Some Ranting

I haven’t written anything in a little bit now. Part of that has been that I’ve been busy with work and general life stuff, but part has been that all of the topics that have been presenting themselves lately have been really annoying, or at least annoying to me. I just don’t want to annoy myself with my writing. Although, the topics have me annoyed anyway and I haven’t been writing, so I thought I’d take a moment to vent about some of these topics and maybe get it out of my system.

Genre Labels Are Racist

Billboard magazine recently decided that “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X couldn’t be on their country charts. Anyway you look at it, it was a racist decision. Billboard is apparently just that racist. I know they can point to Ray Charles, Charlie Pride and Hootie and say, “Look, we have black friends,” but that only reinforces their racism. I’ve been talking about racist genre labels for more than 20 years now. The system is set up so there’s white music and non-white music. If a white artist wants to try their hand at some non-white music, they can be quite successful. But if a non-white artist encroaches on white music, organizations like Billboard have to put a stop to it. The few examples we do have of people of color crossing over is tokenism at its finest. Besides, not that I know what makes a country song country, this song is easily as country as plenty of other hit country songs.

Two of the Reactions to the Notre Dame Fire

Notre Dame is an old cathedral in Paris. I’ve never been to France, so I’ve never seen it, but I believe the countless people who have described it as an amazing feat of architecture and a wonderful piece of art. Therefore, it made me sad to hear of the fire that nearly destroyed the cathedral. What other reaction is there to the loss of a great work of art? I’d be equally sad if the Sphinx or the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall were similarly damaged. I would argue that sadness is the proper reaction. But I’ve seen two reactions that are basically chastising people for feeling sad. One reaction I’ve seen a bunch is along the lines of don’t repair or rebuild Notre Dame, spend that money on curbing global warming or feeding the hungry or something. This reaction is making a couple mistakes. First, charitable giving is not a zero sum game. Notre Dame can be rebuilt and we can also work to mitigate climate change. Second, it misunderstands how people work. There is always a rise in charitable giving after a specific tragedy because most people need to feel a personal connection in order to be moved to give. It’s sad to say, but things like hunger are constants and people get numb to them. No one is taking money that they would have given to hunger and sending it to Notre Dame. The choice is not between competing charities, at this moment for most people, it’s Notre Dame or nothing. It certainly wouldn’t meet the approval of the Effective Altruists (I have major problems with the Effective Altruists, maybe I’ll write about that sometime), but on a very basic level, some charity is better than no charity, so let people donate to a cause that they feel connected to.

The other reaction is basically saying that France is an evil, imperial power and deserves any bad thing that happens there. It’s crazy to think that everyone who has ever appreciated Notre Dame is equally guilty of France’s historical sins. It’s also crazy to think that a society’s sins can invalidate every other thing that society has done. It leads to nihilism. If the only art that it’s right to appreciate has to come from a blameless society, then there’s no art left to appreciate. Whatever you think of France, don’t criticize people who have been moved by a work of art that happens to be French. Now, I hang out in some pretty far left areas of the internet, which is where I’m seeing these reactions. They bug me because of their basic wrongheadedness, but they also bug me because they are why people dislike the left. If the lefties would just keep their mouths shut in times of tragedy, maybe they could win an election.

Star Wars: Episode IX

The trailer for the last Star Wars movie of the third trilogy dropped. Everything about it annoyed me. The name of the movie is “The Rise of Skywalker.” That’s a really dumb name. It could have been the name of Episode IV, or the entire original trilogy, but the last movie of a trilogy that barely even features anyone named Skywalker and turned the one Skywalker it does have into a sulky coward is just weird. Either Luke is going to rise again, which will totally undercut his death in the last movie (not that his death really landed, but if it did, this would ruin it). Or it will turn out Rey is really a Skywalker even though they specifically said she is not in the last movie (and if it turns out she is a Skywalker, wasn’t “Force Awakens” the actual rise of Skywalker?). Or they could say Kylo Ren is actually a Skywalker on his mother’s side, but that would give this movie almost the same exact plot as Episode VI. Or I suppose they could introduce an entirely new Skywalker, but I don’t think I even need to explain how stupid that would be.

Aside from that, I hate, hate, hate two uses of slow motion in the trailer. One is where Rey is doing a backflip as a speeder chases her and the other is as Kylo stabs someone. It’s like they don’t understand the aesthetic of Star Wars at all. That’s The Matrix, not Star Wars. Hopefully it will just be in the trailer, not the movie. And possibly the worst thing of all, there’s the line, “No one’s ever really gone,” followed by Emperor Palpatine’s laugh. It’s like they’re trying to retcon the original trilogy out of existence. Not the prequels, mind you, but the original Star Wars. The idea of Palpatine being involved in any way with anything that happened after “Return of the Jedi” might actually be the stupidest idea ever.

Impeachment

Since the release of the Mueller Report, the younger segment of the Democrats (and Elizabeth Warren) have started loudly calling for Trump’s impeachment. I think that’s crazy. The Republicans control the Senate. If Trump survived an impeachment, it would make everything far worse. He would basically be untouchable. I like most of these new congresspeople. But they’re wrong about this. The only circumstance under which Trump should be impeached is if there is absolute certainty that the Senate will convict.

***

So there are some of my rants. Sorry. Hopefully I’ll write something more interesting in the near future.

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How Do We Get Nia Long Into Star Trek?

I recently finished Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery, and while I would like to write a review of the season, I realize that not everyone may have watched the season finale from Thursday night yet. So while I sit on my overall thoughts for the time being, I do want to write about an “episode” which kicked off Season 2 last fall.

The producers of Discovery decided to do four short episodes called “Short Treks.” These episodes were 10-15 minutes long, and promised to offer the
“opportunity for deeper storytelling and exploration of key characters and themes which fit into Star Trek: Discovery and the expanding Star Trek universe.”

One of the Short Treks was an episode called “Calypso.” The main character of the episode, a man named Craft, is rescued by the U.S.S. Discovery 1,000 years in the future. The ship has been abandoned by the crew, and over the course of 1,000 years, the ship develops its own intelligence and personality.

Craft interacts with Discovery’s personality, a woman named Zoe. The two talk and watch movies together until they fall in love, but Craft decides he must leave. He still has a wife and child waiting for him on his home planet. He and Zoe say a pained goodbye, and at the end of the episode, he departs, heading back home and leaving Zoe alone again.

I like many of the ideas in this episode. It’s fascinating to move Star Trek 1,000 years into the future. I like the idea that, given enough time, a system as complex as a starship, with access to nearly unlimited information, would develop sentience and intelligence (Star Trek: The Next Generation did something similar with the episode “Emergence”). I even like the idea that a person can fall in love with a machine, because as computers get more sophisticated, we may be dealing with those kinds of situations sooner than we think.

But I didn’t like the episode because of the execution. Discovery, in the personage of Zoe, has chosen to model its speech patterns, attitude and overall personality on Audrey Hepburn. In fact, Zoe’s favorite movie, which she watches with Craft, is Funny Face, a movie starring Hepburn and Fred Astaire. In the climax of the episode, Zoe uses holograms to project an image of herself so that she and Craft can share a dance. As you might have guessed, Zoe projects herself to look as much like Hepburn as possible.

Source:
http://www.womenatwarp.com/short-treks-recap-calypso/

I want to sidestep the “man falling in love with a computer” critique of this episode, as many other writers have pointed it out (just check the link below the image for an example). My biggest problem with this episode is this: the U.S.S. Discovery has access to information about hundreds of species, stretching back thousands of years. It has had ten centuries to search its own database and develop an idea of who it wants to be. And with all that information and time, the most interesting personality to Discovery was Jo Stockton, the main character of Funny Face? Let’s not even get into why the ship didn’t have a Klingon personality, or a Vulcan one. There are thousands of contemporary and historical cultures right here on Earth that Discovery could have chosen from. Yet I was reminded that Discovery did not in fact choose its personality. A writer did.

That writer is Michael Chabon. He is an accomplished writer of novels, stories and screenplays. He is also a 55 year old white man, born in the year 1963. Funny Face was released six years before he was born. Hepburn dominated the movies around his birth, appearing in 14 movies from 1956-1967. Hepburn continued to dominate the social and cultural landscape far after that- even as late as 2007, Newsweek featured an article about Hepburn (written by, it should be noted, another white man who came of age during Hepburn’s era). She’s been held up for the last 50 years as an idealized version of a beautiful woman- to a particular kind of audience. The kind of audience that Michael Chabon belongs to. So I get why he would choose her as the model for Craft’s future ship wife.

While I may get it, I disagree with the choice. Hepburn is pretty, but I’ve never seen any of her movies. Not Funny Face, not Breakfast at Tiffany’s, not Charade. They didn’t seem interesting to me, and Hepburn isn’t pretty enough to me to hold my attention by simply looking at her. If I was the writer for “Calypso,” and confined to the same plot, I would have chosen a very different woman to model. I would have chosen Nia Long.

Friday was released in 1995, when I was nine years old. I didn’t see it in theaters, but it was only a couple of years before it started showing up on cable TV. That was also the time when I started to really like girls. I had my little crushes here and there, but puberty had kicked in by the time I saw Friday, and I was in love with Nia Long.

*faints*

If I was writing a story about an idealized woman from a movie who also happens to be a spaceship, then my ideal woman would be Debbie. My computer would sound like Debbie. Her and Craft would watch Friday. At the end of the episode, she would project herself and they would dance to the timeless classic “Hoochiemama.”

I’m not faulting Chabon for choosing Hepburn as his model. Loving her from a distance is his experience. But it’s not mine, and I’m super bored by it. Like I said, I’ve never seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but I have the imagery burned into my imagination by countless references, homages and recreations of that movie across media. I get it, they all like Catherine Hepburn. A lot. I’ve loved Nia Long from a distance though, and I would like to see a story where a woman like Debbie is held up as the idealized version of beauty and grace one thousand years in the future.

Michael Chabon probably can’t write that story, which is why it’s important to have different writers. Different writers have different experiences, across time, race, gender, sexuality, everything. I don’t need to relate to every story I’m seeing (which I think is too much of a focus of the diverse books movement, but that’s another essay), but different perspectives are interesting and fun. I don’t think I can listen to another computer voice that has that weird, Golden Era white woman haughtiness. My dream computer is Debbie, but it doesn’t even have to be her. Let it be a Pakistani woman, or an Ebo man. Just let it be something different, because one of the most disappointing things about Star Trek’s future is how frequently it resembles a very familiar past.

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A Long Morning

This is story #3 from my 12 stories in 12 months challenge. I honestly don’t know what to think of it. The prompt was “Tag” and the word count was 2500. It was a bit of a struggle to write as it is not typical of my stories. There’s a lot more description than I usually have and a lot less dialogue. It’s also not exactly plotted, it is more trying to create a mood. Strangely, Hemingway’s “Big Two Hearted River” (one of my favorite short stories) was my inspiration even though there is very little similarity between the two pieces.

Jim hated mid-morning appointments. He could sleep in a little bit. He could, but he couldn’t. It was too big. He’d been unemployed for too long. Besides, if he started the day lazy, it might show in the interview. It was a second interview which only made him more nervous. Better to get up early. Better to be in mid-morning form by mid-morning rather than bleary.

He pulled the covers off of himself hoping the cold would help him get up. It wasn’t pleasant, but it worked. He sat up and let his feet dangle over the edge of the bed. He rubbed his beard. He wasn’t sure what to do. If he ate too early, he might be hungry during the interview. A rumbly tummy would be embarrassing. If he showered, he’d have to wait to get dressed. Can’t risk the clothes getting wrinkled or dirty.

The bathroom was as good a place to start as any. Get those teeth brushed and that bladder emptied. He walked down the hall to take care of things. When he was finished, Jim walked back to his bedroom and unplugged his phone. He stared at it without seeing for a moment then headed towards the kitchen.

Jim’s roommate was in the kitchen eating breakfast. “You’re up early,” he said.

“Yeah. I’ve got an interview in a little while.”

“Nice. Confident?”

“As confident as I get,” Jim answered, not very confidently.

“Well, confidence is the most important thing. If you’re positive you’re the best for the job, they’ll believe you. Oh, I gotta get to work.” Jim’s roommate got up, put his bowl in the sink and headed towards the front door. “Good luck,” he said.

“Thanks.”

Jim was alone again. Waiting sucked. But he was alone. He decided he could shower without any pressure to get dressed right away.

He walked to the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror. The beard was a little shaggy, best do something about it. He liked it shaggy, the longer the better, but it’s not the look for a job interview. He walked back to his bedroom and opened the top drawer of his dresser. He pulled out clippers and the shortest comb, attached the comb to the top of the clippers, closed the drawer and walked back to the bathroom. Jim plugged in the clippers and picked up the trash can. He stood over the sink, looking in the mirror, holding the trash can under his chin. The clippers started buzzing as he turned them on. First, he dragged the clippers over his beard going down, with the hair. After that pass, he made another but this time going up, against the hair. Then, he shook the clippers into the trash can and put them into the same hand that was holding the can. He rubbed his free hand around his face feeling for any uneven spots. He always missed some, but this felt pretty good. Jim put the clippers back in his other hand and dragged it all over his face again. Better safe than sorry.

When he was satisfied, Jim turned off the clippers. He put the trash can down on the edge of the sink and took the comb off the clippers. He shook them into the trash can again. Then, he used the combless clippers to try to even out the lines on his cheeks and neck. They looked okay, but they could have been crisper. He unplugged the clippers and shook them over the trash again. He wiped them with his fingers and blew into the blades. Then, he took a piece of toilette paper and wiped the whole thing down again before putting the toilette paper in the trash can.

Jim put the trash can back on the floor and brought the clippers back to his room. When he returned to the bathroom, he looked in the mirror again. It could definitely be better. To his right, he saw his roommate’s razor and shaving cream on the shelf. He wouldn’t mind. Jim turned the tap on hot. When it got hot enough, he splashed water on his face and rubbed it around. After turning off the tap, he took the shaving cream down, sprayed some on his left fingers, and spread it on his cheeks and neck. Then he returned the shaving cream and picked up the razor. Hope it’s sharp. He scraped the razor, using short strokes, around the edge of his beard, pausing every couple of strokes to rinse the razor in hot water. Once the outline was complete, Jim rinsed and shook out the razor before placing it back on the shelf. He looked closely in the mirror. Probably should have gone to a barber, but it looked pretty good.

He let out a sigh and took off his shirt and shorts. Then he turned on the shower, a little hotter than usual, and got in. Aside from the regular bathing, he had to make sure he rinsed off any stray bits of hair or shaving cream. When he finished, he turned off the water. He opened the curtain and looked around the bathroom. “Ugh, the towel,” he mumbled under his breath.

Nothing to do but make a run for it. A wave of cold air hit him as he opened the door. He dashed down the hall to his bedroom, took the towel off the hook on his closet door and dashed back to the bathroom. Annoying but invigorating. Jim stood on the bathmat as he dried himself. Then he used the towel to wipe down the sink and get rid of any stray trimmings. He picked up his clothes and brought them back to his bedroom. Jim put the towel and dirty clothes in his hamper, put on a pair of underwear and a white T-shirt and walked back to the kitchen.

Breakfast time, but what to eat? They say you perform better after a good breakfast, so he decided on a fried egg on an English muffin with cheese. It took a few minutes to make it, then he sat at the kitchen table with his sandwich and a glass of water and stared blankly at the wall. He ate mechanically without really noticing the food. It should keep him until lunch. He looked around at the clock as he drank his water. He had half an hour to kill before he needed to get dressed and go.

He got up and put his plate and glass in the sink next to his roommate’s bowl. He was tempted to wash the dishes now to waste some time but decided against it. They weren’t going anywhere, and he wasn’t in the mood. Not that he was ever in the mood to do dishes, but he was even less in the mood at that moment.

Jim wandered back to his bedroom. He put some deodorant on, sat on the bed and picked up his phone. His brother had texted him the night before asking for the name of a song. He started to reply but didn’t want to get into a conversation this close to the interview. It would freak him out if his phone kept buzzing while he was there. Instead he closed the app and opened his email. Just the usual junk. He deleted the emails and closed that app. He turned the ringer off, put the phone on the nightstand and just sat on the bed staring off into space.

After a few minutes, he roused himself. Might as well get dressed. He stood and opened the closet. His suit was on the left. It was his only suit, dark blue with pin stripes. It was meant to be appropriate for weddings, funerals and everything in between, including job interviews. He lifted the hanger and placed the suit on his bed. Then, he went back to the closet and found his brand new, never worn, light blue shirt and matching tie. Jim had bought them when he got asked back for the second interview. It was bad enough he would be wearing the same suit to both interviews, he couldn’t wear the same shirt and tie as well. His other dress shirt was white, and his other tie was red. He hoped this would be a different enough look. He put the shirt and tie on the bed next to the suit, turned to the dresser and removed a pair of black socks. His black belt was on top of the dresser and his black shoes were by the door.

He started with the socks. Then the suit pants, then the belt, then the light blue shirt. He had to unbuckle the belt and unbutton the pants to tuck the shirt in and fasten them all up after he had tucked. He tugged the shirt a few times around the waist to blouse it out a little. He had no idea if he was supposed to do that, but he felt it looked more natural.

Next, he lifted the tie off the bed and walked to the bathroom. He stood in front of the mirror, buttoned the top button on his shirt and flipped the collar up. As he raised the tie, he noticed the price tag still hanging from it. That would be embarrassing. Jim left the bathroom and walked to the kitchen. He took a paring knife from a drawer and cut the tag off. He replaced the knife in the drawer, put the tag in the trash and returned to the bathroom.

This time he lifted the tie over his head and put it on the back of his neck, fat side on the left, skinny on the right. This was way harder than it ought to be. Nothing like tying a tie to make him feel like a child. He pulled the fat side down to make it longer. Then he looped the fat side around the skinny side, flipped it over the back and through the front. When he tightened it, the fat side was only about half as long as the skinny side. He undid it and tried again. This time the fat side was too long. Overcompensating. Finally, on the third try, it looked about right. He folded the collar back down and looked in the mirror. His mom would say he looked handsome. He didn’t see it.

Jim walked back to the bedroom. He stopped at the door and put his shoes on. While down there, he rubbed the dust off the shoes with his thumb. He should probably polish them, but he didn’t have the right supplies. He stood up, walked to the bed and put the suit jacket on. He picked his phone up off the nightstand. No new texts or emails. He still had a few minutes to kill or he’d be too early. Early is fine, but too early looks desperate. He checked that the ringer was off and put the phone in his pants’ pocket.

Better use the bathroom now. When he was finished, he washed and dried his hands, then re-bloused his shirt. One more look in the mirror. He figured he looked as good as he could. He walked back to the bedroom and put his keys and wallet into his pockets. Then he picked up a legal pad and pen from the desk. Someone told him once that it looked good if you take notes during an interview. He wasn’t much of a note-taker, but anything that might help. He took a deep breath and headed to the front door.

It was a bright and sunny day, which he found annoying. At least it was relatively warm. He didn’t own a jacket he could wear over a suit. He locked the door and walked down to his car. He took his phone out of his pocket as he got in. There was a wire coming out of the tape deck, and Jim plugged it into the phone. He turned on the car, then pressed play on his phone. “Idiot Wind” started from the speakers. That’s a bad omen. He skipped it. June Carter Cash’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” started. Probably not a good omen, but too good a song to skip. He put the car in reverse and backed out of the driveway.

The drive took about fifteen minutes. It would be an easy commute if he got the job. He was zoned out for most of the drive, to the point where he was actually surprised when he turned into the parking lot. It’s a miracle more people don’t die on the road. He found an open spot and parked. He was twenty minutes early and decided that fifteen was a better number, so he sat in the car listening to Mississippi John Hurt sing “Coffee Blues.” When the song ended, he turned off the car, picked up the pen and pad and unplugged his phone.

When he got out of the car, he checked to make sure his phone was on silent, put it in his pocket and walked to the front door. He approached the front desk, “Hi. I’m Jim Martin. I have an interview. . .”

The woman looked at her computer screen, “Yes. You’re a little bit early. Follow me.”

She stood and walked further into the building. Jim followed. There were fifteen or twenty cubicles with four enclosed rooms, one in each corner. They walked toward the closer office on the left. There were three chairs next to the door. “You can sit here. She’ll be with you shortly.”

Jim sat in the chair on the left and watched the woman walk back to the front desk. He was trying to be calm, but his right leg was bouncing uncontrollably. He shifted in the chair and crossed his legs. Then he bounced his shoulders and tilted his head back and forth. He stopped suddenly as he felt something scratch his shoulder. He reached up and felt the spot. The tag. He had forgotten to cut the tag off of the new shirt. His face flushed and he could feel sweat pricking his skin. He uncrossed his legs and the right one started bouncing madly again. He thought of running out to the car and ripping it off but didn’t want to have to explain himself to the woman at the desk. He looked around for a restroom. Of course it was on the far wall. He had five minutes, that should be enough time.

Just as he started to stand, the door to the office opened. A woman stuck her head out and said, “Jim?”

“Yes,” he replied. Too late.

She opened the door the rest of the way. “I’m Ruth.” They shook hands. “Come on in.”

Jim followed her into the office.

“You look nervous,” she said.

“A little.”

“Don’t be. The second interview is just a formality.”

Jim smiled for the first time that morning.

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Why is There 18th Century Literature on a Nursing Test?

Source:
http://medievaljourney.com/tutorials/making-a-feather-quill-step-by-step-tutorial

The Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) is an exam which students entering the health field take, typically those entering nursing. According to the ATI Testing website,

“The ATI TEAS (Test of Essential Academic Skills) is designed specifically to assess a student’s preparedness entering the health science fields. Most likely, you’ve been asked to take the TEAS as part of your basic admissions requirements for nursing or allied health school. That’s because studies show a consistent link between a student’s performance on the TEAS and future academic success.”

Cool! I just have one question: which medical skill does interpreting 18th century text evaluate? For example, the following is a question from the TEAS practice test (which can be found here):

Maybe (and it’s a BIG maybe) it might be good for students entering nursing school to understand some 18th century texts, such as the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, in the same way that it would be good if everyone here knew the foundations of American government. But this isn’t some timeless document or world-historic piece of writing. This is an excerpt from Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address, and it’s not even the most important part of that speech.

Reading comprehension and interpretation are important skills, but no one writes or speaks like this anymore. Medical information is not written like this. Patients don’t describe symptoms or ask questions like this. Insurance claims documentation is not written like this. There are very few places in the modern world where understanding literature from hundreds of years ago is a skill.

So why is this question included on a test for nurses? The Nerdy Nurse offers a potential explanation under the aptly headed, “Why is the TEAS Exam Hard?”:


“Some people find the TEAS exam to be difficult because they struggle to perform well on standardized tests. Others have difficulty with the breadth of the subject matter. In general, the TEAS test is difficult because nursing school is competitive. The difficulty of the tests allows schools to select students to have the best chances to succeed academically. Nursing school is hard. This test is one of the first steps of the nursing school process, so it’s no surprise that it would be one of the many difficult hoops that future nurses will have to jump through to secure their place as healthcare professionals.”

While the Nerdy Nurse is not affiliated with ATI or TEAS, it’s refreshing to see someone say what many people who have taken this test (and many standardized tests like it) already know- the test is designed more to weed students out than to ensure that they possess the necessary skills and intelligence to perform well in their programs

The predictable result is that students fail the test, sometimes multiple times. At $50-$80 a session, those costs can add up. That doesn’t include the cost of study materials (which, naturally, are provided by the same people who make the test) or private tutoring. I tutored a student who was studying for the TEAS test. The student spent $100 on those tutoring sessions, and at the end we both agreed that the was ready to take the test. In fact, we were both so confident, we canceled the rest of our sessions- no point in the student spending more money.

The student failed the test.

My student paid me to help them prepare, and I did not help the student succeed. I’m responsible for that failure. But I’m frustrated by the absurdity of reading Jefferson on a nursing test just because it’s hard. In practice, it means that people are denied the opportunity to make more money to take care of themselves and their families. And it’s not because they don’t know what they need to know; it’s because they don’t know what they don’t need to know. If you’re not a historian, you don’t need to read Jefferson’s inaugural address or understand the needlessly complicated way politicians in the 18th century spoke. Denying access to education based on questions like the one above feels like a flimsy pretext to exclude people.

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Show Me Something, Mike Trout

Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. Ask anyone who knows anything about baseball and they will tell you so. He’s accumulated more Wins Above Replacement (WAR) than any player at his age in baseball history. He’s won two MVP awards. He can field, hit, hit for power, throw, and run. Those are all five tools. He has reportedly come to an agreement on a 12-year $430 million contract, and the media is describing it as a bargain. I agree with the knowledgeable baseball folks. I think that Mike Trout probably is the best player in baseball. The numbers are staggering. But I have a Mike Trout problem.

I need to back up a little so this makes sense. I am a big baseball fan. I watch a lot of baseball. I am a Red Sox fan and live on the East coast, so most of the games I watch are Sox games, but I watch many other teams as well. Unfortunately, I do not watch a lot of West coast games. They are just too late for me. It’s nothing against any of the teams. I work for a living and need to be sleeping when their games are on. Mike Trout has played his entire career for the Anaheim Angels, which, for the geographically challenged, play on the West coast, severely limiting the number of times I get to see him play.

Another factor limiting me in seeing Trout is that the Angels have been a pretty lousy team for the most part since Trout entered the league. That means that they are not frequently playing nationally televised games. I’ll watch if they’re the game of the week, but that doesn’t happen much.

So, my big caveat is that I don’t get see Mike Trout play very much. I would guess that I watch him play may five to ten times a year. But, here’s my problem: I’ve never seen Mike Trout do anything amazing. When I do get to see Mike Trout play, he tends to go 1-4, maybe with a walk. He makes a couple of routine catches in center field. And that’s about it. It’s fine, but certainly not what I’m expecting when I watch the greatest player in baseball. I should specify that I’m not talking about highlights. I’ve seen him hit home runs and make diving catches in highlights. But everyone looks amazing in the highlights. That’s what they’re for. I want to see it as an organic part of a game. It’s much more satisfying that way.

The same isn’t true of the other great players in baseball. I’ve seen everyone from Francisco Lindor to Giancarlo Stanton to Nolan Arenado to Jose Altuve to Clayton Kershaw to Buster Posey do amazing things. I’ve even seen a lot of lesser players like Yasiel Puig and Jed Lowrie do amazing things. It’s just the greatest player in the game that fails to come through when I’m watching.

So, Mike Trout, I’m asking you to change this. Next time I watch the Angels play, go 4-4 with three steals or hit three home runs or make a game saving catch or something. I hope it’s not too much to ask. I just want to see the greatest player in baseball do something amazing.

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J-A-M-I-L

When I worked in the Registrar’s Office at Trinity College, I was in charge of inputting faculty advisers into the computer system. As part of the process, I sent the faculty a list of their advisees for confirmation. I sent a list to one professor, and included my standard email signature:

Sincerely,
Jamil Ragland
Office Coordinator, Registrar’s Office

“Thanks Jamal!” she wrote back with a smiley face.

This was a professor I’d known since I was a student. In fact, she’d been my adviser. She’d been mispronouncing my name for six years at that point, no matter how many times I corrected her. Eventually I gave up. It was clear that this sixty year old white woman was never going to pronounce my ethnic name correctly.

I chalked it up to cultural obtuseness- it’s well-documented that white people just don’t give a damn about pronouncing ethnic names correctly. And my name is about as ethnic as they come. I was named after my father’s best friend, the only other Jamil I’ve met that spells his name the same way that I do. Our name is Arabic, which places us into an even smaller group of African Americans.

But as the years have passed, it’s been more than just white people mispronouncing my name. Black people mispronounce it. Hispanic people mispronounce it (and it’s not an unheard of name for Spanish speakers, as my ex-wife has a cousin named Yamil). And in the ultimate blow, I’ve had native Arabic speakers call me Jamal too, even after calling me Jamil the first time they met me.

That’s when I realized that it’s not a problem of pronunciation, but familiarity. Like I said, I’ve only met one person named Jamil, and only heard the name a handful of times in this part of the world. People call me Jamal because they’re more familiar with that name. Okay, cool, I get that. Yet that leads to a question: where the hell are all of the Jamals?

Like Jamil, I’ve only met one person named Jamal. He lived on the same street at as me when I moved to Bloomfield, and we didn’t even call him Jamal, but instead a nickname. I can only think of one famous Jamal, Jamal Lyon from Empire, and he’s not even real!. So it’s fine if my name is rare and people default to the familiar, but what’s familiar about Jamal? Am I just being squeezed out by an equally obscure name?

In any case, I’m not taking this too seriously. I’ve been called much worse than Jamal in the past, and now that I’m working in a school I’ve become accustomed to not even hearing my name at all and simply responding to “Mr.!” Someday, all of this will change, and Jamil will take it’s rightful place among the popular names of the Western world. I mean, if a name like Jackson can be #1, how hard can it be to make it to the top?

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Some Early Thoughts on the 2020 Election

The 2020 presidential election is well underway. There are a ton of Democrats running. And the pathetic excuse for an incumbent Republican is running. I’m nowhere near deciding which candidate to support yet (hint: not Trump). I honestly can’t even name everyone who’s running. But some things have struck me about this election season.

The first and most important thing that struck me is the fact that no one has learned anything from the 2016 election. I can easily see it playing out just like it did last time, which terrifies me. Everyone got so focused on what Clinton did wrong that they didn’t pay any attention to the real reasons she lost. Chief among those reasons is pure, old-fashioned sexism. It was blatant in the Trump campaign. I don’t think I need to provide any examples. It was all over the Sanders campaign. Here’s an article for support. I don’t think it goes far enough. His whole attitude is chauvinistic and condescending. Plus I can’t think of any other reason why Sanders refused to concede when it was clear that he’d lost and couldn’t bring himself to support Clinton. And rather than call them out on it (which would be their job), the press joined in. Everything said and written about Clinton’s voice, laugh, hair, clothes, or her philandering husband was simply sexist. And there was a lot of it. Plus we can’t forget about the rampant victim blaming that happened just after the election.

I’m sad to say that things have not improved at all since 2016. I know people will point to the #MeToo movement and the handful of famous people who have been brought down by it, but it has hardly been a broad social change. The Brett Kavanaugh hearings and elevation to the Supreme Court are more than enough to prove that. The women who are running in the 2020 race are already falling victim to the same kind of sexist attacks that Clinton did. Kamala Harris is being called a gold digger. Amy Klobuchar is being called a mean boss. Trump basically called Kirsten Gillibrand a whore. It’s everywhere.

The second big reason Clinton lost was the press. They are completely inept. I’ve written about it before, but the press is simply bad at their job. 2016 wasn’t the first time Trump ran for president. Just like those other times, he wasn’t a serious candidate when he declared. He didn’t have a Super PAC or any kind of fundraising apparatus. It was a publicity stunt by a guy that likes the attention. Once the press realized that Trump was good for clicks and ratings, they put him everywhere. The New York Times says Trump got $2 billion in free media coverage. Some estimates go even higher than that. The point is that the press picked Trump as their preferred candidate, turned him into a real candidate and handed him the election.

In the years since Trump was elected, the press hasn’t learned a thing. They are trying to paint themselves heroically since Trump, in his more fascist moments, calls them the enemy, but they’re behavior hasn’t changed at all. Apparently Trump is still good for clicks and ratings, so they cover everything he says and does. No matter how bald-faced the lie, they report it. No matter how irrelevant or inane the statement, they report it. Calling Trump’s attacks on Elizabeth Warren irrelevant and inane is being overly generous, but they make the news. Rep. Ilhan Omar made some legitimate criticisms of Israel and AIPAC, but the story hasn’t been about the substance of her claims. It has been about her supposed anti-Semitism. It’s a lie, but the press loves it.

Another big reason Trump won in 2016 is that people would not unite against him. It happened in the primaries. There were a ton of Republicans running and they were all horrified by the idea of Trump getting the nomination. But rather than get the party to do something about him, they concentrated on bashing each other and letting Trump slide through. Then, during the general election, all those Republicans who hated Trump a few months earlier supported him against Clinton. Add to that the fact that Democrats and the left couldn’t unite behind Clinton and it goes a long way towards explaining Trump’s victory.

This time, the Republicans are still supporting Trump even though it goes against all of their professed values. And the Democrats are anything but united. It seems like every eligible Democrat except Hillary Clinton has jumped into the race. At this point there is nothing resembling a show of unity on the left. There’s still time, and we’ll have to wait and see how the primaries play out. But I’m worried that the candidates own egos will get in the way of the more important mission, stopping Trump.

Like I said, there’s still time and we’ll have to see what happens in the primaries, but I’m having a really hard time finding reasons for optimism in the 2020 race. No one learned anything from 2016. The left is disunited as ever, the press continues to be awful and we’re too sexist to give all of the qualified candidates a chance. (I didn’t even get into the racism issues and the conspiracy theories, but I could write another whole essay on those.) I really hope I’m wrong, but from what I’m seeing now, the next two years are going to be a nightmare.

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Donald Trump is Going to Win Re-Election in 2020

Source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/United-States-Electoral-College-Votes-by-State-1787124

I’ve written in the past that it seems very unlikely that Donald Trump will step down at the end of his presidency, no matter how that happens. I think we may be able to dodge that bullet until 2024, because it looks like Donald Trump will not only escape impeachment, but he’s also poised to win re-election in 2020. There are a bunch of reasons why, but I want to focus on three major reasons:

1. The Mueller Report is not going to prove collusion between Donald Trump and Russia: This is probably the single biggest problem for Democrats going into 2020. After spending the last two years calling Trump a traitor, anything less than the special counsel report proving that Donald Trump himself spoke to Russian intelligence officials about the 2016 election will be a letdown that plays into Trump’s narrative about the entire investigation being a “witch hunt.” That’s not to say that Trump didn’t break any laws; he almost certainly has broken campaign finance laws at the very least. But breaking campaign finance law, and even obstruction of justice, aren’t the same as collusion, and they won’t rise to the level of convincing any Republican Senator to vote for Trump’s impeachment.

I misspoke in the opening paragraph that Trump would escape impeachment. The House, which is controlled by Democrats, may actually bring articles of impeachment against Trump (although even that seems very unlikely). Yet it’s the Senate which would actually try and convict the President if it comes to impeachment. A two-thirds vote is required to convict. That means that the Democrats, with 45 members and two independents voting with them, would need to pick up twenty Republicans to vote to reach the 67 Senators they’ll need to convict President Trump. There has been absolutely no evidence that Republicans are prepared to do that.

One of the potential events which might get Republicans to change their minds would be direct evidence of collusion. Some people are holding out hope that that evidence does indeed exist in Mueller’s future report. However, Michael Cohen’s testimony yesterday, while hyped up and entertaining, really didn’t change anything about the current political situation. He confirmed that Trump is a liar, a crook, and a racist, and that he probably broke campaign finance law. But we already knew all of that. Trump has never faced any serious consequences for those same actions, and is unlikely to face any now (especially since the Justice Department has a policy of not indicting a sitting President). Hearing Cohen confirm the same information again isn’t going to move senators now, or voters in 2020. And if Cohen is any indicator of the overall direction of the Mueller investigation, then it looks like we’re not going to get the smoking gun we’re hoping for. The people who are with Trump will remain with him. The people opposing him, on the other hand…

2. Bernie Sanders is going to wreck the Democratic primaries again: Full disclosure- I don’t like Bernie Sanders. I don’t think his ideas are nearly as radical (or well-thought out) as he claims they are. I don’t think he resonates with voters as strongly as everyone says that he does. I think he gets all of the attention he does because media reflexively defers to the old white man in the room (see: all the attention Howard Schultz got for doing literally nothing). I don’t trust any part of Bernie Sander’s platform, because I believe that while it may trickle down to people of color, it is primarily designed to help the all-important white working/middle class that politicians are obsessed with courting.

That’s just what I think though. Why don’t we get down to the facts? Here’s a fact: Bernie Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton. She was unpopular, had forty years of baggage, controversies and gaffes, and didn’t have the national media fawning over her as some sort of dark horse savior. And he STILL lost to her. I don’t really know why Sanders supporters think he could have beaten Trump if he couldn’t even beat Clinton. Besides, pandering to the white working/middle class is Trump’s bread and butter. Sanders would be trying to beat Trump at his own game, and that’s a losing proposition on its own.

Additionally, the Democratic party has decisively shifted in the direction of women, especially women of color. Black women showed up for Doug Jones in Alabama; Stacey Abrams came incredibly close to winning Georgia (with very real voter suppression happening); Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar are the new stars of the Democratic House caucus; Kamala Harris is a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination. White women are ascendant in the party as well.

And into this clear ideological shift steps Bernie Sanders, waving the same flag he waved in 2016. You remember 2016, when it was clear that he couldn’t win yet he refused to concede and support Hillary Clinton? To be sure, there were alot of other things that contributed to Clinton’s defeat (the Comey letter, the free advertising Trump got from major media, the electoral college), but a huge part of it was also Sanders damaging Clinton in the primaries and continuing to do so even after it was clear he lost.

I don’t think Sanders has learned anything from that experience, either about the direction of the country, the party, or his own refusal to get out of the way. If he had, then he wouldn’t be running for President now. He would stand aside and let the generation of young women who are the future of the Democratic party have their time in the sun. Instead, he usurps them at every turn, and will almost certainly continue his mixture of wink-nudge misogyny and appealing to white identity politics, but from his position inside the big tent of leftist politics. That will put the eventual woman nominee (because just like in 2016, Sanders has no actual possibility of winning the nomination) in the same place Hillary was in, in terms of party unity and a bunch of left-wing dudes crying bloody murder all the way until November 2020. Bernie will beat up on the other candidates in his doomed attempt at getting into the White House, and then sulk when he inevitably fails. That worked out really well in 2016.

3. Donald Trump is the incumbent, and incumbency matters: One of the reasons that AOC skyrocketed to fame so quickly was because she defeated an incumbent representative to win her seat in the House. As of 2014, 95% of incumbents in Congress won re-election. Defeating an incumbent is something of a minor miracle in national politics.

But what about the presidency? In the ten elections where an incumbent president was on the ballot since 1945, the incumbent has won seven of them. 70% is far lower than the 95% rate for Congress, but still well beyond a 50% chance of success.

The power of already holding office cannot be understated. It doesn’t guarantee victory, but it is a very powerful advantage. Combined with Trump’s ability to manipulate people’s fears, lie his way into a holding pattern with just about everyone who opposes him, and an electoral map which favors Republicans in 2020, and it looks like the political winds are at Trump’s back heading into 2020. Those winds can absolutely change, but I’m pretty confident in saying that Trump will be reelected in 2020. That will present us with a whole new set of challenges, but I suppose that at least one of them won’t be removing a recalcitrant President from office.

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Synthetics

This is story number two for my 12 stories in 12 months challenge. This month’s prompt was “New Me” and we had to write it in 1200 words. I liked this prompt better than the last, but my idea didn’t really need the full 1200 words. I hope the filler isn’t too distracting.

Theseus opened his eyes. “How do you feel?” the doctor asked.

“Fine. Did you do it?”

“We did. Your fingernails and toenails have been replaced with synthetics. You will find them stronger and more useful, and you’ll never have a hangnail again.”

Theseus looked at his hands and tapped his thumbs against each of his other fingertips. “They don’t seem any different.”

“That’s the idea,” the doctor replied.

“That’s everything, then?” Theseus asked.

“It is. As far as we know, you are the first person to have had every body part replaced with synthetics.”

“You didn’t tell anyone, did you?”

“Of course not. All medical procedures are confidential.”

“Good. I don’t want any press.”

“No need to worry. When I write it up, you’ll be given a pseudonym.”

“So, what now?” Theseus asked.

“Nothing really. I’d like you to rest today, but you can resume normal activities tomorrow. No restrictions.”

“Perfect.”

***

The next day, Theseus awoke a few minutes before his alarm went off. He lay in bed waiting for the alarm. When it went off at 6:30, Theseus turned it off, got up and walked to the bathroom. He looked in the mirror, then held his hands up with the backs facing him. “Amazing,” he said. Then he bent down and inspected his toes.

If he didn’t know, he wouldn’t know. That’s how all the synthetics were, though. No one could tell by looking that none of his body parts were original. He even felt the same as he’d always felt. The only differences between Theseus and everyone else were no grey hairs and none of the daily aches and pains that were common in people his age.

He knew he had to get moving. He started by brushing his teeth, then a shower, then breakfast. He had trouble deciding what to wear. He kind of wanted attention, it was a big day. But he hadn’t told anyone about the procedure. The only way he’d get noticed is if he wore something special. He decided on his regular khakis but paired them with a bright red dress shirt. That should get him a couple of compliments.

***

Theseus left the house a bit earlier than he usually did. Instead of taking the shuttle to work, he wanted to walk. He couldn’t think of any other way to test his new synthetics. It’s not like he used his fingernails much. Occasionally he would pick his teeth with them, or maybe lift a cover, but that was about it. And he couldn’t think of anything he’d ever done with his toenails. So, walking it was and he dragged his fingertips across railings or the sides of buildings as he passed them.

It took Theseus about twenty minutes to get to work. He pushed his way through the revolving door into the lobby. The floor was marble, probably not real marble, but it looked the part. There was a high, mirrored ceiling and there was a security desk with a woman sitting at it. Next to the desk was an arch that led to a door which led to the building proper. There were a few people milling about and chatting.

Theseus walked towards the arch and the door. “Good morning, Sophia,” he said as he walked past the desk.

“Nice shirt,” she replied.

He walked under the arch, like he did every morning. A red light started flashing, and when Theseus tried the door, it was locked. A puzzled look crossed his face.

“That’s weird,” said Sophia as she walked around the desk. “Step back out here, please.” He did and she said, “Now, try again.”

Theseus stepped through the arch again, and the same red light started flashing. “There must be something wrong with the scanner,” he said. “Can you buzz me in?”

Sophia was looking at a screen on the side of the arch. “It says you’re ‘unknown.’ I’ve never seen that before. Everyone’s in the database. Try one more time.”

He walked a few feet into the lobby, turned and walked back under the arch. The red light flashed. The other people in the lobby started to pay attention. Theseus looked around uncomfortably. He’d wanted attention, but not this kind. “Can you please buzz me in? I’m going to be late for work.”

“I’m sorry,” she replied, “but I can’t let you in without it being logged. Do you have an ID on you?”

“An ID? Of course not. No one’s carried ID in a decade. Not since the scanners were installed everywhere.”

“I need something to prove that you’re you.”

“But you know me. We say, ‘Good morning,’ every morning and, ‘Have a nice night,’ every night.”

“I know, but I could get fired. There’s no way they’ll take my word over the scanner’s. Excuse me,” she said to the small crowd that was watching. “Are any of you going in?”

A short man with thick, dark hair raised his hand.

“Glaucon!” Theseus almost yelled. “You can vouch for me. We’ve been working together for years.”

“Can I?” asked Glaucon.

“I’m afraid not,” Sophia said. “If they won’t take my word over the scanner’s, they won’t take yours. But, could you try going in? I want to see if the scanner’s messed up or if it’s Theseus.”

“Nice,” Theseus muttered.

“No problem,” Glaucon replied. He walked through the arch, no red light, and the door opened at his touch. He lingered for a moment, “Sorry, Theseus. I wish I could help.” Then, he went through the door and it closed behind him.

Theseus let out a sigh.

“Okay,” said Sophia, “Try it one more time.”

Theseus shrugged and walked through the arch yet again. The red light flashed, and the door stayed locked. “This is ridiculous.” He was starting to get angry.

“Were there any issues yesterday?”

“I took a vacation day yesterday, but it was fine the day before that and every work day for the past seven years.”

“What did you do on your vacation day?” Sophia asked jokingly.

A slow, “Oh, crap!” was Theseus’ response. “What does the scanner scan when it scans us?”

“I’m not really sure. I think it scans everything and matches it to the database.”

“This is embarrassing, but I had a procedure done yesterday,” Theseus said in a low voice. “I had something replaced with a synthetic. You don’t think that could be messing up my scan?”

“I wouldn’t think one synthetic would do it. You’re still mostly the same. There are tons of people who have gotten synthetics.”

“Crap, crap, crap. I can’t believe I didn’t think about this. I can’t believe they didn’t warn me. Oh, crap.”

“Warn you about what?” Sophia asked.

“I might not be me anymore.”

“Of course you’re you. What are you talking about? We’ve known each other for years.”

Theseus took out his phone. He called his boss, “Hi. It’s Theseus. I’m going to need to take a sick day today. I know I was out yesterday, but it’s important. I’ll explain tomorrow.” He hung up and put the phone back in his pocket.

“I’ve got to get to city hall,” he said. “This is going to be a nightmare to sort out.”

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Madame Bovary

I just read Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert. I have two ongoing goals. One is to read all of the Great Books. I know all of the complaints about the Western Cannon, and I’m not following the Western Cannon exactly. I’ve read plenty of non-Western Great Books. But, I do tend to think that the books that have made the list are generally worth reading. They made it for a reason. My other goal is to read all of the books that I was assigned as a student, but never read. Madame Bovary checks both boxes. I know it was assigned my senior year of high school, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t read a page of it at the time. It’s still an open question how I passed any of my classes in high school, but at least I’m doing the work, even if it is twenty-five (or more) years late.

I don’t know what to think about Madame Bovary. I didn’t exactly hate it. It’s better than Moby Dick or Ulysses. But I can’t honestly say I liked it much at all. I can’t help but wonder what the point of it was. According to the introduction, Flaubert was going for realism, and it was groundbreaking to do so at the time. But, for Flaubert, realism seems to be a bunch of awful people getting way too caught up in pointless nonsense from their day to day lives. It’s almost like a satire of the French common folk from the mid-nineteenth century. But satire doesn’t work when it’s punching down, and Flaubert spent the entirety of the book punching down.

In the last paragraph I mentioned the awful people. That was probably the strangest thing about the book. I’ve never read a book before where the author so clearly finds all of his characters to be completely contemptible. They didn’t generate any sympathy at all. There were only two things in the book that elicited any kind of feeling. One was when Hippolyte was the victim of a botched surgery, and the other was when Berthe was orphaned. But Hippolyte and Berthe weren’t even close to fleshed out characters. Any feeling associated with them just came from the fact that in theory it’s bad to lose a leg or to become orphaned. I just didn’t know enough about either character to feel anything specific. They were more like plot devices to show how bad Charles and Emma Bovary were.

If Madame Bovary weren’t one of the world’s Great Books, I’d describe it as sloppily written. But, I don’t read a word of French, so I can’t really comment on the style. Perhaps, in French, it’s beautiful, even though it didn’t translate as beautiful. But narratively, it is sloppy. The narrative voice is wildly inconsistent. The point of view changes frequently. It goes on lengthy tangents. And there are long periods where it is unclear whose story it is. The most egregious was during Emma Bovary’s death scene. It’s a very long and drawn out death. Personally, I think Flaubert really relished torturing his titular character. But right in the middle of her long, drawn out death scene, Flaubert takes a break and goes over to the neighbor’s house to have Homais, the pharmacist, act like an idiot for a few pages before going back to Emma dying. It didn’t advance the plot. It didn’t deepen our understanding of a character. It didn’t seem to have any reason for being in the book, but there it was.

It doesn’t do Madame Bovary any favors that the most obvious book to compare it to is Anna Karenina. They both follow women in unsatisfying relationships who have extramarital affairs and die. But Tolstoy’s characters feel real while Flaubert’s feel like caricatures. There is a depth of feeling in Tolstoy that Flaubert never approaches. The only point of comparison that Flaubert wins is that his book came out first.

Overall, Madame Bovary was just about the strangest book I’ve ever read. Strange is fine if that’s what the author is going for, but in this case, it clearly isn’t. I don’t think I’m sorry I read it. At least I have an opinion about one of the world’s Great Books. But I can’t recommend it.

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