Friday, May 23, 2008

Breakin down the GOP VP race

Well, my academic obligations are finished, my bags are mostly packed, and I have a few days to chill and relax before I head back to Ohio. I haven’t written in a while, and VP madness seems to be in full swing, so let me handicap the Republican VP choices for you (slow day at work again)

John Huntsman Jr, Gov. Utah.
Pros: Young (46), and quite popular Governor. Huntsman would also provide credibility on economic and domestic issues, something McCain had admitted he knows little about
Cons: Like McCain needs help winning Utah. Utah wouldn’t vote Democratic for a Obama/Joseph Smith ticket.

Bobby Jindal, Gov, Louisiana
Pros: 36-year-old wunderkind already has more domestic political experience than most elderly Washington insiders. Also, he’s the only minority (Indian-American) republican in the entire country, so GOP leadership would love to parade him around.
Cons: Jindal has been governor of a crappy state for like, 3 weeks. Also, remember when McCain lost South Carolina in 2000 because voters were convinced he had a black child? In 2008, they’re going to think he’s RUNNING with one.

Tim Pawlenty, Gov, Minnesota
Pros: Also young, hails from politically competitive upper Midwest, might help McCain steal a democratic state
Cons: Who?

Rob Portman, Former Budget Director, former Congressman, Ohio
Pros: Very competent, wide range of domestic and economic policy experience. Well liked by both parties in Ohio, and could deliver critical swing state.
Cons: Spent past 4 years working on selling Bush’s economic policies. He’s so radioactive right now; he has a tail and 4 eyeballs.

Mike Huckabee, Former Gov, Arkansas
Pros: He’s young, popular with Christian conservatives, and he charms the media. Plus, you tend to smile every time to say the word Huckabee. Try it. See? Its crazy.
Cons: Doesn’t believe in Evolution. Lead sneaking theological smears on Mitt Romney. Was in charge of one of the crappiest states in the union for a decade, in which in failed to get any less crappy. He may be charming, but he’s also batshit insane. Do you want Ned Flanders to be one misplaced McCain heartbeat from the launch codes?

Matt Brown, Very Low Level Government Employee, Ohio
Pros: Very young (21). One of the few possibilities with any minority street cred (Brazilian). Could help deliver critical swing state of Ohio. Popular with young voters. Knows how to work the google on the internet machine.
Cons: Constituently prohibited from taking office of Vice President. Foreign Policy experience consists of a trip to Brazil, and a week camping in Canada. Also, not a Republican.

Mitt Romney, Former Gov of Massachusetts.
Pros: Nationwide name recognition. Perfect Hair. Can speak credibly to Republican audiences on the economy. Only has one wife. Filthy Stinkin’ Rich. Maybe everybody forgot about all that Mormon stuff by now.
Cons: I swear, if Mitt is on the ticket, I’m going inactive until November.

Darth Vader - Galaxy Far Far Away
Pros: Very strong on terrorism and crime. Finds “lack of faith disturbing”. Can totally choke somebody on the Senate floor without actually touching them.
Cons: Dick Cheney already said he isn’t interested.

Semi Serious entry coming soon.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Fear and Loathing in Washington DC

One of my final academic obligations of this internship is to attend some sort of presentation or speech, and write a paper on it. The University had provided me with several speakers I could have written my paper on, but I procrastinated. Now, with less than three weeks to go, it became apparent that I needed to find something on my own.

Luckily for me, I hit paydirt yesterday, when I discovered that Congressional Quarterly (a news website that I compulsively check while at work) was hosting a forum on American’s Infrastructure Wednesday morning, which is when I *didn’t* have to be at work. It seemed perfect on a number of levels:
-It was held at Union Station, which happens to be right next door to both my office, and our classroom-
The keynote speaker was Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), who has taken over John McCain’s spot as The Democrat’s Favorite Republican, and featured a few other politicos that I had heard of-
It looked like it was going to be about some nitty gritty policy issues that actually interest me.

Sometimes, people ask me why I don’t have a girlfriend. You just read that I was kind of excited to go to a forum on congressional funding for highways and sewer systems. I’m pretty sure that’s a big part of the reason.

So I get up extra early on my day off, throw on my best suit, and head down the Metro towards the Union Station, for breakfast and mingling. I’ve had to do this “mingling” business a few times since I’ve been here in DC, and I have to admit, I don’t like it. I have 30 min of forced awkward conversations with people in industries that have nothing to do with me, in hope that one will take such a liking to me that they’ll give me a job. It is like a sick, professional version of speed dating. I swear, last time we did this, my fellow interns were ogling over Rob Portman’s business card like it was the phone number of the hottest girl in a bar.

Oh well. Free breakfast right? Can’t be all bad.

I sneak into a chair in the back, sandwiched between a puffy faced man from the Department of Transportation, and an AFL-CIO rep whose hair was so slicked back; he could have been Pat Rielly’s stunt double. Outside of a few, poor bottom-of-the-food-chain congressional aides, I was by far the only guy there under 40. This seems to happen to me all the time.

The Senator was the first to speak, after showing up a few min late, surrounded by posse of overachieving legislative assistants. He rambles on for around 40 minutes, speaking in big, broad themes and avoiding specific policy points like most of us avoid sexually transmitted diseases. He paused twice to make a terrible joke, which the audience felt obligated to laugh at, and then was whisked away to do more important senator things. I was disappointed, but I don’t think he’s one of the Senators famous for oratory masterpieces. He’s a war hero.

After Hagel leaves, the 8 person panel discussion begins. Did any of you guys ever play Simcity2000? Remember the transportation advisor? He used to whine and whine, and if you lowered his budget even one tiny percent, he’d flip out and start blowing up your roads. Do you know who I’m talking about? Please say yes.

Ok. Well, imagine a panel of 7 of these guys, speaking to a crowd of about 200. The way the discussion was framed, the government was being awfully stupid to fund things like our military, education, justice department, etc etc, when sewer systems were in disrepair. If we don’t build more roads, dams, bridges, etc, CHINA WILL AND WE WILL LOSE TO COMMUNSITS. I was unaware that the “highway gap” was actually more important than the “Missile Gap”.

There was one poor, lonely dissenter on the panel. He was part of the American Taxpayers Union, which usually has a pretty knee jerk reaction against any form of government spending or taxation. Normally, groups like this to do not garner sympathy from me; but in this case, I had to make an exception. Here are some sample conversations.
Panelist 1 (Society for people who build highways)- I think we should spend 500 Billion next year on new highways and road related projects

Panelist 2 (Society for people who do things with dams)-that’s just as well, but we also need 100 Billion for dam related projects.

Lonely Dissenter- uh, do we even have that much money to spend? We’re in a war and a recession too….

Everybody else- Seriously. Do you want China to win?

Moderator- How can we pay for all these needed improvements?

Panelist 3 – I think we need to hike up the Gas tax by at least 20 cents. At least.

Panelist 4- I don’t think that’s nearly enough. We should increase it by 30 cents, and then add a quarter tax on bottled water!

Lonely Dissenter-Have you guys not watched CNN in the last two weeks? Working class people are getting screwed on gas prices. Do you think we’re going to vote for even higher gas prices?


Passionate Lobbyist for Construction Industry holding a bat-Lets wait for him outside.

Actually, this gas tax stuff got me thinking. The entire tenor of the discussion focused on educating voters on infrastructure issues, which later deteriorated into barely a codeword for “Voters are stupid, how do we get them to support our stuff?”. Panelists often tried to outdo each other with “lolz voters r dumb” stories. This was a room filled with wealthy think tank fellows, lobbyists, elected officials, and consultants. Some of these guys commute 80 miles round trip to work each day…a hike in the gasoline tax wasn’t going to affect them. It would affect folks back home in Newark, like a lot of the policies that these folks in the beltway cook up.

I’m not saying that the gas tax is bad, or that our nation doesn’t need drastic reinvestments. In fact, me and my roommates have ranted a lot about Hillary Clinton and her gas tax pandering (often with some profanity sprinkled in)….but I can’t shake the feeling that a lot of folks involved in the policy making process and discussion could use a little humility. Maybe not everybody understands the ins and outs of the air traffic control system, or how highways are constructed, but that doesn’t give an excuse to lampoon them, or worse, use political tricks to take advantage of them…just like we don’t want our mechanic to take advantage of us.

Ugh. Too much thinking at 8 AM on my day off

Friday, May 9, 2008

The future of Sports Journalism?

I saw a neat segment on Bob Costas’s sports show on HBO a few days ago. Costas was discussing how sports blogs were changing the way sports journalism worked. The reporters on the program, experienced professionals with credentials, and degrees from prestigious universities, lamented how the tone in the sports world had become more crass, profane, angry, and confrontational, and how the next generation of readers wasn’t going to appreciate their craft.

Bloggers on the program felt that newspaper columnists were just worried about the new influx of competition, and that one didn’t need to have a degree from Northwestern to write “the Indians should have pulled Carmona in the 8th”.

Athletes on the program worried that the now 24/7 news coverage of mundane activities make it impossible for them to function (an adult can’t go out and have a beverage without it appearing on the next day).

Clearly, these issues are not restricted to just sports journalism, but the way we cover the news in general. Is the proliferation of blogs a good thing for sports journalism (or journalism in general)? Can the interests of the traditional media and that of the blogsosphere be reconciled? Can we filter the crap? Lets find out.

Is it inevitable that blogs and newspapers have an adversarial relationship? I’m something of a rarity, in that I’m a 21 year old who loves to read newspapers. One of the absolute highlights of living in Washington DC for me would be getting my Washington Post every weekday, sitting down with my tiny breakfast, and reading some of the best sportswriters (like my man Michael Wilbon), Washington beat writers, and columnists. Even when I’m back home, I make an effort to read the Columbus Dispatch or Newark Advocate when I can, even if they may pale in comparison to the mighty Post. Something about having the paper in my hand, instead of on my tiny monitor…

Most of my peers don’t do that. They get their news from the internet, like, or CNN, or the DrudgeReport, or any of the thousands of other small blogs, or what have you. Internet news is quicker and cheaper, and plays right into our short attention spans. We don’t have time for painstaking analysis or flowery prose. I need the facts, and maybe a clever one liner now, so I can get back to my super busy day. When it comes to spitting out information quickly, and to a large number of people, the internet is the best option.

That may be well and good, but what about the quality? Many point out (correctly, in my mind), that internet blog writers have no credentials, no editors, and little to any accountability. If people are unable to ascertain my identity, tracking me down for a libel suit would be expensive and difficult. Many writers take advantage of this, and dedicate their websites to content that might shock even the hardest radio shock jock. Perhaps most importantly though….a lot of blogs, be they sports, political, teenage livejournals…they’re just awful. They wouldn’t get a C from any self-respecting teacher at Granville High School.

Does this matter? I don’t have any formal press credentials, although I’ve taken journalism classes in college, and I’ve had my work published before. Because of this, I can’t get in to anybody’s locker room, or press box, or campaign bus. But does this mean that I can’t contribute? Certainly I don’t need courtside seats to see that Delonte West might be missing a defensive assignment, or that a particular political strategy may not be working.

Plus, there may be something to be said for having that freedom. I don’t have to be objective, or pretend that I’m not a part of the story. I’m a big Cleveland Cavaliers fan, and if I’m going to write about professional basketball, I’m going to write from that perspective. When I blog, I have the freedom to insert my own personal feelings, experiences and emotions into a story, something that flies against everything you were taught in print journalism 101. Does this mean that if a newspaper gave me a press pass and 10 bucks, and asked me to cover a football game, or a council meeting, that I wouldn’t do it? Of course not, I’d go in a heartbeat....I’m just saying that you can provide quality information without that. If you want to see what I mean, check out, and compare it with the Newark Advocate sports coverage. I think you might find some useful info at LCS too (although in the interests of full disclosure, I admit that I do contribute to that site).

To me, this means that smaller, nimbler, internet-based news sources, and larger, more conventional news sources, ideally, should work in concert with one another. I think the best blogs bring in both their own individual analysis, and the best of other sources. My absolute favorite sports blog is Henry Abbot’s TrueHoop, which you can read on In addition to writing his own stories, Abbot links to what sportswriters across the county are saying about basketball issues. Its great for the fan (like me), because I get a whole lot of different perspectives on issues, and I can get a chance to read stories that I might miss if I only read national sources. It’s great for the writers, because they get a chance to expand their audience. Popular political/news blogs, like the Drudge Report, and Tegan Goddard’s PoliticalWire, follow the same format.

Some newspapers are starting to incorporate blogs as well. The Newark Advocate (my hometown paper) has recently set up a function to allow readers to write blog entries, hosted on the newspaper website. Maybe this sort of thing can help papers without a lot of resources to greatly expand their news coverage. Maybe it can help launch writing of quality readers. Maybe it’s a waste of bandwidth. Who knows, but it’s an experiment that I approve of.

So hopefully the future of media isn’t all doom and gloom. Everybody knows, there is a ton of crap on the internet…but its also a meritocracy. The best (or funniest) writing usually finds itself an audience, and the worst stuff is doomed to hide in a tiny niche, or disappear, just like regular newspapers. Hopefully, all kinds of writers can see that there is a partnership between the two media formats will give us the best coverage, and the best information.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Downtown's Greatest Hits

Published in Our Town News, April, 2007

Why I'll watch (and root) for the Yankees this year.

Like a great many American sons, it was my dad who taught me the game of baseball. I don't mean taught in the sense of say, explaining the infield fly rule to me, (he had no idea what that was) but in explaining the intangibles of baseball. Dad was the one who taught me about guys like Kirby Puckett and Donnie Baseball, and why everybody loved them. He taught me why everybody hated Albert Belle (I discovered this myself later in life, as I approached him for an autograph, and was greeted by the international driver’s salute). It was through him that I discovered the glory of cheap seats at minor league baseball games on those lazy summer nights. The romanticized baseball, the ones that sportswriters embellish a little every spring, was the one my dad taught to me, not the game rocked by steroid scandals and labor disputes.

Like every great story, baseball clearly had its heroes (like Donnie) and its villains (like Belle). Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my dad loved the worst, greatest sporting villain of all time, the New York Yankees. I felt like I found an "I Love Bin Laden" shirt in his closet or something. Sure, I was aware that my dad used to live in NYC, met my mom there, fell in love with the city blah blah blah…couldn't he have liked the Mets or something?

I tried everything with him. I appealed to his political sensibilities (Dad, the Yankees are the nastiest big business in sports, hopelessly driving up wages for small market teams, ruining baseball. Do you want to root for the Halliburton of sports? Would you wear an Enron baseball cap?). I tried attacking the players (Dad, Johnny Damon was a homeless bum 4 months ago, and now you want him to bat leadoff?). I even tried to bring mom into it (mom told me she likes the Indians best), even if I had to lie a little bit there. Nothing. That man was unshakable in his convictions, no matter how wrong they were.

Of course, this made watching baseball with him actually pretty fun, with me pulling hard for the hometown Cleveland Indians (and later, my second hometown team, the Washington Nationals), and my dad rooting for a team that basically included Darth Vader and Pol Pot in its bullpen. How lucky we were, that our biggest fights and disagreements weren't over substantive parenting rules, but over 2nd basemen.

Sadly, my dad passed away in September of 2006. In addition to losing my father and a wonderful friend, the Brown family baseball rivalry died as well.

So, Licking County is down a Yankees fan this season. Now that the Clippers have switched back to the light side of the force (Nationals), we suddenly have a dearth of central Ohio yankee-dom. This season, and this season only, I will fill that gap.

I will root for the Yankees, or as much as I can without making my skin crawl. I will be seen in public this summer with a Yankees baseball cap on. I might even play drums in one. I will not change the channel in disgust when the Indian’s bullpen gives up a 3 run shot in the 9th inning to Jeter. Somebody has got to do it…without an evil villain, what fun will watching baseball be?