July 5, 2007

So That’s Why the Ball is White!

Play Ball
A little over a year ago I wrote a piece on another blog with a similar title to this one, in which I commented on an Associated Press story dealing with the ongoing decline of black participation in professional baseball. Over the last 12 months, even more debate and discussion (both of which are very good things, I might add) have developed in regard to the issue, but as with anything else that pertains to issues of ethnicity, so too did this.

Just before the start of the 2007 regular Major League Baseball season began, a season which marked the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut in the league, the St. Louis Cardinals and Cleveland Indians squared off in the Civil Rights Game.* The topic of present-day black participation in the game was front and center and the question on everyone’s lips was: “What would Jackie think of it?”

Near the same time, Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, gained notoriety after releasing his study on diversity in professional baseball, in which he gave a “solid B+” for ethnic diversity and a “C+” for gender. The gender grade appears to stem from the following statistics, as taken from the official report entitled The 2006 Racial and Gender Report Card: Major League Baseball: 43 percent of MLB’s Central Office were women; 26 percent of the senior administration level were women; 33 percent at the director and managerial level were women; and 15 percent of team vice-presidents were women.*

As for the ethnic demographics in Major League Baseball, the number of black players has obviously dropped over the last 30 years: in 1975, approximately 27 percent of MLB rosters were black; in 1995, approximately 19 percent of MLB rosters were black; in 2006, the percentage was approximately 8.4 percent.* (I use the word “approximately” due to player transactions that weren’t mentioned in any of the stories about the study. Similar to NHL rosters, players are signed, released, promoted, and demoted throughout the year, meaning that one set number can’t possibly be 100 percent accurate to describe the rosters in September that we might have had in April. Even so, I’m confident that Lapchick’s numbers are valid.)

In April, San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Chris Jenkins decried the lack of ethnic diversity on the 2007 Padres roster in his column entitled “Padres: The Face of San Diego?” In it, he mentioned that only two players on the team were Latino and two were black, whereas a year ago the Padres were a “more multishaded bunch” with Mike Cameron, Dave Roberts, Josh Barfield, Chan Ho Park, Adrian Gonzalez, and Vinny Castilla.*

A few weeks ago the issue came into the spotlight again when Tigers designated hitter Gary Sheffield made the following quote in GQ magazine as to why there are so many Latino players in the game and so few blacks:

I called it years ago. What I called is that you’re going to see more black faces, but there ain’t no English going to be coming out.


[It’s about] being able to tell [Latin players] what to do—being able to control them.

Where I’m from, you can’t control us. You might get a guy to do it that way for a while because he wants to benefit, but in the end, he is going to go back to being who he is. And that’s a person that you’re going to talk to with respect, you’re going to talk to like a man.

These are the things my race demands. So, if you’re equally good as this Latin player, guess who’s going to get sent home? I know a lot of players that are home now can outplay a lot of these guys.

Sheffield’s comments didn’t go unnoticed. Former teammate Eddie Perez remarked that Sheffield’s statement would “hurt a lot of people.” Lisa Navarrete of the Latino organization La Raza said that Sheffield “resorts to the stereotyping that he himself is trying to fight.” Jemele Hill points out that Sheffield appears to be doing what he’s told to do given that he’s on Detroit’s payroll, possibly defeating his own argument.*

In Sheffield’s defense it can be argued that if Latino players are “controllable” that it might be economic more than anything else. The New York Daily News reported that White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said: “I guarantee that Latin American people play more baseball than any people, because that’s all we have. You have people playing baseball in Venezuela or the Dominican than anywhere, so there are going to be more players from there.”*

Whether we talk about drafts, signing bonuses, or the prospect of having to return to a poverty-stricken environment if they don’t play well, Latino players need money more but can be paid less. It’s easier—and cheaper—to travel to third-world nations and pick from a pool of players who have an abundance of talent and don’t ask for much in return. Guillen stated:

Maybe we’re hungrier. We’re trying to survive. Those guys sign for $500,000 or $1 million and they’re made. We have a couple of dollars. You can sign one African-American player for the price of 30 Latin players.*

Keeping with this argument, though, we could easily say that foreign-born Latinos should be the only ethnicity in Major League Baseball. That is, of course, unless there’s a bigger conspiracy present—one in which owners have decided to offer a few good white, black, Latino, and Asian players to draw crowds, and then dozens more “filler” Latinos who are there to simply keep the rosters full and costs down. I’m not ready to buy into a conspiracy of that magnitude.

More recently, Dennis Hayes, the interim president of the NAACP, aired his displeasure with Major League Baseball and KPMG over their efforts to increase the number of black players in the game. KPMG, a global group of firms in the financial sector which has a multi-year agreement with MLB to encourage youth participation in baseball and softball, made a $1 million donation to Major League Baseball, which was called a “small step” by Hayes. He went on to say:

I hope that MLB will start listening to current and former African-American baseball players about their disappointment in the dwindling number of young blacks who are being coached and trained to enter the game that they love. They believe, just like the NAACP believes, that if we don’t do something now, African-American players will become extinct when it comes to Major League Baseball.

Hayes also said that he “watched with amazement at how funding for baseball programs has found its way to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and other countries.”*

Questioning the Answers
This topic has me asking a few questions which could be posed both independently or as a group:

(1) What is the “right” number for each ethnicity in Major League Baseball and who is in charge of determining this number?

(2) Are all major professional sports intended to follow these demographic percentages, or only select ones?

(3) Are professional sports teams supposed to be determined by the best available players or are they supposed to be a collection of players who represent the national demographics in an effort to make a social statement?

(4) Considering that only approximately nine percent of college baseball players are black, should teams be forced to pick every black player who is available in the draft—even if a particular player might not be as good as another available player who might be white, Asian, or an American-born Latino?

(5) If the argument is made that professional sports teams should mirror the ethnic demographics of its home country, how many people would actually attend the events, whereby keeping the league afloat via ticket sales, clothing sales, television contracts, etc.?

Question (1) is assuming that there exists some pre-determined percentage for each ethnicity in Major League Baseball. If one would be implemented, who would determine it? Would it be determined by Major League Baseball? Would it be determined by the NAACP? Would it be determined by a Latino organization? Would it be determined by an Asian organization? Would it be determined by some kind of panel comprised of all of these? Would it be fair or unfair if the panel excluded representatives for white players? Would players be allowed to pick their ethnic affiliations if they happen to be of a multi-ethnic background, or would the powers-that-be make the final decision? Finally, how would this number be determined? Is it supposed to be a mirror of U.S. Census data or something else?

Question (2) pertains to the NHL, NFL, and NBA. Richard Lapchick’s The 2006-07 Season Racial and Gender Report Card: National Basketball Association reports that in the NBA, “almost 79 percent of the players were people of color.”* The African-American Registry reports that “67 percent of all players in the NFL are black.”* Lapchick’s report on the NHL is said to be in the works, but most National Hockey League players are white, predominantly coming from European countries and Canada (a country which has a black population of roughly two percent). The current United States contribution to the NHL is said to be roughly 15 percent.*

Given these percentages, what are we to do? If we decide that each league should mirror the national percentages of ethnicity, do we force some of the black players to leave the NBA and NFL and replace them with whites? Do we mandate some kind of “mass trade” in which we force some black players to join the NHL and whites into the NFL and NBA in an effort to achieve a representation of the nation?

Questions (3), (4), and (5) deal with the entire concept of sports in general, and they’re intended to be more “real-world” in nature than the first two questions.

Sports, whether they’re on a scholastic, amateur, or professional level, are based on one thing: competition. Athletics draw players and fans because people like to win. This is unsettling to some people, but it remains true.

The columnists who lament the lack of ethnic diversity in professional baseball seem to preach a common theme: they always focus on the social message that might be conveyed if the teams mirror the ethnic demographics of the country and avoid the issue of competition altogether.

Take the aforementioned column by Chris Jenkins, for example. He mentions that guys like Eric Young, Vinny Castilla, Ben Johnson, and Chan Ho Park helped to make San Diego’s 2006 team “a more multishaded bunch” and doesn’t seem to be too happy with their departures, but he doesn’t mention anything about the players’ ability—or their status. He didn’t mention that both Young and Castilla retired after last season or that Johnson and Park are both currently in the minor leagues. Park was released by the Mets after posting an ERA of 15.75 and is playing for Houston’s triple-A team; Johnson was batting .185 for the Mets and is currently at triple-A New Orleans.

I’m only speaking for myself, but when I watch a game—whether it’s baseball, hockey, or any other sport—I do so because I want to watch the competition aspect of it. If I’m watching a Cardinals game, I’m doing so because I want to see the Cardinals win (which hasn’t been as often as I’d like this season, but that’s a post unto itself). I don’t watch games because I want to see which team is making a stronger social statement with the diversity of their roster. I’m willing to bet that other sports fans view it in a similar manner.

How many people do you know who have tailored their fantasy teams around ethnic diversity? How many times have you been to a tailgating party where the fans were more concerned with the social statement that their team would be making that day instead of how many touchdowns would be scored?

I ask these questions because they seem to be ignored by those who are consumed with the ethnic-percentage angle of sports. They fail to realize that these leagues exist because fans are willing to spend money on things like tickets and clothing, in addition to television networks being willing to sign contracts to televise them. These consumers are following the sports to witness the competitive aspect of the games. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that if we were to make a demographically-representative league, one which would cast aside competition and replace it with political correctness, that it would fail miserably.

I can imagine that there are some radical factions of our nation that might view the opinions expressed here as being racist, simply because even questioning ethnic demographics is a hot-button issue. The best way for me to defend my position is to say it honestly: I don’t give a damn what a player’s ethnic background is as long as he can contribute to the team’s victory. If a team is predominantly Latino, so be it. If a team is predominantly white, so be it. If a team is predominantly black, so be it. If a team is predominantly Asian, so be it.

In addition, when it comes to a particular sport, I would encourage everyone to become a fan. Moreover, if a young person shows a desire to play a particular sport, encourage them to get involved; it doesn’t matter if a person is white, black, yellow, red, purple, blue, or orange.

July 4, 2007

Weed & Speed

Al Gore III was arrested again, this time for going 100 miles per hour and possessing marijuana, Valium, Vicadin, Xanax, and Adderall. Young Gore didn’t have a prescription for any of the pharmaceuticals that were found.

...There was good news to come out of the story, however. Even though he was posing a threat to public safety, he was helping the Earth by driving an environmentally-friendly Toyota Prius.

...There’s no word yet on whether or not carbon credits can be used as his bail.

ABC News

July 2, 2007

When Moore Isn’t Merrier

Yesterday I received an e-mail from my best friend, in which he asked, “Did you hear about the lawsuit against Michael Moore?” I wasn’t positive as to what suit he was referring, however, and my initial thought was the one brought against the portly pseudo-documentary maker by the soldier who claimed that his comments were used out of context in Fahrenheit 9/11. That suit, incidentally, was thrown out a few months ago.

What my friend had heard about was the possible investigation against Moore and the 9/11 workers who accompanied him to Cuba to find medical care for their ailments in Moore’s new movie Sicko by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, given the embargo with the land of Castro. (For the record, you can count me as one person who would support an end to the embargo; if anything, it has helped Castro more than hurt him. His biggest worries in the last few decades seem to have been heart and intestinal problems.)

Anyway, this topic led to me drafting a lengthy e-mail explaining why I’ve come to view Moore as nothing more than an entertainer who has managed to garner a legion of brainwashed zombies by manipulating facts at best and inventing them at worst—essentially the left’s version of George W. Bush (although please don’t think that I’m suggesting that Moore has led us into a war) who did similar things to justify invading Iraq.

In short, I’ve come to view Moore as nothing more than a masterful propagandist with a legion of loyal, feeble-minded followers because, like Bush, Cheney, Rove, et al., his philosophy is identical: lie if it’ll help get your message across. It’s akin to hearing millions of Bush supporters chanting, “We need to bomb Iraq to avenge the 9/11 attacks!” Never mind that Osama bin Laden guy.

The Movies
I’ve watched Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine, and Fahrenheit 9/11, and each has had too many falsehoods and illogical connections for me to view them as serious documentaries. My skepticism began after learning that many of the folks who were part of the eviction sequence in Roger & Me didn’t actually have any ties with General Motors whatsoever—even though the viewer is led to believe that each was losing their home because of GM’s downsizing. To be sure, the people were, indeed, being evicted; unfortunately the viewer wasn’t informed that they would have been evicted even if GM hadn’t carried out any layoffs.

I would come to learn that the eviction scene wasn’t the only manipulated aspect of this film. I came across an article from the New Yorker’s Pauline Kael that was published after Roger & Me’s popularity began to grow. Kael wrote:

I had stopped believing what Moore was saying very early; he was just too glib. Later, when he told us about the tourist schemes, I began to feel I was watching a film version of the thirties best-seller A Short Introduction to the History of Human Stupidity, and I began to wonder how so much of what was being reported had actually taken place in the two and a half years of shooting the film. So I wasn’t surprised when I read Harlan Jacobson’s article in the November-December, 1989, Film Comment and learned that Moore had compressed the events of many years and fiddled with the time sequence. For example, the eleven plant closings announced in 1986 were in four states; the thirty thousand jobs were lost in Flint over a period of a dozen years; and the tourist attractions were constructed and failed well before the 1986 shutdowns that they are said to be a response to. Or let’s take a smaller example of Moore at play. We’re told that Ronald Reagan visited the devastated city, and we hear about what we assume is the President’s response to the crisis. He had a pizza with twelve unemployed workers and advised them to move to Texas; we’re told that during lunch the cash register was lifted from the pizza parlor. That’s good for a few more laughs. But Reagan visited the city in 1980, when he wasn’t yet President—he was a candidate. And the cash register had been taken two days earlier.*

Interested in finding Moore’s rebuttal to these discoveries, I found little more than “it’s all a lie.” In a 1998 Newsweek interview with Andrea C. Basora, Moore says that when it comes to Kael, everything is “personal” and that Kael lied because he didn’t send her a tape of Roger & Me.* In 2000, Moore called Kael “a deadly serious historical revisionist” and said that articles in the Sacramento Bee and St. Petersburg Times support his side of the issue.* (I’m not suggesting that these articles don’t exist, but for the record I have yet to find either.)

In an interview with the aforementioned Jacobson, Moore stated:

The movie is essentially what has happened to this town during the 1980s. I wasn’t filming in 1982…so everything that happened, happened. As far as I’m concerned, a period of seven or eight years…is pretty immediate and pretty devastating…I think it’s a document about a town that died in the 1980s, and this is what happened…What would you rather have me do? Should I have maybe begun the movie with a Roger Smith or GM announcement of 1979 or 1980 for the first round of layoffs that devastated the town, which then led to starting these projects, after which maybe things pick up a little bit in the mid ‘80s, and then BOOM—in ‘86 there’s another announcement, and then tell that whole story?...Then it’s a three hour movie. It’s a movie, you know; you can’t do everything. I was true to what happened. Everything that happened in the movie happened. It happened in the same order that it happened throughout the ‘80s. If you want to nit-pick on some of those specific things, fine.*

Apparently nit-picking is bad. (The ellipses in the above quote were added by Richard Palmer and/or Edward Champion, who maintain the Michael Moore FAQ page—not me.)

When it came time to watch Bowling for Columbine, I did so with the same approach that I had when I tuned into the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th movies: I prepared myself to be entertained—not informed.

I was entertained and similar to Roger & Me, I would eventually learn that reality and fantasy were whatever you want them to be. My two favorite fabrications in Bowling for Columbine became the doctored Bush/Quayle advertisement* and the accusation that the Lockheed-Martin plant in Littleton, Colorado, produced “weapons of mass destruction” around the time of the Columbine attack. What kind of WMDs were produced there? Apparently the mentally-destructive kind: the plant made space launch vehicles for television and telecommunications satellites in the late-1990s. The latest date that I could find for anything related to ICBM production in Littleton was the mid-1980s and that was on an unattributed Wikipedia entry.*

Perhaps Moore should have waited a few years to release Bowling for Columbine because he could have included footage of his bodyguard being investigated for having a gun at JFK airport that wasn’t licensed in New York.* (Then again, this story has taken on a life of its own, too. The bodyguard was said to have really been a “former Moore employee”—but not a “bodyguard” per se—who worked as a bodyguard for others, but not for Moore. Um…okay.)*

After viewing Fahrenheit 9/11, I found myself scratching my head not because of the inaccuracies that were presented*, but simply because of the contradictory nature of the film: on one hand we see that George W. Bush is the world’s biggest moron (a notion with which I agree), but on the other hand we are supposed to wonder if he might be genius enough to have pulled off a 9/11 conspiracy. The nature of a jump like this reminded me of a scene in the 9/11 conspiracy theory flick Loose Change, in which we are told that witnesses at the Pentagon who claimed to have seen a passenger jet fly over cannot be believed but a few seconds later we are told that we should believe the same witnesses when they also claimed to have seen a C-130 flying overhead during the attack.* Sorry, but this is like trying to argue that the Earth is both round and flat.

I haven’t seen Sicko yet, but some of the reviews that I’ve read thus far make it apparent that it’s following in the footsteps of Moore’s other mockumentaries. Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post says that just when you think that you’re about to see something of substance make an appearance, Moore does an about-face in the name of humor and entertainment.*

MTV’s Kurt Loder has provided a more in-depth review of the movie, one which might very well earn him a few death threats from Moore’s minions. In it Loder points out: Moore gushes over how wonderful Canada’s healthcare system is, but he fails to inform the viewer of how long the average patient must stay on waiting lists for both major and minor medical procedures; he fails to mention how many Canadians travel to the U.S. on a daily basis because they can receive faster care here; and he fails to mention that the quality medical care in Cuba shown in the movie is readily available only for non-Cubans and Cuban politicians who can easily pay for their procedures with cash—not the impoverished Cuban commoners.*

In Defense of Lies
The Internet is chock full of Moore apologists and they offer similar themes: his movies are entertaining; his movies are funny; his movies are riveting; his movies have an important message. Hence, truth be damned.

The best way to illustrate these descriptions is via quotes from support for Moore’s approach to movie-making:

• From a fan who is offended that another Moore fan suggested that Fahrenheit 9/11 might have been “manipulative” and “unfair”: “How do you put it all in one film? Keep in mind that in making such a film, if you concentrate on only one or two misdeeds, and really get into the details necessary to do that you will have defeated your purpose in all likelihood. The movie will be too forensic and not many will be compelled to see it. You also have to make the movie funny.”* Thus, popularity trumps facts.

• From a customer review of Roger & Me on Amazon.com: “[I]f Moore strictly adhered to documentary ethics, would Roger & Me still have been the most successful documentary of its time?” He also states that “one problem Moore’s critics are overlooking is that they are lumping Roger & Me into the largely diverse and loosely defined genre known as ‘the documentary,’ as if all films showing real footage of real people and events should be held to the same standards.” Finally, he summarizes it best by saying: “Like fiction films, the documentary genre has become increasingly more complex and experimental[,] blurring the boundaries of its classification. Moore may have created a new sub-genre of documentary: one that combines [Bill] Nichol’s documentary modes in a heuristic visual essay where accurate historical representation is eclipsed by unbridled personal emotion.”*

Documentaries are “loosely defined”? They’re “experimental”? Accurate historical representation is now eclipsed by unbridled personal emotion?

• A third and final description is more succinct but just as telling: “[Fahrenheit 9/11] holds the viewers’ interest from beginning to end. The film is entertaining in that the events on the screen did not appear to be ‘documentary’ in nature—rather they were riveting, much as a good suspense/action film unfolds before the viewer’s eyes. To ask oneself why this could be so reveals the layers upon which the film is built.”*

Entertainment value becomes the most important concept.

What’s the Big Deal?
For me, Michael Moore has become no better than Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, et al. in the propaganda department. In an effort to win the hearts and minds of his audience, Moore has shown that misinformation is a valid weapon and should be used liberally (no pun intended). Who are the “good” guys if both the far-right and the far-left become masters of misinformation?

Unfortunately, discussions on this topic don’t get very far because they quickly turn into a cesspool of rhetorical nonsense: if you criticize Bush it’s said that you’re a supporter of terrorism or that you’re unpatriotic; if you criticize Moore it’s said that you’re obviously a Bush supporter and you’re a war-monger.

Using facts to bring BushCorp down shouldn’t be a problem; there are more than enough things against this administration to make Bill Clinton’s perjury case look like a strawberry social—and Slick Willy was actually impeached over it. Sadly, sensationalism for the sake of impact has become more popular and acceptable.

As we’ve seen, though, this sensationalism is what has made both Michael Moore and George W. Bush as big as they are.

Make no mistake about it—my criticisms of Moore should not be in any way perceived as somehow being support for gun violence, George W. Bush, or any problems that we have with our healthcare system (and there are many). This, however, has become the usual retort of diehard Moore fans; if you question him, the theory seems to be, you must be supportive of the other side.

Instead, my argument is that if you adopt your enemy’s tactics, how different from your enemy are you?

While I’ve watched Moore’s previous movies, if I don’t get around to seeing Sicko it won’t bother me. Besides, I’m busy working on a script for an “experimental” documentary on the Civil War in which Napoleon and Robert E. Lee square off against Ulysses S. Grant and Gerald Ford after Napoleon and Lee bomb Pearl Harbor. In it, Lee and his Nazi forces are pitted against the Grant/Ford army in 1920s Nepal. When things look bleak, Grant whips out his cell phone and says, “Let’s roll.”

Due to the length of this post, asterisks have been placed in the appropriate locations to provide sources.