Archive: March, 2023
Back in the day, Marvel Comics all had a page in them near the back that was for their little promo blurbs of various kinds that they called Marvel Bullpen Bulletins. In that vein, a few things to blurb about today...
- ITEM: Trump indicted! (Or "indicated," as he wrote on his knockoff social media platform.) About frakking time, but also, not nearly enough. It's a good start, and with luck the media will remind everyone that, though this is a relatively trivial case amongst the many criminal acts of former president VonClownstick, it was the one that conceivably allowed every subsequent one to happen and is of a kind when it comes to motive: to hoodwink the public and rig an election. May it be the first of many indictments and may it serve to lead to eventual justice being done, or at least a significant measure of it.
- ITEM: Yesterday was opening day of baseball season! I did not attend the opener for Your Seattle Mariners as I have been wont to do, but I will attend many games this season as per usual. I watched the game on the telly, though (after the fact), and thankfully the new rules Commissioner Manfred forced upon us didn't play much of a role. There was one pitch clock violation by a Cleveland reliever, who looked uncomfortable as all get out anyway, and one play at second base on a Ty France double that might have resulted in an out instead of a safe call if the old standard bases were in use. Otherwise, you wouldn't notice much change. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the pitch clock itself is not placed in a spot that the TV cameras can see with the usual camera angles. Good—I don't want to see the damn thing, it's too distracting.
- ITEM: Speaking of Opening Day, in years past I would have been spending a great deal of time writing up season preview articles and delving into all the player movement over the offseason and consulting my peeps for their season predictions. This all for the website I used to run based upon the magazine I used to do production for, which I finally got burned out on last summer. I gave it a go for several years, but it never made a dime and its audience never grew beyond a smattering. But I know some folks still want to know about my opinions regarding the Mariners in particular, so I'll run down some of that stuff over the weekend.
- ITEM: As some of you know, I have a side gig umpiring rec-league softball. I was working a few games last night, one of which featured two of my favorite teams to ump for, a good crop of guy and gals that keep things fun and don't take it too seriously. One of those teams is The Leftovers, who mark their softball journeys on Instagram. I even got namechecked in one of their videos. Their captain suffered a freak injury in winter league, so he's not playing for a while, but he's always there with his camera to document all the good stuff and post it. I appreciate that when he posts a video of a close call with the question "safe or out?" that he doesn't overtly second-guess me. :)
- ITEM: I bought my new bike finally, and gave it a bit of a shakedown ride the other day. It needs a little bit of adjustment, which I've not managed my time well enough to finish doing yet, but so far I'm pleased and not regretting the almost-$700 purchase.
- ITEM: The Mariners are playing! I must go now to tune them in on the TV machine.
More later. Excelsior!No Comments yet
Guns are bad, m'kay?
Guess what. America had another school shooting. Because it's a regular week on Earth.
I realize that this is just screaming into the void (and apologies in advance, this post will probably have more swearing in it than is typical). The Nashville incident this week that resulted in seven deaths barely registers a blip on the societal consciousness because we are so goddamned used to it.
There have been 38 mass shootings in the US just this month. There were 40 last month. 53 in January. A lot of media types are reporting on the specifics of the Nashville case—because it's the newest, it's fresh—looking for motive and details and insights into the perpetrator as an individual, which is, OK, fine, I guess, but that's not what I want to see coverage of. I want to see journalists, protesters, people in general badgering Congress and state legislatures to regulate the fucking guns.
Reporters did approach Tennessee Congressman Tim Burchett on the subject on Monday, which is good. Burchett is a Republican, though, so his response was not helpful. It was, however, relatively honest, which is notable in and of itself for an elected representative identifying with that party. He said, "We're not gonna fix it."
Whether he says that because he believes it's pointless to try or because he doesn't care about gun deaths or because he's too deeply in the thrall of the National Rifle Association's profit motive is up to interpretation, but the bottom line is right there. Burchett elaborated (if you can even apply that word) with, "I don’t think a criminal is going to stop from guns [sic], you know … I don’t think you’re going to stop the gun violence." By which he means, he doesn't think you, the empathetic concerned citizenry, can stop it because we, the Republican party, have enough power to ensure it keeps happening and that suits us just fine.
"We're not gonna fix it."
That is but one of the many reasons it is appropriate to label the modern Republican Party as a domestic terrorist organization.
The House Majority Leader, Congressman Steve Scalise, was asked what he thinks should be done about this issue. His response was eminently predictable. "I pray for the victims. I pray for the families. I get really angry when people try to politicize it for their own personal agenda," he said, trying to mask his own politicizing of the problem. The Senate chaplain, Barry Black, wasn't having it. "It's time to move beyond thoughts and prayers," he said in a prayer service he was leading for Senators. "Lord, deliver our senators from the paralysis of analysis that waits for the miraculous." I suppose that's the chaplain version of "kick these senators and other leaders squarely in the ass and make them act, because they sure as hell won't do it on their own."
Republicans behave as if this is just the normal course of life in America. But when I was growing up, we didn't have active shooter drills in school. We didn't fear that criminals were out there with AR-15 style assault rifles. We have always had a gun-fetishist culture that romanticizes the mistaken idea of the "old west gunslinger," but even in the old west there were, you know, regulations—you show up in town, you had to surrender your guns. The famous gunfight at the OK Corral? It happened because the Clanton gang wouldn't surrender their guns in accordance with the law. Tombstone, Arizona, had more gun control in 1881 that it does now.
I don't know when the NRA managed to convince Republicans that the second amendment to the Constitution didn't actually contain the phrase "well-regulated" or "safety of a free state"—maybe when they trotted out Charlton Heston to speak for them—but at some point the orthodox Republican position became that there should be no laws whatsoever restricting anyone's access to firearms of any kind. Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Warren Burger said in a 1991 interview that the second amendment "has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud [perpetrated] on the American public." Many Republicans know this. Not all of them are insane Alex Jones types, plenty are smart enough to understand what the language of the amendment means and what the intent was with the wording as understood when it was written in the 18th century. But they do not care.
"We're not gonna fix it."
Once, we had a ban on assault rifles. It was effective, so Republicans made sure it went away. Now the assault rifle is a status symbol. Gun fetishists all have to have one. Or two. Or a dozen. Reinstating that ban would be a good start, but it's nowhere near enough.
I've known people that own guns. Most of them were the sort of person I would not trust with one. When I was a teenager I had a friend that lived with her father, a guy I knew to be a drunk and a real piece of shit, and there were multiple guns in her house. I never wanted to be there. I've known people who are not like that, that are basically well-intentioned sorts, that own guns. I had the impression they had them with the perhaps-sublimated hope that they would have an excuse to use them. I've even known a couple of folks who owned one "just for protection" against home invasion or the like. They, I thought, owned their guns out of fear and were far more likely to have the gun used against them or used poorly so that it offered no protection at all.
I have a bias, obviously. I do not support private ownership of firearms at all when it comes to handguns and other guns intended to kill human beings. I find hunting to be revolting, though I respect that it's a different thing and in and of itself can be regulated separately, but mass shootings like this never seem to be carried out with buckshot. Like the Nashville shooter, the perps tend to have assault rifles and handguns. And if we banned those fucking things, I can't help but believe these incidents would decrease dramatically.
They wouldn't completely go away. There's plenty of evidence to suggest that if someone wants to get something illegal, they'll find a way to get it. But it'll take a lot longer, take a lot more effort, and weed out a great many of the prospective perpetrators. Every other developed country on the planet has mental illness among the populace, has media with gratuitous violence, but only the United States has essentially unfettered access to guns and only the United States has dozens of mass shootings every month. Restricting access to guns would prevent many of these incidents, would save lives.
But we can't do anything like that. We can't ban assault rifles, let alone handguns, because Republicans have power and Republicans like violence. Too simplistic? OK, prove me wrong. Republicans like violence. They promote policies that encourage violence. They want criminals to have the very best armaments possible. In fact, they want everyone to be armed to the teeth and settle their problems with a bullet to the head, or at least the threat of one. Why else do they behave the way they do? Give me a convincing argument against that. "We're not gonna fix it" is their doctrine.
Well before this latest mass shooting, Jon Stewart interviewed a state senator in Oklahoma about his efforts to make acquiring and using firearms as simple and uninhibited as possible. It's a great/horrifying interview in which Stewart rams home the hypocrisy of this guy's positions and spotlights just how much this senator in particular and the modern Republican party more generally does not care about gun violence. The whole thing is on his Apple TV+ show, but the bulk of it is available here.
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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.1 Comment
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