Monthly Archives: October 2009

yankees in 7

I grew up a Mets fan, but as any of my friends will tell you, I bleed New York. So I’ll root for the Yankees over basically anyone but the Mets.

This is surprising to many, as loyalties come out during the World Series. The current accepted narrative is that the Yankees are The Man and represent the team money can buy, with the highest payroll in baseball while everyone else is the Underdog.

Let me tell you, baseball has almost always been about money, for just about everyone involved. Just watch Eight Men Out if you don’t believe me. The Phillies as little guy? Please.

The only people not in it for the money are the fans, it seems to me. Their loyalty can run deep. I have tremendous respect, in fact, for geographic loyalty.

Your team is your team – win or lose – because that’s who you grew up with. It’s a concept that seems to be eroding in the era of globalization. Evidenced by all the Red Sox logos I see in the Bay Area (there can’t be THAT many transplanted Bostonians, can there?).

Here’s a mathematical illustration to recap how, as a New Yorker, I see the World (and by extension, the World Series):

Mets>Yankees>Everyone Else>Red Sox

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in defense of plodders

“It’s a joke to run a marathon by walking every other mile or by finishing in six, seven, eight hours,” said Adrienne Wald, 54, the women’s cross-country coach at the College of New Rochelle, who ran her first marathon in 1984. “It used to be that running a marathon was worth something — there used to be a pride saying that you ran a marathon, but not anymore. Now it’s, ‘How low is the bar?’ ”

This from a New York Times article last week titled “Plodders Have a Place, But Is It a Marathon?nyccoursemap

Of course there are a number of articles about running shoes/running barefoot/distance running being published in the Times right now because the New York City Marathon is right around the corner.

But this piece in particular annoyed me. The notion that completing a marathon is worthless is incredibly elitist and dismissive of the hard work that thousands and thousands of non-elite runners put in to accomplish a physical feat that may be the most challenging of their lives.

I’ve run the New York City Marathon twice. Each time I finished in what was about the median time – a little over 4 hours. Besides being an accomplishment that I may never achieve again, this is what I recall of my marathon experience:

A child handing me orange slices from an aluminum tray filled with rainwater with wedges of orange sloshing about.

Seeing my friends and family on First Avenue cheering me on.

Crossing into the Bronx where there were almost no spectators and feeling eerily alone, despite the runners near me. Knowing that there were still over six miles to go and willing my body not to fade.

Joining a line of men peeing from the Verazzano Narrows Bridge at the start of the race because we all drank so much fluid beforehand.

Finishing the race, feeling exhilarated. Then being queued into an endless line, shuffling along in agony, hearing only the sound of the teflon blankets draped around our shoulders rustling as we moved.

In other words, the memories seared into my brain are not about how fast or how slow I ran. They are about the experience of running with 30,000 other people, being cheered on and attended to by many thousands of others, yet being solitary and focused in the midst of all that humanity. They are not about winning and losing, the traditional measure of a race. To think of a marathon in that way – in terms of winning and losing – is to not understand the mindset of what I would guess is just about everyone except the very fastest.

Why not include everyone in the marathon party? I think it’s quite possible that the world would be a better place if more people were training to complete a 26.2 mile race. Less time for war-mongering for instance, I’m guessing.

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the wire: season five, part two

If you’re at all interested in considering the future of journalism, listen to this roundtable conversation of very smart people hosted by California’s Commonwealth Club.

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the wire: season five

The Wire is an amazing show. No news there.


(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

I’m currently in the middle of season five which focuses on the Baltimore Sun and the cannibalizing of that once venerable newspaper. Bought by a large Chicago media corporation, the paper’s staff is slashed and its role as the fourth estate severely compromised. Veterans with long-nurtured sources give way to kids looking for shortcuts; the sensational outweighs the substantive.

So when I read this headline today, US Newspaper Circulation Drops 10 Percent, I couldn’t help but think about The Wire’s portrayal of the Sun and the societal vacuum left behind as it withers on the vine.

Full disclosure: I worked as a print journalist. In fact, I’m old enough to have learned how to set type during one of my shop classes in high school. So I have sentimental attachments to print media. I can wax poetic as well as any news reactionary about the beauty of a Sunday paper spread out on the table as I’m sipping coffee.

But I also realize that modern print journalism was itself revolutionary when it emerged in the 17th century, displacing as it did oral and handwritten traditions for the dissemination of news. I can’t imagine at that point anyone could have predicted the golden era of newspapers in the United States, when New York City alone boasted 20 daily papers. As old orthodoxies die, and new ones haven’t yet jelled, we live with the uncertainty of being unable to imagine a future.

What we need to realize, as Clay Shirky writes, is that it isn’t newspapers that are the critical piece.

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.

As always, what works is to teach our children to be savvy consumers of what the media dishes out – whether it’s the yellow journalism of the 19th century or misinformation about health care reform in the 21st century. And, perhaps, what we’ll find is that it will be our collective responsibility, as media-savvy citizen journalists, to act as the check on our government.

An authority no less than President James Madison said:

“A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy.”

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stuyvesant town

Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village are in the news.

courtesy New York Times

courtesy New York Times

The two massive co-op housing complexes on the lower east side of Manhattan were sold to a development group for something like 5+ billion dollars a couple of years back. Apparently a highly leveraged purchase.

Of course with the crash of the financial markets, the development group, like many homeowners, is finding it hard to pay its debt obligation.

I bring this up only because Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village were a part of my high school life. They represented a de facto campus, along with the worn-out park off 15th street littered with vials and syringes.

The buildings stood across First Avenue from the high school – impossible to miss. We would sneak into the courtyard areas sometimes during lunch to play basketball. Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper felt different – middle class and manicured. Not like the rest of the downtrodden lower East side in 1970s recession New York.

Basketball in the City meant something to us. Uptown, there was the legendary Rucker Park. Closer by, in the West Village, you could watch games from behind the chain-link fence at the West Fourth Street courts. And of course, in 1978, Jim Carroll – who died just a few weeks ago – published his Basketball Diaries, which we devoured.

No one paid attention to what we did on the courts at Stuyvesant Town. Except maybe the security guards. No one films games there like they do at Rucker or at West Fourth. But I’ll bet if you mention Stuyvesant Town or Peter Cooper Village to anyone who went to the old Stuyvesant, before the move to the new building in Battery Park, they’ll eventually get around to talking about sneaking in and playing a game or two of basketball.

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hardly strictly

Went to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass this weekend, a free three-day music festival in Golden Gate Park for those of you unfamiliar with the event.

sunset on Lyle and the Banjo Stage

sunset on Lyle and the Banjo Stage

There’s a lot I could write about – Lyle Lovett was amazing, singing his old stuff from Pontiac with the Large Band backing; Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris and Old Crow Medicine Show brought down the figurative house with their rendition of the Band’s “The Weight”; the crowds were peaceful and happy and spontaneous music broke out all around as I walked through the park between stages.

All true.

But instead, I’m going to say that being at Hardly Strictly was both amazingly fun and weirdly deja-vu-ish. It was as though I had returned to my alma mater, Wesleyan, and it was 1984 Spring Fling all over again.

There were the barefoot hippie kids looking shabby chic. There were the drunken no-neck boys. (Why would they want to be at Wesleyan of all places?) There, in front of the stage, were the kids with no rhythm dancing to Gillian Welch’s folk ballads.

I half expected a hackey sack tournament to break out.

Hardly Strictly is a quintessentially SF experience. Clearly, Wesleyan prepared me well to live in the Bay Area.

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