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Archive for the ‘Letters to the editor’ Category

As a daily visitor to the Gawker family of networks, I will occasionally poke my head into Jalopnik’s garage. While I wish I didn’t need to own a car — mostly because of the expenses involved — I still like automobiles, and the site runs some very cool stuff.

But when I visited there today, I found this article about the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle.

In a little over a decade Volkswagen saw its Beetle transform from Adolf Hitler’s dream of the “people’s car” to the foulest of all marketing slurs — a “chick car.” Does the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle finally provide a more manly solution? We drove it today to find out.

I wasn’t all that surprised to read that lede in a review about the new VW Beetle. That critique of the car is well known and widespread. With the, as Jalopnik put it, “old New Beetle’s flower vase? Funky pastel colors? A body shape with the same side profile as the three-breasted alien hooker from Total Recall?” it’s not hard to imagine someone taking those as cues that it’s a ‘Chick Car.’

But I think the term — and how it’s valued — says more about us than the cars. After all, VW didn’t exactly market the car as exclusively for women. They marketed it as a new hippie machine. A car for artists, romantics, adventurers, and wits. It’s a car that will make you happy.

Yet that generation of Beetle is still somehow a Chick Car.

The label undoubtedly has a lot to do with how the car looks. It’s soft around the edges, doesn’t have a menacing stance, it has a happy face. It has the flower vase. It’s cute. And for those reasons, the Beetle is called feminine.

That’s not necessarily a criticism. Cars have a certain element of gender expression — they have faces and body shapes. But the thing about gender is that, with people, it doesn’t have to be binary. People can express themselves in masculine and feminine ways that don’t necessarily match their biological sex, and to varying degrees. That could also extend to automobile design.

And if the same characteristics of masculine and feminine apply to car design, you could, for instance, posit that a Beetle is a very feminine car and a Ford F-350 is a very masculine car.

A lot of cars would fall into the middle of that spectrum because the person-to-car parallel isn’t perfect. Cars stop looking and acting like people at a certain point.

But there is some similarity, and if you’re using the adjectives masculine and feminine merely as descriptors, fine, I can deal with that. I’m most bothered when they’re used a key words for bad and good, thrown out there as coarse value judgments.

Let’s go back to the Jalopnik article and one graf that stuck out to me.

Sure, a car with a feminine side can be a novelty at first — especially if it strikes a chord with a public looking desperately for anything reminiscent of times gone by. But keep the design around too long and it’s tantamount to sales suicide.

First, I’m not sure if that’s true. Jalopnik cites massively reduced sales numbers as proof that the Beetle’s femininity is to blame, when there could be loads of other reasons. It could be that most people nostalgic for the old Beetle got a new one, and don’t need another fix. It could be that the economy stinks and there are better options. It could be that the car is just old and boring, like many, many other models.

But let’s say Jalopnik’s right in stating that the Beetle was too feminine for its own good. I wonder why that is. Why is a car with a feminine side, a Chick Car, only good enough to be a fad and a temporary sales boost? Why couldn’t it be marketed to the masses over the long term? Why is Chick Car a slur?

It’s not because so-called Chick Cars are inherently bad. Bad cars come in all shapes and sizes.

I’d guess because many men would rather not drive a so-called Chick Car. And because men have traditionally (and still have) held buying and owning power disproportionate to population, alienating them means you stand to lose a lot of sales.

Personally, I think it’s a bunch of rigid gender role baloney.

Calling something a Chick Car is only insulating for men because it insinuates that you’re effeminate and/or gay, and oh, God, when will society be done with that being an insult?

My old car was a 2009 Volkswagen Rabbit, which was called “cute” by a friend when we got some coffee last year. Initially I was embarrassed. Why? Because I’m male, and my ideal car should be a granite-solid beast with Space Shuttle power and jungle cat prowl. It should make you pee your pants when you see it in the rear view and shoot testosterone out the exhaust. So the myth goes.

The Rabbit was not quite like that. It was fun to drive, reliable and had loads of utility. Hell yeah, it was cute, and I loved it. My desire to put my money toward other things is the only reason I don’t have it anymore.

But I’m not here to advocate for some androgynous automobile utopia. People should be free to drive what they want and can, without absurd labels like Chick Car. That decision shouldn’t meant anything other than “I like this car.”

I am, though, wondering something else. If indeed it’s not profitable for an auto manufacturer to have a so-called Chick Car in its lineup, why aren’t we examining the reasons for that? Why aren’t we plotting an authentic remedy, rather than seeing masculinity as the cure?

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I’ve been sitting on this idea for a post for a few days, letting it roll around my head, partly out of procrastination, and partly because I want to make sure I was making a correct judgment.

On Friday I read a story about a man who stabbed his girlfriend with their children in the house. Horrifying, of course. But I still can’t get past the lede of the story:

Six months. If Jacob Rodriguez could stay out of trouble for that long, charges that he harassed and stalked his girlfriend last June would be dismissed.

But he couldn’t, authorities say.

On Wednesday, according to police, Rodriguez stabbed and slashed his girlfriend, Brittany L. Hickman, on the first level of the West Deptford townhouse they shared, while the couple’s 2-year-old daughter and Hickman’s 5-year-old son were upstairs.

What an astonishingly bizarre and irresponsible way to introduce the pertinent information. Look, I get the reporter’s instinct to find an angle, and I understand the desire to present a compelling account of the facts. But good gravy, this is not the way to do it.

Let’s just consider a few things.

First, the news is that the girlfriend was stabbed. It’s absolutely an incident of domestic violence and should be judged as such.

Secondly, the context is that this is not the first — or, likely, even the second — time he’s shown abusive behavior. We learn later in the story that Rodriguez was charged with stalking and harassing last June after trying to run his girlfriend off the road. Because his girlfriend withdrew a temporary restraining order after that incident, those charges could be dropped. It’s a pretty important detail.

But instead of using the history to set the context for the stabbing, the reporter decides to frame the story as some sort of struggle and personal hardship for Rodriguez. As though he’s just so damn unlucky to be in more legal trouble. Yes, Rodriguez would be a free man in Jersey (so unfettered and alive) right about now, if only he hadn’t been so unfortunate as to stab his girlfriend.

Heavens. Using the straightforward inverted pyramid style would have been loads better, and using the facts to identify the stabbing as another act of an abuser would have been loads more accurate.

Instead, we get flippant language.

“If Jacob Rodriguez could stay out of trouble…”

“But he couldn’t, authorities say.”

The phrasing takes the blame off Rodriguez and makes it disappear — It wasn’t his fault. It was nobody’s! He couldn’t help himself.

Sorry. The blame’s all on him, and given his history, the incident can be a lesson about how abusers continue to try to gain power and control in a multitude of ways. It should have been prevented. And it’s a tragedy. Just not for him.

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Normally, I like the features and columns produced by Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan. He’s a good writer and reporter, and his material is usually original and fresh. Unfortunately, what he wrote today is flat wrong, irresponsible and made me angry. Let’s get into it.

Alexi Ogando barely met the woman who cost him five years of his life. He didn’t get her name. Wouldn’t recognize her face. She still doesn’t seem real.

She haunted him. Ogando, one of the best pitchers in baseball this season, spent half a decade isolated from the world that was supposed to be his because of her.

That sounds pretty serious. And it certainly places the blame on this mystery woman for whatever happened to Ogando. Because of her. So what happened?

In 2004, Ogando married the woman he didn’t know. At least he thinks he did. He was among 30 young Dominican players who agreed to participate in sham marriages which played a vital role in an elaborate human-trafficking scheme. The new brides piggybacked on players’ work visas to get their own in the United States, then were farmed out by the scheme’s perpetrators as prostitutes or cheap labor.

Flames, flames, on the side of my face.

Essentially, Ogando was promised money to go along with this human trafficking scheme, but instead never got that money and was denied a work visa into the United States. How is that the woman’s fault again? You know, the woman who was farmed out as a prostitute or cheap labor?

All of what I quoted is part of an opening to his feature. The opening ends with a quote from Ogando saying he didn’t have anything to trust in but God, and this, from Passan:

Until another woman came along. She gave him her name. He learned her face. She was undeniably real.

And before his career vanished, she saved him.

Passan is seemingly aiming for parallelism, casting the first woman as The Villain and the second, Charisse Espinosa-Dash, as The Savior, who helped Ogando get into the United States. Ogando is now a very successful and talented pitcher for the Texas Rangers, and it’s worth reading how Espinosa-Dash helped resolve the case. It’s worth reading the frustrations of the Rangers and, especially, Ogando, who is certainly a victim.

He lost years of his life because someone preyed on his naivete, offering a couple thousand dollars to do something that cost him valuable time.

But you know who else is a victim? The unnamed woman. Espinosa-Dash recognizes that, saying in the story that Ogando and other players caught in the scheme “were just as vulnerable as the ladies being trafficked.”

And I think Passan knows that the woman was also a victim. But in the name of story structure he decided to turn the woman into the perpetrator, making her responsible for Ogando’s lost years.

The end of the story is a quote from Ogando saying that he gets to decide his future, “Not her. Not anymore.”

The only thing is, she never had any say in Ogando’s lost years, or any say at all; the human trafficking scheme did. While it doesn’t make for as good a narrative structure, it’s the truth. And the mystery woman might have haunted Ogando’s dreams, but using her as bookends for the story and saying Ogando was denied a visa “because of her” makes the woman out to be some dastardly mastermind, which she is certainly not. Not when she was treated worse by the same scheme.

After all, Ogando has a prized arm. He was fortunate that his talent provided a way out of the Dominican Republic and into the United States. We know what happened to him. Not her.

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Half a week is not a long time. Well, I suppose it depends on perspective — waiting five days for a restaurant chef to cook your meal qualifies as “long” — but generally, that’s not a long time. Still, it’s long enough to throw me into cycling withdrawal. I have been on a brief hiatus while my bike is in the shop for five days, probably begging mechanics to convince me not to ride it so hard, and it’s been weird.

Luckily, the professional cycling season is in full swing to keep my mind occupied. This past weekend there were several tuneups for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, the spring’s biggest races. And they did not disappoint.

On Saturday, Fabian Cancellara won E3 Harelbeke after catching two breakaway groups and riding them off his wheel. It was vintage Cancellara. Here’s a video:

If you don’t have nine minutes to spare, or don’t feel like listening to nine minutes of Flemish, here’s a shorter version:

Cancellara’s win put the cycling world on notice: he’s in great form and the favorite for Flanders and Roubaix.

Then, on Sunday, another rider let the cycling world know about being in form: Emma Pooley.

You probably thought I was going to say Tom Boonen, didn’t you? Boonen won Gent-Wevelgem, and he may be a threat after all for the big spring classics, blah, blah, blah.

For people who follow professional cycling, the media focus is placed primarily on men’s cycling. I don’t think I’m saying anything new. If you play Word Association and say Armstrong, most people would say Lance, not Kristin. People know Contador, Schleck, and Cavendish, but not necessarily Vos, Wild, and Abbott. Myself included. I just had to look two of those women’s names up.

Men’s cycling has a longer history, and TV coverage of professional cycling is devoted mostly to men’s races, at least in the United States. I’d love to have some US station show E3 and Gent live, and not have to go online to find a streaming channel with grainy footage. But I’d also like to see the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, which Pooley won with a 69km-long breakaway.

I don’t care who you are, that is tough and a great accomplishment that should garner more attention than it did.

Writing about this makes me think about media attention and how something generates interest. Let’s use a massively successful sports organization, the NFL, as an example. It generates tons of interest for many reasons, one of which is the physical spectacle. You don’t have to be a Seahawks fan to enjoy that Marshawn Lynch video above.

But the NFL also wouldn’t so successful if it didn’t have rivalries, franchise histories, and statistical records. The same applies to other American professional sports leagues, and it also fits cycling.

Fans like the sport because of the sprints, the breakaways, the climbs. They appreciate how tough it is to win a long one-day race in crappy weather, marvel at the legs and smarts required to take a sprint, and know the punishment of a grand tour. It is an immensely fan-friendly sport at all levels.

But at the most elite levels, cycling would not generate the amount of interest it does without history and human interest.

Consider the 2011 Paris-Roubaix. It suddenly becomes a lot less interesting if you don’t know the history of the race and mythology behind the cobbled course. What if you didn’t know that Cancellara is a dominant rider and Boonen won it three times? Imagine watching the race if you had no idea that Garmin-Cervelo built a team to win it, and that George Hincapie is to P-R what the Red Sox were to baseball before 2004.

Essentially, if you strip away the context and the history, it’s just a bunch of guys racing 260km over a brutal course. And while you’d still be interested, you’d have to develop your rooting interests from scratch.

That’s how I feel with regard to women’s cycling. I’ve spent the last eight years or so reading about professional cycling, but it was always about the Tour, Lance, and men’s events. I don’t have much of a clue about primary women’s races and top riders. And I don’t know precisely where to place the blame for that. A few options:

A) The sport itself. Most of the sponsorship dollars go to men’s teams and supporting men’s races on TV. Also, there is not a great number of top events, both abroad and in the states.

B) Culture. The sports world largely considers women’s sports and female athletes to be illegitimate, or at least second class. Additionally, there has not always been a framework for women to be athletes, and that framework is still not widespread.

C) The media. News outlets devote most of their resources to covering the men’s pro peloton.

D) Myself. Until recently, I wasn’t trying very hard to find news about women’s cycling.

E) All of the above.

Like a lame and easy multiple choice question, the answer is E. It almost seems like a circle of blame. But I do think a lot of it hinges on C.

You could say that the sport can’t be blamed, because sponsors won’t randomly give money to something they don’t think will be a good investment. But there’s a lot of opportunity for growth in women’s cycling, and some sponsors do support women’s cycling programs.

You could also say that the media can’t be blamed because news outlets often don’t have the resources to cover everything. Lord knows that’s true for many news staffs. But it’s not equitable at all, and I don’t buy the argument that you devote coverage to what’s popular. You’re the media; you decide what’s newsworthy.

And you could say that I can’t be blamed because I was raised in a society that vastly favored men’s sports. But even after realizing this, I’ve never demanded better coverage of women’s cycling.

Nothing will be equal until there is a cultural shift. The women’s cycling fan base will not grow without consistent exposure from media sources, but it also won’t grow if people continue to think it’s inferior. Of course, it’s not inferior. It has the same qualities that makes men’s cycling exciting.

So the attitude needs to be “Let’s check out the women’s race,” not “Oh, it’s the women’s race.” Do I think the same number of people who like men’s cycling must like women’s cycling, and with the same passion? No. But I do think women’s cycling must be given the same advantages as men’s by everybody.

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The former Governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, has somehow been given the opportunity to write a weekly sports column for the Philadelphia Daily News. And the experiment is, shockingly, not working. Each installment seems like he just submitted it to his high school newspaper.

Here’s his latest.

The thing is about 700 words long, and it’s not worth going through the column, graf by graf, to show why it’s ridiculous. Why? Because it’s just not interesting. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve written my share of stinkers and boring published stories. But this is a high-profile gig for a major newspaper, and it’s embarrassing to basically print this:

Do I think the Phillies can win the World Series? Yes. They have some great, potentially historic, pitching. Numbers, numbers, numbers, numbers. More numbers. They gon’ hit a little. But they need to not break their elbows and wrists and shit in order to win. Otherwise someone else might.

I think I actually fell asleep when he mentioned Vida Blue. And sure, you’ve got to appreciate any column that assumes pitching records and ERAs are comparable across eras. You’ve definitely got to appreciate any column that includes this sentence: “I believe we will exceed them, with Joe Blanton having very solid numbers.” The Phillies will have the best pitching rotation of all time, if only Cupcakes is very solid.

But Rendell’s is basically a Mad Libs version of a sports column. You could take the same assertions, fill in the appropriate team name, and use it at the beginning of every baseball season for ever and ever. Hell, you could do it for any sport.

Still, because Rendell hasn’t figured out that the best columns are the result of reporting, and seems to favor that say-nothing-new writing style, I’ve prepared his next column.

Lockout! I can’t believe it. The NFL and the players didn’t figure out a new CBA, meaning we won’t be seeing our Birds in action this year. Football is America’s sport, and this is a football town! Sorry Phillies. I could have made this column interesting by comparing the labor negotiations to my experience as governor, but instead I’ll just mention that I have fond memories of sitting in the 700 level of the Vet. Oh, what a glorious rathole that was. Keith Byars! I LOVE WATCHING FOOTBALL WITH A CHEESESTEAK IN MY MOUTH, NOM NOM.

There you go, Ed. Really, only 600 words left to fill in.

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WHERE IS SILAS!?

It’s worth pointing out* that cable TV got a little less smug yesterday, with Keith Olbermann being fired/forced to resign/quitting/etc. Some rejoiced. Some were outraged. Some rightly wondered if Comcast was behind the move. Others, like Philly Daily News staff writer Jan Ransom, only mentioned that notion before quoting a bunch of Twitter accounts belonging to people irrelevant to the story.

Locally, Olbermann’s sudden leave was a hot topic on Twitter Friday night.

“Keith Olbermann is the voice of reason in a sea of garbage,” tweeted Tamra Burgess. “This is a travesty.”

DJ Luciano said: “I want Keith Olbermann back! Or I move to CNN.”

Several die-hard Olbermann fans started online petitions demanding the ousted host be returned.

But not everyone sang Olbermann’s praises.

“Keith Olbermann, to unemployment. Left lost its voice,” tweeted Silas Kan d’Kumquat. “So how’s this yes we can thing workin’ for ya?”

Silas Kan d’Kumquat’s name is actually misspelled, which makes me think no one copy edited this story, or it was thrown together 15 seconds before deadline, or both. It should be Kain instead of Kan, and I know this only because I had to figure out if this was a real person, or a character in a cartoon book about food. Additionally, Silas is not local — not unless you count Boston as part of the greater Philadelphia area. The Twitter inclusions are so baffling, it’s hard to get your head around them. Silas doesn’t appear to have an insider connection to Olbermann, MSNBC, or Comcast, like millions and millions of other people.

By the way, this is something I found that Silas wrote recently, posted yesterday. An excerpt:

I’m sorry it’s been a while since I’ve submitted an article and for that I apologize.

Anyway, there are three pieces I have in various stages of development.

One of the pieces is about James Franco and his return to General Hospital.

Well, that’s not exactly germane to politics, is it? Not that writing about soap operas is bad or anything. But if there’s anyone Jan needed to include in an article about a prime-time cable news show host abruptly leaving his post, it’s Silas Kain d’Kumquat. By the way, did you catch the byline on that post? Silas Kain? That sounds like an actual person’s name. The “d’Kumquat” is likely a fake last name, a small indulgence for a person who mentions food and cooking on his Twitter account. 

I don’t know for certain if it’s fake, but after poking around online for only 10 minutes, I raised enough doubt to make this name not appropriate for a news story. It’s hard to imagine someone screwing up that badly, unless something needed to be thrown together in 15 seconds.

What I really don’t understand is why any of the Twitter stuff is in there at all. If you take all of it out, all the reaction, you have a perfectly reasonable short news story — Olbermann doesn’t have a show, here’s what MSNBC says, here’s what NBC says, here’s how long Olbermann’s had the show. Done.

But then Jan Ransom, or a Philly DN editor, had to rub mud all over the story by including Twitter accounts. And I could understand that if the Tweets were from, say, Keith Olbermann or a high-ranking Comcast exec. But Tamra Burgess? Silas Kain? DJ Luciano? It makes me think of that Dave Chappelle bit in which he recalls watching MTV after the 9/11 attacks. He remembers an MTV host getting Ja Rule on the phone. “Who gives a fuck what Ja Rule thinks at a time like this? I don’t want to dance, I’m scared to death!”

The whole point of that was to illustrate that celebrity is not an intrinsically valuable thing, and to say that people should calm the celebrity worship that’s so prevalent these days. What you have to say is not valuable or pertinent simply because you are famous.

So this situation is a little different, perhaps the polar opposite to Ja Rule — what you have to say is not valuable simply because you said it on Twitter. It’s not that someone on Twitter can’t make a good point, or that a non-famous person couldn’t have an opinion that provides a fresh angle on a news story.

It’s more that there has to be some news value to a quote in a news story. If the person’s opinion makes such a good point, maybe the reporter ought to do some more research or make a few more calls.

You can make the case that the reporter’s aiming to gauge public opinion, but I don’t think that was accomplished from a few plucked Twitter posts that illustrate the predictable range of public opinion. We really couldn’t guess that some people liked the MSNBC/Olbermann split, and that some people did not?

There has to be some connection, some reason those quotes are in there, some indication as to why I should care. Including the vox populi mishmash of Twitter turns the story into a TV news segment, and including it in a hasty manner opens you up to all kinds of errors, errors like “Kan” and possibly fake last names.

And I think Jan Ransom and the Philly DN editors recognized that, but pushed ahead because they didn’t want to be a boring, dry newspaper, or they really thought it could liven up the piece. Or maybe it’s just that Jan Ransom heard the news and had this series of thoughts:

“Oh my god, this is terrible. Could somebody please…find Silas Kain, get a hold of this motherfucker so I can make sense of this.

“Where is Silas?”

 

 

(*It’s also worth pointing out that, just for clarification’s sake, I made some changes to portions that took unfair and non-germane shots at Silas.)

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One of the really fun consequences of the Arizona shootings is the quest to figure out why it happened. Gun safety, Jared Loughner’s mental state, the state of political rhetoric, and the way the media covers politics — these are all things that have been blamed for the tragedy, or at least have been discussed as a cause.

What’s interesting is the discussion about rhetoric, because it has generated a whole new cascade of…defensive, politically charged rhetoric and analysis. Check out this piece from Salon. Pretty good and thorough. But hey, wait a minute…where is this column located on the site?

Oh.

But there are people making serious efforts to dial back the rhetoric because they think that will help. One of those, supposedly, is Fox News president Roger Ailes, per this.

I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.  You don’t have to do it with bombast. I hope the other side does that.

I’m 100 percent certain he did not tell his broadcasters and commentators to shut up, because that would mean Fox News would cease to exist, and our society isn’t that lucky. I have no idea if he actually did tell his commentators to drop the bombast that fills the void created by the absence of fact. That remains to be seen.

I find the last line the most intriguing because he says, “the other side.” What other side? Liberals, Democrats, of course. We have known for years that Fox News is to the Republican Party what a stack of Marshall amps is to a Fender Strat. But I can’t recall him flatly admitting that before. And if he can openly admit that Fox News is not fair or balanced, maybe that’s more of a step in the right direction than any supposed directive.

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