The Future We’ve Got

When we think about the future, we tend to take current realities and project them forward to develop our vision of what is to come. At the height of the Apollo program in the late ’60s, the Moon base and voyage to Jupiter in 2001 were entirely plausible. When the world was concerned about The Population Bomb and the perils of overpopulation, Soylent Green seemed like a grim, but possible, future. And to an America in the grips of car culture in the early ’60s, of course the future would have those cool flying vehicles in The Jetsons.

But the actual future has a way of turning out differently from the forecasts of even the most dedicated futurists. There aren’t any Moon bases–not yet, at least–and the mass starvation and terrible poverty that were supposed to accompany the exponential growth of humanity didn’t happen; instead, the birth rate reversed itself in many places, and now many countries worry about not having enough people, rather than too many. And regrettably, there are still no cool flying cars that make those soothing, blurbling sounds that George Jetson heard every morning on his way to work at Spacely Sprockets.

Why are our visions of the future so frequently off base? At bottom, it is because modern human society is simply too complicated to try to model and project into the future. There are too many imponderables, from the actions of power-hungry individual leaders to the impact of new unexpected technology to the abrupt social and cultural developments that change the nature of basic human interaction–among hundreds of other variables. And unknowable curve balls, like the COVID-19 pandemic, produce shifts that no one could foresee, which then have ripple effects of their own. I don’t remember anyone forecasting that, seemingly in the blink of an eye, the American workforce would, in many business segments, move from office-based to home-based, with all of its vast implications for social interaction, the commercial real estate market, energy use, and technological dependence, among countless other areas.

It makes you wonder whether it makes any sense to even try to forecast the future. Perhaps the better course is to commit to personal flexibility in outlook, remain willing to learn and adapt, and be amenable to accepting the unexpected changes that inevitably come our way. The future seems more manageable if you take it one change at a time.

Mission: Impossible!

A match is struck and flares into flame, lighting a dynamite fuse. Dramatic, high-tension music plays. An unmarked tape is then delivered in a plain brown envelope and placed onto a generic tape recorder and begins to play.

“Good morning, Mr. Phelps.

“A piece of furniture has been delivered to an address. The arrival of new furniture is supposed to be a happy occasion. Regrettably, however, this piece of furniture requires assembly, which inevitably means that the happy occasion will be turned into a time of angst and cursing frustration for the hapless homeowner who must do the assembly.

“The specific assembly involves attaching rocker pieces to the bottom of a rocking chair. The project requires carefully lining up pre-drilled holes in the rocker legs with pre-drilled holes in the bottom of the chair legs, and then attaching the rocker pieces with screws and washers. Given the nature of furniture manufacture, the chances that the pre-drilled holes will readily line up is infinitesimally small. And, because the chair will be upside-down during assembly, the attempted installation of the rocker pieces must occur in a maximally awkward position, further enhancing the irritation level involved in the entire procedure.

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it: line up the pre-drilled holes and successfully attach the rocker pieces to the bottom of the chair, using only an Allen wrench and the screws and washers provided by the furniture manufacturer and an oversimplified set of instructions.

Mr. Phelps? . . . . Mr. Phelps?”

As the tape bursts into smoke and flame, Mr. Phelps shrugs. Some missions, even Barney isn’t capable of accomplishing.


We’ve been working our way through Outlander, a six-season Netflix series about a woman who is somehow able to travel 200 years into the past through the magic of the stones in an ancient, mystical, Stonehenge-like circle in Scotland. In her visits to the past she has many adventures, and a seventh season, with more adventure, is on the way. The show is part historical fiction that gives you a glimpse of life in Scotland and the world of the 1700s, part Scottish travelogue, and part torrid bodice-ripper about the ever-passionate love and marriage between the time-traveling Claire and Jamie, her devoted Scottish stud.

I won’t spoil the plot for those of you who haven’t watched Outlander. The show definitely makes us want to visit the Scottish highlands, which are presented to beautiful effect. But more specifically, the show makes me appreciate the richness of the Scottish language–so much so that I want to talk like a Scotsman, sporting a thick brogue and having a chance to toss around some Gaelic and Scottish words. The writers for the show clearly understand this element of its appeal: I swear that they just look for opportunities to have one of the characters refer to a “bairn” and pronounce the word as if it has three syllables.

I, too, want to say “dinna fash” and “dinna ken.” I want to refer to young people as “bonny lasses” and “lads” and tell a pub server I’d like a “wee dram.” I’d like for someone to say that I look “braw”–and actually mean it. But most of all, I’d like to have someone ask me a question so that I can pause for a heartbeat, and then say “aye” in a dramatic way.

I can’t travel to the past through picturesque, monumental stones, but I do hope to travel to Scotland one of these days and have the opportunity to participate in some Outlanderspeak.

Apocalyptic Porn

We’ve been watching The Last Of Us, the new HBO series in which a few human survivors remain in a horrific alternative world. In this show’s grim vision, fungal creatures have taken over Earth and turned infected humans into bloodthirsty, blind zombies controlled by some all-encompassing fungal network, and the hardy remnants of the human race live (for the most part) in brutal, quasi-military zones in the bombed out shells of old buildings.

In short, The Last Of Us is about par for the course in terms of how TV shows and movies tend to envision the human future. The vast majority of depictions of the world to come in popular culture seem to be incredibly bleak. In these shows, every conceivable disaster–nuclear holocaust, climate change, alien invasion, artificial intelligence deciding that humans should be killed off or used as power cells, global pandemic, zombie attacks–plunges civilization into chaos, most humans perish, buildings collapse, the world as we know it ends, and the survivors live hand to mouth in a grim world, marveling at the glory that once was part of daily life.

And it seems like the producers and designers of these TV shows and movies love to present compelling pictures of just how far the human race has fallen. Gutted, collapsing buildings, overgrown urban landscapes, bad food, gross zombies. fascist governments–no detail of future bleakness is ignored. Is it because they want people to understand how much worse things could be, or do they just enjoy the challenge of presenting fallen civilizations–or is there some other reason? It’s as if some people revel in a kind of apocalyptic porn.

It’s interesting how science fiction took a turn for the worse. In the Star Trek universe, the future world is a hopeful place in which nagging societal problems have been solved and humans have become noble creatures seeking peace and progress in the galaxy. But how many Star Trek-like visions of the future do we see these days? The pessimists are dominant.


We’ve been catching up on season 2 of Mayor of Kingstown, the bleak drama about the interactions of police, prison guards, gang members, and other criminals in the hellish, apocalyptically awful, and fortunately fictional town of Kingstown, Michigan. We liked the grittiness of season 1, and so far season 2 has upped the ante considerably, with even more hyperviolence and angry confrontations as the town deals with the aftermath of the ugly, deadly prison riot that ended the first season.

The show has also upped the ante on obscenities. The characters drop f-bombs like Hansel and Gretel dropped bread crumbs in order to find their way out of the enchanted forest. In fact, so many f-bombs are dropped that you might call the dialogue carpet f-bombing. I thought Deadwood would never be surpassed in the constantly cussing category, but I think Mayor of Kingstown has accomplished that seemingly impossible feat. In a standard scene like the one shown above, the Jeremy Renner character, Mike McLusky, and his cop friends all will use the Queen Mother of Curses multiple times, then McLusky will stride angrily away to his car, toss in a few different obscenities for a change of pace, and then flip off the police for good measure. And when he’s driving away in his car–which he does a lot–he’ll inevitably get a call that requires him to add a few additional f words to the mix.

I’m no prude, and recognize that obscenities are part of life. But I feel like sometimes the barrage of blue language in TV shows has become a kind of crutch for both screenwriters and actors. For screenwriters, f-bombs are a shortcut way to convey that the world of the show is a harsh, disturbing place, and actors might lean on the dialogue to carry the weight of showing anger–rather than using physical and emotional acting to do so. But, as with anything, overuse of obscenities dissipates the impact and can become a distraction.

If you played a drinking game where you had to take a swig of an adult beverage whenever a character on Mayor of Kingstown hurls an f-bomb, you’d be chugging constantly and passed out halfway through the show. When you’ve gotten to that point, you might want to dial back the f-bomb barrage, and make the screenwriters and actors work a bit.

Imaginary Voyages

The Austin airport is pretty darned cool, with some little touches that bored travelers who are walking around while waiting for their flights will appreciate–like this mock “Interimaginary Departures” board found at Gate 14. It changes just like your standard departures board, only the destinations are fictional locations from literature, film, TV, comic books, video games, and other elements of popular culture. The airlines are fictional too, of course, but very cleverly named. And all flights leave from Gate Infinity.

For example, you could catch a flight to Gotham City on DystopiAir, or head to Hogwarts on Spellbound Airlines, or visit the Hundred-Acre Wood on Wistful. I’d avoid the flight to Isla Nublar on GossAmerica, myself. On the other hand, I admit to being tempted by the chance to experience the most wretched hive of scum and villainy in the known universe, so I would probably grab a seat on the 11:07 to Tattoine in order to check out the Mos Eisley spaceport.

I’ve included photos of two of the many boards with this post. Somebody obviously had a lot of fun with this great idea.

The destinations on the “Interimaginary Departures” board are a kind of litmus test of your awareness of different elements of popular culture, and I am sad to say that I am not aware of many of them. How many of the references do you recognize? And, like me, if you see a destination you haven’t experienced through books or movies or comics, are you motivated to check them out?

Return Of The Western?

We’ve watched every episode of Yellowstone, we enjoyed 1883, the first of the Yellowstone prequels (which apparently is returning for a second season), and we are caught up on 1923, the newest Yellowstone prequel. We figure 1903 can’t be far behind, and there are many more tales to be told of the rambunctious Dutton clan and their constant battles to hold on to their beautiful spread in the wilds of Montana. (Don’t be surprised, for example, if there is a 2063, about future generations of Duttons.) With the success of the Dutton shows, you have to wonder: will westerns finally be making their TV and movie comeback?

It’s hard to believe now, but in the early days of television, westerns dominated the network programming. Shows like Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Have Gun, Will Travel, and The Rifleman dominated the nightly programming and the ratings. Westerns were so popular for so long on television that variations on traditional westerns, like Branded, about an unjustly accused soldier, and The Wild, Wild West, with its newfangled gadgetry, were introduced. During those same decades John Wayne and other stars were churning out westerns at the cinema, producing classics like The Searchers, High Noon, Shane, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. And the movie industry also made its share of non-traditional westerns, like The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

It’s not hard to see why westerns dominated popular entertainment during those years. The western genre was very elastic, and accommodated simple good guy versus bad guy tales and much more nuanced and complicated stories that left you wondering about who really was the hero. Westerns were cheap to make, with the sets for most TV westerns found on a Hollywood studios back lot, and even “on location” shoots occurring within only a few hundred miles of studio headquarters. And, in America, there always has been a certain romance about the west, and a fascination with the gunslingers, sheriffs, and train robbers, the wars with native Americans, and the many hazards and rough justice of frontier days.

At some point in the late ’60s, though, westerns suddenly vanished from the TV screen, and movie westerns largely disappeared only a few years later. Perhaps Americans had just had their fill, or perhaps westerns just didn’t fit with the then-prevailing notions about the world, or perhaps science fiction films and TV shows co-opted the standard western plots and threw in some cool special effects, besides. Since the demise of the western genre, there have been predictions about its renaissance–in the wake of TV shows like Lonesome Dove and movies like Young Guns and Silverado–but those forecasts have proven inaccurate.

Could now be the time when American viewers are ready to return to the western, and an era when problems seemed less complicated and a simple showdown on a dusty street was seen as a way to actually solve a problem, once and for all? With Beth Dutton’s two-fisted approach leading the way, who knows? We may see a lot more horse operas in the future.

To The Depths — And Below

Hollywood writers obviously are a very clever bunch. Just when you think they’ve mined every possible plotline that would illustrate some feature of a character, they open a new vein of dramatic gold and dig still deeper.

Yellowstone is a great illustration of this process. I’ve written before about how, as the show has progressed, Jamie Dutton has been converted from capable, high-powered lawyer for the clan to a sniveling mess. After last season, I frankly doubted there was anything the writers could come up with that would make Jamie Dutton more pathetic and contemptible than he had already become. Whoo-boy–I was wrong on that one!

We finished catching up on Yellowstone episodes earlier this week, and Jamie continues to sink deeper and deeper. Spoiler alert: He’s being exposed as not only feeble and weak-kneed, but also so gullible, hapless, foolish, and pitifully eager for some crumb of attention that he can fall for the most obvious manipulative scheme ever attempted in Big Sky Country. The femme fatale from the development company hasn’t even tried to disguise her ultimate goal, and she couldn’t have picked a more direct route to pulling Jamie’s puppet strings. Now we’re having to endure squirmy scenes where Jamie, after their latest romp between the sheets, is baring both his chest and his soul to someone he met only days before. The gal pal’s maneuvers are so painfully obvious that even Jamie’s loyal secretary at the Attorney General’s office deviated from her customary professionalism and tried to warn him–but to no avail. Anyone who ignores wise advice from their secretary is plumbing new depths of dim-wittedness. This guy is supposed to be a Harvard grad? What better evidence of grade inflation could there be?

We’ve enjoyed this season of Yellowstone, and have particularly liked the increased emphasis on the “cowboying” element of the show, as well as seeing new aspects of the relationship between Rip and Beth. But, in many ways, the continuing downward spiral of Jamie Dutton is the most noteworthy part of the show, as impossible to tear your eyes away from as a slow motion train wreck. Credit to the writers and to Wes Bentley, who must be licking his acting chops as he thinks about how to make his character’s latest horrible decision remotely plausible.

How low can this guy go, and what can the writers’ room come up with to make this sad, quivering wreck into a character this is even more imbecilic, wretched, and odious? I guess we’ll have to watch to find out.

You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch

We’re at the point in the holiday season where many of us have begun to experience Christmas music soundtrack overload, and we feel like we might go into a saccharine sentiment coma if we hear It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year even one more time. That’s why You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch has become such an essential part of the holiday season. You can be sitting in a restaurant, hearing a standard mix of songs like Up On The Housetop and Frosty the Snowman, and then suddenly detect the strains of You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch cutting directly through the sugar content, and you find yourself using your best super-deep voice to sing about bad bananas with greasy black peels.

Written as a key part of the TV broadcast of How The Grinch Stole Christmas that was first broadcast in 1966, the music for You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch was composed by Albert Hague, and the song was memorably sung for the TV show by Thurl Ravenscroft, the same actor who voiced Tony the Tiger and his “they’re great!” catchphrase. But it is the lyrics to the song–penned by Dr. Seuss himself–that are a hilarious revelation and a wonderful antidote to the unrelenting spun sugar sweetness of most holiday soundtracks. Here they are, in all their glory:

You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch
You really are a heel
You’re as cuddly as a cactus, you’re as charming as an eel, Mr. Grinch
You’re a bad banana with a greasy black peel!

You’re a monster, Mr. Grinch
Your heart’s an empty hole
Your brain is full of spiders, you’ve got garlic in your soul, Mr. Grinch
I wouldn’t touch you with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole!

You’re a vile one, Mr. Grinch
You have termites in your smile
You have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile, Mr. Grinch
Given a choice between the two of you I’d take the seasick crocodile!

You’re a foul one, Mr. Grinch
You’re a nasty-wasty skunk
Your heart is full of unwashed socks, your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Grinch
The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote
“Stink, stank, stunk!”

You’re a rotter, Mr. Grinch
You’re the king of sinful sots
Your heart’s a dead tomato splotched with moldy purple spots, Mr. Grinch
Your soul is an appalling dump heap overflowing with the most disgraceful
Assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable, mangled up in tangled up knots!

You nauseate me, Mr. Grinch
With a nauseous super “naus”!
You’re a crooked dirty jockey and you drive a crooked hoss, Mr. Grinch
You’re a three decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce!

You have to give Dr. Seuss credit for coming up with lyrics like “your heart’s a dead tomato splotched with moldy purple spots.” He understood that the Christmas spirit is best demonstrated with some negative contrast, before the central character is redeemed. It’s the same approach that makes Dickens’ A Christmas Carol such a classic.

And maybe I’m wrong–but doesn’t it seem that You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch becomes more popular every year?

Airing The Dirty Laundry

As anyone who has read this blog for a while knows, I don’t get the whole fixation with the British royal family in the United Kingdom, but especially here in the United States (although I did admire the recently departed Queen Elizabeth). I can’t imagine why anyone would want to waste even a few hours of their lives watching the Harry & Meghan Netflix “reality” show to hear “Harry” and “Meghan” try to build their one-name brands by telling their tales of woe about how tough it is/was to be a “royal.” I guess we’ll never be able to fully appreciate the grit and determination these two showed in the face of crushing adversity.

Apparently the most recent episode of the series goes into some detail about the the private meetings of members of the family–from the perspective of the twosome being paid to air the dirty laundry. It makes you wonder why anyone would be motivated to spill the beans about the inner workings of their family, no matter how rich and famous they might be. My upbringing taught that some things are private and must always remain private. My grandparents, for example, would observe that when someone talks about private family matters with people outside the family, it tells you something about the character and integrity of the speaker–and what it tells you is decidedly not positive.

Of course, things have changed since my grandparents’ era, and these days people of all stripes write “memoirs” about their family lives–and other people line up to buy at least some of them. Apparently that is true with Netflix shows as well, because the ratings show that people are watching Harry & Meghan–although it finished well behind a show about an Addams Family character. Still, I wonder: if you had to interact with Harry and Meghan, would you rely on them and their discretion? Would you want to serve on a board with them in a situation where a challenging decision had to be made, and there was a confidential discussion about the issues? I wouldn’t. Why would you trust anybody who would throw their own family under the bus for a few bucks and a few more minutes of fame?

Elder Action

Last night we watched the first episode of Tulsa King, the new Paramount+ series starring Sylvester Stallone. Created by Taylor Sheridan, one of the creators of Yellowstone, Tulsa King is the story of a mobster (don’t call him a “gangster,” incidentally), Dwight Manfredi, who is released from prison after 25 years. Because he didn’t rat out anybody, he expects to be welcomed back with open arms and given a prominent place in the family business in New York City. Instead, he’s exiled to Tulsa, Oklahoma and told to take over the town.

We’re only one episode in, but Tulsa King looks promising so far. It’s got the fish out of water element, with the street-wise New Yorker schooling the credulous, safe-in-middle- America Bible Belters about crime, and also the Rip Van Winkle element, with Dwight having been in the Big House for 25 years and not knowing about things like iPhones and Uber. Stallone has always had good comedic talent and timing–Demolition Man, for example, includes lots of funny scenes, and so do some of the Rocky movies–and he does a good job with the humorous parts of Tulsa Kings.

The real challenge in the show, however, is the tough guy stuff. It seems weird to question the ability of Sylvester Stallone, the guy who brought to life Rocky, Rambo, and countless other hard-ass characters, to carry off the action scenes, but the actor is 76 years old. He’s evidently had some facial work–his cheeks look puffy, and his eyebrows are perpetually raised–and physically he looks to be in pretty good shape. But when your star is in his 70s, you’ve got to be careful not to strain the viewers’ willing suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point. In the first episode, Dwight coldcocks one younger guy, punches out a few others, throws a water bottle that knocks out a tubby security guard, and has a bedroom encounter with a much younger woman. It all was reasonably plausible–Dwight may have been a workout fiend during those 25 years in the clink, right?–but let’s hope the show doesn’t use CGI to have the star chasing down a fleeing truck, defeating multiple attackers with kung fu moves, or beating up an Apollo Creed lookalike.

America is growing older, so it makes sense that action characters would grow older, too. Who knows? “Elder action” might become an entirely new genre on TV and in theaters. I’ll be interested in seeing how Sylvester Stallone’s character develops in Tulsa King, and whether he experiences some of the issues that afflict the rest of us who are aging out. And I’ll also be interested in seeing how Harrison Ford, who is 80, is presented in the fifth Indiana Jones movie, which is to be released next year. You’d expect Indy to be using a lot more of his gun and a lot less of his whip at that age. Will Indy–who once famously observed that “it’s not the years, it’s the mileage”–recognize that the years take their toll, too?

Risky Business

2022 hasn’t exactly been a banner year for cryptocurrency. In the spring, the crypto markets experienced a spectacular crash, and last week a leading crypto exchange platform, FTX, slid abruptly into bankruptcy amid questions about its operations, liquidity, and use of funds. The SEC and Department of Justice are reportedly investigating whether the company’s sudden collapse involved criminal activity or violations of the federal securities laws.

The demise of FTX was so quick and catastrophic that the company’s founder and CEO, Sam Bankman-Fried, is reported to have lost 94 percent of his net worth in a single day. The rise and sudden fall of FTX may well rank right up there with Enron in the riches-to-rags business bust category. But there’s an even more ironic twist to the FTX failure: only a few months ago, during the 2022 Super Bowl, FTX ran a commercial where a skeptical Larry David, with a record of rejecting inventions like the wheel and the light bulb, also rejects the idea of investing with FTX, which is presented as “a safe and easy way to get into crypto.”

As is always the case when a high-flying entity suddenly crashes and burns, there are ripple effects from FTX’s spectacular failure. For example, the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan, the third-largest pension plan in Canada, disclosed last week that it had invested $95 million in FTX entities. (Fortunately for Ontario teachers, the investment apparently represents only a tiny fraction of the money invested by the Plan.) Other entities also had investments in FTX. One of them, a venture capital firm called Sequoia Capital, announced that it will mark down its $214 million investment in FTX to zero. Sequoia told its investors: “We are in the business of taking risk,” and “[s]ome investments will surprise to the upside, and some will surprise to the downside.”

Sequoia’s observation is, of course, true–if the investor understands, as Sequoia did, that cryptocurrency is a risky investment. The problem is that crypto advocates keep trying to present it as something else, as FTX tried to do with that in retrospect hilarious Larry David commercial. If the everyday investor is paying attention, the FTX collapse will make it harder to sell cryptocurrency as the next best thing to the light bulb. And we might want to check to make sure that our pension plans or mutual funds have learned that lesson, too.

“This Was CNN”

During the first Gulf War, CNN was our go-to source for news. With Bernard Shaw and Peter Arnett leading the way, CNN offered informed, reliable reporting of events, often with its journalists reporting live from the scene of the action. Whatever time of day or night, you knew that you could tune in to CNN and get the straight story about what was happening with Desert Storm–and you would get to hear the deep voice of James Earl Jones gravely intone “This is CNN” every so often, too. We weren’t alone in our channel selection; CNN was dominant and hit ratings records during the Gulf War crisis 30 years ago.

Those days are long gone. CNN has struggled for years, and it seems like all of the news stories about the network that you see these days are negative. First CNN closed down CNN Airport, the channel that made hearing CNN a part of every airport experience (and, incidentally, made traveling a quieter, more pleasant experience in my view). Then the network’s streaming service, CNN+, was an embarrassing flop and was shut down after only one month of operation. CNN’s ratings have been poor, it can’t seem to find prime-time programming that is competitive with other networks, and its efforts to move its high-visibility personalities to different time slots doesn’t seem to be working, either. Now the press is reporting that, with CNN profits dropping, CNN’s new leader is going to try to take the network in a different direction, significant job cuts are in the network’s future as part of a “right-sizing” effort, and network employees are bracing for layoffs.

CNN seems like a good candidate for a business school case study, to try to identify why a network that was on top of the world 30 years ago has fallen so far. Some of CNN’s struggles clearly involve big-picture things beyond its control–like the shift in consumer preferences to streaming services, which has shrunk the viewership base for traditional cable offerings like CNN–but others seem to have been more self-inflicted. Did CNN become too top-heavy, hiring administrators when it should have been hiring in-the-field reporters? Did CNN lose sight of its purpose of reporting the news–“news” is part of its name, after all–in favor of point-of-view programming that some of its viewers found off-putting? Does CNN really need high-visibility personalities to host prime-time shows, when it could just be reporting the news, period?

It will be interesting to see where CNN goes next. I wonder: is a return to the straight, old-fashioned news reporting that used to be a trademark of the network 30 years ago one of the options that has been considered?

Sports Gambling, Everywhere

Recently I was watching a baseball playoff broadcast–it might have been a pregame show, or it might have been one of the games themselves–when a little box flashed up on the screen with some of the bets you could place on the game. It wasn’t just who would win, either. Instead, you could bet on the final score, the spread, who would score first, and whether a particular player would hit a home run during the game. Time to pick up the phone and call your bookie, fans!

It’s not just baseball, of course, You can’t watch a pro football game without seeing ads for DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, or Caesars Sportsbook. The NFL broadcasts not only feature commercials telling viewers that they still have a chance to bet, the pregame shows include segments where specific bets are suggested. In the commercials, the wagerers always seem to win (although, in one particular point-of-view ad that is broadcast regularly, the bettor eats some pretty crappy-looking pizza while a player improbably scores to make his bet pay off, so maybe there’s an implicit gambling-isn’t-so-great message there).

The sports world is so associated with gambling these days that organizations like NASCAR have joined forces with the American Gaming Association, as shown in the picture above, to encourage fans to bet responsibly and “know when to pit.” Such ads seem like a way to have your cake and eat it, too: the sport is saying that some betting is just fine and perfectly natural and understandable, but can point to their ads as encouraging moderation rather than betting your bottom dollar. The problem, however, is that gambling addicts don’t know when to stop. They lose, and lose, and always believe that the next bet is a sure fire way to turn things around and get them back on the plus side.

In the last few years, gambling on sports has emerged from the shadows and come out into the daylight, and moved well beyond office college football or NCAA tournament pools. Sports betting is now legal in many states, and reports indicate that the amount of gambling skyrocketed during the COVID pandemic–with unfortunate consequences for some people who lost their shirts. It’s clearly a big-money business–which makes you wonder when the next sports betting scandal, with games being fixed and players tanking, might happen. Could another Black Sox scandal be just around the corner?

Talking Too Much

I watched the Guardians-Yankees division series playoff game last night on TBS. By the end of the broadcast, I was left with two unshakeable conclusions.

First, it’s hard to beat a team that has spent huge amounts on player contracts. Every player in the Yankees batting order seemed to have hit at least 20 homers, knocked in at least 70 runs, and either won an MVP, a batting title, a World Series title, or a Golden Glove award before they went for the big money in the Bronx.

And second, Bob Costas just talks too much. Way, way, way too much. So much that his partner in the booth, Ron Darling, was hard pressed to get a word in edgewise, even though, unlike Costas, he often had something interesting to say about what was happening on the field. By the end of the game, I felt like hitting the mute button, just so I wouldn’t hear Costas rip through another set of weird statistics and seemingly pointless anecdotes.

There’s nothing to be done about the payroll difference. Regrettably, it’s just part of the big-league game these days and something that you need to accept when you root for a small-market team against one of the cash-rich big boys. All you can do is hope that lightning strikes and your team can somehow prevail despite the stacked deck. But the broadcast booth blabbing is jarring. You’re used to listening to your hometown TV team, and then suddenly you’re dealing with a national media personality who apparently feels compelled to gush out verbiage like a fire hydrant on a hot summer’s day.

Baseball is a slow-moving, pastoral game. Part of its appeal is the sights and sounds and rhythms. A chatterbox announcer interferes with all of that. Make your occasional point, and call the action, sure — but there is absolutely no need to fill every precious moment of silence or background crowd noise or the organ sounding the notes of the “charge” call with mindless yammering about in-the-weeds data analytics or curious back stories that really don’t have anything to do with the game.

Bob Costas has had a storied career in broadcasting, but in my view his approach really interferes with enjoyment of the game. Take a breath now and then, Bob — won’t you?