Thursday, October 20, 2016

Half a life ago

I was in college the last time the Indians were in the World Series. Remember that team? I can still name the whole lineup - Thome at first, Baerga at second, Vizquel at short, Fryman at third, Manny, Kenny, and Joey called Albert manning the outfield, Sandy behind the plate... Oh wait, Baerga and Belle were gone by then, and Fryman didn't come until the next year.

Funny how fragile memory is. I should have at least remembered that Matt Williams was at third.

Those were some great teams - five first place finishes in a row, culminating with a 1997 pennant. I was studying in Luxembourg that autumn, the junior year that changed everything. I didn't get to watch any of the playoffs, not that I can remember anyway, but we did get to see a few World Series games. Back then, we had to walk uphill both ways in the snow to get to a baseball game, and MLB.TV hadn't been invented yet.

We watched a couple of games at my host family's house. The games were condensed, so they lasted less than two hours. I tried not to find out the scores before watching, but sometimes a student would give it away. Kramer!

My host father is, well, a racist. He watched a game with us and I'll never forget his amusement at the fact that Devon White was a black guy with the last name White. It is, in fact, my strongest memory of the entire World Series. How strange is that?

Other games we watched at a local bar right next to our school. It was full of old, grumpy men and my housemate and I were two college girls demanding that an old, grumpy bartender play a foreign sport that nobody watched there on the single, small screen television in the corner of the bar. I think we watched two games in there under the unwelcoming eyes of the bar's aged patrons. But he let us watch.

The things you do for baseball.

I don't remember too much about the specifics of the Series, but I do remember the disappointment as the fake team with the rent-a-players and the evil owner poured onto the field in triumph. I had liked the Indians as the "other" Ohio team and had even seen a game at Municipal Stadium back when they were ripe for a comedy to be made about them. That Game 7 loss was tough.

A Cubs-Indians World Series is gonna be classic. Hopefully, Cleveland won't be on the losing end this time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Z is for Zombie

Oh, the suffering! Droopy eyes, foggy brain, yawning mouth opening and closing like Chris Christie's refrigerator, swells of coffee useless against the ravages of sleep deprivation. But for what, I ask?


Ratings? How? When most of the weary country partakes in nocturnal routine, slumbering while the boys of summer are lumbering through a California autumn, how can ratings be more than a pipe dream conjured by the opiates of greed and bad decisions?

Three ay em, the wee hours, dreamland, a pipe dream for the diehard. The diehard is dying. While the powers that be have no problem starting the "lesser" teams at lesser times, we lesser people are to choose between the sacred advent of our chosen religion and the debilitating case of lesser sleep.

The woe of bias, of favoritism, a team of interest, yes, but not three hours into a new day, not even after 108 years (108 stitches)...why must we the people of baseball suffer so?

I hope the Cubs lose to spite MLB.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


I have spent most of my adult life working with democracy and peace activists. These include people who have been imprisoned, tortured, exiled, whose family and friends have been destroyed by dictators or war or both, whose lives have been wrecked and sometimes rebuilt and sometimes wrecked again. It's not a pretty world we live in, but it's one we can make better.

I was thinking about Jose Fernandez, as all of us have been, and marveling at what he went through to get here, a refugee from an oppressive regime who risked his life to immigrate to the United States, who traveled here illegally and ended up becoming an American citizen. His name was well-known to the baseball world, but maybe not to the casual fan, until fate put him on a late night boat ride. So many Cuban ballplayers have risked their lives for a sip of the American Dream. We let them, because they are good at sports, but many others are turned away. Things are getting easier since relations with Cuba are thawing, and ballplayers will soon be able to play baseball in the US without risking their lives. It has been incredible to witness this turn of events, to watch history unfold, and I look forward to visiting Cuba one day in the near future.

Why do we value the lives of sports figures more than others? What if Jose had been a doctor instead, or an engineer, or a teacher? Would we mourn him, praise his daring journey to this nation of immigrants, congratulate him on becoming a citizen? Or would we call him a rapist and murderer and call for tougher measures to prevent his kind from getting in?

Given that most Americans have never left the country, let alone visited a refugee camp, they can't even fathom the conditions in which millions of human beings find themselves today, through no fault of their own. More than 60 million people are displaced in this world, meaning they have escaped war or oppression and have no home to return to. Most of them live in refugee camps, which can be tent cities or actual buildings, depending on where in the world and who are the people. The lucky few establish permanent residency somewhere else or even citizenship.

One stunning example of this contrast can be found in Lebanon, where I spent about a year over a two year period working with civil society organizations. After the Turks committed genocide against the Armenians in the early twentieth century, many Armenians found refuge in Beirut. They established a refugee camp that today is just a Beirut neighborhood, albeit with Armenian flavor. The Palestinians did not fare so well during the establishment and expansion of Israel after World War II. They live in dilapidated structures and enjoy few basic rights like citizenship or employment in many professions, as they have been restricted to menial labor. Poverty is rampant; the camps are often the sites of violence and bloodshed. You can go to the Armenian neighborhood of Bourj Hammoud to the infamous Palestinian camps of Sabra and Chatilla in a few minutes by car, yet they are two different worlds. Lebanon also has a million Syrian refugees (the Lebanese population is only four million), as well as refugees from Iraq. And that's just a tiny swath of land barely visible on a world map.

If your heart breaks for Jose Fernandez, if you are sending your "thoughts and prayers" to him and his family, please take some time, too, to think about so many others who have been through something similar as he had and how so many meet tragic ends that go unheralded. Maybe Jose's senseless death can help us to remember them, perhaps finding one ray of light in all the darkness. What is a life, after all, if it does not beget good? Why did we care so deeply about his death, though few of us knew him in life? Because humanity is deep down our true nature. In these times when it seems as if we are surrounded by cruelty and evil, we recognized good in that smile, and even the hardest of hearts felt a stirring, a reminder that the world is flawed but can be good, is probably more good than not.

I have to wonder if more people would care about Syrian refugees if they were good at sports. Sadly, I think the answer is "yes." Let's change that. I have to believe we can.


Well, now, this is the part of the season when it should be exciting, but the races were so dull this year you'd think they just wanted to avoid any discussion about "race" like most of white America...

I'm rooting for the Orioles but they seem hell bent on October vacations. The Nats are all injured now and to be honest I think they were the only team who could have beaten the Cubs in the NLCS. I don't want the Cubs because it would break tradition, and besides, they are in the Reds' division and should be rooted against like they have goat herpes.

Of course I will watch the games but the Reds were so awful this year that I lost a lot of interest in baseball in general. I mean, it's one thing to not make the playoffs, but it's another to have the worst pitching staff in the history of baseball and to watch lead after lead blown by a bullpen worthy of the '62 Mets.

I stopped going to Nats games because of the fans and because of the ridiculous ticket prices. I have lost a lot of enthusiasm for that team and doubt it comes back unless they start improving the baseball experience at the ballpark, meaning less social activities and more baseball watching, more Washington baseball history around the ballpark, encouraging people to stay in their seats and stay for nine innings, and less faux patriotism and conservative back-patting. Sometimes it seems like baseball is an afterthought at Nats Park.

Despite Cubs being favorites, it's more of the same old same old in terms of playoff teams. Seven of the last ten World Series have been won by three teams. I'm sure if the Reds won three or four I wouldn't be complaining, but yawn.

We went to OPACY last week and the stadium was half empty but it was still a good crowd and that ballpark is magical.

This blog post is about nothing.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

The Sacred and the Profane (Part 1)

I had been there once before, in another lifetime, but even time could not erase the memories of that trip. It's almost cliche to call it a cathedral, but that's what it is, something sacred to our hearts and our identities as Americans, even those who don't know it, those who try to tear down sacred things, be it mentally or physically or with cliches and overkill, or those who reconstruct history so that the things we hold dear don't matter anymore.

They do. They do matter more than ever as we lose our identities in the soulless system we have constructed for our lives, one devoid of meaning, one that sneers at "sacred" and "tradition" and seeks always for new new new and buy buy buy and change for the sake of change only, our sad society of marketing and isolation.

Even the names of the streets surrounding Fenway Park are sacred. Ipswich. Landsdowne. Yawkey.

Of course we know the racist legacy of Tom Yawkey. From a Globe columnist:
That the Red Sox are so central to the city’s psyche makes it even more urgent for Boston to act now to banish this legacy of racism.
The Red Sox were the last team to integrate, this we know. Jackie Robinson and two other black players had a tryout for the Sox in 1945 but were not signed. This we also know.

But the Red Sox would not even be there were it not for Tom Yawkey. To call it Yawkey Way is not to overlook his glaring flaws. To pretend it never happened? That is to forget history, and to forget history is to repeat it.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Wait...I just can't. Just rename the damn street and let's move on. This isn't change for the sake of change or new new new. This is taking the profanity out of the sacred. The guy was an active racist at a time when our moral values as a society were changing for the better. As the Civil Rights Movement raged on, Yawkey continued to defy progress.

How about Ted Williams Way?

Fenway Park. Home of the Boston Red Sox. These are magical words to a baseball fan. This is a cathedral. This is sacred. You can roll your eyes at the use of "cathedral" or "sacred," but that just makes something wrong with you. The language of baseball is full of cliches, yes, but no other game has had more effect on our language than baseball. The cliches are cliches because media personalities are not as skilled in the art of language as they once were. Think about it. What distinguishes a Vin Scully or a Marty Brennaman from a Bob Carpenter or a Thom Brennaman is a mastery of the English language. Some creative chap came up with the terms "can of corn," "bush leaguer," and "hot corner." Have any good terms entered the baseball lexicon in the last ten years? We can't even come up with good nicknames anymore. (A-Rod, K-Rod, etc.)

Fenway Park is not a cliche.

Playing the Indians is just a coincidence
We tore our country down and put up corporate chains and strip malls and housing developments to isolate ourselves from each other. They tried to tear down this ballpark but the people said no. The people. Because when does it stop?

There's a reason populism reared its ugly head in this election cycle. People think Sanders or Trump are going to give them back what they think politicians took from them. But politicians didn't take from them. Corporations did. And the people let them. Fenway is one of the few relics left from a time when our communities and cities had an identity, before there was a Starbucks on every corner and people got excited when a Five Guys came into their neighborhood. You don't think it matters, but it does. There is a soullessness to Americans today, an emptiness, excused away by "chemical imbalances" like depression or ADHD, but these are really a result of a crisis of identity. Hence the reason people cling so desperately to tribalism and ideology and whatever is trendy and how they fall so easily for marketing and propaganda. They feel an intense need to belong to something, to identify with something, anything, to fill the hole where meaning should be.

Fenway means something to people. Ballparks and baseball mean something to people. Having something stand for so long makes it a part of a culture and gives a society identity. The Red Sox cap might as well be a City of Boston uniform. The team is as much a part of Boston as Guinness and cah pahks. Frankly, I'm jealous. Riverfront Stadium wasn't the prettiest park, but it was a part of my childhood and part of my identity. I'm also jealous of the kids who are growing up with GABp and the Banks area. What a great job they've done around the ballpark. I hope those kids don't suffer the sight of their ballpark being torn down. Maybe we'll regain some sense by the time they reach that age. Hope springs eternal.

The first World Series
The butterflies-in-stomach feeling that I get when I go to most ballparks (Nats Park, Citi Field, and Target Field are notable exceptions) was more pronounced when I went to Fenway in May. We took a tour on a Saturday morning before a game started at 4pm. We were going to the game the next day. It was fun to climb around the ballpark without any people in the stands. Here are some pics from the tour:

Haha, losers!

Even the restrooms are sponsored.

There is something mysterious about an empty ballpark.

These have to be uncomfortable sitting there for nine innings. Or even one.

Seems to be as famous as the ballpark.

The reason people think the Sox won that series...

They have their own garden. That would be an awesome job!

500 footer

The meager museum room made me appreciate the Reds Hall of Fame Museum even more.

Put him in the Hall!

 To be continued...

Monday, August 01, 2016

Propaganda in the Twenties

Part 1 of this series
Part 2 of this series

Part 3:

You have to understand what propaganda is to grasp just how dangerous it is. But you also have to learn to recognize it when you see it so you don't fall victim to it.

If you are reading this, you probably have fallen victim to propaganda. If you've ever purchased something you have seen in an ad, you are a victim of propaganda.

The word first came into use in the seventeenth century as the Catholic Church was trying to recover from the Protestant schism. (If you're Catholic you are probably familiar with the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.) Of course, it wasn't the first time propaganda was used. You can find recorded instances dating back to ancient Athens. You know about Greek theater - but did you know it was very often used as propaganda? Of course you do know if you know anything at all about ancient Greek theater. Of course you do. And those who don't? Shame on you! Ancient Greece is part of American history, after all.

The twenties were a time when propaganda was becoming its own kind of institution, a time when Edward Bernays had yet to overthrow governments with US taxpayer dollars but was still selling you soap and cigarettes with his uncle Freud's psychology theories, his uncle, father of modern psychology, the man who theorized about the id and the ego.

Ego has, for some reason, become synonymous for narcissism and self-importance, but that is not the original meaning of the word. The "ego" simply means "self." More specifically, it's the part of the mind that mediates between the conscience and the unconscience. It's what gives a person a sense of identity.

Then again, psychology itself is misunderstood. You can thank American pop psychologists whose egos in the general sense of the word reduced the real science of psychology to a pseudoscience, a grand tradition that continues today with such celebrities as Dr. Phil.

What is the science of psychology, then? It is the study of the human mind. It seeks to understand human behavior through the conscious and unconscious experiences of individuals AND groups.

Like everything in life, it can be used for evil. 

While white Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were slugging homers and entertaining white and black Americans alike, an Austrian corporal enamored with his white skin was beginning to understand the power of psychology to promote an agenda. Ideas were one thing, but symbols, flags, and fear would win over supporters. Symbols ARE important to our world. Semiotics (or semiology) is the study of signs, symbols, and how they are significant. It is closely related to the field of linguistics, which studies words. Both are inseparable from psychology, and from these comes propaganda. He thought the Social Democrats he despised had used what he called the "infamous spiritual and physical terror" to win supporters in Vienna. Fear is a powerful seller.

Iron Cross, First Class assigned ex-servicemen to National Socialist meetings to silence hecklers and protestors, then organized Ordnertruppe - strong arm squads - to keep order. Later they were officially renamed "Sturmabteilung." Storm Troopers. They wore brown shirts and eventually took to breaking up meetings of OTHER political parties. Political rallies became violent. Iron Cross, First Class even led one of these attacks, which landed him a three month prison sentence (only one of which he served.)

The concept of the "hero" is also a good seller, born of the same manipulation as fear. Though baseball players had been used to sell products since the late nineteenth century (the famous Honus Wagner baseball card was printed for a tobacco company,) it wasn't until the twenties when endorsements began to be common as the United States was undergoing what could be called a "consumer revolution." Prior to WWI, endorsements were rare and were mostly limited to sporting goods, part of the reason baseball developed a reputation as a "healthy" endeavor.

Then came the ads for cigarettes, beer, sodas, and guns, among other things. As endorsement advertising grew, so, too did the controversy surround it. Baseball Commissioner Landis worried that money for endorsing products was a guise for payment to throw games, though he never acted on it. Endorsements were seen as fraud by many parties, including the FTC, not to mention that Americans widely viewed the practice as objectionable. (The fraud charges continued for decades - Mickey Mantle got into trouble for endorsing a brand of milk he did not drink.)

None of these things would have been possible without Sigmund Freud or his nephew Edward Bernays, father of the field of "public relations" and Woodrow Wilson's WWI propaganda minister. Baseball players had been symbols of health, and once the view had been firmly established, they could have sold anything, even guns to children. And nobody thinks twice about it.

That's what propaganda does - it normalizes a product, a brand, an idea, an ideology. That's the point of marketing and propaganda of other sorts. You appeal to a person's ego, or a group's ego, and you choose words and symbols that will arouse specific emotions in them, and they come to see that product or idea as right or true to them. Sure, people objected to the baseball player endorsements, but enough just accepted it as normal that it became normal. Babe Ruth didn't buy his kids the guns he sold. It was enough to give the perception that he liked the product.

This works whether you are sending a seemingly positive message, as in "I like this product," or an inflammatory message - "I hate this product." "I hate this person." "I hate this group." It works by appealing to the ego - that sense of self, including all the hyphenated words that come with it (self-esteem, self-importance, self-awareness, etc.)

The flag.

Is there a more potent piece of propaganda than a flag? The flag inspires feelings of pride, patriotism, and belonging for those who support it. For those who don't? Loathing. Disgust. Evil.

For most Americans and Westerners, the flag that Austrian failed artist designed is a symbol of the worse evil bestowed upon mankind. The simple flag - red background, white circle, and black swastika (once a symbol of harmony found in ruins of ancient Egypt, Troy, China, India, and elsewhere), became the embodiment of death and destruction.

This was AND STILL IS the worst period in human history. The trick is to keep it from happening again. (Not everyone loathes the swastika flag, and indeed it is making a comeback among a swath of Trump supporters.)

"A symbol it really is! In red we see the social idea of the movement, in white the nationalist idea, and in the swastika the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man." - Mein Kampf

What is propaganda?

Chances are, you have fallen victim to it. Buy these cigarettes. Buy Coca Cola. Buy America.

Think, people. Think.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Baseball and Life during Peacetime

Read the first part of this series here.

World War I had been called the Great War and The War to End All Wars, but it was neither great nor did it end war. Instead, it set the world up for the worst war in the history of mankind, one in which unspeakable acts were committed in the name of ideology.

No one knew it at the time, and things began to return to life as usual, baseball included. Only it wasn't so usual. Following the Black Sox scandal of 1919 (the Reds did not win because of it - they were a good team that could have won regardless), baseball needed a hero who could lead the game into a new decade and leave the past behind. The dead ball era was over as the world became alive again; line drives replaced bullets and home runs replaced bombs. Mustard went on hotdogs instead of eyes. Babe Ruth replaced General Pershing as America's hero. Attendance rose by 50% from the 10's, and America fell in love with baseball all over again.

The world seemed to have come to terms with itself. Peace and prosperity appeared to be reality. Booze was banned in America but it just made the parties better as they moved underground. It was all a facade, of course. That Austrian corporal with the German Iron Cross, First Class, was contemplating entering politics. He was thirty-something years old and mad at the world - the world being run by "scoundrel Jews," of course. His mindset wasn't unique, however, as the Bavarian rightwing clung to the "stabbed in the back" mythos. Conservatives despised the new democratic republic and the individual freedoms it brought; they longed for a return to the monarchy, the good old days. And there was the defeated Army with nothing to do, minds destroyed by the horrors of the war they had just waged, morale destroyed by the loss and the stipulations of the armistice. Militias sprung up everywhere; the disgruntled Army helped equip them for fear of the rise of socialism. Berlin was briefly occupied by one of these rightwing brigades in March 1920 until a general strike by the trade unions restored the republic. At the same time, a coup overthrew a socialist government in Munich, installing a rightwing regime. This was the climate in Bavaria, one of angry conservatives armed to the teeth, a climate that Iron Cross, First Class found home.

That was far away from the ballparks of America. While the United States lost about 117,000 troops, Americans never really felt the full effects of the war because it didn't happen here. I suppose it made it easier to get back to living life. Germany had lost 2 million soldiers and 2.5 million civilians while ravaging cities and countryside alike. You have to imagine what it was like, to see your homes and villages destroyed, to see bombed out bridges and burnt up forests, to see your childhood memories demolished and wonder if your country could ever be whole again, if you could ever be you again. Germany's population at the start of the war was 67 million; there was not a German who didn't know dozens of dead by the end of it.

I think the whole world was in denial. Americans certainly were, getting fake rich and falling under the spell of consumerism. That a game could grow so big and start making so much money was testament to that. But it was always more than a game, wasn't it? It was that pastime that had found its way from Valley Forge to the Civil War to history's worst war, and it was solace and unity and summer and the proverbial return to innocence, if only for a couple of hours a day. While the Giants and the Yankees took turns winning World Series in that decadent decade and using the Middlewestern teams as their own AAAA farm clubs, the haves in the real world were having and having some more and the baseball loving POTUS was promising a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage and then there were no chickens or pots or cars or garages.

The haves were having and having some more everywhere. That's how communism rose. It's how the German Workers Party rose. As fate would have it, the Army ordered Iron Cross, First Class to attend one of the latter's meetings to investigate. A crank economist who had developed a religious devotion to the idea that speculative capital had caused Germany's economic trouble, calling it "interest slavery," spoke at one of these meetings, where the first seeds of evil of something called National Socialism were sown. The founder, a locksmith by trade, had set up a "Committee of Independent Workmen" to counter the growing popularity of Marxism in the trade unions. Peas in a pod. Both were formed out of contempt for the middle class and the establishment. Both blamed the middle class and the establishment for their troubles and scorned them for their lack of understanding of the social problems of the lower class.

This is populism.

With the German variety came an intense hatred for the post-war democratic republic that had been established and the people that were running it. This new German Workers Party was full of misfits who had failed at life, failed to see their own flaws, and blamed everyone else for their problems. They did have a point - the social ills were real and they were often ignored. The haves were having and having some more and then some more after that and many people pretended this wasn't happening or didn't care because they had theirs. But the freaks in the German Workers Party probably couldn't have made it anywhere - a fat, gay Army captain, a crazy locksmith, a failed playwright whose works had only been performed by patients in a mental hospital, a crank economist, and an untalented painter with an Iron Cross, First Class had found each other in the wrong place at the wrong time and the whole world suffered for it.

Baseball advertising was as old as the Major Leagues, going back to tobacco cards, but it took on a life of its own in the twenties. Babe Ruth sold soda, candy, cigarettes, and guns. Lou Gehrig sold batteries and breakfast cereals. Jimmie Foxx sold bats and lubricants. Owners were coming up with new ways to make money and enticing fans to come to games. But baseball was just going along with a new craze. As Edward Bernays was telling Americans to buy soap because it was 99% pure and eat bacon for breakfast because it was patriotic and women to smoke because it would give them freedom, that Iron Cross, First Class, was also mastering the art of propaganda.

To be continued...

(Incidentally, Bernays despised democracy, too, preferring "enlightened despotism." Peas in pods.)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Baseball is Life during Wartime

Everything in history has happened because of what happened before it. You, reading this on your laptop or your mobile phone, or if you're older, your PC with a giant monitor, may or may not contemplate how amazing it is that of 6,000 years of recorded human history (recorded, people), we have been able to communicate by distance for less than two hundred years. Coincidentally, that's about the same time baseball has been, well, baseball in America.

It's no secret that I am enamored with the role baseball has played in our nation's history and am fond of saying George Washington played catch with his troops at Valley Forge and Abe Lincoln watched games played on the White House lawn. (I have written some pretty great stuff about it all that you've never read because I am incapable of finishing anything. I am hoping this little endeavor that I am beginning will change that, because a lot is stake right now in our country and I once again turn to baseball to fix it.)

The American Civil War was no accident. Slavery was ending as colonialism was ending, and slavery was a product of the Western colonial era. The Civil War was as much a result of a changing global order which saw empires falling as it was a problem with human rights or the Union. This change had a lot to do with the outbreak of World War I, a war in which a young, failed artist from Austria suffered a mustard gas attack by the British and cemented an ideology of Hate. His regiment was in the thick of the fighting all spring and summer of 1918 while the US was fighting its second summer to save Europe from itself. He was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class that August for capturing 15 British soldiers singlehandedly. Or French, depending on which account you are reading.

The minor leagues had closed up shop in 1917 but MLB owners kept the majors open. Unlike WWII, despite what they claimed as patriotism, it wasn't for morale for the country. It was pure greed. The US government had pressured them to shut down and let the players contribute to the war effort, but they would not. They were roundly criticized by the public, and they cut travel and shortened the season in 1918 thinking that would appease the critics.

But the assholes also cut player salaries as a result. Real patriotic.

The reigning World Series champs White Sox were looking as good as the previous season and the Giants were set to repeat as NL champs. In a perfect world - or even a half decent world - they would have had a rematch.

On July 1, 1918, the "Work or Fight Order" went into effect, and all draft-eligible men employed in non-essential occupations had to apply for work that was related to the war or risk being drafted. Playing a game for a living was considered a non-essential occupation. The deadline was extended until September 1 for ballplayers, and then the owners lobbied/paid bribes(probably) to have it extended two more weeks so they could play the World Series, the only one to be played entirely in September. But the players didn't wait. By season's end, each team had lost an average of 15 players due to voluntary enlistment, and both the White Sox and the Giants lost their best players (Shoeless Joe among them.) (775 ballplayers fought in World War I. You can find them all here.)

Instead, the Red Sox played the Cubs in the Fall (Technically Summer) Classic, defeating them in six games as the war in Europe raged on. Babe Ruth - you might have heard of him - was instrumental in the victory, his final year in that uniform. It was the last World Series Boston would win for a very long time, because of the curse, you know. And you know about the Cubs, who had started a curse of their own a decade before.

A month after the final out, that gas attack took place in the last Battle of Ypres and that young psychopath with the Iron Cross, First Class, was laid up in a hospital bed, unable to see a thing except the warped visions in his head. Germany was losing the war to "invisible foes," who were a "greater danger to the German people than the biggest cannon of the enemy."

Those "invisible foes," of course, were Jews and Marxists.

The other soldiers hated the future fascist. "We all cursed him and found him intolerable...There was this white crow among us that didn't go along with us when we damned the war to hell." He'd sit "in the corner of our mess holding his head between his hands in deep contemplation." Then he'd leap up and go on a rant about the invisible foes, scoundrels who cursed the war and wished for its quick end. They were slackers, and who but Jews could be slackers?

Germany lost the war a month after the attack at Ypres, but they hadn't been defeated by the British or the Americans or the French...Jews had defeated them. Jews had stabbed the country in the back.

That "stabbed in the back" conspiratorial myth did more than anything else to bring the fall of the Weimer Republic that followed Germany's defeat. It is astounding that this myth was so widespread among the German people. "November criminals," they said.

The truth is, if the German army hadn't insisted on signing the armistice, Germany could have very easily fallen into the hands of the Bolsheviks, and history would look very different. Maybe not better, probably not worse, but we'll never know, will we? All we can do is learn from what actually happened in the past and work to change it.

Back in the US, the White Sox, with all their players back, were on their way to another pennant. But we were in the throes of corruption, emboldened by a war victory, feeling invincible, gambling. While Europe was celebrating into oblivion into the next decade, conservative Christians were banning everything they didn't like in the US. One of those was alcohol. Another was black people. Even though they weren't playing in the league at that point, Kennesaw Mountain Landis saw to it that no person of dark skin would play a Major League game until he was long dead and burning in hell. Capitalists made fake fortunes off the working man and then crashed the economy. The twenties were a mess. Everyone thought they could do whatever they wanted even when the law said they couldn't.

The Roaring Twenties came to an end. So did the Weimer Republic. So, too, did civility.

And then, darkness set upon us all...

This is going to be a series. All World War II  references come from The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. It is by far the definitive book on the rise and fall of a psychopath. Yes, I do know how to properly cite references. But the Blogger platform has no footnote option.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Brunhilda isn't wailing yet...

Watched the Nats-Reds series this weekend with enthusiasm after initial disinterest because the Reds have been so...what's the word? Disappointing isn't it, because we didn't expect much this year. But we expected more than this. Appalling comes to mind. I don't know. It's some kind of negative emotion, but maybe there isn't a word in English for it. However, I got into it the game Friday night when the Reds decided to be a Major League baseball team, then was excited to see them defeat the Nats again on Saturday.

All it did was make me think irrational thoughts about potentially maybe possibly recovering enough to compete for the Wild Card. Because the offense is good. Half of the offense won two division titles and appeared in three post seasons in the last five years. Sure, we lost our All Star catcher to injury and third baseman to trade, but Suarez can hit and Duvall has surprised everyone and the team can score runs.

Of course, the rotation is at best questionable, but Homer is making his way back and Desclafani will be pitching soon and Stephenson already has an MLB W under his belt. If Finnegan can figure out how to put more pitches over the plate, he'll be serviceable if not good.

But the Reds' front office threw in the towel before the season ever began and we've been stuck with this shitshow of a bullpen, a revolving door of future DFAs and guys who have no business wearing MLB jerseys anywhere other than the stands. It is no exaggeration to say this is the worst Reds bullpen I have every witnessed. Prove me wrong with your fancy numbers. You can't. The bullpen ERA is OVER SIX.

You know, you can "rebuild" and still put a competitive team on the field.

Anyway, there's always a part of me with irrational hope no matter how bleak things look. Don't forget that when I seem like the most negative of Nancys.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Dear Dan Haren

I read this article about you yesterday and for some reason woke up this morning with it on my mind. I had this post all written out in my head while I was lying there in the pre-coffee hours but wonder if I'll be able to put it into writing now that I've migrated to the couch, where I will be watching baseball in a few minutes while the winds of March blow outside on this May day. This post really isn't to you or about you, but I feel it could help the reader if I wrote it as if I were speaking to a real person. Or maybe it just helps me write it.

I guess the article resonated with me because I know what it's like to deal with anxiety. Anxiety makes me procrastinate to the point where sometimes I don't do things that must be done at all. I won't take drugs for it because I know that drugs don't fix the root of the problem, which is the way we live our lives in American society, and society seems so unwilling to change its unsustainable lifestyle that we will surely meet our destruction before we deal with our country's worsening mental health epidemic.

I work in an uncelebrated and oft criticized field that doesn't get the spotlight of sports, though what we do is more important than what you did for a living, given that we are helping people who suffer from war and oppression. The only time we get the spotlight is when there is a foreign aid corruption scandal. Then it's usually said that all NGOs have too much overhead, as if us human rights workers are supposed to work for free and not earn a living. We tend to live in big cities where the organizations are located and where the cost of living should be criminal, so we're usually living paycheck to paycheck and sometimes deciding which bill to pay late each month, at least until we have put in enough years for our 3% cost of living raises to add up to something useful. Most of you MLB ballplayers have no concept of what that is like, or you forget. You yourself put so much pressure on yourself because you thought quitting and losing out on another $15 million put your family at risk. That is offensive to those who work their asses off in industries that are not valued as sports are in this country. As a society, our values are warped. But I get that you guys work your asses off, too, and you felt like you earned it. For your industry, you did.

I quit once. I had the same thoughts as you did. I had quit in my head many times and then one day when the the stress of barely scraping by had finally gotten to me, I took my last paycheck and went to live in the cheapest European country I could find - Bulgaria - for a few months just to get away from it all. I think the suffering of people had overtaken my unconscious mind. I thought I would get some writing done, maybe publish a book, come back with a fresh perspective, but I came back and had trouble finding a job because in my field, it's not necessarily about talent. It's about who you know, like it is in many other industries. I had yet to learn that so I kept applying for jobs without using the connections I had made. Then one day, out of the blue, when depression had set up permanent residence in my psyche, one of those connections offered me a job, and I started on a journey that opened my eyes to the real world in a way I could never have known sitting behind a desk in our nation's capital. Your wife told you to "use perspective" and "there is more to life than baseball." Boy, is she right.

I spent a year over the course of two years living in Beirut. I felt like I was living in the center of the news. You see, those people live every day with the stress of the threat of destruction. People my age had grown up with the bullets and bombs of the world consuming all that was good in their lives. People refer to it as the "Lebanese Civil War," but it was a World War fought in a tiny country between various Lebanese militias, the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Iranians, the Syrians, the Saudis, the Russians, and us Americans.

While you and I were playing baseball and softball at age 14, my friend was driving a makeshift ambulance with a group of his friends to help those blown up by car bombs or airstrikes. Some of my first memories of the world outside the United States were about news of hostages and the bombings of our embassy and the Marine barracks. But those things happened so far away from my Ohio suburban home that it was as if they weren't real. They weren't real until I went there two decades later, and I saw the vestiges of war, bombed out buildings, bullet holes, and the psychological scars of a society that had experienced the apocalypse.

The fifteen year war ended in 1990, but it wasn't truly over. There were more bombs and assassinations and the militias still rule today. Sometimes it takes a year for them to put together a government. They haven't had a president for - what is it, three years now? They ran out of landfill room, so trash has been piling up for a year and counting. Israel periodically comes and bombs them. Hezbollah is the most powerful political party. One fifth of the country are refugees from Palestine, Syria, and Iraq.  ISIS keeps trying to come in. The Syrians are attempting to wipe themselves out next door, a war that sometimes spills over the officially defined borders into Lebanese territory. They aren't even allowed to attend their league's soccer games for fear of militia violence, so they can only watch on TV. Imagine playing to empty ballparks every single day. These are the realities of life in Lebanon and too many other places on this planet. But people keep pushing on.

Here in America, we have no concept of war. As most WWII vets have passed, few of us has suffered war on American soil, which is a reason 9/11 was overwhelmingly traumatic for many people. We glorify our soldiers, unaware of the reality of what military life entails or what it means to "defend the country" or why we are even fighting the wars in the first place. Most Americans don't serve, so they are ripe targets for military propaganda. Hell, many MLB ballplayers won't even serve their country by playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. Patriotism is waving a flag, clapping for troops, and saying a pledge of allegiance that was originally created as a marketing gimmick. The reality is that most soldiers aren't heroes, the wars are unjust, the DOD spends billions on propaganda that is working, and military life is often mundane. So you aren't alone in lack of perspective. It's practically the American Way.

The hero worship is, as you are well aware, not confined to the military. Our obsession with sports figures and celebrities is unhealthy at best. We expect you to be machines. You aren't human. We don't know you personally and it is rare to have any interaction with you at all, so what we see on the field or in the newspaper is all we have to go on. I am one who probably called you a whiner for not accepting the trade to the Marlins, and I apologize for that. I'm really trying to be nicer on social media. The climate is just so toxic that it is hard sometimes, as it gets into your unconscious and you don't even realize your tone is too sharp or too bitter. Then there's all the social polarization and the intentional wedge driving by politicians, and people fall in line with the propaganda, and it is just impossible to filter out all that negativity. It's like virtual liver cirrhosis - the poison has overwhelmed and destroyed our filtering system.

But anxiety is a real thing, and you can "have perspective" rationally while your insides are torn up. Those who have never experienced it or have never had a panic attack just don't get it. It's not something you can control, and it can happen to you even if you're sitting on your couch doing nothing. I've read a great deal about psychology, some on my own and some for university work. While studying in Europe, I took a course that focused on the psychology of adolescents who grew up in traumatic circumstances, largely revolving around World War II. We went to Terezenstadt near Prague, which was considered a "model" concentration camp by the Nazis who showed it off to international groups like the Red Cross to show they treated their prisoners "well." You should have seen some of the artwork drawn by the children they had on display. The human mind is a fragile thing, and for all our conscious thoughts, there are unconscious influences.

But you don't have to experience something as horrific as a concentration camp for your mind to mess you up. Sigmund Freud did groundbreaking work in the field of psychoanalysis, even though he was wrong on some things. Carl Jung was his student and became his equal. They both studied the unconscious mind and discovered that a lot of our conscious problems stem from an inability to reconcile them with our unconscious. Science is showing that anxiety stems from the unconscious mind and that until we are able to have more balance in our lives and resolve the conflict between the conscious and unconscious, we will continue to suffer from it, and no amount of talk about perspective will fix that. But we must strive for that balance.

I don't know if you have seen a therapist but s/he'd probably tell you something that happened in your youth is responsible for the anxiety. I think about this a lot and think of the family turmoil in my development years and am pretty sure my anxiety is rooted in that, and despite the fact that I was the best student in my class growing up and the best athlete, I never feel adequate enough in my professional life. I think my experiences in Lebanon helped me to bring some of the unconscious concerns to my consciousness, and I've learned to take control of some of that anxiety. But I could never go on TV, even though I have the expertise to talk about certain issues, and I have a hard time participating in meetings or talking on the phone unless I have spent hours preparing for it. I feel uncomfortable in social situations, which just gets worse as I get older. I used to post to this blog every day, but then the internet got mean and I lost my desire to write. I moved to short memory Twitter and racked up a decent number of followers, but like you I found the environment difficult. Sometimes I'll call someone out on Twitter for being a total garbage human being, then won't check my mentions for days for fear of the reply. I usually apologize if I am in the wrong, but that's not enough for some people. We shouldn't - we can't - let people get away with being awful people. We can't let rotten individuals throw our country in the trash. As Dr. King said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

I liked the LA Times article, because it didn't try to glorify you, or pity you, or make us feel any sort of manufactured emotion. It was just a normal human story, and the writer didn't Hollywood it. (Kind of ironic, given the paper.) I think writers often start off with good intentions but get lost in the pressure to reach readers or get stuck on the rules of journalism school textbooks. I'm sure the pressure of deadlines hurts the work, too. There is pressure in every job and to be honest, sportswriters probably receive more negative criticism than struggling ballplayers because they are more accessible in the Internet Age and they tend to be viewed as mouthpieces for the teams they cover, as if they are the ones making the decisions. Some of the criticism is warranted as they spew cliches and avoid controversial topics for fear of losing access, but a lot of negativity comes from people who can barely put together a coherent sentence but feel their "opinions" are of the same value as anyone else's. That probably stems from our culture of giving everyone a participation trophy so no one's feelings are hurt and the emphasis on standardized tests in our schools that inhibits the development of critical thinking skills. We should fix that, too.

I think more of us are becoming aware of the toxins in our society, and I hope we can find the political will to change the situation before it consumes us. What we see on Twitter is a microcosm for greater societal problems. The poisonous discourse has grown to a level that is threatening to destroy this country, as mass shootings become normalized, violence plagues our political gatherings, and a demagogue rises to power on the backs of bigotry and hatred. I can actually imagine the things people said to you, because I see the vitriol every day. These are probably unconscious feelings of inadequacy manifesting themselves in the form of what can only be called "meanness." We shouldn't accept that.

So here I am, several baseball games from when I began this post, and I'm still not entirely sure why the article was on my mind this morning. The point is perspective, I think. It seems you've found it. Plenty of things to do in life. Choose to do good and some of that anxiety will be relieved. I wish I had more to offer you, some advice, an opportunity, anything, really. I'm still trying to figure things out for myself, still wondering why so many people are awful, why meanness is acceptable, why our country seems unwilling to do anything about its problems except make them worse. Good luck to you.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

oh hey, look, there's an app for this

i really have no excuse not to post anymore.

I was at the Scherzer game last night. Twenty K's. I've been to Game 5 of the 2002 World Series, Randy Johnson's 300th win, and the Nationals Opening Day for the return of baseball to DC. This was up there with those games.

I left my seat once the entire game. There seemed to be less of that up and down stuff so typical of fans at Nats Park once Scherzer hit 15 strikeouts. Fewer fans left the game early, too, although some still did. Soulless creatures, those folks.

The oddest thing about the game was that the scoreboard operators never put "20 strikeouts" on the board. The outfield fence scoreboard had "kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk" but you'd think they'd put something up immediately. Even after the game they flashed "Nats win" as if this were just another ordinary game. Five times in history, folks. Seems like the scoreboard is so over programmed that there's no room for spontaneity. Style over substance.

Also, I should mention that the all beef hotdogs are far superior to Nats dogs.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

No joy in Mudville

Part 1

I wanted to write something about baseball but I'm sort of out of words for it. But I'll try.

I started this blog when I was still in my twenties and as I was going back through some of the old posts looking for a particular one on Bonds, I thought how fun I had maintaining it and what unbridled passion I felt. That's your twenties, though. If you do it right, anyway.

I remember our after work happy hours, arguing about politics and world affairs and thinking we all could save the world with our own naive ideas. They were naive, but they were informed, at least. You can't really say the same for some of the people who open their mouths today. I mean, there are people who think that you can just print money and your country will be ok. Ever heard of Weimer Republic? Probably not. Look it up to find out why you can't just print money.

Anyway, when blogging first started, there was a community and people wrote on blogs because they were passionate about whatever they were writing about. Your blog was ranked based on links to it and there wasn't money involved. It wasn't who paid the most that got the readers; it was who wrote the best. Because you needed links, you visited others' sites and formed communities where you conversed about your shared interests. This was fun, back when people who knew how to write were the ones on the internet and the mouthbreathers were trying to find the computer's on switch. Hard to believe it was a decade ago, but time flies when you throw a clock through a window.

The Reds were awful at that time, but not so often that you couldn't muster hope until about August each year. The offense was good. Home runs were sailing into the incandescent summer evenings under the ballpark lights and we had yet to raise a generation that had not known a Reds World Series championship.

I didn't watch many Reds games last year because my internet didn't work correctly and I was stuck in a Comcast contract and they refused to acknowledge that it didn't work. Oh, and the team was so awful and I was so disappointed that I think that my heart would have ripped to shreds. I think back to only ten years ago and no corporation would have been able to get away with robbing someone like that, but that was before Citizens United and United States citizens decided it was ok to give control of their lives to corporations. Granted, the internet was not as fast and MLB.TV was not in HD but you know what? It worked. (It took us almost a year and Comcast finally fixed the problem so I can watch this year.) There was no Facebook to control what content we see and Google was giving out email addresses by invitation only and the internet was enjoyable. We had fun. I made stupid photoshops like this:

We were civil to each other. We had blogger "roundtables." We had something called "blogrolls," and they were as important as the blog itself. No one got paid to do anything. No one put ads on their blogs.

What happened was this: Google. It got to be that you had to spend more time promoting your blog, focusing on search engine optimization, paying for social media ads, and using analytics than you did actually writing the content. Oh, and Americans' attention spans dropped four seconds in the span of a decade thanks to social media and they couldn't read anymore. And the incivility. Oh, the incivility.

Bryce Harper has the unbridled passion of a twenty-something. Worse, a young twenty-something who has grown up knowing only one thing in life: baseball. He's the youngest guy to every win an MVP. And when his mouth is shut, he's fun to watch.

But then it opens.

Tonight he may have done the worst thing he's ever done, worse than even blowing the kiss at the pitcher after he hit a minor league home run. While his team was celebrating a walk off home run, he was yelling "fuck you" at the ump for throwing him out of the game a batter earlier. He wasn't even batting. He was in the dugout. Getting thrown out of a tie game for yelling at the ump is bad enough, but your team is celebrating a walk off win and you have to seek out the ump to yell profanities at him?

This is the Bryce Harper that is not fun to watch, the one that people hate.

Worse? Watching people defend this behavior or get their Bryce Harper Underoos in bunches when they hear criticism of it, incapable of comprehending why what he did was wrong.

Your team just won. You don't go seeking out vengeance. You overshadowed the heroics of a teammate who doesn't get much of a spotlight. It was a classless act, absolute garbage. It wasn't passion. It was narcissism. He's too full of himself to even celebrate with his teammates.

He'll make a perfect Yankee.

But in our narcissistic age, I guess being a dick of a teammate is A-OK. It's "fun." Concepts as professionalism or sportsmanship are outdated, amirite? Let's just drag every bit of decency through the mud.

There is a reason people are supporting a politician (yes, he's a politician despite beliefs to the contrary) who runs on a slogan "Make America Great Again." Because we have lost something (though not the things he stands for, not at all, but the message resonates for a reason.) People don't quite understand what has been lost, but they sense it is something big. The loss of civility is "huge," and decency, and respect. It's not kids these days. It's everyone. Talking about baseball online is not fun anymore. We can't talk to each other without dragging our opponents through the mud.

There is no joy in Mudville.

So right back at you, Harper. Grow up. And grow up, internet.