Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How 'Bout Them Stadiums!

I've been college-shopping with my daughter, who is very interested in Sweet Briar, a women's college in Virginia. Sweet Briar has a well-known horseback riding program with some of the most luxurious barns I've ever seen, and so I asked the dumb question parents are supposed to ask: are students expected to bring their own horse? (Because my daughter doesn't have one.) No, I was told--and the admissions person added something I found very interesting: the college has a rule that if you do bring your horse, you are automatically disqualified from getting any kind of financial aid--the thinking being that any student who can afford to keep her own private horse on the grounds at school should be able to foot the tuition bill by herself.

At this point, I decided I really, really liked Sweet Briar.

What does this have to do with the Braves leaving Atlanta? The new stadium is going to be built in Cobb County (where a lot of Braves fans now live, according to this interesting graphic in the Washington Post), and it's going to cost $672 million. The owners--a bunch of rich guys who include billionaire Ted Turner--are putting up something like $200 million of their own money, with the rest to be paid for by--you guessed it--the taxpayers. But that's okay! Because apparently this new stadium will create so many jobs in its new location that everybody will benefit. This is the huge whopper trotted out every time some sports mogul wants to build another palace, and it's especially effective in Atlanta, a real sports town which has always been The City Too Busy to Hate Money. Of course, the vast majority of the jobs created will be low- to medium-wage service sector jobs (somebody has to serve all those tables and sweep up all those empty beer cans)--and it goes without saying that a lot of the people who really could use jobs like that will be hard-pressed to get to this new stadium, because Cobb County is not connected to Atlanta's rapid rail system, known as MARTA. Back in the 1970s, it voted not to participate in MARTA, because at the time it was a white enclave and everybody knew that MARTA stood for Moving Africans Rapidly OuT of Atlanta. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Braves fans will continue getting to the games in their cars, further clogging roads in one of the most congested regions of one of the most congested cities in America. And isn't it weird, how easy it seems to be for these guys who own sports teams to get these tax breaks--especially in a region like Atlanta, where the average teacher makes $52,000 a year? Oh well, who cares. Their kids go to private schools.

I'm not singling Atlanta out here. Washington, D.C. recently made the Washington Nationals a very sweet deal, and Prince George's County bent over--well, I started to say backward, but let's just say bent over--for Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, so he'd build his new stadium there. The results are mixed: the Nationals ballpark is a great place and the surrounding area, formerly the Land of Blight, is indeed taking off--but it's two blocks from the nearest rapid rail station. Landover Field has made Dan Snyder a whole bunch of money, but it is nowhere near mass transit, and the only economic benefit to the surrounding neighborhoods is the kind you might realize with a bucket of soapy water and a squeegee. Wash your windshield, sir?

Two thoughts here. One: sports palaces without access to mass transit equal big money for fat cats and a rip off for the taxpayer. Two: taxpayers should demand that their government leaders adopt the Sweet Briar Rule: if you are rich enough to own a sports team, you are rich enough to pay for your own damn stadium.

CORRECTION: Ted Turner no longer owns any part of the Atlanta Braves. Today they are owned by Liberty Media, whose majority owner is some guy named John C. Malone.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Southernisms, Or: English as Your Second Language

Apropos of what I don't know, but The Business Insider has just come up with a list of 13 Southern sayings the rest of America won't understand, and I feel the need to weigh in, since articles like this give the impression that Southerners all talk alike. We don't. Southern, like any other language, has its regional idiosyncracies and variations. Feel free to peruse the full list, but for the benefit of future historians of the language, here are my footnotes.

"He could eat corn through a picket fence." This is one of the many reasons I love the South; where else on earth would you ever find such a concise and colorful description of a person with buck teeth? Says it all, doesn't it? Similarly, "grinning like a jackass eating briars" pretty much sums up the kind of phony smile you often see on the faces of TV preachers and politicians. I propose further that Southerners have the ability to come up with these gems on a moment's notice, a case in point being the time when I was a kid standing on a street in California watching the world go by with my dad, waiting for my mom to finish some shopping, and he said, "Lookit that girl. She's so knock-kneed her knees gotta signal to pass." You can't acquire this facility; I think it has to be genetic. Or something in the water (which, in my dad's case, would have been Gadsden, Alabama water.)

"You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." Honestly, I had no idea this was a Southern expression; I thought everybody knew it. I will admit that I used it the other day with my 16-year-old daughter, Maryland born and bred, and she looked at me like I had just put my panties on my head.

"He looked as drunk at Cooter Brown" and "I'm finer than frog hair split four ways." Just to emphasize that Southerners do not all go to secret meetings where we are given lists of expressions to memorize, these are two I've never heard. However, my grandmother used to say, when asked "How are you?" (supposedly the antecedent for the frog hair remark), "I'm large as life and twice as natural." I don't know what that means, but I've been saying it all my life.

"She's as happy as a dead pig in sunshine." The version I always heard left out the "dead," and I am wondering if the reporter of this piece either mis-heard or somebody was having a little fun at his expense. Because in my experience, a dead pig is not happy; a dead pig is pork chops.

"He thinks the sun comes up just to hear him crow." Nope, never heard that particular one, either; the version I grew up hearing was the description of some blowhard as "a rooster taking credit for the dawn."

"Catawampus." If this is a Southernism, then it is one that English-speaking people everywhere need. "The bow on the back of your dress is a little off-center" and "The bed looks wrong against that wall" and any number of other remarks could be more concisely rendered thusly: "That thing is all catawampus." I hope the OED folks are paying attention.