Big League Chew

28 February 2009

Have you ever thought about what a strange product chewing gum is?  Imagine trying to explain it to someone from a few hundred years ago: “it’s this stuff  you chew that tastes good, but isn’t food.”  He would look at you like you just shat out the Pope.  I can understand the appeal of gum chewing: it’s tasty, it satisfies the oral fixation, it makes your breath minty, and so on.  If chewed occasionally and discretely, it’s a fairly benign habit, but this is not how most gum-chewers chew gum.  Instead, they make constant smacking noises, their mouths perpetually agape and their jaws gyrating like a camel chewing its cud.  What could be more vulgar?


Speaking of gum, does anyone remember Big League Chew?  Apparently it still exists, though I suspect it had its heyday back in the 1980s, when I played little league baseball.  What a great concept: foil packages filled with shredded gum that resembles chewing tobacco, clearly marketed to kids.


From the makers of Crack Rock Candy.

The stuff was (and presumably still is) delicious; the flavor only lasted about ten seconds, but those were the best ten seconds of my eight-year-old life.  Once those ten seconds were up and the gum had acquired the flavor of silly putty, I’d stuff more into my mouth.  After about three minutes, the package would be empty and I’d have a flavorless wad in my mouth the size of my fist.  Ah, the pleasures of youth.


Player Haters

19 February 2009

Unless you live under a rock, you are aware that Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroid use in 2003.  Since the result was leaked (no pun intended) to the media two weeks ago, writers have pinched off myriad sanctimonious loaves about what an asshole A-Rod is, how he should be banned from the Hall of Fame, tarred and feathered and run from town on a rail, blah blah blah.  These are many of the same writers, mind you, who conveniently looked the other way in 1998 when obvious juicers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa broke Roger Maris’ single-season home run record.  Back then, it was easier to sell newspapers by glorifying their achievements than by questioning them.  Now that it’s no longer plausible to ignore the drug issue, it’s easy to generate internet traffic by joining the witch hunt that has been disgracing the game for past few years.

The positive test that has these hypocrites in their latest tizzy was part of a preliminary screening intended to determine the extent of drug use in baseball.  The players agreed to this screening under the condition that the tests be anonymous and that the results remain confidential.  The lab that performed these tests apparently labeled the samples in a manner that was far from anonymous, and the players union failed to order the results destroyed after they had served their purpose.  A year later, when the government decided it was necessary to investigate a few ballplayers suspected of drug use (not including A-Rod), agents illegally seized all the results rather than just the ten for which they had a warrant.  Now, years later, someone in government has illegally leaked A-Rod’s confidential test results to the media.

There’s a big story here, and it’s not that A-Rod stuck a needle in his ass six years ago.  It’s the wanton waste of taxpayer money and the flagrant abuse of government power.  At least two serious crimes were committed, and nobody is talking about them; everyone is too busy prattling on about what a naughty little boy A-Rod is.

A-Rod did cheat, and he is kind of a douche nozzle, but I can’t help but feel kind of sorry for him.  There were 104 players that tested positive for “performance enhancing drugs” in 2003, but for some reason his is the only name that’s been leaked thus far.  Moreover, many players have tested positive since MLB instituted its new testing policy in 2005, but I don’t remember reading any screeds condemning Larry Bigbie or Juan Rincon.  A-Rod’s sin is not that he took steroids, but that he took steroids and is a good player.

And what are “performance enhancing drugs,” anyhow?  Most people use this phrase to refer to anabolic steroids, but there exists no conclusive evidence that anabolic steroids enhance baseball performance; in fact, there’s plenty of credible research to the contrary.  The “steroid era,” during which numbers were supposedly inflated, has little basis in reality.  And what about amphetamines?  Unlike anabolic steroids, amphetamines have well-documented performance enhancing properties.  During the 1950s and 60s, amphetamines were ubiquitous in baseball despite the fact that they were banned.  Where are the calls to throw Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays out of the Hall of Fame?

And baseball is not the only sport with a drug problem, as anyone who’s watched an NFL game can attest.  Football players routinely test positive for steroids with nary a peep from the media.  In 2006, Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman tested positive for steroids, served a 4-game suspension, and still finished third in the defensive player of the year voting.  Why is it that drug use in baseball is a mortal sin, while drug use in football is almost expected?

Another double standard is the fact that other forms of performance enhancement, such as dietary supplements and laser eye surgery, are considered perfectly acceptable.  Those who bemoan the drug issue seem to think that the line between ethical and unethical forms of performance enhancement is perfectly clear; to me, it seems blurry at best.  Their standard response to this point is that “PEDs” are illegal, but this argument is circular: PEDs are bad because they’re illegal, and they’re illegal because they’re bad.

Personally, I don’t think what athletes choose to put in their bodies is my or anyone else’s business.  Contrary to popular belief, anabolic steroids are not especially dangerous if taken in moderation.  In fact, they can dramatically speed recovery from injury; given what ballplayers put their bodies through on a daily basis, I can’t fault them for turning to medical science to keep them on the field.  It would be much safer if they could do so openly and under a doctor’s supervision.

At Least the Browns Weren’t Involved

18 February 2009

SportsCenter displays a scrollbar on the right of the screen with snippets of upcoming stories.  One of this morning’s stories was the release of injured Saints running back Deuce McAllister.  The snippet: “Deuce Released.”

Shut the Fuck Up Already, Dick Vitale

11 February 2009

I’m currently watching the UNC-Duke game and figure it’s better to vent my anger by blogging than by throwing beer bottles at the TV.  Sportscasters often piss me off because they tend to be ignorant ex-jocks who can hardly express a coherent thought.  This is not the problem with Dick Vitale, who is fairly knowledgeable about college basketball.  The problem is that his shtick – the ridiculously excited tone, the lame catch phrases – got old about 20 years ago, yet he continues to trot it out every time he opens his mouth.  Perhaps it’s not an act and he talks like that all the time (“this muffin is awesome, baby!”); regardless, it’s got to stop.


The worst thing about Dick Vitale, however, is the way he fawns over players, especially those who play for Duke or UNC (he practically creams his jeans when these two play each other).  I have never heard him say anything even remotely critical about anyone ever.  He’ll even slob the knob of the towel boy who comes out and mops sweat off the court:  “What a great mopping technique this kid’s got!  He’s the most talented towel boy in the conference, baby!”  What a douche.

kicking them when we’re down

5 February 2009

There has been a lot of hubbub as of late concerning the pay of banking executives as the government tries to alleviate a recession.  “Why should they be rewarded for failure?” and “This is taxpayer money, it should be helping the taxpayers as a whole, not those rich assholes!” seem to be the new slogans of the people and the papers.  I’m more than a little suspicious that most of this fuss is just for show, since the scope of our financial crisis is enormous and difficult to fully comprehend, probably even for some economists and government officials, let alone for Joe the Plumber and the rest of the country.  Sure, we know a good deal about what has happened, may happen, and why, but we certainly don’t have enough knowledge to predict what will happen as a result of any particular dollar amount or course of action.  Quarrels over bailouts are evidence of this mystery factor.  With so many unknowns, I’m guessing most people are more apprehensive and frustrated than genuinely irate about the new executive pay rate, which may or may not be significant to our actual recovery or demise.

But never mind that, and let us focus on something understood by everyone (at least everyone who is or has been part of the workforce).  Whether we think executives typically earn fair pay or far too much, there is some sort of vague notion that they earn more than the average because they are either smarter or more strategic or better educated or harder working or better at knowing whom to blow than the average person.  To a greater or lesser extent, we agree that higher pay is somehow connected with greater merit.  Perhaps the scale is off, but the guy who cooks your burger plainly deserves less of your money than the guy who keeps your money safe.  Common sense also says that when that guy loses your investments instead he has become far less meritorious, and thus deserves less pay.  This is clear whatever the exact figures may be.  Work better, make more money.  Fail, take a pay cut.  Right?

Wrong?  In what other sector does it work like this?  While the first part of this rule probably holds in a general way, the second pretty much never does.  Think about it.  In most professions, unless you manage to get fired or laid off or something, pay cuts do not follow failure.  Tenured teachers can’t be fired in most instances, and I’m sure that if they start to slack they suffer no financial consequences.  Even without tenure, declining effort won’t result in being paid less proportional to performance.  Anyone on hourly wages who starts to do poor work might have their pay rate frozen, but seldom cut.  It just doesn’t happen.  The only exceptions might be those who get tips and those whose future customers choose them on the basis of previous work, but tipping is standard even for mediocre service and a few little fails probably don’t lead to much loss in the long run.

While it’s easy to cry out that banking execs and the like should be held accountable for their actions and be paid less after they perform badly, this is not a basic moral policy that we as a country would enjoy seeing carried out large-scale.  The average person does not want to be docked pay when they take a long lunch break or knocked back to minimum wage if they’re repeatedly caught slacking.  Even highly motivated and energetic people would dislike the prospect of having constant pressure to do brilliant work just to retain the pay rate they achieved in a spurt of youthful enthusiasm or as the new employee.  Why are we unable to empathize with executives?  Do they not have the same rights to occasional unpunished incompetence that the rest of us enjoy so well?  This isn’t China!  A meritocracy is a terrific ideal, but who are we to demand that it commence with these poor rich people?

As someone with a whopping one economics course under my belt, I propose that in this time of crisis we come together as a nation.  The New Deal included a bank holiday: those lucky bastards get Sundays off, which can be quite an inconvenience to the rest of us.  From now on, only those in the financial industry should have to work on Wednesdays.  This is our part of the deal.  Now that we’ve evened the playing field, banking execs and the rest of us will all accept pay according to how much we actually earn through work.

For everyone who ends up a bit poorer for this plan, take comfort in the fact that Moral Hazard is free to enjoy and that Wednesdays will now be freed up for reading our nonsense.

Q: What’s better than winning the Superbowl as a Steeler?

4 February 2009

A: Not living in Pittsburgh.   Zing! That’s right, faithful readers: it’s been a long time coming, but the much anticipated and long overdue “Pittsburgh post” has finally arrived.  Before I tear this city a new goatse-sized asshole, however, I will acknowledge some of its virtues.  First and foremost, the cost of living is very low.  I couldn’t even rent a broom closet in Manhattan for what I pay for my three bedroom here.  Of course, as the saying goes, you get what you pay for, but Pittsburgh certainly is a good place to be a poor graduate student.  Second, for a city its size, Pittsburgh has a fairly vibrant cultural scene.  It has a symphony, an opera, and several art museums, as well as a number of attractions that can be enjoyed by heterosexuals.  Finally, it must be said that there are many worse places to live, such as Beirut, the Sudan, and Detroit.

But people don’t read Moral Hazard for some bullshit hippie love fest; in fact, they don’t read it at all. But if they did, it would be for bristling, over-the-top negativity, which I shall now deliver.  Without further ado, I present four reasons Pittsburgh should be swallowed up into the fiery bowls of hell.


Far and away the worst thing about Pittsburgh is the weather, which is, as Mike so eloquently put it, dog shit. To put it another way, the weather alone is sufficient reason to qualify Pittsburgh as a bona fide shithole.  Winter starts in mid-November and extends into April (yes, I know it technically starts in December and ends in March, go fuck yourself).  These months are bitter cold, but this is typical north of the Mason-Dixon line; what makes Pittsburgh winters particularly abominable is the constant precipitation.  It’s usually snow, which, though it does fuck up the roads, at least leaves you dry.  Often, however, it rains – even when the temperature is well below freezing, which leads me to believe that Pittsburgh is under some sort of gypsy curse.  In such cases you wind up soaked and shivering, and the rain mixes with the snow on the ground to form a disgusting slush that makes walking an utterly miserable ordeal.

Summer is not quite as bad as winter, but it’s no picnic either.  From late June through early September it’s as hot and moist as Satan’s nutsack.  The humidity is what really kills; you can’t so much as walk to your car without needing a change of shirt.  On top of that, there’s the frequent rain and electrical storms.

Thus, there are only two genuinely pleasant months in Pittsburgh (May and October), and even then the sky tends to be overcast.  Weather is a major component of quality of life, and Pittsburgh’s is so bad that one might be happier on death row in San Quentin.

The Case Law

Pittsburgh’s alcohol laws defy comprehension.  In a shrewd move to discourage entrepreneurship, the city makes liquor licenses expensive and difficult to obtain.  Many restaurants are therefore B.Y.O.B.; I actually like this, since it’s a lot cheaper, but it sure does suck for the business owner.  Throughout Pennsylvania, liquor and wine are only sold at state-run stores, often at high prices.  This is annoying, but I’m more of a beer drinker, and the beer situation is absolutely infuriating.  If you want to buy beer at a reasonable price, you must go to a “beer distributor” and buy a case.  For some bizarre reason I can’t even fathom, you can’t buy single bottles or six-packs.  Actually, it is possible to buy a six-pack from a bar or pizza parlor if you’re willing to pay $11 for a six of Yuengling.  I’ve resorted to this a few times, and in the process discovered yet another absurd rule: you can’t buy more than two six-packs at a time.  The clerk told me to buy two, leave, then come right back in and buy the third.  What.  The.  Fuck.

While I disagree with prohibiting supermarkets from selling alcohol, at least there’s a reason for such a policy: to protect small businesses who sell booze.  But I have yet to hear a single legitimate reason for the case law.  The only explanation I’ve been offered is that it protects bars and other purveyors of overpriced six-packs, but since when is it the role of legislation to create an artificially restricted and inflated market?

The Pittsburgh Accent

Before I came to Pittsburgh, I wasn’t even aware that there was a Pittsburgh accent.  Indeed there is, and it’s the only accent that makes southerners sound sophisticated by comparison.  Here’s a taste:

This is a parody, but people really do talk like that here.   In case you were wondering, “yinz” is a contraction of “you ones,” and serves as the second person plural.   “N’at” is a contraction of “and that,” and means absolutely nothing; yinzers just stick it at the end of sentences for no apparent reason.  It’s hard to believe that the English language could be so thoroughly mangled, but there you have it.

The Pirates

The Steelers are a model sports franchise; congratulations to them on their sixth Superbowl championship.  The Penguins are also a fine team who made it to the Stanley Cup finals just last year.  These successes, however, are canceled out by the embarrassment that is the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Guess when the Pirates last had a winning record.

1992.  Nineteen-ninety motherfucking two.  That’s 16 straight losing seasons, including 8 last-place finishes, and no signs that this streak is going to end anytime soon.   But since poor finishes lead to high draft picks, the Pirates’ minor league teams should be flourishing, right?  Wrong; incompetent management has squandered these draft picks time and again and left the farm system barren.

It’s really a shame the Pirates are such a disgrace, since they play in one of the nicest parks in all of baseball.  PNC Park opened just seven years ago, but now only draws more than 10,000 fans when the Cubs are in town.  What a fucking joke.