there’s also a health conscious side of me pointing out the probability that I would feel like dog feces every day and probably get sick. But then the fat kid speaks up again and points out that a vegan diet would mean no bacon, no cookouts (unless I bring my own veggie burgers - can you imagine the embarrassment?), no milk… it’s a lot of extra diligence that I’m not up for. Plus I just love to eat meat. I choose McDonald’s.

*Based on my presumptive breakfast value meal of choice: sausage McGriddle, hash brown, and iced mocha.

WR: I think the thought of no meat is getting me a little riled up, because here's what I have to say: If you want to be a vegan, that's fine - but don't tell me it's a healthy lifestyle. It's just a different lifestyle. We're omnivores. I know that the whole process of eating meat has become so industrialized that it evokes uneasy thoughts for a lot of people, but a fact's a fact. I'm also aware that the thought of pure hunting - as in: hunting the food you eat, is a tough thought for some folks as well. I've heard it said that if you could successfully hunt a deer, kill it, skin it, gut it and cook it - you can eat it. That's a nice argument, but even cavemen eventually started farming livestock.

That should be a McDonald's commercial - "Piss off vegans. Eat McDonalds - or are you too weak?"

We are defending McDonalds.

S: I agree completely with your assessment of veganism. It’s just as unnatural as the processed, MSG laden food that they’re against. There’s no way to get all of the essential nutrition on a strictly vegan diet without supplementing with vitamins. I can understand being against mistreatment of animals and some of the horrid conditions at slaughterhouses, but to be against the idea of eating meat altogether is absurd.

As for your commercial idea, Wendy’s does have that “meatatarian” campaign.

WR: Yeah, I remembered the meatatarian thing right after I wrote that. Now I wonder if I've ever had an original idea in my whole life.

In summary, I will say this: you know your lifestyle is suspect when people are choosing to eat at McDonalds over becoming more like you.

S: I just went and got a triple meat sandwich for lunch… just to prove a point… to myself.

WR: Well done.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Over, Under, Spot On

Time to roll out a new feature on Within Reason. Our friend "Smack" and I will be debating, as we normally do, but this time the conversations will adhere to a specific format: each topic discussed will be categorized as "over-rated, under-rated, or spot on." We hope you enjoy, and as always, feel free to weigh in by posting a comment.
Within Reason: Alright, here we go with the first round of “Over, Under, or Spot On”:
1) Sam Adams Beer.

Smack: My immediate response was overrated but I couldn’t think of a good reason why. I’ll go with “pretty much spot on.” I think if it weren’t for the Summers and Winters I would commit to overrated.

WR: Totally over-rated. Or, spot on for the wrong reasons. The best thing Sam Adams has going for it is that it was the first (or one of the first) "little guys" to break through to the mainstream. I think the beer itself, though, is over-rated. Their seasonals are way, way over-flavored. Most American specialty beers are, but Sam Adams Winter tastes like bizzarro cough medicine.

2) Brett Favre
S: To me that’s an obvious overrated, but I’ve got a funny feeling you’re going to try to tell me otherwise.
WR: Nope. Totally agree. He has lost more games - meaning single-handedly - than ony other QB in history. 1 Super Bowl victory, a string of absolutely horrible playoff games, and now all of this retirement drama. If John Madden, who does not get enough credit for the influence he has over the current generation of NFL fans, did not have such an enormous man-crush on Favre, I believe his reputation would be much different.
3) Near and dear to our hearts: Pearl Jam
S: I think they’ve run the gauntlet throughout their career. Can I first of all point out that someone who was born on the day that Ten was originally released will be able to legally buy cigarettes by the end of this summer? When Ten came out they were pretty much instantly on top. Then Vs came out. Lots of praise and at this point I’d say spot on. Then there were Vitalogy and No Code: experimental albums, plus the whole Ticketmaster debacle. Massively underrated at this point. Yield was kind of a comeback and they were back to spot on. Binaural was a very quiet release and by Pearl Jam’s standards it was a sub par album. Still spot on. Riot Act may have been the first album that I would say overrated. They promoted it and hyped it up and although I like it, it’s not what I had hoped for. Their eponymous album was really solid. Spot on, maybe even underrated.
WR: I'm going spot-on, agreeing that it's kind of an aggregate of all three. I think the band suffers a bit from some of the "die hard fan base" backlash that you'll see with the Dave Matthews Band, or even Fall Out Boy - where there's that built in "so many people think the band is cool simply because these fans perceive themselves as cool just by being fans." I think in the case of Pearl Jam, this phenomenon is counteracted by the Nirvana - or overall 'music snob' backlash. I think Pearl Jam got a bad rap and were unjustly perceived as 'corporate rock' (apparently in some secret way that Nirvana' was not). Of course, this just makes it all the more enjoyable to show these "music snobs" - of which I know several - cuts like "Unemployable" or "Lukin" - to see the "this is whooo?" reactions.As far as the music itself, I agree that it's been up and down - but the streak of Ten, Vs, Vitalogy, No Code (enormously under-rated in my opinion) and Yield (ditto) is a string of albums that may - due to the state of the music industry - not be duplicated again for a long, long time. Their subsequent releases have been mixed, and I'll even go so far as to so that 2006's eponymous album was a bit over-rated, due mostly to how poorly Riot Act has been received.
As far as the revelation about Ten's release date: Let me point out (as some one with a few years on you) that around the time I was in the record store - at midnight, no doubt - to pick up 'Vs.', the 20th anniversary re-release of 'Dark Side of the Moon' was a hot album. I remember thinking, "Man, 1973...20 years ago. People who were into that record are so old now..." Then, no matter how hard I fight it, I cannot help but to remember "Appetite for Destruction" - the first album I was in love while possessing any sort of matured musical taste (forget that I was in middle school). That album came out 22 years ago. People who were born after I tried my first cigarette are smoking. People who were born after I...nevermind...are, well...nevermind.
4) Hybrid Cars
S: Overrated for lots of reasons. Expensive to buy, expensive to repair, they aren’t that much more fuel efficient than some gas cars, and there will soon be completely electric cars. Have you seen the new Tesla? 100% electric and faster than a Ferrari.
My turn… in the same vein as hybrids: 5) Organic foods
WR: - Yes, I've seen the Tesla. The coolest thing about the Tesla is how relatively inexpensive it is, based on it's performance, appearance...well, the whole package.
- Totally agree on hybrid cars. They are over-rated to the point of annoyance Those new Prius commercials make me want to claw my face off. "The Earth is not psyched you are driving ANY sort of car, people!" That's the equivalent of saying, "I'm bringing my alcoholic friend to the party - you know, the one who drinks all the vodka and trashes the place? Yeah, him - but don't worry, he's switched to beer..."
- Organic food is at a crossroads. At first, I don't know if it was under-rated or misunderstood. It was more expensive, and I think the average consumer did not fully grasp just how unhealthy our 'normal' food had become. Then, for a while, it entered the realm that the Hybrid car currently occupies: You were considered kind of snooty for seeking out organic food - like you expected your grocery receipt to read "Thank you for shopping...and SPECIAL thanks if you bought organic food." Now that organic food is becoming more and more mainstream, and the FDA has really loosened what it means to be "certified organic" - I think it's moving towards the over-rated category.

S: I’m going to go with overrated as well. It’s definitely seen as snooty and a lot of it is bogus anyway (high fructose corn syrup, ewww). I am all for the concept – it’s much better for you and I’m willing to pay more for farm fresh, fair trade, cage free, free range, etc. because I understand that it costs more to bring those products to market. That’s not my issue. What drives me nuts is when my roommate comes home from Trader Joe’s with his organic chicken breast, pomegranate juice and Kashi, then he sits on his fat *** and plays Playstation for 2 hours and thinks he’s a healthy person. And it’s Playstation 1! Poseur!I just get the feeling that half the people shopping at Whole Foods couldn’t pass this quiz:
1. What is an antioxidant?
2. What color is an acai berry?
3. Where did you get those sweet Birkenstocks?
6) Manny
WR: Answer key to your quiz: 1) "I think it's like, uuh, golden...root? Like, it helps you pass a drug test? Right? Oh no, I'm thinking of...this helps you not sweat. Errr.." 2) We sell the pills with that. They're, like, white-ish. Do you mean the juice? Let me ask my manager, River. 3) I found them. Oh no, wait, my parents bought these ones for me. I lost the one's I had found at Bonnarroo.

Manny is another good one. I think we might be a little out of touch here in our neck of the woods, having just gone through the nasty Manny-divorce, then finding out he'd been cheating all along. As a pure hitter, I'd say spot on*. He gets plenty of respect for his ability. As a power hitter, I think we have to say over-rated, simply for the fact that if he had been abusing steroids, and steroids increase power, his power numbers are artificially inflated. It will be quite interesting to see how the 'clean' Manny performs come July.

* I do have to say one thing about the whole "pure hitting" thing. If one of the big draws of steroids is it's ability to allow you to train much more frequently - due to it's aiding of the natural recovery process - I would say that anyone on steroids is not only helping to build muscle mass, but just plain getting in more reps and overall training. Partner that with the fact that baseball is a quintessential "practice makes perfect" sport, and I always wonder why the argument of "he's be great without the steroids" is usually so vehemently defended by most baseball writers. I do concede that there is a natural "you've got it or you don't" level of hand-eye coordination involved, but I certainly think steroids help batters in more areas than just power.
S: Yeah, he is a good hitter, and the praise he gets for that aspect of his game is spot on. However, the steroid bust puts a big asterisk on the hitting for all the reasons you mentioned. Then factor in the mediocre-at-best fielding, the lazy base running and the club killing attitude when he inevitably becomes dissatisfied with his contract. And up until this week he was on pace to start in the ASG despite a 50 GAME SUSPENSION! Overrated.

WR: Last one: 7) Adam Sandler

S: Well I think most people either love him or hate him. He was good on SNL, his CDs were funny, and personally I thought the early movies were hilarious (“Going Overboard” excluded - he still owes me 2 hours for that one). He does ok with the serious roles, too. I don’t think anyone’s trying to paint him as being on the same level as, say, Philip Seymour Hoffman (although upon further investigation he was nominated for a Golden Globe for Punch Drunk Love.) He was funny when he was trying to be, and good when he was being serious. I will grant him a free pass for “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.” Otherwise spot on.

WR: Sandler is another tricky one. Looking at his filmography, there are a lot on the resume I had forgotten about (usually not a good sign). Skipping "Going Overboard" - here's a run down (of his feature roles): "Billy Madison" - classic, "Happy Gilmore" - all-time classic, "Bulletproof" - awful, "The Wedding Singer" - very solid, but VH1 has it on steady rotation, so some of the shine has come off, "The Waterboy" - slipping a bit, "Big Daddy" - a bit of a rebound, but you see him getting tame..."Little Nicky" - awful, "Mr. Deeds" - crummy, "Anger Management" - poor, "50 First Dates" - not well received, but I actually think it's on a level with Big Daddy: decent, "Spanglish" - either I'm missing something, or that movie had no plot, "The Longest Yard" - meh, "Click" - awful, "Reign Over Me" - awful, "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" - awful, and kind of offensive, I think, "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" - better, but still awful, "Bedtime Stories" - which I've heard was enjoyable for families (haven't seen it).

That's not a great track record, but he can still make boatloads of money for the studios. I would say that Funny People could be a tipping point for his career - to see if he can remain viable in the world of relevant, target demo (18-34) comedies, or whether he veers off into the land of "I have kids now. Look for me this summer in 'Daddy Day Care 2: Diaper Doody.'"

I'm going to say over-rated, with a make up exam this summer.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

ESPN Classy

Time for another round of "Smack" talk, again focusing on the world of sports. This time, we turn our attention to the interesting and ever-evolving arena of women's athletics, which grows more and more popular with each passing season. Please feel free to weigh in by posting a comment, and enjoy.
Within Reason: After being bombarded with softball on ESPN and ESPN2 for the last few days, I found myself wondering why there isn't an ESPNW(omen)? Then I thought, "Wow, self, that's potentially chauvinistic." Is it, though? There are other "women's programming" channels, and there are channels set up for men, as well...

Would ESPNW make sense?
Smack: Does ESPNW make sense… I guess I’m confused about the question. Make sense for who? For ESPN? No. There’s no way it would be a viable channel. Not enough ratings and therefore not enough advertising to keep it afloat. Now you’re going to use this as a reason why ESPN should therefore not be airing women’s softball in the first place. But you have to realize that there’s got to be a reason for ESPN to air it. No way they would do it unless (a) it made money, or (b) they are contractually obligated. Maybe the NCAA makes it a package deal with the men’s lacrosse championship. Maybe the NCAA pays them to air it. They wouldn’t do it if it lost money and they didn’t have to do it.Does it make sense for the consumer? I mean, yeah, sure… But it’s a moot point if it doesn’t make business sense for ESPN.

WR: I still think that ESPN is trying to expand its market base by airing the games. That's why they air the wide assortment of sports that they already do. You have real 'fringe sports' - like fishing, hunting, bowling, strongman, lumberjack....that's all an attempt to reach as many households as possible. I think that the softball - and the WNBA - are the same thing.Thing is, when ESPN airs their "sportsman" programming, it's allotted a certain time (weekend mornings on ESPN2), and branded as 'ESPN Outdoors'. That's as close to a separate network as you can get.
Would it make sense, then, to try to fulfill any contractual obligations to the NCAA (if there even are any), by doing the same with the women's sports? You've got to think that to anyone who really cares about watching, it's appointment viewing, meaning: These are not your normal target demographic viewers. They are seeking out your channel at a certain time for specific programming. Would it matter if it were aired on a Saturday night as opposed to primetime weeknights? Call it anything you want, ESPNW, WESPN, shESPN (like that).
I'm sure many people would think this is outright sexism, but if I'm looking to watch James Bond films, or anything starring Wesley Snipes and/or Dolph Lundgren, I'm tuning into Spike. If I want a movie about a suburban soccer mom who's married to an ex-cop with a shady history, who may or may not be sharing racy emails with an ex-flame, who suddenly disappears, I'm tuning into Lifetime.

I think the parallel exists.

S: What about Jennie Finch?I think she drew some new male viewers for softball. It might not be all female viewers that they’re drawing in. Maybe not all ESPNers react the same way you do to the seasonal bombardment of NCAA playoff softball. Even more so when you’re talking about beach volleyball and tennis.
WR: I see what you're saying - there is definitely a visual element involved in drawing male viewers to women's sports - but doesn't that kind of cheapen the situation from both sides? I understand that Anna Kournikova (career victories: 0), is popular for reasons other than her serve, and that if Michelle Wie were not an attractive young lady, the sports world would most likely have said "Well, I guess she's never going to get there" by now, but aren't we trying to get past the objectification of women? If women's sports are going to be marketed as "Check us out we're hot!", that makes my point even more valid. I want sports programming, not the equivalent of a Sears catalog in the hands of a 13 year old boy. I've even heard some argue that the racy marketing of, say, women's soccer is a 'foot in the door' measure. As in: "We'll play up our looks long enough for you to notice that we're playing soccer." That's like an actress saying, "I'll grab the nation's attention in Playboy, then I'll call Kenneth Brannaugh to see when he's planning on remaking 'Julius Caesar." Come on....

S: Well men’s sports go for sex appeal, too. Women love Tom Brady and Tedy Bruschi. It’s just that men’s sports have the added draw of superior athleticism (for the most part). I don’t really care if women’s sports get beyond the objectification. That’s their draw. I’m not even sold that that’s what the athletes themselves really want. The majority of men will concede that these women are legitimate athletes; Anna Kournikova might not win but at least she can hang. But if the athletes really wanted to get past the Maxim photo shoots and establish themselves based on performance alone then they’d stop doing the photo shoots; they’d stop playing tennis in skirts; Mia Hamm wouldn’t rip her shirt off on the field…

WR: That wasn't Mia Hamm. Anyway, look, I understand the differences between men's and women's sports, and for that matter, the leagues they play in (and how they wish to market themselves). I will add an aside that Tom Brady happens to be good looking, but would not be nearly as famous if he were not a champion. Peyton Manning is probably the most visible face of the NFL, and I'm not sure I'd call him handsome (no offense meant to Mr. Manning). I'll bet there are some really good looking MLB players that aren't very popular, probably true of all the sports. That's just not how men's sports are marketed, though - and just like we wouldn't expect women to go out and buy "3 Games to Glory: The Story of the 2001 Patriots" just to catch a glimpse of Tommy-boy, I'm sure there aren't too many frat boys out there breaking down tape of Kournikova's 2000 Wimbledon performance.
Here's my big thing: I just want to know whether or not, in 2009, I am out of place for even floating this idea. I'm not 'upset' that ESPN broadcasts women's sports, I just wonder if it makes sense. The plain fact is that they are probably losing more viewers than they are gaining with things the way they are now. I'm sure the vast majority of male viewers fall into my camp, which is the "Hmmm. What's on Discovery Channel...?" mindset. I just want to get a reason beyond "that's discrimination" or "that's sexist" or "women's sports are just as entertaining to watch" (which in some cases is true - tennis, beach volleyball - for the level of play, not the reasons you allude to). If, as it very well may be, there is a need to grow the women's sports culture in this society, then I would argue that there is not enough being done to make that happen. If the true reasoning behind these broadcasts is along the lines of "30 years ago there were hardly any women's HIGH SCHOOL sports. We need to catch up. This is for the betterment of society..." I would agree, but still criticize the methods being used - especially the sex appeal element.
S: I think I’ve lost the point…

WR: I was going to try to tie in sportsmanship, and whether that is where the boundary exists that prevents men from fully embracing women's sports. I think a lot of men are put off by the "Good try, you'll get it next time" high fives after strike outs, and the overly enthusiastic cheering from the sidelines. That said, there is a fine line - ask LeBron James about all of the negative feedback (and as of today, potential fine) he is getting from storming off the court after the Cavaliers season-ending loss.
Perhaps in order to find common ground, concessions will need to be made on both parts: Men will need to look for the elements of women's sports that are not present on the male side - and not simply see an inferior product, while women may need to recognize that a little bit more of an overt killer instinct is required in order to gain acceptance from the 'boys club' - no matter how well you can play.
S: Do you think female athletes are specifically concerned with acceptance into the boys club?
WR: Well, if we can agree that there is an inherent sort of male dominance of the sports world, then we could look at it as a sort of validation. Again, I'm not saying that this is absolutely necessary - but under the context of this conversation, it is. If we're talking about the greater role of female sports in our society, then acceptance would not necessarily be required for the validation. But if we want the 'sports world' to look upon women's sports as "equal", "legitimate", or whatever term you prefer - is it the sport that has to change, or the world?
S: I don’t know if men will ever watch a women’s sport and NOT think (with few exceptions), “Wow, she’s good for a girl.”
I guess my answer to your question would be both.