Now is the Winterball of Our Discontent

The Los Angeles Dodgers are the 2020 Major League Baseball World Series Champions. Congratulations were in order two weeks ago but I’m just getting around to it because the New York Yankees were eliminated in the ALDS which means, for me, my deep emotional investment in the season is largely over. In the last two years, even, once the Yankees are out of it baseball becomes almost solely Work Chore, as I don’t even really gamble on it often. In 2020, I was grateful to have baseball at all, so I soaked up the post-season entirely, and I’ve always found it uncouth to do a season autopsy or begin fretting about free agency until the World Series is properly over and offseason news begins to trickle in.

I did not want baseball, or any sport really, in 2020. It made sense to me for the NBA and NHL to bubble up and finish out their postseasons, soccer without fans is extremely weird, football has proven to have pretty bad transmission rates, but baseball seemed to present unique challenges and I wasn’t sure it was worth the risk. Predominantly, I have believed that a lot of Rona’s worst carnage could’ve been avoided if people were paid to stay home, really stay home, for like two or three months, and that revving up a live entertainment machine would ultimately undermine the half-measures being undertaken in May and June no matter what kind of mitigation effort was undertaken.

Then, Rob Manfred, a man I revile like one would hold a particularly rancid bile for a war criminal, squanders weeks of potential playing time quibbling with the Player’s Union in a deliberate move meant to exhaust negotiators and float trial balloons ahead of 2021’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. Coming hot off the heels of completely mismanaging the investigative and disciplinary process of the Houston Trash Can scandal, Rob digs his heels to further fuck up my favorite sport by announcing a “temporary” expanded playoffs format for 2020’s abbreviated season, a three-batter minimum for pitchers, and throws a runner on second at the start of extra innings. A lot of these changes are obvious steps in the pursuit of Manfred’s White Whale: speeding the pace of baseball games to attract new fans, and is largely done to the detriment of longtime fans’ enjoyment. I hate them and so should you. They make the pool of strategies a shallower place, and baseball is already too focused on trying to sail the ball over your head every third or fourth at-bat hoping every game hits the over in an effort to retain more casual viewers.

Part of not wanting a season was selfish, too. I sauntered into 2020 baseball fired up. I was ready! A new pinstripe jersey, a frothing hatred of Houston that rivaled my lifelong animosity towards essentially the entire city of Boston, and a thirst for revenge with what looked to be the fabled but frequently faulty New York Yankees as a “FULLY OPERATIONAL DEATH STAR.” Severino goes down for the year, Judge is battling some kind of rib/core injury, and before Spring Training could even really get going, everything was suspended. “Maybe by the time they work out how to have a season safely, some of our guys will have healed up!” I thought.

Continue reading “Now is the Winterball of Our Discontent”

SB217’s Blind Spot: Colorado’s Police Should Return to Unencrypted Scanners

The murder of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers inspired one of the most widespread and heroic uprisings in modern United States history. Two weeks of rioting and protest have opened a dialogue about the nature of police and spurred more efforts at reform, or in some cases outright abolition, than years of voting and token civilian oversight efforts ever could have. This is a reckoning years in the making – rampant police brutality has persisted nationwide for decades and between the police unions making any accountability or policy change all but impossible, a “Thin Blue Line” “warrior” culture that has deliberately placed cops above the citizenry, and both peaceful protest and representative democracy failing to rectify the problem, it was only a matter of time before things finally exploded. The brutal, indiscriminate response from police all across the country exposed them as an occupying force with contempt for the populations they purportedly serve rather than a profession existing for conflict resolution; an extortion racket for the wealthy existing to crush dissent and keep systems and institutions failing the vast majority of people afloat to maintain revenue streams.

Unsurprisingly, Colorado law enforcement was in rare form. With a long history of protest suppression, the response to initial demonstrations in downtown Denver as well as Colorado Springs was a strategy of overwhelming force and intimidation. Mirroring the conflicts that played out in most major American cities, it was obvious that the police were starting the riots, but the segment of demonstrators willing to fight back – rightfully fed up with police overreach and invulnerability – was significantly higher than usual. A police murder and the subsequent efforts to crush any outcry should always be seen as a breach of the social contract, and a critical mass of people justifiably and righteously made that breach a two-way street by opening up a conflict with the police that raged for days and still shows very little sign of stopping.

Local efforts to diffuse the tension have ranged from nefarious, with a seemingly AstroTurf “activist” organization emerging overnight in Denver that focused immediately on tone policing, sowing division with a lack of respect for a diversity of tactics, and staging photo-ops for local politicians and the police department, to suspicious – there’s been speculation that the Denver Police stood down not just to deescalate, but because the department was running out of crowd control weapon munitions and had exhausted their manpower. It’s also likely the mayor’s office pulled them back after realizing the DPD handled everything terribly and was primarily responsible for escalating the situation. An officer was fired for posting himself and two other police officers in riot gear and captioning it “Let’s Start a Riot” on Instagram.

Token symbolic measures, like the painting of Black Lives Matter in front of the capitol building and some changing of street signs, were taken this week. Quite quickly, a flurry of activity at the statehouse to get some legislation on the books and hopefully quell anger was engaged, giving Coloradans SB217, a reform bill that’s already passed in the House and will be voted on imminently in the Senate. State Republicans and law enforcement groups (naturally) object to many of the proposals and will likely neuter key provisions in an already relatively toothless bill that seems, on its face, full of “reforms” that are nebulously enforceable.

Continue reading “SB217’s Blind Spot: Colorado’s Police Should Return to Unencrypted Scanners”

Ostrich Theory: The Completely Avoidable 2020 Biden Nail-biter

If I’m a Democratic Party political strategist in 2020 (and I’m not, the closest they’ve hired to even a metaphorical knife-fighter in the modern era was Rahm Emmanuel), my eggs don’t go in the basket of a guy who spent the 70s propping up segregation and trying to tug at your heartstrings with a quote like “I don’t want my children growing up in a racial jungle.” Or the guy who eulogized Strom Thurmond in 2003. Or the guy who was one of the chief architects of the 90s crime bill. Or the guy who was the main Party cheerleader for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Or the guy who legislated the country’s way into the student debt crisis and then ensured it continued for generations by doing nothing about escalating tuition costs. Or the guy who was second-in-command while every single financial institution that precipitated the 2008 financial crisis emerged essentially unscathed and ready for the next decade with whole new asset portfolios they bought at fire sale prices. Or the guy who is on tape saying he doesn’t empathize with the new largest generational voting bloc’s problems, an age group that will be the first in decades to not be able to surpass the earning potential or quality of life that their parents had. Or the guy with arguably credible, incredibly creepy tendencies with women and girls captured in public and a litany of assault allegations. Or the guy with a son with questionable foreign business connections, rumors of crack smoking, and who married his brother’s widow. Any single one of those issues is such a gift to oppo researchers that I’d assume any of those guys is dead in the water as a candidate for alderman in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Joe Biden is all of those guys and the presumptive 2020 Democratic Presidential nominee. This Sam Porter Bridges of political baggage is wrapped in a rapidly decaying husk and has turned up an already gaffe-prone career (spun as “folksy” or “authentic”) to a level of senility and tone-deafness that makes you question as to whether or not he still ties his own shoes. Just yesterday, in a softball interview (and they’re all softball interviews) with Charlemagne tha Based God on popular urban youth radio program The Breakfast Club, when prodded ever so slightly about aspects of his legislative record regarding impacting black communities, Biden became flustered and retorted that if you look at him next to avowed white nationalist Donald Trump and vote for Trump, “you ain’t black.

Putting aside the fact that this is a faux-Rust Belt Blue Dog Democrat that only was able to rehabilitate years of unforgivable career moves by being picked for Vice President solely to assuage racists and Red-baiters in the face of America electing its first black president, that’s just the kind of flat-out condescension that has ran through the blood of Joe Biden for decades. He’s coming off a primary that’s once again divided the party. The Sanders candidacy in 2016 seemed like a quixotic but hard-fought loss in which his constituency dug their heels in to influence the party’s platform after detecting a hint that perhaps some party machinations might have made some moves to consolidate an establishment candidate’s total victory. This time around, Biden didn’t seem to have a prayer until the party made huge, obvious calculations to drag their candidate over the line in the face of a coming progressive landslide. Now, as the neoliberal wing has adopted a posture of “we don’t even need you” towards progressives and socialists once eager to use the flailing Trump presidency as a catalyst to opening the rare window of opportunity for vast, wide-reaching legislation intended to improve social safety nets (not unlike steps taken by FDR and oddly enough, a far more conservative Democrat in LBJ), we’re starting to see a bit of kernel panic among the political and pundit class as the left (once again) floats third-party trial balloons or settles back into principled abstention relegated to those that won’t give their consent to Capital and/or vote for a lesser evil as a matter of harm reduction.

It’s easy to blame the corrupt intertwining of the donor and political class, a relationship the GOP seems to nakedly relish in, but is ultimately the crux of the issue: the rich have captured the electoral process by hedging their bets between both parties. The Democrats market themselves as “above” this seedy kind of arrangement, or at the very least attempt to justify it as a “necessary evil” in which they’re fighting “fire with fire.” If that was true, the sabotage would be less overt, the coronation process less expected, and it would be clear lessons had been learned from the party disaster of 2016.

A lot of the same dynamics were at play in 2016 that are replicated wholesale in 2020. Whether or not you believe Hilary Clinton deserves the decades of vitriol she generated from the bellows of right-wing discourse that poisoned many on-the-fence voters is irrelevant, your thoughts on Benghazi are irrelevant, her emails are irrelevant. What mattered was that it was in play for propaganda that would inevitably seep into mainstream, low-information voter discussions, and it was an exploitable weakness. Biden’s baggage isn’t what’s in the bag, it’s that there’s a bag at all, and that in both candidacy’s circumstances, there were better options with less exposed thermal exhaust ports to launch torpedoes at. The professional liberal political class is relying on a dicey, manufactured product of fundamental honesty and truth to overcome both the propaganda of an enemy that could give less of a shit about either, as well as an electorate that is, frankly, so goddamn stupid and easily manipulated and/or polarized that running candidates with glaring flaws is pure strategic suicide. Especially when said candidates don’t pass the smell test for non-negligible portions of your base or bring in substantial portions of leftist voters disenfranchised from participating in electoralism in the first place.

Pretending these issues don’t exist as well as failing to recognize that Obama’s victory in 2008 was very much due to capitalizing on the vaunted “Enthusiasm Gap” in American politics and not just a referendum on how terrible the Bush II presidency was, has gone on to doom Democrats both locally and on the national stage. Just as 2016 was probably the most winnable loss Democrats have ever had, 2020 should’ve been a triumphant mashing of Trump’s face into dog shit for nine straight months. His presidency has been an abysmal failure, culminating in the bungled response to a pandemic approaching a six-figure death toll and massive unemployment numbers in an election year, and many average people, unsurprisingly, want to go back to ignoring politics altogether.

Biden is up eight points according to polls from Fox News, but this is before potential debates almost inevitably expose new gaffes and Trump (perhaps disastrously) recommencing his Nuremberg marathon rallies for his frothing supporters to re-energize. The right-wing propaganda machine hasn’t even finished spooling up to fully operational. Expect Hunter Biden to be subpoenaed for something regarding work in Ukraine. Expect more sex pest stories and hair-sniffing montages. Expect a massive push towards black voters rightfully using ammunition Biden has manufactured over his long career and a huge underscoring on work with Kim Kardashian and Jared Kushner on actual prison reform initiatives. Expect likely projection of dirty tricks and election fraud. They’ll muddy the waters, the gap will tighten, and once again what would’ve been a blowout with a generic empty suit will come down to election night, where it will likely be close enough to run some illegal plays and steal this thing (again?).

There’s probably a quote about being a victim of one’s own hubris that I could sling at the DNC, but at the end of the day, they just lose. Like much of the pundit class presently engaged in a futile and damaging trench warfare campaign of chastising and demanding the left “know its betters” and fall in line, none of these people are ultimately affected by most of Trump’s worst policies. They’ve got no real skin in the game and this is all largely a purely academic and performative exercise for them. Enough of the local ground game has slowly been won back that there’s a chance they might get the Senate, and many of them stand to make a lot of money barking at Trump as a lame duck. But us regular folks, “who might wear a tennis shoe or the occasional python boot,” know the clock is ticking: on our planet’s vitality, on the health of ourselves and our loved ones, and on our ability to keep our heads above water financially. Increasingly it’s being made abundantly clear to us that there’s not, nor perhaps has there ever been, any hope at the ballot box.

Nothing is More Indicative of a Completely Adrift Generation and a Civilization in Decline Than the Glut of Premium Pet Food Commercials

Everyone is a cord cutter anymore. Being more selective about what you watch and how, or even paying a premium, means one can avoid television advertising a lot easier than before. Commercials, once a ubiquitous fixture for most people and likely the closest modern society got to a shared popular culture, are now skippable before they can even hook you or entirely absent if you’ve got a few dollars (or a generous friend) for subscriptions. A few avenues of media still remain on the failing model (it’s proven catastrophic for journalism in regards to papers and magazines) but if you want to watch sports or most news, you’ll be subjected to commercials trying to capture your attention.

Just as the collective labor of enduring through commercial breaks and the shared experience of watching all of the same marketing firms meticulously craft spots built a kind of pop culture in the age of audio/visual mass media, it also lends insight into what the firms have determined is most grabbing: an algorithm that’s determined where and what the largest portion of its target population is experiencing in the given epoch in an effort to meet that population’s “needs,” consumerist whims, or fleeting, impulsive desires with a more-than-likely ephemeral product. This kind of glimpse is something that’s lost when you’ve atomized and alienated yourself from the sales specters into a curated cycle of King of the Hill reruns and HBO releases, until you’re wolfing down half of a DiGiorno’s Rising Crust™ pizza 45 minutes before work, boot up the YouTube TV app you got from a colleague’s family plan for sports and the brain hemlock of cable news, and turn on Jumanji on AMC to avoid silence in your living room like I did yesterday evening. The lost art of settling during channel surfing uncovered in the unkempt jungle beard of the late Robin Williams while freeze-dried pepperoni burns the roof of your mouth.

Somewhere between the introduction of David Alan Grier’s policeman character and the small boy viewer-surrogate character gaining ape features, during the ad breaks I noticed a phenomenon that’s been remarked upon enough towards my age bracket. No less than three spots aired advertising premium dog food in a single flight of commercials. One even flaunted that it was food “tested on humans” as it featured a small boxer leaping in ecstatic joy as its “dog dad” carried a full dish of honestly delicious looking food to its designated spot on the kitchen floor.

Living in a city, I’ve observed far too many people and their dogs. Even under quarantine, they lap past my house while I smoke on the porch and shit in my little patch of grass before scooping it into a specialized, dog-shit-sized bag. I’m no monster: I say hello to the dogs and greet the people. I don’t see a lot of strollers, just as on the television, I didn’t see any diaper commercials or Gerber food advertisements. Ostensibly, Jumanji is a movie that was marketed to children like me when it came out, and the advertising could reflect that maybe it’s shared viewing between millennial parents and their offspring. Instead, there were ads seemingly targeted to my age group, but whose main concerns regarding any dependents were geared towards dogs. Continue reading “Nothing is More Indicative of a Completely Adrift Generation and a Civilization in Decline Than the Glut of Premium Pet Food Commercials”

Could Coronavirus Kill the Regional Sports Network?

It might seem a little callous to speculate on implications for entertainment industries while thousands of people die every day from the COVID-19 pandemic and millions lose their jobs, but as Major League Baseball tries to figure out a way to restructure a 2020 season, the NFL opts to draft from Roger Goodell’s basement, and the NBA throws together a H-O-R-S-E tournament, I’d argue that the issues are out there and worth exploring. A disclosure: I work in broadcasting, and so much of the following article’s main points certainly fall under my personal livelihood just as much as my interests as a sports fan. There’s absolutely a conflict of interest here, but I have zero ability to change anything about the present status quo within the industry, so this is merely an opinion of someone within the trade. I’ll also be using Colorado as a bit of a microcosm for the rest of the sports broadcasting industry, as it’s my understanding the business model is generally similar to most other areas.

Since MLB Spring Training was halted, not a day has gone by where I didn’t mourn the lack of baseball or think about my beloved New York Yankees. After last season, I’ve spent the off-time oscillating between chomping at the bit for the fellas to get back on the field and worrying about injuries and contracts, like any fan. I count myself lucky that this virus has yet to touch anyone close to me and I’m an “essential worker” that’s thankfully avoided layoffs, so it feels okay to lament about how much easier a quarantine would be if there was a realistic and safe way to distract a terrified, shut-in America with a couple of its favorite pastimes. A big part of feeling like things have “gotten back to normal” will be having sports and their corresponding large gatherings back again.

I splurged on seeing the Nuggets this year and was excited to get back to Coors Field and see the Rockies more regularly than my three or four games a season. The Avalanche were on a dominant tear that undoubtedly would’ve led to a playoff run, and like every year, I had resolved that the 2019-2020 season would finally be the year I got into hockey and follow the NBA closer than highlights and playoff games. Unfortunately, a contract dispute between Colorado’s regional sports network, Altitude Sports, and every major cable or satellite provider in the state meant games from the Rockies, Avalanche, or the Nuggets would have extremely little opportunity to be televised outside of national network showcases. This is still ongoing and has led to both a potentially landmark antitrust case and local bars pirating streams to keep up traditional revenue.

Before I go on to make the case that professional sports should be broadcast on local over-the-air signals, it bears mentioning that I side with Altitude in the contract dispute with the telecommunications infrastructure providers. Regional sports networks (RSNs from here on out), have their own employees and contractors for production and reporting and are giving cable and satellite providers one of the last products cord cutters can’t legally and reliably find an alternative for (yet). To squeeze the networks for a larger share of revenue when it’s only a matter of time before RSNs start fielding streaming deals independent of cable and satellite providers a la the YES Network’s presently-in-limbo arrangements with Amazon Prime seems extremely irresponsible and short-sighted.

Altitude was already likely taking a huge financial hit with its contract dispute before the pandemic hit. It’s not available over-the-air, with YouTube TV or other streaming platforms, and costs extra on top of the base cable package. This is the case with most RSNs. Other than the NFL, most professional sports are carried exclusively on a “premium” channel. Starving for content with sports cancelled, how long could an RSN remain solvent, and could they float for months or years until society is able to safely turn a corner on COVID-19? Broadcast television production and sports journalism are both specialized trades, and there’s surely been employee furloughs and layoffs, and non-renewals for workers on contract already. Those workers and personalities, vital to the quality of the network’s product as well as at the very least partially responsible to viewer retention, might not be back.

A larger question regarding the potential of floundering RSN might be should we even have them?  Continue reading “Could Coronavirus Kill the Regional Sports Network?”