Friday, December 11, 2009

Registered and Tracked by the Republicans

Yesterday, I received a rather important looking envelope in the mail that demanded my immediate attention. In the upper right-hand corner, it said something about "2010 Obama Agenda Survey." A few years back, I made a donation to the National Democratic Party and ever since I've received tons of junk mail and spam from every liberal group you can think of, so I assumed this was more of the same. However, when I opened it, I found that it was a letter from Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. He begins by threatening me with:

"Your immediate action is required."

No hi, how are you? No how's the wife? Nossir, he needs me to hup-to it toot sweet! And what action does he need me to perform so urgently?

"Please read carefully and complete the enclosed 2010 Obama Agenda Survey which is REGISTERED in your name and affixed with a tracking code to ensure that it is accounted for in the tabulated results." (The emphasis is his, not mine.)

Leave it to a Republican to register me and affix a tracking code so I will be compelled to obey his command. He goes on:

"I am sending out this questionnaire to gauge where you and other grassroots Republicans stand on the critical issues facing our nation..."

Wait a minute. Mr. Steele is under the impression that I am a Republican even though I've been registered (in the League of Women Voters sense, not in the tracking sense) as a Democrat since I was 18 years old. It doesn't give me much faith in a political party when they can't even read a voter registration roll. Maybe that's how they messed up with that whole WMDs in Iraq thing.

Before I get too cynical, Mr. Steele informs me that "the Republican Party is not dead and we are not going away." Given the amount of hot air I've been exposed to from Rush and Glen and Fox News, I really had no doubt. Anyway, Mr. Steele wants me to fill out this survey so that I can have a voice regarding what he calls the "Obama Democrat Agenda." Earlier in the letter, he talked about "conservative principles" and Republican ideals and goals. Obama and Democrats have no such things, merely an agenda. The Democrat in me is beginning to feel like some evil communist from the Cold War.

He reminds me again that I am a "REGISTERED participant" and that "no matter what, do not discard or destroy your Survey. In order for our sampling of Republican opinion from your area to be as exact as possible, you must return your survey - even if you leave some of the questions blank."

Ya vol, mein herr!

The letter goes on for three more pages (even my best friends don't write me three page letters) about how the "ultra-biased media" is covering up "Obama's top priorities" such as amnesty for illegal immigrants, raising taxes, and nationalizing health care. First of all, this talk about some sort of liberal media conspiracy really has to stop. All news organizations are owned by massive corporations run primarily by rich old white guys who are primarily Republicans. Everyone knows that Fox News is a 24-hour mouthpiece for the conservatives, and the only real alternative to that is MSNBC, and they only jumped on the liberal bandwagon because there was a commercially sound reason to appeal to a liberal demographic. For the Republicans to act like a bunch of beat up chess club members is really absurd.

As far as their claims of Obama's top priorities, none of the items listed have ever been emphasized by Obama if mentioned at all. Amnesty for illegal immigrants was a Bush initiative, not an Obama priority. Raising taxes will likely occur, but only because of the massive debts started by the Bush administration and their tax cuts. There is no nationalized health care plan on the books. It's health care reform which is focused primarily on how insurance companies conduct business. Of course, the Republicans are totally against government intervention in the practices of big business. We've already seen how well deregulation worked with the banks, mortgage companies, and Wall Street.

I could go on and on about Mr. Steele's other claims, but you've probably heard it all before, and I want to get to this all important survey about Obama's agenda. You've already been set up to believe whatever is asked in the survey must be President Obama's and/or the Democratic Party's view, but they are completely out of left field (pardon the pun):

Do you agree with Barack Obama and the Democrats that taxes should be raised for the sake of "fairness," regardless of the negative impact it is likely to have on the economy?

I guess fairness is not a conservative principle. Sure, it's much better to tax the poor and middle class. They're just going to spend the money on frivolous things like food and shelter. And the bit about "negative impact" on the economy is an allusion to the ol' trickle down economy notion that by letting the rich keep more of their money, they will invest it in businesses to create more jobs and so forth. This was Ronald Reagan's guiding principle, so how did he do? When President Reagan took office, unemployment was at 7.6% before quickly ballooning to over 10%. By the time of his re-election in 1984, unemployment had drifted back down to 7.5%, pretty much the same as when he started. During his last year in office, the rate was down to 5.5%, but it soon went back up during the George H.W. Bush administration. And where was employment during Bush's final year in office? 7.5%. So much for creating jobs Republicans. Of course, the Dow Jones Industrial Average went from around 800 to 2,600 by 1987, but half of that was wiped out in the stock market crash, and we also remember the junk bond scandals and the savings and loan collapse which cost almost 100 billion of tax payers dollars. Who exactly was trickled on here?

Should English be the official language of the United States?

I know President Obama has really been pushing that Esperanto for America campaign lately.

Do you believe that Barack Obama's nominees for federal courts should be immediately and unquestionably approved for their lifetime appointments by the U.S. Senate?

When has any senator, Republican or Democrat, given up the right to question executive nominees. In the immortal words of Chad Ochocino, "Child, please!"

Do you support the creation of a national health insurance plan that would be administered by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.?

Again, this is not on the table and the Republicans know it. This kind of fear mongering is as bad as that stupid terrorist threat level bullshit (I believe it is fuchsia today).

Are you confident that new medicines and medical treatments will continue to be developed if the federal government controls prescription drug prices and sets profit margins for research and pharmaceutical companies?

Because, that's how the system works. All the profits made by the altruistic drug companies are poured directly into new drug research. Better let us charge whatever we want, America, or we won't make any more medicines and you'll die painful, agonizing deaths! Bwahahahaha!

There's more of this tripe, but you get the idea. Mr. Steele and his merry band of fear mongers are scaring the crap out of their core constituency so that they will cough up big bucks to the Republican National Committee. That's right, at the end of the survey is a contribution form so that you may contribute "$500, $250, $100, $50, or even $3o" to help them fight against the evils of Democrats and that half-breed foreigner Barack Obama. That's why this survey is so important that they have to REGISTER everyone who receives it and track their actions. They want their damn money and they want it now!

To soften the sell, Mr. Steele explains that he has to do all this because in the 2008 election, Congressional Democrats out-raised Republicans by 2 to 1. Here we go with the beat up chess club members routine again. The Republicans have a far wealthier base than Democrats, so it stands to reason that the Democrats were so successful because a far greater number of Americans believed in Democratic principles rather than Republican ones. Maybe we were fed up with eight years of an incompetent president and six years of a Republican Congress that never had the balls to stand up to him. Maybe the Democrats had ideas that were not tired and proven wrong over and over again. Perhaps the Democrats really did appeal to a broader section of the country. No, I'm sure Mr. Steele would explain that away as the lies of the ultra-biased media elite.

Since I am REGISTERED and I must return the survey even if I leave some questions blank, I think I will do just that with no questions answered. I will attach a note saying that I am a life-long Democrat and proud of it no matter how much they wish to demonize the "L" word. I'm really more moderate than liberal, and I recognize that the left uses similar tactics as the right, but when a national political party can't even send their propaganda to the correct constituency, I think it's time they reevaluate their ability to lead a nation.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Flying the Coop on the Ravens

After watching the first half of the game between the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins last night, I'm almost tempted to switch allegiances from my home town team the Ravens to Rex Ryan's Jets. I know, they lost the game last night, and they have about the same record as the Ravens, but at least Rex Ryan looks like he's trying to go to the Super Bowl. After the Ravens' embarrassing showing against the Bengals on Sunday, I'm beginning to question their commitment.

When Rex Ryan left the Ravens to become the head coach for the Jets, not only did he steal two of our best defensive players in Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard, I think he stole our drive and swagger as well. The Ravens keep saying our defense is playing aggressively, but I don't really see it, unless you consider unnecessary roughness penalties as sign of aggressive defense. John Harbaugh did such a great job last year of instilling discipline in a once ragged team and limiting penalties. Now, we're looking more like the sloppy Ravens of old, except the defense can't get to the quarterback, can't stop the rush, and definitely cannot stop the passing game. During the preseason when the press brought up how small and ineffective our cornerbacks are, the Ravens kept saying, "Don't worry. We're fine." Well, it's pretty clear they are not fine, and it's a big concern as the schedule gets more difficult.

Of course, we also heard the argument that it was inevitable the defense would give up more yards as the offense improved. The theory went that, as the Ravens offense ate up more time time on the clock and put more points on the board, the other team would have to throw more deep balls to make up for lost time and try to score quickly. As a result, the defense would statistically give up more yards, but they would not let the other team win. That theory held up against soft teams like the Chiefs, the Chargers, and the Browns, but when we had to face tough teams, the Ravens' defense simply let the other team score points and the offense had no response against a tough opposing defense. It seemed inevitable against the Patriots, but our offense looked like the old Kyle Boller/Brian Billick Ravens when we played the Bengals last Sunday. They're simply not as good as they thought they were.

The biggest failure on the Ravens' part, in my opinion, was not snapping up one of the many good wide receivers who were available during the off-season. Now that Joe Flacco has proven himself as a strong quarterback, they needed to get someone reliable that he could throw to besides Derrick Mason. We kept hearing, "Oh, we like the guys we have." Really? Mark Clayton has been a wash out since we picked him up in the draft several years ago and, while Demetrius Williams can make a great play now and then, he's not consistent and injury prone. Even when he's healthy, like last Sunday, Cam Cameron doesn't put him in the game. Cameron's ability to invent and adapt on the fly, so obvious last year, has not been in evidence this year. Even when we win, I'm still baffled by some of the play calling.

But it's really the wide receiver issue that baffles me the most. When I saw Braylon Edwards making such a great show for the Jets last night, I couldn't help but think, "Why didn't we make that trade?" Is John Harbaugh so intent on keeping problem children out of his locker room that he will turn down great talent and a shot at the Super Bowl? Not everyone is perfect, and sometimes you have to take a risk when the need is great. At wide receiver, the need is great. If Derrick Mason gets injured and is out for all or a major part of the season, we might as well turn out the lights. Even Cam Cameron admits that you have to throw in today's NFL to win. Flacco can throw, but who's going to catch the ball?

Beyond players and strategy, a team needs to have a powerful desire to win. That's another reason why I'm so excited about what Rex Ryan is doing with the Jets and not so thrilled about Harbaugh's Ravens this year. When Ryan went to the Jets, he put everyone on notice that they had every intention of being the team to beat this season. A franchise so beaten down by Eric Mangini and the Favre Experiment would now be a team that stood tall. Those two faked punts to get first downs last night proved how Ryan will try anything to win, and it's exhilarating to watch.

While more conservative in approach, John Harbaugh showed similar enthusiasm last year as he reinvented the Ravens into a dedicated, discipline team. This year, Harbaugh seems worn out and sullen. I don't see the same drive, and he's falling into the Billick trap of complaining about officiating to explain away losses. During the preseason, the Sunpaper's Mike Preston talked about how united the team was and that they had a spirit of camaraderie he had not seen with the Ravens since they had been in Baltimore. Unfortunately, I don't see that camaraderie translating into a real winning spirit. I definitely felt more of a drive to succeed last year when there was less at stake.

Of course, it could be that everyone's expectations are too high. It's possible that the Ravens were not as good as we thought they were last year either. The Patriots lost Tom Brady and still managed to have an 11-5 record, the same as the Ravens. Because of divisional wins, we managed to get into the playoffs when they didn't. Those divisional wins were helped greatly by the fact that both the Browns and the Bengals were a mess. Even still, we couldn't beat the Colts last year and the Steelers beat us three times. If we had played the Patriots, we may not have beaten them either.

So far this year, we couldn't beat the Patriots and we couldn't beat the much improved Bengals. Now we have to face the undefeated Vikings and the undefeated Broncos, and we still have two Steelers games down the stretch. If the Ravens can't beat any of these teams, they are truly mediocre. The Ravens need to have a gut check and really decide which team they want to be: the one they were hyped to be or just an average team like so many other teams in the NFL. Harbaugh and his coaching staff have to make key changes now or the season is lost. I think they should look at their former colleague Rex Ryan to see how motivating a team and taking risks to win is done.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hello Muddah! Hello Faddah!

With summer on its way and the kids starting to filter out of school, I got to thinking about that perennial summer ritual of childhood: summer camp. I went to summer camp in 1976 just before my 12th birthday. The place was called River Valley Ranch in Manchester, MD. I checked their Web site to see if they were still around, and boy are they ever. Check this out:

This video is so slick, it looks like something from Nickelodeon, and all those activities almost make me want to go back again. Half pipes! Zip Lines! Go Carts! Paintball! We didn't have anything like that when I was there. I guess with all the helicopter parents nowadays wanting to give their kids the absolute best, they had to upgrade big time to compete. When I was a kid, the parents just wanted a safe place to unload the kids for a week.

There was the horseback riding and the swimming pool when I was there, but we only got to ride the horses once and we went to the swimming pool twice. My aunt and uncle had a horse farm, so riding a horse was no big deal to me, and this was even less exciting because you were basically led around in a conga line by the counselors with no freedom to ride on your own. The equipment was pretty worn out too. One of my stirrups fell off my saddle.

Most of the time we sat around bored out of our minds. There were volleyball nets and some balls, but it was up to us to organize a game. The counselors were generally too grumpy or too busy flirting with each other to pay any attention to us. You could buy little craft kits to tinker with. I bought a leather comb holder kit where you just sewed two pieces of leather together with some vinyl string and you could put a complimentary plastic comb in it. With my tangled curly locks, I couldn't drag a comb through my hair anyway.

Speaking of grooming, I was impressed with the bathroom facilities in the video. When I was there, the showers and toilets were something out of Turkish prison. I remember one afternoon taking a dump only to discover there was no toilet paper in the stall. With no one in the bunk house, I thought I was stuck until I remembered having a packet of tissues in my duffel bag. Holding my pants around my knees, I had to shuffle all the way down the long bunk house to my bed which was right next to the front door. As I riffled through my bag with my pants down, one of the counselors walked in and stared at me like I was about to engage in some unChristian-like ritual of self love. Huffily, I declared, "There's no toilet paper in the stalls!" Rather than make an attempt to find any for me, he just walked away, happy that I wasn't committing a sin.

When I was there, River Valley Ranch was divided into two basic areas: the main ranch known as Frontier Town and the smaller area up on the hill called Fort Roller. The younger kids stayed in Fort Roller and the teens were in Frontier Town. I stayed in Fort Roller. The video for that area looks more familiar to me:

This video is also more blatant about revealing the Christian focus of the camp with the cheesy Christian pop soundtrack and the children waving their arms in the air in praise. I find it a little disingenuous that the Web site has so few mentions of anything Christian. The brochures from the time when I went there were more upfront about their agenda. What they don't tell you in all these slick videos and fancy graphics is that the children will spend most of their time in bible study or being preached to with all the fire and brimstone of a televangelist. If that's what you want for your kids, that's fine, but they should be more upfront about it.

I went to RVR because a friend of mine talked me into it. His family was Southern Baptist and perfectly comfortable with this kind of Christian indoctrination. My family were casual Lutherans who talked about spiritual matters in a fuzzy, touchy-feely sort of manner. I was a babe in the woods when I went to that first revival meeting. There was a Christian music group performing that week which consisted of a family whose style was basically bluegrass, as I recall. In between songs, the father would get up and preach about burning in hell for your sins and eternal damnation and such. Kinda put a damper on the bluegrass music. More specifically, it scared the crap out of me. No more sinning from me, Lord, no sir! That is, if I had committed any sins at age 11. I must have. The preacher said we were all sinners.

We sat through these revival meetings every night for the whole week, and during the day had regular bible study. For some strange reason, though, we were always reading Revelations, like the rest of the bible had nothing to offer. Let's get to the good stuff! The earth will end and only the good Christians will go to heaven. At this point, our counselor said, "You know how much you are missing your family right now? Well, this is only one week. What if you are a good Christian and they are not and you go to heaven but they do not. You'll have to spend all eternity never seeing your family again!" That one brought some tears. No amount of swimming or volleyball will wipe out that buzz kill.

Everything was so Christian-centric, you felt more like you had joined a cult rather than going away for some fun at camp. Every night, the counselors would read us stories from the bible. When one kid asked if we could tell ghost stories instead, the counselor sniffed, "We don't tell ghost stories here; we tell God stories." Then he would try to lead us in singing some Christian songs. One of the ornerier kids in the group would counter with a hymn of his own that went something like, "Get down, get down! Pull your panties down!" At least it had a beat and I could dance to it.

Mercifully, it was only a week and my mother and brother soon arrived to rescue me. My friendship with the boy who talked me into camp soured after that. I didn't talk to him at all for the rest of the summer, and very little after that. I was just shell-shocked by the whole experience. However, it did get me thinking more seriously about my spiritual beliefs and I began to study more about religion on my own, which I suppose is a good thing. And I'll never get that camp song out of my head:

Sing the RVR song,
as you're ridin' along,
over river and dale to the end of the trail,
sing the RVR song!

Jesus Christ by my side,
he's my friend and my personal guide,
over river and dale to the end of the trail,
sing the RVR song!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Orioles Fever: It's Better Than Swine Flu!

I have to preface this blog entry by stating that I never paid much attention to baseball. I'm basically a football guy. Baseball's leisurely pace makes me squirm and the emphasis on statistics bores me to tears. The only reason why I started watching the Orioles games last summer was because there was some early rumors that the team might actually turn a corner and become good again. I remembered how fans used to be so buzzed on the Orioles back when they had players named Brooks and Boog and later Cal and Eddie, so I thought perhaps 2008 was going to be the year that I caught me some O's fever (pronounced "Oeu's fever" if you are a Baltimore native).

Well, the first half of last season, the team was playing fairly well, lightly touching upon that all-important .500 winning percentage. Winning as many as you lost seemed to indicate that we might actually stay in the running, but something wasn't quite right. You could sense that, in the games we did win, we were struggling mightily. The wins didn't come easily or decisively. I suspected that, as the season wore on, fatigue and injuries would take their toll and the team wouldn't be able to hold on. By July, my prediction started to come true. The losses became more frequent. This would not be their big, break-out year. I stopped watching.

This season, even the local sports reporters, who normally act as cheerleaders for the team, were talking about "rebuilding" and "transition," so I knew this year was not going to go well. At least I haven't been disappointed. What makes this year worse is that I don't get that sense, as I had last year, that the players are really pushing hard for a win. There's an initial burst, followed by lethargy and disinterest coming down the stretch. I know it may be unfair of me to say that sitting on my couch eating pretzels, but that's what it looks like no matter what the players say. In fact, watching the games this season feels a bit like the movie Groundhog Day with the same game played over and over again with the same result. Most games this season have gone something like:

- The O's batters come out strong and put several runs on the board early.
- The starting pitcher shows some competence and contains the opposing team for five or (if we're lucky) 6 innings.
- During the 6th inning (or maybe 7th), the starter wears out and either loads the bases or allows a run, so Dave Trembley trots out and takes the ball away from the starter. One of the relievers comes out and this is when it gets ugly.
- The opposing team runs rings around the reliever and racks up more runs than we have.
- The batters, who did so well early on, suddenly forget how to hit a ball. On a good night, we might get one more run, but usually the team cannot score again.
- The opposition wins. Jim Hunter and Rick Dempsey show up to throw around a bunch of statistics rather than just saying, "The Orioles suck!" and calling it a night.

I know this sounds like an oversimplification, but after watching Chris Ray give up 7 runs to the Yankees within 10 minutes of reaching the mound last night, I have to wonder how much more of this pain I can endure. What's the point of having decent starting pitchers if the relievers are going to throw away all the hard work in just a few minutes? Peter Schmuck wrote an article for the Baltimore Sun today talking about the Orioles' new era on the horizon. His view is that young players like Matt Weiters and David Hernandez, possibly injected into the lineup this June, will bring about some kind of change. I don't see how some new blood is going to change a team that has been struggling for over a decade. I guess I'm not a big enough fan to drink the orange Kool-Aid.

I remember back in the 80s, I would sit with my grandfather on warm summer nights and chat while the Orioles were playing on TV. My grandfather watched every game. He was a fan at a time when the Orioles were consistently good. Their quality was almost taken for granted. I envied his excitement over a winning team. We had just lost my beloved Baltimore Colts, who slipped out of town after breaking my heart for five or so seasons. Now I have the Ravens and watching sports is exciting again, but I need a summertime fix. I really want to become an O's fan, but I need a good reason. So far, that reason has elluded me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Torture and the Republicans Who Love It

I've been so tangled up in my fiction writing that I haven't made a blog post for some time. I also think that, since President Obama has taken office, I've simply been less angry about things. Life seems a little more tolerable when you have an administration in office that thinks more along the same lines as you do.

I saw a little bit of the President's speech to members of the CIA yesterday. This was on the heels of his declaration that the U.S. would end torture practices like waterboarding and the news that the practice had been used hundreds of times on key terrorist suspects. Of course, the usual Republican representatives were paraded out to the media to denounce this policy reversal, but what else is new? Their argument is that Bush's policies kept us safe after 9/11, but what else do we have to compare it to? He was the only president in office during that time. Only time will tell whether a change in tactics will make us more vulnerable or not. I think President Obama knows that there are bigger issues here than safety, and I agree.

About a year ago, I was watching an old movie serial, or cliffhanger if you prefer, on DVD. I'm a huge fan of those campy, action-filled stories and this particular serial was made toward the end of World War II. It was called Secret Agent X-9 and starred future Sea Hunt actor Lloyd Bridges in the title role. At one point, Bridges captured a Japanese spy and was interrogating him. The Japanese spy said something like, "You can torture me all you want, I'll never talk!" Bridges replied, "We're Americans. We don't torture." I felt so sad when I heard it. That's what being an American used to mean: play by the rules, live by a code of law, and don't sink to your enemy's level. The Bush adminstration threw that all away, and now those laid-off employees of a failed regime still voice disdain at President Obama's attempt to regain some of what America once stood for.

The Republicans rode on Ronald Reagan's cult of personality for almost three decades, and during the previous campaign, some still evoked his ideals to get their man elected. They have to remember, though, that Bush and his gang were not cut from the same cloth as Reagan's men. Cheney and Rumsfeld were old Nixon cronies who exhibited even greater paranoia and vindictiveness than the 37th president did. Their "destroy the village in order to save it" view of American policy simply makes no sense, unless your only goal is solely to promote the wealth of large corporations and preserve the consumerist enslavement of its citizens. I'm not against capitalism by any means, but we were not founded entirely on the principals of supply and demand, but rather the principals of freedom and civil rights. Yes, our forefathers were wealthy land owners, but I doubt that rampant capitalism was on the mind of Jefferson when he proposed the Bill of Rights.

I'd like to believe that Ronald Reagan, had he experienced a terrorist situation like 9/11 during his watch, would not have endorsed the practice of torture. I know sometimes he exhibited a disconnect between his words and his actions, but somehow I think the notion of torture would have set off alarm bells in his head. He was a product of the Hollywood that made movies like Secret Agent X-9, and he believed in the ideals that those movies professed. The reason why so many loved Reagan during the 80s was because they wanted to live in that Hollywood fairy tale as much as Reagan did, and I think selling a dream goes a long way in motivating people to make that dream a reality.

Right now, the Republican party is focused on a smear campaign to discredit President Obama and undermine everything he is trying to accomplish. Instead of attacking the President, they may want to look inward and recognize how much they lost in their support of policies that are counter to American ideals. During the last campaign, I saw newspaper ads saying, "What would Ronald Reagan do?" I don't think waterboarding would immediately jump to mind.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Senator Closing a Capital Offense

The Senator Theatre closed its doors last night after 70 years of operation. It was the last of the old one-screen movie palaces that were once so common place, even in my childhood. I haven't had time to truly process what this end to a movie-going era will mean to me, but I know I will miss it.

As a child, I went to the movies constantly. My dad was a big movie fan, and we would set out every Friday night to catch some new film or an old one that had been out for awhile but we hadn't quite gotten around to. In the days before home video, movies tended to linger in movie theatres for a long time because, if you didn't see it on the big screen, your next shot at seeing it would be two years later on broadcast television, where it would be mercilessly edited for naughty words and commercials. Sometimes people would go to see a movie in the theatre multiple times during its run. This repeat business was the main reason why many of the old one-screen movie houses, built in the era before television, were able to survive through the 1970s.

I think my movie-going during the 70s and 80s were split pretty evenly between one-screen theatres and multiplexes. I always preferred the one-screen places simply because the screens were bigger and there was more seating in which to spread out. As a child, my friends and I went to see Disney films at the Northpoint Plaza (which is now a Wal-Mart). My dad would drag me off to those Sun Classic movies about UFOs and Bigfoot at the Carlton (which was a porn theatre for awhile before becoming a funeral parlor). I remember seeing Jaws at the Strand (now a dollar store), and seeing the drug-fueled musical Tommy at The Towson (now a concert hall known a The Recher). Much of my high school and college free time was spent in Highlandtown visiting the Grand and the Patterson (not sure what the Grand is now, but the Patterson is home to The Creative Alliance).

All these movie houses were old and dreary looking, but you could see the grandeur that once was under all the soot and grime. The Grand was truly massive, with a section of hard, wooden seats near the front and padded seats toward the back. The Strand had beautiful detailing on the ceiling, although it was pretty dirty during my lifeftime. Although The Towson was small with seats designs for smaller patrons of an earlier era, it had an elegant lobby that made me feel important being there, which was the point of the old theatres. It wasn't just about selling soda and popcorn and filling seats, the movie experience was originally meant to be an escape from the dreary lives of Depression era movie-goers. From the time you crossed the threshold, you felt as though you were transported to a spacious and elegant palace. Once you were settled into your seat amid gilded and finely detailed woodwork and wall sconces, you could lose yourself in the movie and forget the sad reality outside. I felt some of that even as a kid in the 70s.

The most well preserved of these old theatres was The Senator. Going to The Senator was like a special event. The screen wasn't necessarily the largest around, but the building as a whole was far better maintained than any of the others. You knew that the theatre looked the same in 1939 as it did in that moment. I remember going to see Barry Levinson's love letter to Baltimore, Diner, at The Senator in the winter of 1982. Although the movie featured a scene shot in The Strand, it was The Senator that seemed most appropriate for seeing a movie about Baltimore's past.

When my wife and I bought our current house nine years ago, a definite plus for me was that The Senator was within walking distance. It was, after all, where we went on our first date. Unfortunately, for the first year, we were too busy with home repairs and newlywed settling-in details to go to The Senator, but eventually, we made it our movie theatre of choice. How nice it was to finish dinner, take a five minute drive to The Senator, catch a movie on the big screen, and be back home before 10 o'clock. On nice summer days, we could even walk over. I remember strolling home on beautiful sunny days after seeing Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Mission: Impossible III, still buzzing from the excitement of the movies and basking in the comfortable warmth of the early summer weather. It's those rare happy moments when you feel like all is right with the world and nothing can get you down. We all live for those days.

I'll miss those experiences, just as I will miss the dogs that roamed the lobby and begged you to play fetch with them. I'm sure that someone will make use of the old theatre. Belvedere Square is a thriving commercial spot and the locals are eager to support the businesses in that intersection of York and Belvedere. I hope it remains a theatre, whether it be a concert hall like The Recher or an arts center like The Patterson, or just a community theatre for movies and concerts and charity events. I'm confident The Senator will go on in some form and remain a vital landmark for the community. It's just sad to see your local movie house disappear.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

An Asshole by Any Other Name...

I've reached a point where I don't even want to read, see, or hear anything remotely news related for fear of it plunging me into a state of suicidal depression more extreme than my usual morose condition. The news is terrible right now and the only thing that makes it worse is that most of us can't do anything about it. Nevertheless, we are constantly bombarded by the media's onslaught of doom and gloom which comes in two forms: the sudden, breaking news tidbit that makes for a great, apocalyptic headline but provides no details, and the Monday-morning-quarterback analysis of what led up to all the problems that we are now facing. Both forms of news are aggravating because, in the first case, we don't know enough about what they are reporting to discern whether or not it really does have any great impact on us and, in the second case, you're left wondering why the so-called journalists didn't report all this stuff before the shit hit the fan when perhaps the general public could have taken some actions to change the course of events. As Richard Nixon used to say, some battles are won in the press, and if journalists are truly doing their job, they can stir public debate on issues that may have greater impact down the road.

The other night on MSNBC's Countdown, Keith Olbermann rattled through a laundry list of all of Wall Street's sins with regard to lobbying Congress and the SEC to repeal laws and regulations which were put in place to keep both traditional banks and investment banks from committing risky indiscretions that would plunge them into deep financial trouble. Of course, these sorts of pieces get your blood boiling when you know where all this has now led, but why was none of this discussed or debated to any great degree when it was happening. Could it be that the reporters covering the financial beat were unaware of such dealings or, even worse, knew what was going on but showed no interest in reporting it because they could not fathom the depths of the implications? During the 1990s, I saw plenty of financial reporters fawning over technology company CEOs and tech fund managers while the technology bubble was swelling, but none who questioned whether any of this overheated growth could ultimately be dangerous. Only when the bubble burst and we slipped into a recession did anyone talk about it, often in self-righteous tones of "Why didn't someone do anything about this?"

The same could be said about the financial reporting when banks and investment firms were posting record profits based largely on questionable (and once illegal) business practices. Instead of asking these CEOs what will happen when the real estate bubble bursts, they praised them for making tons of money. The fact of the matter is that many of these journalists are sycophants who worship successful people like the reporters for Tiger Beat worship Zac Efron or The Jonas Brothers. They love winners and covet their wealth and power. It's only when they fall from grace that these reporters do any digging, and that's only because they feel betrayed by their heroes and want to exact revenge for being let down.

And why do these corporate whiz-kids fall from grace? For the same reason that rock stars and movie idols end up in bankruptcy court or on Celebrity Rehab: they're assholes. You know the guy who pisses all over the toilet seat? Some of them have MBAs. Remember the guy at work who would argue endlessly with you about some policy even though he was completely wrong but couldn't back down out of sheer arrogance. He's the one with the blind tenacity to make it into the boardroom. The idiot who cuts you off in traffic? He's on the fast-track and no one can get in his way.

Beyond the Brooks Brothers suits and the fancy charts and the financial buzz words, they are all basically just assholes who are out to make a quick buck and to hell with the aftermath. When you're riding that high, it's easy to delude yourself that the ridiculous risk which has doomed so many others will not touch you...especially if you are an asshole.

So what happens to the assholes who create such messes? They get appointed to key government positions intended to oversee the mending of the messes they helped to create. Bernanke and Gaithner and the boys are supposed to clean up our economic woes, and the press are astonished when they don't have any answers. If they thought it was a good idea to tear down the walls of regulation that kept the flood of economic disaster at bay, why would anyone think they would have any clue how to brick it back up? This mess was years in the making, and it'll take years to fix, mainly by restoring the laws our forefathers put into place during the Great Depression so that we would never face a tragedy like that again. Of course, why should we heed history. They wore funny hats and pencil-thin moustaches and drove around in clunky looking cars. What did they know? Our modern assholes are a lot smarter than those old-fashioned ones.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Dead Kind of Car Company

I was at the Saturn dealership getting my oil changed on the day GM announced that the Saturn division would be phased out by 2011. Not exactly the cheeriest place to be. It already looked like a ghost town with only a skeleton crew. As the mechanic was about to move my Ion into the garage bay, he discovered that the car wouldn't start. Something called a "lock sensor" had gone up, or so they told me. The service man, whom I'd never seen before, told me that the cost of my little oil change visit had jumped by $250. This wasn't the first time I had brought my rattle-trap of an Ion in for an oil change only to find that the car needed more repairs than I had counted on. This never happened in the old days, and in that moment I could understand why GM was having so much trouble staying afloat.

I was one of the early Saturn owners. Back in the early 90s, we were considered almost like cult members, but there was a reason for our loyalty. First, the original Saturn model was a completely unique car; not a basic GM chassis and body on which each division slapped its own grill work and emblems. The whole Saturn concept was to create the best possible compact car they could devise that would appeal to Gen-Xers just entering the working world and looking for practical transportation. Honda had done the same thing for the Baby Boomers with the Civic 15 years earlier and the Big Three automakers saw a big chunk of their market share disappearing. Honda caught the Baby Boomers in the mid-70s with the economical Civic, then as the Boomers became more affluent, enticed them with the sporty Prelude. By the 80s, when the Boomers were having kids and settling down, Honda offered the four-door Accord sedan and the Odyssey minivan. This long-term marketing approach proved quite lucrative and GM was going to try and beat Honda at its own game with Saturn.

As their marketing claimed, Saturn truly was a different kind of car company, at least as far as other GM divisions were concerned. Chevrolet, Pontiac, and Buick tried to appeal to everyone with a compact coupe, a mid-sized sedan, a full-sized sedan, and various stationwagons and vans for more utilitarian use. Such a large variety created manufacturing and inventory headaches as different models rose and fell in popularity. For Saturn, they stuck with one basic car which came in a variety of packages. There was the base coupe and the sporty coupe; the base, mid-range, and luxury sedan; and the stationwagon. Same chassis, only two engine types (both four-cylinder jobs but one had dual overhead cams), and a limited number of options. Simple and clear cut.

Within that limited range, however, the Saturn engineers threw in all the nifty features they wanted to see on a modern car. The most famous feature was the plastic body panels that resisted dents. Less noticeable were things like using a timing chain rather than a timing belt in the engine. The chain never needed to be changed while a belt needs to be changed every 60,000 miles or you might have the thing break on you suddenly and destroy your valves. Saturn also developed an elegantly simple anti-lock brake/traction control system that cost hundreds less than those offered by the competitors. Although an option, it was affordable and one that saved me lots of trouble during some bad winters.

Beyond the quality vehicle, Saturn offered tremendous service. There was no haggling over the price, so you didn't have to do any song and dance with the sales person. He or she was paid a salary rather than earning a commission, which eliminated any high pressure sales tactics. They were simply there to serve your needs. They made you feel special, but not in a phony way. The staff was trying to build a long-term friendship, and it always felt sincere.

I remember when I purchased my first Saturn: a steel blue Saturn SL-1 (the mid-range sedan). After I finished with all the paperwork, my car was parked at the front door. An announcement was made on the intercom for all available staff to meet at my car. The man who sold me the car presented me with some gifts and the entire staff, gathered around my vehicle, gave me a rousing cheer. They were even waving and cheering in my rear view mirror as I pulled away. Who wouldn't pledge loyalty to a car company willing to do that?

Even after I had been driving the car for awhile, the sales person would periodically call the see how the car was running and would invite me to some evening seminars they would have about how to maintain the vehicle. The service staff at the dealership would show you basic maintenance procedures like changing the oil and fixing a flat tire. Back then, I was practically living at the office and could never attend, but I liked the fact that they would offer such services free of charge.

I always took my car to the Saturn dealership for service, and I came to know the service staff very well. Most stayed there for years and seemed to enjoy working in that environment. Instead of the stress and frustration I felt at most service stations, I felt like a welcome friend at Saturn. I actually enjoyed visiting them.

For several summers after buying the car, I would receive an invitation from the Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee to join their weekend celebration. This carnival-like event included games, rides, and tours of the plant. Again, I never attended, but hundreds of loyal Saturn owners did. There was a real sense of connection between Saturn owners and those who made and sold them.

It was all so wonderful, but it wasn't profitable. After about five years of red ink, GM pulled back from this grand new scheme. Unlike Honda who stuck to their marketing plan across decades, GM executives were only concerned with quick profits. The little extras began to disappear at the dealership. The summer festivals in Tennessee ended. Still, the old gang at the service center were there and they always treated me well.

By the late 90s, the original S-Series cars were long over due for a makeover, but there would be no built-from-scratch vehicle this time. Instead, GM took the cars from their European division, Opel, and revamped them to become the new Saturns. I was concerned about this development, but I retained faith in the company. The Saturn L-series, a mid-sized sedan, came out just as I was ready to put my original Saturn out to pasture. When I test drove the new sedan, I was impressed with the luxury appointments and the smooth ride. I special ordered my new, dark-blue car because they had so few on the lot. I was thrilled to have a new, luxury sedan to match my rise in salary since I had bought my first one. The idea of cultivating a loyal customer base from first job to retirement seemed to be working, at least where I was concerned.

But then the problems started to arise. Within a few weeks of buying the car, a hole in the floor was discovered when I drove through a torrential rain storm and ended up with a cabin floor full of water. The problem was quickly repaired by an apologetic Saturn, but this did not bode well for the quality of the new car. Along the way, other small problems developed that never occurred on my old car and should not have occurred on such a new automobile.

A few years later, the new Saturn Ion came out to finally retire the original S-Series cars. The Ion was roundly panned, and for once Saturn had a serious image problem. I ended up with a Saturn Ion against my better judgment. When my mid-size developed so many problems that the repairs would cost more than the car was worth, I was ready to drive it to the nearest Carmax and trade it in for a used Camry. The Saturn staff, still friendly and sympathetic, offered instead to take my car in trade for more than what I could have gotten at Carmax and sold me a low mileage, used Ion off their lost for a ridiculously low price. I didn't really want the car, but I couldn't turn down the deal.

Since that time, I've had to pay for several unexpected repairs on the car, and it only has 25,000 miles! I had zero repairs on my first Saturn until it was passed the 50,000 mile mark, and even then they were few and far between. Each time I go to the dealership, there are new faces and I don't completely trust that these repairs are legitimate. I've lost all faith in them, not that it matters now.

It's little wonder that the American car makers are in such trouble. Even when they have good ideas, like Saturn and the early electric car, they quickly abandon them for quick profits. Just as Saturn was declining, GM put all its might behind giant SUVs, as if the gas crises from the 70s never happened and we suddenly had an endless supply of oil. They are now paying for their short-sightedness, and seemingly unwilling to take any blame, much like the Wall Street bozos who invested heavily in toxic debt, never thinking that the bottom would fall out. Until the executives of American companies give up on chasing short-term profits and focus on long-term marketing strategies, we are doomed to an endless cycle of boom-and-bust scenarios. Saturn owners pledged their loyalty to the company, but GM wouldn't return the favor.

I have only owned American brand automobiles my entire adult life. I don't think I'll ever buy another American car again, and it's a real shame. I'm old enough to remember when the U.S. brands held such a mystique, but I'm also old enough to not be fooled again.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Can It Be? A President I Can Understand!

I was watching President Barack Obama's news conference last night and I was struck with how well I understood every one of his answers. He spells out his thoughts so clearly, breaking his responses down into subsets and addressing each point thoroughly. By the end of the hour, I knew exactly what his goals were, what portions of the stimulus package were most important to him, and how he stood on the mess in the Middle East. I never before came away from a presidential news conference feeling so informed.

We are all familiar with George W. Bush's estrangement with the English language, but even a smooth talker like Bill Clinton always seemed to speak in generalities and political cliches. I was never completely sure about the details of any legislation he was pushing or whether he truly believed anything he said. He used a lot of words, but you were never quite sure whether he meant them, what they might really mean, or whether they were even true.

George H.W. Bush was more fond of the casual press conference, chatting with reporters on Air Force One or after some official event. Like his son, Bush 41 hemmed and hawed and struggled for words that were just beyond his tongue. It was bit like President Tarzan, "Drugs are bad! Tax cuts are good!" One strained to gleaned some kernel of insight from the syllabic jumble.

Even the man known as The Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan, never communciated much at a press conference, and what he did say was usually retracked by the press secretary shortly afterward ("What President Reagan meant to say was..."). Without the carefully crafted speeches of writers like Peggy Noonan, Reagan was lost. After a reporter asked a tough question, he would usually huff and grunt and say, "Well..." Then he would proceed to throw out factoids that he sort of remembered from a cabinet meeting, usually getting the details wrong and the numbers transposed. I know people liked Reagan. Hell, even I liked Reagan, bed-wetting liberal that I was back then. But whenever I watched one of his press conferences, I just felt like the U.S. was a Princess Cruise ship missing her Captain Stubing.

Prior to Reagan, I was too young to understand what anyone was saying at a news conference. I did watch Carter's news conferences, however. That's because he usually held them around 3:30 in the afternoon just after I got home from school. He would hold them in the briefing room where the press secretary usually speaks. It was always funny at the end of the conference watching Carter try to squirm out the door while a hungry mob of reporters would rush him and shout questions. He usually answered some, extending the conference by another 15 minutes or so, but it seemed so undignified. No wonder Reagan moved the venue to that room with the long hallway in the back where the president can escape without the ravenous horde on his heels.

As a college student, I loved watching old kinescopes of John F. Kennedy's press conferences and hoped that the current presidents could do as well. Although Obama doesn't have the same wit and charm, he certainly is compelling and he can speak in complete sentences.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Michael Olesker's "Tonight at 6"

My wife and I are usually in bed before the 11 o'clock news, so we seldom see what passes for local news in Baltimore. However, on Friday nights after watching one of our favorite shows Numb3rs, we sometimes linger on Channel 13 and catch the first segment of Eyewitness News. This is often accompanied by our own home version of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 as we watch the unintentionally hilarious circus that supposed to be serious news:

"Why is Dennis Edwards standing in front of the county police headquarters at 11 o'clock at night when the crime he's reporting on occurred this afternoon? Go back to the TV station, Dennis, it's cold outside!"

"Why is Bob Turk reporting the weather from the WJZ-TV parking lot? We don't have to see your breath to believe that it's in the mid-20s right now!"

"What do you mean there are no details about the shootout on North Avenue? How much you wanna bet at least one of the victims is a drug dealer?"

Oscar Levant, the remarkable pianist, composer, actor, and alcoholic, called the old news reels of his day "a series of catastrophes, ended by a fashion show." Watching the nightly shows, it doesn't look like we've advanced any since then. A typical Eyewitness News report consists of shootings, fires, car wrecks, and general mayhem from around the globe finished off with some feel-good piece about a dog who saved his 80-year-old master from choking to death. By the end of the show, you feel distraught but somehow no more enlightened about your community than you were before the broadcast. Such is the point of journalist Michael Olesker's book Tonight at 6: A Daily Show Masquerading as Local TV News.

For almost 20 years, Olesker provided a commentary five nights a week on WJZ's newscast. In 1983 when he started his gig, he was already a well-known columnist for The Baltimore Sun, providing daily insights into the pulse of Baltimore and its neighborhoods. WJZ had the hottest TV newscast in the city, thanks to the amiable rapport of its two anchormen Jerry Turner and Al Sanders. Olesker seemed to be plunked in as a way to bring some respectability to a newscast that was considered long on the warm and fuzzy, but short on real news. No one seemed to care, however, because everyone liked Jerry and Al so much. Two middle-aged men, one black-one white, one dignified authority figure-one the affable jokester, who created ratings magic, often pulling in more viewers than the other two major stations combined. The city loved Jerry and Al, and as long as they were delivering the news, no one questioned the vapid quality of the content.

TV news is, after all, about visuals and emotion rather than content and insight. Show the scene of the murder with police car lights flashing and the outline of a body on the cold, wet asphalt. Cut to the grieving mother who has just lost a son barely out of his teens. It's raw, it's emotional, but how does that help the person sitting at home watching the broadcast. From Olesker's point of view, the high murder rate in Baltimore needs to be reported in the context of the root causes such as high unemployment for black males, underachieving public schools, and a shrinking blue-collar base. Television news can't be bothered with such details. They have to send a film crew out and get pictures. The "reporters" in TV news are actually broadcasters who know TV, but very little about journalism. Stick a mic in someone's face and ask questions, then put it on the air. No time to check facts or dig for an angle. Just make it look good.

I got my first taste of how TV news works when I was doing public relations for a community college. I would send out press releases to the local TV stations if I thought a story had visuals that might interest them or involved politicians or other well-known people. If one of the TV stations contacted me about coming out to do a story based on my release, they would often dictate when they were coming. It was up to me to line up key people for them to interview and make sure things would be happening that they could film when they arrived. I also had to compile background material and send it to them ahead of time. At the designated time, the reporter and a cameraman would breeze in, whereupon I would have to take them to where they would interview the key contacts and film whatever it was that would look good on the news. Surprisingly, most people were more than willing to accommodate the demands of the TV crew. They would be on television, after all. That night on the news, I would see a reporter reading lines into the camera that were lifted directly from my press release, followed by snippets of the interviews and various shots. After all that work on my part, the piece would last less than 90 seconds. It didn't matter to anyone that the reporter was taking credit for other people's work. We got on TV.

Olesker points out that much of TV news is that way, with stories often lifted verbatim from the daily newspaper. Despite all their claims of "team coverage" and "in-depth reporting," most of it is shallow at best and down right inaccurate at worst.

Channel 13 lost Jerry Turner to throat cancer in the late 80s, and Al Sanders passed away a few years later. They were replaced by Denise Koch, an actress who started at the station doing hang-gliding and surfing segments called Daring Denise, and Vic Carter, a tongue-tied newsreader from Atlanta who was known at his previous station as "Bryant Stumble." The ratings for Eyewitness News over the past decade or so have slipped severely, often beat out by Channel 11's Action News, which decided to do something crazy and focus on (gasp!) journalism. But Channel 13 continues to stumble on with their style-over-substance approach.

Tonight at 6 is a wonderful book for those who have lived in Baltimore for the last several decades and remember the days of Jerry and Al, but I'm sure anyone in the U.S. can relate to these anecdotes of vapid local news. Every major city has an Eyewitness News or an Action News, and it's all about the same. The bigger question from Olesker's book is why the great champion of journalistic integrity stayed at the station for 19 years. He answers in a cursory way, citing the fact that he had to feed his family and that his commentaries had nothing to do with the news portion of the show. Fair enough, I suppose. He also points out that he did complain to management once in awhile, but that hardly justifies staying in a system he despised for almost two decades. What makes that even more disturbing is that he never had any intention of writing about it until he was fired. He was willing to play along if the checks kept coming. Once that stopped, he would cash in with a book. Somehow all this taints his integrity even as he attacks the integrity of his former co-workers.

Still, if you are someone who is exasperated with the stupidity of television news, Tonight at 6 can be a cathartic read.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Chasing the Elusive National Spotlight

The Baltimore Sun ran a story today about how the Baltimore Ravens are not getting the respect they deserve. Of course, the Ravens always say the lack of attention fuels their competitive fire, but for many fans, this just feels like more hatred for the team that was once the Cleveland Browns. Even I, in my more heated moments, jump on the paranoia bandwagon when I marvel at how little attention our team gets even when we are playing well. It's hard to ignore when John Harbaugh gets zero votes for coach of the year or Joe Flacco gets zero votes for rookie of the year. Most Valuable Player? Give it to Payton Manning. Everybody loves Payton.

It would be easy to believe that the rest of the country hates us, and while I definitely believe that the NFL will never forgive us for taking Cleveland's team (like Indianapolis took ours, but that was okay for some reason), I don't think there are all that many Ravens haters out there. The real issue is that we have such a narrow market. With the Redskins to our south and Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to our north, the Ravens market is basically the upper half of Maryland. Don't get me wrong, we have a rabid fan base. I kinda felt sorry for the Dolphins when I saw all those empty seats at their playoff game. It's a playoff game, for God's sake, and Miamians can't be bothered to come off the beach for that ?!! Even when the Ravens are playing lousy, M&T Bank Stadium is packed with 70,000 plus screaming fans. It's an intensely loyal following, but it will never extend very far since there are so many teams clustered in such a small area.

The only way for the Ravens to cultivate a following outside the Maryland area is to develop an image that transcends local pride. When Brian Billick was coach, he cultivated a star-driven, bad-ass image not unlike the hated Oakland Raiders. Football fans found it easy to dislike us with all our trash talking and penalties and tantrums on the field. The new coach, John Harbaugh, has cleaned up the team, instilled discipline, and has placed the focus on team rather than individual stars. This could go a long way to changing our image.

We also need a star that people will like. Ray Lewis is the heart and soul of the Ravens, but the general public will always remember that awkward murder case from almost 10 years ago. Despite all the good he's done, that incident has tainted him forever. Also, despite all his natural charisma, he comes across as stiff and stilted when he does TV commercials. He's just not natural in front of a camera.

In Joe Flacco, we have our franchise quarterback, but I doubt that he has the charisma to become a national media darling. He's a decent, hardworking, blue-collar kinda kid, but they don't call him "Joe Cool" for nothing. He is pretty flat and unemotional most of the time. The only commercial he's done so far is for a local restaurant, and it's laughably bad. He makes Elvis Presley look like Robert DeNiro.

Actually, it seems the very thing I like about the Ravens is probably the thing that will keep them from grabbing the national spotlight, and that is that they are a team of hardworking professionals who do their job well rather than a handful of individual stars with a team around them. The reason why the Dallas Cowboys became "America's Team" in the late 70s, in my opinion, was that they had no-nonsense guys like Roger Staubach and a straight-arrow coach like Tom Landry. Since then, they have more than spent that goodwill with an egomaniac owner and a handful of whiny, spoiled divas.

The media may want to hang on to that "America's Team" image because it's easy for them to promote, and the almost daily soap opera that is the Dallas Cowboys makes for tantalizing coverage, but the rest of the country has already tuned out. When it comes to football, America likes selfless, hardworking players, not selfish stars. The irony is that we want to single out those who don't want to be singled out. Perhaps that's why only a handful of them can actually play the balancing act. The Manning boys do it pretty well, but most get tripped up after awhile. Tony Romo is a nice guy, but the minute he put the moves on Jessica Simpson, he was tainted by the tabloid bug.

So it's likely that the Ravens will never really grab the national media nod that they deserve, even if they go all the way to the Super Bowl. However, fans have to keep in mind that few teams or players grab national attention, and many who do get it for all the wrong reasons. As long as they remain a great team that wins football games, who cares what the rest of the country thinks?