Captain Shaw might be a jerk, but I do feel for him
A few morsels of flotsam and jetsam from my mind as I get ready to head out for the evening...
- I did my taxes over the weekend. As per usual, as a self-employed person that gets screwed by having to pay both employer and employee shares of FICA and because I never send enough in estimated advance payments, I owed money. As not per usual, what I owed was more than $3,000, which makes me think I am doing myself a disservice by doing my taxes myself. Tax laws are so complicated, the forms are so elaborate, the software for making it easier to do so layered that I'm fairly sure I could have filed with a lower amount due if I knew what to deduct and claim and so on. I used the simplest/cheapest small business tax prep software I could find and it didn't guide me through all the stuff I seem to remember doing in prior years, but because tax laws change all the time I don't know what to think of that. I even know a tax prep professional personally, so I think next year I'll just pay her to do it and maybe I'll end up a little better off. The days of a 10 minute filing by form 1040-EZ are past me.
- Tomorrow night episode 6 of the final season of Star Trek: Picard drops, and boy am I ever here for that. Of course, I've loved every iteration of Star Trek (except Voyager and the JJ movies, of course), even when they're problematic and the writing slips (looking at you, Discovery writers' room, and no, I haven't forgotten Berman & Braga's incredibly lame time-war arc on Enterprise). But kudos to Terry Matalas and company for this season of Picard. Why is this the last season?! More, more! Spinoff!
- Former president Clownface von F*@%#stick told his cult of minions that he would be arrested today. Hasn't happened yet. Obviously, that was just another lie from him to generate fundraising, to get more of his red-hatted dupes to mortgage their houses for his legal fund, but I was still hopeful. Alas.
- Last night I was working here at my desk and heard a vicious-sounding fight between a cat and something else out my window. I peeked out to see what was what, but it was too dark, so I went outside to check it out, but by then combatants had fled. I just hope the cat wasn't seriously hurt. I bring this up just to say, as a lover of cats, please keep your kitties indoors whenever you can, especially at night. I know some of them love to explore and such, and once they get that into their systems it's a hard thing to curtail, but they will live longer and healthier lives. Give them stuff to climb on and room to run around inside if you have the space, windows to peer out of, toy mice to hunt. Keep them away from cars, coyotes, big dogs, even other territorial cats that might harm or kill them, not to mention parasites and diseases. I'm fortunate that I have a big condo with lots of space for my two to chase each other around in and that they've never shown an interest in bolting outside. When I was a kid I went through a string of pet cats that all died awful deaths because they went outside. My indoor cats lived to be 15½, 17, 18, and 19, my current two younger ones I hope will break 20.
- This went kind of under the radar, but President Biden vetoed a bill yesterday. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy whined in response: “In his first veto, Biden just sided with woke Wall Street over workers. Tells you exactly where his priorities lie.” You know what, Kevin McCarthy is right. In that one thing, anyway. It does tell us where the president's priorities lie. They lie with the environment, working people, and the future. They do not lie with the short-term greed and profiteering of corporate moguls. The bill in question would have reinstated a Trump-era law that prohibited administrators of government retirement plans from considering environmental impacts or potential lawsuits when making investment decisions. Heaven forbid! Consider the likelihood that a company will be sued for its malfeasance when deciding whether or not to invest in it? Heinous! Mustn't be allowed! Give thought to whether or not a company is poisoning the planet before investing civil servants' retirement earnings in it? Outrageous! Poison and destruction should be irrelevant to making oil barons richer! Sit down and shut up, McCarthy, you spineless yet evil weasel.
OK, I have to go. Umpiring to do, followed by a hopefully spoiler-free viewing of the WBC championship game—being played right now as I type!—when I get home.1 Comment
A WBC game for the books
Munetaka Murakami is mobbed by teammates after delivering the winning hit
Holy moly but that was a thrilling end to the WBC semifinal game between Mexico and Japan this evening, 180 degrees from the other semifinal (wherein the US trounced Cuba by 12 runs in a dull dramaless pounding). I know most of y'all don't care about such things and fewer still watched along with me, but I was into it and this is my blog, so I'm gonna tell you about it anyway.
Boosting Japan all the way, I was, naturally, feeling a bit frustrated at how things were going. Starting pitcher Rōki Sasaki, he of the 102mph fastball, devastating forkball, 2022 perfect game, and heartbreaking personal story—he's from the Tohoku region near Fukushima and lost everything including his father and grandparents in the 2011 tsunami—had been burned by a successful two-out hit against an infield shift that should not have been employed (I know Team Japan's manager, Hideki Kuriyama of the Hokkaido Fighters, is one of those sabermetric types, but when your pitcher is throwing 100+, do you really think batters are going to pull every batted ball?) and a popup that fell in behind the third baseman before his one hiccup of the game—a hanging forkball that got crushed for a homer. 3-0 Mexico. Meanwhile, Mexico's pitching was unexpectedly sharp when it needed to be and Japan's star third baseman, triple-crown winner Munetaka Murakami, continued his tournament-long slump by failing to cash in with runners aboard (three more Ks with runners on tonight).
By the 7th inning it was looking pretty bleak and I was resigning myself to the idea that at least I wouldn't have to worry about the championship game tomorrow being spoiled for me (I will be umpiring while it's being played and planned on watching it after the fact, and softball players have a tendency to look at their phones in the dugout and gab about scores they look up, heedless of my DVR no-spoiler lockdown).
But then came the bottom of the 7th. After a frustrating strikeout by catcher Takuya Kai and a lineout by Lars Nootbaar (yes, he's on Team Japan with that name, his mom's Japanese and his dad's Dutch-American), Kensuke Kondoh delivered a base hit to generate a little hope. Mexico went to the bullpen for a lefty to face Shohei Ohtani, but Ohtani took five pitches and walked. That brought up former Osaka Buffallo and new Boston Red Sox OF Masataka Yoshida, who leads the entire tournament in RBI. Hope welled some more. Yoshida ran the count to 1-2, but I'd seen enough of his at-bats by now to know he's a bit like Edgar Martínez in that two strikes doesn't faze him. He got a changeup falling into the lefty low-inside happy zone and golfed it over the wall a couple of feet inside the foul pole to tie the game. SUGOI!!
But then Mexico retook the lead immediately in the 8th as Japan's pitcher, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, was missing with everything. Yamamoto had been brilliant in his start against Australia and for two innings tonight, but here in the 8th he couldn't seem to locate any pitch. He got Austin Barnes to strikeout on fastballs out of the zone, but Randy Arozarena creamed a hanging forkball for a double and on the next pitch Alex Verdugo bashed a fastball down the pike for another double. It was time to pull Yamamoto, but no relief was ready yet, so Joey Meneses got to whack another hanger and now runners were on the corners. Too late, Yamamoto is relieved by the young setup man for the Hanshin Tigers, Atsuki Yuasa, and order seems restored when Rowdy Tellez strikes out; but Isaac Paredes still has something to say about it and grounds one through the hole into left field. That plated one run, but Japan escaped further damage when Yoshida threw a missile in from LF to cut down Meneses on a play at the plate and end the inning. Whew, and yikes.
Down two runs, Japan puts their first two batters on in the bottom of the 8th via a hit batter and base hit. Unfortunately, the bottom of the order is now up, but in true NPB fashion, shortstop Sosuke Genda, broken finger and all, squares to bunt and lays one down to advance the runners to 2nd and 3rd. Hokata Yamakawa is summoned from the bench to bat for Kai and hits one hard to left, but it's caught by Arozarena so all Japan gets out of it is one run on the sacrifice fly. Nootbaar follows with a walk, but reliever Gerardo Reyes gets Kondoh on strikes and things go to the 9th with Mexico still ahead.
In the top half, new pitcher Taisei Ota makes short work of Mexico so when Japan comes up in the last of the 9th it's still a one-run deficit. Mexico goes to its closer, Giovanny Gallegos, a solid Major Leaguer with St. Louis during the regular year. Ohtani leads off and doubles on Gallegos' first pitch to get the crowd and his dugout (and me on my couch) excited. Yoshida gets nothing good to hit and walks, which may have been a pitch-around situation—Yoshida has been Mr. Clutch all tournament and the next guy is Murakami, mired in a slump. So now 1st and 2nd, nobody out. Yoshida's no slowpoke, but still Japan goes to the bench for a pinch-runner, the very fleet-of-foot Ukyo Shuto, in case there's a need for speed. Nevertheless, this is a good double-play opportunity for Mexico and Murakami's slump might be exploited here. And he does foul off a pretty juicy fastball to go 0-1, then lays off a breaking pitch that gets buried at the plate. But this is still the guy who just won back-to-back Central League MVP awards, slump or no slump, and the next delivery is a fastball much like the first one and this time Murakami doesn't miss: he squares it up and drives it all the way to the center field wall, scoring Ohtani easily while Shuto kicks it into warp drive and slides home well ahead of the throw in from center. Game over. Japan wins. Much jumping around and screaming. The players seemed jazzed by it, too.
Really, one of the best finishes to a game I've ever seen; it sparked memories of the 1995 ALDS, even though the stakes in a short tournament aren't nearly the same. Mexico manager Benji Gil may have the quote of the night, summing things up thusly: "Japan moves on, but the world of baseball won today."
So, tomorrow we get the WBC finale we deserve, the two most established and historic baseball nations going at it, USA vs. Japan. Should be fun.
Now, if only I can get the softball players to keep their yaps shut so I can watch late tomorrow night unspoiled by "future" knowledge.
Takumu Nakano laces a triple against Korea in the WBC last Thursday
I've been enjoying the 2023 World Baseball Classic this past week. Because of the pandemic, this is the first edition of the WBC in six years. (Usually it's played every three years except when it coincides with a Summer Olympics year, when it gets bumped ahead one year...which, as I think about it, really means it'll go to every four years because it'll get stuck always hitting an Olympic year. Hm. Methinks an adjustment is needed.) The tournament came into existence in 2006 as a way to grow the game in countries around the world that haven't traditionally been hotbeds of baseball and I've always found it to be great fun. This year the Asian opening bracket kicked off last week and the Western one started yesterday. (The difference to allow qualifiers from the Asian rounds a few days to acclimate to the severe time zone change when the advancing teams move on to the semis and the finals in Miami.)
My primary WBC enjoyment comes from getting to see the Japanese National team play. Made up of stars from Nippon Professional Baseball, aka the Japanese Major Leagues (plus a few Japanese players that make their living on this side of the Pacific), Team Japan is an international powerhouse that plays my brand of baseball. Heavy on the fundamentals, prioritize speed and defense, a real all-for-one-and-one-for-all mentality over the swing-for-the-longball-at-all-times approach that has become pervasive in the Majors over the last 10-20 years.
In prior WBCs there were particular NPB players I wanted to see play. I paid more attention to the ongoing seasons in NPB back then and knew of the star players then playing—your Ryosuke Kikuchis, your Kenta Maedas, your Shunsuke Watanabes, your Seiichi Uchikawas. This year there is only one NPB player on the roster that I was familiar with, infielder Tetsuto Yamada of the Tokyo Swallows. All the other guys I looked forward to seeing are now retired, playing over here now, or have aged out of star status and hanging on with lesser performances for their teams.
That's OK, though, now I have new NPB guys to pay attention to. I missed the first game of the tournament because of a TV rights situation I hadn't been paying attention to—Fox Sports got themselves exclusive TV rights to the tournament and thus I couldn't watch on MLB.TV—but once the situation was sussed out I ponied up for a month's worth of the Sling Blue streaming service, which carries two of the three Fox sports channels. (The third one carried some of the games being played in Taiwan, so I didn't see any of those.) So I DVR'd the 3:00a.m. games from the Tokyo Dome and got to see three games won by the Japanese.
No one caught my fancy as much as Ryosuke Kikuchi and Norichika Aoki and Michihiro Ogasawara had in prior WBCs, but there are some impressive participants. Tokyo Swallows third baseman Munetaka Murakami won the triple crown in the NPB Central League last year, which I had been unaware of. He seems to be slumping in the tournament, but he's got plenty of help. Left fielder Masataka Yoshida will be playing for Boston this upcoming season, but had been a monster hitter for the Osaka Buffaloes through last year and looked really damn good. Over seven years the guy has a career on-base mark of .419 and all he did was drive in eight in the first two games I saw. Shortstop Takumu Nakano looks a little raw—he's only been in NPB for two years—but I love his approach, with slap hits and blazing speed. For the first time, one of Team Japan's big contributors is an American—St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Lars Nootbaar qualified to play for Japan because his mother was born there, which makes for a strange juxtaposition of an Asian face with a Nordic name (strange for that culture, anyway). I think he's only playing because Seiya Suzuki of the Chicago Cubs bowed out due to injury, but he's won over the Tokyo Dome faithful.
Japan unsurprisingly ran the table in the first round of the tourney, beating Australia today to advance to the quarterfinals. They'll play Italy on the 16th for the honor of advancing to the next round in Miami. Italy is a surprise entry for the quarterfinals, advancing out of the Taipei group along with Cuba, which is far less surprising. The Taiwanese and the Dutch were favored over Italy there; the Italian baseball program is comparatively minuscule, but they pulled it off.
Of course, the roster rules are pretty lenient. In order to get the WBC off the ground and fill teams with decent players, someone was qualified to play for a country's team if he was a) a citizen of the country, b) eligible to be a citizen of the country, c) had at least one parent from the country, or d) maintained a permanent residence in the country. Which means if you're Jewish you can play for Israel no matter where you're from, so their team is actually not bad, and Italy's team is therefore almost entirely Americans with an Italian parent. I think the idea is that as national programs grow and evolve these allowances will tighten up, but for now the alleged European teams are kind of silly.
Except the Czechs—there's one former big-leaguer on the Czech team (Eric Sogard), the rest are amateur or semi-pro players that have regular jobs in Prague or wherever. One teaches high school, there's a fireman or two, one is even a neurosurgeon. They're not good compared to the pros, but they are having a blast and they actually won a game, beating the lowly Chinese to earn a bye into the ’26 WBC.
The Japanese, Koreans, Taiwanese, Latin Americans, and to a lesser extent the Australians don't have a problem filling a legit roster—there's stiff competition for those squads from actual nationals that play in actual competitive professional leagues in those places as well as in MLB. (In fact, there are so many Puerto Rican players that they get their own team even though PR is part of the United States.) And the Chinese don't have a lot of non-citizen options to pull from, so they're always pretty lousy. In five iterations of the WBC, Italy is the first European team to advance past round one (I'm not counting the Netherlands as they have a lot of players from Aruba), so it hasn't been an issue yet, but I can't imagine it feeling "right" if a team full of Americans win a title representing, say, Italy or Germany.
Another interesting thing this year is that the WBC isn't using Commissioner Manfred's new Major League rules, so there's no distracting pitch clock, the bases are standard, and defenses can still play wherever they like. Just out of curiosity I timed the pitches during an inning of the Japan/Czech Republic game and not once did anyone exceed the new pitch clock limitations, which reinforced my existing bias that the whole thing is just more Manfred nonsense. But then I watched Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, and that game would have had a few violations. I still think it's mostly nonsense, but I think more than anything it shows that the Asian leagues play in cultures that are a lot more disciplined and largely less homer-happy and, for me anyway, that makes for way more interesting baseball. Only one time was there an infield shift used in the three Japan games, implemented by the Australian team, whereas I'm seeing them more frequently among the Latino teams (Venezuela got burned using it just now as I type this) for the same reason: In NPB and KBO (the Korean Baseball Organization) every player is expected to know how to bunt and play a contact-hitting style even if his strength is hitting for power and they will try to beat the shift with a slap hit. Latin America and the US not so much.
Italy wasn't the only upset this year thus far. Australia also advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time, beating a frankly far better Korean team. Seeing them get creamed by Japan, I'm not sure how the Aussies managed it, but if they want to go to Miami they'll have to get past the Cubans on Wednesday.
All this makes me wish once again that there was a reliable way to watch regular season NPB games from this side of the Pacific. Hokkaido has some great looking players, the Swallows are really good, and—for now, anyway—the NPB Central league still plays real baseball with no DH, the way God intended. Also, I'd like to get a better look at a couple of the ballparks. Hiroshima has a newer modern facility that replaced the old dilapidated one they were using when I was there, and the Hokkaido Fighters open a new snazzy one just outside Sopporo this season.
For now I'll enjoy Team Japan in the WBC. Beat "Italy" and proceed to Miami! Ikimashōō!No Comments yet
Annual DST whining
I've been in a bit of a mood for the last couple of weeks. I've written a bunch of posts over the years about my struggles with what I call The Black Hole, my particular form of clinical depression; I characterize it as a massive gravity well of paralysis and fatalism surrounded by a powerful band of insecurity. I'm stuck orbiting this thing and am continually working to stay as high above it as possible, having never been able to achieve escape velocity. Thankfully, my current medication works reasonably well and lets me maintain, for the most part, enough altitude in my orbit that I haven't sunken into a severe episode in quite a while. Thank you, modern pharmacology.
However, I do often slip into minor to moderate episodes. It takes a lot of energy to maintain a high orbit and gravity is relentless. This latest one was of the more gradual variety, happening slowly and really not dragging me down that far. Those episodes can be hard to recognize in the early stages, but over the years I've learned to identify secondary indications that the Black Hole is gaining in the perpetual tug-of-war—principally those signs are brain fog and irritability.
This time I've not experienced notable fogginess, but check that irritability box with big, bold sharpie. Many little things have set me off that are wholly unworthy of a snit. Work things with web projects, umpiring things, household things, Rob Manfred-related things, neighbor things (I'm on my HOA board and shit's about to go down).
I realized I was feeling the irritation of a sinking orbit while I was listening to a podcast that offhandedly mentioned our annual societal wacky tradition of advancing our clocks an hour and pretending high noon occurs at 1:00p.m. for nearly eight months of the year.
I hate Daylight Saving Time. I think it's pointless and dumb, if a fascinating example of social engineering and human psychology. I didn't grow up with it (Arizona doesn't participate in the charade) so it's always seemed kind of weird and goofy—it doesn't save energy, which is how the concept is justified; every time we move the clocks there are incidents and problems like increased traffic accidents and other hazards; and it doesn't do anything to, you know, alter the Earth's position on its axis, we all just pretend it does. But moreover, I am nocturnal by nature and I personally resent being commanded to do things earlier in the day.
It's a minor inconvenience, and yes, this annoys me every single year, but last week when the podcasters reminded me this was happening again the next Sunday (tomorrow, as I type this) I actually yelled out loud. "GODDAMN DAYLIGHT TIME. GODDAMN MORNING PEOPLE. WHY DO WE KEEP FUCKING DOING THIS." I was in my office, which has no shared walls with neighbors, so I likely didn't seem crazy to them, but I did scare Zephyr.
The part of my brain that was not busy trying to maintain orbit spoke up, "Ahem, yes, it sucks, but you know this happens every year and it isn't being done to annoy us personally. Maybe a frustrated sigh and shake of the head would be a more appropriate response than shouting and turning red in the face while our cat runs off in the way he does when we turn the vacuum on."
It's been several days since that incident and I'm on my way back to a stable high orbit. I'm less irritable in general. But I have a three-game ump shift tomorrow starting at noon, which is really eleven a.m., and that means getting up no later than 10:30, which is really 9:30, and despite attempts to adjust my circadian rhythms I still can't seem to fall asleep before 3 or 4 a.m., which is now going to be 4 or 5 a.m., and thus I will show up tomorrow groggy to officiate softball. Fortunately, being this early the players won't have started drinking yet.
Frak you, DST. Some of us like the night.No Comments yet
Apologies, email subscribers—I made an edit to some code on the back end to facilitate the "tags" feature here and a byproduct was that you all got buried in "update" emails from posts going back years. Oops. Please don't unsubscribe. :-)No Comments yet
Get off my lawn, pitch clock
As I have previously mentioned, I am, shall we say, not a fan of baseball commissioner Rob Manfred. He's terrible. And his new rules imposed on the game, both prior to this year and the new batch in 2023, rankle me. Well, OK, the three-batter minimum for pitchers is fine. But about most of the rest, I am rankled.
Still, this year's batch of changes—the pitch clock, the shift ban, the pickoff limitations—are being met with overwhelmingly positive reaction from people who choose to opine on such things. This also rankles me, but the reasons are more amorphous and vague.
Take Pos and Schur's effusive praise of the new normal. Joe Posnanski and Michael Schur have a podcast ("The Poscast") I find very entertaining (except when they go too long on about non-baseball sports). This week's Poscast was mostly about the new rules and, as Schur put it, he finds them "an unmitigated success." Pos calls the new setup "so awesome" and thinks criticism of it is "insanity." I generally love these guys, but this is…excessive.
They illustrate their position by comparing the pitch-clock setup to the extreme of the previous norm, referring to a side-by-side video someone posted of an entire half-inning of a spring training game from this year alongside a clip of Pedro Baez facing the Cubs in the postseason a few years ago that encompassed a single pitch over the same span of time. Yes, that Pedro Baez example is excessive. That wasn't good and making such an extreme sequence impossible isn't bad in and of itself. But it wasn't a representative AB, it was very much an outlier.
They further cite comparisons to other sports to justify the pitch clock. "Imagine basketball without a shot clock," Schur says. Well, Michael, I don't know or give a damn about basketball. Or football or hockey or any of the other examples he cites. A more frenetic pace might well be appropriate for those games, I don't know. Those sports are not baseball. Baseball is unique. Those arguments mean nothing to me. Eventually he gets back to baseball and makes arguments that mean something, and I respect those, though I disagree with the idea that eliminating the ability of the pitcher to effectively hold a runner is a net good.
Posnanski reminds us that these new rules are a correction, the idea is to return the game to what it was 35, 40, 50 years ago when batters did not step out of the batters' box all the time and pitchers didn't consider his next delivery for a minute before getting into the stretch. And defenses didn't move around the field because of a batter's spray chart that says he never hits to the opposite field. And that, he says, is what we want.
That point I agree with. I do want the game to be played more like it was in the ’80s and ’90s. I just don't like this methodology.
Maybe I'm just a grumpy old man and once I give this a chance I'll be fine with it. Entirely possible. I freely admit that my resistance to accepting the pitch clock and shift ban is tied inextricably to everything else Rob Manfred has done since he took over as commissioner—ads on the field; ads on the uniforms; proscribing who can pitch and who can't; devaluing the season with extra Wild Card playoff slots that are just as good as winning a division; the fucking "zombie runner" in extra innings; and the worst of the worst, the "universal DH"—and giving him even indirect credit for anything feels like having to eat a bowl of moldy nutraloaf. Had Manfred not screwed around so much with these awful things already, I'd likely be closer to Pos and Schur's position.
Yet, having watched some spring training action this year, it does feel rushed. Not frenetic, necessarily, but maybe a little too fast. There is value in having a moment to ponder the next pitch selection for those of us who, you know, pay attention. 15 seconds might be too short a span. When a runner is aboard and the clock extends to 20 seconds it's not bad, that feels proper. It's early days, of course, and it's spring training, but part of the goal for these changes is to create more offense and what I'm seeing is actually more striking out. Batters aren't ready when they swing. That'll change as we move forward, the adjustment period is going to be at least a few weeks of in-game at-bats, but I think 15 might need to be, say, 18 or 20.
Practically speaking, I will not miss the infield shift. I do not like banning it, but batters have unequivocally refused to combat it. In the early days of infield shifts being common, Ken Griffey Jr. would take advantage of it once in a while and bunt to the empty side of the field for an easy hit. Skilled contact hitters could beat it. But that went away, analytics decreed that batters should just keep on trying to pull the ball and hit for power, so defenses started shifting on nearly everybody.
Schur describes the shifting-for-everybody as an "overcorrection" to the steroid era. I see what he means, but I don't like that description at all, because the underlying problem is so many more batters swinging for homers and that hasn't been corrected for at all. Emphasis on power hitting is the underlying problem as regards the infield shift. That plus emphasis on power pitching is the underlying problem behind excessive strikeouts.
Move fences back. Make homers harder to hit and make the outfielders cover more ground—which is also more like things were in the ’80s—and you'll see fewer homers but more singles, doubles, and triples. And when batters (one would hope) stop swinging for the fences all the time, fewer Ks. And less incentive for infield shifts.
The shift ban makes that last bit moot, there's no way that rule is ever going away now that it's in place. We're likely stuck with the pitch clock forever too, and with luck over time it'll fade into the background and not be such a distraction.
But I will campaign until the end of time to do away with the Manfred Man zombie runner and the worst rule of all, the designated hitter.No Comments yet
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.1 Comment
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."
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.”
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.”
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."
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."
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."
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.1 Comment
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 bases...eh, 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.No Comments yet
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.1 Comment
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.
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.No Comments yet