Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Sage Of Minneapolis: An Ode To Dan Barreiro

A few days ago Twins Geek made an interesting post about paradigms. To summarize, paradigms are the lenses through which we view the world. Through our paradigms, some aspects of our environment are drawn into sharper focus while others are obscured. The larger point is that the reality behind the paradigm does not change: a paradigm-free perspective would perceive an unfiltered reality, whereas a paradigm-generated perspective shades things.

So far so good. But now we toe contested ground. Some would have it that there is no such thing as a paradigm-free perspective. For instance, those who allege a "liberal bias" in the mainstream media claim that media members’ liberal paradigms inform everything they report, including what issues they choose to cover. Stepping outside of those paradigms and reporting objectively is not possible, the claim contends. Others believe that we can step outside of our paradigms long enough to view and process reality objectively.

As an old philosophy major I'm aware that the above was a gloss on a controversy loaded with complexity. Nevertheless, I think the positions at stake are clear enough. I also believe that the paradigm-centric assumption has a profoundly negative effect on our discourse. Not only does the position discourage people from attempting to stake out objective perspectives on issues; its prevailing status as conventional wisdom discourages us from criticizing those who broadcast ostensibly "objective", but evidently agenda-driven, points of view. Why challenge the intellectually dishonest if all argumentation is paradigm driven and thus biased in some way?

I do believe that we have the ability to mostly shed our paradigms and consider the world from a mostly objective point of view. I don't believe that to do so is easy. A paradigm simplifies the world by setting reality into a pre-configured mold. In addition, paradigms allow for a community of paradigm-sharers to find solace in the company of others who have predictably similar perspective on things. To step outside of one's paradigms is to step away from the security of those paradigms and to face a world full of frustrating nuance and complexity.

But with what values, one might ask. Shed the paradigms and don’t you shed the value systems that are the product of them?

Not entirely. Leave behind the paradigms and one is left with a commitment to taking the world as it is without “spinning” it so that it will fit into a paradigm. The paradigm-free make a virtue of intellectual honesty.

For reasons I won’t get into so as not to make a long post longer, I do think the world would be a better place if we were quick to brand the intellectually dishonest with a Scarlet D. And I think more would be inclined to think critically and with a healthy independence if we celebrated the intellectual honesty of those who attempt to process the world paradigm-free. Which brings me to former Star Tribune sports columnist and current KFAN radio personality Dan Barreiro.

As a columnist, Barreiro's contrarian spirit and his willingness to savage the eminently savagable raised faint echoes of H.L. Mencken. That echo has grown even louder as his radio personality has evolved over the years. Barreiro doesn't suffer fools lightly, and his willingness to take a hatchet to purveyors of ignorance, intolerance, and fraudulence rivals Mencken’s own motivations in tone and tenor if not in the quality of the resulting criticism. When I listen to Barreiro, I am greeted with the same thought that visits me when I read Mencken: here is someone who both values and practices intellectual honesty, who desires nothing more (and nothing less) than to view the world objectively.

I believe his body of work supports this interpretation. As exhibit A I’d point to the befuddlement with which a certain segment of his listenership greets his program. The frequency with which his callers and e-mailers accuse him of being, alternately, liberal and conservative, is both laughable and distressing. Laughable because the accusations see-saw as conclusions arrived at without the assistance of a paradigm driven-agenda take on an alternatively liberal or conservative hue. Distressing because the comments demonstrate that some accustomed to paradigm-driven, intellectually dishonest talk radio don't know what to make of someone who is intellectually honest. These listeners seem troubled that you cannot approach Barreiro’s show with the same confidence you can approach so many shows up and down the AM dial. In fact it is not possible to predict how Barreiro will respond to any given subject by holding that subject up against an agenda. After fifteen years listening I still don't know exactly where his politics lay. I offer that as a form of tribute.

Before you suggest he and I get a room, I’ll mention here that I don’t believe that Barreiro is above criticism. His fondness for creating, and then destroying, argumentative straw men can make his criticism gratuitous at times. His “Done as a Society” segment, for instance, which features bizarre or troubling news items, is related with an incredulity that suggests he believes he is the last sane man in America. Likewise, on the subject of local sports, his tendency to find a cloud behind every silver lining draws him perilously close to paradigmatic-blinkered thinking: at times Barreiro seems programmed to see the negative to the exclusion of the positive.

Still, even these tendencies can make for colorful, entertaining radio. And I don’t believe they detract from his accomplishment, which has been to carve out in the competitive drive time slot a radio program that has managed to remain intelligent, eclectic, and above all, intellectually honest. Barreiro may not be another H.L. Mencken. He’s the closest we have to him in this market however. For that I believe he has earned our respect.

10 comments:

SBG said...

Barreiro is absolutely unlistenable. I cannot stand him. It's not because I think he is a liberal or a conservative or whatever. It's because I think he's an arrogant ignoramus.

As a baseball observer, his big stat is RBIs. He ripped KG mercilessly when he was here and now he's off talking about how great he is. And his love fest with Glen Mason is positively vomit inspiring. His non-stop bad mouthing of Joe Mauer is ridiculous. He'd still take Mark Prior. by the way. Part of intellectual honesty is admitting when you are wrong. He's been wrong on Mauer plenty and he will not admit it. That's intellectually dishonest. I've quit listening to his show because he's convinced he's the smartest man alive. I beg to differ.

Jesse said...

I like Barreiro when he talks about anything besides sports. When he talks sports I take him like I take everyone else on KFAN or anywhere else, because it becomes opinion and he has just a thick of a paradigm as everyone else. As a straight journalist, and when he talks about everything else, I enjoy(ed) listening to him.

Biff_Malibu said...

Much like the casual NASCAR fan, I listen to the Barreiro show and hope for a wreck. His meltdowns are legendary -- but they're also of his own making. He's an entertainer first, and much of the time he lacks the deep thinking some of his show topics require. A top-notch contrarian...

Kyle Eliason said...

Barreiro still would have taken Mark Prior, or still would take Mark Prior?

Because I believe there is a strong case to be made that a rotation that featured Santana and Prior in 2003 may have given the Twins a better chance at a World Series title than Mauer ever will in his career.

All depends on what you want out of the draft pick. Me, I think flags fly forever.

Jack Ungerleider said...

First off, Thanks SBG you said what I was thinking. (In a nicer way.)

Kyle: I have to disagree on the Mauer/Prior debate. Signing home town heroes is about generating interest in the team. While the 1991 World Series flag still "flies" once the team took a nose dive in the mid '90s it didn't create interest in the team. Mauer's signing created interest in the primary market (Twin Cities) as people waited for Mauer to make the big league team. Now that he's here he becomes the hub around which most of the teams marketing spins. For the team as a whole that is much more valuable.

haasertime said...

Jack: For the team or for the fans? As a fan, I'd much rather have a championship than a 'marketing hub'

I think Barreiro is good, but I doubt I could listen to him for longer than the 20 minute drive home from work.

Kyle Eliason said...

Jake: There isn't much evidence to suggest that hometown heroes are a significant draw. The proven draws are:

1. Winning baseball.
2. Free stuff.
3. The first three-to-five years of a new stadium.

Another thing that needs mention in this debate is that the Twins do an excellent job as an organization monitoring the workload of their pitchers. Santana was never pushed into the 120 pitch terrirtory in a game by the Twins where Dustry Baker did this to Prior several times in 2003. Prior also saw his innings increase from 167.2 combined minor and major league innings in 2002 to 234.2 big league innings in 2003 and then saw his career derailed by injury. Some of those injuries have been bizzare and not pitching related, but there is also a case to be made that Prior would have been better served by being a Twins draft pick. Baker also rode Jason Schmidt to the breaking point during his time in San Francisco.

2003:
Prior - 10.4 K/9, 4.9 K/BB, 178 ERA+, 1.10 WHIP
Santana - 9.63 K/9, 3.60 K/BB, 148 ERA+, 1.10 WHIP

I'd trade Mauer's future to have that pair in '03. Radke led the rest of the Twins' starters on that club (Lohse, Rogers, Mays, Reed) with an ERA+ of 101. He was a great player to have, but not a pitcher that could take over and dominate a game in October against a very good line-up.

Kyle Eliason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clif Varity said...

Is Tom Genrich simply a Barreiro pseudonym? Let’s look at the evidence.

1. The author waxes philosophical for six paragraphs before introducing his point. This seems eerily reminiscent of the Barreiro 2 minute question, in which he bathes himself in his own words to a point of exhaustion before allowing a guest to respond.
2. Pointing out, one more time, the obvious “today I’m liberal, tomorrow a conservative” back patting. Has Barreiro or his screeners, ever passed on a caller eager to point out that he’s a raging right or left winger? Has Barreiro ever not verbally relished responding that he’s called out on both sides? If “Tom Genrich” is truly a 15 year listener, I find baffling and telling that he’s still impressed by this charade.
3. “Tom’s” even nailed the closing weak handed criticism proving that he to, cannot be put in a box. “Tom Genrich” would like us to believe that the man he labels “the sage of Minneapolis” is also, “not above criticism”.
4. “Tom” has borrowed the typical talk radio tactic of beating a “talker” topic to death. Just throw some s*** out and see if it get the calls (comments) coming in.

I’m new to the blog, but was hoping to find some insightful twins discussion. Instead, I’m subjected to the web equivalent of mediocre talk radio.

Well, I guess I’ll play the KFAN caller role to a finish by calling for the author to TALK ABOUT SPORTS.

It’s probably safe to say that Tom Genrich is not actually Dan Barreiro. It’s just too bad that he’s listened to Barreiro long enough to view everything through a Barreiro Paradigm.

Clovis said...

I agree with everything Cliff said. I'm not sure why "Mr. Genrich" decided to cozy up with the liberal media (my guess is he was hoping they'd say his name on air), and I realize I'm a year and a half late in weighing in on this, but it just bothers me when so called sports commentators deviate away from sports into something they obviously don't know anything about. Stick to sports "Mr. Genrich", or else get a real job like the rest of us Americans.