Saturday, September 11, 2021

September 11 Memorial

Today is the 20th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I should say something about that. I have not posted anything about it since 2013 - this is strange, but I suppose I haven't posted much of anything here since 2013. I used to post every year about it - at least since 2006, fifth anniversary - but over time, there seemed to be less and less point. I said what I had to say - back in 2006, in fact, a long rant that, well - sounds right to this day... I could repeat it every year or - remember it, and let it go. Which is about what happened.

But 20 years: I have to say something. What? The event itself was horrifying, created a sense of fear and dread that lingered for quite a while. (A more concrete version of what it was like to grow up in the 70s and 80s under the fear of nuclear annihilation.) As for the day itself - I don't think I have written about my memories fo the day, here. Reading articles about false memories of 9/11 makes you think - how much do I remember wrong? The truth is, most of what I remember of the experience was banal. I was at work - I went to a meeting at 9AM. I think I remember someone saying that a plane hit the Trade Center tower before the meeting, but I don't think anyone seemed all that concerned. When I came out of the meeting, everything was different. Two planes hit - there was no doubt it was an attack - no one knew what was going to happen. I remember people watching news on their computers, a new trick in those days. And that's how we saw the towers fall: on a tiny QuickTime window.

They sent us home. I think I went into AOL when I got home and checked on a couple people I knew in NYC and the DC area - they were all right - so I turned off the news and watched Beavis and Butthead Do America. It seemed like a good time to watch it.

The next day I went back to work, though everyone was on edge. Sometime in the morning, the cops raided the Westin Hotel in Boston, a couple blocks from where I worked. People got paranoid and wanted to leave and I thought, where are we supposed to go? But I think later, most of the office just packed up and went home, not waiting for the company to close or the city to close or anything - we just weren't going to hang around. 

Not very interesting, in the end. But the day lived on in my head. Though I think it was the anthrax scare later that September that really set me off. But that might be a false memory. Walking home one day, beautiful perfect blue sky, thinking, holy shit we're all going to die! 

After that? Nostalgia about 9/12 doesn't impress me - partly because of the way we all abandoned our posts the next day, on a rumor; partly because it didn't take very long for everything to go to shit. Arguing over who was to blame, then what to do about it, ignorant things like "Freedom Fries", attacks on Moslems and anyone who looked like they might be middle eastern, increased surveillance across the board, the Patriot Act. We were divided immediately by 9/11, aAll right. Here we are, 20 years along. We have finally gotten out of Afghanistan - that's amazing ed the divisions were deeper and more aggressive, and are still there. 

We got into wars, which we could not win. We have just gotten out of Afghanistan after 20 years - a war that, at the time, made some sense (getting Al Qaeda and all) - but we didn't get Bin Laden, then we gimped that war to fight a very wrong war in Iraq and - well, we aren't the first Empire to fall apart over Afghanistan. 

And 9/11 has ruined us, politically. I mean, imagine a world where someone could say (however stupidly) that there wasn't a dime's worth of difference between the two parties - imagine that! It sounded shallowed and spoiled then - now, it's flat out mad. (Or flat out a lie; people still say it, but they are mad liars.) Whatever side you're on now, the political scene is much more fractured and dangerous than it was then. Conflicts are open and explicit, and more likely to be violent. Fascism is open and explicit and dreams of violence. We are disintegrating. And the world as a whole is just as bad: far less stable than in 2000 (when things were not ideal, don't get me wrong), but open fascism is on the rise all around the world, conflict and disintegration are taking place in areas that were basically stable in 2000. It has been a logn disaster for the world.

Which brings me to something strange to say about those times: the weird sense (but maybe not so weird) that that time - 2000-2001 - might have been the high point of human existence. How strange! But remember life as you lived it in 2000: there were bookstores! Records stores! video stores! more movie theaters! There were records to buy, movies to watch! It's easy to think that technology has been on an endless upward climb in those years - but wonderful as it can be, losing book stores, record stores, even video rental joints, is a cost. They make life more pleasant - there is no replacement for the joy of going into a bookstore or record store, browsing the shelves, looking at the objects as you decide what to buy.

But more than that - the technology was there in 2000. This choice between book stores and Amazon - in 2000, you had both. Amazon existed; Netflix existed. You could have everything - you could buy things cheap online if you wanted; you could rent movies through the mail, on a fantastic new medium, the DVD. At the same time, mind you, as you could go into a bookstore or record store or a video store and root through their stock. You could even watch movies and listen to music on your computer, even watch TV on your computer - even if the quality was not great, you could do it. All those things existed at the same time for a while. Could they have lasted forever? Is there a way to have Amazon and lots of bookstores? Streaming movies and Blockbusters? iPods and their descendents and HMV and TOwer records? I don't know. But we had them all in 2000-2001.

It's weird to think about, but that might have been it - as good as it was going to get. Maybe the end was coming one way or the other - even without 9/11, climate change was already well on its way, and that might end up swallowing all these other considerations - but things were still better than. For a middle class urban white guy, maybe - but go back to politics - it was better for a lot of people who weren't watching QuickTime videos and renting foreign DVDs and spending hundreds of dollars at a pop at Tower or HMV or Newbury Comix. 

And now? Every two days, as many people die in this country of COVID as died in the 9/11 attacks. This is months after a free, safe and effective vaccine was distributed, which stops most of those deaths. I wonder if we would have been smarter before 9/11 about something like that. We wouldn't have had people like Donald Trump who threw his political capital behind making the pandemic worse. I don't know.

We live in a very bad time.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Charlie Watts

 Time for this blog to come back to life at least long enough to mark the passing of one of the great figures of rock music, Mr. Charlie Watts, drummer for the Rolling Stones. The Stones, one has to say, have been lucky - Watts is the first to go since Brian Jones in 1969, and most of them have been pretty active and lively most of that time. And the band, of course, has stayed active all that time, still touring - or intending to tour - to the present. They seem immortal - especially, I suppose, Keith Richards, who should be dead half a dozen times over, but there he is, still at it. But they are not immortal, and now the sanest of the crew is gone.

And so. I am, I admit, too much of a fan of flashy drummers. Keith Moon and John Bonham and Jaki Liebezeit give me shivers, every time. But I know just how vital Charlie Watts was (or Ringo, for that matter.) They make the songs, hold the whole thing where it needs to be, they are near perfect. They are a big reason the Stones and the Beatles are what they are - the best whole package, the bands that got pop music dead right. The recordings, the songs as songs, everything - and the drumming is at the center of it.

So goodbye Mr. Watts. You made the world a better place.

Here they are last year, locked down - Charlie dapper and amusing, miming along to the rest:

And way back when, just grooving it:


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Sweet Tolling of the Bell

I think I shall post today in honor of the passing of Rush Limbaugh, a man who single handedly refutes John Donne: no one is diminished by his passing. He lived a rotten life, Rush Limbaugh. There was a time when it was hard to tell if he meant a word he said - he was a showman, always, and had the air of a charlatan about him, a salesman, someone who could, with a twist in the road here or there, have been announcing football games or selling used cars. Instead he played a right wing demagogue, but was any of it real? 

There was a time. But there comes a time when who cares? You can mean it or not, but if you are willing to say the things he said, push the positions and politics he pushed, sincerity is beside the point. You are evil, and playing evil is no different than being evil. And he was evil. He grounded right wing resentment and viciousness, for a long time, he promoted it, he shaped it, he kept it going. He was central in creating the fascism that has infested the right in this country for 30 odd years - voicing it, pushing it, making it worse and worse. He hurt the country, and consequently the world, immeasurably. 

He was also a loathsome character as a human being. A drug addict and sex tourist who raved about other people's drug use and sexual behavior. A money grubbing worm. A hateful, abusive creep. 

All right: if you can's say something nice about someone, you shouldn't say anything at all. Well - if you can say something nice about Rush Limbaugh, what the hell is wrong with you? I suppose one should feel sympathy for his family and loved ones - but who the hell would that be? No - he won't be missed, except by his fellow fascists. Fuck them all.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Good Day

And so we are finally free of the worst man to ever hold the office of president of the United States. One of the worst men ever to run for the office, a man who earned his place next to Andrew Johnson and John Breckinridge, though unlike them, a man who never did anything else in his life worth noting. All the old villains and failures in American history - most of them did something to get there. Maybe a few of them were just born to money and power, like this one - but hell, little George Bush at least made a show of trying to be worth something, he joined the guard at least! He ran a sports team that didn't go bankrupt, unlike some people who bankrupted whole sports leagues. Even Ronald Reagan, mid-level actor - was a mid-level actor. This one? went bankrupt running a casino; pissed away his daddy's money; revived by a reality show and the Russian mob! his uselessness is almost unprecedented in American National politics.

He's gone now. I imagine he will have a few sleepless nights, as now his creditors and many an ambitious DA can cast their eyes his way. Once the Senate gets through with him. Yes indeed. I am grateful that he didn't decide to double down on his coup from a couple weeks back - though it's not surprising. He was always in it for the grift - he never seemed to take anything seriously except the grift. There is a strange surreal quality to the insane right in this country - they are LARPers, they are playing a game - they claim things that are so obviously false it is hard to imagine they take them seriously. The coup attempt - seems to have been dead serious, with people certainly talking about killing politicians and the like - but they still somehow come off as though they were always just playing a game. And - I can't say I am surprise they dissolved on the first touch. The whole affair felt like a Coen brothers movie. Their ranting and raving had a very Walter Sobchak vibe to it - but I couldn't help hearing Walter condemning them too. "These men are cowards, Donnie..." 

All right. I don't have to think about the former president any more! That is a great joy. I can think about Joe Biden. A strange sensation, right, to have Joe Biden as president. It is a massive relief, and he gives off an air of calm, reassurance, but also strength and resolve. He will undo the damage that's been done by 4 years of undemocratic and un-American rule. I take great pleasure in seeing him take office - that in spite of the fact that he might have been my 9th choice among last years Democrats. (Especially in retrospect, which might let me take people like Julian Castro more seriously than I would have at the time.) But then again - there might have been a dozen Democrats running for president last year who were better choices than anyone the Republicans put forward in 2016, and that's even trying to filter out political preferences. And that again who didn't run who I would like to see as president. The Democrats simply are the serious political party in this country. The serious political debate in this country is al within the Democratic party. I just hope they manage to agree on enough to make some real changes.

Still: the cautious parts of the Democratic party will massively improve the country, just as they did in Obama's day. I hope they have learned the lessons of those days: that the Republicans are not worth working with. Do what you want to do, and do not give them an inch. Use every advantage you have, pass what you think will do the most good, do not try to work around their propaganda machine. The Democrats will be accused of socialism whatever they do - so do what you can get through congress, do everything you can do. They have the congress at least - taking over the senate today as well. I hope they use it. 

All right. It is a good day. A good week, from MLK day to Biden's inauguration, to Ossoff and Warnock being sworn into the senate - it is good. We are going to make it after all, maybe.


Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Salvation and Sedition

What a time to be alive. Should I be thrilled that Georgia's senatorial races both went to the Democrats, giving the Democrats a majority in the Senate? (That's 51 votes, representing an extra 40 millions people.) We have a functioning government again. We might save the old republic yet!

Or be "concerned" (that's the word) that a sitting president incited a coup to overthrow the government? invading the capital, proudly waving their confederate flags? 

What a time to be alive.

There is not much to do or say about all of this. This is not a coup that can succeed. It is hard to see what Trump thinks he is doing at this point. I know Trump himself is a spoiled child, an ignorant, destructive, incompetent grifter who simply doesn't care what happens to anything else. He never has - obviously. He has never cared a fig about the United States. I find it hard to think he even cares about the power or winning or anything else - I don't know what he is doing. He is pissing on everything to piss on it. It's mind-blowing.

The people around him - his family, everyone in the White House, Mike Pence on down - are as shameful a lot of hooligans as this country has ever produced. Cowardly, weak, sycophantic, to someone who clearly cannot and will not help them in any way - why are they doing it? Why didn't some of them stop this shit months ago? They could have: he is not a dictator, he is a weak old man who can be easily controlled by anyone willing. Stories about Trump tearing into Mike Pence - why doesn't Pence just recite the 25th amendment (section 4) to him and tell him to sit down and shut up? But you should not have to go that far. Why are these people all so afraid of Donald Trump?

There is, and has been a great divide in this country - people who somehow think Trump is formidable, good or bad, a great businessman or an evil genius, something - and defer to him. And people who think he is a clown, a buffoon, a bully, who should be mocked and ignored. That he is someone who has no power - just daddy's money (or Putin's now, I guess) and daddy's lawyers (or maybe Mitch McConnell) to do things with. If anything, he has more power now, having stoked the mobs and sent them out to break stuff - they can do real harm. But they have no real power. 

But here we are. On one hand, the bullshit will end - Trump will be gone in two weeks, his mobs are not likely to have a lot of staying power. But they can break a lot of stuff before they go. It is crucial, in the aftermath of this - and this has been true since November of 2016, since nothing Trump has done is really surprising, it was obvious in 2016 he was a crook and would be a crook in office and might well sell out the country to anyone who'd pay him - when it is done, he has to pay. Trump needs to be arrested, he needs to be tried, he should be convicted, since he has done it all in public. And the people who helped him should be held accountable - the leaders. It is important to arrest the ones breaking into the capital, making sure none of them go unpunished - but it is more crucial to get the ringleaders.  

Trump should be arrested, now. He's a traitor. The senators and representatives who encouraged this by protesting the certification should be punished - it is one thing to dick around with symbolic protests and the like, but they had to know what would happen here. They participated in this sedition. They need to be held responsible. The criminals and traitors int he Trump white house have to pay for their crimes. If we sweep this under the rug, we will be putting ourselves on the road to destruction. 

There's nothing else to say.

Friday, January 01, 2021

2021 Is Here at Last!

And good riddance to 2020! 

Here we are, 2021, a new year, and one that is very welcome. 2020 has got a very strong claim to being the worst year in American history. 350,000 dead of Covid, over 3 million total deaths, a 15% increase from 2019, the largest increase in deaths since 1918. That is very bad. And around this, we can watch the government collapsing, one of our parties openly embracing treason - it's not a pretty picture. Now clearly, there have been bad times in the past - 1918, say! War, the flu and all; the Depression, WWII; the 60s had some horrible times as well. But this one - especially as so much of it feels like a self-inflicted wound. And the way there seems to be so little to take as compensation. Sure sure, 1968 was horrible - but you got the White Album! This year - this was so bad I somehow managed to miss the fact that Tommy Heinsohn died. A couple months ago. Somewhere between Sean Connery and Alex Trebek. That bad.

So here we are. The virus is still wreaking havoc (we keep hitting new daily highs in deaths, 3900 odd a couple days ago); there are vaccines, but they are slow to get implemented, so we are a long ways from normal life again. There's a new strain out there, more contagious than the last. Not good. Meanwhile, the economy is in a dangerous place. Maybe it's still functioning, but it feels like it could crash at any time. And though $600 checks will help a bit, you need more than that, especially if we were able to take the necessary step of closing things down again until the virus subsides and vaccines are common. There is hope, I suppose, if the Democrats win two senate seats in Georgia - otherwise, we remain at the mercy of Mitch McConnell, and that is not a good place to be.

There is no escaping the utter depravity of the modern Republican party. Donald Trump - he's less than three weeks from being out fo the white house, but is doing all he can to ruin the country while he is still there. He bears personal responsibility for a lot fo those COVID deaths - half of them? Probably about right. He had an easy job when this pandemic hit - nod along with the doctors, tell everyone to stay at home and wear their masks and wash their hands - but he did not do that. He did the opposite, He politicized the disease - he politicized the obvious measures one takes to battle infectious diseases. He did worse than that - he fostered conspiracy theories, he acted the fool, he inspired his followers to act the fool. If he had hit the bare minimum, doing what the doctors said, the Republicans likely would have gone along with it. You always have nuts - but Trump encouraged mainstream Republicans to defy obvious health measures. I don't think they would have done this without his lead. There is almost no one else he could have been in his place who would have acted the way Trump did on this. Mike Pence, bad as he is (and bad as he's been as Trump's VP) is very unlikely to have acted like Trump in the face of this disaster. And that little might have made it possible to keep the disease under some control. Not complete (unless you live in New Zealand) - but we are way worse than anyone else.

But Donald Trump is a pretty uniquely bad human being. He has managed to fulfill all the expectations for villainy and incompetence in the wake of the election. It's interesting to note that the election went more or less exactly as everyone expected it to go: Biden won the popular vote easily; a half dozen states were close enough to make the Electoral College outcome iffy, though there never seemed to be much chance of Trump repeating his 2016 luck. Because of absentee voting, and the politicizations of absentee voting, most observers thought that Trump would seem to be ahead on election day, but the lead would disappear as soon as the votes were counted. It's obvious that's what Trump expected to happen - thus his relentless campaign against absentee voting, his attempts to sabotage the post office, to stop counting votes after election day and so on. 

And that is how it happened. Trump was ahead at the end of November 3, and started clamoring to stop counting votes. People counted the votes. Trump's lead disappeared fast, and a day or so later, it was obvious Biden had won, and would win big. Here, a normal villain would back down, whine about whatever there was to whine about, and pout as the country prepared to change presidents. Not Trump! he kept doubling down on his fascism, challenging votes, trying to intimidate officials, raising up his followers for violence, and when everything else failed, speculating about a military coup. They are still at it! Weird notions still circulating about straight up rejecting the results when congress certifies them, with grandstanding morons in congress still carrying on. Astonishing. Well - not for Trump. More or less par for the course. For the other Republicans - somehow they seem to have missed that the rest of the party sort of made gains in this election - Trump is the only one who got smoked, regularly. 

And so. 2021 is here, Joe Biden will be president in a couple weeks, with luck, the Democrats will have the senate, and might pass some fo the lawws the house has been passing all year. Might make it possible to get through the next 3-6 months it will take to get vaccines to people - we might survive as a nation. For a while anyway.

I will not dwell on the bad, though. 2020 will represent the low point in the Republic, even if worse times come, as long as we do start to get back to something resembling respectability. It's hard to get too optimistic, though, even there - with several others countries slipping into fascism and stupidity at the same time. (Brexit anyone?) But - it feels good to get out of it. There could be light at the end of this tunnel; there hasn't been anything to be optimistic about in a while. So take what you can get.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Armistice Day 2020

 I haven't updated on November 11 in a couple years. The last time was the end of the war itself, ion fact, two years ago. I know I have not been blogging much lately. And the war is over.

I have been watching The Great War on youtube lately - a neat historical channel, hosted by Indie Neidell originally, that followed the war week by week, 100 years after the fact. I wish I had found that sooner, though I was doing a lot of reading, and taking actual classes, back when it started. Still - good stuff, and so is the World War Two channel Neidell hosts now.

Meanwhile, the word we live in is interesting enough. 100 years ago, the Spanish Flu was winding down, having killed millions, more than the whole war did. In 2020, COVID 19 is in full force still, killing 230,000 or more Americans already, many many more throughout the world, and still going strong. And the fool in the White house who has made this worse is still there - 

We did, in fact, vote his sorry ass out last week. Everything went about according to expectations - lots of votes cast, lots of absentee votes cast, Democrats much more likely to vote by mail than Republicans, so the election night results looked grim. But the places counting absentee ballots after the in person ballots saw Biden's numbers just rise and rise and rise, and by the time they were done, he had taken most co the contested states - Pennsylvania, Georgia, as well as Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Nebraska, by fairly healthy margins. Biden took the popular vote by a very healthy margin. Basically, it was a butt kicking. 

But weepy Donnie is still hanging on, raving about election fraud, promising to fight it in the courts, and sabotaging everything he can reach rather than admit the obvious. This is what you get when someone fails at everything they touch and no one calls them on it. It is also what you get when you have a fascist in the white house, supported by a party that knows it can't win elections if people vote. They have to steal the election, they sure as hell can't win it. The Republicans have won one National election since 1988. They have to commit to minority rule.

So here we are. Self-imposed chaos here in the USA. Trump doing his best John Breckinridge - if he can't win the vote, he'll commit treason. I don't know how this gets that far, of course. Trump is terrible at it, his allies are terrible at it - there is no way for him to actually win the election, and I doubt anyone will have the stomach to turn to arms to overturn it. But it's ugly, none the less.

All right. End with the Great War again. This time, Metallica's One, a song, from a book and movie about the war, about all wars - and about the blacklist, while we're at it. Dalton Trumbo writing as much about his own time being silence as about the results of the war, I think. A good way to remember this remembrance day.


Thursday, October 22, 2020

Dread

 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?
Boston
Cleveland
Houston
+NY
+Minnesota
- I will predict the Red Sox coming out and winning the world series, but Houston is dead even as far as I can see.

NL:
Philadelphia
Chicago
LA
+Colorado
+Washington
- 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.