Saving the world

Russell Baker

August 27, 1991|By Russell Baker

MY COMMITTEE on the Pace of Life sends these statistics on time consumed by humanity's most vital activities in the 1990s:

War: 100 hours

Coup: 60 hours

Baseball: three hours

It is instantly obvious that while wars are getting shorter, baseball is getting longer. Whether coups are also getting longer is hard to say since our sample coup was a failed model. It also occurred in the mild Soviet climate and not in the torrid coup belt, the so-called "home office of coups," where unbearable heat may speed things up since participants are naturally in a hurry to take over nice air-conditioned palaces.

The advent of three-hour baseball games alarms the committee minority. Not long ago, their report notes, two and a half hours was plenty of time to play a baseball game while some teams could do it in a mere two hours. The report continues:

"Raw numbers obscure the shocking truth about the baseball bloat. Some people will say, 'But the average game consumes only a silly 3 percent of the time needed for a war, so why get excited?'

"Here's why: World War II lasted nearly six years. That's about 2,190 days, or 52,560 hours, 3 percent of which is about 1,577 hours. Imagine World War II Americans sitting through a single baseball game 1,577 hours long.

That's 65 days if nobody every pauses to sleep. It would take an entire season to play three games! America wouldn't have had time left over to whip Germany and Japan into shape to run the world economy."

The majority report rejects "this alarmist suggestion that baseball is hogging all the time" and ascribes "this unduly bleak assessment" to the fact that the minority report's author, Professor J. Yardley, is "notoriously baseballocentric."

Parenthetically, let me say that I have warned all my committees that severe punishment will be administered to anyone caught writing multisyllabic words ending in -ocentric; and that, true to my word, the author of the majority report is at this very moment serving two weeks on bread and water after having been stripped of his new sneakers.

Despite his offense, the majority report's author, Dr. P. Bengloss, is trenchant when warning that our statistics point to "something far more amusing than just another case of professional sport running amok."

History, he believes, is now controlled by the attention span of the television audience. What is strange is not that baseball has become interminable, compared with war, but that wars and coups must now get on and off faster than a mini-series.

Bengloss: "We are convinced that television will no longer permit wars and coups to run endlessly on in competition with soaps. Our statistics show we are in an era when world leaders can be canceled by the TV audience just as ruthlessly as sitcoms are canceled when that audience tunes them out.

"The figures mean that trying to keep a war running longer than five days or a coup longer than three invites the ultimate political disaster: TV floperoo, audiences on all continents yawning through Pentagon press briefings, big-shot news conferences, terrific bombing footage, breathless anchors."

The reports states that the whole world will switch from "All My Children" to CNN and stay there about as long as everybody can survive on carry-out pizza without weeping. After that it's so long, Bobby Battista and Bernard Shaw. Get off our soaps Dan, Peter and Tom.

The happy conclusion to which all this leads is that there can never be another World War II, another Vietnam or a successful power grab by political hacks so lacking in the tiniest jot, tittle or iota of charisma that they sit for what feels like a years-long press conference on the global screen oozing tedium into the planet's parlors.

Television simply won't let it happen. In short, that accursed box may save the world.

Such at least is my committee's majority opinion, which I enjoy believing as I enjoy believing all things I passionately want to believe.

If the majority proves wrong, I shall make them attend an entire season of baseball games to watch players, managers, coaches, umpires, salesmen and millions of fans preen interminably for cameras.

Russell Baker, who was a reporter for The Sun in the 1950s, writes a column for the New York Times syndication service.

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