Monday, May 23, 2016

Say it ain’t so, Joe

One of Mark Twain’s best known quotes is this one:

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.

The quote can be applied to a wide variety of situations. Oddly enough, it can even tie together such widely disparate items as a century old baseball game and some historical Biblical pictures that go back hundreds of years.

First of all, here’s the link to baseball.

In 1916, the Chicago White Sox finished 2nd in the American League, just two games behind the Boston Red Sox. Although the team came in 2nd to the winners, the nucleus of the 1917-1919 dynasty was in place, and the White Sox won the World Series the very next year. The 1917 season was the only time in White Sox history that the team scored 100 victories during regular season play.

The following year, another Chicago team, the Cubs, went to the World Series, but were bested by the Boston Red Sox, 4 games to 2.

In 1919, the White Sox returned t to the World Series, this time against the Cincinnati Red Sox. The series extended to a record 10 games, but the Red Sox eventually prevailed, 5 games to 3 (2 games ended in a tie).

If a lot of the White Sox players had played as well as “Shoeless Joe Jackson”, the White Sox would have prevailed. During the Series, Jackson had 12 hits overall, a World Series record at the time. His batting average during the Series was a very respectable .375.

In 1919, baseball players didn’t make a lot of money. Most of them had to get jobs during the off season to pay their bills, and a few of the White Sox fell prey to a gambling scheme that would pay them cold, hard cash, if they “threw” the series. They did.

After the final loss, one of the young White Sox fans found it impossible to believe that his beloved White Sox could resort to CHEATING, so he confronted his hero, “Shoeless Joe Jackson”.

“Say it ain’t so, Joe” was what he said, but Jackson could not deny that some of his fellow players had cheated. Although Jackson himself was innocent of any wrongdoing, new baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis barred him from participating in the sport after the 1920 season. Although he continued to play semi-pro ball for the next 20 years, the bulk of his income came from a couple of different businesses that he operated with his wife.

Which brings us to the Bible.

No one knows for sure what ANY of the characters in the Bible actually looked like. The first known human sculpture was actually created about 35,000 years ago, long before even the Old Testament was written (as part of the Torah).

Even after the creation of the New Testament, there is no record of any images related to it until about the 6th Century A.D. Since Christianity at that time was heavily influenced by the Eastern Orthodox version of Christianity, the few images that emerged were those of people who resembled the folks who lived in that part of the world, primarily Turks and Macedonians.

The image of Jesus that most of us are familiar with is the one that was painted by Michelangelo in the 16th Century. His model was a blond, blue eyed Italian named Ceaser Borgia..

A study on the 2001 BBC series Son of God attempted to determine what Jesus’ race and appearance may have been. Since Jesus was a Galilean Semite, they concluded that his skin would have been “olive colored”. In the same year, a study financed by the BBC, France 3 and the Discovery Channel used some first century Jewish skulls to better determine what Jesus might have actually looked like. The results can be found at the link below:

what did Jesus look like?

Not only is this image dramatically different from the one that we are used to seeing, it also reveals a very ugly fact about today’s America.

If a homeless Palestinian man (especially one with no identification) who looked like this tried to get into America today, he’d have no luck at all. If he’s lucky, he could avoid being sent to Guantanamo, but he would most likely be forced to remain as a refuge someplace in Europe.

All of us “know” what Jesus looked like, but never forget what Mark Twain said a long time ago:

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Take me out to the ball game

One of the women that I worked with last week is a HUGE Arizona Diamondbacks fan. Earlier in the week, she took her grandson to one of the Diamondbacks home games, and found that prices were a little on the steep side.

She bought a hamburger for her grandson, and one for herself. Those two hamburgers cost her $43.00!

If you took a quick look at the Arizona Diamondbacks website, you’d discover that the Levy Organization has a wide variety of foods to choose from, and most of them would appear to be pretty reasonably priced. One of those is Burger Burger, a national chain that sells burgers at most locations for about $6.

To get in the stadium, of course, you need to buy your tickets. Ticket prices are actually pretty reasonable, and could be as low as $8 a ticket. If you want tickets right behind home plate, though, it will cost you $143 per ticket.

If you want to see the Diamondbacks play the Cubs in Wrigley Field, prices START at $27 apiece, and a ticket behind home plate is $224. Parking outside Chase Stadium in Phoenix is only $6. Although parking IS available outside Wrigley Field, the only sane way to get there is by the Red Line, which costs $1.50.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are proud to have the lowest Fan Cost Index ($126.89) in Major League Baseball for the eighth consecutive season, as announced by Team Marketing Report. The D-backs finished more than $80 below the industry average of $212.46. The Fan Cost Index is a representative look at the costs for a family of four to attend a MLB game. It has been computed annually by Team Marketing Report since 1991 and is comprised of four average tickets, two beers, four soft drinks, four hot dogs, parking for one car, two programs and two adult-sized hats.

In addition, the D-backs offer the best price for beer in baseball at $4, which is more than $2 below the MLB average beer price at $6.09.

Most of us, of course, would want something more substantial than one hotdog while watching a Diamondback’s game, and I can’t imagine sitting through 9 innings under the Arizona sun, and only having ONE beer. In spite of all that, though, the Diamondbacks ARE a bargain if you want to watch a professional baseball game.

While living in the Chicago area, I saw numerous Cubs games (some of which were free to me since the company I worked for had season tickets) , and the Cubs will always be a sentimental favorite for our family. However, Wrigley Field is just about THE most expensive ballpark there is if you want to see a professional baseball game. The limited menu shown above would cost you over $300 for a family of four, which is out of reach for most of us. The only places that are more expensive are Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. The chart below shows the cost comparisons for ALL of the MLB teams.

pull out your wallet, Harry

Since it’s very costly to see a professional baseball game, you would assume that most baseball teams are valuable organizations, and you’d be right. Being valuable, though, doesn’t necessarily always translate into being profitable. The list below will show you the 20 most valuable franchises. The Yankees, naturally, are THE most valuable team, and they are worth an astonishing $3.4 billion. My beloved Cubs, though, are #5 on the list, with a value of $2.2 billion. In terms of operating income, they are actually one of the best managed teams in baseball, and their operating income is 4 times the operating income of the Yankees. The LEAST profitable team on the list is the Los Angeles Dodgers, which LOST $73 million last year. The Diamondbacks, #20 on the list, actually had a higher operating income than the mighty Yankees.

which baseball team is the most valuable?

The main reason that the Dodgers are having trouble financially is that they have THE most expensive payroll in baseball, at $273,000,000. The Yankees have the second highest payroll, but still managed to eke out a modest profit for the year. The Cubs have a team payroll that is significantly lower ($115 million) and the Diamondbacks come in even lower that that, at $83 million.

Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees is the highest paid single player in baseball, In 2013, his salary was $29,000,000. If you divide that by 162 games during the regular season, he made $179,000 for every game that he played in.

Professional baseball, obviously is a sport that involves BIG money, but that’s missing the point entirely.

The most important thing about baseball, though, isn’t the money.

It’s about the memories.

The first professional baseball game that I saw was when I was about 15 years old. My uncle Ed (one of mom’s brothers) came into a little extra money, and took all his nephews to see the Minnesota Twins play a game in the old Metropolitan Stadium, which has now become the Mall of America.

I’ve seen Bernie Brewer celebrate whenever the Milwaukee Brewers scored a home fun, I’ve seen the fireworks at both Comiskey Field and U.S. Cellular Field, and my son and I saw Michael Jordan in a White Sox uniform while playing against the Chicago Cubs in the Cross Town Classic.

I actually to to see one of the greatest players in history in the flesh on more than one occasion. Most of Harmon Killebrew‘s 22 years in baseball were spent with the Minnesota Twins. At the time of his retirement, he was second only to Babe Ruth in AL career home runs. During his career, he was known as “The Killer” or Hammerin’ Harmon. Like me, he eventually moved to Arizona (Scottsdale ) and he passed away almost exactly 5 years ago, on May 17, 2011.

Of all the professional sports that are played in America, baseball has the longest history. The Cincinnati Red Stockings were America’s first professional baseball team, and they started business in 1869.

The song, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” also has a very long history. It was written in 1908 by a couple of guys who had never been to a ball game before writing the song.

Before you shut down your computer and go on other tasks, take a minute to sing the song again with me. I guarantee you that you’ll feel a lot better.

Take me out to the ball game,

Take me out with the crowd;

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,

I don't care if I never get back.

Let me root, root, root for the home team,

If they don't win, it's a shame.

For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,

At the old ball game.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The group that gives Christians a bad name

The vast majority of the Christians in America today, whether they call themselves conservative or liberal, are all basically good people. That’s also true, of course, for the vast majority of Muslims, Jews, agnostics, atheists, and “neo pagans”.

Within each group, there are bound to be a few bad apples.

In the recent past, three conservative Republican congressmen (the folks who are in favor of “trans” bathrooms laws) were found guilty of sexually harassing people - in public bathrooms.

Josh Duggar was formerly the executive director of FRC Action, a lobbying group that is affiliated with the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group that eventually became part of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. The Family Research Council has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Josh’s television career ended when it was revealed that he had molested 4 of his sisters, was a member of the Ashley Madison “let’s have an affair” website, and he sexually assaulted pornographic film actress Danica Dillon.

The Duck Dynasty family has faced problems ranging from alcoholism to marital infidelity, but still manages to portray an image of a good Christina family on their syndicated television show.

In 2015 in the United States, there were 372 mass shootings in America, which killed 475 and wounded 1870. ONE of those mass shootings was committed by a married Muslim couple in California. That makes sense, of course, since a large number of Americans believe that ALL MUSLIMS ARE KILLERS.

Although most people have never heard of it, the secular American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has written hundreds of “model laws” for state legislatures. A fair number of them (especially the “stand your ground” and voter ID laws) eventually became law in a variety of states. The vast majority of the laws written by ALEC, however, do far more harm than good.

ALEC has a religious counterpart in a group called the Alliance for Defending Freedom. It was founded in 1994 by a variety of people who would be charitably be called “right wing religious conservatives” That group includes the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, the founder of Crown Financial Ministries, the founder of Focus on the Family, the founder of Coral Ridge Ministries, and the founder of the American Family Association.

If you'd like to read more about the group, just click on the link below. Be sure to watch the video:

who is ADF?

Like ALEC, ADF has written “model laws” for various state legislatures, and some of them have become law. They wrote Arizona’s SB 1062, which Governor Brewer wisely vetoed during her last year in office, thus preventing Arizona from losing the 2015 Super Bowl and its $720 million economic impact.

The folks in Indiana most be slow learners, since Governor Mike Pence signed their version of a “religious freedom bill”, SB 101, (also known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act) on March 26, 2015. To date, that law has cost Indiana a minimum of $60 million in lost tourism dollars.

The folks in North Carolina must REALLY be slow learners, since they passed HB 2 earlier this year. Before the ink was dry on the bill, two prominent musicians cancelled their concerts in the state, and several employers have decided to expand their operations in states other than North Carolina.

Many Catholics won’t watch the Academy Award winning picture “Spotlight” due to the fact that it is critical of the Catholic Church, a position that is perfectly understandable. I would be considered “liberal” on social issues, so there are movies that I would not want to see either. The list would include conservative political films, like Dinesh D'Souza's "2016:Obama's America". It also would include movies that film critics have called “Christian propaganda” films.

One of the 109 priests that have been charges with sexual abuse is a man who baptized one of our young relatives in Minnesota. Despite the fact that he molested over 100 young boys, and cost the Church $6 million in legal fess, he suffered virtually no penalty at all. He’s been receiving his pension for more than 30 years, and will have full medical and dental coverage for the rest of his life.

The sexual abuse scandal in the United States has cost the Catholic Church over $3 billion, and resulted in more than one diocese being forced into bankruptcy protection, including the one in Tucson.

The sexual scandal in the Catholic Church, naturally, is not just limited to the United States. When Pope Benedict was cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in Germany, he actively worked to SUPPRESS any discussions of sexual impropriety. In May of 2001, he sent a confidential letter to all bishops, warning them of the extreme gravity of a certain crime. The “certain crime” was the reporting of rape and torture to local authorities. In others, it’s OK to cover up the sexual assault itself, but it’s NOT OK to report it to the proper authorities.

We’ve had freedom of religion in our country since its founding. The Founding Fathers were also firm believers is keeping religion separate from politics.. More often than not, though, they tend to blend together. As a result, truly incompetent people (like Louie Gohmert of Texas) get elected to office solely on the basis of the fact that they are religious people.

In its quest to lure more “religious people” to its side, the preamble to the 2012 Republican Party Platform contains TWO references to God - when there should not be any.

As a country, we are always going to have differences of opinion on religion and politics. If we can somehow manage to keep both discussions totally separate, we’re all going to make decisions that are an awful lot smarter.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A good old American beer, part 2

Now that Budweiser is renaming its flagship beer “America” , it’s time to ask the question once again:

Which company is the largest American owned brewery?

If you‘ve been following this site for a while, you’ll know that it’s not Anheuser-Busch, Coors, or Miller.

It’s Yuengling, which passed the Boston Beer Company in 2012. A little more about its history can be found at the link below:

wasn’t Ying Ling the cook on the Bonanza show?

If you look carefully at the label on a Budweiser bottle, you’ll notice that it already DOES say “America” on the label. It’s in small print, but the same spot on the label also mentions Africa, Australia, Europe and Asia. The phrase “The Word Renowned” appears in larger letters to the left, but it’s probably not world renowned in the Czech Republic, where the ORIGINAL Budweiser was brewed in 1871. The Czech beer, incidentally, was sold in America FIVE years before Anheuser-Busch started selling its own Budweiser.

The new “America” beer label will contain references to “E pluribus Unum” (our unofficial motto until “In God we Trust” became our OFFICIAL motto in 1956), which will replace “King of Beers” on the label.

It will also include references to the Pledge of Allegiance, the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful. Ironically, a lot of people today aren’t aware of the fact that the words “ In God We Trust” weren’t added to the pledge until 1954, nor are they aware of the fact that the words to “America the Beautiful” were written by a Massachusetts lesbian named Katharine Bates.

The Star Spangled Banner WAS penned by an American named Francis Scott Key, but his poem was paired to a British song popular with musicians in London,. Although the poem was written in 1814, the song did not become our national anthem until 1931.

Technically speaking, of course, Anheuser-Busch is no longer an American beer company, since it became a wholly owned subsidiary of Belgian-based Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2008. Since beer in Belgium has a LONG history, going all the way back to the 12th century, the new company is actually headquartered in the perfect country. Ironically, due to a a 1938 agreement between Anheuser-Busch and two Czech breweries, the only place where Anheuser-Busch can sell Budweiser beer is in North America.

Although the Anheuser-Busch Budweiser IS sold in a few other countries, its sales represent only 2% of international beer sales, which hardly makes it “world renown”. As recently as 2013, AB Inbev was trying to expand Budweiser sales to other countries, but has so far been unsuccessful.

Even though AB Inbev is a Belgium company, you can’t buy a bottle of Budweiser in Belgium. Somehow, that irony is fitting, since French fries originated in Belgium. It IS true that Brussels sprouts originated in Brussels, Belgium sometime in the 13th century, but Holland and Germany produce a lot more of them than does Belgium.

Arguably, Anheuser-Busch could still be considered an American brewing operation, since it operates 12 breweries, starting with the original brewery in St. Louis in 1852.

If you’re not a “macro brew” kind of guy, you may want to try some Redhook, Goose Island, Shock Top, or Kona. Bear in mind, though, that Anheuser-Busch owns somewhere between 35 and 100% of all of them.

I may buy a six pack of “America” beer when it comes out just for the novelty (after all, I DO need something to marinate the brats in), but if I actually intend to buy a beer to drink, it ain’t going to be Budweiser.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Donald Trump, slum lord

The publication titled “The Nation” just published a book report on a book titled, “Evicted”, written by a sociologist named Matthew Desmond”, a graduate student in Milwaukee who spent 15 months living among Milwaukee’s poorest citizens. Although the link below provides more details, two facts are abundantly clear:

!) being a slum lord is enormously profitable

it’s time to read Proverbs 28:27 again

2) the “fixes” by the modern Republican Party make the problem of poverty much worse than it should be otherwise

food for thought

We don’t often think of Donald Trump as a slumlord, but his actions as a landlord mimic the most egregious acts by some of the landlords mentioned in the book shown above. Starting in 1981, Trump started his career as a slumlord when he bought a hotel close to Central Park, with plans to tear it down and put up luxury condos in its place.

why does the word “scumbag” come to mind here?

Trump’s purchase of the hotel was greatly aided by the fact that he worked for his father’s company while still in college. By the time that he graduated, he was worth the equivalent of $1,000,000 (in 2015 dollars) . His legal problems started 3 years after graduating from college, when the Justice Department accused him of violating the Fair Housing Act.

The notes listed under “business career” at the link below show that he has been involved in PLENTY of shady deals over the years. According to an analysis by “The Economist” in 2016, his performance from 1985 (when he first became independent from his father’s company) until today is “mediocre” when compared to the stock market or property in New York. As President Obama quipped during the recent “White House Correspondents Dinner” (when discussing the closing of Guantanamo) , Donald Trump has had plenty of experience running waterfront property into the ground.

you’re daddy’s rich, and your ma is good lookin’

His rough treatment of the existing tenants started almost immediately, and litigation continued for nearly 20 years. Ultimately, Trump was not successful in tearing down the hotel and replacing it with condos. Ironically, his company still owns a small number of units in the building, and his son Eric owns a flat on the top floor.

Although there are plenty of other examples to show why Donald Trump should NEVER be President, few stories provide a better picture of his true character than the sage that started just outside Central Park in 1981.

According to pollster Nate Silver, it is statistically impossible for Donald Trump to ever get elected President. According to Silver, Trump would only collect 30% of the Electoral Votes needed to be elected President, and would likely by the most lopsided Presidential victory since Ronald Reagan’s defeat of Walter Mondale in 1984.

A Trump Presidency, of course, would be an absolute disaster, but his campaign is likely to result in some positive results:

1) there’s a very good chance that the Democrats will regain control of the Senate, and will make significant headway in the House

2) Merrick Garland will get confirmed to the Supreme Court

3) Democrats and Republicans will start working together again, and will fashion deals similar to the McGovern-Dole Act of 2002

4) Reince Priebus will become unemployed