In Milwaukee, cartoon characters dressed up like various sausages race at each Brewers' game; in Washington, five of our beloved presidents do their own bratwurst ramble. But the character I want to appear at every baseball game — and at a couple of other sports, too, is ...
... the crocodile from Peter Pan who swallowed a clock and shadows a terrified Capt. Hook.
Somebody has to scare athletes into playing faster. In baseball, golf and tennis in particular, we are being slowwwwwwly lulled to sleep before every pitch, every shot. The pretentious preparation is interminable.
In baseball, the pitcher holds the ball, pondering what to throw as if his decision — a two-seamer or breaking ball — would determine the fate of humankind. In tennis, after every point, the server towels off more than a movie Cleopatra alighting from her bath, then carefully selects a ball, bounces a ball. Again ... and again ... and again, and — in fact, it rather resembles a clock.
Thank the Lord baseballs don't bounce or pitchers would do that, as well.
The irony is, too, that by delaying, the pitcher is surely helping the batter more than himself. The great Warren Spahn is attributed with saying: "Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing." So Spahn got the ball and promptly pitched it and thereby won 363 games because the batter didn't have all that time to get comfortable.
In golf, protracted discussions with the caddy about the wind velocity and the choice of club rival, I am sure, the nightly extended pillow talk between Bill and Hillary Clinton. It is estimated that 4 million golfers have given up playing in recent years because the game just takes toooooooo long. Cue the crocodile:
Incredibly, too, these sports all actually have time limits in their rules. It's just that they're almost never enforced. The timid officials humor procrastination and celebrate boredom by giving these spoiled athletes too much time to make simple decisions.
It is also demonstrable that in the two popular sports where there is a well-publicized time limit that is scrupulously honored — basketball and football — the need for the teams to produce a shot or a play off in the allotted time adds to the drama ... as the seconds count down.
He got it off in time!
Time clocks not only reduce the duration of whole games, but they also create regular little climaxes.
Get me that crocodile. Sic 'em, boy, sic 'em.
There is one basic question that keeps being asked about the U.S. auto industry: Is it on the rebound?
"People ask a lot, is the auto industry back?" says Kristin Dziczek, a director at the Center for Automotive Research. "And it depends on what scale you want to look at."
So if we're looking at scales, let's start with productivity. In this case, how many work hours it takes to build a car. Productivity in U.S. plants is 39 percent higher than it was in 2000. "Productivity has never been this high," Dziczek says.
And while sales aren't as high as they once were, vehicle prices are up — so profitability is up, too. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler are all making money. They've been rewarding their workers with profit-sharing checks, and all the companies — foreign and domestic — are investing billions of dollars in North American facilities.
You'd think this would all translate into a hiring frenzy, right? Not so much, according to Dziczek. "Employment's still got a long way to go," she says. Before the economic crash there were over 1 million autoworkers. That number has now fallen to below 700,000, Dziczek says. [The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the number at just under 800,000.]
The car companies are adding workers. Eight thousand employees were added in the first part of 2013, and Dziczek says many more will still be added. But the addition of those workers is sort of slow and steady compared with how auto companies have recovered from recessions historically.
Right now, plants in the U.S. and North America are running above 90 percent capacity. That means the number of shifts and hours worked have increased and car plants that used to, say, have one assembly line now have two.
"There's no doubt that the industry is stressed right now," says Michael Robinet, an analyst with IHS Automotive. The car companies, both foreign and domestic, have learned the lessons of the economic crash almost too well, he says. "The days of 2008 and 2009 still linger well in our industry."
All the automakers are being extremely careful about adding capacity, Robinet says, whether it's workers or bricks-and-mortar assembly plants. He says car companies are not ready to expand the number of plants in the U.S. unless they're absolutely sure they'll be needed for a long, long time. And companies like Volkswagen are expanding in Mexico, but no new U.S. facilities are on the books for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, Dziczek with the Center for Automotive Research says the industry has never seen productivity this high for such an extended period. The question, she says, is "how long can this go on before you start having some issue with morale in the plants."
On Madrid's posh Gran Vía, thousands of shoppers and tourists visit the flagship stores of some of the biggest names in European fast fashion — Zara, Mango and H&M.
Suddenly, the hordes of bargain-hunters stop dead in their tracks.
Face down on the sidewalk lie the bodies of three women, buried in rubble. Silver stilettos protrude from underneath cement dust and cardboard. Designer handbags and sunglasses rest next to their lifeless hands.
Tourists gasp. A crowd forms. An off-duty nurse rushes to crouch over one of the bodies. Others call 911 or take photos. And one woman hangs back, observing from afar.
She's the Spanish artist Yolanda Dominguez, and the women sprawled on the sidewalk are alive and well. They're models — part of Dominguez' latest art installation, Fashion Victims, meant to conjure images of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh.
"The real fashion victims are not celebrities, but anonymous workers in poor conditions, in polluted countries," Dominguez, 36, told NPR afterward. "The images I saw [from Bangladesh] in the media of the limbs of the dead people under the rubble struck me so much, and I wanted to reproduce them."
At least 1,129 people died when the Rana Plaza factory collapsed outside the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, on April 24. The accident is believed to be the deadliest in the garment industry's history, and reverberations are being felt as far away as Spain — home to some of the world's biggest low-cost fashion retailers.
Clothing and purchase orders from Spanish retailers Mango and El Corte Inglés were found in the rubble of Rana Plaza, and a Spaniard was registered as the factory's director-general. The man, identified by Bangladeshi police as David Mayor, is under investigation and believed to be hiding in Spain.
Rana Plaza was not the first deadly incident. In January, a fire killed at least seven workers at another Bangladeshi factory making clothes for Zara's parent company, Inditex.
In May, Spanish companies and others like the Swedish-owned H&M — the largest buyer of clothes made in Bangladesh — finally signed unprecedented fire and building safety agreements for their factories there.
But the sheer magnitude of the Rana Plaza disaster means worker safety in Bangladesh is no longer only a matter for lawyers, unions and bereaved families. It's now on the radar of shoppers on European thoroughfares like Gran Vía.
"I want to see proof that companies are following the rules and doing right by their workers in third world countries," said shopper Patricia Barrera, 28, as she locked up her motor scooter in front of H&M in Madrid. "I'd even be willing to pay more — though I think the companies could afford it themselves."
Inditex announced record profits of $583 million for the first quarter of this year — much of that from expansion into developing countries. While the company has been heralded as a rare success story in Spain's economic malaise, the Rana Plaza disaster has some consumers questioning the Spanish fast-fashion model of doing business.
"Technically, when we talk about the fast-fashion model, one of the characteristics is local sourcing — not because of cost, but because they are trying to compete in speed," said Philip Moscoso, a fashion industry expert at Spain's IESE Business School.
Inditex, for example, prides itself on speed: 15 days from design to retail rack. That has meant at least half of production is done locally, in Spain and Portugal.
But Inditex is expanding at a rate of more than a store a day, and Mango is close behind, opening about four new stores a week — and increasingly turning to foreign production. Total employment in Spain's garment industry has fallen from 243,000 in 2004 to 136,000 last year.
'Difficult To Keep Track'
Nevertheless, retailers had been resistant to signing binding safety initiatives for their foreign factories, fearing they might be held responsible for sub-sub-contractors whose practices could be beyond their control, said Moscoso.
"You may be working with a company which then — and this happens in Bangladesh but also in China and other countries — itself contracts to even other people," he said. "So sometimes it's rather difficult to keep track of who is ultimately really the producer."
But with the Rana Plaza "wake-up call," Moscoso envisions the start of a fair trade movement in mainstream consumer fashion, similar to what already exists in the food and beauty industries.
"What may happen is that you develop some kind of sub-brand or label, [so] that those people that are interested and willing to support those efforts by companies have an easy identification of which products held up to certain standards or not," he said.
That system could take years to set up. Until then, Dominguez, the Spanish artist, is determined to prevent those images of Rana Plaza from vanishing from the public conscience. She's produced a video of her Fashion Victims art installation, and she hopes to re-create the public spectacle in shopping centers worldwide.
The three models Dominguez contracted for the project on Madrid's Gran Vía all waived their fee.
"It produced a shock in people's daily lives — but a necessary one," said María Sanchez, who wore silver shoes and was sprawled directly in front of the Mango store for about an hour. "It was a new experience for me. When we finished, I felt good about it."
If the US Airways-American Airlines merger announced earlier this year is approved, the combined airline would control two-thirds of the takeoff and landing slots at Reagan National Airport, outside Washington, D.C.
The government could force the airline to give up some of those slots as a condition of the merger. But lawmakers warn that could have consequences for some small- and medium-sized cities. And, not coincidentally, it could affect flight plans for lawmakers themselves.
Reagan National Airport is just a short taxi ride away from Capitol Hill. It's a standing joke that lawmakers are smelling the jet fumes as they rush out the door at the end of the week, heading for their flights home.
So it's easy to be skeptical about the letter signed by more than 100 lawmakers urging the Justice Department, which is reviewing the merger, to preserve the nonstop flights from Reagan National to small- and medium-sized airports across the country.
But Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine — who has heard this before — says it's really not about the lawmakers.
"It has nothing to do with lawmakers' convenience and everything to do with representing small communities that rely on these direct flights for economic benefits," Michaud says. "This is a bipartisan response to what we have heard from our constituents back home in the district."
Michaud represents Maine's 2nd District and lives about 65 miles from Bangor, which has three daily nonstops to the nation's capital.
Tony Caruso, director of Bangor International Airport, says those flights are pretty full.
"There's quite a bit of travelers. It's a good mix of both business and leisure travel," he says. "The load factor — which is basically the number of seats sold on those aircraft — they average over 80 percent. Certainly we think these flights are critical to the overall health and growth of, certainly, the Bangor region and Maine economy."
The Justice Department has forced airlines to divest themselves of slots as a condition of approving past mergers. At a Senate hearing on the proposed US Airways-American deal, Douglas Parker, the chairman and CEO of US Airways, warned that smaller cities will lose out if the combined airline has to give up slots at Reagan National.
"The slots that will be utilized by the new American are used to provide service to smaller communities that, if other airlines were given those slots, they would not go to similar-sized communities — they'd be flown to larger markets," he said. "I think that'd be bad for consumers."
Parker said the new airline would likely give up its least profitable routes from Reagan National if it had to give up slots — say, to places like Bangor — and keep the slots for flights to more populous cities. And the airlines that won the new slots would not necessarily have to fly to the smaller cities either.
Diana Moss, director of the American Antitrust Institute, says this points to a problem with airline mergers.
"All of these legacy mergers are driving traffic to large hubs at the expense of service to smaller communities," she says. "I think this particular problem at National — which is just one of multiple hubs that are affected by this — I think this is where the rubber meets the road. Can you have a merger of this size with this competitive impact and still be able to fix it?"
Congress has a long history of involving itself in the workings of its favorite airport — from long-haul flights to Phoenix instituted at the urging of Arizona Sen. John McCain to noise and late-night restrictions urged by members of the local Maryland and Virginia delegations.
Whether lawmakers can influence the process this time will soon become clear. The Justice Department is thought likely to rule on the proposed airline merger sometime this summer.
Against all Vatican expectations, the pope's Twitter account in Latin has gained more than 100,000 followers in six months and continues to grow.
Followers are not exclusively Roman Catholics or Latin scholars, but represent a wide variety of professions and religions from all over the world. Some go so far as to claim that the language of the ancient Romans is perfectly suited to 21st-century social media.
Pope Benedict XVI launched the first papal Twitter account last December in eight languages, including Arabic. Soon, there were millions of followers.
Then letters started pouring in asking why the pope wasn't tweeting in the official language of the Vatican.
When the Latin account was launched in January, Vatican officials didn't expect more than 5,000 Latin nerds, that is, followers. But by May, it had surpassed Polish and was in a tie with German at more than 100,000.
"The surprise is that nerds are in all walks of life — cab drivers from South Africa, homemakers, journalists," says Monsignor Daniel Gallagher, one of the six language experts working in the Vatican's Latin Office.
He says followers are of all ages.
"Kids 8 years old, up to people who are 88 are also following the conversations and participating in the conversation," he says.
Gallagher says his office gets letters — as well as tweets — from all over the world. Many are from Muslims and atheists who don't necessarily like the Catholic Church but are grateful it's keeping the ancient language alive.
He acknowledges that Twitter can encourage shallow thinking and knee-jerk reactions, but is convinced Latin's economy makes it better suited for tweeting than many other languages.
"It tends to express thoughts as briefly, as concisely, as precisely as possible," Gallagher says.
If Twitter had existed during Roman antiquity, the person with the most followers likely would have been the satirist Martial, creator of the epigram.
Omnia promittis cum tota nocte bibisti; mane nihil praestas. Pollio, mane bibe.
Gallegher says this translates to: "You were making all kinds of promises when you drink at night, you're just a little tipsy and say whatever you want, but in the morning, you don't follow through, so Polio why don't you drink in the morning?"
Or this famous poem by Catullus:
Odi et amo. Quare id faciam fortasse requiris, nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
"I hate and I love at the same time, why do I do this, perhaps you ask, I've no idea, but I feel it happening and I am being tortured by it."
In just two lines, 82 characters, the meaning of life, a perfect tweet.
When the Vatican was preparing to launch the Latin Twitter account, it ruled out the Latin word for the sound of chirping birds — pipilare - saying it didn't sound serious enough for the pope.
So officials took a cue from the orator Cicero who once wrote to a friend while he was in a hurry: "Breviloquentem iam me tempus ipsum facit," he wrote - Time itself is forcing me to speak briefly.
The name of the Twitter account is Summi Pontificis Breviloquentis, the briefly speaking supreme pontiff.