Republicans are insane

Georgia lunatic Marjorie Taylor Greene, whom people actually voted for

Yes, yes, I know, "not all Republicans." But, come on, can you name me a current elected official identifying as a Republican that is not either a nutcase him/herself or pandering to and enabling a nutcase constituency? And, really, how many rank-and-file Republican voters are playing with full decks and still voting for this party? A group that used to call itself "the party of personal responsibility" but is now "the party of blaming other people and claiming victimhood for everything that ails us or that even makes us feel a little oogy."

It's enough to, well, drive you a little crazy.

Why write about this today, you ask, when the so-called Grand Old Party has been this way for years now? Because Marjorie Three-toes keeps saying stupid things and people keep taking her seriously.

On Tuesday, Congresswoman Greene—there's a phrase to kill your appetite—went into one of her screeds during a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee. "I want you to know," she said, "that in 2020 there were 4,800 pounds of fentanyl seized by [Customs and Border Patrol]. But in 2021, fiscal year 2021, it increased to 11,200 pounds of fentanyl was [sic] seized by the CBP. That is a direct result of Biden administration failure policies."

Wait, so… seizing more fentanyl than the previous administration did is a failure? Because… you want as much fentanyl getting into the country as possible?

She continued: "Now here we are in, to date, to date, fisti—fiscal year 2023, they have already seized 12,500 pounds of fentanyl. The Biden administration is failing this country by not protecting our border and securing our border, and stopping Chinese fentanyl from being brought into our country illegally by the cartels, and people are dying every single day because of it."

OK, so we've got even more seizures in fiscal ’23, preventing even more fentanyl from hitting the streets. Which is again noted as "failing this country" by "not stopping" fentanyl from coming in. Except they've seized, i.e. stopped from coming in, 12,500 pounds of the stuff.

If you tried to take this woman literally you'd end up like Norman the android. Is her problem that too much fentanyl is being seized, or not enough? Is she claiming people are dying because too much fentanyl is coming into the country or because not enough fentanyl is coming into the country?

Of course, Greene doesn't actually give a damn about fentanyl. She wants to scare people into thinking Joe Biden wants to kill your children by masterminding some sort of fentanyl smuggling that … gets seized? Is she saying that when it gets seized by CBP it gets taken to a super-secret Biden distribution network that has operatives skulk into the homes of rural white folk and force drugs down their throats? Or does she just not know what "seized" means?

Really, with her it could easily be either.

Greene is nutso enough to believe outlandish nonsense of all sorts, but all that matters to her is that she can get the rubes to believe the nonsense. Which is the tactic of each and every Republican official and candidate for office. Simply adjust the subject to fit a given issue.

Are you a Republican running for office? Is there something about society you don't like? Or that maybe you like but your constituency doesn't? Well, all you have to do is tell the rubes that the thing you (or your constituency) don't like is the fault of Democrats and brown people and immigrants. (Incidentally, the vast majority of smuggling is done by US citizens, but make sure to blame foreigners if you can.) Make up a wacky conspiracy theory to give it heft! And be absolutely outraged, even if it's a thing most people think is fine or is a thing people hate but is, you know, your own fault. Because you know that your base of voters is gullible, impressionable, and willing to be abused. So don't spare the rod! Con those rubes good!

One of those rubes testified to that same House Committee hearing, adamantly claiming that lawmakers “are welcoming drug dealers across our border!” She was upset, see, because her two sons died of an opioid overdose—in 2020, during the Trump administration, when even Greene apparently agrees the CBP was less effective at seizing fentanyl. Tragic, to be sure, but rather than acknowledge that CBP is now clearly more successful in stopping the drugs from crossing the border, she blamed the current government. And Greene doubled down on it, overtly blaming President Biden for those "murders" in a Tweet. Her office was notified that a fact-check verified that Joe Biden wasn't President in 2020, but her staff's reply was on brand: "Do you think they (constituents) give a fuck about your bullshit fact checking?"

Clearly they do not care about fact-checking. Or facts in general. Or any sort of critical thinking. And Greene's staff knows it and enthusiastically exploits it.

The rube that testified made mention of her lack of expertise. "I had heard of the opioid epidemic," she said. "I thought, you know, people are getting prescription drugs and getting addicted and then getting it on the streets, and that it affects their ability to work. I didn't know that people were dying." And the kicker: "I didn't know that my boys were taking anything that could kill them. They didn't think that they were either. They thought that they were safe with pills. But the government knew. The government's known for years and years."

I was uninformed and uninterested. So were my kids. They're dead now because we were dumb. But the government knew things I didn't know, they've known things I don't know for years and years; sure, there was that whole "war on drugs" thing that they tried to drill into every American for a decade-plus, but that wasn't anything we cared about and so it's the government's fault that we didn't pay attention and learn things and that's why my boys are dead now because the government. I'm a Republican and we're the party of personal responsibility.

She can justify that logical train wreck because of what she hears from people like Congresswoman Greene. And Donald Trump, and Kevin McCarthy, and Ted Cruz, and Lauren Boebert, etc., etc., and their mouthpieces on Fox "News."

Republicans are insane. And Republican officials like it that way.

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Jimmy Carter, personal hero


After the news broke earlier this week that 98-year-old Jimmy Carter has elected to go into hospice care rather than pursue treatment for whatever is ailing him (I suspect a return of his cancer), a number of stories hit the proverbial papers about him. Kind of pre-obituary editorial pieces that seek to remind the reader that, whatever one may think of President Carter's time in office, the fact of the matter is that James Earl Carter Jr. is and always has been a damn fine human being.

I would go even farther than that and posit that Jimmy Carter is one of the best people to ever walk the Earth, and I say that with as much confidence as I possibly can concerning a person I've never actually met.

President Carter has been one of my heroes since I was a teenager. Not because he was the first president I was cognizant of in real time—I was all of seven years old when he was elected and just shy of twelve when he left office—and not because his successor was an idiotic simpleton that begat policies that continue to damage the country to this day, though both of those things are true. But because even as a pre-teen, when I was beginning to understand politics and what government does and is for, I saw Jimmy Carter advocating for the future in a way that emphasized empathy for all. And, sure, the fact that the next guy preferred to solve things with military adventure and by sticking it to the underprivileged brought out Carter's humanity in a way that wouldn't have been as obvious otherwise.

"It's very difficult for the American people to believe that our government, one of the richest on Earth, is also one of the stingiest on Earth."

—Jimmy Carter

The "common wisdom" of the zeitgeist lauds Carter for his post-presidency but gives him failing marks for his four years as President, but that's bullshit and I think history will recognize his term as a bright spot in an otherwise troubling era of American politics.

I did some research on recent presidents for a high school project a group of us were doing that required us to create founding documents for an imagined new country. Most of us, unsurprisingly, ended up presenting a constitutional structure not far removed from what we were living in; we may not have been the sort of gung-ho patriotic Americans that slap flag decals on our trucks and yak about 'Murca, but it's what we knew and we were smart enough to know it was a pretty good setup compared to some others. My group opted for something that was kind of a cross between the US constitution and a parliamentary setup like you'd find in Canada or Britain (no royalty, though), one that allowed for votes of no confidence and a maximum of six years in office for the president. As my teacher pointed out, this was likely because at the time we had a president we did not like and were indulging in a little wish-fulfillment, which was undoubtedly true. Part of my thinking was that here we had just reelected Bonzo's trigger-happy sidekick by a margin that astounds me to this day, giving him eight years in office, while the brilliant nuclear engineer that championed human rights around the world only got four years; therefore we need to split the difference at six years to check the stupidity of voters. (I've since changed my tune on that, I generally oppose term limits so long as elections happen often enough; the problem is with campaign laws, not term limitations. There are still millions of stupid voters, though.)

“The last three days that I was president, I never went to bed at all. I never went to bed until we had negotiated the final release of the hostages.”

—Jimmy Carter

In my limited research—which consisted mostly of mediocre encyclopedia articles and some newspaper pieces found in public library microfiche; we didn't have the Internet when I was in high school, you know—I learned about President Carter's diplomacy with Israel and Egypt, his push for national health insurance, and his attempts to put the country on a course toward renewable and sustainable energy. But most of what I found were negatively slanted accounts of economic inflation and blame for the Iranian hostage crisis. I didn't know much of anything about economics, but I did know that Carter's efforts got those hostages home without firing a shot and that the new guy ripping out the solar panels atop the White House was a dick move that undermined a solid environmental policy agenda. (Something I didn't learn until later was that the hostage crisis itself came about largely because Carter gave in to outside pressure to do something he did not want to do—outside pressure that boiled down to essentially a con by Henry Kissinger and others that erroneously convinced Carter that the deposed Shah of Iran had to be granted asylum here because he otherwise could not get proper cancer treatments; turned out the Shah could have gotten just as good if not better care where he was in Mexico and admitting the Shah kicked off Iran's taking of hostages. When the asylum proposal was initially brought to him, Carter's reaction was "fuck the Shah"—this from a guy who almost never swears—but Kissinger and co. manipulated him on humanitarian grounds with the cancer treatment story. Yet, you never heard Carter placing blame on Kissinger et. al, he was president and he owned it.)

Post-high school I read more. I learned about the Panama Canal treaty and why that was such a big deal and how it had positive impacts throughout Central America. About the creation of the cabinet departments of energy and education. About the Superfund toxic cleanup law. I read about how he studied nuclear reactors at Annapolis and led a Navy mission to prevent a nuclear meltdown. I saw news stories about the current administration relaxing Carter-era fuel economy regulations, with Lee Iacocca (remember that asshat?) giddily crowing about how his company and others lobbied to “put up a tombstone [that reads] ‘Here lies America's energy policy'”; about American saber-rattling in various corners of the world, including playing both sides in the Iran-Iraq war and, of course, the illegal mess of the Iran-Contra scandal—all of which I knew would not have happened had Carter been reelected.

“It is difficult for the common good to prevail against the intense concentration of those who have a special interest, especially if the decisions are made behind locked doors.”

—Jimmy Carter

I read Carter's memoir of his presidency, Keeping Faith. I found it fascinating, especially as it didn't seek to sanitize his flaws. One knock on Carter as president that I think actually holds water is that he tended to micromanage; a more important one is that he didn't play politics. I found it oddly(?) appealing that the president of the United States didn't think he needed to lobby Congresspeople to share his view, at least not in the traditional sense, that once he presented a good argument that a policy was the right thing to do that enough in Congress would see the evidence right in front of them, no lobbying necessary. Still, a bit of traditional politicking might have helped with some of his legislative frustrations; he didn't like trading political favors, didn't think crafting policy should have anything to do with making quid-pro-quo deals and felt such things had an aura of dishonesty about them. (According to his vice-president, Walter Mondale, "the worst thing you could say to Carter if you wanted him to do something was that it was politically the best thing to do.") Even so, more liberal lawmakers were pissed that Carter took an incremental approach instead of sweeping change tactics—some things never change, right?—and Ted Kennedy might have had a my-way-or-the-highway attitude regardless. (We might have Ted to thank for not having any kind of national health insurance reform until the Obama administration.)

You can look back on some of Carter's speeches and writings from his term of office and think, "wow, he was prescient" because he recognized climate change (though it didn't have that name yet) and the dangers of relying on fossil fuels. "We must prepare quickly for a change," he said, not three months into his presidency in 1977, "to strict conservation and to the use of permanent renewable energy sources, like solar power." But really, this wasn't precognition or anything even slightly weird, this was just basic sense and science. It's just that since 1981 this country's leadership hasn't given a damn about such things until very recently. (And yeah, I blame Bonzo's sidekick for that.) The man is a nuclear engineer, he knows details are important and how things interrelate, he could see what ramifications an action today would have a decade down the line.

"I believed what my father taught me about the separation of church and state, so when I was President I never invited Billy Graham to have services in the White House because I didn't think that was appropriate."

—Jimmy Carter

His famous (infamous?) speech in ’79 that has unfortunately become known as the "malaise speech" I find remarkable for a couple of reasons: It's refreshingly blunt, for one, voicing criticisms of himself from others but also kind of laying into the public at large; not in a mean way, of course, but bluntly stating that society wasn't trending in a helpful direction. "Too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption," he said. "Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose." Not exactly the politically safe pandering one might expect from other officeholders. Carter also becomes visibly frustrated when making his case for energy policy—remember, this is during the OPEC embargo, which not only made for long queues at gas stations but fueled high inflation generally—telling the viewer that "the energy crisis is REAL" (and one might imagine an unspoken addendum, like "I'm not screwing around here, this is important, so GET IT THROUGH YOUR THICK HEADS"). And he warned us that we'd be where we are today in terms of our politics if we didn't wise up: "We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I've warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure."

"We must embrace human rights and aggressively challenge our society’s acceptance of violence, which should never be seen as normal or as the preferred means of solving problems."

—Jimmy Carter

I read several of Carter's subsequent books, too. I enjoyed some of them, like Talking Peace and Our Endangered Values, but the White House years held more interest for me. White House Diaries is a really interesting read. I admit, though, I couldn't get through his novel The Hornet's Nest. Maybe I'll try again someday.

The post-presidency of Jimmy Carter has been impressive beyond anyone's expectations, but the thing it most demonstrated to me was that this guy was and is the real deal. He campaigned for the presidency in the wake of Watergate with the promise that "I will never lie to you" and he meant it. He was a staunch Baptist but fervently believed in the separation of church and state for real, not in the lip-service way most so-called Christian politicians do, and even bucked the church when it violated what he regarded as higher principles, as when he severed association with the Southern Baptists Convention over its decision to ban women from serving as pastors. He couldn't be president anymore, but he nevertheless kept doing international diplomacy as a private citizen when possible, created a conflict-resolution institution, continued championing global human rights and global public health, and famously volunteered with Habitat for Humanity into his 90s. This guy didn't just talk a good game, he walked the walk.

"I was familiar with the widely accepted arguments that we had to choose between idealism and realism, or between morality and the exertion of power; but I rejected those claims. To me, the demonstration of American idealism was a practical and realistic approach to foreign affairs, and moral principles were the best foundation for the exertion of American power and influence."

—Jimmy Carter

If only people had had better priorities in 1980. We had a President who told us the truth even when we didn't want to hear it, one that would exhaust every diplomatic channel before considering using the military, one that believed government should work for everyone and strive for equity. And then we tossed him aside because people liked the myopic simplicity of the cowboy actor.

Jimmy Carter is the standard for integrity among human beings. That, above all the policy stuff, all the moral high ground, all the detailed brilliance, is why he has remained one of my heroes. I look up to Jimmy Carter as much as I might a heroic fictional character.

"Who are your standard bearers, the people you would emulate?" Well, I gotta go with Captain Picard, Hawkeye Pierce, Peter Parker, Toby Ziegler, Atticus Finch, and Jimmy freakin' Carter.

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Another rant about Rob Manfred

Hey Rob, you're bad at your job and nobody likes you.

We're getting close to baseball season 2023. Which is, for some of us, all kinds of fun and cool. However, because we live in the Rob Manfred Era of Major League Baseball, it also means we need to prepare for what is now an annual period of adjustment to the new ways Commissioner Manfred has decided to screw with the game and piss us all off.

I've written plenty about Rob Manfred's penchant for damaging the game of baseball over at that-other-site-I-used-to-run-that-is-now-defunct-and-one-day-I-will-put-selected-posts-up-here-as-a-form-of-archiving. He is without a doubt the worst person to ever occupy the office of Commissioner of Baseball. He doesn't appear to even like baseball. He's all about incessantly tweaking anything he can think of if there's the slightest possibility it might mean more money for team owners in the short term. (Fuck the long term. Compared to Manfred, even Mr. Magoo has telescopic HD x-ray vision.)

Ever since Manfred took over the job, he's been altering the game in both large and small ways. To date it hasn't gone so far as to make the game unrecognizable, but give the guy a few more years and we'll be watching blernsball or Calvinball.

A lot of the alterations are "behind the scenes," dealing with money stuff and organizational rules about how long a stint on the injured list is, how the amateur draft is conducted, how many times a player can be shuttled back and forth to the minor leagues, that sort of thing, and those might be good or bad but they don't actually affect the game as it's played on the field from first pitch to last out. It's the on-field stuff that grates my cheese the most.

2023's new rules include:

  • A pitch clock
  • Bigger bases (18" square rather than the traditional 15")
  • Restrictions on where defenders may position themselves
  • Severely limiting what a pitcher may do to hold a runner close to a base

This, of course, is on top of other rules that were implemented since 2019, which include:

  • The automatic intentional walk
  • Three-batter minimum for pitchers
  • A limit on how often catchers can go to the pitcher's mound
  • Proscriptions on what players may and may not pitch and when
  • The "zombie runner" in extra innings, which was supposed to be a temporary COVID-era measure that has, as of last Monday, been made "permanent."
  • The metastasization of the cancer known as the designated hitter rule
  • Diluting the season with added Wild Card teams in the playoffs

The only new rules I don't detest are the mound-visit limit and the three-batter minimum. Those actually add an element of strategy while addressing Manfred's complaint, which was so-called "dead time" while pitcher and catcher discussed tactics and too many pitching changes. Otherwise, these changes all completely suck. I could go into why for each of them, but I'll spare you that for now.

 Manfred's stated goal with all these tweaks and changes is to "increase the pace of play," by which I think he really means "make the game more accessible for those with attention-deficit disorder." (Come to think of it, Manfred himself may well have ADHD, which would explain some of this nuttery.) His actual goals are open to speculation, but you would not be out of line to think dumbing things down is high on the list.

Unquestionably the experience of the game has slowed, for lack of a more accurate shorthand, over the past couple of decades. Relief pitching has become far, far more prevalent and that brought along the "dead time" of more pitching changes during games; existing rules regulating batters stepping out of the batter's box were not enforced and more and more players developed Nomar Garciaparra-like habits; the steroid-era created so much more emphasis on home-run power that more and more and more players adopted approaches to hitting that made "This misnomer of a phrase refers to a plate appearance resulting in a strikeout, a walk, or a home run. A “three-true-outcome hitter” is statistically unlikely to do anything else in any given time at bat.three-true-outcome" players common rather than rare; certain matchups like Yankees-Red Sox came to have so many mound meetings that if you worked it right you could time a trip to the concession stand during one and not miss a pitch. And, of course, TV demanded more commercial time, about which there's only so much anyone would be willing to change.

Imposing some sort of "correction" on the game to address this slowing isn't in and of itself something I would oppose categorically. On the contrary, I would very much like to see the obsession with home runs fade away and contact-hitting return to favor. That would reduce the number of pitches per at-bat, reduce the incentive for defenses to employ position shifts, even cut down on relief usage by allowing starting pitchers to go deeper into games before tiring. But you don't accomplish that by imposing a pitch clock; or, if you do, it's a side effect rather than the plan.

The pitch clock might work out OK in the end, but it sure seems problematic. It's pretty brief—not so much for the pitcher as for the batter; pitchers will have 15 seconds to start their throwing motion (20 if there are runners aboard), batters must be in their stance and “alert to the pitcher” within eight seconds. The problems come in when the time is exceeded and a ball or strike is added to the count to penalize whichever player wasn't ready in time. Imagine that happening during a tense moment in the late innings of a tight game. One effect might be that pitchers don't throw as hard, which would be welcome. Another might be that pitchers get hurt more often, which would not.

Larger, they look weird, but this will quickly become "normal" and not be much of a thing. It's just a way to increase offense, get more safe calls, but it might make for fewer collisions and injuries to first basemen. I can live with it.

The restriction on pick-off attempts is the worst of these new changes, it's a naked tipping of the scale away from the defense in favor of baserunners. It'll turn every pitcher into Jon Lester, except he won't even be able to step off the pitching rubber or hold before the pitch to keep a runner close to the base. It's a much more significant change to the game than I think anyone realizes at this point. Don't get me wrong, I love stolen bases—my favorite team of all time is the 1985 Cardinals, after all—but don't cheapen them. Cat-and-mouse between a pitcher and a Lou Brock or a Vince Coleman on first was part of the tension, part of the thrill of getting  a steal. Now it's gone.

Manfred has done away with the pitcher-runner tension, eliminated all strategy related to pitchers batting and worsened the existing DH rule to favor Shohei Ohtani alone while enacting rules that make future Ohtani-like "two-way" players nearly impossible, imposed radical restrictions on who can play where and in what circumstance, destroyed the potential for epic extra-inning games, cheapened the meaning of the long season schedule with almost participation-trophy tiers of playoffs, and that doesn't even get into his penchant for negotiating in bad faith, his pathetic response to cheating teams, his dishonest remarks to the press, basic stupidity about the game, and utter disregard for fans and consumers of the sport—his ostensible constituency as commissioner of baseball.

Or is it even ostensible? The fact of the matter is that ever since Bud Selig, then the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers (and thief of the Seattle Pilots), succeeded in his coup d'etat to overthrow Commissioner Fay Vincent to install himself in the position in 1992, there has been no figure in the MLB hierarchy that represents the baseball consumer. Selig made the job into a mouthpiece for ownership, an autocratic office firmly entrenched with championing the interests of club owners and club owners only. Calling the position "Commissioner of Baseball" is improper. Needs a new title, like "Agent of Greedy Asshats." I mean, there isn't a "commission" anymore. There aren't even league presidents to mediate.

The Commissioner position was created (well, technically reformed, but for all practical purposes created) in the wake of the Black Sox scandal and ensuing threats by National League officials to effectively destroy the American League by absorbing big-city AL teams into its own circuit. To contend with the public relations nightmare, an outsider was brought in to safeguard the national pastime as chair of the reimagined National Baseball Commission, which was to be made up of, by design and specific intent, people not otherwise affiliated with the business of professional baseball. That chairperson was Kennesaw Mountain Landis, who insisted on being a commission of one and, as he knew the lords of the Majors needed him more than the other way around, negotiated himself ultimate authority as the commissioner to act "in the best interests of baseball" as a whole, not of club owners or ballplayers or media figures or any other isolated group. Essentially, to represent the consumers, the public, as well as mediate disputes, regulate conflict, and be a check on ownership (players of the time didn't have any power to check). Subsequent commissioners had the same authority, purview, and requirement to be otherwise unaffiliated with the business of the leagues. Until Bud Selig's coup, which almost immediately begat the 1994-95 strike. (The revisionist history of Selig's reign reminds me a lot of how people talk about George W. Bush—"he kept us safe." You know, except for that one time. "Selig presided over great growth of the game," you know, except for that one time.)

Manfred claims to have the fans' interests at heart. “I think that the concern about our fans is at the very top of our consideration list,” he actually said with a straight face during the last collective bargaining sessions with the players' union, after which he imposed a lockout and canceled the beginning of the 2022 season.

Baseball doesn't have a commissioner, it has an agent of greed, and in this case one that doesn't like the sport and wants to make it something else.


I'm trying to keep an open mind on the pitch clock. But I suspect the law of unintended consequences will rear its ugly head and it'll be bad.

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Social media redux


A few months ago I posted about social media and how its landscape is changing in the wake of Elon Musk's Twitter fiasco. I'd signed up at Hive at that point, looking for a Twitter alternative, but I didn't stick with it and, frankly, it has a severe limitation in that it doesn't have a desktop version, it's phones only. It also was going through the expected growing pains of lag time and function misfires and such, and maybe it's better now, I don't know. Because I don't check it.

I don't check my other platforms either, not often. I still waste tons of time looking at my phone, of course, but it's shifted from Twitter and Facebook to SimCity and sudoku.

But now there's Spoutible.

I got interested in this new platform after listening to an interview with its creator, Christopher Bouzy, on Bob Cesca's podcast. I signed up there and have found it to be just as Bob said it was: "Twitter without the fuckery." I'll be checking in there more often, I think. It needs to build its user base, of course. Social media only works when people post things and right now my feed is "spouts" from just a few people. Hopefully by the time baseball season gets here—and that's when I generally use such things more frequently—there will be more folks to interact with.

Anyway, if you like/liked Twitter, check it out. I'd like for it to succeed.

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State of the Union


When I revived this here blog no too long ago, it was my intention to be posting relatively frequently. Once a week, maybe. More if there were things in the world worthy of rants/opinions/praise. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, it hasn't worked out that way.

No excuses, really. My brain keeps running its continual mood roller-coaster, my time-management skills haven't improved any in the new year. But still. I mean, it's not due to lack of material.

For example, there was that fantastic State of the Union address last week that has generated so many different takes by the punditry that it's hard to keep one's head from spinning: President Biden brilliantly focused on his strength as Scranton Joe, appealing to the blue-collar working-class constituency. The president showed a degree of cunning and baited House Republicans into the trap of committing to protect entitlement programs. Biden disappointed with almost no attention paid to climate change policy. The president's call for policing reforms was much too tepid. How could the president ignore the Supreme Court's insane neo-fascist activism? And those are just the takes from the left.

Personally, I thought it was a fantastic speech. I agree with all of the above takes, really, but (a) you only have so much time in a State of the Union address, especially if your name is not Bill Clinton; and (b) the modern news media is largely for shit, and one must be careful to protect from an overabundance of opportunities for cable talking heads to distort and obsess over pet bogeyman issues and/or minor points. Given that, the president and the White House staff did a great job threading their various needles. I was a little concerned that some in the press would harp on the few times he misspoke/had issues with his stutter-compensation (e.g. saying "off the books" when he meant "off the table," or the common thing where his annunciation is weak as he powers through a stutter reflex), but thankfully those were ignored.

And he went a long way toward shutting up the Democrats who think he's too old to run again. Yes, yes, he's 80. Yes, that's older than even that dottering fool Reagan was when he was in office. But 80 isn't what it used to be, Biden is in good health, and Reagan isn't a fair comparison because he had Alzheimer's. There's no question that being president is a taxing gig (presuming one actually does the work, unlike the previous guy), and advanced age isn't known for providing boundless energy, but Joe Biden has been by many measures an incredibly successful president and has an unparalleled support staff. And his vice-president is wholly competent and ready to step in should he take a turn health-wise and need to invoke the 25th Amendment. On the basis of age and health alone, reelecting Joe Biden at age 82, which he will be shortly after election day 2024, is a far more reasonable prospect than reelecting clearly-befuddled Reagan at 75 in ’84 or stroke-addled Woodrow Wilson at 60 in 1916. FDR in ’44 too, though the public didn't know the full extent of his health problems (not just the polio, he had myriad heart issues from decades of chain-smoking; still, good thing he switched VPs from Henry Wallace to Harry Truman for the ’44 run). Hell, Jimmy Carter didn't have any serious health problems until he was 91 and he had been doing international diplomacy and building houses and generally being a better human being than anyone who'd ever been president before and since.

Still, even after a great SOTU that saw him handle crazy Republicans like Marjorie Taylor Greene and her fellow hecklers with aplomb, the president's approval rating is incomprehensibly low. Again, I point to the shitty modern news media for the why on this. Because there's no way that the accomplishments of economic recovery from the pandemic, public health improvements with the pandemic (despite the nothing-we-can-do-about-it-now idiocy among the public that resulted in the fact that COVID-19 is still a thing), climate-crisis legislation, actual infrastructure improvements, a 50-year low in unemployment, student debt relief, Justice Jackson, etc., etc. nets a sub-50% approval rating without help from propaganda outlets like Fox "News" and generally shitty media coverage that insists on both-sidesing things beyond any rational measure.

The 538 polling average—which matches pretty well with the well-respected ABC/Washington Post poll—has President Biden's approval/disapproval as 43%/52%. In-fucking-sane. Even Trump's high-water mark was 46% and he did nothing to deserve better than maybe 2%. George W. Bush, the worst president ever before Trump shattered the scale, never polled lower than 45%. Our news media, with its profit motive and increasing reliance on internet platforms easily influenced by disinformation, just sucks.

Also, a lot of Americans are morons and/or willing and eager victims of political abuse by a Republican party that has been steadily devolving into a terrorist organization since Nixon's day. (I refer you to the Republican response to the SOTU, delivered by total nutjob and somehow governor of Arkansas Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who spouted a textbook example of gaslighting and was completely incomprehensible to anyone not immersed in the fantasy fever dreams perpetuated on the Fox Propaganda Channel.) What those polls tell me is less about Joe Biden's popularity and more about how prevalent Stockholm Syndrome is among millions of Americans.

You go, Joe. You're doing great, no matter what polling says.


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First-world troubles


Hi, blog. Been a little while since the last post, hasn't it? It's not that there hasn't been anything to write about—I mean, the Republicans alone provide material for a ream of posts—I've just been a bit uninspired.

I'm a few days away from my birthday, you see, and as I get ready to advance another number on the odometer I've been gloomily thinking of unpleasant things like mortality. That sounds worse than it is; I'm not wallowing in a dark funk or anything, the Black Hole hasn't pulled me into a critical orbit. But I've been having dreams related to age and mortality—not my own, more that of surrounding beings and the passage of years culturally—and subtle prompts have sent my brain to remembering deaths of pets and such.

Now firmly ensconced in middle age, it's hard to keep up the optimism that there's plenty of time left for things to work out.

So, what to do about it?

Well, I've plunked down money for dating apps again. In the past, that's always been (with the lone exception of a woman I dated for a few months over a decade ago that I met though one of these things) a complete waste of time, money, and effort. But nothing ventured nothing gained, I guess, so once more unto the breech.

For another thing, I'm getting myself a new bicycle. If I want to get into better shape and be healthier I need more exercise, and a new toy is a good way to motivate myself. My current bike has become uncomfortable to ride, so I'm getting a more upright hybrid-style model. I'll actually procure the thing soon, I've been waiting for my sprained elbow to heal first (it's going to be a while longer before it's back to normal, but it's probably good enough for riding; I'm not using the sling or the wrap anymore). That'll be good.

Anyway, point being I've been in kind of a shit mood without being in a bad depressive episode. Feeling a little lost and unfulfilled and generally blah despite things being generally good. I mean, I'm comfortable, not straddling the poverty line anymore, my cats are healthy (mostly—Raimei's going in for a dental procedure in a couple weeks) and happily attentive. Umpiring is mostly fun and gets me out of the house regularly, I'm working on a couple of client gigs, I've got friends around; all in all, I've got some nerve complaining about anything.

Except Republicans, of course. We should all be complaining about them, loudly and often.

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Holiday "Cheer"


Oh, hey, Internetizens. It's been a minute, as they say. I guess I just haven't had much of anything I felt was blog-worthy going on.

Plus, you know, holiday-times. Which in my case doesn't necessarily mean super-busy and overscheduled, but it does suggest bad moods—cloudy, overcast with a reasonable chance of black-hole episodes and brain fog. (Also, I sprained my arm pretty badly last week during our oh-my-god-it's-fucking-cold-out winter storm when I tried to take the trash out and slid on the ice-covered asphalt. It's considerably better now, but for the first few days I could basically do nothing with the left arm, including type. You ever try brushing your teeth or cutting food with your off-hand? It's more problematic than you might think, at least at first.)

I don't remember the last time I actually enjoyed Christmas. Not like I hate it now, or anything like that. It's not the Most Depressing Day of the Year, as I know it can be for a lot of folks. As a concept, I still like the whole thing, I want to do well by my friends and relations with appropriate giftage (budget permitting) and appreciate the festive trappings of the season and all. But let's face it, Christmas as we know it is not meant for single people.

The last several years I've either spent Christmas with one of my two also-single pretty good friends or gone to California to hang out at my sister's place with the remaining fam. No shade to the fam, but I don't enjoy those trips; holidays as the fifth wheel tend to reinforce the fact that I'm sick and goddamn tired of being the fifth wheel. Just low-key hanging out with a pal and watching movies while we eat pie was better. This year, my go-to single pal wasn't an option, she's fled the big city for a return to small-town Midwest life, and the other single pal has his own stuff happening. So on the 25th I just flew solo and read some comics and watched some Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a couple of romcoms. Which was fine, because I knew I had a delayed-Christmas dinner to attend with my favorite lady gays a couple nights later. I enjoyed that too, though the gifting portion of the evening was really the only thing to differentiate it from any other hang-out-with-K-&-E time. Which is not a complaint, because I love those times and I wish there were more of them.

Anyway, all of which is to say that I miss Christmas being something I looked forward to and/or something to be enjoyed. Not necessarily the kind of fun it is as a kid; that's neat and all, but I'm more thinking about how it has been, on rare occasion, an either romantic or otherwise meaningful bonding time with someone. Maybe it'll be that again someday, but I'm not counting on it. See above, re: overcast with black-hole episodes. Feeling a bit cynical right now.


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Social media: what is it good for?

Now on Hive! But still also on Twitter. For now.

As I rambled about the other day—and I realize this is going to be a little repetitive—the Musk takeover of Twitter has led lots of folks to abandon the platform. When I look at my feed there now, it's considerably different—mostly due to the absence of some things that were there before rather than the new deluge of right-wing BS that others are finding. Probably because my Twitter reach/connection is minuscule compared to some others'.

Now, I completely get why people have left/are abandoning it. Who wants to support an asshat like Elon Musk? Thing is, though, we aren't paying him anything. Twitter is, for now, a free thing, and there are good arguments against bailing out and leaving it to be populated only by wingnut crazies. Others using the thing doesn't actually make it better for Elon, except so far as it makes it a more attractive platform for advertisers, and advertisers are already dropping like flies because Elon is, well, Elon. It remains to be seen if the size of the user base will be enough to get advertisers back, though it does figure to be a thing long-term.

I've already stopped using Facebook for the most part.  I still use it to promote things; too damn many people use it as their only portal to the whole Internet, so you gotta work with it to get any hits at all. But Zuckerberg's brand of asshattery and misinformation peddling ruined it as a useful entity—and his algorithm and setup as it currently is doesn't let me connect with people like it used to anyway—so dropping it was no great loss, especially because Twitter was serving whatever social media "needs" I thought I had.

Now Elon Musk is proving himself to be worse than Zuckerberg. So: to leave Twitter or to stick around and see how things shake out?

Alternative platforms are starting to crop up, with tech nerds looking to take advantage of the opportunity to draw an instant user base from disaffected Twitterers and/or just looking to provide a healthier version of social media. I've checked into a couple of them, just out of curiosity. None of them are terrific. Mastadon is a pain in the ass and its selling point of having no central authority has a significant downside to it; in time, that setup would appear to be more conducive to a free-for-all of misinformation and fuckery. Post could be interesting, but as you can't look at it until hanging out on a waitlist for an indeterminate period there's no way to know right off. Then I saw Hive Social, which is a literal two-person operation but appears to have a lot of promise.

I signed up at Hive. I'm checking it out here and there, it's like Twitter without the character limit in most ways. It's buggy, so to speak, but that's to be expected with a new service rolling out in progress in order to stake a claim to the pool of prospective users (the Android app is still designated a "beta release," though their iOS version has more history; as yet there is no browser version). If it starts to get use by the sort of people and accounts I've found useful on Twitter, it'll serve me fine.

But what are anyone's "needs" on social media? I find Twitter good for finding news and having interactions with people who would otherwise be beyond my reach. I can send Seth MacFarlane a message about how much I liked an episode of The Orville, or compliment Marco Gonzales on a pitching performance, or pass on notes to the writers of Star Trek Discovery and they'll see them (or there's a decent chance they will). I had some fun back and forths with Chez Pazienza before he left this mortal coil. There's all kinds of humor to be found there. But it's also a time suck. If I don't find out about news items quite so quickly or don't get to share a joke with Joe Posnanski it's really not a big deal.

We live in a strange era, this alleged information age. I'll see how this Hive thing plays out, and maybe I'll keep using Twitter or maybe not. But I might be better off ditching it all.

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What's that stench?! It's Elon Musk


I like Twitter. I mean, sure, it's problematic; lots of people use it to be nasty and there has never been a proper solution to how to moderate it as a whole. But it's been a useful tool for promotion and for connecting with people who share interests and for, you know, screaming into the void when you just have to vent about Rand Paul or whatever.

That was Twitter in the Before Elon era. Here in the Elon Reign era of Twitter, well, it's not so great. Mostly because it's now far, far more permissive of misinformation than it was, and it wasn't great about that before. Plus, it's chaos now. Elon Musk is like mini-Trump here, it's much like the John Mulaney bit about a horse in a hospital. It's just a social media platform, not the entire country and effects on the world, but the metaphor still works. Elon took it over with no idea how it functions and wants to monetize things with no idea what the purpose of the thing is; he went and fired people who, you know, make the thing run; he's alienated pretty much everyone who works there; and his great accomplishment to this point has been to do away with the function that lets people know that a public figure on the platform is actually who they say they are and not someone impersonating them to make trouble. Because reasons.

So people are fleeing Twitter, and I get it. Elon is a dirtbag of, if not the highest order, then a lofty order. I'm sticking around, at least for now, though I'm not checking it nearly as often. It's still useful to me. Sort of. I think. Less so now that it isn't baseball season—it's good for ranting about bad managerial decisions in the moment and arguing the merits or lack thereof of a lineup choice or sharing quips about Commissioner Manfred's bad idea du jour.

Anyway, mostly I'm just curious now. I'm a rubbernecker at a car accident. Will it implode? Will Elon find himself with no staff and the thing turns into a runaway train of some kind? Will the only advertisers left be grifters trying to sell cryptocurrency or NFTs? What level of insanity will the buyer's remorse from this rash impulse purchase drive Elon to? And will that be entertaining?

It's not like Facebook. Facebook is frustrating for other reasons, such as the way so many people use it as their access point to the Internet at large and ignore other means of surfing the web despite the fact that it has turned into a fairly useless platform, what with its constantly changing algorithms turning my feed into a random hodgepodge of unrelated gunk that was posted days or weeks back with no rhyme or reason to it. It's a rarity when something I'm actually interested in shows up near the top of the feed. I haven't used that platform for anything but promoting posts on my website(s) and the very occasional comment on that rare interesting post it shows me. We'd be better off if Facebook disappeared tomorrow.

Twitter is somehow simpler, less overwhelming of the Internet, much more controllable.

At least, it was. We'll see how it evolves from here.

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Travel, the midterms, COVID, and the Black Hole

Still managing to escape infection

About a week ago, I got back from a trip to see my dad and Marty in Palm Springs. I was down there for just shy of two weeks and it was largely a nice time; there was plenty to do, which kept it from being too boring, but despite the tasks to perform it was still a rather sedentary time. Assembling furniture and repairing plumbing takes some effort, but there's not a lot of exercise happening. Plus, after I'd been there a while I started feeling less than 100%, like a cold might be coming on. It didn't progress, so I didn't worry about it too much.

The day after my return, that's when it felt like it was progressing. I'm up to date on my vaccinations, but still took a home COVID test just in case. It was negative. So again, didn't worry about it. Just a mild cold, really. But it wouldn't go away. My friends K & E canceled having me over for a tech support/dinner visit before their trip to the UK as they understandably didn't want my germs even if they weren't COVID germs before an overseas flight, and I was good with that because I was just tired. And, frankly, a little gloomy. 

I did very little in the week since I've been back. Ran a couple errands, read some, watched some TV, gave the cats some intensive reunion playtime. Mostly slept, though.

Yesterday I still wasn't feeling great, but the gloomy was threatening to get worse. I've written about The Black Hole, as I call it, before; most effectively, I think, in a series of Cloud Five comic strips. (The C5 site has been neglected for years now; someday I may return to it, but for now forgive the sloppiness of the broken layout components. The strips in question are #75-89, the link goes to #75.) Having learned over the decades something of how my Black Hole episodes manifest, I summoned up enough energy to get outside and walk around the neighborhood for an hour or so. Did the same this afternoon. The lack of exercise while in California (and if I'm honest with myself, a paltry amount for some weeks before that) did me no favors and I feel better having put some miles on my lethargic limbs. But I'm still not feeling 100% with the cold.

My friend Erik caught COVID recently. He had to extend a stay out of town because of it. My friend Dave likewise had it while traveling and had to stay in a hotel isolating for an extra week. Both wondered if they had it before their trips and it just hadn't manifested yet, and I was wondering if I'd gotten it while traveling too and, thanks to having had my shots, it just didn't feel like anything much and my test was a false neg. People are generally behaving like this is all over with, but it just isn't. So, since my throat is still balky even now, I took another test today. Still negative, thankfully. So I return to the presumption that this is just a typical, mildly annoying cold bug (that isn't really that intrusive) and that my blah week was more depression than infection.

One outside element that probably fueled my depressive slide was the midterms. The pre-midterms, I mean. The day K canceled our evening plans was the day before election day, and she signed off the phone call with "fell better!" and I replied, "well, we'll see what kind of hellscape we'll be living in after tomorrow."

The amount of stress and anxiety that was churning below my surface awareness about what the voters of America might do was, it turns out, huge. American journalism basically sucks, so all the stories I had read about polling and surveys, and the TV coverage reiterating the historical norm for the first midterm in a presidential term being a major shift in congressional power, and the sheer awfulness of some of the candidates running nationwide made for jumpy nerves. And, largely because, again, American journalism basically sucks, an astonishing number of voters in this country had proven themselves to be either nihilist or stupid enough to back autocrats out of ginned-up fear and racist manipulation (or just out of plain meanness).

Thankfully, things turned out pretty well. Not great, mind you, but pretty well under the circumstances.

The Democrats retained the Senate and will very likely get a real majority when Senator Warnock wins his runoff in a few weeks. That's a big deal, they won't have to deal with going halvesies in committees anymore with obstructionists. Most of the insurrectionists running lost, including the batshit-crazy governor candidates in Arizona, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. A huge, ginormous relief.

Not great, but oh so much better than it could have been

On the other hand, it looks like the Republicans will take the majority in the House. Only by a few seats, which is so, so much better than some predicted—and will provide some entertainment value when Kevin McCarthy or whomever else gets saddled with being the Speaker is unable to manage his caucus of crazies—but still means we're in for some real problems. The 1/6 committee will be stopped. Concocted-out-of-nothing investigations will be the order of the day, spurred on by a sense of hollow grievance and a desire for revenge. Economic hostage-taking will be very much on the table.

Florida slipped further into full-on nightmare territory with its idiot governor easily winning reelection, its idiot senator winning reelection, and a freshly (and illegally) gerrymandered map providing half a dozen or so Republican congresspeople. New York's redistricting cost a few Democratic seats, but that redraw wasn't on a partisan basis. Georgia was a bit of a shitshow; though I have confidence in Warnock winning his runoff, his race shouldn't have been so close, plus Stacey Abrams lost to that crook Kemp. Wisconsin reelected one of the worst senators in office. Texas kept being Texas. Iowans doubled down on guns being a right. Louisianans voted to continue allowing slavery and indentured servitude as possible punishments for criminals. Ohio thought it was worthwhile to spend a bunch of money to pass a measure reduntantly banning non-citizens from voting.

There are always pockets of insanity in US elections—I mean, I'll never understand why anyone votes for Ronny Jackson or Darrell Issa or Marjorie Taylor Greene—but this time sanity prevailed enough of the time for me to relax. Mostly.

Hopefully this means a bit less trouble for me to get back into a stable orbit around the Black Hole and life will feel OK again.

Especially if Lauren Boebert loses.

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Know-Nothing voters


There's an election in a week. You might have heard about it.

Or, maybe not. Despite the plethora of campaign ads on television and dotting the side of roads and on your favored social media platforms, there are plenty of Americans who simply do not pay attention to such things. We're supposed to be the world's foremost democracy—at least, we used to be thought of that way—but we haven't acted like it for well over a hundred years.

2020 saw a voter turnout that was two-thirds of the voting-eligible population, a surprisingly high percentage—the last time the country saw more than 67% of the VEP cast votes was in 1900. Of course, the portion of the general population that was voting-eligible was, shall we say, a bit different then, so it's not an apples-to-apples measurement. But the trend has been positive from 1996 (under 52% in a presidential campaign that was not terribly competitive), so I'm hopeful that we'll get a good turnout here in 2022.

Of course, ’22 is not a presidential year. Midterms tend to draw 10-20% fewer voters. In 2018, when flipping Congress was essential to saving the world, turnout was all of 50%, the largest for a midterm election since World War I. Half.

Half!! Half of the American voting-eligible public chose not to vote in the last midterm election, and it was to that point the highest-stakes midterm election in the history of humankind. And it was an improvement!

This year's stakes are just as high if not higher. The Republican party has gone full fascist and if they regain control of Congress it is no exaggeration to say that democracy in America will be, if not irreparably destroyed, severely undermined and damaged and corrupted into a tool for autocrats. It isn't just Senators and Congressional representatives, either. Governorships, secretaries of state, every level of government is being invaded by fascist-minded candidates running as Republicans and god help us all if they win.

The Republicans are not trying to be even slightly subtle about their fear-mongering bullshitting appeal to voters who won't think critically, who are naive and malleable and can be manipulated by audacious bald-faced lies. Or more plainly, as the former president put it, “[they] love the poorly educated."

It's nothing new for Republicans to court votes by trying to terrorize their constituents into believing the opposition is some version of the devil, but in the 21st Century, that tactic has been increasingly ratcheted up to open calls for violence and we now see these malleable, manipulated, radicalized voters (or supporters, anyway) openly threaten Congresspeople, plot to kidnap and murder governors, intimidate voters at ballot boxes, and invade the home of the Speaker of the House and bludgeon her husband with a hammer and none of it is shocking.

Yet, people will choose not to vote. Worse still, others will choose to vote and base their votes on propaganda that bears little resemblance to facts. The longtime Republican strategy has been and continues to be—now on steroids, if you will—discourage/suppress voting to keep turnout as low as possible, because they know their base of manipulated malleables is small. If more than 50-55% of the VEP shows up, they believe they have no chance at all, and rightly so in all probability.

So scare the public. "Flood the zone with shit," as Steve Bannon put it. Confuse people. Lie to them. Intimidate them. Terrorize them. Keep them dumb, keep them frightened, keep them ignorant, and above all keep them from voting. Except the crazies, them the R's need to win.

In the years leading up to the Civil War, there was a political party that proudly called themselves the "Know-Nothings." Those xenophobic bigots were geniuses compared to the rubes recruited to and targeted by the modern Republican party. Not only do they know nothing, the party is doing all it can to keep them ignorant long enough to give its candidates enough power to make the will of the people and constitutional principles even more utterly irrelevant than the corrupt Supreme Court has already made them.

They. Must. Be. Stopped.

I've already voted; my ballot was relatively short and each of the races had an obvious positive choice and an obvious threat. It was easy. Plus, I live in Washington state, where voting is perhaps simpler than in any other state with a 100% mail-in system and no party registration (that latter point is a bone of contention for me, but I fully support the all-mail balloting). It took all of five minutes and I dropped the ballot at a collection box at the nearby public library. But so, so many people won't bother to do the same, even in easy-as-pie WA.

Please, whatever state you live in, assuming you're an American eligible to vote, do it. Cast your ballot. But think about it first.

People dissatisfied with issue X and therefore voting against incumbents, what's your logic?

You folks that are telling pollsters that gas prices are influencing your vote? Think about it. Why are gas prices high? What are you expecting whomever you vote for to do about it? What has that bloc already attempted, what has that bloc already prevented, what actions will they take to affect the issue? Every Republican in congress voted against the measure passed by the House that would have addressed high fuel prices. Every Republican senator united to kill the bill in their chamber. Who do you think is going to help you here?

More concerned with inflation generally? Well, why do we have inflation? What will each bloc try to do about it? The Republicans have openly avowed to do everything they can to destroy the economy in order to kill social security, including forcing the United States to default on its debts and throw the global financial system into chaos. Will that help you?

Are you worried about crime? As noted above, Republicans are openly encouraging violent crime. How do you think your candidate of choice will address the issue? "Tough on crime" as a political slogan has translated into anti-liberty, pro-incarceration, police-can-do-no-wrong policies rooted in racism and brutality; rather than "tough on crime," those policies might more accurately be described as "crime is OK so long as you're not poor and/or brown, which in and of itself we will treat as crime."

Think it through. Use your head. Question all the slogans, evaluate your source of news, examine your priorities.

Then vote. Let's shoot for at least 60% this time, shall we?

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Playoff highs and lows


Having quit maintaining that other website that was all about baseball and the Seattle Mariners, one might think I'm not interested in writing more about them. But even though that endeavor was ultimately a bust, I am still a fan and it is October, when the MLB postseason rules the mind.

And the surprising Mariners continued to surprise. I had every expectation that the M's would not survive the new Wild Card round, a more difficult hill to climb than the prior system which would have required them to win one game to play-in to the American League Division Series. But they did survive it, and did so in dramatic, historic fashion, coming back from seven runs down to beat the offensively-superior Toronto Blue Jays 10-9 in the second game of the best-of-three series and thus advancing.

It changed my attitude. My borne-of-two-decades-of-futility jaded pessimism, reinforced by the team's performance in the last couple of weeks of the regular season, had given way to the thrill of unlikely victory and, in true Ted Lasso fashion, belief. These guys could really do it.

Then came yesterday.

In the opening game of the best-of-five series, matched up against their principal nemeses from Houston, the Mariners faced the great and historically dominant Justin Verlander, the Houston ace pitcher that had eaten the M's for lunch all season long. They didn't flinch and hit Verlander hard and bounced him out of the game early, scoring six runs off of him. They took a 7-3 lead into the eighth inning. Even when reliever Andres Muñoz faltered and gave up a two-run homer to Alex Bregman, they were still in good shape, heading into the bottom of the ninth up by two. "Believe" seemed to be holding strong.

But you can never completely believe with this team, because the Mariners are managed by a guy named Scott Servais. As I've repeatedly said, Servais has got to be absolutely brilliant at the off-the-field aspects of his job. Handling the egos of 26 young men with varying degrees of maturity and more money than they know what to do with, keeping that group in a good frame of mind, all that stuff. But during the actual game, when his job requires executing baseball strategy, he is, well, not brilliant. Dim, you might say. Often the players are good enough to overcome this deficiency, which is why the team won 90 games and got into the postseason in the first place. But it's not always possible.

I was watching yesterday's game with my friend Bill, and we were naturally enjoying how things were unfolding. But in the ninth inning the TV cameras cut to the Seattle bullpen, where a left-hander was warming up, presumably readying himself to pitch in the bottom of the ninth. That left-hander was number 38, the high-priced free-agent starting pitcher that won the Cy Young Award last year but this year has been all kinds of mediocre, and over the last few weeks has been eminently hittable and homer-prone.

"Uh-oh," Bill said.

"What the fuck?" I said.

Bill's concern was more general—he feels, and with good reason, that when managers in the postseason use pitchers who had been starters their whole career in relief it usually blows up in their faces. Not always—see Johnson, Randall J., 2001—but when it succeeds there's often (though not always) some extenuating circumstance, like you've burned all your regular relievers already, or the pitcher's specific attributes are especially suited to the situation at hand. You can find numbers to back up either side of the argument, but Bill was adamant. He didn't want to see a starter, any starter, go into the game in relief. Sometimes even when it seems to work it doesn't; see last year's National League Division Series, when Dodger manager Dave Roberts brought starting pitcher Max Scherzer in to close out a win in Game 5—the Dodgers won and advanced, but Scherzer tried to make his next start and had nothing, then couldn't pitch at all for the remainder of the postseason (Scherzer had been called upon in this way before, in Game 5 of the NLDS in 2017, and was terrible and lost the series).

Robbie Ray, 2022
vs. Astros  3 313 .442 0.6 10.97 2.813
vs. rest of AL  24 613 .217 0.1 3.60 1.094
First 27 gms 27 6 .220 0.15 3.45 1.132
Last 6 gms 6 5 .307 0.33 5.93 1.58

My concern was more specific. Robbie Ray was bad the last three times he started a game. Five of the last six, actually, a stretch in which he racked up an ERA just shy of 6.00 and surrendered ten home runs. It was my judgment that he was only on the playoff roster because he was a very pricey free-agent acquisition prior to the season and the team would have been better off with Marco Gonzales on the active roster and Ray off of it (Marco had one poor start vs. Houston this year and two excellent ones).

So, the ninth begins and the pitcher on the mound to begin things is Paul Sewald, who rather inexplicably has excellent numbers on the season. He always struck me as punching above his weight, but OK, sure, Sewald. I'd have Erik Swanson ready to go to back him up, though, just in case. Anyway, Sewald gets a couple of outs, but also gives up a hit and puts a runner on with a hit-by-pitch, bringing up Yordan Alvarez, a left-hand batter and the Astros' best hitter.

Servais has a few options here. 1) Do nothing, let Sewald try and get Alvarez out (Alvarez is 1-for-7 career vs. Sewald). 2) Walk Alvarez. This would be risky, loading the bases and moving the tying run to scoring position, but would let Sewald or another reliever face a right-hander. 3) Go to the bullpen for Erik Swanson, a proven quantity in late-inning relief who had surrendered all of one home run to lefties this year (though with no real history vs. Houston). 4) Go to the ’pen for left-hander Matt Boyd. 5) Go to the ’pen for Robbie Ray.

He went with (5), which was the obviously worst option (though (4) was not much better). Alvarez actually hits left-handers better than righties, Ray was abysmal vs. the Astros all season (as a team, Houston hit .442/.509/.865 off of Ray in three games for a nearly-11.00 ERA and a WHIP of almost 3.000), and as noted before Ray had been homer-prone when a home run would lose the game. It was a decision with no merit to it at all. Calling it stupid is too kind. And it wasn't all that surprising, ’cause Servais has always been a dunce at strategy.

Sadly, Ray only threw two pitches in the game, with the second one sailing over the fence for a walk-off Astro victory, so he didn't pitch enough to prevent him from perhaps starting in Game three or, if it gets that far, four. He shouldn't anyway, but, you know, Servais.

So, the M's are in a hole now, down one game to none in a best-of-five to the arch-enemy rival, and it's their manager's fault. I feel OK about tomorrow's Game Two, with Luis Castillo starting for Seattle against another Houston All-Star in Framber Valdez; Castillo is who you want out there in a do-or-die game. (And while not an elimination game, it does feel like it's do-or-die.) But Castillo can pitch the game of his life, and if it remains close by the late innings one will have to wonder: What nonsense will occur to Scott Servais to do with the game on the line? And will he turn to Ray for the next game?

"Believe" was short-lived. Sorry, Ted Lasso.

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