Bob Schwartz

Tag: New York Times

There Is Still a War in Syria

Paris Hilton As Miley Cyrus
When there was less to people’s news and info lives—a newspaper or two a day, a half-hour network news show, a couple of news magazines a week—there were stories that rose to the top and stayed there, depending on importance. This didn’t mean that second-tier or frivolous stories didn’t get coverage or traction. People always loved celebrities, always loved hearing gossip, and when man bites dog, that’s always news. The down side was a certain provincialism that came with a narrow channel and less worldly attitudes: if millions were suffering in a place nobody heard of, with people unlike us, most readers and viewers might have no idea.

Now we can know anything, though we don’t know everything, or care about everything. This has left news leaders in a delicate position. There are going to be stories that appeal to a journalist sense and a humanist sense, that deserve at least regular mention, if not coverage that might only say, “And in the misery of this place or that war, it’s still happening, with no end in sight.” The dual problem is that people can find and figure that out for themselves, without a multi-billion dollar media enterprise telling them, and those media consumers might just as well pay attention to something else.

Which is why, unlike its predecessors World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War, the Iraq War was not the top story every day of its ten years. Which is why the current violence in Iraq is barely covered, a turning away that in part must come from some profound but unspoken embarrassment.

For a few moments a few months ago, Syria was a bright shiny object. Red lines, chemical warfare, threats of military action, etc. After some erratic movement, slight progress is being made. But that progress does not include ending the civil war.

The New York Times, still possibly the world’s greatest news enterprise, has an ongoing section devoted to the Crisis in Syria. The increasing numbers stupefy: 6.5 million Syrians displaced from their homes, more than 2 million of them seeking refuge in other countries. Now we hear about a cluster of polio cases among Syrian children.

We have plenty of our own problems, individually and as a country. Some of those are not small at all. But there is no polio. And the entire population of the state of Tennessee or Indiana has not had to leave their homes behind, dodging mayhem, unsure if they will ever return, or if there will be anything to return to.

We shouldn’t expect ourselves to be exhausted or crushed by the miseries of the world; that’s what keeping track of all the problems all the time would do. So yes, you can argue that it is important to learn from the news today that Paris Hilton has spent $5,000 on Halloween costumes so that she can dress up as Miley Cyrus. But for a change of pace, a regular, maybe daily, reminder that there is still a war in Syria might be of value.

More Proof That Baseball Is Better Than Politics


The political polling analyst Nate Silver is something of a hero, both for his accurate predictions and for his amazingly clear explanation of the statistics that lead to his seemingly prescient conclusions. To paraphrase Barack Obama talking about Bill Clinton’s ability to make complex budget math simple, Nate Silver should be the Secretary of Explaining Things statistical.

Those of us who have followed Nate’s career, even before the New York Times made him and his Five Thirty Eight blog a must-read fixture, know that his roots are not in politics but in the art and science of baseball stats. That’s why it was wonderful to see him switch gears yesterday from the election to the most contentious baseball argument of the moment: who should be this year’s American League Most Valuable Player, an award voted on by the Baseball Writers of America?

To make this basic for non-baseball fans, two players in the league had historic, exceptional seasons. Miguel Cabrera, playing for the pennant-winning but World Series-losing Detroit Tigers, was the first player in forty-five years to win the Triple Crown, leading the league in Batting Average, Runs Batted In and Home Runs. Twenty-year-old Los Angeles Angels rookie Mike Trout not only had one of the best first seasons ever (unanimously winning Rookie of the Year award), he had one of the best seasons period. Of the so-called five tools (hitting for average, hitting for power, baserunning, throwing and fielding), few players of his age have ever exhibited such an array of gifts.

Yesterday, the Major League Baseball Network convened a conclave of baseball experts for a one-hour debate on the matter; that’s how significant it is (at least to lovers of the game). And yesterday Nate posted The Statistical Case Against Cabrera for M.V.P.

The point here is neither Nate’s argument nor the merits of the debate (Cabrera will most likely win, though the best outcome, given how micrometer-close it is, would be for a shared award). The point is that soon after the blog post, hundreds of comments arrived. Not just a few interesting comments mixed with uninformed, borderline psychotic rants, as we’ve come to expect from political posts. This was an amazing collection of intelligent, articulate, deeply researched responses, offering perspectives that even the most attentive fan might not have considered.

That’s why we are happy that Nate returned, at least for the moment, to baseball. And that’s why baseball is, inarguably, better than politics.