Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Yes, There's Life After 'Garage Door Baseball' League

If I raise my voice may it only be in praise.
If I clench my fist, may it only be in prayer.
If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.
--Max Lucado, When God Whispers Your Name

We called it, simply, the "Garage Door League."

In the 70s, a handful of adolescent boys from my neighborhood would spend absurd portions of the summers locked in armed combat in my driveway, pitching, hitting and catching a tennis ball. Here's how it worked: the pitcher stands at the foot of the driveway, almost at the curb, and pitches to the batter, who stands in front of the garage door (which nicely serves as the catcher). The outfielder stands on the across-the-street neighbor's grass or their driveway. Hit the house and it's a groundrule double. Over the house is a home run.

As you might imagine, this presented a few challenges. Number one, it helped if my mom wasn't home or in the house, because there would be an incessant banging of ball against garage that few hearing people could long endure. As for the neighbors across the street, well, they had to be included (co-opted, really) in our game, not unlike how one would invite elderly neighbors to a wild party you're having, so as to leave them disinclined from calling the police. That meant we showered attention on young Ayad Rahim, the oldest child of the Iraqi immigrant family that lived across the street. Ayad was a few years younger than the rest of us and not much for playing sports. But he loved to watch, assess and comment on our game. And we gladly obliged: he variously served as the garage door league's statistician, umpire and, for a time, even as the appointed 'commissioner.' I even recall him organizing a year-end awards banquet, complete with speakers and recitation of statistics, which I wish to god we had taped. It would be one of my most prized possessions today.

Anyway, Ayad of course grew up. He attended Harvard, and with his ethnic heritage gravitated to working with issues associated with his native Iraq, which his family left in 1971. In recent years, he has served as a research consultant to the anti-Saddam government in exile, the Iraqi National Congress (which has come in for its share of controversy of late). I've followed his career occasionally on the web. Anyway, on Saturday, the Wall Street Journal's online site, Opinion Journal, carried an interesting piece Ayad wrote celebrating the elimination of Saddam's two brutal sons. I may well write about Ayad (for a larger circulation, non-blog publication) sometime soon. But I also plan to return here soon with a larger, meatier piece, about another garage door league veteran, Tom Filsinger. Tom, a year older than any of us, and easily the most flamboyant and charismatic of the bunch, has been a psychology professor in Jamestown, New York for years. He was also my adopted big brother, first best friend, and first intellectual example and mentor. It was Tom who first opened my eyes to the life of the mind--casually tossing off repeated references to Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics, which never much interested me, and Maslow's theories about the self-actualized person, which did. As soon as he got his driver's license, we spent hours together at bookstores (before that was cool--in fact, before Cleveland had any suburban bookstores really worth visiting). And for that, I owe him plenty. Look for a larger homage to Tom here soon. In the meantime, I invite you to amuse yourself by looking around his site for Filsinger Games, an avocation since childhood which he has diligently, amazingly turned into a sustaining business with hundreds, even thousands, of avid fans around the country. Simply an unbelievable story that often leaves me shaking my head in wonder, more about which soon...

New Round of Hall of Fame Inductees. No, I'm not talking about Gary Carter and Eddie Murray, recent baseball inductees into Cooperstown. I'm talking about the newest class of inductees into the Cleveland Press Club Hall of Fame. Since 1981, the Club has annually honored perhaps 3-5 outstanding journalists for their lifetime of accomplishment. And I hear that the newest as-yet-unannounced class, to be honored at a dinner in October, is one of the strongest ever. Public radio man Leonard Will and longtime Ch. 8 GM Virgil Dominic lead the list, which also includes JCU alum and PD Washington bureau fixture Tom Brazaitis (suffering from cancer), Old Man River and Cavs voice Joe Tait, and the late Janet McCue, fashion editor of the PD. Most important of all, I'm told that our man Roldo Bartimole, for whom I've campaigned for years on the theory that a Cleveland Press Club Hall of Fame without him doesn't deserve the name, is a "guaranteed" lock for next year's class. We certainly hope so. The Society of Professional Journalists, always a little more focused on the basics and less impressed by popularity, already so honored Roldo last year. Anyway, plan on a major party in his honor about 15 months from now. Perhaps we'll charter a few buses and pack them with Roldo fans to storm the dinner and hoist a glass in his honor.

Lelyveld's Last Day. With all of the hubbub over the New York Times' selection several weeks ago of Bill Keller as new editor, you could be forgiven for not knowing that his first official day in the job was actually today. Which makes yesterday's paper the last one overseen by Joe Lelyveld, in his second tour of duty. I, for one, was amused by certain things in yesterday's paper. While the Times for decades was (for good reason) known as the Gray Lady, and Lelyveld has always had a reputation for a kind of steady adult judgment, I found a couple of photos in yesterday's paper jarring, to say the least. On the front page, below the fold, was a story about the latest shock-TV crap shows, adorned with a photo of two young men kissing at a restaurant table. And on the front of the section B Arts section is what might well be the most titillating semi-nude photo ever to appear in the Times (of an attractive topless female porn star, no less, with arms strategically folded a bit low so as to reveal a bountiful decollatage, as the bodice-rippers might put it. It immediately reminded me of an infamous edict to the staff from USA Today founding bad boy/rogue Al Neuharth: "when you run a picture of a nice, clean-cut All-American girl like this," he charmingly ordered, "get her tits above the fold." (The Times, alas, put them below the fold). Only even the cro-magnon Neuharth had in mind clothed women, and I don't think he ever envisioned porn stars. Anyway, the whole thing came off seeming as if it was a sly but profound insider nod to publisher "Pinch" Sulzberger's mania for speaking to younger, hipper (raunchier) audiences. If so, the civil war at the paper will continue between the serious and the not-so-serious. If I sound like a younger version of the PD's resident crank, Dick Feagler (who turned 65 yesterday), well, I say tough beans. The country's leading paper and agenda-setter, which doesn't countenance even mild swearing in direct quotes, can do just fine without stories about porn stars (or "sex workers," if you're PC-inclined), much less photos of them...

A Round of Beers for Salon's Eric Boehlert. And finally, I must tip my hat to online journal and its writer Eric Boehlert for their central role in laying the groundwork that helped an historic citizen groundswell block the FCC's larcenous attempt at rewriting the laws governing further media consolidation. Beginning way back in March 2001, Eric wrote a series (archived here) of stories describing how the deregulatory 1996 Telecommunications Act led the way to the death of local radio under the arrogant Clear Channel chain. In a piece headlined "Radio's Big Bully" in April of that year, he pithily captured what the series was about: "In the late 1990s, while no one was looking, a corporate behemoth became the largest owner and biggest force in America's most venerable mass medium: commercial radio." I watched in admiration over how those deeply reported, calmly written stories first seeped into other media, Congressional debate and then the larger American political conversation. But that wasn't enough, since the series only focused on commercial radio, an increasingly peripheral medium (after all, for smart people, radio simply means NPR, and that's enjoying a golden era). So the second round of punches was key: in a similar series this year about larger media concentration, most written by Boehlert, Salon returned to the theme. Only this time painting a larger picture about the entire media landscape and how democracy is threatened by fewer ownership voices, something the average citizen can intuitively grasp as he or she becomes increasingly aware of realities like these. The result: last week, shortly after the historic Congressional opposition to the FCC's rulemaking, the Justice Department quietly piled on, with a terse announcement that it was initiating not one but two antitrust investigations of Clear Channel. You may have missed it, because it's oddly been buried in the back pages almost everywhere, and I can find the announcement nowhere on the DOJ site, which is otherwise packed and quite up-to-date. Still, the important point is this: like they say, even the Supreme Court (and nutcake right-wingers like Attorney General John Ashcroft) follow the election returns and political winds. The FCC counterattack has predictably begun, with now-disgraced chairman Michael Powell apparently returning from vacation to sound off this week in the Times op-ed page and two "experts" from the noxious Cato Institute blathering in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. But the battle is over. Put this one--a huge, history-changing political victory for American citizens--in the victory column for online journalism. Who says Salon's $80-million-plus in accumulated deficits have gone to waste?


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