Sunday, October 21, 2007

public service media announcement...

Scott Boras, the Yankees’ Bête Noire, Has Changed Baseball Forever

In “The Extortionist” (p. 56), in the October 29, 2007, issue of The New Yorker, Ben McGrath profiles Scott Boras, a man he calls “baseball’s preëminent power broker,” who represents such top-grossing players as Alex Rodriguez, Barry Zito, and Carlos Beltran. “In terms of negotiation, this guy is an absolute special-forces guy,” a competitor tells McGrath. A former minor-league player who quit the game because of knee problems, Boras has a “reputation for unflinching resolve” and a large stock of enemies, who blame him for driving star salaries to astronomical levels. One agent tells McGrath that Boras “stands for everything in the industry that’s gone to hell,” while others have called him a “compulsive liar” and nicknamed him Lord of the Loophole. Increasingly, he has tried to “steer the ship from the shore,” McGrath writes, proposing sweeping ideas like expanding the World Series to nine games and creating a Pacific Rim Division. (“I think the economics of the game will force us to strongly consider it,” he says.) But he “is best known for his representation of Rodriguez—or, more specifically, for securing, in 2000, a ten-year, two-hundred-and-fifty-two-million-dollar deal for Rodriguez,” which has become a case study at Harvard Business School. This fall, he may outdo himself: amid turmoil throughout the Yankees organization, Boras is threatening to have Rodriguez opt out of that record-breaking deal in search of an even grander one.

Mitt Romney’s Strategies for Success

In “The Mission” (p. 40), Ryan Lizza writes about the Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who “would be both the first Mormon President and the first President to come from the world of consulting,” and examines the influence his corporate background has had on his political career. Before entering politics, Romney worked at The Boston Consulting Group and then Bain & Company, which was known, because of its secrecy, as the “K.G.B. of management consulting.” Romney has said that his experience in management consulting “is what helped prepare him for government service,” though it remains unclear whether the principles of management theory are applicable to government. Lizza points out that “while giving customers exactly what they want may be normal in the corporate world, it can be costly in politics.” Over the course of his political career, Romney has acquired a reputation for changing his mind on issues like gay rights and abortion. Lizza writes, “Romney not only shifts positions; he often claims to be the most passionate advocate of his new stances. It’s one of the reasons that his metamorphosis from liberal Republican to committed right-winger seems so jarring.”

Still, Romney’s biggest liability may be his Mormonism. “In private,” Lizza writes, “a Romney aide frankly conceded that, aside from accusations of ‘flip-flopping,’ his greatest political liability is his religion, which is unfamiliar to most Americans.” A sixth-generation Mormon, Romney has not allowed his religion to dictate his positions on issues. “Many commentators have suggested that Romney will need to make a speech akin to the one that John F. Kennedy gave in 1960 to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, in which he promised to resign if there was ever a collision between his beliefs as a Catholic and the national interest,” Lizza writes. But the scholar Jan Shipps is skeptical, saying, “Romney is not Mormon the way, say, Ted Kennedy is Catholic. Romney is Mormon the way Ted Kennedy is Irish. That’s the difference. And when it’s that much a part of who you are it’s very hard to explain it to other people, because you can’t figure out why they can’t see it.”

The Quest for the Perfect Bean

In “Extreme Chocolate” (p. 68), Bill Buford examines the history of cacao and the emergence in recent years of artisanal dark chocolate as a high-end product, an appreciation of which “is now a sign of a discriminating palate.” Buford writes about the organic-chocolate entrepreneur Frederick Schilling, who founded Dagoba in 2001. “Schilling is thirty-six,” Buford writes, “no longer a novice but still not the obvious founder of a manufacturing company with many millions of dollars in sales.” For the first few years, he poured all the chocolate bars by hand, often in marijuana-fuelled marathons of productivity. Schilling believes that he received a “visitation” from Xochiquetzal, a goddess of cacao, to whom he made a sacred oath—he now claims that he can’t have a serious girlfriend, because he is “married to cacao.” Despite his homegrown, beatnik style, Schilling is also grandly ambitious, and he eventually sold Dagoba to Hershey for seventeen million dollars.

At Schilling’s suggestion, Buford travels to the Brazilian rain forest to trace the origins of chocolate. There, he meets Diego Badaró, a fourth-generation cacao producer. Badaró introduces Buford to some exotic tropical fruits and takes him through the cacao-fermentation process, including a dip into a trough of beans heated to around a hundred and twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit. As Schilling tells Buford, “You will never understand cacao until you see it in the tropics.”

Finding Out What Funny Is

In “In the Bird Cage” (p. 48), an excerpt from Steve Martin’s forthcoming memior, he looks back on his early days as a comedian, which took him from Southern California and Aspen in the Age of Aquarius to the East Coast, where he met Aaron Copland. “My first performances for a paying audience were at the Bird Cage, a wooden theatre with a canvas roof,” he writes. There, he performed in short melodramas like “The Bungling Burglar” for two dollars a show, while forming “the soft primordial core of what became my comedy act.” Toward the end of his tenure at the Bird Cage, he was dating the daughter of the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and taking classes at U.C.L.A., where he pursued studies in logic. At one point, he considered giving up show business to get a doctorate in philosophy and become a teacher. “I concluded that not to continue with comedy would leave a question in my mind that would nag me for the rest of my life: Could I have had a career in performing?...I abruptly changed my major to theatre and, free from the workload of my logic classes, took a relaxing inhale of crisp California air. But on the exhale I realized that I was now investing in no other future but show business.”

Plus: Hendrik Hertzberg, in Comment, on political dynasties (p. 33); Jacob Ward explains how “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is being used for behavioral therapy (p. 36); Ian Frazier, in Shouts & Murmurs, gives a recap of the Mets season as told by a talking skeleton (p. 46); Jill Lepore on how America came of age (p. 88); Sasha Frere-Jones on the feral sound of Animal Collective (p. 94); Hilton Als reviews Claire Danes’s performance in the Broadway revival of “Pygmalion” (p. 98); David Denby reviews Ben Affleck’s “Gone Baby Gone” and “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” (p. 100); and fiction by John Burnside (p. 80).

Online Features

James Surowiecki explains why politicians still rely on the supply-side myth. Ryan Lizza talks about Mitt Romney. An audio excerpt from Steve Martin’s memoir, which comes out next month. Photographs of the cacao trade in Bahia. Sasha Frere-Jones sorts through reactions to his indie-rock article. These features, plus selections from the magazine, including Ryan Lizza’s article on Romney, Ben McGrath’s piece on Scott Boras, and The Talk of the Town, will be available at

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