Sunday, February 5, 2017

I'm Seriously Asking Here

Is this year different? Or is it just me?

It could just be my increasingly waning interest in football. Or the lack of cable in my house, allowing me to more easily curate the media I absorb. I'd be happy to find out that it's just my feeling and not a wider thing. But the buildup to this year's Super Bowl has been... dimmed. Less bombastic. And when football coverage loses bombast, my instinct is to ask if it's feeling okay. Yeah, media week was still there in all its grasping, repetitive glory. It's all still happening: the game, the ads, the halftime show. But it feels to me as though it's going through the motions. It's happening because it's what we do. Market forces wouldn't have it any other way. And, really, we all need it, too. Or, at least, we usually do. The Super Bowl is always, if nothing else, a fun distraction from the bleak midwinter. But it's not enough this year. Even if it were enough, distraction is not what we need right now.

Drew Magary has already written about the incongruousness of all this:
"Things are NOT going smoothly right now. Right now everything is deeply fucked, and to willfully ignore it is either impossible or irresponsible. The last thing I need is the NFL trotting out a showy display of allegiance both to the flag and its own, relentless tunnel vision. The whole thing feels tone deaf at best and passive-aggressive at worst... a tacit demand that you sit there and adore all this pageantry, or else."
I can't quite bring myself to say that it all feels wrong this year; a few hours of frivolous fun is crucial to self-care. But I know that it's not right, either. There will be pageantry, the kind that pretends everything is okay. That everything is normal. And that's great, necessary even, when it comes at a moment in which we all need to be told that everything will be okay. But in this moment, everything is not okay. None of this is normal. The most important thing we can do this year is remember that.

Watch the game. I will. But in the down moments, (during commercials, if the score gets out of hand, while Joe Buck is throwing up on America between plays) plan your calls to your representatives, make some donations, and keep on top of the news. Because something will happen. What better time to make something truly horrifying happen than in the middle of the biggest TV event of the year. Recall that the Muslim Ban was announced on a Friday night.

I've said before that I love sports because they're not important. And that remains true. In the face of so much importance, in a world that's dangerously low on trivialities, we find ourselves fighting a two front war: to preserve our stupid distractions, while also remembering where they rate. And if we stay strong, if we resist, one day we can go back to enjoying our distractions like we deserve to. We can have our frivolous things again. I promise.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The President We Needed

Source: Getty Images North America

Just before taking office in 2009, President Obama attempted to reenergize the MLK Day of Service that had first been made official fifteen years before. This call came at an opportune time. A service holiday had always been a noble idea, fitting of Dr. King's legacy (hooray, another white dude expounding on King's legacy!). But by 2009, it was also a smart, practical way to get the country back to work in the middle of a biting recession. Get Americans to mend fences with one another as they pitched in to made their communities just a little bit nicer. Except a whole lot of us didn't do that. We continued to spend MLK Day the way we spend every Monday holiday: inside, bathing in the comforting glow of our screens. A day off means a day off, dammit.

That's a Royal We, by the way. I'm as much to blame as anyone. January is cold, man. And now that the Christmas lights are gone it's all grey, too, and you want me to go outside? And do stuff? Yeah, no thanks, Hussein. I did nothing this MLK Day except brace myself for... well, let's not get into that now, shall we? This is about positive reflection.

The point is, he looked at Americans and saw something better than what we were. Or maybe he saw what we could have been--and still could be. But we're not there yet. He expected Congress to act like adults who actually care about the people whose lives are affected by their work and they didn't. He expected his supporters to have his back in 2010 and they didn't. He expected his own party to unify and run an effective campaign to replace him and they didn't. That was the heart of Obama the Pollyanna: someone who counted on others to be the best people they could be. And kept doing that. Albert Einstein (who was not a mental health expert but was an accomplished guy in other disciplines so we keep quoting this) said something about the definition of insanity.

Looked at another way: Obama, Master of Cool, Calm, and Collected, was perhaps not ideally suited to lead a nation increasingly addicted to panic, outrage, and juvenile dramatics. He could try to talk us down from the ledge, and Lord knows he tried. But then one dipshit heckles him and then a lot of other people start yelling at the dipshit and then everybody's shouting and he's still standing up there, looking like he can distinctly hear the narrator from Arrested Development: "the nation continued to chant 'speech, speech, speech' for no one in particular."

So why would I have voted for him a third time? Because, in spite of all my liberal naval-gazing (do what you're good at, Mom always said), he was not the president we deserved, but the one we needed. And his was the example to aspire toward. Still is. That doesn't mean he always had the best solutions. You don't like his healthcare proposals? Find a different one and fight for it instead of torpedoing positive solutions and giving us a half-working sludge that'll be a nightmare to fix. Think he's too slow to get done the things that he promised to do? Call your congressman and tell them you want the work to get done, donate your time to organize marches and petition signings, show up to your bloody polling place. Life gets bad? Stand up, take a breath (or five; deep, slow, evenly-paced), brush it off, and get back to work.

None of this is new advice. You've heard it all before. They're the same positive-change platitudes that get proffered every time things look hard. They get repeated because we need the reminder now and again. They're creations of our better selves, yearning to break through from somewhere underneath, teased out of our evolved brains by our superegos. In other words, they don't come naturally. Our mammalian wiring, the stuff that still has us afraid of the dark and everything that's new and different: it's not far from the surface. It can take control very easily and will work to hinder every attempt we make at being better people. It's why we have the phrase "one step forward, two steps back." It's why we replaced a reasonable, stable, compassionate, classy, hyper-literate, upstanding citizen with his polar opposite. It would be hard to think up a more damning indictment of the man and his legacy, but here we are.

I try to imagine how things might've been if Obama had had a fraction of his successor's talent for self-promotion, but I'm not certain it would've made a difference. His biggest hindrance was the hand he was dealt (nation in crisis, hilariously hostile opposition, fickle base, on and on) and self-promotion only goes so far. It's not much good at building bridges when the people on the other shore are already convinced you're the anti-Christ. And it wouldn't have helped Clinton: self-promotion isn't transferrable. And, just as importantly, that wouldn't have been him. We loved the cool Obama. Making him into someone desperate to impress others would've killed the insouciant image we fell in love with.

Here's the part where I say we'll never see his like again, but it's not so dark as all that. Measured calm, dedication, work ethic, and being a really great guy is not so unusual a combination. And good things don't last, but they can be brought back. He wasn't the first president to have that combination. So it'll be a while before it comes 'round again, but it will. And I hope she invites him back to the White House for a fist-bump session. Before putting him on the Supreme Court.

Thanks, Obama.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Dogfish Head Beer for Breakfast Stout

Of all meals, it is perhaps breakfast that has best withstood the test of time. Everyone loves breakfast. Ron Swanson loves breakfast. Our society invented brunch, a whole new meal, just so we could have breakfast again. And I'm pretty sure that breakfast-for-dinner pre-dated brunch, but, whatever the chronology, we're up to a potential three breakfasts per day. We live in the Land of a Lot of Breakfast, and all I want is a bagel and a cup of tea or two. And a vegetable juice. And perhaps some bacon. Okay, I like breakfast, too. I won't be a contrarian on breakfast. Which is probably why Dogfish Head's Beer For Breakfast Stout didn't immediately scream "cheap stunt" to me. That and because Dogfish doesn't do cheap stunts. Even when their experiments fall flat, I'm usually glad they tried. And when they have a beer that they tell you up front involves scrapple, you believe them.

BFB pours very dark: syrupy dark.

Light on the nose, but there's an unmistakable smokiness, reminiscent of pork smoke. But not midday barbecue pork. More like first-thing-in-the-morning, bacon smoke.

The smoke comes back on the tongue. BFB isn't classified as a rauchbier, but could nearly pass for one, disrupted only by the hefty malt profile and quite a bit of coffee. Smoke, bread, coffee. It's almost like there's a theme happening here.

It's heavy-bodied, almost like one of those counter-intuitive breakfasts that puts you right back to sleep, but in a good "it's a long weekend" kind of way.

What might've been a novelty concept in another brewer's hands turns out to be a satisfying beer here. Hearty and comforting, BFB makes for a good breakfast, but I'll recommend it as a nightcap instead. Beer for dessert. There: we're up to four breakfasts now. Thank you, Dogfish Head.

Grade: A-

Monday, November 7, 2016

I'm With Her

False equivalencies between political candidates are likely as old as democracy itself. "Thucydides is corrupt and Aesop is a liar. It's rigged. We live in an oligarchy, man," someone wearing a toga may have said, probably. I know nothing about Ancient Greece.

These false equivalencies become genuinely destructive when they give comfort to the worst impulses of those they accurately depict. If all politicians are thought to be unscrupulous liars, the most unscrupulous liars have an advantage over the less capable liars, who in turn have an advantage over those who want to act ethically. It's not long before the first group has feasted on the bones of the latter two. 

It's one thing to be dissatisfied with your choices this election; that's understandable. It's quite another to let that dissatisfaction convince you that somehow these two candidates are equally unpalatable. Better people than I have broken down the juxtaposition between Hillary Clinton, former senator and secretary of state, and Donald Trump, former reality TV host and vodka salesman. And yet we're still here, actually hashing this out because we as a nation remain committed to the idea that these two figures must be comparable until the final tallies have been made tomorrow night. Anything else would be unfair. 

No one wants things to be unfair. Which is why it's perfectly fair that Clinton, (twice) declared clear of any wrongdoing by an agency that clearly has it out for her, can be compared less than favorably to a man who, whatever the result of the election, will be on trial for fraud later this month. Because fraud is hard to establish in the court of public opinion (even when the defendant has put in an impressive amount of time in courtrooms), but putting "Clinton" and "emails" in the same headline is easy. 

It's not unfair to point out that the Clinton Foundation presents an ethical quagmire that might act as a breeding ground for corruption. But we need to wait for the verdict to come in before we can say that Trump University was, provably, a Ponzi scheme

It's also perfectly fair to question Clinton's judgment in her choice of advisors, particularly after the estranged husband of her closest advisor wasn't content to torpedo his own career and managed to posthumously damage Clinton's as well. Never mind that Clinton, more than perhaps anyone in the universe, is someone who can have empathy for Huma Abdein and that standing by her friend proves extremely inconvenient for all those "cold, insatiable, power-hungry Hillary" fantasies so many of us have had swimming around in our heads for so long. But we have to be careful when documenting Trump's relationship with a former campaign manager who thought little of physically restraining a reporter for asking a question. Or how the KKK's newspaper (yes, they still exist and, yes, they have a newspaper, I guess?) formally endorsed Trump. The Trump campaign rejected the endorsement, duh, but most people, in that same position (you know, all those people who would've somehow, perhaps as a result of a silly mix-up, found themselves the recipient of an endorsement from the Klan), probably would've responded with an Arrested Development meme rather than barreling forward. But that's the kind of thing that happens when you are your own best advisor, apparently.

And it's perfectly fair to hammer Clinton on her "basket of deplorables" comment from a few months ago (I'll remind you of the KKK thing from the last paragraph; no reason). But we have to allow for some nuance when Trump mocked a disabled reporter (for being disabled), when he attacked a gold star family because he (the billionaire presidential candidate) had "a right to defend himself," when he offered to pay the legal fees for any of his supporters who attacked protestors at his events, when he got those same supporters to harass the media at those events while wearing t-shirts with this printed on them and... I... I don't have the energy anymore. 

One of these things is definitively not like the other. You may not like the taste of fennel, but right now it's either that or raw sewage. 

Using this again because I like it.

There's a school of thought among some observers that we need to apologize for our support of Clinton. I don't buy that. And I find it disingenuous and a little cowardly, too. I'm going to go over some points I made more succinctly on the podcast this month, but these cannot be overstated if only because she deserves to be thought of worthy of this office and not just a (much) better alternative to her opponent. 

To start, the woman is strong as hell. She has put up with more nonsense than any presidential candidate of my lifetime. Some of that is just the kind of shit a woman puts up with in a male-dominated field. Some of it is the insane fixation so many people have had on her for so long; the same gross impulse that has forced so many to qualify their support of her. But our country could use a dose of whatever it is she's bringing to the table. Not only because it stands the smallest chance of decreasing the nonsense that ambitious women put up with going forward, but because we've all gotten pretty whingey lately and could use a steel-toed designer pump up our collective ass right about now. 

Because despite everything, she not only gets up every morning, but does so with a genuine desire to go to bat for us--us!--who put her through this every day. I'd have had myself sealed in a whiskey barrel after a week of the kind of treatment she gets. After a month, Trump would be on the ground in the fetal position, mumbling "losers" over and over again. She's done this for thirty bloody years. Who's going to stare this woman down? Putin? China? Some other international threat I don't have the psychic energy to focus on right now? 

Another point, and I touched on this in the podcast (seriously, go there for the short version--we also talk about clowns): I believe in the value of a functioning government. If you follow the insidery talk, you know that Republicans who knew and worked with Clinton when she was a senator... actually kinda like her. Behind closed doors, some even praise her. They won't admit to it in public (admitting that you like Clinton is worse for your career than threatening to not even listen to her should she get in), but people who know her like her. It's the rest of us who are perpetually giving her the stink eye. 

So while we're still looking at gridlock and Potemkin investigations, so much of that will be due to Congress' broken nature, something no president can fix. Underneath that, we're going to get basic governance: mildly acceptable deals being made, nothing set on fire, what we've come to expect. I suspect she'll actually fair better than Obama, who took the same "shut up, I don't care" tack that all good-hearted and reasonable people would've done when working with Congress. But Clinton's been stewing in the swamp for a long time--she can go to work for four years and deliver us a few wins. Underwhelming? Sure. But as long as we're not hurtling headlong toward Ragnorak, I can chalk it up as a win. 

Clinton's had her hands on various levers of power over the last few decades and if that sullies her in some peoples' eyes, it's because there is a dangerous shortage of optometrists in the country. The experienced pol may seem unclean, but hiring someone who's never done anything like governing is madness. Politics is the only field where someone with less experience is considered more qualified to do the job, because modern politics is Wonderland, apparently. But you don't hire a tattoo artist to perform heart surgery on you and you don't give our nuclear arsenal to a newb. That shouldn't require explanation. Clinton knows how Washington works (and how it doesn't), she knows how to get things done, and she has advisers that aren't herself

The Atlantic magazine has a venerable, 160-year history. I'm a dick with anxiety issues and access to the Internet. I am not on the same level as The Atlantic. But when it issued its third ever presidential endorsement this year, extolling Clinton in the same measure with which it denounced Trump as "the most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency," it gave dicks like me a a little bit of cover. And while words like "fascism" have lost a lot of power through overuse in the last decade and cries of impeding doom for our republic are way too easy to make, there is a lot that about Trump that I cannot let slide.

Someone who says he may not accept the results of the election, and tells his supporters that that election is rigged (before it's even finished), solely because he is losing does not have the temperament to be president.

Someone who talks about women and minorities the way he does, and treats people the way he does, does not have the humanity to be president.

Someone with so little regard for the first amendment does not have the integrity to be president.

Someone who orders his steak well-done does not have the judgment to be president.

This whole awful thing is almost over. What comes after might be worse, whether through a Trump presidency, Trump contesting the election (regardless how close the finally tally), or a slicker politician running with the ball that his tiny hands fumbled. But if we can get one moment, akin to the one we got eight years ago, when we make an historic choice and choose the eminently qualified woman, with all her flaws, and reject the Raging American Id of hate and divisiveness and pettiness... well, that might actually make the last sixteen months worthwhile.


Friday, November 4, 2016

Anno Catulorum

They were down three games to one. Of course they had to go down three to one. Of course they'd have to come back to tie the series only to blow a 5-1 lead late in Game 7. Of course once it was tied, the rains would begin to fall, delaying extra innings (a phenomenon already observed by a time-traveler). And of course the Cubs would have to escape a 10th inning rally by the skin of their teeth to... yes, we can say it now... win the World Series. The baseball gods wouldn't allow them to win any other way. Nor would they allow Cleveland to lose any other way. They consider cruelty a virtue.

I envy baseball fans who had no rooting interest in this World Series. It must've been a blast. I aged two years in a week. And it was worth it.

If this World Series had been done as a movie, everyone would walk out because it would be insulting and obnoxious. The screenwriter would be a hack. The director would be a treacle-addled fluff-merchant. Joe Maddon would be played by Eddie Redmayne. It would be terrible. This is why sports are better than movies. But, some time in the next few years, this will be turned into a fantastic documentary (it'll probably be a 30 for 30). I will watch that documentary and I will cry-laugh. Again.

Next year was this year. And, baseball gods help us, next year will also be next year. This is a great young team that will mostly be intact, just a couple of pieces gone: Grandpa Rossy (enjoy your retirement, old man, you've earned it); maybe Fowler (get paid, dude, you deserve it); Chapman (good). But they'll get Kyle Schwarber (Bambino Mark III) back full-time. They'll have a hopefully refurbished J-Hey (dare we dream of having 2015 Heyward on this squad?). And a whole crew of young guns who have been to the mountaintop. The physical gifts of youth paired with the mental fortitude granted by having won: imagine the fear that a mature Javier Baez could strike in opposing teams and fans alike. This team is going to continue being very, very good. They'll need to be.

The Dodgers are still very good. The Nationals are hungry--and ready. The Mets are a decent trainer away from being a threat. And the Cardinals... the Cardinals. Meanwhile, over in the AL, Cleveland will be healthy and angry and terrifying.

But for now, the Cubs are world champions. So celebrate, family. Laugh. Cry. Toast those who didn't get to see this.

Next year, we go for another.

Go Cubs Go.