A Year of Trump
It could be worse.
A year since the election that gave us the most embarrassing and heinous man to ever hold the office of President of the United States, the orange idiot has basically failed to accomplish much of anything. Not entirely—the number of judicial appointments is concerning, of course, and a staggering number of executive orders intended to screw people and pollute the planet—but in terms of big policy, he's got bupkis to show for his efforts. (If we can call them efforts. Being ignorant of his actual job duties, he's actually done very little policymaking.) Still, everything he has done has been horrible, and the behavior of other elected Republicans is arguably more horrible as they allow him to continue to be president while pushing legislation that defies their mandate as public servants.
Last year at Thanksgiving I was asked how long I thought Trump would last in office. I said, if I recall correctly, somewhere between "until Christmas" and "early 2019," depending on how much the Republican congress would tolerate. Congress has already supported and/or turned a blind eye to more than I would have thought they would, but when the tax-reform bill fails that might tip the scales. Maybe. Who knows, with this crowd. Paul Ryan is apparently as corrupt as anyone this side of the Trump family themselves, at least in terms of betraying his duty to serve the public interest in favor of an overall agenda of enriching himself and his benefactors, so maybe nothing will tip the scales. The Mueller investigation could produce incontrovertible proof of treason and Ryan might shrug it off. The midterms may have to happen—without enough cheating to rig things—first, assuming we and our electoral system of government survive through 2018.
Meanwhile, he's still living at 1600 Penn. It could be worse, but it's plenty bad already. John Oliver lays it all out.
Now that we've hit the halfway mark in the first season, some more refined thoughts on Star Trek: Discovery.
Short version: I like it, it is proving to indeed be good Star Trek as well as good sci-fi, though the "spore drive" that much of this season relies on stretches the "sci" part of things pretty far.
Longer version follows...
As has become semi-traditional, I spent the end of October at my dad's place in Palm Springs, where it was hot and very, very dry. I was down there for almost two weeks, which is kind of a long time to be away, but I got to be down there for Dad's 75th birthday and we watched the entire World Series (though we had to watch Game 7 on delay thanks to SoCal freeway traffic, which just made the finish that much more anticlimactic — less climatcic? — as 7 was the only game that was basically decided 20 minutes in).
It was a stark change when I got back. My system couldn't handle it, I guess. I went from sunny dry 85 degrees to snow. We voluntarily changed time zones the next day. I'd arrived in California fighting the black hole and gradually felt better while I was there and looked forward to getting back to regular life stuff, then as soon as I get back I get blindsided by germs and end up laid up for three days with a sequel to the cold and fever that hit me six weeks ago. A real compare and contrast kind of experience.
So I'm dizzy from metaphoric whiplash or something.
Good thing I voted early.
This post is meandering and serves little purpose.
So, this Kevin Spacey thing.
Sadly, I have no trouble believing the allegation. I am rather fond of Anthony Rapp, who plays my current favorite character on Discovery (Lt. Stamets, or "Hippie Paul," as he's become of late), and give him all kinds of credit and support for coming forward with his story. Even if I weren't predisposed to believe Rapp, the fact that Spacey responded to the story so quickly and in the way he did all but confirms it's accurate.
It's an awful thing, preying on a minor, and hooray for young Rapp getting away. It's also awful that Spacey chose to try to spin his statement in an attempt to garner sympathy, or at least to deflect from the substance of the incident in question. His choice of language was especially poor in his "coming out" portion of the statement, which is one of two things that seem to have generated outrage in the Twittersphere.
Using the response to an allegation of sexually preying on a minor is a horrible way to come out of the closet in all kinds of ways, and his use of the term "I choose" is also problematic. So, outrage more than warranted.
Yet, I found myself in a couple of Twitter exchanges about the other part of it that people ranted about.
Maybe I've become extra sensitive to the concept of drunk because of my mom. Maybe I'm just too prone to taking everything literally. Maybe both. But to my reading, Spacey did not try to excuse his actions with drink. He did use his intoxication as a factor in his inability to remember the event (or so he says, though it's plenty plausible he doesn't remember), and yeah, I think it's probably there in an attempt to elicit sympathy (Rapp's account also describes Spacey as soused, so the being drunk part isn't made up). But he didn't try offer his drunkenness as some kind of the-devil-made-me-do-it denial of culpability. And complicating the issue by creating a different offense than the one that actually happened isn't helpful.
Spacey has evidently had a habit of cruising for young guys, and if those rumors are true his apology rings a little hollow. Plenty there to be upset about without getting into a "being drunk is no excuse!" fight when he didn't offer an excuse — at least, not in the literal sense.
All that said, Spacey is just the latest prominent person to be revealed as a predator who (allegedly) likes to abuse his sense of power. While unsettling, all this is good in a way — our culture is finally getting to the point where victims of such men (it's always men, isn't it?) can feel more secure about coming forward and the predators can feel less confident that they'll be protected. It's a step forward.
I don't feel coherent enough today to put together a cogent post on any particular subject, so here are a few fragments of thoughts on several topics...
- I didn't get around to doing my usual baseball postseason predictions, but if I had I would have predicted thusly:
- LDS: Houston over Boston, Cleveland over New York; Los Angeles over Arizona, Washington over Chicago.
- LCS: Houston over Cleveland, Los Angeles over Washington.
- World Series: Houston over Los Angeles.
- My housing search has been going in earnest for a few months now, and I'm getting rather discouraged. When I was looking "unofficially" over the past year or so, before I had the money in hand to actually buy anything, there seems to be enough listings popping up every now and then to make me feel like this would be a relatively quick to-do once I had the cash in hand, but it's not turned out that way. Just in that time the market seems to have inflated to a disturbing degree, and I've started expanding my search radius outside of the city. I don't want to leave the city proper, but thanks to fucking Amazon and other big biz luring people here with higher-end paychecks and a lack of development in housing starts, I might not have a choice. Even if I continue to rent, things are bad — I got socked with the second rent hike of 20+% in the last few years recently, making staying where I am untenable in the long term. Goddamn Amazon.com... I'm having a look at a townhome near the edge of the city limits tomorrow at an open house. We'll see how that goes.
- In addition to Discovery, the premiere of which I opined on here and which continues to be solidly engrossing, I've been enjoying The Orville, The Good Place, Mr. Robot, and The Gifted on the TeeVee. I'm unsurprisingly disappointed so far in The Inhumans, though. Still, it's a good time to be a nerd with all the geeky TV series these days.
- I thought I had more brain droppings to write about, but my mental haze must be thicker than I realized. Bleh.
The Changing Face of Evil
I had been in the middle of writing a post about this country's penchant for revisionist history, referencing John Oliver's show segment about Confederate monuments, the Harvey Weinstein outrage and how it was only now coming out that he'd been horrible for years and years, the rampant bullshit being spewed out of the White House press room, and on and on. All that was leading into some commentary on the recent rash of stories about high-profile sexual predators, from Weinstein to Bill O'Reilly to Roger Ailes to the Catholic Church to the Penn State University guy to Donald Fucking Trump.
And Bill Cosby.
So I'm writing this and then Rachel Maddow's show begins and she starts talking about Harvey Weinstein and ... Bill Cosby.
Rachel threw the Cosby scandal right up on my TV as I was trying to write something about it, which was, frankly, a little irritating. :)
The thing is, when I was a kid, Bill Cosby was a big deal to me. I didn't care one way or another about his sitcom, really, though that was fine; I loved his standup albums and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. Fat Albert was the highlight of Saturday morning cartoons with its thematic educational bent showing us kids how to be good people and treat our fellow humans better, and the standup albums were joyfully rich with funny stories that were wholesome and didn't depend on insults or any sort of derogatory language, that were relatable by most people in American culture. Many of them about growing up and childhood adventures, many of them about everyday events. It was a sense of humor that I gravitated to, a way of storytelling I delighted in.
The Cos was a big part of my adolescent years. I knew (and still know) whole albums verbatim, having listened to them countless times. I regaled my dad and others with retellings of routines about tonsillectomies, Cobra automobiles, Junior Barnes, go-cart races, and The Lone Ranger.
About 20 years ago(!) I drew a large piece I called "Heroes," a charcoal montage of portraits of five public figures that were highly influential in making me me: Gene Roddenberry, Jimmy Carter, John Lennon, Jackie Robinson, and Cosby. I was and am proud of it, it's one of my more satisfying works, and it's been hanging in a prominent place in my living room ever since.
It's still there, and every now and then I wonder if I should take it down. It has a kind of aura about it now that seems like a Confederate statue or something; that's not quite the right analogy, but in any case an honorific to a person that is now a symbol of misogyny and abuse. It's bothersome. (Roddenberry and Lennon were no saints, they had their respective issues, but they each worked to overcome them and to live by their high ideals and I never felt any reticence about displaying their portrait in my home.)
Yet, the influence of Bill Cosby the performer remains, and if I were to listen to one of those standup albums now, I wouldn't enjoy its content any less. The taint of knowing that the performer was/would become a sexual predator and commit irredeemable acts upon who knows how many women would be there, but the humor is still funny and the brilliance of the storytelling is still what it was when I was 12.
So I'm torn about leaving my charcoal masterpiece up on display. I don't want to be thought of as glorifying the symbol of horror that Cosby has become, and if I could somehow replace Cos in the picture cleanly I probably would, but that's not the way these things work. And I still honor the other guys, and the drawing is still something I'm proud of as a piece of work.
In my earlier (pre-Rachel Maddow interfering with my train of thought) draft of this post, the overarching point was more about acknowledging the nastiness of history in general and resisting the temptations to sanitize our narrative of past events; ignoring historical evils is not a way to overcome them in a society nor on an individual level, and in fact just makes things worse — witness the inclination of many Americans to wave the Stars and Bars while insisting that reveling in that heritage has nothing to do with racism, or how long it's taken for the culture to come around to treating behavior like Weinstein's and Cosby's as worthy of outrage and condemnation (still waiting on the culture to come around to condemning Trump, though).
History is written by the winners, goes the adage, and it's important to remember that the word "history" is a contraction of "his story." With so much reliance by people like Trump and most Republicans on warping accounts of contemporaneous events into unrecognizable fictions, vigilance is needed more than ever. We all need to own up to the bad stuff, even when an admired figure is revealed to be a heinous monster.
Michelle Yaoh as Captain Phillipa Georgiou
So, tonight Star Trek: Discovery premiered. First Trek on TV since 2005 and first to be distributed via internet (the first episode on over-the-air CBS in a "first one's free" strategy, behind the CBS Internet paywall thereafter). The leadup was a bit chaotic, with personnel changes and debut delays and a total prohibition on advance reviews of any kind. Expectations were ... let's say moderate.
In some ways, it didn't disappoint. Production values were off the scale. Visually striking, detailed, and I was especially geeking out over the sound effects in the background. Performances mostly good.
In other ways, it rankled, but in minor nitpicky fashions; continuity discrepancies between other Star Trek series, Treknological/scientific liberties that could've been avoided with more attentive writing, that sort of thing.
And in the most important ways, it left me ambivalent. I'll need to see how the story develops to form an opinion on the basic identity of the show and its fidelity to Star Trek ideals and its overall strengths. I think it's a failure of a pilot to leave that much ambivalence, but there's plenty of potential for redemption. What little has been reported about subsequent episodes suggests episode 3 begins a somewhat lighter tone as the titular ship and crew are introduced.
Things I liked:
- Michelle Yeoh as Captain Georgiou. Yeoh presents a complex character of ideals, confidence, compassion, and gravitas, and does it very well. (Spoiler: Too bad she doesn't survive episode 2, hopefully we'll see more of her in flashbacks.)
- Doug Jones as Lt. Cdr. Saru. Saru is an alien of a type we haven't seen before, and both his racial background and his individual demeanor are interesting. He comes from a planet where his species is/was livestock to another species, which is kind of fascinating, and as such his response to potential danger is most often to flee, instinctually preferring the flight aspect of fight-or-flight heavily. He's also caustic and a bit brazen, and he's a science officer, making him kind of a Spock/Bones hybrid character. Clever.
- Design. Mostly. As I said, the visuals are rather impressive and the care that went into graphics and background sound is admirable. There's a touch too much JJ-verse influence on the bridge of the Shenzhou (complete with occasional lens flare), but not enough to distract.
- The "feel" of the culture on Georgiou's starship Shenzhou, which is laid-back yet professional, casual yet disciplined. Captain Georgiou would be fun to work for.
- Starfleet sideburns on the men. Yes! In your face, JJ Abrams.
Things that left me raising my eyebrow Spock-like in a skeptical-not-amused way:
- Our lead character, Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequah Martin-Green), is somewhat unlikable. This may well change, but in the pilot episodes she makes some decisions that are simply too contrary to what we're supposed to believe about her as a character to make her sympathetic. We're apparently supposed to be left thinking she was right and did what she did for good, sensible reasons, but it doesn't fly with me. (Spoiler: It may well have been logical to want to show immediate force when encountering Klingons to get them to respect you, making a kind of effort to speak to them on their cultural grounds, but (a) that's counter to what she's supposed to believe in; (b) she was raised in Vulcan culture and as such would expect to err on the side of pacifism; (c) she's supposed to have this awesome mentor-mentee bond with Georgiou that she completely betrays as if it's of no consequence; (d) the history she's basing her course of action on is from pre-KirShara reform days on Vulcan, which may not be strictly relevant, but does play into its ethics; and (e) it rather predictably would play right into the Klingons' hands, and though she wouldn't be aware of the specific Klingon machinations here, they already have a working theory that they were lured here for a confrontation and she is sufficiently forward-thinking [supposedly] to plot out a few moves ahead and realize engaging Klingons violently would be counterproductive to Federation interests. She thinks she was totally in the right, and I think we the audience are supposed to think that too, but really she just fucked up and betrayed her friend and mentor out of recklessness. The war may have started anyway, but her decidedly un-Vulcan bullheadedness did not help avert it.)
- James Frain as Sarek. I'm cool with using the Sarek character here, and he was written well enough, but Frain didn't fit the role. Frain is a fine actor, but he does not remotely evoke Mark Lenard (original portrayer of Sarek) in appearance, cadence, expression, really anything, nor does he bring anything new to the role to distinguish himself from Lenard (or Ben Cross, who played the role — badly — in the JJ movies). As my friend Mark pointed out as we were watching, it is rare for any actor to play a Vulcan well; we came up with only the Big Three Vulcan actors who've successfully pulled it off, not counting Zach Quinto's JJ-verse Spock — Lenard, Leonard Nimoy (obvs), and Tim Russ, who was in some ways channeling Nimoy. I added Gary Graham, whose Ambassador Soval became pretty decent by the end of Enterprise's run, and gave special dispensation to Jolene Blalock's T'Pol due to the writing she was given (mostly good, but often given "reasons" to be un-Vulcanlike) and Kim Catrall, who had the unenviable job of playing an atypical Vulcan pretending to be typical. Not one guest-Vulcan did it well. (Well, maybe Dame Judith Anderson in a rather small role. And Robin Curtis put in the effort.) Even Celia Lovsky's original T'Pau was a bit like your old grandma who's cantankerous and a bit racist but you tolerate it because she's old and will die soon. It's a difficult task, and not even the best actors are always up to the challenge. But with Sarek being such an important character, it's disappointing to have a subpar performance in the role.
- Burnham leaving the bridge during crisis to call home, even if it was to ask for specific info about dealing with Klingons. Paints her in a bad light, and besides, it's dramatically unnecessary. She could have known this bit of history already (might have actively sought it out much earlier given her Klingon-related trauma, and that could have been integrated as part of her flashback sequence).
- The reimagined look of the Klingons. I've read somewhere that the series will over time show us greater variation of the species than we've seen previously, but right now it just seems like the Klingons have a new look just because this time there was more money to spend.
- The music. The opening theme is quite forgettable save for the Alexander Courage fanfare and carries nothing of the splendor found in Jerry Goldsmith's, James Horner's, and Dennis McCarthy's respective themes. Maybe it'll grow on me. Also, the opening credits visuals are different — not bad different, I actually like the storyboardish style — but a little jarring, at least at first.
Things I cringed at, at least a little bit:
- The Klingon scenes. My late friend Scott was a big fan of all things Klingon, and I know others are too, but they were never among my favorite Trek cultures, so maybe that informs my relative lack of interest in the scenes on the Klingon ship; highly expository, and in subtitled Klingon spoken haltingly by actors through prosthetic teeth, these bits give important setup information for what's to come, but are just not compelling. One of the Klingons, Voq, is mildly interesting as an outcast wanting to prove his worth, but the rest are, to this point, kind of cardboard.
- The aforementioned scientific/accepted Trek-lore writing laziness:
- The Klingon fable played out by our villains involves a giant beacon that lights up bright as a star to signal all the heads of important Klingon houses to meet. Signaling across light-years with, well, light is a long-term proposition and completely ill-suited to bringing anyone to you within a handful of centuries. Yes, there were additional components to the signal that shook and vibrated the Shenzhou's superstructure, but the idea was that it was a literal beacon. The light from which was useless. Oops.
- Technological anachronisms. Holographic two-way transmissions, even in real-time across light-years? The "new" holographic communicator was used a couple of times in Deep Space Nine to reasonable effect, but here — 100-plus years earlier — the tech is way more elaborate and serves zero story purpose. In and of itself, it's fine, but as an anachronism that could have been easily avoided it takes me out of the flow of the story. And Klingons with a cloaking device. It wasn't called that and it was implied that it was unique or at least uncommon, but Klingons don't get cloaks until they trade with the Romulans for it later on.
- The mind-meldy conversation between Burnham and Sarek was bothersome not for its content (which was actually quite good), but for its utter non-believability and for exacerbating the real-time-holographic-transmission issue as it rendered that prior bit somewhat redundant. The only similar type of established telepathy with Vulcans is a psychic link between bonded sexual couples, and borrowing that and explaining it away with a "katra" mulligan (contrary to earlier uses of katra mulligans) was irksome and a little icky given Burnham's familial relationship with Sarek.
- The background bridge character that was ... a robot? Cyborg? Weird augmented alien with a full helmet display head? A refugee from Star Wars or the JJ-verse. In the words of V'Ger's probe, "this device serves no purpose."
- I'll swallow it, but the (understandable) retcon of using what becomes the Starfleet-wide delta insignia as the Starfleet-wide iconic image 15-20 years too early, in an era in which we know it is linked exclusively to the starship Enterprise, is a nitpicky nerd-gripe that I will have to explain somehow in my internal head-canon.
- And finally, too much emphasis on action and gee-whiz-neato look-what-we-can-do effects (which, as I said, look great) at the expense of theme and substance. In the absence of the full story and most of the regular characters, this is perhaps an unfair criticism and may change with context. Hopefully it will. But as a pilot it's odd to give this sort of thing short shrift.
Potential here is vast, and it's more solid as a production (even allowing for budget/tech inflation) than The Next Generation's pilot, but with Star Trek I always expect on some level to be, if not overwhelmed, satisfactorily whelmed; DS9's pilot was very good, Enterprise's had flaws but gave a fine foundation, Voyager's was...well, it was much better than what followed. But Discovery's jury is still out, at least until next week.
UPDATE: TrekMovie has a decent recap/review up now that's worth a look. It is spoiler-heavy, though, so beware.
What Dreams are Made Of
It's 4:00am and I can't sleep. Not an altogether unusual occurrence, but not a welcome one either. But not being asleep does mean I'm not enduring another of my subconscious Twilight Zone episode-style dreams.
I've been having a recurring dream of late—well, the actual dream isn't recurring, but the theme and premise is—in which my late mother shows up alive. My science-fiction- and comic-book-reared brain knows that in those genres, death isn't necessarily a permanent state—Spock came back thanks to the regenerative properties of Project Genesis, Buffy was magically brought back by the Scoobies, Captain Jack Harkness dies and comes back all the time. In comicdom, characters are killed off and brought back as marketing ploys with annoying frequency; we used to say there were two kinds of dead comic characters, just-for-now-dead and "Bucky-dead." (We used to say that, because after decades Marvel even resurrected Bucky Barnes as the Winter Soldier, so even Bucky isn't Bucky-dead anymore.) Captain America, the Human Torch, Batman, two different Robins (with a third only thought dead), Doc Ock, and Wolverine are just the most recent characters that come to mind that have come back from the great beyond no worse for wear. Oh, and Phil Coulson. Tahiti is a magical place.
So I guess it's not surprising that my subconscious would generate a scenario like the one I was treated to lat night/this morning, that had both my mom and her husband returning because of some sort of time-dilation mumbo-jumbo during their travels, putting me in the awkward position of having to explain to them that I'd sold their house and depended on some of their money now, oh, and that this was going to seriously fuck up all the struggles I'd been going through with banks and fund managers to get control of their assets. In this dream scenario, I somehow also knew from the get-go that this was a short-term return, that the metaphysics of this mumbo-jumbo just meant I was going to have to go through them dying all over again, and in my mom's case, her finding out that their house was now owned by somebody else just prompted her to drink continually, berate me, and call me unprintable names.
Previous iterations of this dream-theme weren't so wholly unpleasant, in that in them I'm glad to see my mom again and then they veer into unpleasantness when the re-dying happens (it always happens, part of the theme). The details generally fade pretty quickly upon waking up, but the basic outlines remain.
I have, of course, been dealing with a great many entities and institutions since she passed away regarding assets and various executor-like things, most of which eventually got resolved after varying amounts of frustration and outrage. One remains unresolved, and as that item has been occupying a chunk of my waking time in recent weeks (lawyers and judges and probate, oh my) I guess my brain decided to use it as ready-material for REM movies.
Thanks a lot, brain.
Right Angles are Our Friends
Thanks for doing this with me, Dad!
You might recall I posted some months ago about my comic-book collection and its steadily oozing expansion that threatens to consume a whole room in my home. As discussed then, I found some videos on the Interwebs from people that have built themselves some customized storage units and set out on a similar undertaking.
I drew up some "plans," which is a generous term; they were adequate, but not especially organized. I sought out the materials I would need. Then I left it alone for a while while other things came and went.
But last month I drove down to see my dad in Palm Springs, Home Depot gift cards in hand, thinking it would be fun to do this project with him and a good excuse to visit for a couple weeks. Which it was. Dad and I built four cabinets with three drawers each to house roughly 2,500-3,000 comics in total.
It was a learning experience as well as a good time; I've done a fair amount of tinkering and improvising things in my day, but never a start-from-scratch building project like this. We made some mistakes.
First off, we bought wood that did not match my plans' specifications — I planned for half-inch thick boards, but I got wood planks that were slightly less than half an inch thick and did not make any corresponding adjustment to my specs. Thus, we made drawers that were ever-so-slightly narrower than spec and drawer housings that were not uniformly wide. So a number of them had to be "MacGyvered" to work properly by shimming the rails with whatever was handy (metal washers, wood scraps, cardboard).
Almost half an inch isn't actually half an inch. Multiplied enough and you need a quarter-inch of shim.
More annoyingly, I didn't think through a proper way to attach the front panels of the drawers. They were intended to overlay and extend beyond the face of the drawers by a half-inch on all sides, but every attempt to attach them was off-center and/or crooked. In order to get them all to fit, we ended up trimming a number of them rather than continue to try over and over to reposition them properly.
Also, though we had a fantastic table saw for the smaller pieces, we didn't have a good way to cut down the larger ones. We improvised something that seemed to work adequately, but then in the process of assembly realized that many of the pieces we cut were not cut straight; the bottom edge would end up being shorter than the top edge, that sort of thing. Not by a lot, and in and of themselves, the pieces worked fine, but in the overall assembly, there were enough weird angles and slight slants to things to cause frustrations and some funky weirdness to the finished product.
In the end, they are completely functional and, I think, more than adequately appealing. But as my dad said while trimming one of the crooked drawer fronts to make it fit alongside the two others in the unit, "at least when anyone looks closely at these they'll know they were home-made."
I'll eventually paint or stain them, but that's something for another day; I don't plan on staying in my current abode all that much longer, so that'll wait until I know what my new place will look like. Plus, I still have a ton of overflow; I'll want to build more of these then, too. With more attention to measurements and right angles.
Of course, now I have an elegant solution for how to position the front panels to attach them properly.
Maybe I'll find it worth the hassle to remove and reattach them later.
The sides of this drawer are cut at a not-quite-right angle, making the front attach with a bit of a warp.
Far, far better than the endless sprawl of cardboard boxes I was previously dealing with, but even when thinned out—the cardboard boxes on top plus a couple out of frame are slated for eBay—I still have 2½ cardboard longboxes and 4 shortboxes (center) full of comics and I can't seem to keep from buying more every month. More building to come!
My dad remarked that my latest batch of Facebook and Twitter postings were incomprehensible without context, and I expect that's so. The context? The World Baseball Classic.
The WBC has only been around since 2006. It's an international tournament kind of like the World Cup, except soccer nerds have had the World Cup a lot longer than us baseball nerds have had the WBC, so it's a way bigger deal—also, the rest of the world loves their soccer, but most countries don't know much about baseball. The idea behind the WBC is to change all that and grow interest in baseball gobally.
And it's working. Slowly, of course, but getting there. Baseball has been huge in some places forever, of course; Japan, Latin America, the Caribbean, Taiwan to a lesser extent. But now there are respectable leagues popping up elsewhere too. The Korean Baseball Organization doesn't have the history, of course, but is now at about the level of quality that the Japanese pro leagues were at 20 or 30 years ago. The Australian league is fledgling, but has produced a Major Leaguer here and there. And the Netherlands are now an international power; great players have come from Aruba and Curacau for a while, but now they're coming out of Amsterdam too.
I, of course, am a Japanophile, and the primary reason I love the WBC is that it's really my only chance to see players from the NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) leagues do their thing.
I've paid some attention to NPB for a long time, but it's hard to follow from afar. When I went to Japan in 2003(? or was it '02?), one of my first stops was the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum at the Tokyo Dome. It's a lot less impressive than the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, of course, but it's still pretty keen and I got to learn more of the history of the NPB leagues and players. I chose a team to adopt as My Team in Japan (I went with the Hanshin Tigers for several reasons) and went to a preseason game in Osaka. From then on I've tried to follow the leagues on the Internet, but it takes a lot of effort; my command of Japanese is rudimentary at best, and even less useful when trying to read it. I can decipher a box score well enough ("Timely Hit!") and identify most of the player names with the help of a Kanji dictionary, but I can't read a game story or the Nikkan Sports page except on the abbreviated English language site. And forget watching televised games, at least so far. Internet feeds of NPB action exist here and there, but are inaccessible overseas (e.g. here). Highlights make it to YouTube once in a while.
So when the WBC rolls around, I stay up through the night to watch Team Japan. Tokyo always hosts at least one round of the tournament (this year they had two), and Team Japan gets prime time there, so their games are at 2:00am here (3:00am after DST kicks in, as Japan ignores such foolishness). So I've Tweeted reactions to the six games I've watched in the wee hours from the Tokyo Dome the last couple of weeks since nobody was staying up all night with me to watch. :)
This year's team has a lot of new-to-me faces. Some of the old guard have retired or joined the American Major Leagues and opted not to play/were left off the team this year. But that's cool, as I'm getting to know the latest batch of stars. My new favorite NPB player is Hiroshima Carp second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi. He's made numerous outstanding defensive plays in the tournament and I've looked up some of his Carp highlights. My kind of ballplayer.
The guy on Team Japan Major League scouts seem to have their eye on is Tetsudo Yamada, who had a huge second round; he's achieved what the Japanese call the Triple-Threes—.300 batting average, 30 home runs, and 30 stolen bases—two years running now. He's also a second baseman, so he's been the DH in the WBC. Yokohama BayStars outfielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh is popular over there, and it's easy to see why, but he doesn't fit the mold of the Japanese style that I like so much; he's a bulky, slow-by-Japanese-standards home-run hitter. He's like a more disciplined Greg Luzinski, if you will.
Anyway, the Tokyo rounds are over, and Team Japan is so far undefeated as they prepare for the semifinals in Los Angeles starting Monday. So no more 5am tweets about needing to pull Kazuhisa Makida off the mound because he's doing his best José Mesa impression, or making Phil Collins song puns for Tsu-tsu-Tsutsugoh. I do wish I'd been able to come up with a good joke linking Tokyo Giants catcher Seiji Kobayashi to the no-win scenario, though...
Last night I went out for a walk around my neighborhood. As is my custom when I do such things, I loaded up my phone with the latest podcasts I enjoy to keep me company and spent an hour or so listening to the Friday edition of "The Bob & Chez Show" (Afterparty edition). It wasn't a standout entry by any stretch, but it was still enjoyable to listen to Bob and Chez gab on about Trump, politics, the state of the world, and, naturally, Jordan Peele's sense of humor and whether the movie "Get Out" deserves its 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Later on, I was browsing through my Twitter feed and saw a post from Bob mourning the loss of Chez. I wasn't sure what to make of it—I could see a context where Bob was making a joke at Chez's expense in relation to some event that had happened that I wasn't aware of (like a death notice for some celebrity who was actually still with us), but what's the joke? Was it not a joke? Did Chez actually die??!
Turns out, Chez died.
The dude was my age. No idea what happened to him yet.* As far as I know, he wasn't ill, though he had a history of substance abuse that he'd overcome successfully. On his Friday show, I did notice that he was less involved than usual, keeping quiet while Bob talked rather than interject with frequency and wit, but assumed he was just tired or having a day, you know. And perhaps he was. No details on how he died have been made public, so he might have been fine and been the victim of a car accident or something. Not that it matters, I guess. Dude's still gone.
I started listening to the podcast when it was "The Bob & Elvis Show," back in the aughts, then when Elvis quit, Bob recruited Chez to take his place. I liked Elvis and figured the new guy wouldn't be nearly as good, but Chez was even better. Funny with snark and cynicism that was somehow uplifting, even when he'd say that Trump was going to kill us all. Of course, it helps that Chez had my political sensibilities and nerdly interests, and as contemporaries his pop-culture references usually landed squarely. (My favorite line of his from recent shows was in reference to the Trump press conference a couple weeks ago or whenever it was, when Trump responded to a question about meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus by asking the reporter to set up such a meeting for him. Chez said, "He figures all black people are like fucking Aquaman." I laughed loudly, despite my presence sitting in public at the Wayward wearing my earbuds, imagining John Lewis sending out concentric telepathic circles summoning fellow black people from the sea to aid him in battle against Paul Ryan.)
I came to look forward to each week's trifecta of Bob & Chez podcasts as a highlight of my news/politics consumption, and would be disproportionately annoyed when my podcast software was late in making an episode available. I enjoyed the few Twitter back-and-forths I had with Chez about the show, and was absurdly pleased that he ran with the metaphor of the Trump presidency being "less of a news cycle and more of that 'Battlestar Galactica' episode where the Cylons attack every 33 minutes," which I shared with him after I saw it tweeted from the Atlantic's Matt Ford, in both his columns at the Daily Banter and on the podcast.
I never met Chez Pazienza, I only knew him through his writing and commentary and those few interactions on social media. But Chez was someone that made my political awareness more informed and more full of wit, and he was personable and friendly and willing to interact on social media, and I'm stunned that he's gone. Heartfelt condolences to his fiancee, his daughters, and Bob Cesca, his partner in podcasts. If someone as far removed as I am misses Chez, I can't imagine what it's like for the people that he was actually close to. Godspeed, sir.
* Update 2/27/17: Turns out Chez backslid into his heroin habit, which is a shame on a number of levels, not the least of which is all of the work he did to get clean years ago. His editor at the Daily Banter gave some details today in a candid obituary and Bob discussed it a little bit on the Stephanie Miller Show today. Goddamnit, Chez. Sigh.
If it's Monday, it must be time for another letter to Congress.
That's the way it is here in Trumpistan—every day there's a new outrage. So, gotta make our voices heard, especially since I didn't participate in the airport demonstration or the downtown rally last night. I sent the same one to all three of my reps, and by all means, feel free to crib for your own letters to Congress (though if you do, don't copy me verbatim, if it starts to look like a form letter it'll have less credence).
January 30, 2017
Dear Sen. Maria Cantwell :
Dear Sen. Patty Murray :
Dear Rep. Pramila Jayapal :
Hi. Me again. I know, this is starting to become a ritual.
Today's plea regards the upcoming votes on cabinet nominees. Please, for the sake of all humanity, oppose with vigor the confirmations of Betsy DeVos, Jeff Sessions, Scott Pruitt, Tom Price, ... you know what? Every remaining Trump cabinet appointee is horrendous. They ALL need to be denied.
Perhaps more importantly, it has become crystal clear that the president is being controlled by Steve Bannon, a man no one elected to anything. This neo-Nazi is writing presidential executive orders and directing policy, taking advantage of Mr. Trump's obvious intellectual and psychological deficiencies to pursue an agenda of bigotry and mayhem. (He has said -- out loud! -- that his goal is to "destroy the state.") Steve Bannon needs to be denied as well. I don't know offhand what authority Congress can bring to bear on someone with a "White House adviser" title, but somehow, some way, he has to be removed from his position of influence.
The Trump Administration has been in power for just a week-and-a-half and the damage has been mind-boggling. Trump and Bannon's disregard for civil norms, policy procedure, legal review, and basic decency—not to mention the Constitution—must not be allowed to continue, lest the chaos of these last few days turn into complete and utter disaster in the next few months, let alone four years. And I haven't even mentioned the brazen, naked corruption happening with the president, his staff, and his cabinet nominees! The number of outrageous things this administration represents is almost infinite.
I'd say focus on the top of the food chain and "simply" impeach Mr. Trump, but I know the Speaker and most of his fellow House Republicans aren't likely to entertain that notion, at least not yet. So until that course becomes feasible, please: Give no quarter.
Oppose these horrid cabinet nominees. Find a way to remove Steve Bannon. Support the judiciary when Trump and his people break the law, as they did with the Muslim immigration ban (and let's not mice words, that's what it's intended to be).
Mr. Tim Harrison
Seattle, WA 98103