A peek behind the curtain at The Juice Box

“OK, folks, let’s get today’s marketing department meeting started—Ben, what’s the view from the street?”

“Guys, this is highly unusual in Houston, but the baseball team is running a poor fourth vis a vis buzz on the streets right now: the football team has everyone’s attention and sympathy after winning the division and just barely losing the game that would have gotten them into the conference championship; the Rockets have gotten back over .500 and actually have a six-game winning streak that’s starting to attract attention; even the soccer team is getting the love, prepping for the opening of their new stadium and working out without two of their star players for the first time ever. Right now, we have fallen off the radar screen, Mr. Postolos.”

“Well, at least the complaints have died down about us agreeing to go to the American League starting next year; I think the people believe that Mr. Crane really had no choice on that if he wanted the other owners to approve selling the team to our group. OK, so we need something to drive attention our 45sway this week. I think it’s probably time to announce the ‘Fan Friendly Initiatives’ we’ve been working up out of the meet-and-greets with season ticket holders. Cyndi?”

“I’d suggest we start with, you know, the bring-your-own-food initiative: the people we talked to were, like, surprisingly insistent that Houston baseball fans should be allowed to bring their own food to the game instead of, you know, having to buy from our concessionaire. I mean, even though we expanded the menu to include some super-scrumptious new entrees…”

“Cyndi, if I might interrupt; I agree with you on implementing that initiative now, but I’d like to have a little reality check, too. God knows we’ve marketed the hell out of it for years now, but the truth is that the people in the stadium know that the product Aramark’s been peddling is just awful…it always has been. If they’d only been able to serve the hot food hot it would have helped, but nothing was going to make a lot of stuff palatable.”

“OK, OK, Billy, but let’s not get sidetracked with that old topic. I agree that we should go ahead and announce the new food rules—fact is, it’ll probably come as a first bluesurprise to a lot of the people that you can bring your own food or drinks to every other major league stadium but Houston’s, so let’s go ahead and get in front of this while we still have a chance. Other ideas…Moose?”

“Well, shoot, sir, if we’re gonna go that way then I reckon we oughta go along with the big guns, too—five-dollar beer! That’s what the good ol’ boys in the cheap seats want, so let’s git ’er done.”

“Agreed, and we’ll announce all the ticket price reductions, too. Is that going to be enough bang for our bucks this time out?”

“It’s solid, sir; yes, very solid. But I remain concerned in that I fear the bloom will fall from this rose far too soon; we need something to keep the interest at peak, to spark an on-going dialogue. We need to send a signal that bigger and more cherished aspects of the entire Houston baseball orangeexperience are in play, or at the very least that they may be ripe for change. Nothing gets people roiled up like the prospect of unexpected change.”

“Oiled up? Yer gonna try to git ’em all oiled up? What’s that about, Bentley?”

“No, no, Moose, I said roiled—made turbid by stirring up the sediment or dregs. We can get people focused on the Astros by making them think there are big changes in the wind, changes they had not heretofore contemplated; yes?”

“Uh, I guess…OK.”

“Bentley, it sounds as though you have something in mind here—let’s have it.”

“I do indeed, Mr. Postolos; thank you. In fact I have a two-part plan, and the first element targets the team logo and uniform. In conjunction with the opening of this new stadium in 2000, our predecessors implemented a thorough upgrade of the visual branding elements of the team logo and uniforms. Although this scheme was accepted, our research shows it has never been fully embraced, and I propose we now begin planning to implement a similar refresh of the team totems and other symbology to coincide with our debut in the American League next year. Marketing is over the moon at the prospect, by the by. And FYI, should we choose to advance along this path our deadlineOpenStar copy to submit planned changes to Major League Baseball is Opening Day of this season, this April 6.”

“Mr. Crane and I have discussed that prospect and it’s very much in play; as you noted, a change in uniform that dovetails with our opening up in the AL next year makes intellectual sense and we think it will keep interest in the change brewing throughout this season, then spark a landslide of buying the new merchandise during the off-season next year. I’d say to you that this change is a virtual certainty. Now, what’s the second part of your plan.”

“Excellent, sir. Then following along this path of New Beginnings in 2013, and in conjunction with a new look for the uniforms and the logo, I propose we look at raising the wager. In its fifty years as a major league baseball organization, the Houston National League Base Ball Club has had, shall we say, a rather spotty record of achievement; no need to dredge up the details. Today, under new leadership, with promising young players, we stand on the cusp of a successful new future, one so bright that one ought to wear dark glasses. So let’s not hold back in this presentation, in this re-creation, of the team. I propose that when we unveil the new uniforms and logo, that they herald a fully new brand—we will change the name of the team!”

“Bentley…that’s pretty out there, my friend. You really want to drop the name ‘Astros’ after all these years—don’t you imagine that that will, if you’ll excuse me, piss people off?”

“Some, undoubtedly, sir; no doubt at all. But this doesn’t come from any ill will felt toward the fans or the space program, rather from that place that sees a potentially enormous marketing payday that should not be permitted to go to waste. And if I may, I propose we truly raise our gaze above the horizon: let’s be open to changing the ‘Houston’ part of the team name as well. Names indicating representation of a broader area, such ascurrent the Minnesota Twins or the Colorado Rockies, are by no means unheard of, although it would indeed be rather awkward for our organization to go by ‘Texas’ since that name is already employed by the team in North Texas. But as an organization, I suggest we give open and honest consideration to all of our available options.”

“I don’t know, it just seems so drastic to sell off so much of our history just to make a buck—oh crap, did I just say that out loud?”

“Not at all, sir, not at all.”

“I git what Bentley here’s saying, but I don’t think too much of going through with it; folks around here might feel like they’re being exploited, and you know how they can hold a grudge.”

“Excuse me, sir, but I just had an idea: we don’t have to actually make any change, but what if we, you know, just let it be known that a name change is being considered? That’ll get people paying attention to the Astros, and, like, thinking about what they love about the team, and talking about it all, and, then we’ll be all, you know, like announcing that the whole name change idea has been dropped, and they’ll thank us for supporting team history and, you know, not feel so bad about buying fresh new hats and shirts. What about that idea, sir?”

“Cyndi, lunch is on me. Good meeting, everybody. Go Astros!”

UPDATE Jan. 30: Late this evening owner Jim Crane announced a decision that the team name will not be changed. (No word on the size of Cyndi’s raise.)

Why politics has become so damn annoying

I used to be completely enamored of politics.  I was interested in the government issues that were discussed, and intrigued by how professional politicians figured out how to win support from their colleagues and the voters, and proud to see how the system was used to pass laws meant to support the rights and freedoms upon which our country was established.  But the system has moved away from me over the years.

For me America’s politics has become more and more grating as it’s become less about political issues and more about Christian fundamentalism.  I learned about government and politics in a time and a place where government and politics were not seen as a means to enforce some any religious orthodoxy through law; since the law said everyone had freedom to practice their faith, or not to practice one at all, it didn’t occur to me that religions had anything to worry about.

The veil started lifting from my eyes in the 1980 election campaign.  I was a recent college graduate and news reporter trying to comprehend the strident religious rhetoric from the Rev. Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority: wasn’t it out-of-place for this preacher to be mixing religion and politics?  In time I came to understand that a group interest based on religious belief was as valid as any other group interest in an election, but I was never comfortable with the sub rosa assurances from Falwell and his colleagues that their political position came with a Holy Imprimatur (“I’m God, and I approve this message.”)

Today, I see that a goodly portion of the people whom we politely refer to as social conservatives would more accurately characterized as Christian extremists who would like nothing more than to live in a semi-fundamentalist Christian theocracy, despite their declared love for the United States Constitution which expressly forbids that.  Granted, they have shown some, uh, flexibility in insisting they support the original intent of the document throughout, but cherry-picking those passages that support their position on an issue while ignoring all those which don’t.  But I give them credit: they played within the system, they played by the rules, and they’ve all but taken over the Republican Party.

Today I found this thoughtful video editorial at The Daily Beast: Michelle Goldberg gives some props to the religious right while gently scolding the pouters on the left who say they’ve given up on President Obama and electoral politics because they haven’t gotten everything they wanted since he was elected. 

Maybe it was the Reagan Revolution; maybe it was the Goldwater Generation; but conservatives have made the very vivid point that persistence pays off–there are elements at home today in the GOP’s ever-narrowing tent that neither Reagan nor Goldwater would have ever thought would be accommodated.  It’s an object lesson that the Republican fiscal conservatives, and the moderate-progressive-liberal-independent plurality of American citizens, need to take to heart.

And now for some truth about today’s GOP, we go to Bob in the Heights

My friend Bob Eddy has something to say today about the current race for president of these United States, about which you may have heard a thing or two in the past year or so. He has an endorsement, and a prediction, and a link to a great story in Rolling Stone (that I’m still working on) with background on the evolution of the Republican Party over the last two generations into the enclave of selfish anti-tax extremists you see before you today. Bob…

Against my better judgment—I guess more than anything because I have a lot of reading time these days—I have been keeping up for some time now with the often humorous and desperate “Anyone but the Mormon!” reality show currently masquerading as the Republican primaries. I mean, who can resist? What a pack of fucking coconuts, every one of them. Excluding Ron Paul, who’s basically a nut with a couple of good ideas, and Huntsman, who is waaay too centrist for this rabid crowd, they’re a bunch of pathetic pledge-signing panderers beholden to the Tea Baggers and Christian right; scumbags who made their millions peddling their influence trying to portray themselves as “outsiders” and reformers—I’d have better luck trying to dress up and look like Kim Kardashian. I liked Bill Maher’s “New Rules for the New Year” featured in the [New York] Times last week – among my favorites: 

If you were a Republican in 2011, and you liked Donald Trump, and then you liked Michele Bachmann, and then you liked Rick Perry, and then you liked Herman Cain, and then you liked Newt Gingrich…you can still hate Mitt Romney, but you can’t say it’s because he’s always changing his mind.

And now you can add Rick Santorum to that list. Concerning Rick Perry:

The press must stop saying that each debate is “make or break” for Rick Perry and call them what they really are: “break.”

Even crusty curmudgeon Krauthammer at the [Washington] Post calls this one “a weak Republican field with two significantly flawed front-runners contesting an immensely important election.” Of course that was a couple of weeks ago, when everyone assumed it would be Romney vs. Newt: Yes Charlie, who will save America from that cloaked and quasi-American and his plan to turn this great nation into a socialistic Hieronymus Bosch painting, the commie love child of France and Cuba?!  In the same editorial he wraps it up with “If Obama wins, he will take the country to a place from which it will not be able to return (which is precisely his own objective for a second term).”

Wow!  Gives me shivers…

Bye-bye, Michele, you were my favorite! Sorry God’s mysterious plan for America doesn’t include you after all! And who can forget “I’m not going away!” Herman Cain…are you fucking kidding me? Oh yes you are, Herman, your little five minutes on stage are mercifully over. Poor Herman, the misunderstood Jimmy Stewart of the pizza business. Yes, after shuffle dancing around the harassment accusations, he then had to admit to a 13-year relationship with an Atlanta businesswoman that included him giving her monthly cash installments—but all in benevolent innocence of course, strictly friends. A friend his wife knew nothing about. You know, like George [Bailey], when he gives the town floozy some cash to go start a new life outside of Bedford Falls in “It’s a Wonderful Life!”

So anyways, with the remaining bag of nuts now taking off the gloves and heading to New Hampshire for another family cage match, the media has been dogging my phone for weeks asking if I’m ready to go on record endorsing a candidate! And my Tweeter is down!! So I’ve chosen tonight to officially give my full support to the incumbent, President O. To quote Thomas Friedman in a recent editorial, “I still don’t want my money back.” Not only that, my money says he will soundly beat any one of these weak challengers. Sorry, they just didn’t/couldn’t come up with a serious contender. Poor Mitt—will he once again face the shame and embarrassment of his party’s rejection? I see grandpa McCain has thrown him a bone of support, as if anyone gives a dry fart what he thinks—the man who gave us Sarah Palin. Dan Quayle is also for Mitt—take that Newt, IN YOUR FACE!

The nation is still recovering from a crushing recession that sent unemployment hovering above nine percent for two straight years. The president, mindful of soaring deficits, is pushing bold action to shore up the nation’s balance sheet. Cloaking himself in the language of class warfare, he calls on a hostile Congress to end wasteful tax breaks for the rich. “We’re going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that allow some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share,” he thunders to a crowd in Georgia. Such tax loopholes, he adds, “sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary – and that’s crazy.”

Preacherlike, the president draws the crowd into a call-and-response. “Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more in taxes than the bus driver,” he demands, “or less?”

The crowd, sounding every bit like the protesters from Occupy Wall Street, roars back: “MORE!”

The year was 1985. The president was Ronald Wilson Reagan.

That’s the opening from an excellent and fascinating piece in a recent Rolling Stone (by Tim Dickinson), entitled “How the GOP Became the Party of the Rich.” I mean no offense to those who vote and stand for the Grand Old Party, but sometimes I wonder if a lot of them really know what they’re voting for these days. It’s quite an extensive and in-depth look at the party today, and its evolution over the last 25 years. What’s most surprising is it’s filled with quotes from top level economic movers, shakers, and advisors of past Republican administrations that, frankly, barely recognize what their party has become. Reagan budget director David Stockman goes on record saying “The party has totally abdicated its job in our democracy, which is to act as the guardian of fiscal discipline and responsibility. They’re on an anti-tax jihad—one that benefits the prosperous.” Bruce Bartlett, an architect of the 1981 Reagan tax cuts says “Taxes are ridiculously low! And yet the mantra of the Republican party is tax cuts raise growth…so where’s the fucking growth?”

George Voinovich, former GOP senator from Ohio, when discussing the debt ceiling standoff of last year, likened his party’s new guard to arsonists whose attitude is “We’re going to get what we want or the country can go to hell.” Even economist Glenn Hubbard, designer of the Bush tax cuts, tells Rolling Stone there should have been a revenue contribution to the debt ceiling deal, “structured to fall mainly on the well-to-do.”

Alan Simpson, former senator and personal friend of the Gipper, says Reagan recognized raising taxes as a necessary and effective tool to bring down unwieldy deficits and wasn’t afraid to do so—he “raised taxes eleven times in eight years!” Yes, the Moses of the Republican party, the man who’s name and image is a virtual icon, only hearkened to with reverence and adulation.

Republicans have responded to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression by slashing inheritance taxes, extending the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, and endorsing a tax amnesty for big corporations that have hidden billions in profits in offshore tax havens. They also wrecked the nation’s credit rating by rejecting a debt-ceiling deal that would have slashed future deficits by $4 trillion – simply because one-quarter of the money would have come from closing tax loopholes on the rich.

How did this all start? With a smarmy little Harvard-educated Chamber of Commerce staffer and sphincter-licker named Grover Norquist, who began the hijacking of the Republican Party back in 1985 when Reagan made him point man for a pressure group called Americans for Tax Reform.

But it’s a long story, I’ve said my piece. I’ll close with something from one of the lucky few presidents who got to actually preside over a government that ran in the black—and get a hummer in the Oval Office from a hot young intern. The article mentions that a decade ago [Bill] Clinton warned the Republican tax cuts would return America to a period of “deficit upon deficit” that culminated in “the worst recession since the Great Depression.”

Obama is going to win because he will successfully make the case that his opponent’s party stands for obstructionism and the demise of the middle class. And it won’t be that hard.

Go Texans!

Star Wars analogies, girls in bikinis, and the spirit of journalism

I’m not the most cynical person around when it comes to the practice of journalism today…really, I’m not. If I was completely cynical about what passes for a lot of the journalism being published these days—if I believed it was a lost cause, a total sellout to the evil forces of what David Shaw called “the four horsemen of the journalistic apocalypse: superficiality, sensationalism, preoccupation with celebrity, and obsession with the bottom line”—then I wouldn’t bother talking about it at all; there’d be no point. I feel there’s still some good in there, or can be, perhaps in the way that Luke Skywalker could feel the Anakin Skywalker that still remained within Darth Vader. I must still try to turn it back to the good side of the Force.

Many of my contemporaries in the post-Watergate generation went into journalism with an idealized and inflated vision of what journalists could do, and we really did (and do) believe in the vital importance of the role of journalism as a watchdog over government power, a role that was understood and respected by the Founding Fathers to a far greater extent than it is by today’s civic and government leaders and a growing percentage of the general public. But without doubt, the excitement of being a reporter was part of the attraction, too.

Jim Romenesko linked to a recent Brain Pickings post highlighting a 1940 Encyclopedia Britannica film from the Your Life Work series, which called the film an “idealistic manifesto for the deeper ethos of journalism as a calling.” Yea…and it’s funny to see how they were selling it to the pre-World War II student body; enjoy…

While you’re at it, take a look at this video that fights against itself trying to disprove the idea that a pretty girl in a bikini is not necessarily a distraction to effective instruction.

And when you’re done, nose around Brain Pickings…some interesting stuff there on the notion of creativity.