Regarding Jonah Lehrer

That Jonah Lehrer was finally fired from Wired after resigning from The New Yorker should not surprise, it was only a matter of time.  His patterns of plagiarism, fabrication, and recycling his own material effectively ended his career even before the official end came.  It was the same with Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass.  But that is not really what interests me.

What fascinates me most about the whole Jonah Lehrer affair is that while the media cannot stop talking about it, the general public does not really care at all.  True, there is nothing the media loves to talk about more than itself, but while the Blair scandal was national news for weeks, Lehrer’s crimes–which are quite serious–have barely elicited a shrug outside of newsrooms.  I wonder why that is.  Is it because Lehrer was an online contributor (re: blog) whereas Blair wrote print articles (considered more serious)?  Is it because Blair was a fixture at the New York Times whereas Lehrer wrote for Wired; because he was relatively new at The New Yorker did his crimes not taint the magazine’s brand?  Does the background of the plagiarists have something to do with it?

I have another theory.  I think the public may just be too jaded to care.  While the media has a very high image of itself, the public really hates the media in a way that is unprecedented.  It is a self-inflicted wound, less from people like Lehrer, Blair, and Glass, and more because of people like Blitzer, Hannity, and Olbermann.  Journalism is not about truth it is about ratings and circulation–now more so than ever in the era of the mega corporations that control print, online, and television news.  Journalism today is also about “parity” at the expense of facts (a problem given that a sizable portion of America simply disregards reality on a regular basis.)  At some point there is so much unnecessary noise and so little enlightenment, people just tune out.

Maybe that’s what happened in the Jonah Lehrer case.  People stopped caring about the media, so the media alone cares about Jonah Lehrer.

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Needlessly Deconstructing A Funny Joke

One of the funniest critiques of the media I have ever seen either in print or on television was from the British television show Yes, Prime Minister (originally Yes, Minister), a show that I have only seen a few times, but which from my limited viewing appears to be one of the sharpest satires of politics there has ever been.

Perhaps the most famous jokes from the show (so famous that it reached this side of the Atlantic), is about the relationship of newspapers to their audiences.  First the clip:

In case this clip is removed, here is the joke in question:

Hacker: Don’t tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers: The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by the people who actually do run the country; The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; The Financial Times is read by people who own the country; The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; And The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.

Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?

Bernard: Sun readers don’t care who runs the country, as long as she’s got big tits.

For an American unfamiliar with the British press, this joke may seem somewhat obscure, but it is extremely funny and wryly arch (note which parts get the biggest laughs from the audience).  It is also very difficult to translate into an American paradigm.  In Britain, the newspapers, particularly those mentioned by Hacker (the Prime Minister), openly wear their political affiliations.  In America, the newspapers, particularly the large ones, strive toward a veneer of neutrality lest they be tarred as “the liberal media.”  Even a certain media outlet that openly champions a specific political party and ideology uses the phrase (lie) “fair and balanced” to describe itself.

Another issue in translating the joke is that because the United States is so large, most newspapers–particularly those outside of New York City–tend to reach only a limited regional audience.  A joke therefore about The Boston Herald, may or may not translate outside of New England even though that newspaper manifests a very clear ideology.

A third issue is that much of the American media is owned by massive media corporations who are less concerned with ideology than profits and only care about their readership to the point that their readers are buying the product.  And only then because that’s how ad revenue is generated.  For example, can the Tribune Company really care as much about The Baltimore Sun as it much as does its flagship Chicago Tribune?  (According to the television show The Wire, the answer is no.)  Only News Corp has maintained an ideology–although hopefully we are witnessing the beginning of the end for the Murdoch Empire.

Finally, the Internet and cable television have taken a drastic toll on newspapers in a way that would have been inconceivable to imagine when Yes, Prime Minister aired.  Newspapers were not prepared for the Internet and were very slow to adapt.  As such, these newspapers played catch-up for years, and in some cases are still unsure how to adapt.  Furthermore, in the United States, it is on cable television and not in the print media where partisan rancor reigns supreme.  This is where the Murdoch Empire has spearheaded an American revolution.  Even other cable channels have yet to discover a way to compete with the Pravda of the Republican party.

Having said all that, there are a few parallels in American media culture that could be awkwardly substituted for the British papers.  I have to eliminate all reference to The Daily Mail line because there is no US equivalent for a hyper-shrill, moralistic, hand-wringing, conservative-leaning paper aimed primarily at women (no one American media outlet has combined all of those attributes).

So taking this one line at a time using my replacements:

The New York Times is read by the people who think they run the country.  The NY Times is not an exact parallel with the Daily Mirror, although the NY Times does skew moderate-liberal in its content and direction (a relatively recent phenomenon).  No paper or its readers have a higher opinion of themselves than the NY Times and its readership, blissfully unaware that the rest of the country does not actually care what The New York Times says.

The Village Voice is read by people who think they ought to run the country.  Again, not an exact parallel because the Voice is a weekly and the Guardian is a daily.  Also, the Voice is now a cog in a large multimedia conglomerate rather than the standard of journalistic creativity which it used to be.  (Even at its best, the Voice was also not exactly a source of hard-hitting news, but rather a training ground for aspiring writers.)  Nevertheless, only an alternative weekly could really capture the liberal/leftist political bent of the Guardian.  I suppose The Stranger may actually be a better fit than the Voice, but The Stranger is too localized to Seattle whereas the Voice has national cache.

The Washington Post is read by the people who actually do run the country.  This one was tough.  The Post does not have the august reputation (nor the Murdoch ownership) of the Times.  Nevertheless, because the Post is the paper of the capital of the United States, and because the Graham family that publishes it has long presided over Washington social circles (the current publisher is the granddaughter of the legendary Katherine Graham), it is the paper that is most influential among the political class, i.e. the people who run the country.  Another potential choice for this would be The Wall Street Journal but…

The Wall Street Journal is read by people who own the country.  As America has become a nation that lives and dies according to the dictates of the financial markets, this is the only choice.  Despite the fact that the Journal, like the Times, is a Murdoch paper, and despite (or because of) the fact that even before Murdoch bought its parent corporation Dow Jones & Company it had a strong conservative editorial bent, the Journal is the paper that the financial class reads and trusts.  Therefore, it is the closest comparison to The Financial Times for the sake of the joke.

Salon is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country.  Have you ever read Salon?  A shrill, hysterical, unthinking leftist/left-wing Internet rag.  This one was a no-brainer.

And Fox News is watched by people who think it is.  There is really only one choice for this.  No newspaper has the influence or range that Fox News has.  And even the most conservative of newspapers in this country (such as The New York Post or The Washington Examiner) cannot compete with Fox as a mouthpiece for a political ideology.  Fox can out-Telegraph the Telegraph and then have more than enough left over to beat The Daily Mail at its own game.

New York Post readers don’t care who runs the country, as long as she’s got big tits.  This may be the toughest of the bunch (excluding the Mail, which I already acknowledge cannot be translated).  American sensationalist tabloids, most notably The National Enquirer, lack the political bent and sheer titillation value of the (Murdoch-owned) Sun.  Conversely, the Sun is sensationalist in a way that not even the (Murdoch-owned) New York Post can match.  I guess if I were forced to make a decision, it would be the New York Post, but I am making that with much hesitation, and only because of Page 6.  Another part of the joke that doesn’t translate is that when this episode of Yes, Prime Minister aired, Margaret Thatcher was the person who ran the country.  One wonders whether the Sun readers were satisfied with the size of her tits.  And with that image, I will bid you adieu and leave you to your nightmares.

The Revolution Is Televised

(An apology.  WordPress is messing with my formatting and my paragraphs all merge together no matter what I do.  I am truly sorry about that, and when I learn how to fix it, I will do so.)

A good rule of thumb: when the cast and crew of a television show have to tell you how groundbreaking their program is, it usually isn’t.

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To my mind there have been only two shows that completely revolutionized American television: All in the Family and The Simpsons.  Throughout the history of television, there have been quality shows, influential shows, and even groundbreaking shows.  What makes a revolutionary television show though is that it changes the way television is watched, and more importantly, it changes the societal dialogue.  It’s a tough standard that even the greatest shows on television cannot achieve.

Before All in the Family, American television was fairly quaint in the model of I Love Lucy, the grandmother of all situation comedies.  In retrospect, I Love Lucy was both conformist and groundbreaking at the same time.  Despite the fact that Lucille Ball–and Lucy Ricardo–was the star of the show, ensconced gender roles of the times were unquestionably affirmed–Ricky was the dominant force of the household; in one episode he even spanked Lucy (the first time I saw it, I wanted her to slap him across the face.)  The most compelling relationship of the show though was Lucy and her best pal Ethel, a genius comedy pairing between two women, often imitated but never equalled until their true successors came along in Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone.  After Lucy, television shows progressed but only barely.  Throughout the next decade, sitcoms, even the most funny and intelligent programs such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, maintained the status quo rather than push against it.  Few shows were even as daring as Lucy, with a marriage between American Lucy and Cuban Ricky.*  (Lucy was revolutionary in a more technical way;  the show was a pioneer in the three-camera with live audience format, and singlehandedly developed the rerun and syndication.)

Then came All in the Family.  All in the Family was a zeitgeist, a televised distillation into narrative form of the national debates about gender, religion, sexuality, class, education, politics, and above all race.  Moreover, All in the Family was a weekly morality play, full of unresolved tensions and ambivalent resolutions.   Nothing like it had ever been seen on American sets before, and afterwards any preconceptions of television’s innocence were forever swept away.  Perhaps it is unsurprising that All in the Family was based on an earlier hit British show Till Death Do Us Part.  A show so different could not spring up organically; it had to be imported.

All in the Family introduced television’s most indelible character–Archie Bunker.  Archie is famously and repeatedly described as a “lovable bigot,” but that description entirely misses the point.  Archie is the embodiment of the white, blue-collar worker who in the 60’s and 70’s watched the world around him change.  He does not and cannot understand those changes, so he retreats into anger.  But Archie does not hate; he fears.  In each episode that fear is abrasively confronted by his son-in-law, the liberal, educated, and unemployed Mike Stivic.  Archie is no saint (the saint of All in the Family is his long-suffering wife Edith), but Mike is no hero, despite the fact that he is the mouthpiece of show creator Norman Lear and, ironically, Carroll O’Connor, the actor who brought Archie to life.  The show empathizes with all of its characters, and that is why it was and is so wildly popular.

After All in the Family, no subject (or almost none) was taboo.  If a show did not embrace All in the Family in some way, then it risked irrelevance.

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If I Love Lucy was the grandmother of sitcoms, and All in the Family parented a new era in television, then The Simpsons was the inevitable scion.  Now that the show has been on the air for over two decades(!), and the quality has dipped to a level that renders the show nearly unwatchable, it is easy to forget how powerful and intelligent the earlier seasons of the show actually were.  The Simpsons began life as animated shorts for The Tracey Ullman Show where both Dan Castellaneta and Julie Kavner were cast members.
From a purely simplistic level, The Simpsons is a crudely drawn animated show that parodied the typical sitcom family.  That is certainly how George H.W. Bush saw the show when he infamously declared that American families needed to be “a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.”  (Bart’s reply: “Hey, we’re like just like the Waltons.  We’re praying for an end to the Depression too.”)  Unsurprisingly, Bush completely missed the point of the show.  The Simpsons were not the anti-Waltons (or, more accurately for the time, the anti-Cosbys), a family that reveled in its low-class horribleness like their network neighbors the Bundys; rather the show was a razor-sharp satire of American life, full of both highly intelligent and broadly comedic references.  A British Literature professor of mine once said that The Simpsons (at least the first eight or so seasons) was the closest American culture has ever come to producing its own Shakespeare.
It may sound pompous (and my professor was nothing if not pompous), but he was also correct.  Take for example my favorite episode, A Streetcar Named Marge.  The premise was one that the show used before and would use so many times again; Marge, crushed by the weight of caring for her thankless family, channels her energy elsewhere–in this case a community theater production of Tennessee Williams’s play A Streetcar Named Desire.  Except for the fact that the production she’s in is a musical version called “O, Streetcar” complete with ridiculous songs and over-the-top stagecraft (Blanche DuBois’s descent into madness is represented by her flying around the stage on wires).  In addition to skewering community theater, the episode also references Ayn Rand, The Great Escape, Citizen Kane, Alfred Hitchcock movies, musicals, and one, of course, of the greatest plays in the American repertoire.  Nevertheless, what holds the episode together is the emotional core the writers create by paralleling Marge’s life with Blanche’s (complete with Homer screaming “MAAAARGE! at the top of his lungs), but still giving Marge a happy ending.
An animated cartoon seems an unlikely influence for live action television, yet The Simpsons has had more of an impact on television than any show since All in the Family.  The best shows post-Simpsons are those that abandoned the three camera set and the live audience in order to adopt The Simpsons‘ razor-sharp wit, multi-dimensional gags, and manic energy that the old format could not hold.  These shows learned from The Simpsons that it is okay to trust an audience, a lesson made easier by advent of the DVD.  Multiple viewings reward the audience with a fuller understanding of complicated gags.  It’s a respect that these shows’ writers have for their audiences; this is not the hand-holding of mediocre fluff such as Friends or Everybody Loves Raymond.
The best of this new wave of shows is the short-lived, much-loved Arrested Development.  Arrested Development, in its all-too-brief life, may well be the funniest television program ever.  The reason for the show’s success is not only the mixture of highbrow and lowbrow humor; rather it was the show’s foresight in creating a strong emotional core based around lovable characters who in the real world would be absolutely intolerable.  We care about the Bluth family against our better judgment.

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In contrast to actual revolutionary shows are those shows which pat themselves on the back for being revolutionary but aren’t.  Unfortunately it seems that the shows that trumpet the loudest are those that feature LGBT themes and characters front and center.  Four shows in particular come to mind: Glee, The L-Word, Will & Grace, and the American version of Queer as Folk.  Queer as Folk was especially egregious, airing a special prior to the series premier asking the question “Is America ready for Queer as Folk?”  The implication was that QAF was something completely revolutionary, when in truth it was merely a campy and poorly written soap opera that had copious male nudity.  That fact that these shows were (and are) so well-regarded in the gay community is a tragic sign that there is so little good gay programming.
Perhaps I have been spoiled because I saw a gay-themed show that actually was groundbreaking, and that was the original, British Queer as Folk.  Much ink has been spilled about the show, but there were some very good reasons why the British Queer as Folk was so wonderful despite (or because of) its short life.  It was a well-written, well-plotted, and well-acted show with great characters, realistic stories, and an unapologetic outlook.  Compare that to the show’s American recreation, in which all the characters were in some way manifestations of the creators’ politics and beliefs.  I would say that the American version’s writers put the accent on the wrong syllable, but we are not even talking about the same paragraph let alone the same word.
Will & Grace though earns a special place in Hell.  For all its plaudits, the Emperor has no clothes. I often wondered if the revulsion I felt was anything akin to what African-Americans felt watching Amos ‘n’ Andy.  Will & Grace was bleached of any potential same-sex passion in order to sell “tolerance,” i.e.,  make it palatable to the wider (straight) audience.**  What makes Will & Grace even more grating is that it takes credit for a revolution that it did not earn.  Since Will & Grace first aired, there has been tremendous progress for gay rights, and no doubt the show’s creators believe they are owed credit for changed attitudes about gays and lesbians.  They aren’t.  The progress that was made came as a result of societal change that coincided at the same time as Will & Grace, not because of it.  This was no All in the Family, a show that held a mirror up to American society.  Will & Grace was conciliatory; it lacked All in the Family‘s ambition to confront.
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In the Jan. 2, 2012 edition of The New Yorker, television critic Emily Nussbaum praised a new web-only show called Husbands.  The show was written by Jane Espenson, whose writing credits include, among other shows, the great fantasy series Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  There are 11 episodes of Husbands, only a few minutes each.  The show’s conceit is that on the night same-sex marriage is made legal, an openly gay Kardashian-like celebrity drunkenly marries an openly gay professional baseball star (yes, it is pure fantasy) after a night of drunken revelry.  Despite regretting their actions the next morning, the couple, in order to show the world that gays are not taking the institution of marriage lightly, decide to try to make their union work.***
It is easy to criticize, and I don’t actually enjoy doing it.  Criticism is the tearing down of a structure that takes effort to build.  Although some things deserve it (anything Michael Bay touches for example), I feel regret for saying anything negative about such effort, even though I am secure in the knowledge that none of the people I criticize will ever know this blog exists.
For that reason, I feel uneasy about my strong dislike for Husbands.  The people behind the show believe in what they are doing.  Nevertheless, that does not mean I think the show is quality or that I believe Nussbaum is correct (I don’t and she isn’t).  It would be easy enough to ignore a series that only exists on the Internet, but then I heard the creators of the show talk about how nothing like their show had been done before (a romantic comedy sitcom based around two men!)
Husbands suffers from the soft bigotry of low expectations.  Not societal expectations, its own.  The creators openly admire and emulate mediocrity like Mad About You and Dharma and Greg.  Worse, the director is a veteran writer/producer from Will & Grace, a show whose ethos infects every pore of Husbands.  The show models its cheap-joke dialogue and faux-emotional plots after these shows; I know the places I was supposed to laugh because those were the places where I cringed the most.  You can practically hear the canned laughter.
Besides mediocrity, the other major legacy from Will & Grace is the Husbands‘ blatant refusal to be political.  This is fine except that the show’s very premise is based on the political–the idea that same-sex marriage is such a precarious equal rights issue that a Britney Spears quickie-marriage will make all gay people look bad.  This fear underscores the entire show.  There is also an inherent dialogue about what it means to be gay and how and whether to make gender roles when both partners are the same gender.  This is not something that they worried about on Mad About You.  The creators of this show are somehow aware that the show is intrinsically political yet at the same time they are oblivious to it, and that willful obliviousness is maddening.  The show could be so much more than it is free of the constraints of television.  That it chooses to be apolitical and middling while at the same time trumpets itself for being original and groundbreaking smacks of tone deafness at best and pandering at worst.
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Like most gay people, I look forward to an American gay-themed television show that actually is groundbreaking. I just hope that when the show comes, it doesn’t have to tell me that it is.

Footnotes:  

*  This post focuses on long form narrative fictional television: the sitcom and the drama.  Dramas on American television have never had the kind influence or audience as half-hour sitcoms, although I will discuss one in particular later.  The lone drama that could potentially be called revolutionary is The Wire, which chronicled the failure of the drug war and the ensuing metropolitan decay in a style that was more visual novel than televised drama.  Whether The Wire is truly revolutionary will be determined by time.

** I am reminded of the movie Camp, which, like Will & Grace, pandered to straight audiences, yet was inexplicably adored by gay ones.  For example, in a camp that is full of young gay men, the only sex in the movie is heterosexual.  The short answer is that for all of its “tolerance,” the movie considers gay sexuality to be something shameful and embarrassing.

*** I reject the very premise on which Husbands based.  There is a very famous quote from the First Zionist Congress from 1897: “A Jewish state would only be a normal country if Jewish street-cleaners and gardeners worked in the same cities as Jewish doctors, lawyers and businessmen, and when Jewish policemen arrested Jewish prostitutes.”  I feel the same about same-sex marriage;  equality will be achieved only when gay people stop thinking of marriage with reverence and treat it as casually as straight people do.

I Dissent

As you may know Christopher Hitchens died.  The media, particularly the liberal media, has gone into mourning.  Slate, where Hitchens wrote a weekly column, has gone over-the-top with its approbation.  I think there are over 20 memorials of some kind or another to Hitchens, all of which are glowing.  Frankly, I am surprised Slate hasn’t changed its design to a black background.  Slate is acting like a newly devastated widow.

Obituaries of the famous (excluding genocidal maniacs) are fawning by nature.  When the media loses one of its own, that’s all it can talk about it.  Remember how overboard the media went when Tim Russert died?  This is even more embarrassing.  The longer an obituary has to gestate, the more whitewashed it is.  Hitchens announced a while ago that he had terminal cancer, so the obituary writers had plenty of time to plan their purple prose.  (Do you think I am kidding?  Bob Hope’s obituary in the New York Times was written by a man who died before Hope.)

The whitewashing of Hitchens is particularly aggravating because in the rush to lionize him, his (many, many) sins have been overlooked.  No one wants to speak ill of the dead, but Hitchens committed some major sins, and they need to be brought up.  Obviously there is his unwavering support for the Iraq War and his dishonest attempts to justify it again and again whenever his previous attempts were proved illusory.  There is also his atheism, which ironically (perhaps too ironic for Hitchens to recognize) he pushed with the exact same kind of militancy and zeal as the evangelicals he criticized.

Hitchens was a pompous snob.  Despite his occasional Trotskyite leanings, he was very much a believer in a caste system and felt that he himself belonged in the upper caste (he very much ingratiated himself among the Washington elite.)  He spouted casual misogyny and homophobia whether or not he actually believed what he said.  His hatred of the Clintons was baffling and as fanatical as the Republicans who tried to bring down the Clinton Presidency.  And despite his loathing of the terrorism of Islamic fundamentalist groups, he often supported terrorism so long as they terrorized for causes he believed in.  A leftist terrorist for example could earn his sympathy and even his friendship.

Alex Pareene at Salon is the only person I have seen thus far who has dared to take on Hitchens from the left.  It’s hard to take anything in Salon seriously, but the truth is that Hitchens was no hero.  He does not deserve to be canonized just because people liked him personally and thought he was erudite.  Perhaps an astute observer might say Hitchens would agree with me.  Frankly, I don’t care.

[Update:  There have been some criticisms of Hitchens even if they are few and far between.  Not on Slate of course (the Slate style of publishing contrary articles solely for the purpose of being contrary clearly does not apply to one of their own, no matter how controversial he was), but on Gawker and on Salon.  These articles focus primarily on Hitchens’s misguided views of the Iraq War, and only rarely mention other sins.  (This post is better.)  Probably the longest criticism of Hitchens comes from that wet blanket of a human being Glenn Greenwald at Salon.  A lot of the points that Greenwald brought up were issues I mentioned in passing in this post.  Frankly it scares me that I agree with him, but since even a stopped clock is right twice a day, Greenwald too can made a valid now and then.  My consolation is my post was written and published before his so I cannot be accused of plagiarism.  Also, while post is relatively brief, one must slog through Greenwald’s novella/screed.  Given how second-rate a writer, thinker, and polemicist he is, that is no easy task.]

Elephant

Two days after El Clásico, the postmortems have almost all been given, and what strikes me is how different they all are from one another.  Perhaps this is because Real Madrid had been so heavily favored by… everyone really, but especially by the media.  This was to be the year they broke Barcelona’s stranglehold over Spain, and proved the Blaugrana were no longer the world’s best side.

Obviously things did not go the way thy were expected.  Rather than beat Barcelona, Madrid lost.  3-1.  At home.  While this was not quite as bad as the 5-0 from last year or the 6-2 from a few years ago, make no mistake, this lost was just as distressing.  This year was supposed to be Madrid’s year (it still might be; a season is a long time.)  Yet, this “Madrid’s year” meme was exactly the same story that was told last year when Jose Mourinho arrived at the Bernabeu.  It was the same story two years ago when Manuel Pellegrini, fresh off his successful stint with Villareal, arrived alongside two overpriced superstars: Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka.  It was the same story the year before that when Juande Ramos took over in the middle of the season and restored Madrid’s swagger following its collapse under Bernd Schuster.  Yet since Pep Guardiola took over three-and-a-half years ago, his Barcelona met Real Madrid 12 times.  The results?  Eight Barcelona victories and three draws (and two of those draws were all the Barcelona really needed.)  Only once did Madrid win, in the final of last year’s Copa del Rey.  During Guardiola’s reign, Barcelona won 12 trophies; Madrid won one.

Believe it or not, I come neither to praise Barcelona nor bury Madrid.  I actually plan to write about the fact that I have yet to read one consistent explanation for why, after being given virtually no chance, Barcelona still beat Madrid so convincingly.   On one hand there is the theory that Barcelona have a never-say-day attitude that comes from their philosophy, conviction, and belief.  This is the reason put forth by Sid Lowe and by Barcelona players and personnel.  Conversely, there is the Madrid choked explanation, which Phil Ball alludes to and which Graham Hunter put forward on today’s World Football Daily.  Naturally the tactics wonks like Jonathan Wilson and Michael Cox of Zonal Marking credit Guardiola’s tactical acuity and subtly blame Mourinho.  Mourinho, who never fails to take the credit or parry the blame, naturally claimed it was all luck, and nothing separates the teams.  The Madrid faithful (including Marca, the club’s Pravda-like media mouthpiece) blame Cristiano Ronaldo, formerly been their golden boy.   Goal.com’s explanation is all things to all people (and can’t go without mentioning Messi v. Ronaldo).  No doubt Bleacher Report has some idiotic fan boy explanation, but the days are too short to see for myself.

It’s the like the parable of the blind men and the elephant.  Everyone can describe a bit of the phenomenon, but cannot realize any greater truth.  Sports journalists (including commentators and bloggers) are a funny breed.  On one hand they know everything about the history of the sports and the individual and collective statistics of all teams and players there have ever been.  The sport is their lives.  On the other hand, they struggle with the concept that history is not destiny.  When something happens, these same journalists live so much in the present that they cannot or will not see the possibility that this occurrence could be a mere temporary phenomenon.  They rush in to judge the greatest this or the best that because of this myopia.  It’s what leads to declarations that in hindsight prove to be very foolish.  (“This is Madrid’s year.”  “Manchester United will undoubtedly beat Barcelona in the 2009 Champions League final.”)

It’s a stark reminder: never look to sports journalism for any great truths.  No one knows what he (or she) is talking about.

Wonderful

This Australian ad has been making the rounds among the gay blogs, and with good reason.

Along with some excellent anti-discrimination ads from Argentina, this Australian spot shows what other countries are doing to promote acceptance and equality.

One wonders why US LGBT groups cannot or will not use their resources for something similar.

The New Sheriff In Town

Although I prefer La Liga to the English Premier League, only a churl would ignore the EPL, especially since this portends to be the season that Manchester City arrives for real.  It’s been coming for some time, and given the amount of petrodollars that has been pumped into the club, one could argue that it’s actually two seasons overdue.  Nevertheless, this season is starting to shape up into a one-horse race.  Yes there is only 5 points between City and the team in second place (archenemy Manchester United), but City’s dominance thus far has been near total.

To wit, the teams in second, third, and fourth place are (respectively) United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Newcastle United.  As of this week, City has beaten them (respectively) 6-1, 5-1, and 3-1.  No doubt the defeat of Manchester United was the most satisfying of the victories (at Old Trafford of all places) as well as the most comprehensive in score.  Yet the fact that City have so thoroughly dominated their closest competitiors does not tell the whole story.  As of now, 12 rounds of matches have been played in the EPL, and City have won 11 of them (the other was an away draw to Fulham).  This is a ridiculously good start to the season by any standard, and better than both Barcelona and Real Madrid over in La Liga.

Even more impressive is that all of this comes despite the fact that last season’s talisman/resident-locker-room-poison has completely fallen out with the club in a saga that has made everyone involved look bad.  Yet, the squad talent is so sparkling that one suspects that pretty soon wannabe champions are going to start beginning to come to the blue half of Manchester instead of the red half.  City are thoroughly dominating the EPL and (once they get their act together and learn how to play in Europe) may well be the only team that can possibly challenge Barcelona/Real Madrid duopoly of the Champions League.  Carlos Who?

Now this being City, all of this can go awry tomorrow.  Certainly City fans are familiar with heartache and despair even if they have not reconciled themselves to it.  And I continue to think that the Oil-garchs are destroying the game with their uncontrolled spending.  Nevertheless, a City triumph is a good thing.  For the past two decades, England has had fewest clubs win the national championship than any other major football nation in Western Europe.  There have only been four.  Blackburn Rovers, Arsenal, Chelsea, and of course United who have dominated the competition. Perhaps the fifth team is finally ready to break through.

And perhaps Ian Ayre will rue his open desire to structure the EPL’s television deals like La Liga’s.  Because once City becomes a recognized worldwide brand, which it will, then it too would demand a share of those rights.  Which means that with City, United, Chelsea, and Arsenal all competing at the top-level, Liverpool may very well be the ones left out in the cold.  Liverpool is the past; City is the future.

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I have not listened to World Football Daily since Robert Burns left.  It is nothing against the show or its new hosts, but rather I went on vacation just before he left, and when I am on vacation, my podcasts tend to build up.  Now I am in the process of winnowing down my backlog.

I cannot offer any opinion as to whether Sophie and Martin are any good.  On Big Soccer the general consensus is no, although I have not had a problem with either in the past (perhaps two British hosts–again–is a bit much.)  There seems however, to be a lot of ugliness going on.  Kenny Hassan, who swore up and down that he was leaving the show on good terms, reinstated his Twitter account and has since criticized the show (fairly nastily) and dropped hints that he is starting a new one.

I have my qualms with WFD.  When I signed up, I knew what I was buying into–a show owned and produced by two guys who had previously hosted the same show (for free) on Sirius.  There were times I was exasperated by the show, but they had quality guests so all was good.  Shortly after Steven Cohen left last April, things changed.  There was a new mysterious owner, and I don’t know who it is (and that really bothers me because I like knowing where my money goes.)  Then Kenny left.  Then the video podcasts stopped.  Extra shows came and disappeared to be replaced by new ones (and none of them interest me).  The show feels completely different now, and I am not loving it.

However, I don’t blame the hosts.  This is a management problem through and through.  I feel like I bought into something and then the rug was pulled out from under me.  Which means that ultimately it is Steven and Kenny who are to blame for failing to follow through on the vision that they sold.  I have no idea whether I will continue my subscription when it ends.  There are a zillion football podcasts out there, and a few of them are even worth listening to.  They are all free if not daily.  I’ll give the new show a chance, but I wonder if perhaps it is my turn to also follow Steven and Kenny and leave.

And by the way, if Kenny (or Steven) starts a new podcast, I’m not following.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.