Friday, October 28, 2016

At least they were baseball fans

Read the other parts of this series:
Part 1: Baseball and Life during Wartime
Part 2: Baseball and Life during Peacetime
Part 3: Propaganda in the Twenties

The 1927 Yankees are considered by many to be the greatest baseball team of all time. (I would argue that a World Series between the 1976 Reds and the 1927 Yankees, adjusting for era differences, would result in a Reds win, but I could be biased.) Murderers Row were bashing baseballs and winning World Series at a rate never before seen, and America loved them.

It was an era of great baseball and terrible presidents. First it was Warren Harding who oversaw perhaps the most corrupt administration in US history until he dropped dead of a cerebral hemorrhage. Some speculate that his wife, fed up with his well-known womanizing, poisoned him. Harding put the federal government on a budget for the first time, which helped created the false economic prosperity of the twenties that culminated with the Great Depression. The Teapot Dome scandal, the defining event of his lethiferous presidency, leased Navy petroleum reserves to private oil companies at low rates without competitive bidding. Secretary of the Interior Albert Bacon Fall was convicted of accepting bribes from the oil companies and became the first Cabinet member to go to prison. No one was ever convicted of paying the bribes. Oil corrupts. Big Oil corrupts absolutely.

If only the Nats had started their partnership with White House Historical Association sooner, we could have the full failure trio...

Next up came Calvin Coolidge, whose greatest sin was assembling a terrible cabinet of the wealthiest of men who put their own needs ahead of the needs of the country. Andrew Mellon reduced taxes on business and the wealthy five times during his eight years as Secretary of the Treasury, which continued us on a path towards the Great Depression. The Wall Street Journal wrote, "Never before, here or anywhere else has a government been so completely fused with business." The American right too often points to the Coolidge presidency as an exemplar of small-government conservatism, ignoring what happened next: the stock market crashed only eight months after he left office. Economic booms that are followed by economic disasters are not booms at all. They are like extending a spring, only to have it snap back to small again. It's not real prosperity. But you have to be able to view the world through the lens of time, where everything that happened before affects the now, and everything that happens now affects the future. There is too much shortsightedness and microcosmic decision-making among policy elites. Some people just don't understand that what happens now was set in motion months or years or decades or centuries ago.

Herbert Hoover followed Coolidge with more shortsightedness, maintaining the tax cutting policies of his predecessor and supporting a tariff act that greatly exacerbated the effects of the depression. The depression wasn't his fault, of course, but he failed to steer the country out of it, leading to FDR's landslide victory in 1932. He had refused to let the government intervene in fixing prices, manipulate the value of currency, or partake in deficit spending. After his defeat, he predicted the New Deal would lead to an American version of Iron Cross, First Class or Il Duce. Yeah, right.

The twenties were an era of complete and utter corruption, with Big Business controlling the reins of government. Heard that one before?

Perhaps the only redeeming quality of Harding and Hoover is that they were big baseball fans. Coolidge was no fan and appeared at ballgames only for political photo ops. Useless. As a Senator, Harding once organized an exhibition game between the Cubs and a semi-pro team in Marion, Ohio during the middle of the 1920 season. Hoover was a shortstop for Stanford until an injury ended his playing days. His frequented MLB games during his term as POTUS.

The twenties were, to put it in simple terms, crazy and shortsighted. Across the Atlantic, Germany was a mess. You had the Social Democrats, democrats, and Catholic centrists trying to govern while the socialists and conservatives were trying to overthrow them, both despising the fledgling democracy. The country suffered assassination after assassination by men on the extreme right, leading the government to institute anti-terrorism laws. Berlin ordered the dissolution of the militias running rampant in Bavaria and other regions, but when the government attempted to enforce the laws against terrorism, the Bavarian right, to which Iron Cross, First Class belonged, organized a conspiracy to overthrow the government. The Kapp Putsch failed to establish a rightwing autocratic government in 1920, and the Beer Hall Putsch failed to do the same thing three years later.

By 1923, the German mark was useless. Goaded by the big industrialists and landlords who stood to gain from the tumbling mark, the government purposely let the currency collapse despite financially ruining the masses of German citizens. The destruction of the currency enabled German Big Business to wipe out its debt. Yet the masses did not realize how much the industrial tycoons, the Army, and the State were benefiting from the ruin of the currency. Had they been paying attention, they may not have been so quick to elect a dictator.

Monetary policy across the globe was all over the place in the twenties, and none of it was very good. The US was well into its first decade of the Federal Reserve system, a mechanism for private banks to lend funds to one another, thus ensuring there is always a flow of money. In theory, anyway. The first incarnation had some problems, to put it mildly. Under Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover (the triumvirate of pre-Great Depression failure), the Federal Reserve deliberately ignored sound empirical policy framework. Instead of focusing on money stock, price level, and other quantity theory indicators, the Fed focused on market interest rates, member bank borrowing, and commercial paper eligible for rediscount. While statistical analysis in the twenties was primitive compared to today's standards, the fact that the Fed shunned such analysis is astounding, at least in hindsight. Of course, the Fed was created as a decentralized and non-interventionist system, but by the twenties, some economists were clamoring about stabilization. They advocated that the Federal Reserve Act be amended to make price stability the main responsibility of the Fed and that a centralized authority should unify the policy actions of the individual reserve banks. Their advice went unheeded...

Babe Ruth was the highest paid player for thirteen years straight, starting in 1922, when he made $52,000. He would peak at $80,000 in 1930 before dropping to $35,000 in 1934. You can see the impact the Great Depression had on player salaries. 

In 1930, the average American income was just under $2000. Ruth's salary was 40 times that and 2.4 times greater than the next highest, Rogers Hornsby, a gap that has not been reached since (Alex Rodriguez came close at 38%). Ruth put butts in seats, and Hornsby was a jerk, which may have hurt his salary a bit, but Ruth was one of the biggest stars in a country that was just coming to develop a culture of celebrity worship. When asked if he thought he deserved to be making more money than Hoover, Ruth said, “Why not? I had a better year than he did.”

When Ruth's salary dropped to $35,000 in 1934, the average American salary had dropped to $1600. A chicken in every pot? Not even close.

Sixty home runs! Sixty!

Before Babe Ruth hit 29 homers in 1919, the single season record was 27, set by the Cubs' Ned Williamson in 1884. I mean, if you consider hitting a ball over the wall at Chicago Lake Front Park (dimensions: 186", CF 300" and RF 196") a home run. MLB does, but can you imagine a ballpark that small? He hit 54 in 1920 and 59 in 1921 before suffering an injury shortened season in 1922, when he only hit 35. He hit 41 and 46 the next two seasons but in 1925, a serious intestinal issue caused by his lifestyle limited him to 98 games and 25 homers. “Day and night, broads and booze,” recounted teammate Joe Dugan. In 1926, he was back to form, slugging 46 homers before that magical 1927 season.

In 1926, a man by the name of Otto Hess died. He was a Swiss immigrant who became a Major League Pitcher - still the only Swiss-born MLB player. He had one good season. His name will rarely come up in a discussion about baseball, nor will it come up in a discussion about almost anything, unless you're talking about wild pitches. But he does have the distinction of being one of only five players to have fought in both the Spanish-American War and World War I. (The others were Ben Caffyn, Jacob Doyle, Arlie Pond, and John Grimes, who also fought in the Indian Wars. They deserve to be remembered.) Hess died after suffering for a decade with tuberculosis that he contracted while serving in France in World War I.

Rudolf Hess, of no relation, was born into a wealthy family of German merchants living in Egypt. Upon the start of World War I, he volunteered and became an officer in the same regiment as Iron Cross, First Class, but they never met. They did, however, suffer through the same battle that saw 2,900 German soldiers die over four days. He attended some of the early meetings when Iron Cross spoke, and reports surfaced about him asking "Was this thundering orator foolish or was he the Messiah?"

He went with Messiah, and wrote his thesis at University of Munich about his future fuhrer, entitled, "How Must the Man Be Constituted Who Will Lead Germany Back to Her Old Heights?" Translated into simpleton, that is: Make Germany Great Again.

Hess wrote, "Where all authority has vanished, only a man of the people can establish authority...The deeper the dictator was originally rooted in the broad masses, the better he understands how to treat them psychologically, the less the workers will distrust him, the more supporters he will win among these most energetic ranks of the people. He himself has nothing in common with the mass; like every great man he is all personality...When necessity commands, he does not shrink before bloodshed. Great questions are always decided by blood and iron...The lawgiver proceeds with terrible hardness...As the need arises, he can trample them [the people] with the boots of a grenadier..."

He himself has nothing in common with the mass...

Like every great man, he is all personality...

"Where the salvation of the nation is in question, he does not disdain utilizing the weapons of the adversary, demagogy, slogans, processions, etc."

Make My Country Great Again.

"Down with the traitors of the Fatherland! Down with the November criminals!" Such were the cries from the crowds of people who watched these rightwing demagogues give violent speeches against the national government.

Lock her up.

Propaganda. How easily the human mind is manipulated. How easily that is remedied, but the masses are too intellectually lazy to learn.

It continues to blow my mind that people CHOOSE dictatorships. These are people who either benefit directly from such regimes (money, power, or both) or those who really aren't all that bright and can't grasp the implications of such an arrangement. Most often it's the former convincing the latter to go along with it.

After the Beer Hall Putsch, Iron Cross, First Class went to trial and spent nine months in a jail for the privileged. The socialists who had also revolted at a different place, including Rosa Luxemburg, were executed without trial. That was the privilege of being rightwing in an anti-government climate, where conservatives defended the Kaiser and the war and held the economic power in the country. Their wealth subsidized their political parties and the press.

At the trial, Iron Cross, First Class was defiantly proud of his rebellion, stating, "I wanted to be the destroyer of Marxism." His hatred for democracy, Marxism, and Jews was captured in a book he wrote while in prison and had wanted to call "Four and a Half Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice." It sold 9,473 copies in 1925.

In 1930, the year Babe Ruth was paid $80,000 to play baseball, "My Struggle" sold 54,086 copies. By the time Iron Cross, First Class was elected by a grossly deceived population as Chancellor of Germany, the book sold a million copies, earning $300,000 dollars for its author in a time of global economic chaos.

To be continued...

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Half a life ago

I was in college the last time the Indians were in the World Series. Remember that team? I can still name the whole lineup - Thome at first, Baerga at second, Vizquel at short, Fryman at third, Manny, Kenny, and Joey called Albert manning the outfield, Sandy behind the plate... Oh wait, Baerga and Belle were gone by then, and Fryman didn't come until the next year.

Funny how fragile memory is. I should have at least remembered that Matt Williams was at third.

Those were some great teams - five first place finishes in a row, culminating with a 1997 pennant. I was studying in Luxembourg that autumn, the junior year that changed everything. I didn't get to watch any of the playoffs, not that I can remember anyway, but we did get to see a few World Series games. Back then, we had to walk uphill both ways in the snow to get to a baseball game, and MLB.TV hadn't been invented yet.

We watched a couple of games at my host family's house. The games were condensed, so they lasted less than two hours. I tried not to find out the scores before watching, but sometimes a student would give it away. Kramer!

My host father is, well, a racist. He watched a game with us and I'll never forget his amusement at the fact that Devon White was a black guy with the last name White. It is, in fact, my strongest memory of the entire World Series. How strange is that?

Other games we watched at a local bar right next to our school. It was full of old, grumpy men and my housemate and I were two college girls demanding that an old, grumpy bartender play a foreign sport that nobody watched there on the single, small screen television in the corner of the bar. I think we watched two games in there under the unwelcoming eyes of the bar's aged patrons. But he let us watch.

The things you do for baseball.

I don't remember too much about the specifics of the Series, but I do remember the disappointment as the fake team with the rent-a-players and the evil owner poured onto the field in triumph. I had liked the Indians as the "other" Ohio team and had even seen a game at Municipal Stadium back when they were ripe for a comedy to be made about them. That Game 7 loss was tough.

A Cubs-Indians World Series is gonna be classic. Hopefully, Cleveland won't be on the losing end this time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Z is for Zombie

Oh, the suffering! Droopy eyes, foggy brain, yawning mouth opening and closing like Chris Christie's refrigerator, swells of coffee useless against the ravages of sleep deprivation. But for what, I ask?


Ratings? How? When most of the weary country partakes in nocturnal routine, slumbering while the boys of summer are lumbering through a California autumn, how can ratings be more than a pipe dream conjured by the opiates of greed and bad decisions?

Three ay em, the wee hours, dreamland, a pipe dream for the diehard. The diehard is dying. While the powers that be have no problem starting the "lesser" teams at lesser times, we lesser people are to choose between the sacred advent of our chosen religion and the debilitating case of lesser sleep.

The woe of bias, of favoritism, a team of interest, yes, but not three hours into a new day, not even after 108 years (108 stitches)...why must we the people of baseball suffer so?

I hope the Cubs lose to spite MLB.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


I have spent most of my adult life working with democracy and peace activists. These include people who have been imprisoned, tortured, exiled, whose family and friends have been destroyed by dictators or war or both, whose lives have been wrecked and sometimes rebuilt and sometimes wrecked again. It's not a pretty world we live in, but it's one we can make better.

I was thinking about Jose Fernandez, as all of us have been, and marveling at what he went through to get here, a refugee from an oppressive regime who risked his life to immigrate to the United States, who traveled here illegally and ended up becoming an American citizen. His name was well-known to the baseball world, but maybe not to the casual fan, until fate put him on a late night boat ride. So many Cuban ballplayers have risked their lives for a sip of the American Dream. We let them, because they are good at sports, but many others are turned away. Things are getting easier since relations with Cuba are thawing, and ballplayers will soon be able to play baseball in the US without risking their lives. It has been incredible to witness this turn of events, to watch history unfold, and I look forward to visiting Cuba one day in the near future.

Why do we value the lives of sports figures more than others? What if Jose had been a doctor instead, or an engineer, or a teacher? Would we mourn him, praise his daring journey to this nation of immigrants, congratulate him on becoming a citizen? Or would we call him a rapist and murderer and call for tougher measures to prevent his kind from getting in?

Given that most Americans have never left the country, let alone visited a refugee camp, they can't even fathom the conditions in which millions of human beings find themselves today, through no fault of their own. More than 60 million people are displaced in this world, meaning they have escaped war or oppression and have no home to return to. Most of them live in refugee camps, which can be tent cities or actual buildings, depending on where in the world and who are the people. The lucky few establish permanent residency somewhere else or even citizenship.

One stunning example of this contrast can be found in Lebanon, where I spent about a year over a two year period working with civil society organizations. After the Turks committed genocide against the Armenians in the early twentieth century, many Armenians found refuge in Beirut. They established a refugee camp that today is just a Beirut neighborhood, albeit with Armenian flavor. The Palestinians did not fare so well during the establishment and expansion of Israel after World War II. They live in dilapidated structures and enjoy few basic rights like citizenship or employment in many professions, as they have been restricted to menial labor. Poverty is rampant; the camps are often the sites of violence and bloodshed. You can go to the Armenian neighborhood of Bourj Hammoud to the infamous Palestinian camps of Sabra and Chatilla in a few minutes by car, yet they are two different worlds. Lebanon also has a million Syrian refugees (the Lebanese population is only four million), as well as refugees from Iraq. And that's just a tiny swath of land barely visible on a world map.

If your heart breaks for Jose Fernandez, if you are sending your "thoughts and prayers" to him and his family, please take some time, too, to think about so many others who have been through something similar as he had and how so many meet tragic ends that go unheralded. Maybe Jose's senseless death can help us to remember them, perhaps finding one ray of light in all the darkness. What is a life, after all, if it does not beget good? Why did we care so deeply about his death, though few of us knew him in life? Because humanity is deep down our true nature. In these times when it seems as if we are surrounded by cruelty and evil, we recognized good in that smile, and even the hardest of hearts felt a stirring, a reminder that the world is flawed but can be good, is probably more good than not.

I have to wonder if more people would care about Syrian refugees if they were good at sports. Sadly, I think the answer is "yes." Let's change that. I have to believe we can.


Well, now, this is the part of the season when it should be exciting, but the races were so dull this year you'd think they just wanted to avoid any discussion about "race" like most of white America...

I'm rooting for the Orioles but they seem hell bent on October vacations. The Nats are all injured now and to be honest I think they were the only team who could have beaten the Cubs in the NLCS. I don't want the Cubs because it would break tradition, and besides, they are in the Reds' division and should be rooted against like they have goat herpes.

Of course I will watch the games but the Reds were so awful this year that I lost a lot of interest in baseball in general. I mean, it's one thing to not make the playoffs, but it's another to have the worst pitching staff in the history of baseball and to watch lead after lead blown by a bullpen worthy of the '62 Mets.

I stopped going to Nats games because of the fans and because of the ridiculous ticket prices. I have lost a lot of enthusiasm for that team and doubt it comes back unless they start improving the baseball experience at the ballpark, meaning less social activities and more baseball watching, more Washington baseball history around the ballpark, encouraging people to stay in their seats and stay for nine innings, and less faux patriotism and conservative back-patting. Sometimes it seems like baseball is an afterthought at Nats Park.

Despite Cubs being favorites, it's more of the same old same old in terms of playoff teams. Seven of the last ten World Series have been won by three teams. I'm sure if the Reds won three or four I wouldn't be complaining, but yawn.

We went to OPACY last week and the stadium was half empty but it was still a good crowd and that ballpark is magical.

This blog post is about nothing.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

The Sacred and the Profane (Part 1)

I had been there once before, in another lifetime, but even time could not erase the memories of that trip. It's almost cliche to call it a cathedral, but that's what it is, something sacred to our hearts and our identities as Americans, even those who don't know it, those who try to tear down sacred things, be it mentally or physically or with cliches and overkill, or those who reconstruct history so that the things we hold dear don't matter anymore.

They do. They do matter more than ever as we lose our identities in the soulless system we have constructed for our lives, one devoid of meaning, one that sneers at "sacred" and "tradition" and seeks always for new new new and buy buy buy and change for the sake of change only, our sad society of marketing and isolation.

Even the names of the streets surrounding Fenway Park are sacred. Ipswich. Landsdowne. Yawkey.

Of course we know the racist legacy of Tom Yawkey. From a Globe columnist:
That the Red Sox are so central to the city’s psyche makes it even more urgent for Boston to act now to banish this legacy of racism.
The Red Sox were the last team to integrate, this we know. Jackie Robinson and two other black players had a tryout for the Sox in 1945 but were not signed. This we also know.

But the Red Sox would not even be there were it not for Tom Yawkey. To call it Yawkey Way is not to overlook his glaring flaws. To pretend it never happened? That is to forget history, and to forget history is to repeat it.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Wait...I just can't. Just rename the damn street and let's move on. This isn't change for the sake of change or new new new. This is taking the profanity out of the sacred. The guy was an active racist at a time when our moral values as a society were changing for the better. As the Civil Rights Movement raged on, Yawkey continued to defy progress.

How about Ted Williams Way?

Fenway Park. Home of the Boston Red Sox. These are magical words to a baseball fan. This is a cathedral. This is sacred. You can roll your eyes at the use of "cathedral" or "sacred," but that just makes something wrong with you. The language of baseball is full of cliches, yes, but no other game has had more effect on our language than baseball. The cliches are cliches because media personalities are not as skilled in the art of language as they once were. Think about it. What distinguishes a Vin Scully or a Marty Brennaman from a Bob Carpenter or a Thom Brennaman is a mastery of the English language. Some creative chap came up with the terms "can of corn," "bush leaguer," and "hot corner." Have any good terms entered the baseball lexicon in the last ten years? We can't even come up with good nicknames anymore. (A-Rod, K-Rod, etc.)

Fenway Park is not a cliche.

Playing the Indians is just a coincidence
We tore our country down and put up corporate chains and strip malls and housing developments to isolate ourselves from each other. They tried to tear down this ballpark but the people said no. The people. Because when does it stop?

There's a reason populism reared its ugly head in this election cycle. People think Sanders or Trump are going to give them back what they think politicians took from them. But politicians didn't take from them. Corporations did. And the people let them. Fenway is one of the few relics left from a time when our communities and cities had an identity, before there was a Starbucks on every corner and people got excited when a Five Guys came into their neighborhood. You don't think it matters, but it does. There is a soullessness to Americans today, an emptiness, excused away by "chemical imbalances" like depression or ADHD, but these are really a result of a crisis of identity. Hence the reason people cling so desperately to tribalism and ideology and whatever is trendy and how they fall so easily for marketing and propaganda. They feel an intense need to belong to something, to identify with something, anything, to fill the hole where meaning should be.

Fenway means something to people. Ballparks and baseball mean something to people. Having something stand for so long makes it a part of a culture and gives a society identity. The Red Sox cap might as well be a City of Boston uniform. The team is as much a part of Boston as Guinness and cah pahks. Frankly, I'm jealous. Riverfront Stadium wasn't the prettiest park, but it was a part of my childhood and part of my identity. I'm also jealous of the kids who are growing up with GABp and the Banks area. What a great job they've done around the ballpark. I hope those kids don't suffer the sight of their ballpark being torn down. Maybe we'll regain some sense by the time they reach that age. Hope springs eternal.

The first World Series
The butterflies-in-stomach feeling that I get when I go to most ballparks (Nats Park, Citi Field, and Target Field are notable exceptions) was more pronounced when I went to Fenway in May. We took a tour on a Saturday morning before a game started at 4pm. We were going to the game the next day. It was fun to climb around the ballpark without any people in the stands. Here are some pics from the tour:

Haha, losers!

Even the restrooms are sponsored.

There is something mysterious about an empty ballpark.

These have to be uncomfortable sitting there for nine innings. Or even one.

Seems to be as famous as the ballpark.

The reason people think the Sox won that series...

They have their own garden. That would be an awesome job!

500 footer

The meager museum room made me appreciate the Reds Hall of Fame Museum even more.

Put him in the Hall!

 To be continued...

Monday, August 01, 2016

Propaganda in the Twenties

Part 1 of this series
Part 2 of this series

Part 3:

You have to understand what propaganda is to grasp just how dangerous it is. But you also have to learn to recognize it when you see it so you don't fall victim to it.

If you are reading this, you probably have fallen victim to propaganda. If you've ever purchased something you have seen in an ad, you are a victim of propaganda.

The word first came into use in the seventeenth century as the Catholic Church was trying to recover from the Protestant schism. (If you're Catholic you are probably familiar with the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.) Of course, it wasn't the first time propaganda was used. You can find recorded instances dating back to ancient Athens. You know about Greek theater - but did you know it was very often used as propaganda? Of course you do know if you know anything at all about ancient Greek theater. Of course you do. And those who don't? Shame on you! Ancient Greece is part of American history, after all.

The twenties were a time when propaganda was becoming its own kind of institution, a time when Edward Bernays had yet to overthrow governments with US taxpayer dollars but was still selling you soap and cigarettes with his uncle Freud's psychology theories, his uncle, father of modern psychology, the man who theorized about the id and the ego.

Ego has, for some reason, become synonymous for narcissism and self-importance, but that is not the original meaning of the word. The "ego" simply means "self." More specifically, it's the part of the mind that mediates between the conscience and the unconscience. It's what gives a person a sense of identity.

Then again, psychology itself is misunderstood. You can thank American pop psychologists whose egos in the general sense of the word reduced the real science of psychology to a pseudoscience, a grand tradition that continues today with such celebrities as Dr. Phil.

What is the science of psychology, then? It is the study of the human mind. It seeks to understand human behavior through the conscious and unconscious experiences of individuals AND groups.

Like everything in life, it can be used for evil. 

While white Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were slugging homers and entertaining white and black Americans alike, an Austrian corporal enamored with his white skin was beginning to understand the power of psychology to promote an agenda. Ideas were one thing, but symbols, flags, and fear would win over supporters. Symbols ARE important to our world. Semiotics (or semiology) is the study of signs, symbols, and how they are significant. It is closely related to the field of linguistics, which studies words. Both are inseparable from psychology, and from these comes propaganda. He thought the Social Democrats he despised had used what he called the "infamous spiritual and physical terror" to win supporters in Vienna. Fear is a powerful seller.

Iron Cross, First Class assigned ex-servicemen to National Socialist meetings to silence hecklers and protestors, then organized Ordnertruppe - strong arm squads - to keep order. Later they were officially renamed "Sturmabteilung." Storm Troopers. They wore brown shirts and eventually took to breaking up meetings of OTHER political parties. Political rallies became violent. Iron Cross, First Class even led one of these attacks, which landed him a three month prison sentence (only one of which he served.)

The concept of the "hero" is also a good seller, born of the same manipulation as fear. Though baseball players had been used to sell products since the late nineteenth century (the famous Honus Wagner baseball card was printed for a tobacco company,) it wasn't until the twenties when endorsements began to be common as the United States was undergoing what could be called a "consumer revolution." Prior to WWI, endorsements were rare and were mostly limited to sporting goods, part of the reason baseball developed a reputation as a "healthy" endeavor.

Then came the ads for cigarettes, beer, sodas, and guns, among other things. As endorsement advertising grew, so, too did the controversy surround it. Baseball Commissioner Landis worried that money for endorsing products was a guise for payment to throw games, though he never acted on it. Endorsements were seen as fraud by many parties, including the FTC, not to mention that Americans widely viewed the practice as objectionable. (The fraud charges continued for decades - Mickey Mantle got into trouble for endorsing a brand of milk he did not drink.)

None of these things would have been possible without Sigmund Freud or his nephew Edward Bernays, father of the field of "public relations" and Woodrow Wilson's WWI propaganda minister. Baseball players had been symbols of health, and once the view had been firmly established, they could have sold anything, even guns to children. And nobody thinks twice about it.

That's what propaganda does - it normalizes a product, a brand, an idea, an ideology. That's the point of marketing and propaganda of other sorts. You appeal to a person's ego, or a group's ego, and you choose words and symbols that will arouse specific emotions in them, and they come to see that product or idea as right or true to them. Sure, people objected to the baseball player endorsements, but enough just accepted it as normal that it became normal. Babe Ruth didn't buy his kids the guns he sold. It was enough to give the perception that he liked the product.

This works whether you are sending a seemingly positive message, as in "I like this product," or an inflammatory message - "I hate this product." "I hate this person." "I hate this group." It works by appealing to the ego - that sense of self, including all the hyphenated words that come with it (self-esteem, self-importance, self-awareness, etc.)

The flag.

Is there a more potent piece of propaganda than a flag? The flag inspires feelings of pride, patriotism, and belonging for those who support it. For those who don't? Loathing. Disgust. Evil.

For most Americans and Westerners, the flag that Austrian failed artist designed is a symbol of the worse evil bestowed upon mankind. The simple flag - red background, white circle, and black swastika (once a symbol of harmony found in ruins of ancient Egypt, Troy, China, India, and elsewhere), became the embodiment of death and destruction.

This was AND STILL IS the worst period in human history. The trick is to keep it from happening again. (Not everyone loathes the swastika flag, and indeed it is making a comeback among a swath of Trump supporters.)

"A symbol it really is! In red we see the social idea of the movement, in white the nationalist idea, and in the swastika the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man." - Mein Kampf

What is propaganda?

Chances are, you have fallen victim to it. Buy these cigarettes. Buy Coca Cola. Buy America.

Think, people. Think.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Baseball and Life during Peacetime

Read the first part of this series here.

World War I had been called the Great War and The War to End All Wars, but it was neither great nor did it end war. Instead, it set the world up for the worst war in the history of mankind, one in which unspeakable acts were committed in the name of ideology.

No one knew it at the time, and things began to return to life as usual, baseball included. Only it wasn't so usual. Following the Black Sox scandal of 1919 (the Reds did not win because of it - they were a good team that could have won regardless), baseball needed a hero who could lead the game into a new decade and leave the past behind. The dead ball era was over as the world became alive again; line drives replaced bullets and home runs replaced bombs. Mustard went on hotdogs instead of eyes. Babe Ruth replaced General Pershing as America's hero. Attendance rose by 50% from the 10's, and America fell in love with baseball all over again.

The world seemed to have come to terms with itself. Peace and prosperity appeared to be reality. Booze was banned in America but it just made the parties better as they moved underground. It was all a facade, of course. That Austrian corporal with the German Iron Cross, First Class, was contemplating entering politics. He was thirty-something years old and mad at the world - the world being run by "scoundrel Jews," of course. His mindset wasn't unique, however, as the Bavarian rightwing clung to the "stabbed in the back" mythos. Conservatives despised the new democratic republic and the individual freedoms it brought; they longed for a return to the monarchy, the good old days. And there was the defeated Army with nothing to do, minds destroyed by the horrors of the war they had just waged, morale destroyed by the loss and the stipulations of the armistice. Militias sprung up everywhere; the disgruntled Army helped equip them for fear of the rise of socialism. Berlin was briefly occupied by one of these rightwing brigades in March 1920 until a general strike by the trade unions restored the republic. At the same time, a coup overthrew a socialist government in Munich, installing a rightwing regime. This was the climate in Bavaria, one of angry conservatives armed to the teeth, a climate that Iron Cross, First Class found home.

That was far away from the ballparks of America. While the United States lost about 117,000 troops, Americans never really felt the full effects of the war because it didn't happen here. I suppose it made it easier to get back to living life. Germany had lost 2 million soldiers and 2.5 million civilians while ravaging cities and countryside alike. You have to imagine what it was like, to see your homes and villages destroyed, to see bombed out bridges and burnt up forests, to see your childhood memories demolished and wonder if your country could ever be whole again, if you could ever be you again. Germany's population at the start of the war was 67 million; there was not a German who didn't know dozens of dead by the end of it.

I think the whole world was in denial. Americans certainly were, getting fake rich and falling under the spell of consumerism. That a game could grow so big and start making so much money was testament to that. But it was always more than a game, wasn't it? It was that pastime that had found its way from Valley Forge to the Civil War to history's worst war, and it was solace and unity and summer and the proverbial return to innocence, if only for a couple of hours a day. While the Giants and the Yankees took turns winning World Series in that decadent decade and using the Middlewestern teams as their own AAAA farm clubs, the haves in the real world were having and having some more and the baseball loving POTUS was promising a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage and then there were no chickens or pots or cars or garages.

The haves were having and having some more everywhere. That's how communism rose. It's how the German Workers Party rose. As fate would have it, the Army ordered Iron Cross, First Class to attend one of the latter's meetings to investigate. A crank economist who had developed a religious devotion to the idea that speculative capital had caused Germany's economic trouble, calling it "interest slavery," spoke at one of these meetings, where the first seeds of evil of something called National Socialism were sown. The founder, a locksmith by trade, had set up a "Committee of Independent Workmen" to counter the growing popularity of Marxism in the trade unions. Peas in a pod. Both were formed out of contempt for the middle class and the establishment. Both blamed the middle class and the establishment for their troubles and scorned them for their lack of understanding of the social problems of the lower class.

This is populism.

With the German variety came an intense hatred for the post-war democratic republic that had been established and the people that were running it. This new German Workers Party was full of misfits who had failed at life, failed to see their own flaws, and blamed everyone else for their problems. They did have a point - the social ills were real and they were often ignored. The haves were having and having some more and then some more after that and many people pretended this wasn't happening or didn't care because they had theirs. But the freaks in the German Workers Party probably couldn't have made it anywhere - a fat, gay Army captain, a crazy locksmith, a failed playwright whose works had only been performed by patients in a mental hospital, a crank economist, and an untalented painter with an Iron Cross, First Class had found each other in the wrong place at the wrong time and the whole world suffered for it.

Baseball advertising was as old as the Major Leagues, going back to tobacco cards, but it took on a life of its own in the twenties. Babe Ruth sold soda, candy, cigarettes, and guns. Lou Gehrig sold batteries and breakfast cereals. Jimmie Foxx sold bats and lubricants. Owners were coming up with new ways to make money and enticing fans to come to games. But baseball was just going along with a new craze. As Edward Bernays was telling Americans to buy soap because it was 99% pure and eat bacon for breakfast because it was patriotic and women to smoke because it would give them freedom, that Iron Cross, First Class, was also mastering the art of propaganda.

To be continued...

(Incidentally, Bernays despised democracy, too, preferring "enlightened despotism." Peas in pods.)