Friday, March 17, 2017

Upon the Feast of St. Patrick

Happy St. Paddy’s Day, boy-oh. Of course, it isn’t a particularly happy one, not here in the United States, where a day that celebrates the immigration of one particular nationality is slated to be overwhelmed by the terrible narrative of the times-- a xenophobic president pushing construction of his border wall and targeting specific other nationalities for exclusion, and doing so in a shockingly-open fashion.

Second-generation Irish-American Andrew O’Hehir has a very thinkable piece up at Salon addressing his Irish countrymen and countrywomen in the New World. He claims that, "among all but the affluent classes, nearly everyone in Ireland has a friend or family member who has worked illegally in the U.S. or is doing so now.” He expresses embarrassment that the prime minister of the Republic of Ireland has arrived in Washington this week, and rather shamelessly made the tone-deaf, lopsided suggestion-- face-to-face with the U.S. president-- that, despite the current political climate, the roughly 50,000 Irish citizens that are living illegally here now have their status legalized. O’Hehir also laments that so many of the descendants of the U.S.’s once-despised Irish immigrant population are now on the front line of Trump’s war on the hungry, tired, and huddled masses. It’s worth calling them out by their Gaelic surnames: (Steve) Bannon, (Sean) Spicer, (Kellyanne) Conway, (John) Kelly, (Kevin) McCarthy, (Michael) Flynn… and I’ll add (Paul) Ryan. It’s the American way, it seems-- climb the proverbial ladder yourself and saw off every wrung behind you as you go.

I wish how it weren’t the same for my people, today’s German-Americans, whose rich Central European culture we abandoned, or were forced to abandon, in a virtual instant at the outbreak of World War I. At the time of the Archduke Ferdinand's assassination in 1914, there were still dozens of German-language newspapers just in the state of Iowa alone. But there he is now, instead: Mr. Drumpf, in the White House, spitting at the brown and black. Are today’s immigrants less educated, less hard-working, more dangerous? Why don’t they just play by the rules, many of you ask, the way your foremothers and forefathers did? Well, how easy did my emigrant ancestors have it compared to the migrants of today? Hardships of a hard land, my ass. Wood fires don’t keep you as warm as a high-velocity heat pump, that much is true, but those resettled Americans then were considered United States citizens, with all of the accompanying privileges, almost the instant they stepped off the boat on South Manhattan’s Castle Garden.

This was the 1860s. There were entrance tests for health, but none for citizenship, nor for language. There was no such thing as temporary status, no overstaying a visa, no restrictions on work permit or school enrollment. Those endeavors were actually encouraged without qualification. There was no need for detention centers for expulsion, separation of families, no “expedited removals,” no immigration prisons, to say nothing of a detention industry for profit. The length of the line to get in was measured not in years, but in mere hours. There was no such thing as being “illegal,” and no quota systems for national origin, not for the Europeans anyway, but they were coming soon for groups like the Chinese.

And how easy did my ancestors have it economically, relative to 2017? After they landed as citizens, they were given land. It was called the Homestead Act, signed into law by Abe Lincoln in 1862. What did the land cost? How did they pay for it? Your questions aren't even correct. They paid only a small filing fee-- eighteen dollars. The land itself was free. All that a man 21 years or older had to do to own this allotted land was go live on it for five years, and then it belonged to him. This policy of land grant was in place for a long period of time. The amount of acres allotted by the legislation was increased in 1909 and again in 1916.

The door is no longer open. With the rights of the migrants disappearing, ours disappear as well. Now we have debates about which newcomers are the “good ones,” which ones are the “bad ones.” We make up false narratives that immigrants drive down the wages of the native-born and that there are more crimes committed among the newly-arrived than among our tenured residents. Both major political parties openly admit that we value them more highly if they are skilled than if they are unskilled, even though the nation’s economy has always demanded the contributions of both groups. We wonder why the “illegals” just don’t get in line when there is actually no line to get into.

Above all other reasons, we despise them because they are poor. We make a presumption of their guilt, even for refugees. The entire game is rigged against them. It's built on the historical fiction of hardship referenced above, and one that is, in truth, specifically designed not to deliver new Americans out of peril, but to keep them in it, ripe for manipulation and exploitation.

Migration is a human right. Without it, our other rights fade to nothing. The lord and savior of a predominantly Christian nation had his parents turned away at his birth. Then he was turned away during his life. He preached for inclusion and never once gave any indication that he would support the garbage that is our bureaucracy today, or even the concept of a national border. Though we looked to these parables for meaning for decades, they are now just lost lessons on a collapsing empire that is, taken as a whole, mean and stupid.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The unhinged

I wish I could laugh at the assertion of Kellyanne Conway that the federal government is capable of eavesdropping on us through our microwave ovens, but this is just more unfocused nonsense-- courtesy of a dim-witted administration-- that needlessly distracts from the very real information release by WikiLeaks last week that the Intelligence State is listening in on our calls, is reading our emails, and possesses the capability to cover their tracks when doing either. The defenders of the Surveillance State that control the Democratic and Republican parties are steering you away from the horrific reality of unconscionable Fourth Amendment violation by jumping on this dumb microwave comment or inflating the comical image of President Obama purportedly eavesdropping each night during the summer of 2016 to the goings-on at Trump Tower. The current political debate regarding our inalienable right to privacy perfectly encapsulates this date and time of our collapsing republic-- an executive branch incapable of accurately identifying-- or keeping its focus trained upon-- what are actual threats to American democracy (that is, our own institutions), and an opposition party more committed to party loyalty and entrenched financial interest than to Constitutional safeguards.

As Senator Rand Paul accurately explained on Face the Nation Sunday, the NSA is tapping into our international calls, backed by the blanket approval of the FISA court, with the expressed purpose of surveilling foreigners, but with the true purpose of listening to Americans. This conspiracy has enjoyed bipartisan cover for some time as both former president Obama and GOP representative Mike Rogers, former House Intelligence Chair, have defended it. (Rogers famously said in 2013, "You can't have your privacy violated if you don't know your privacy is violated.) Both of those politicos have publicly called such practice of listening in on Americans “illegal,” which it should be considered, but domestic eavesdropping without a warrant was legalized by them and other lawmakers with the 2008 FISA law (in particular, Section 702) that then-Senator Obama voted for after he had vowed to filibuster against it.

The law states that the target of such surveillance must be the foreigner (which itself is a Constitutionally-dubious initiative, but whatever), yet the government gets “back door” access in this way to Americans as well; and, note, our government doesn’t need to “target” anyone at all in order to collect huge volumes of communications. 250 million internet transactions are captured each year by the NSA, along with an unknown but likely vast number of phone calls-- and this is done without a warrant being issued or the burden of probable cause. It’s extremely likely that Americans’ conversations account for much of this collected data.

The Democratic Party-- the new preferred political party of the Central Intelligence Agency, has adopted the tack of vilifying WikiLeaks for disclosures such as this CIA hack, ones they feel commit the unpardonable sin of politically aiding the current president. Speaking out against this secret overreach is liable to get one branded a traitor in chat-rooms, that, and/or an agent of Vladimir Putin, the evil genius of Eurasia that masterminded Hillary Clinton's electoral defeat, along with the Democratic Party’s net loss of more than a thousand legislative seats at the federal and state level during the eight years of the Obama presidency.

Thanks to WikiLeaks’ hack, we know that the CIA develops software for targeting Android smartphones and Apple iPhones to gain information about our locations, communications, and contacts. We know now that the CIA can bypass encryption by hacking directly into someone’s phone. Edward Snowden says the big reveal in this release is that the United States is paying the Google, Microsoft, and Apple corporations to retain the encryption vulnerabilities. We have also learned that the CIA is able to spoof Russian IP addresses, which would allow the agency to, theoretically, pin any hacking actions by their agents to Russian provocateurs. The unfocused political strategy from Washington that defends these actions and attacks the WikiLeaks reveal runs the spectrum from “this disclosure puts us in a precarious position with, and provides comfort to, our enemies” to “well, duh, tell us something we didn’t already know.” Which is it, I wonder? A dangerous new geopolitical development or a meaningless one?

The paranoia of liberals and their allied news organizations in respect to Trump’s Russia drama has been incredibly self-defeating. It is discrediting the news sources, destroying reputations, and lowering the discourse to the level of the president's strength. It’s not hard to understand their impulse, however. The Clinton wing of the Democratic party is, according to close study, incapable of self-reflection, unsuited to direct its focus to serious and documentable problems, and powerless to reform itself. It stood to reason that we would arrive here. The corporatists on the Democratic side that have been unexpectedly cast as outsiders to real power have no resonant message for the American people, as proven during a thorough election cycle that stretched more than 18 months, and they obviously believe that this “ends justify the means” political hatcheting strategy won't eventually bring down our democratic institutions, so we are saddled with an opposition campaign to a xenophobic conspiracy theorist president, that is, itself, a xenophobic conspiracy theory. I mean, do they really think Trump is an agent of Putin and the Russian state? Meanwhile, six Democratic Senators voted to confirm Ben Carson as HUD secretary, and ten supported Rick Perry’s bid for energy chief, the destruction of both departments part of the current Washington agenda.

The Democratic Party has spent the better part of the last three decades mainstreaming the Republicans’ greed- and fear-based policies, and this latest trend to buck logic continues the trend in a new way. Several years ago, Hillary Clinton, eternally attracted to slime as she is, latched herself onto David Brock, the political strategist first famous for smearing Anita Hill on behalf of the Republicans in the late 1980s and a walking, breathing indictment of the accusation that there’s a hair’s difference between the two major American political parties. Now we’re seeing Brock's methodology at work in support of the Democrats, the spewing of Russian-based murder conspiracies, for example, that hearken back to the greatest hits of Rush Limbaugh. This hysteria has been bubbling over ever since the Great Lakes states turned red on our televisions on November 8th. Trump’s surprise victory was an existential defeat for the Clinton Democrats that was a parallel to the metaphysical blow the United States endured when the 9-11 hijackers attacked us and then committed suicide, depriving us of our identify-defining chance at revenge. It reveals a deep, damaging insecurity in these people that nearly mirrors that of the current resident of the Oval Office, and it’s ultimately a political loser because it's an attack on reason.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Letterman on Trump

The retired king of late night in the current New York Magazine, discussing the art of satire and President Trump...

"Comedy's one of the ways that we can protect ourselves. Alec Baldwin deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Sadly, he's not going to get it from this president... The man [Trump] has such thin skin that if you keep pressure on him-- I remember there was a baseball game in Cleveland, and a swarm of flies came on the field and the batters were doing this [mimes swatting at flies] while the pitcher was throwing 100 miles an hour. Well, that’s Alec Baldwin and Saturday Night Live. It’s distracting the batter. Eventually Trump’s going to take a fastball off the sternum and have to leave the game."

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Essential church doctrine

This is a very warming feature from the LA Times about the Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez, and the churches that he oversees in the City of Angels. According to Gomez, President Trump should come and "get to know these people," his congregants that attend a series of churches in which Mass is presented in 42 different languages.

I encourage you to read Gomez' words in the link. It's an extraordinary tribute to the Roman Catholic church that their leaders have been so outspoken, and for so long even before the rise of Trump, about the importance of welcoming immigrants to the United States. This is not an issue that the Catholics are wishy-washy about. It's inspiring. I wish I could say the same thing about the heads of the many of the Protestant churches. It's hard to imagine a social issue that has more direct connection to the Biblical teachings of Christ, or that provides our churches with more of an opportunity to make a positive, direct impact on people's lives than this one, and one certainly cannot argue with ease that churches are prospering today in their efforts to connect with people.

If a church calls itself Christian but is not getting itself involved in this effort to help keep families together and to make this country and this world a better place, it's not worthy of its name.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Get political, brothers

Jason Stark has written a valuable article over at ESPN about the potential of Major League Baseball players and owners, normally depoliticized, to speak out and show leadership on the topic of immigration. Our nation's highest professional baseball circuit features 30 teams that are each a fascinating mix of Latinos, African-Americans, and rural whites.

Unlike the NBA, in particular, we have received precious little political activism, at least on the left, in baseball. I say 'on the left' because suggestions that baseball is apolitical is a misnomer to begin with. MLB wraps itself in the nationalism of the flag, it glorifies a hyper-militarism, and there's also Curt Schilling. MLB is also acutely political in every community in which it operates by seeking out large-scale tax incentives.

I appreciate the view of veteran African-American infielder Jimmy Rollins, a former league MVP, that he feels a level of isolationism in his clubhouse. I appreciate that pro players in baseball with black or brown skin would experience a greater trepidation in speaking out, blacks because they don't have the numbers, and Hispanics because their presence in this country is a precarious one. I would add to this article that baseball players, in general, are more disposable than athletes in the NBA particularly. Hoopsters like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Steph Curry have put their social consciousness on public display, but each of those high-profile athletes operates from an extraordinarily secure professional position. I can't think of an Hispanic or black baseball player that would be in that position. By nature of the sport, baseball players fail more often on the field of play, also.

I find myself a little empathetic if it's true that there has been too much silence up to this point, and there has. Any of us that have jobs and careers are in a somewhat similar position. Particularly early in this baseball season, players need to feel out their respective locker rooms before they can comment on what the realities are inside of those rooms. I was deeply proud of the newest St. Louis Cardinals player, Dexter Fowler, when he went public with his personal story last week. Fowler offered a muted commentary but the pointed fact that his wife, who is of Iranian descent, is not able to visit her grandmother in the country of her parents' birth. Small world. Some of the rest of us have to deal with that unfortunate reality of today's world that has become less welcoming and deeply suspicious.

Peruse the comment section of the Stark piece and you'll find that most white American baseball fans seem to want their sport free of politics-- politics they don't agree with, presumably. They like that MLB is less militant, as it were, than the NBA or even the NFL. They don't want to hear from Hispanic baseball players about the hardships of immigrating to this country, but that begs the question-- which Hispanics do they want to hear from? It's one of the ultimate examples of white privilege to not expect politics to intrude upon your sanctuaries.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The pastural game plods on...

Major League Baseball has never been more popular or profitable-- but if faces a true existential threat to its popularity. No, I'm not talking about the pace of the game, nor its lack of nationally-known personalities. No, the threat is the fact that the people who run it think it’s boring. I don’t know where they got the idea. It certainly was not from their pocketbooks. It's not from last fall’s most buzzworthy postseason, and it’s not from the historic level of team parity. (It’s funny that nobody in the commissioner’s office ever thinks baseball is struggling when the Yankees are winning.)

Forget other sports leagues, it’s hard to come up with any other North American business that has so consistently shit on its own product as much as Major League Baseball has over the years. When a Hollywood studio inks a star actor to a blockbuster motion picture contract, industry officials taut the extraordinary financial health of the pictures business that allows for such a transaction. On the contrary, baseball’s usual strategy, after star players sign enormous service contracts, is to claim that the financial sky is collapsing. The sport's top league has all but shuttered the doors on its Hall of Fame and Museum by having enshrinement voting be hijacked by grumpy baby boomer sportswriters, and by a commissioner that has made some of the game’s most extraordinary, colorful, and beloved historical figures ineligible for enshrinement.

When an MLB player is fingered from any dark corner of the country as a steroid cheat, the league stays silent about it and seems handicapped to prevent all of the dialogue on the subject by the sports media to center on which persons or institutions should be at fault. Meanwhile, when the NFL’s most popular player, Peyton Manning, gets fingered as a steroid cheat by the man who delivered the drugs to his house, that league, instead, buys wholly into Manning’s bullshit story that the illicit substances were meant for his wife, even though the quarterback was fully immersed in physical recovery on his neck at the time and his wife has never played a single down in the NFL. Later that year, Manning’s a Super Bowl hero, and now a year after that, he’s filling guest roles on Modern Family. This encapsulates two starkly-contrasting P.R. strategies.

The newest tradition introduced by the Office of the Commissioner in Major League Baseball is to spend each and every off-season pitching a public debate over how the pace of the game can be sped up with circus tactics and/or subverting the soul of the game in return for an undetectable drop in the average length of the games. Last winter, the most highly publicized league proposal was making intentional walks automatic-- that is, the pitcher not having to throw the four wide pitches, but just awarding the base directly to the batter at the defensive team's insistence. By my educated guess, I’m thinking that this hypothetical rule change would save, at best, an average of about 20 seconds per game-- and maybe nothing at all after you factor in that there is still going to be the same amount of time taken in these situations for defensive shifting, coaching visits to the mound, and conversations there about upcoming pitch sequencing. Meanwhile, you’ve succeeded in blowing up the fundamental structure of baseball’s four balls-three strikes tradition. While we’re changing this rule, here’s another suggestion-- by me-- that is exactly parallel. When a batter hits a home run over the wall, why does he circle the bases? What a time killer! As soon as the umpire signals that the ball has left the park, almost always when the batter is still between home plate and first base, the triumphant batter should immediately leave the base path, wherever he might be along the trail, and go directly to the dugout. Touching each base on a home run, which has never before failed to happen, or at least has happened much more infrequently than a wild pitch on an intentional walk, is just a formality whose time has come and gone.

Next, to those dummies that think we should limit the number of bullpen changes that a team can perform. Here’s what you don’t seem to be getting-- no rule that strengthens the performance of the pitchers and the defense, to the detriment of the offense, adds to the length of games. Let me type that again so that it sinks in. No rule that strengthens the performance of the pitchers-- in professional or amateur baseball-- adds to the length of games. Offense adds to the length of games. The failure of pitchers to get batters out adds to the length of the game. The designated hitter rule adds to the length of games. If you question that last claim, check 44 years of statistics that show the average length of game in the American League and the average in the National League, operating as they are under two different sets of rules. Strong bullpens and the relatively-recent concept of what I call “maximum effort pitching” at all times has not added to the length of games. Shut-down bullpens have helped to trim the length of games-- even when you factor in the pitching changes. People get confused about this because what does add to the length of games, in this same vein, is that the league and its clubs attempt to jam a lengthy commercial break-- for the financial benefit of their television and radio partners-- into every instance in which there is mid-inning pitching change for either the home or away team. This is like me, year after year, claiming that I hate snow. No, I like snow. I hate driving in the snow. The snow is innocent. It's lovely.

The hottest suggestion during Spring Training 2017 is the fancy proposal that, in extra innings, each offensive team, in their half-inning, begin with a man already standing on second base. So here we have some tampering with what is actually the most exciting part of a baseball game-- if you’re even lucky enough as a fan to see this sort of free baseball when you buy a ticket to the stadium. Describing this particular idea as dumb is akin to calling Donald Trump emotionally sensitive. I don’t have the numbers here, but an overwhelming percentage of extra-inning games go only 10 or 11 innings. No more than that. That might add about 15% again more time to the game you’re already watching-- very consistent at least with the amount of time added to basketball or football contests in which one overtime is played. Tell me exactly how this idea would work. Each team gets a designated runner for extra innings games? Essentially, as this job would certainly be worth one roster spot for each team to have an Olympic-caliber sprinter that may have never touched a baseball bat in his life, for use in these important base running situations. Then each and every extra-inning game, I promise, becomes a bunt fest, and nearly every extra-inning game gets won by the team that can deliver a one-out sacrifice fly.

OR the next man due to bat is automatically put on second base. Maybe we do it that way. It might be a man capable of ending the whole thing with one swing, but now he’s essentially been intentionally walked two bases, and of course, the man behind him will almost always be walked as well to set up a force play. You are basically guaranteeing that the best sluggers will always get intentionally passed in extra innings. Those runs scored would also be recorded on that player’s career statistics, yet that person didn’t do anything to earn his way on base, except to be stranded in the on-deck circle during the previous inning. Here he is coming out of the dugout, folks, Rickey Nelson Henderson Jr., trying to break his father’s all-time runs scored record! Bottom of the 9th, down he goes, Dave Kingman Jr. strikes out to retire the side. There you have it. Henderson will have a chance to make history in the 10th! He will start the inning on second! I swear this one, in particular, must have been dreamed up by a group of sixth-grade phys-ed instructors. To tell you how ill-conceived and illogical this idea is, listen to how some of the proponents of the idea on sports radio suggest that maybe each team in extra innings should also start with one out. I hope I don’t really have to explain to you how that would add innings, not subtract them. Fortunately the Players Association came out this week and said that they would not consider the second base rule.

And all of these proposals for what? To speed up a game that was already being called slow and plodding in the 1880s? They haven't killed it yet, or even slowed it down. But not having a clock on this pastime absolutely causes some people to flip out. I'm sure it frightens your MBA-types in each team’s front office that still cannot fathom the enduring popularity of this most contrary of games-- the only major North American team sport that is not a variation on “defend the goal.”

Does MLB actually want new fans? Take it from a man who has had to introduce his foreign-born wife to the game: Keep it simple. Stick to the most logical parts of the game. When one goes to a game, I promise that he or she will have more problems explaining the concept of an intentional walk to a novice fan if the walked batter is ordered to first base, rather than having him just stand like a statute for half a minute while four wide ones are thrown. Intentional walks actually take place so quickly already that at games, I have found, particularly sitting in the upper deck, people often haven’t noticed yet when a player has been passed. Them: “Hey, where’s Pujols?” Me: “He’s on first. They walked him intentionally.” No fan has ever managed to fall asleep during the execution of an intentional walk so let’s put a cork in this one.

Got a ridiculous baseball idea, send it to the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, Robert D. Manfred, Jr., Commissioner, 245 Park Avenue, 31st Floor, New York, New York, 10167. Let him know what he can do to make the game more exciting to you. It’s time for him to Manfred up. How about a snake pit between the pitchers’ mound and second base? Sticky glue poured on the warning track? The shortstop wears a Yoda mask? A substitute batter always hits for the pitcher? (Oh shit, they actually did that one.) Even better than the DH, how about a six-man batting lineup? Think about it. You only ever need six men in a batting line-up before it turns over, not the traditional nine. Six men permits you to have three on base and three out. Why not ditch the pitchers hitting in both leagues-- and also two more weak-hitting players besides? Oh crap, that idea is too good. Now I’m worried that the wrong person might read this.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

More fake news

I’m calling shenanigans on the pair of musicians called Twenty-One Pilots that took their pants off before ascending the stairs to accept their Grammy award on Sunday night. Okay, whatever, they took their pants off, but I don’t buy the back story. Not one bit. They related a tale on stage that, so many years prior, they were watching the Grammys together on television, the two of them and some other male friends, and they realized at one point that they were all in their underwear. They vowed then and there that if one day they won a Grammy, they would accept the award without wearing pants.

That never happened. Two ostensibly heterosexual boys-- one of them now married, living at the time in Columbus, Ohio, who were home-schooled, practicing Christians (according to Wikipedia), were not suddenly in their underwear watching TV. I used to hang out with lots of other heterosexual boys and such a thing never happened. It never almost happened either. This was a story conceived out of thin air to justify the taking off of their pants and creating some easy buzz at an event that is defined by how much buzz its participants are able to generate. And it says a lot about media coverage of the Grammys that everybody bit on it. Not me.