Thursday, October 22, 2020


 Hello again, world. Not sure how much longer we are going to be here - but might as well check in.

I voted this week. It seems wise to have that done and dusted, not have to worry about anything interfering. Too much can go wrong. Well. If you are wondering how I voted - you have not read this blog before.

We are less than two weeks to the election. This is a pretty terrifying moment. If Trump wins - we are done, the USA. Strange to say. But that is the end. Partly because the only way he can win would be to cheat - which he's made no secret that he's going to try to steal the election. He's not real subtle about his intentions. Lately, I suppose, he's been trying to gin up some kind of scandal against Biden - it's not very effective. It seems to have something to do with Joe Biden not disowning his ne'er-do-well son, and some kind of ties to foreign countries. How that flies when Trump's ties to foreign countries - China, this week - are being revealed all the time is an open question.

I don't know. Going through Trump's sins is a hopeless proposition. They are legion. They are overwhelming. It is bad.

So: I dread election night. The anxiety, the fear that the Republicans will simply overthrow the government - it's terrifying. It's a strange feeling. It was fun to bandy about notions that Little Bush might call off elections or something like that - but he never did anything like that. Voter suppression, sure, like al Republicans (and plenty of Democrats), general dirty tricks - but the system chugged along. Now? The system is not chugging along. 

It is new: there is a sense about Trump that he does not care what happens to the country. That he has no interest in the US as the US. This is new. Bush, Cheney - I never felt they were fundamentally against the USA. They wanted to control it, make it what they wanted - but they were invested in the idea of the country. I don't see that in Trump. He's never cared about the US, never cared about anything in it. He cares about himself. His power, his ego. It's strange and horrible. Combine that with the ideologues around him, the fascist tendencies in the Republican party, its authoritarianism, racism, xenophobia - you get the recipe for the real thing. It is scary.

Still: this is Donald Trump we are talking about. A man who has failed at every single thing he has ever done. He's had such a strange career. In the 80s, he looked like he was genuinely rich - maybe he was, thanks to daddy's money and Roy Cohn - in the 90s, of course, they were gone and he lost most of it. He was saved in the 2000s by reality television and 80s nostalgia, the same kind of cynicism that brought back Flava Flav and Brigitte Nielsen. He was on the Apprentice because he was the image of the 80s mogul, and pretty explicitly because he was washed up - if he was running an actual company, he would not have been a game show host. That got him on TV again, and when that ran its course, he went to the next step down on the ladder of infamy, and started turning up on right wing TV and radio. And - so on.

Still: it's all failure. Failure in business, failure in all his personal life with all those ruined marriages and awful kids and affairs and utterly putrid behavior, in the end, he failed on television, he ran for president and failed, really, getting beaten fairly badly, though he was saved on a technicality. And as president, he has been an unbelievable failure, culminating in 230,000 Americans dead - about half of whom can be pretty convincingly blamed on Donald Trump personally. He could have supported the doctors - he could have said, wear a mask - he could have kept this from being a political football. Christ, if he had, he might have gotten re-elected (without stealing the election). What can you say? 

All right. Two more weeks. Vote, please, and vote for Democrats. What else is there to say?

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Staying Alive

Well, the world is still here, two months after my last post. That almost counts as an upset these days. Things have gotten worse, somehow, thanks to the police doing what the police do, murdering Black men and women. I'm a few weeks late to say anything profound about that. The situation has changed, though - it's been strange, the way the protests have gone from looking like an plagueexcuse for Trump and company to impose martial law on the country, to - well, success, sort of. Minneapolis is willing to change their police department completely. Lots of talk about reform, from modest and obvious measures to defunding police to abolishing police - and a lot of it talk by people in position to do it. Will they? Early days, we are in...

The protests have spread, from directed at police villainy to directed as the long history of racism and evil in this country in the world. More talk about bringing down Confederate statues and purging Confederate names from the military and the like. Statues of Columbus and other nasty racists coming down. All getting complicated, I suppose, though it's hard to see a downside. We should not be celebrating the people who created the colonial system, fought to protect it - as well as those who fought to protect the racists societies it created. Not celebrating them is not the same as forgetting them. Granted - things like Columbus statues get complicated - Columbus himself was a nasty piece of work; but the statues are there more to push the idea that Italians deserve respect. Though I suppose turning Columbus into a symbol of Italian pride in the United States is a pretty blatant erasure of history itself. And so on.

All of this, by the way, is going on in the middle of the same pandemic we suffered through in the spring. COVID-19 isn't going anywhere. Cases are starting to go up again, predictably, as states ease restrictions on what people can do, and people go do them. I don't know where this is going to go, but it's hard to see how it can go anywhere but badly. There's no sign the pandemic is over; only that quarantines and regulations have slowed it. Lifting those restrictions lets it start up. The question is, how much restriction do you really need? If people wear their masks and don't go to obvious danger spots and stay apart and all the rest - will that keep the rates low enough that it is controllable? Maybe - though given the number of people who even now seem to resist wearing masks - I don't know.

So I won't speculate. Only say, it is best if everyone wears a mask, at least any time they are around other people. And stay out of crowded places and wash your hands and all the rest. Though if things start spiking again - well - I hope people are willing to do what they can to stop it. I suspect this is going to break on political lines, which is one fo the saddest things about this whole affair. The Republicans politicize it - attacking anything that treats this deadly disease as a deadly disease, making refusing to take it seriously almost a point of political identity. Great. The death cult in action. The alternative - that the Democrats are making taking the pandemic seriously, taking racism and evil police seriously, accounting for the past seriously into something of their political identity is encouraging. Even if it's symbolic - saying the right words. Saying the right words are more likely to get you to do the right actions than saying the wrong words.

There might be a post there, about the relationship between symbolic politics and real politics, though I doubt I will get around to writing it. But teaching yourself to see things - like racism and colonialism and all that means - is a part of changing it.

All right. That's all for now. See you in October or November, at the rate I'm posting (though I see I will match last year's output with this post.) Campaign for Democrats, vote for Democrats, and hope the world survives. And listen to the Kinks. Always good advice.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Plague Journal

It looks so innocent, the end of February. I could still imagine a good candidate to vote for in the presidential election, though that hope was probably false. I could imagine a candidate I would not mind voting for, at least, in Sanders. Well. I could go to the Walmart and buy toilet paper, I could go out to eat, I could hang around the house and play games, I don't know. I was looking forward to spring training and baseball, watching Liverpool win the Premier League, watch8ing the C's now and then. Fun stuff! I could go to work, whatever that is worth!

Well, I can still go to work. I can't really complain about work, on balance: I'm doing video calls mostly, isolated from the world and even my coworkers - hey, cool by me! But there's not much else the recommend the last month or so.

Month: March 12-13 were the days when things seemed to click in, at least where I am. That was right after Italy locked down, about the time some of the harder hit American states started to ramp up controlling efforts. I had just put in for some vacation time, to do other things - I told my coworkers it looked like I was wasting my time off, since none of the events I wanted to attend were going to be open in a month, and maybe not even the job itself. They were not convinced, but within a week, yeah, all the events were canceled, most of the workplace's contact with the public was gone - yeah. I mean - a month ago.

It has been a hard month; the country locked down before the horror started to hit - the last week or so, the bill is coming due, and it is not good. I don't know where it will end - yesterday had something like 1800 deaths - horrible, and likely still on the climb. Famous people are dying, John Prine or Adam Schlesinger or Ellis Marsalis and Wallace Roney, others are sick, or at least infected, from Tom Hanks to Boris Johnson. I don't know. I don't know if this is going to rise and peak and fall abnd be gone; I don't know if this is going to rise and fall in little waves as we quarantine and break quarantine and quarantine again - I don't know. I don't know how it ends, how long we can stay locked down, what happens when we stop. Can the economy recover? will it, since what can happen and what will happen in the USA are not always the same.

That was a useless paragraph. Most of what I do is useless. It is a strange crisis in that the best thing you can do is wait for it to get better. It's a crisis that rewards patience and resilience - letting the disease run its course, find a vaccine or treatments, let a level of immunity build up that turns it into just another variety of the flu. That is hard to do, partly because it is so easy to do. You feel guilty. I certainly feel weird, reading about everyone's lock down travails, while I continue to go to work more or less on my regular schedule, never needing to find a way to stay sane alone for two weeks at a time. Which, I have to say, is not something I would have a lot of difficulty with, comparatively. I am fine being alone, at least as long as I am healthy. Though I wish I got more writing done.

All right. This is just to say that he re I am, and to prove to myself at least that I can force myself to do something like this, once in a while. Huzzah and all that.

And maybe dabble in politics? Bernie Sanders finally gave up. The Democrats are left with Biden - my god. But it is far more important to take the senate anyway - Biden and the senate is worth more than Sanders without, so, forward decent people! don't stop, for a moment, reminding the world that Trump is a monster, that Mitch McConnell is worse, and if they can win elections when they are a clear minority, we should be able to take one or two as the majority. Though we'd better ake this one, because we probably won't get another chance.

Though then again - nothing ever ends. So - yeah.

Vote, whatever it takes.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Primary Voting - Elizabeth Warren Voter here

I am bringing this blog out of hibernation to write about politics. Primary time is here - not Massachusetts this time, at least not since 1820, but next Tuesday anyway. Four years ago, I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary. This time - I'm voting for Elizabeth Warren.

It's been a strange year, and it's turning into a strange primary season. A year ago, I was fairly optimistic about the Democratic side of the race. I liked the senators offering for the race - Warren and Gillibrand and Harris and maybe Sharrod Brown, Booker and Klobachar; I was willing to give a listen to O'Rourke and Buttigieg and the like. I took some shots at Bernie in that post, but have never had any complaints about Bernie's policies. Biden - well, Biden is Biden. It looked like we were going to have good choices.

Oh, fool that I was. Warren and Sanders are still around, but the others I thought I could support are all gone, leaving the likes of Biden, Klobuchar (who's the least of the senators running), Buttigieg (the year has not shown mayor Pete to be qualified for this gig, though somehow people preferred him to Julian Castro or Booker - I don't know.) And motherfucking Mike fucking Bloomberg? the fuck? As a Democrat? And worse, the raw stupidity of the American political system is on full display. We have had what, a primary and two caucuses and people are acting like it is a given that Sanders will have a plurality of delegates at the convention, and oh, what shall we do then? Caucuses need to be banned, and places like Iowa and New Hampshire need to be relegated to the afterthoughts they should be. Start with California or something, I don't know!

There is no sanity to be found in trying to make sense of American politics at all. So I won't anymore.

Why Warren? The truth is, i would have supported her last year - I would have supported her in 2016, if she'd ran. I wish she had - she would have been a far better representative of her brand of leftist politics than Sanders, she would have done a lot more to move the entire party left (though the Democrats continue to move left, a fact no opne seems to admit to). She probably wouldn't have won in 2016, but she'd be the front runner this time, and almost certainly far stronger than Sanders is now.

That's horse race stuff, though. The main reason I support her is that I support her politics. Bernie's too, for whatever that's worth - they'll both push for real health care systems, for higher taxes on the rich and corporations, for stronger labor, for higher wages, for regulation and oversight, for saner foreign policy, for better support for students, for child care, for civil rights and on and on. Where they break, they usually break in her favor: she is more insistent on political reform - ending the filibuster; packing the courts. Political reform, from protecting voting rights to breaking the power of minority parties to dictate politics, is necessary, or we will not have a country much more. At least not a democracy, and the republic is not exactly on the firmest footing. There is that.

I also think she would be much better at getting things passed than Sanders would be. She is more likely to have, and court, the support of the more conservative parts of the Democratic party, she is more likely to be able to build deals, she strikes me as having a better grasp of the nuts and bolts of politics and government. I think she will do a better job of strengthening the party up and down the line - and that might be the most important thing anyone can do. Party trumps personality, and if it doesn't entirely trump politics, it runs it close. You have to be able to pass things, and the Republicans have long since committed utterly to obstructionism and anything they can do to force real decision making onto the executive. They won't stop any time soon. (You can hate Trump as uniquely awful, as an open fascist, as all the things he is - but the fact is, he matters because the Republican party supports him all the way. Mitch McConnell is the one who has ruined this country. Trump serves at his pleasure; literally at this point, as he had a straightforward chance to remove him and did not.) It is a fact that whoever becomes president, winning the senate is far more important. Warren strikes me as a better bet to make that possible.

You will notice that I am only comparing Warren to Sanders here. It's a fact that there is not one else left in the race I would want to vote for. In the fall - obviously - you have to vote against Trump, no matter what the option is. They could bring back Hillary Clinton, and I'd vote for her in the fall. But I don't have to vote for crap now, and I don't have to pretend to want to. The rest of them are awful, frankly - Biden was a joke back in 1988, how is he still a thing? Blame the Onion, I guess. Klobuchar might not be terrible, just a bland, middle of the road, typical midwestern Democratic, dare I say it, establishment politician. Fine in the senate; a disappointment as president. Buttigieg? the same, only 20 years too young. Maybe he'll change, but right now, he's a middle fo the road hack with absolutely nothing going for him. And what have I forgotten?

I yeah - Mike fucking Bloomberg. Dear god. In the admittedly extremely unlikely event that he got the nomination, he would sorely try my conviction that I must vote for any Democrat on the ticket against Trump. I would - I mean, shit, if the only people on the ticket were Trump and Pence, I'd vote for Pence - but he would try it. At least the rest fo the contenders seem to agree with me, the way they have all been lighting into him. The more the better. Eat the rich indeed!

Enough! I am voting for Warren for the reasons above. I only compare her to Sanders because Sanders, whatever his faults, is the only other Democratic candidate I really want to be president. Beyond the reasons I listed above, I could add, though she is too old for the job, she is younger than Sanders - she is more likely to be alive in November 2020, let alone November 2024. And I won't deny I would like to see a woman elected to the office. Age and demographics are part of the qualifications of being president - it is a hard job, it will wear you down. And who and what you are matters - not as much as what you do and what you stand for, but they matter. And everything I find to choose between Sanders and Warren pushed me to her.

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

2020 Hindsight

Happy New Year!

This blog has become a ghost site - I thought it was bad last year, or the year before, but - 4 posts? Why bother at all? Well - if I could get back to posting, I suppose that would be the answer in itself. I won't promise it. As it is - it's as good a place as any to toss some thoughts out into the world, to let them float in the ether on a sea of forced metaphors. It's as good a place as any to welcome the new decade, to bid the last one farewell and all.

It was a strange decade. For me, personally, it began on something of an all time low: my mother died, the day after Christmas, in 2009; 2010 began with her funeral. There has been a lot of that this decade - I am of an age when the generations before me are starting to die. My father, a couple close friends, many uncles and aunts have passed, some of them very hard to process. But - I am of an age when that is going to happen. I am getting perilously close to the age when having my contemporaries die will seem less like a shock and more of the natural way of things. Another decade and I will be there, I am afraid.

But that said: the first half of the 2010s weren't a bad time for me. I moved to a place I liked, a good apartment, where I stayed for 7 years. I took classes, I wrote, I posted regularly, here, and sometimes on other blogs. I got out of the country a couple times, still played softball, sometimes well, I ate well, lived well. My job even seemed to reach a detente with me - though that got me accused of "complacency." That, of course, should have been a sign - was a sign - but - that's the second half of the decade. In all - I lived pretty well in the first half of the 10s. Even just using this blog as indication - I posted regularly; I started up a couple series that carried on a while, and gave me a chance to write some things I liked. History posts - following along with the Civil War, then WWI for a while; music posts, those band of the month posts; movies - screen shots and directors and things like that. It was good. I was, I think I would have to say, satisfied with my lot in life.

The second half fo the decade has been a bit different. Maybe not objectively - nothing really bad has happened to me, except of my own making (sort of) - but a lot of the things I was satisfied with had to go. And the world outside has gone straight to hell. For me - the job is what got me. Things changed. A generation of managers where I worked left, and a new generation came in - people who use words like "disruption" as a positive term; people who openly admitted to forming their management ideas by watching TED talks and reading online management consultants. The results were predictable. And I was not willing to take it, because I did not have to. I had resources to move, and did, though it meant I gave up living in the city - but I could live closer to my family, could support myself on a lot less money, and could engage in other past times - bowling and D&D in place of softball and education! So - not a bad tradeoff, over all. Though it changed me in strange ways. I went from being a fairly obsessive habitual movie goer to almost never going to movies, and barely even watching movies. I went from the blogging you see before 2017 to almost nothing since 2017. Some of this is me - some of this might be the world, the way the technology has evolved (as fewer and fewer blogs seem all that important - Twitter is where all the conversations seem to be happening. That is not a good thing.) BUt there is it.

And the world, of course, has gone to hell. It held on in the first half of the decade - but you could see the disaster coming. The mid-term elections in 2010 doomed us, giving the Republicans completely undeserved and unrepresentative control of the machinery of government that they have exploited to hold power as they sink into smaller and smaller minority status. The GOP, long having embraced white supremacy as a vital part of their politics, doubled down on it. They reacted shamefully to Obama's election, the worst of them used it to build the racist elements in the party. All this brought us to Trump, who has made all the racism, sexism, xenophobia and everything else the whole point of his existence. Was Trump a break from what the GOP had been? Maybe - there is a sense that earlier Republicans used racism as a way to get votes for their tax cuts. Trump and his closest supporters seem to be using tax cuts to keep support for their racism. The white supremacy seems to be their defining point. It sometimes seems like this is so.

And no? Trump himself is a plain fascist - he has all the makings: the racism, xenophobia, authoritarianism, use of violence for politics, corporatism, aestheticization of politics, turning it explicitly into spectacle, and working very hard to make only the spectacle seem to matter. (Though I think the most important element in the aesthetics of fascism is the idea of the dominance of Myth. It's the idea of a mythological justification - Make America Great Again. The red hats are part of it - but the idea of a lost golden age, an imaginary version fo the country that conforms to their political goals, etc, is what really defines fascism. This is an essay I am not going to write just now, though.) The country, of course, is something else - even now, he is only the president, one branch of government, he is a Republican, one party - if the other branches act, if the other parties resist, if his own party decides to try to not be fascists - he is not going to succeed in turning the country into something worse than it is. He has been impeached; there are elections coming; we will see how this goes.

But I don't want to write about the future. This is one last look back at the decade gone. So: the second half fo this decade - 2016 on at least - have gone from worse to worse. All the celebrity deaths in 2026 hit hard. My job went to hell in 2026. And Trump - getting elected came on top of a primary and election campaign that defied my ability to imagine the depths of stupidity possible int he American political system. Trump? The idiotic attacks on Hilary Clinton? Though the defenses of her were sometimes just as hard to take - I mean - how could any Democrat worth a damn vote for anyone who voted for the war in Iraq? why was that forgiven? I don't know. Now - 2020 - big chunks of the country, the Democrats in particular, seem determined to relive 2016. I don't get this. Why does so much of the discussion in the Democratic party revolve around Bernie Sanders (and by extension, Hilary Clinton?) That might be because I read Twitter and Facebook too much - that is a topic unto itself. The point is, 2016 was awful even before Trump got elected; his election just made sure the next 4 years would be even worse.

All right. That is enough. One more thing - just a hint. Technology - here is something I have been thinking about lately. There are major technological shifts going on - streaming, Disney's domination of the entertainment industry, the effects on discourse of Twitter and FAcebook, etc. But have there been any real technological changes in the last 10 years? Twitter and Fecebook existed in 2010; youtube did; streaming services existed. Digital film distribution. Almost everyhting that defines the technological world now existed, was even fairly significant, in 2010. Compare 2010 to 200 - that is not true. The 00s brought us youtube, Facebook and Twitter and MySpace and all the other dumber forms of online communication. It brought ius smart phones, tablets, iPods, it started streaming services. Or the 90s - from 1990 to 2000 we gaines DVDs, the world wide net and the popularization of the internet; computers changed fairly significantly; digital photography and video started to appear (though they became ubiquitous in the 00s). What has appeared int he 2010s that has changed things the way - any of a dozen things changed the world in the previous decades? This has been more about cultural shifts to accommodate technology - which have mostly felt bad: corporate control over all of it; the colonization of places like Facebook and Twitter by propagandists, who have made all of us amateur propagandists and ad writers. Another reason to worry, I guess.

But I won't end with pessimism. I like a lot of what the world offers. I can lose days browsing through YouTube - I don't know why videos have replaced blogs as the preferred method of amateur communication, but it seems they have. 10 years ago, I counted mostly blogs as the most interesting sources of information and discussion online. Now? it tends to be youtubers - Seth Skorkowsky! The History Guy! Scholagladatoria! (All reflecting my recent interest in games and history, no doubt.) Is this better than reading blogs? I won't say yes - but it's still a nice feature of the internet, the ease with which people with interesting things to say can communicate with the world, without a lot of extraneous resources.

And so - happy new year! Happy new decade! And here's hoping I manage to post something here before 2030...

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Expos! Nats! Baseball!

Well, this blog may be just about laid to rest, but it is Halloween, so what better time to raise it from the dead and send it stumbling about in search of topics to devour....

Right. No. I see the last time I managed to post was, in fact, the beginning of the baseball season - so why not come back for another baseball post? I don't get to celebrate the Red Sox this year - but I can settle for watching the Nationals take their first championship.

I've been enough of an Expos fan through the years that this feels really good. I remember watching them from very early in their history. I have relatives in Canada, and we'd visit,a nd we'd watch the Expos on TV. Most fo the Canadian family were Red Sox fans, but I'm not sure they got to watch the Sox on TV - the Expos, on the other hand, had a few games aired - I think. Because I remember the old Spos - Rusty Staub! John Bocabella! Ron Hunt! - on TV up there. sitting in my grandmother's kitchen, watching the game, with my parents and a couple uncles and some older cousins, talking and watching baseball. Through the years, I paid attention to the Expos - usually because of the Canadian connections. A few of the kids my age picked pu the Expos as their favorite team (though most stuck with the Sox, or went with the Blue Jays when they were created - the younger kids, I think.) But all of them knew the Canadian teams, probably, again, because they were on Canadian television. So I knew the Expos more than I knew most of the National League - Ellis Valentine and Andre Dawson and Gary Carter and Stave Rogers - and of course, the Spaceman. (The first Expos team to get screwed by labor strife?)

And I followed the next generation - the late 80s early 90s teams that could drive you crazy. (And got really screwed by labor strife.) Grissom and DeShields and Larry Walker and the Cat, Dennis Martinez, Ivan Calderon, John Wetteland and Mel Rojas; Cliff Floyd, Wil Cordero, Orlando Cabrera, Vlad Guerrerro - Pedro! (Until they very generously donated him to the Sox.) A great team that kept disintegrating and being rebuilt for most of a decade, until their owners managed to demolish them completely and get them moved to Washington. After that - I still liked them, nostalgically, wished them well - but they were just a team. Though not just a franchise....

And so now, after 50 years, they have managed to win it all. In a most spectacular and strange manner - 7 games in which no one managed to win at home! Against a powerhouse team and franchise - though as we were constantly reminded, after the first couple months of the season, the Nats were tied with the Stros for the best record in baseball. The Nats have been there before - very good teams, that collapsed in a heap in the post-season. It's nice to see them finish one off. And very nice to add the franchise to the teams to win a World Series. The last 20 years have been goods ones for baseball teams killing curses - The Angels, Astros and now the Expos/Nats have won their first, after long waits; the Sox (Red and White), Cubs, Giants (who waited 50 odd years between championships) purged their demons, etc. It's always satisfying.

And - it made for a good series. Two very good teams, with elite pitching, two teams you could basically like (Roberto Osuna aside), good stories - and a very fine game to finish it off, Scherzer grinding out five innings with clearly less than his best stuff (since his best is as good as anyone has had this decade), Greinke turning in an absolutely dominant performance, with one changeup sitting in the middle fo the plate to hit all night, and it all turning on a wounded duck home run that hit the opposite field foul pole. Ha! Great fun!

Anyway: I was wondering what I thought about the Nats this year - I see I probably summed up their entire season rather neatly, good and bad:

2. Washington - they underachieved woefully last year, as if they thought they made the playoffs on opening day, and started choking early. Now they don't have Harper anymore - but they are still pretty loaded. Turner and Rendon and Soto, maybe Victor Robles - the rotation, which is very strong. This is avery competitive division, and they are as likely to run the table as anyone.

They wasted the first couple months, but after that, they ran the table, including taking out a couple very very good teams in the Dodgers and Astros. It's a nice result, and helps ease the pain of the Red Sox' pitching staff woes that took them out of the race from day one...

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Baseball 2019 Predictions

Though it is still cold here in the woods of Maine, it is time for baseball - Sox start up tomorrow, out on the west coast - there have already been two games! The Mariners are well on the way to an undefeated season! etc. Spring is coming - it might see 50 this weekend! Time for our annual baseball blowout post - let's get at it, shall we?

AL East:
1. Boston - I may be a homer. When they fall out of contention, I pick them until they win; when they are winning, I pick them until they lose. There's no reason to pick against them this year (except the Yankees) - they brought back most of a dominant team, and while their luck may fail, or they may regress, they have plenty of areas where they could get better. Sale could last the whole season, or E Rod; the catchers have both hit in the past, and could again (at least league average, for catchers), and are both prime defenders; Devers and even Benintendi could get a lot better. So why not?

2. NY Yankees - They were good last year, if not as good as the Sox; they tried to bolster the rotation and bullpen, but they are not having the best of luck. Gregorius is out for at least half the season; Severino is having trouble; Hicks is hurt again. But they still have plenty of pop - Judge and Stanton, Andukar and Torres, maybe Sanchez healthy - they will be in the 90s at least, and could be better than that.

3. Tampa - they hired another actual starting pitcher! I can’t guess what will happen to them. They look dead, but they contend; one of these years they’ll look great breaking camp and disappear. Who knows. However they divide up the innings, they have a lot of pitching talent, and some interesting position players - they should hang around, hoping to pick off the also rans in the West and Central. Sox and Yanks are probably out of their reach unless things go very bad in the northeast, but Tampa should be in reach of the playoffs.

4. Toronto - they looked like they could be Tampa north a couple years ago, with Stroman and Estrada and Sanchez and Happ - it didn’t happen, and I don’t see it happening again any time soon. But pitchers are volatile - someone like Stroman could suddenly be back at his best. Stranger things have happened. But that’s just hoping for a shot at the Rays’ wild card spot, no more. Mostly they're just waiting for Vlad 2.

5. Baltimore - they've been cruising for a fall the last couple years, but when it came, it all came at once. Did it ever. It's not getting better this year - Davis is still around, to cash checks and strike out - Trumpb is hurt, but might come back. Otherwise, it's - not much. I suppose you need to have a couple of these teams around to get 2 teams over 100 wins in a season in a division.

AL Central:
1. Cleveland - they are starting to cur it close. They still have an all world rotation, they still have Ramirez and Lindor, two of the best in the game - though it's not certain when they'll have them. (Lindor coming in hurt, and getting hurt again...) They still have Tito and they have the AL central to beat, so they should be all right when they get healthy.

2. Minnesota - I am hearing hype about them. They were terrible last year - but very good the year before; terrible the year before that, and very good the year before that. You tell me. They are young, though not as young as they have been - players have stalled out (Sano), or left (Escobar and Dozier), but they still seem to be all right. They have a new manager, Rocco Baldelli, another young, smart guy - who knows. This is a year for winning, so why not? If everything goes right, they might challenge the Indians; if enough goes right, they might still challenge the Indians, if they fade, and stay in there against Tampa and whatever west teams show up after the second wild card. Decent contention is probably about right.

3. Detroit - might be a stretch, but they are not terrible, necessarily. I admit, along about here I start to tune out. Trying to form an opinion of which of these teams is going to get to 78 wins this year is not an easy or pleasant task.

4 Chicago - the pale hose at least have some interesting young talent. There was talk in the off season about getting into the Machado or Harper sweepstakes, but they did not get any of them, so what do we have? Another year of finding out if Yoan Moncado will reach base as often as he strikes out. 217 strikeouts! More than Joey Gallo! With 23 fewer home runs! He actually looks like he will turn into something, eventually - he’s not exactly a liability now (any more than Gallo). They might be sort of interesting, as a team, to see how they go.

5. Kansas City - I’d rather get on to the west now, thanks. They aren’t the team to win 78 and tease their fans with hopes of a wild card for a few weeks in August. They are the ones trying to win more than Baltimore.

AL West:
1. Houston - Like Boston and NY, they were incredibly good last year, haven’t lost a lot (some of their nice spare parts, like Marwyn Gonzalez, a couple pitchers), but they have plenty more where they came from (signing Brantley, developing people like Josh James.) They aren’t going anywhere, and I don’t think anyone in this division is likely to catch them.

2. Oakland - this division is interesting, at least. The A’s won a ton last year, but they lost some pitching and I don’t know if they have anything to replace it with. The offense looks okay - Davis and Piscotty and Chapman and so on - but it might not be enough. The rest of the division looks intriguing without quite being convincing. I suppose it comes down to which surprising starting pitchers emerge - of course that’s usually true. They seem to have the strongest base line to build on, though.

3. Angels - lots of joy over Trout’s signing, and hope when Ohtani is able to hit again, and - that’s about it. Still missing the pitching to really contend, I think, but a bit of luck gets them into the race with Tampa and Minnesota for that second wild card. Hard to see them catching Houston though.

4. Seattle - 2-0 start! They unloaded their expensive talent, and some good talent - Paxton, Segura, Cruz and Cano all gone - what does it mean? Likely that they sink down into the 70s and stop teasing us, but they never seem to do what they are supposed to, so who knows.

5. Texas - they still have some pop - Gallo and Odor (who came back a bit last year) and the like, but there’s not much more to say about them. Beltre is gone, so there’s less sentimental reason to cheer for them. They have the rotation of which 100 loss seasons are made...

NL East:
1. Philadelphia - screw you, all the rest of you! This is less about Bryce Harper than the rest fo the team - Segura, Realmuto, even McCutcheon, Robertson - it's a nice team, solid everywhere, with Nola to anchor the rotation, Harper to be an offensive centerpiece. Why not? The biggest drawback is the difficulty of bringing a retooled team together immediately - and Gabe Kapler, for all his merits, didn't seem to handle the team quite right last year.

2. Washington - they underachieved woefully last year, as if they thought they made the playoffs on opening day, and started choking early. Now they don't have Harper anymore - but they are still pretty loaded. Turner and Rendon and Soto, maybe Victor Robles - the rotation, which is very strong. This is avery competitive division, and they are as likely to run the table as anyone.

3. Atlanta - maybe. Some issues with injuries, but they are also stacked with young talent, and old talent - it's a good team. Acuna should be a superstar; the rest are solid everywhere. Again - this division is going to come down to who executes, and who stays healthy.

4. NY Mets - there's even optimism in Queens! DeGrom and Syndegard and Wheeler and - the usual story, a great rotation, offensive questions, defense. They added Cano, but who long can he be expected to hit like he has? Will the Confortos and Nimmos of the world step forward? If they do - this could be a very strong club. They have not had the best luck through the years, though.

5. Miami - they, at least, are not going to win the division. (Watch them win 90 games!) No.

NL Central:
1. Chicago - I am not positive about this, but I am inclined, cautiously, to think that Bryant comes back, Rizzo picks his game up a bit, guys like Schwarber and Happ hit a bit more, Lester's decline remains gradual enough to not hurt them, Hamels, Hendricks and even Darvish do some good things - they should manage it, by default. They will get flogged in the playoffs, because they are old and slow and dull, but that's a ways away.

2. Milwaukee - I like the Brewers. They put together a strange team consisting entirely of third basemen, center fielders, first basemen and middle relievers - and Ryan Braun - but it worked last year. Not as easy this year, but they can still win. They might end up the season with Travis Shaw pitching to Braun behind the plate and Josh Hader at shortstop, but if it works, what the heck?

3. St. Louis - they have restocked - Goldschmidt, in particular - they have a strong roster, players everywhere. But it is a tough division, and a few injuries or young players regressing or not developing, and they could fade in a hurry. I'm inclined to think they will be in the middle of a free for all for both the division and the wild card spots, with most of the West and East. Every one of those teams is likely to win 87 games ands finish in a 8 way tie behind the Dodgers.

4. Pittsburg - they aren't exactly awful themselves, though they aren't likely to be in that pile up. I could see them falling apart before I see them contending - they don't have a lot of real pop, their pitching might fade - but they are more likely to be in a high 70s than 60s, I think.

5. Cincinatti - I see they have been getting some hype too - though I don't know. A cast off rotation, a bunch of half or unproven youngsters, Joey Votto's declining years - lots to go wrong there. Enough that could go right that they could be hanging around the edge of the playoff scrum, looking for a way in, but it's not likely.

NL West:
1. LA Dodgers - they didn't get any superstars off season, so they have the same deep, solid lineup that has been int he world series two years in a row - oh, they got Corey Seager back - a better addition than Manny Machado, I think. They are having trouble with their rotation - but they have a mob of good young arms hanging around waiting for a chance - they aren't going anywhere. I think they can still put daylight ahead of the rest fo the division.

2. Colorado - this is a fine team. Solid last year, still respectable. They'd developed pitching! they have to keep doing it, but it's been working the last couple years, so good luck to them! Arenado and Story are prime players, Blackmon is still very good, the rest fo the offense is likely. I don't think they are going to win enough to take down the Dodgers, but they will be in the thick of the playoff hunt. Might havd the advantage, playing in a division with a couple bad teams.

3. SD Padres - are they a good team or a bad team? They have been developing pitchers again. They have some neat looking hitters. They have Machado now. They should get around 80 wins, with the chance to do more - but it's no guarantee. Manny knows how to lose.

4. Arizona - Goldschmidt is gone, but they still have respectable pitchers around. Offense is not promising. They might hang around, high 70s, but they might serve mainly to give the Rockies enough in division wins to take the wild card honestly.

5. San Francisco - the dominant team of the decade has come a long way. They still have a lot fo the players they had on those world series teams - Bumgarner and Posey and Pablo Sandoval and - the red sox last year had 1 player active int he world series from their 2013 team. (They dropped a second - Brandon Workman - before the series.) Sometimes you have to move on.

And so - post season? predictions?
- I will predict the Red Sox coming out and winning the world series, but Houston is dead even as far as I can see.

- That's a weak slate, so I am going completely off the grid and saying Washington. Who could be scary in the world series, if they could actually get that far.

AL MVP - Trout of course, or Mookie, with Judge, Ramirez, Bregman as wild cards.
NL MVP - let's take Bryant for a come back. With Seager, Harper and Acuna in the hunt.
AL ROokie - Vlad, why not?
NL MVP - Robles
AL Cy Young - there are lots of options here. I will say Kluber, partly because they might be forced to ride him harder than the Sox or Yankees or AStros have to ride their top guys.
NL Cy Young - it's Scherzer's to lose, though DeGrom and Syndegard and Nola could all win it.

Scott Walker

It's been a couple years since he died, but I wanted to put up something to commemorate Scott Walker. (That's Noel Scott Engel, by the way, the musician, not the goggle eyed homunculus former governor of Wisconsin, who dragged the good name through the mud.) Walker started as a fairly straightforward pop singer, with the Walker Brothers, then shifted to a more sophisticated, darker style as a solo artist, Jacques Brel style, rich ballads with detailed stories and scenes, that became more experimental and surrealist as he went along. He then faded for a while - doing half-hearted pop projects in the 70s, surfacing every decade or so afterwards to release another record of increasingly difficult and experimental material. And then, mid-2000s, he must have found something - because after releasing records in 1984 and 1995, he released three in fairly short order, in 2006, 2012 and 2014, the third with Sunn O))). These records are, to be sure, daunting experiences - but fascinating, lyrically intense and detailed, musically surprising, and anchored as always by Walker's voice.

That's his life. When did I hear of him? Somewhere in the early 2000s, I imagine, a time when I discovered a lot of prog and experimental rock. Japanese noise bands like the Boredoms and Acid Mother's Temple led me to Krautrock and the more adventurous strands of Prog (Van der Graf Generator or Soft Machine), and somewhere in there, that led me to Scott Walker, specifically the old Scott records. I fell for immediately - the complex, dense pop sounds - the stories and images, the sad powerful melodies, and that voice, deep, rich, expressive crooning - I loved it. And the later records worked as well - they might fit even better with my taste for experimental rock, jazz and the like - fragmentary, constructed pieces, anchored by the voice.

And there we are. He was one of those people who is massively influential, but had become almost completely unknown. But you hear him in those prog groups (Pete Hamill in particular), in Nick Cave, I can hear him in PJ Harvey, Radiohead and a lot of similar British groups, as well as in acts that picked up his style almost whole - David Sylvain, notably. (Another favorite). It is strange to think that he was in fact very popular in the 60s, given how obscure he could seem in the present - though never completely gone. Sneaking into soundtracks (Futurama! Life Aquatic!), things like that. (Though so many of his songs sound like complete soundtracks unto themselves.) He was one of the good ones.

Some video: starting with the Walker Brothers, The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any more:

Finding performance video of Walker is very hard. The Walker Brothers were on TV enough (and tapes are preserved), but those aren't live. Walker had his own TV show for a while, but I don't think the video survives - but audio does. This is a recording of It's Raining Today, from his show:

Jump ahead 26 years and what do we find? Jools Holland presenting Walker, live, in the studio, with Rosary, from the Tilt album - full on late career Scott Walker, and live to boot:

What the late albums had, though, are very interesting videos made for their songs. Experimental films to match the experimental music. This is Brando, from Soused, the album Walker made with Sunn O))) - one of the strangest combinations you could imagine, except it makes perfect sense. Walker's deep voice and the band's low end guitar drones - Walker always liked drones (those old songs - like It's Raining Today - are often built on drones) and he fits in almost seamlessly with them. It's an excellent record, that one, a fitting end to his career.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

It's A Cold World Outside

2019 is almost a month old without a post. So much for resolutions.

There is not a lot to write about, other than politics. Okay - the weather - cold! not so bad here on the coast, but bad in the mid-west. We keep getting promised snow, but keep getting little storms that end up leaving ice everywhere - that might be worse than getting a good 20 inches of powder, to be honest - it's certainly less entertaining.

I could say something about sports - being a New Englander, I know I am supposed to be all excited about the local brain damage and steroids club heading for the super bowl again, but I can't muster it. I can find the energy to wonder if the Sox can fill out their bullpen for the season, though; and Liverpool is winning the Premier League! I do like some football...

And there is politics. I'm not sure why I don't write more about politics: politics is engaging just now, and desperately important. I know I stopped writing about it all the time because it was just too depressing, back in the days of Bush the Less - I turned to movies and music and tried hard to avoid driving myself crazy. Now? It is easy to despair, but on one hand, there's not much room for the luxury of despair, and on the other - Trump and the Republicans hold power by the thinnest of margins, and any work to take that power away from them has the chance to do it. You can see that - the Democratic party has come back strong, and moved to the left doing it - we have responded well, over all. Fight the good fight and all that.

The other problem, though, is that there is so much to write about - and so much talk about it already. So far this month we have had the shut down, and all that entailed. Trump's baby and he got stuck with it and had to back off in the end. Labor! shut down the airports! and the Democrats not blinking: they were right, they always had the votes, etc...

Or the MAGA kids vs the Native American parade. Everyone has an opinion on that. The right wing loonies managed to twist the story enough that people began doubting their eyes and ears - they are a shameless and astonishing bunch. I don't know if it they would be better or worse if they just said what they meant from the beginning: "He's a white kid, the old guy is some kind of foreigner, and probably a liberal. People like that should be silenced." This week, Jussie Smollett, a black, gay actor, was attacked by (allegedly) racist homophobes - I imagine again, the right will find ways to attack the victim and defend the attackers, and never quite say what they mean: "He's black and gay - he should be lynched."

That's harsh. Sorry, MAGA hat wearing fascists; go fuck yourselves.

Or a series of mass shootings, by young white guys - including a man executing 5 women in a bank - yeah. We still don't address that as a country - the degree to which violence is still gendered, men against women. Racism is real and pervasive, but so is misogyny. There are signs, real signs, that the country as a whole is becoming less racism, less homophobic, less misogynist - but that very loss of white, male, power seems to be inspiring more aggressive open terrorism against blacks (and other ethic groups), women, gays. Encouraged by the fascists in the wWhite House. Fuck them all.

Sorry. That was harsh. Where was I? Venezuela seems to be getting worse (somehow), and now members of the Trump administration are floating the idea of getting involved, sending troops, that kind of thing. Good god. Though it is predictable enough - as Trump's hold on power gets more and more precarious, it is likely they will try more extreme ways of holding power. Flirting with a "national emergency" during the shut down was bad - starting a war somewhere is simpler, maybe, more traditional, among Americans. Their defenders saying openly a war with Venezuela will "unite" the country - not even trying to pretend, are they. Though of course they are also typically ignorant of history: wars do not unite much of anything, unless they are either widely popular before they start, or someone attacks you. Did war in Iraq unite the country? did war in Vietnam? invading Mexico in 1846 tore the country apart, was a major step toward the Civil War in this country. Even WWI created significant rifts. People look at WWII, and they say, war will bring us together - but wars don't do that. They are at least as likely to wreck the current administration as save it. (See Richard Nixon and Barack Obama. Hell - Ike got elected because of Truman and Korea.)

Thus current events. Future events? the 2020 presidential campaign is starting to get into gear. Acquaintances on the internet are starting to get stupid - someone said something about Democrats losing to Trump again - I'm not sure how that is going to happen. Trump won in 2016 because of James Comey, the Russians, the press pissing on itself, and the Electoral College - you can add in whatever degree of hatred you have for Hillary Clinton if you like - and even then, in the end, it was the Electoral college that did it. In 2020, we will still have the Electoral College, we will probably have Russians playing games, and the press (if there is any of it left), is as likely as ever to let itself get played by the right wing propagandists - but everything else is going the other direction. No one will be in Comey's position - who is going to trust anything coming from the Trump administration? The country will have had 4 years of Trump, and has been going as hard as they can in the other direction. What's better, as a Democrat, is that not only are people voting for Democrats, but the Democrats themselves are moving left - that has been true since the middle of the Bush administration at least, but it is getting more significant all the time.

And as far as the presidential campaign goes - I like the way the Democrats are shaping up. There were good choices in 2008 - but in 2016, no one had emerged to challenge Clinton, who, whatever her merits, was something of a relic from the days when the Democrats thought they had to move right to get more votes. Sanders came along, and he was all right, but he never had a chance to win the primary, and didn't always react to losing with the sense or grace one would like. But this time? Going on both the people who have declared for presidency and those flirting with it - I see four people I could be enthusiastic about: Gillibrand, Warren, Harris and Sharrod Brown. I see a number of others I either like with some reservations or don't know enough about - Klubuchar, Beto O'Rourke, Cory Booker - maybe even Pete Buttigieg, though he seems like the longest of shots. Any of them would be fine, even now. And beyond that are a couple people who I am not voting for in any primaries, and don't really want clogging up the race - Sanders again, and the inexplicable idea of Joe Biden running - but would happily support in any general election. (Hell, Clinton would fit into this, though I don't think she's fool enough to get involved this time.) That pretty much leaves Tulsi Gabbard - right wing crank in the wrong party? - on the outside.

That's a great set of choices. I suppose you can find faults in all of them, but grownups weigh pros and cons and make their choices - and though a lot of Democrats and liberals (especially the ones who call themselves "progressives" and complain about Democrats) don't sound like grownups a lot of the time, they usually end up acting the part. (Though less whining about whoever we do put forward would be nice.) If the republic can survive these next two years, we should have a pretty good president in place to start the 2020s, and we might have even better options in 10 or 12 years. Though surviving those two years might not be assured.

And of course, we might all be under 10 feet of water 10 years from now. There's always that....

Monday, December 31, 2018

Another Year Older a New One Just Begun

Hello world, time to say good bye to another year. Not sure I'll miss it.

I have not been in here at all this year. Looks like 17 posts, from a new year's post to Armistice Day. That puts paid to resolution #1 - I did not get back to posting regularly! or at all! If not for the Red Sox (three world series posts!) and Wonders in the Dark (four television posts!), we'd be down to 10. I am not sure what I can say about all this: I have had time to write, and have, written plenty for other purposes. Nut nothing that makes for good blog posts. I suspect one reason is that I have also almost stopped watching movies - that is also very strange, since I have had plenty of time to watch films; I just haven't. Given how much of my blogging has been about films, that will knock things down some. I suppose if I wanted to I could note that my lack of blogging is the way of the world these days - blogs are an old, outdated, fading form of internet communication. I suppose I should move to Twitter, though that makes no sense to me at all. I still can't figure out the appeal of writing one liners all day. It's like communicating by telegram after email was invented. (Though that actually makes it seem rather cool.) I suppose some people treat it like a conversation - I shudder at the thought....

All right. I won't dwell on it. I will go on foolishly hoping that this year I will start posting again. I hope for a lot of things. Stranger things have happened - though I'm not counting on it. But hoping...

I could dwell on the continued disintegration of the Republic. The Donald Trump era is a train wreck at every level. His administration is a chaos of incompetence and criminality, though no one is willing or able to hold them to account. But even without anyone holding them to account, his administration has disintegrated - half the cabinet is currently "acting", as is the white house chief of staff; swaths of former officials are indicted or convicted, some of them singing to the rafters, some hoping for that pardon; the government is shut down, directly because of Trump (the rest of the party managed to come up with the votes to prevent it, but Donnie boy scotched it); he himself is close to the point where the only way he can stay out of prison is to stay in the white house. He'll lock himself in and barricade the doors, until the Russians find a way to sneak him out, probably. All that occurs alongside the signs of an economic collapse (caused by Trump's shenanigans, as well as the erosion of Obama's policies, which did well to shore up the economy, if not make it all that great), and escalating domestic tensions, and vicious policies that have killed two kids on the border already this winter...

On the other hand, in less than a week, the Democrats will resume control of the House; GOP still has the Senate, but who knows what they will do. When they see that their chances are better with Pence than Trump, he's done. That may or may not come soon. Two years from now there will be an election, and if Trump is not out of office, we will be in such a shambles, the Republicans will be lucky to carry South Carolina. Because it will be Trump's fault and he will be blamed. So - if we last that long - not that there will necessarily be much left to save by then.

And so. This is a strange time to be alive: we are in as much trouble as a country as we have been in a long time, and all of it is completely self-inflicted. We aren't being attacked from outside; we survived the economic crisis of the late 00s (by electing Democrats). Things are actually better in a lot of ways - though the things that are better are a big part of what is wrong with us. The rump of white racists and misogynists and homophobes can see that they have lost the country, and they are fighting very hard to keep it. The issues are not as obvious as slavery was, but it's the same fight. Almost literally - ginning up fights with Mexico... what is this, 1845? Who gets to be treated like an American? a human being? A reason things are the way they are right now is that we have expanded the idea of who is a human being far enough to frighten the people who want to limit it. They fight back (racists and misogynists and homophobes and authoritarians), and they find they have the constitution with them.

I worry for the republic: not just because the bad people are in charge, but because I am not sure the structure of the nation is on the side of good. In some ways, democracy and equality have spread far enough in law and practice that the constitution is explicitly against them. Civil rights, voting rights, attitudes have advanced to the point that the anti-democratic elements of the constitution hold the country back. The Senate, the electoral college, maybe even the courts as constituted - even states themselves - all work against freedom and democracy as they are practiced, or would be practiced, in the USA. The amendments work against this, sometimes - dear old 14th! - but much of the rest of the structure of government seems to work against the freedom and democracy we have achieved, on paper at least. We are more and more able to talk about what is wrong with the country, from its deep baked racism to its inequality, to its inability to institute the kinds of basic services most of the first world instituted decades ago - but we can't do enough, because our government is designed around ancient institutions designed to keep the mob from ruling. It is a cause for concern.

Well - plenty to worry about in the coming year! A year from now, the 2020 presidential campaigns will be in full swing. That should be edifying. Odds are good we'll be looking at some kind of proceedings against Donald Trump in the next year - at least, constant hearings in the House, dredging up all the filth around old short fingered vulgarian. Though the astonishing thing with Trump is that almost nothing that comes out about him is new: he has done most of his monstrous behavior in plain sight. He survives based on chutzpah and bribery (pass tax cuts, keep the orthodox republicans in line!) and those outdated institutions. He won't survive for long; he'll be voted out the first chance the country gets, if he lasts that long - even the ancient wobbly constitution we have won't keep him around more than a term... But that's enough time to ruin everything. He and the GOP is working hard to prevent Americans from voting - it could all break. And that is terrifying, because when it is clear there is no legal salvation from him, why does he think he will still be saved? He can bring it all down - certainly his own regime... though what replaces it might not be the answer that we're looking for.

So there you go. 2018 - a disaster in the world at large, though with signs of hope. The Democrats have the House; the wheels of justice grind on; Trump himself is a collapsing mess. And if the economy doesn't collapse, and we don't get into a war, and Trump doesn't try to impose martial law, the world will go on. Movies and music and books will come out, I'll hate myself if I don't watch them or listen to it or read any of it. Maybe I will write, maybe I will moan about not writing. They will stage sporting events - it was a good year for me there, as the Crimson Hose won it all, with one of the most dominant teams of all kinds. And being a soccer fan I can revel in Liverpool's success (owned by the Red Sox, which is enough for me to pick out an English football team to root for), which was revel worthy indeed in 2018. And - so it goes. I hope to be back here more often, but even if I'm not - I imagine I'll be in it intermittently... So Happy New Year, increasingly hypothetical reader! I wish you the best.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The End of the War to End All Wars

100 years ago today, 11/11/1918 at 11:11 AM (Paris time) an Armistice ending the Great War went into effect. The fighting stopped; the guns fell silent. (There's a Vonnegut quote going around today, about the moment the war ended: "I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God.")

The war did not end, officially - that took a couple more years, and when it happened, the resulting treaty went a long way to starting the next, even worse war. The fighting did not stop - there was still a war in Russia, involving most of the countries fighting WWI; that war only got worse in the next couple years. Even on the last day of the war, typically for WWI, the combatants were scrambling for position, and another 2,738 men were killed and 10,000 odd wounded. But the utter catastrophe that was the Great War ended.

The War to End All Wars did not, in fact, end wars; the war to Make the World Safe for Democracy, did not, in fact, make the world safe for democracy. People did try, though - not very effectively, probably because the unchecked power politics that started the mess continued without interruption. England and France made Germany pay; they worked to isolate the new Soviet Russia; they remade the maps of Europe and the Middle East without very effective consultation with the people they were redistributing, and usually to serve their own interests; they paid no mind to the interests of their colonies, and divided up German colonies (as "mandates" rather than outright possessions, but that's not the strongest distinction in history.)

But that doesn't diminish the importance of this day. (It might betray the importance of this day, though.) The war ended: soldiers went home, families were reunited, countries had the chance to recover, the places where the war raged could try to rebuild. And people did try to do something about this thing that had just happened. The Great War was a massive trauma - psychologically as well as physically. The war broke the world, which had seemed to reach a kind of comfortable stasis in 1914 - at least in western Europe and places like the USA - that was gone, any expectation of uninterrupted progress and improvement was gone - it felt like the end of the world. And (as I've harped on before) there was nothing here to take comfort from, except the fact that it ended.

And that leaves this day as the one good thing about that war. It made it a symbol of the desire for peace, the work of making peace. It is the symbol of remembering the horrible things men do to one another; the horrible things, as well, our machines to do us. The horrors were documented, film and photography, and famous poetry and art - there is a reason governments try to suppress those images: it does not pay to think too much about what a bullet can do to a body. Let alone gas....

I have let my First World War posts slip lately - there are lots of things in the war and around the war to write about, and I wish I were still as energetic about them as I had been. We live with the consequences of this war, maybe more than any other war; we live with the failure to actually build on the end fo this war. (We did far better after the next one, though I fear a lot of that was directly related to the fact that the winners were divided into two camps almost as hostile as the two sides had ever been. So we rebuilt Germany and Japan to thwart the Soviets - cynical reasons, maybe, but we did it, and it worked. At least for Germany and Japan.) I have been stunned, living in this country, the last two years - thinking about "making the world safe for democracy" is a bitter thing to swallow in a country where democracy has been so eroded in the last couple years. Maybe that will change, as we slowly bring things right in the USA - I don't know. WE can still vote, though; when we vote, we can still take power. Maybe we can fix it.

And maybe, we can look at the one good thing from World War I: the fact that after after 4 years of evil and destruction, we managed to stop.

Monday, October 29, 2018

World Champion Boston Red Sox!

Having posted twice on the World Series, might we well go for the trifecta. The Red Sox have won again, 4th since 2004, starting this century like they started the last one. This time, maybe they won't sell off Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers and company to finance a broadway show. It does look like this won't be the last time they hoist the silverware with this lot. It's interesting how much turnover there was between the previous squads - Papi was there for all three, and a bunch of of the 07 team - which had a good young core, like this one - were still around in 2013 (and might have been still around this year, if Pedroia were healthy or the team had resigned Jon Lester like everyone thought they should)... Otherwise, the only 2013 players active in both world series' were Xander Bogearts and Joe Kelly - though he was on the other side then. Workman was around for most of the post-season of both, but not the world series. Jackie Bradley was around the 2013 team, though not in the post-season. But this team - Betts and Benny and Xander and Raffy are all young; Vazquez as well (and he reminded people in the series why he's going to be a premier catcher in the league), Bradley isn't old; JD Martinez can DH for a few years yet. The pitching is all about 30. They can ride that core for a while. They'll have to pay them sooner or later, but they are rich - they ought to find some better young talent to replace the older guys, but that's a problem for the future. This team has a couple more runs it in without major changes - though so do the Yankees, Astros, Dodgers, maybe even the Cubs, never mind if the Indians decide to spend, or the Braves and Phillies and such can keep moving in the right direction. Anyway...

The last couple games were vintage 2018 Red Sox. Game 4 looked scary for a while - great pitching duel that blew up when Vazquez threw a double play ball away, and Puig lost one - but that's not the end of the story. The Sox looked drained by those 18 innings, but so were the Dodgers - and the Sox held all their bullpen guys to an inning each, while a lot of the Dodgers worked a couple. And so Baez and Urias, who'd been the best the Dodgers had had to that point, weren't around at the end of game 4, and it showed. Homers and then cue shot doubles and line drive singles and hustling to beat out a double play and squibs in the infield set up Steve Pearce to gap them, Bogie to get a big hit. The Sox meanwhile had Barnes and Kelly in the pen - and Kimbrel, who made a 5 run lead look all too inadequate - he might have hit his wall, since he'd been very good in the world series.

And game 5 was a perfect masterpiece: Pearce goes bridge in the first, and after Price started the game with a bad pitch, he didn't give them much else. Maybe next year, the Sox should use Price on 3 days rest all year, and let him close between starts - why not? He went 7+ and looked like he could have found a way to the end, and started game 6 as well. He dumped his reputation as a choke artist in the post season, but it's notable that he had always been effective out of the pen in the post-season - for Tampa, for Toronto, for Boston, last year. I always thought, why not accept it? move him to the pen outright, let him pitch 2 innings every day - he seems to thrive on it. Cora said something like that - he wants to be involved in every game - maybe he should be their closer. Though would be be better than Sale? who, in fact, did close it out, as dominatingly as you could ask. Struck out the side - Manny Machado (favored enemy of Sox fans everywhere), down on his knees waving helplessly at a slider. Yes.

And there it was. This post-season looked more tense than it was - it felt like the Dodgers, Astros, even the Yankees, were making the Sox work - but they ended up winning 3-1, 4-1, 4-1, dominating a bunch of those games, with even the nail biters being the work of uncertain relievers (Kimbrel), who still always got the last out. For all the appearance of angst, there was almost never any real drama. I suppose overcoming a 0-4 deficit in the last three innings of game 4 counts - but compared to the 04 or 07 championship comebacks, or the Big Papi grand slam against Detroit in 2013, it was just a nice comeback. That 18 inning game made this series epic - and game 4 was a good one too, though once the Sox started hitting they didn't stop, especially against the second rank of Dodgers relievers... but the 2013 series felt more competitive - you could imagine that team losing. This one - hard to picture, though it was easy to forget it. From day one - they had a nice lead over Tampa, and Joe Kelly gave it all away - then they didn't lose for a month. They could start to look ready to fade, and they'd run off 6 in a row. Mookie would go 0-14 or something, and you'd think - shit, he's choking! - And he'd hit a home run to break a game open. It was a thing to see.

And finally - how gratifying is it to see a game turn on a great starting pitcher? Price in game 5 - though this came after Hill in 4 (and E Rod until the defense and Cora messed up), Buehler, Price in game 2 - Eovaldi at the end of game 3... Granted we got the usual second guessing, including someone at the white house using Trump's account to weigh in on taking out Hill. Yes, the bullpen promptly failed - but if Roberts had left Hill in and he got tagged - what then? It's doubly ironic because Cora made exactly the opposite decision with E Rod in the 6th, with exactly the same results - 3 run bomb! Cora handled his pitchers brilliantly, I think; Roberts stayed closer to the script - though in a way they were both playing the rosters they had. The Dodgers had bullpen depth; the Sox had half a good bullpen, and a bunch of starts with rubber arms and the willingness to use them. The Sox guys did their jobs; the Dodgers did in a couple games, and didn't in the others. And the Sox starters kept them in every single game, better than LA's. So there you have it.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

World Series Madness

Ah, baseball. I stayed up last night to watch every minute of that stupid baseball game - it was - well, literally: the most epic world series game ever. Longest in time, longest in innings, most players - 18 innings, 7 plus hours, 46 of 50 players, 18 pitchers (plus Kershaw, pinch hitting - almost forgot that) - and bookended by two of the best pitching performances of the post-season - Buehler dominant to start; Eovaldi dominant out of the pen, his third straight game, going 6 plus, 97 pitches, and losing on a home run by Max Muncy who, shall we say, also had a game for the ages, in the form of a home run, a walk and a hustle extra base. The whole thing was a mind blower - but that 13th inning:

There are lots of extra inning games in baseball - the monsters, 16, 17, 18 innings don't come along often, but you get a couple every year, maybe one fo them really ridiculous. All that gets exaggerated in the post-season, where 10 or 11 innings can feel like you've been playing for a month - rather shocking to note that before this, 14 was the most innings anyone had played in the series (Sox and Dodgers, in their Robins guise, a complete game by the greatest baseball player of all time, completed in a bit over 2 hours.) This on was, in a lot of ways, just another long night where no one could hit and everyone swung for the fences on every pitch after the 12th or so - except for that 13th.

Sox up - Holt walks, goes to steal, the ball rattles around the batters box and the catcher upends Eduardo Nunez. Nunez writhes around - can he walk? it mattered, by then, because the Sox had emptied the bench - Vazquez was playing first; Pomeranz and Sale were all that remained on the bench. He shook it off - he took a swing - a dribbler toward the pitcher. He ran (so to speak) down the line and dove into first - ahead fo the throw, which went wide - Holt came in to score! 2-1 Sox - but Nunez was on the ground, more writhing... but he made it up - went to the dugout for celebration and managed to head butt poor Rick Porcello... Okay: back on the field. The sox got runners to second and third, two outs, Mookie up - walk, Xander up - failure! (A theme...) Bottom of the inning, Eovaldi (unhittable through the post season as a starter and reliever and for a couple innings already this night.) So: he walked Muncy to lead off the inning - rare, but just one baserunner, etc. Machado pops out. Then Bellinger up, did what most fo the hitters did in the second game they played last night - swung for the downs, late, popped it up, in this case on the third base side foul. Nunez was playing almost straight up the middle -0 ran all the way over, caught the ball and flipped into the stands, all Derek Jeter like.

And Muncy saw and scampered on to second.

What the sox did to score in the top of the inning felt like something out of an LA nightmare; but it wasn't just LA's nightmare. The baseball gods, or whatever malignant force rules these games, was not going to make it that easy. Puig hit a sharp grounder toward the middle, but easily gathered byu Ian Kinsler, multiple gold glove winner, who grabbed it went to turn, and the earth moved under his feet, he slipped - just a bit - and threw the ball past Vazquez, letting Muncy in to tie the game.

Games like this, with my team up 2-0, I can usually let go. it gets past midnight, past 1, and you say, all right, they're either going to lose it (which I was resigned to before JBJ went yard), or they win it, either way, there's a bunch more games to watch, and I can read about this one in the morning. And I was close, there in the 11th or 12th - but I hung around, mostly because of how good Eovaldi has been this year - and thought I was going to be rewarded. I was not. Instead - after that 13th, how can you not do them the service of watching them finish it? 5 more innings! or, really, 4 1/2 and a batter - but hell's bells. That inning changed it from being a tense, scary long post season nail biter into something surreal, something almost inconceivable. I didn't really know what I was watching after that, didn't know how it could end - because at that point, anything that happened was going to feel like Fate - but couldn't stop. Mind blowing.

So they do it again this evening. Drew Pomeranz might well get the start - pretty terrifying stuff. Maybe they push up Sale - maybe Eduardo Rodriguez gets a shot at Eovaldi/Price style heroism. Hell, maybe Price gets in there. Maybe they figure if the Babe can go 14, so can Eovaldi, and put him back out there for 7 more. I don't know. I have seen lots of second guessing of Cora for this game, much of it for the pitching - but he didn't really do anything strange with the pitching. He did what he has done all along - expect all his relievers to pitch every single day; NOT expect them to go more than an inning (other than Kimbrel, though only when he can save it) - which meant he was down to three pitchers by the 12th, including Eovaldi - who was, after all, supposed to start today. So he got in his start in the morning instead fo this evening. Even losing, Eovaldi's contribution was immense - he gave them every chance to win; he saved those last two pitchers for this evening. And the fact is - everyone else is still going to be around tonight. Eovaldi and Porcello are probably the only guys off limits tonight. In the end, both teams used up their pens - the Sox pen might be fresher, after all of that, thanks to Eovaldi. I have no problem with Cora's use of his pitchers, and Eovaldi - that's a guy making himself very very rich, this October, assuming he still has an arm attached when it's over.

I'm not so thrilled with Cora's lineup handling. He managed to maneuver himself into a spring training split squad lineup at the end, no one on the bench, two non-hitting catchers (who both got on base a couple times, so - that might not be the problem) in the lineup, Eduardo Nunez taking more abuse than a football player - tipped over int he batting box, diving into first, tumbling into the stands, tripping over the pitching mound - though through it all - getting the outs, getting the hit, just, somehow keeping the game going, and getting up and doing it again... Cora managed to leave Benentendi out of most of the game, then lose both him and JD Martinez, and both hitting first basemen, and - a lot of it, without really getting anything out of the change. Sure, the specifics matter, but as a manager, if you have the weapons he has, you have to have a decent team on the field in the end. You have to find a way to keep Benny or Martinez in that game - you have to. For all the talk about Mookie at second, they didn't do that - they put Vazquez at first, and Holt in left. That is not how you do it. Robert beat him up and down the field at this part of the game - the Dodgers had Turner, Machado, Muncy, Bellinger and Puig in there at the end - that's a lot of pop left in the lineup, and sooner or later one of them is going to connect.

It was a strange one. Down to this: the reason the Red Sox lost, in the end, is that none of those offensive powerhouses did a goddamned thing. Betts and Bogaerts did nothing. JD did nothing, Moreland did nothing, the pinch hitters did nothing. It was more telling because Leon, and Vazquez and Nunez and JBJ were on base - generated all the offense and gave them more chances besides. Strange game.

And tonight? the Sox may not have a starter, but the pen is relatively fresh; they got nothing out of their stars, but - how often do those guys disappear for two games in a row? It took 18 innings, the best start of the post-season, a magisterial bullpen performance, a couple fantastic defensive plays, their own best players taking the night off, a gold glover slipping on a relatively easy grounder, their OWN best defensive play of the night advancing the tying run to scoring position, to lose last night - so - I can take comfort. Sox is 6 still looks like a good bet.

Monday, October 22, 2018

World Series

A month and a half after my last post - does anyone know I am still alive? it doesn't matter.

The Red Sox are in the World Series! Could I say this was inevitable? Obviously not - but I am not going to pretend I am surprised. I predicted winning the east, and got it right: the Yankees got a lot better this year - the Red Sox, already a better team, got even more better. (There's some grammatical ugliness for you, but quite possibly correct. It reminds me that among Mookie Bette' accomplishments this year, he managed, during an interview in a raucous clubhouse after winning the ALCS, to to use a double negative correctly: "look at our regular season - we are not here for no reason" - more or less. Baseball, bowling, rubik's cubes, grammar - what can't he do?) I thought the Astros would get past them in the series, but only on paper - that's how it worked. The Indians didn't show up in the post season, the other three teams really did, even if the Sox smoked the Yankees a couple times. A hit here, a passed ball there, a couple fewer highlight real catches, and we could have last year's world series again. Or even a repeat of the late 70s! So - that was close. BUt the team that found a way to 108 wins in the regular season, found a way past the teams that could only muster 100 and 103.

And so it's Sox Dodgers, which apparently happened in 1916, back when the LA Dodgers were the Brooklyn Robins. The Red Sox won that one - odds are pretty good they'll win this one. They have questions - is Sale healthy? will Price revert to post-season form, or continue whatever changed last time out? Will Porcello be dominant or throw a home run derby? Eovaldi, of all people, is the only starter who seems completely trustworthy. But at the same time - all four of them could be brilliant. Healthy Sale is dominant; Price - whatever he did last time worked - Porcello can get people out, and gives them an extra bat in the NL park - so....

They are a fun team to watch. They catch the ball, better than any Red Sox team I remember. They have superstars and regular stars, and the whole lineup can rise up at any given moment and hurt you. They grind out everything, they run, they slap hit, slug, hit doubles - it's a good team.

The Dodgers? Well - led the NL in runs scored and ERA - I guess they are doing something right. They underperformed during the year, but got there (in 163 games) and outlasted the Brewers in the playoffs. They have a ton of power, they have premier starters, they have a decent bullpen - they will be dangerous. It should be a tense series - though the Red Sox have been able to put teams down like rabid dogs more than once this year.

Which adds up to what? Sox in 6? and some late nights over the next couple weeks for poor east coast me.

Saturday, September 01, 2018


I have let things slip here at the Listening Ear, posting every month and a half or so, at least when I don't have another project to work on. I hope I can get some energy back - the Great War was approaching it's end 100 years ago, and I should take some note of it. Maybe by the end of September, when we can honor the Meuse-Argonne Offensive , the largest operation by Americans in the war. I've also completely ignored the events of Reconsruction, which were heating up inthe 1867-68 period, up tp the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. Another subject I regret letting go of.

But that's not what this post is about (and besides,with some luck, next year we can talk about impeachment in the present tense!) This weekend, Aretha Franklin and John McCain are being laid to rest, with great fanfare. It is a very clear sign of the decline of this blog that I managed to get up a post for John McCain's death, but not Franklin's. McCain mattered - he was a very famous, powerful, and fairly significant politician, he was a representative of a somewhat more palatable form of Republicanism, a vision of the United States government as a place where competing views are put to the vote, and the winners get to govern, and everyone accepts the outcome - good things. But in the end, he was still just a politician, and while very famous, not particularly consequential (for good or ill).

Aretha Franklin, on the other hand, is one of the central figures in American culture in the last 50 years - she matters in ways politicians can't dream of. Even if soul/R&B music is not what I listen to the most, you can't escape it, and it is one of the great, powerful musical styles in the world - why would you try to escape it? It is as absolutely American a thing as exists: what is American culture? Aretha Franklin answers that as well as anyone.

So: I will keep it simple - the songs I have heard the most, the ones that made her what she is, the ones I will stop what I am doing to try to listen to when I hear them.