Thursday, December 11, 2014

Society Hasn't Changed, Our Means of Being Social Have

This morning, someone on Twitter asked me if society has changed to the point where we no longer have the patience to wait a proper amount of time for things: Success, championships, contention, economic results, political results, satisfaction of any other kind. And this person used the Internet as an example of why he thinks that's the case.

This idea is understandable. But it's erroneous.

The development of Internet message boards in the 1990s, and of social media in the 2000s and 2010s, has not led to the reduction of patience, to the point where, if I don't get something now, you have "failed" me -- or, perhaps, if the accuser thinks he is making an even broader point, you have failed some hard-to-define "us." (And that "us" is millions of people, not just myself and a few of my friends -- when, more likely, it is just "myself and a few of my friends.")

I also don't believe that the ability to post nasty messages and racy pictures and video clips online has led to a more coarse society, any more than Nixon speechwriter turned New York Times columnist William Safire was right in 1977, when he said that the telephone had ruined good conversation and good speaking manners.

True, Internet "leetspeak" can be rather juvenile, amirite? But people like that were always around. They just didn't have a method of expressing their desire to be that kind of jerk. kthxbai.

Society hasn't changed. What has changed is the means for, and the speed of, expressing one's thoughts and feelings.

Once, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson or Abraham Lincoln -- or their supporters, or their opponents -- would take half an hour to write a letter, and then wait hours for a postman to come and pick it up, and then wait days or even weeks for a response. That response might appear in a return letter, or in a newspaper, either supportive or opposing. If you think the media is nasty now, you should have seen some of the things those Presidents dealt with -- and, all too frequently, the supporters of these great men were no more refined or polite in their "journalistic" fusillades than were their opponents.

Whereas such an exchange could take days, today, a politician, a sports personality, an entertainer, or someone paid to observe and comment on such people can say something glib (good or bad) on TV in 5 seconds, or post in on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube within a minute. And, within minutes, anybody can have his response up on the Internet, and, within hours, someone you never would have heard of had he or she not made that statement becomes world-famous, if only for a day, or for a few days.

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Let me offer the following hypothetical example:

I am not particularly famous. A few people read this blog. I have about 100 "Facebook friends." And I have nearly 1,000 followers on Twitter. And, no, this is not a request for more. I'm just using the numbers to show how well-known I am: Not very. Which makes my coming point all the more.

Those who know me, and those who read me online, know that I am a fan of the New York Yankees. They also know that, like most Yankee Fans, I don't like the Boston Red Sox. They know that I especially dislike David Ortiz, who, since arriving in Boston in 2003, has used whatever natural talent he has, and pharmaceutical enhancements, to become one of the biggest stars in the game, and to help the Red Sox beat the Yankees in many key games, and to help the Red Sox win 3 World Series.

If I were to say, "David Ortiz is a good hitter," that's something that most baseball fans already accept, so it wouldn't get much attention, except from Yankee Fans wondering why I'm praising the man who could be fairly called the biggest Yankee-Killer of all time. It would probably be commented on by one or two people who "know" me through the Internet, and then forgotten by their next meal.

On occasion, I have said, "David Ortiz used steroids. He cheated, he lied about it, he got caught, he's still lying about it, and the Red Sox still haven't won the World Series without cheating since 1918." That's true. It's established. But many people -- including, it seems, the Major League Baseball establishment and the TV networks that broadcast MLB games, ESPN and Fox Sports -- refuse to accept it as true. A statement like that usually gets a few Red Sox fans (and other Yankee Haters) on the Internet riled up. A few Sox fans will fire off some comments, most of them nasty. But, again, if I were to say it now, it would get some attention, and then would be quickly forgotten.

But suppose I said that Ortiz's ethnicity had something to do with his cheating. Of the baseball players who've been caught using performance-enhancing drugs, a large percentage (though I don't think it's a majority) have been Latino, and a big chunk of those have been Dominican. Including, let's be honest here, the Yankees' own New York-born, Miami-raised, Dominican-parentage Alex Rodriguez. (Disclaimer: My ancestry is mixed, but mostly Eastern European, with, as far as I know, no Spanish or Caribbean heritage at all.)

It doesn't matter that there are some facts to back up that statement, though it is far from conclusively proven. The accusation, in this hypothetical case, would be not that Ortiz, who is Dominican, cheated; it would be that he cheated because he's Dominican and that's what they do.

Even most Yankee Fans (including many Dominican-Americans) who would see that statement would be outraged, and rightly so.

I wouldn't say that Ortiz cheated because he's Hispanic/Latino/Caribbean/Dominican -- nor would I use the words of his former teammate, Pedro Martinez, who defended his presence at a cockfight in the Dominican Republic, where cockfighting is legal, by saying, "It's part of our culture."

It's fair to say that over 99 percent of Dominicans, and Americans of Dominican descent, are, and would like to continue to be, law-abiding people. To say, "Cheating is part of the Dominican culture" would be just as bigoted and ignorant as saying, "Of course Big Papi cheated. He's a Dominican, what did you expect?" I wouldn't say those things (except for the sake of this demonstration), because I don't believe them to be true. It would be dishonest, stupid and cruel for me to say something like that. And I don't want to be any of those things.

But if I were that dishonest, or that stupid, or that cruel, or any combination thereof, and did say something like that -- playing to the stereotypes of ethnicity, language, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, handicap, or whatever other category you can come up with, anything that is not a choice, such as the sports teams you support -- most likely, someone on the Internet would discover it, and expose me to all of his or her friends and followers. This would likely be seen by someone who has the "ear" (for want of a better word in this social-media age) of Latino advocacy groups. Pretty soon, there would be calls for Facebook and Twitter to ban me, and shame me throughout the world. And I would be inundated with people calling me a bigot and a racist, probably in both English and Spanish.

And, in this hypothetical situation, I would totally deserve it. And since I don't want to deserve it, and I don't believe it's true anyway, I won't say it.

(About my use of the term "handicap": As someone who, due to both a birth defect on one leg and an unrelated injury on another, has reduced capacity in his legs, the term "handicap" makes more sense to me than "disability": My ability is reduced enough to be noticed and measured, but not enough to be considered eliminated. I am not fast, and I frequently have pain, but I can still walk, and sometimes even run. So I make no apologies for my description of my condition as a "handicap.")

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We have seen this, just in the last year, with people making comments about race, religion, rape victims, and now about yesterday's Congressional release of "the torture report": They have gone from completely anonymous, or generally approved of, to being attacked for their attacks by people who had never heard of them the day before.

Even someone as beloved as Bill Cosby would likely never have been exposed as someone accused of sex crimes if it wasn't for social media. He probably would have gone to his grave with such things only being whispered, and it would only have come out after his death, as was the case with British entertainer Jimmy Savile.

(Is Cosby guilty? I don't know, and whether he is or not, he has the right to be presumed innocent unless and until his guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. But it doesn't look good for him.)

Dr. Sam Sheppard, the basis for the TV show The Fugitive, almost certainly didn't really kill his wife. But the media's presumption in 1954 that he did embittered him to the point where he became nearly as bad a person as he would have been if he had. To borrow the words of a 1939 film, "They Made Me a Criminal."

Now look at how advocates for the memories of Trayvon Martin in Florida, Michael Brown in the St. Louis area, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland have used social media for their causes -- but also at how racists have used it to support the "men" who murdered them. At least, in New York, there aren't many people standing up and saying that Eric Garner deserved to die. But #ICantBreathe has spread, to the point where Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have worn T-shirts with that hashtag on it during pregame warmups.

(A side note: In this regard, LeBron has surpassed Michael Jordan, who refused to take social and political stands during his playing days. You don't see Kobe and LeBron saying, "Racists buy sneakers, too," as Jordan once said of Republicans.)

The world learned the names of Martin, Brown, Rice and Garner a lot faster than it learned the names of Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney half a century ago, when those workers for Mississippi Freedom Summer were murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

When Hattie Carroll was murdered by William Zantzinger on February 9, 1963, it took 11 months for Bob Dylan to write a song about it, record that song, and get Columbia Records to release it. It wasn't that Columbia didn't want to release it, and that it took nearly a year to get them to change their minds. It's that, at the time, that's how long the process tended to take. After all, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, though already recorded, hadn't been released yet, let alone The Times They Are A-Changin', on which "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" would appear.

In those 11 months, take a look at how much the world changed: John F. Kennedy and Medgar Evers were assassinated, water cannons and police dogs were unleashed on civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham, George Wallace personally tried (and failed) to prevent the integration of the University of Alabama, the bill that became the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was submitted to Congress, Martin Luther King spoke at the March On Washington, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was proposed and signed, Project Mercury came to its scheduled close, the Polo Grounds closed, Shea Stadium neared completion, Sandy Koufax went from very good pitcher to baseball legend, Stan Musial played his last major league game, Pete Rose played his first, Paul Hornung and Alex Karras were suspended from the NFL for a year for gambling, Gordie Howe surpassed Maurice Richard as the NHL's all-time leading goalscorer, instant replay was invented, Leave It to Beaver was canceled, The Fugitive premiered, Sidney Poitier was nominated for an Oscar for Lilies of the Field (the ceremony at which he won occurred after the song was released), the Beatles rose to fame first in their homeland and then here, and Dylan himself wrote several more legendary songs and hooked up with Joan Baez, both onstage and in bed.

All of those moments -- some milestone, some groundbreaking, some very cool, some terrible -- happened in the time it took for Dylan to hear about "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" and get his song with that title out to the general public.

In each case, within hours of the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, people all over the world, including celebrities, were connecting with each other, to cry out for justice as they saw it -- including both those who wanted the murders punished, and those whose concept of justice is completely warped. And, aside from the people directly involved, there wasn't time for "the world to change."

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Half a century ago, there weren't many people who were "famous for being famous." True, there was all the fuss over Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton -- but, before they hooked up, Liz had already won an Oscar, and Dick was already one of the most admired actors in the world. They were famous for their talent before their celebrity itself became the biggest reason for their fame.

If the Kardashian sisters had been around then, with the methods of exposure to fame then available, they might only have become as famous as Mamie Van Doren. And if you're asking, "Who?" my best response would be, "Exactly."

Mamie was an actress, one of many to try to copy the look and acting style of Marilyn Monroe, and none of them did, although Jayne Mansfield came close. She became better known in the late 1950s and early 1960s for her partying, such as with Bo Belinsky, whose 1962 no-hitter with the Los Angeles Angels, then actually playing in Los Angeles and thus giving him access to the attention of a major media market, made him pop culture's flavor of the month.

(Considering what I've said in this paragraph, I must now note the irony that Mamie, now 83 years old, is on Twitter, although she hasn't tweeted since March 2 of this year. And, yes, I'm well aware that, in the photo on that page, she looks like an elderly Lady Gaga -- unintentionally, since Gaga wasn't yet famous.)

Would Mamie, or Marilyn, or Jayne have posed for the kind of pictures that Kim Kardashian recently did? Maybe. Would they have been all over the world within hours? Certainly not. They might have been included only in Playboy, or in a coffee-table book -- the kind then available only in a certain kind of store -- and, even then, it would have taken months.

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We live in a time when the Ku Klux Klan, the Hell's Angels, Hamas and ISIS are on Twitter -- but so are the FBI, the CIA, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Israeli Defense Forces. Each of the branches of America's armed forces have their own feeds, and so does every major political figure (and everyone who wants to become one). You want to find someone who agrees with you on something, so you can say, "Amen, brother"? That's easy. You want to find someone who disagrees with you, so you can tell him off? That's equally easy.

Whatever your cause is, trying to spread love or hate, justice or mayhem, harmony or discord, we are more connected than ever.

I think that's a good thing -- even if, at times, those connections manifest themselves in repulsive ways.

Society hasn't changed. Our means of being social have. So have our means of gaining and sharing information.

Harry Truman once said, "Men don't change. Only the names we give to things do. The only new thing in the world is the history you don't know." And that's equally true of current events. You might live in New York, or (like me) at least within range of its local TV stations, and know of an injustice here, because you saw it on WABC's Eyewitness News.

But, unlike in eras past, you can also, very quickly, find out about something that happened in Los Angeles, which, previously, might only have been shown on KABC's version of Eyewitness News. (The L.A. station, like its New York counterpart, is on Channel 7.) And you don't have to wait for "Film at 11." Or even videotape at 6.

Our ability to know things is better than ever before. If you're reading this on a desktop computer, you've got a library on your desk. If you're reading this on a laptop computer, you've got a library on your lap. And if you're reading this on a smartphone, you've got an entire blessed library in your freakin' hand! And that library in your hand is also a TV station, a stereo, a camera, a map, a calculator, a notepad, a calendar, an alarm clock, and, uh, a telephone.

That's a good thing.

And yet, we still have libraries. And that's a good thing. And we still need them. And that's a good thing.

It won't always make sense. Life doesn't always make sense. But that keeps things interesting.

In the words of the great American philosopher Yogi Berra, "If the world were perfect, it wouldn't be."

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Hours until the Devils play again: 4, tonight, away to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: See the previous answer. On Monday night, they will make their final regular-season trip to the Nassau Coliseum. For the rest of this season, all their games against the Islanders will be at home. They could face the Isles in the Playoffs, but, first, both teams have to get there -- and, for the moment, that's a lot more likely for the Isles than for a team coached by Peter DeBoer. Failing a matchup with the Isles in this season's Playoffs, the next game away to the Isles will be in Brooklyn. Though there is a rumor going around that the Isles will continue to play preseason games at the Coliseum, and the Devils could be the opponent for one of them, as they've been the opponent for preseason Isles "home games" at the Barclays Center already.

Days until Arsenal play again: 2, this Saturday, 12:30 in the afternoon our time, home to Newcastle United. Arsenal beat Istanbul, Turkey club Galatasaray 4-1, in the Champions League on Tuesday, finishing 2nd in their group, and qualifying for the knockout stage of the competition.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 15, on Friday afternoon, December 26, the day after Christmas, at 4:30 PM against the University of North Carolina, in the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit. Quick Lane is an auto shop owned by the Ford Motor Company, who owns the naming rights to the Detroit Lions' indoor stadium. RU goes into the game at 7-5, finishing 3-5 in its 1st season in the Big Ten Conference (I'm spelling out "Ten" because that's the brand, knowing full well that there are now 14 teams in it), having beaten Washington State, Howard University, the Naval Academy, Tulane, and Big Ten opponents Michigan (26-24 at home, not much of an accomplishment this season), Indiana and Maryland, while losing to Big Ten opponents Penn State (a crushing 13-10, 4th-quarter-lead-blowing home loss to the Paternoscum), Ohio State (56-17), Nebraska (42-24), Wisconsin (37-0) and Michigan State (45-3). For daring to come into the Big Ten, and finishing in the bottom half, RU is getting punished by not having their bowl game in a nice warm-weather city, but in cold, poverty-stricken, crime-ridden Detroit. Carolina comes in at 6-6, 4-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, having gotten pounded by both their big rivals, Duke and North Carolina State.

Days until the Semifinals of the 1st-ever College Football Playoff: 21. Just 3 weeks. Two of the traditional New Year's Day bowl games are serving as the Semifinals, so the major bowls do not, as was long feared, lose their importance with a Playoff in place. At 4:30 PM Eastern Time on January 1, the Rose Bowl outside Los Angeles will host Oregon (which makes historical sense, as they're the Champions of the league now known as the Pacific-12) and Florida State (the ACC Champions taking the place of the Big 10 Champions). At 8:30, the Sugar Bowl at the Superdome in New Orleans will host Alabama (which makes historical sense, as they're the Champions of the Southeastern Conference) and Ohio State (the Big Ten Champions). The winners will play in the Championship Game.

Days until the 1st-ever College Football Championship Game: 32. Just a little over a month. The Oregon-FSU winner and the 'Bama-OSU winner will face each other 8:30 PM Eastern Time on January 12, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the new home of the Dallas Cowboys and the Cotton Bowl game. (The Cotton Bowl will still be played there on New Year's Day, while the Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium outside Miami and the Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona will both be played on New Year's Eve.)

Days until the U.S. national soccer team plays again: 48, against Chile (featuring new Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez!) on January 28, 2015. Under 7 weeks. The location hasn't yet been chosen, but it will be in the U.S. We will also be playing Panama and arch-rival Mexico at home and Switzerland and World Cup holders Germany away, in preparation for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, which we will host.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 58, on Saturday, February 7, 2015, at White Hart Lane -- unless the teams are paired in the FA Cup before then, as they were in the 3rd Round last season. Under 2 months.

Days until the Red Bulls play again, and New York City FC make their Major League Soccer debut: Unknown, but a new MLS season usually begins on the 2nd Saturday in March, which would be March 14, 2015. That's 93 days. A little over 3 months. Whether NYCFC's competitive-match debut will be a home game, and thus at the new Yankee Stadium, is yet to be determined. And, of course, it's entirely possible that the teams' season debuts will not be on the same day.

Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby": Unknown, but it's unlikely that their 1st game of the 2015 season will be against any derby opponent, D.C. United, the Philadelphia Union, the New England Revolution, or the new NYCFC. "Metro" beat D.C. in the MLS Cup Quarterfinals, but lost to New England in the Semifinals. New England then lost the MLS Cup Final in extra time to the Los Angeles Galaxy, who won their 5th title. The Revs are now 0-5 in MLS Cup Finals, with 4 of those losses being in extra time or on penalties.

Days until the Opening Day, when the Yankees play again, and Alex Rodriguez is eligible to play for the Yankees again: 116, on April 6, 2015. Under 4 months.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 120, on Friday, April 10, 2015, at 7:00 PM, at the new Yankee Stadium.

Days until the New York Islanders' last game at the Nassau Coliseum: 121, on April 11, 2015, at 7:00 PM, against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Days until the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup begins on U.S. soil: 208, on July 7, 2015.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: Unknown, as the schedule has not been released yet. Probably, it will be on the 2nd Friday in September, which, in 2015, will be on the foreboding date of September 11. That's 274 days, exactly 9 months. EBHS finished the 2014 season 4-6, an improvement over last season's 1-9, getting into the Central Jersey Group V Playoffs because of the game they won without playing, when Sayreville canceled the rest of their season in their Penn State-style hazing scandal. We lost in the Quarterfinals to Marlboro, then, of course, got clobbered on Thanksgiving by Old Bridge.

Days until the Islanders' first home game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn: Unknown, but an NHL regular season usually begins on the 1st Friday in October, which would be October 2, 2015. That's 296 days. That's under 10 months. Or, to put it another way, "296 Sleeps Till Brooklyn." Until then, even with their 4 straight long-ago Stanley Cups, they're just a Small Club In Hempstead.
Days until the next East Brunswick vs. Old Bridge Thanksgiving game: 350, on Thursday morning, November 26, at 10:00 AM, at EB. A little under 1 year. Yeah, the Big Green not only lost to the Purple Bastards on T-Day, but we got clobbered. Again.

Days until the Copa América Centenario begins on U.S. soil: 541, on June 3, 2016. A little under a year and a half. The tournament will be between teams from the North American, Central American and Caribbean region (CONCACAF) and South America (CONMEBOL, which is celebrating its 100th Anniversary). Although it's a member of CONCACAF rather than CONMEBOL, the U.S. is the host nation, and thus qualifies automatically, as it does for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Days until Euro 2016 begins in France: 548, on Friday, June 10.

Days until the next Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 605, on Friday, August 5, 2016. A little over 20 months.

Days until Alex Rodriguez's Yankee contract runs out: Officially, at the end of the 2017 season. Game 7 of that year's World Series could turn out to be on Halloween, so, for the sake of this entry, let's say October 31, 2017, which would be 1,056 days -- under 3 years. Of course, the Yankees could release him before then, but I don't think the House of Steinbrenner wants to take the financial hit from buying him out.

Days until the next World Cup begins in Russia: 1,278, on Friday June 8, 2018. A little over 3 1/2 years.

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