Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Just Do It

American troops approaching Omaha Beach on Normandy Beach, D-Day ...

Seventy six years ago, in the early hours of an early spring morning, young men from the various allied nations loaded themselves into a series of sequentially numbered metal delivery vessels off the southern coast of England. The ask of them was not complex, but it was difficult.

The potential future of the world depended in no small part in their execution of that ask.

It was simple, but it was not easy. Many knew that they would not even make it to the dry land. But they went.

When asked, they responded.

As a people, no-one in my generation, or those above or below us, has seen a moment quite like that.

Our moment is here.

There is another enemy, but it doesn't wear spit-shined boots. It does not confront us with Panzers or Messerchmitts or Junkers. It is not led by an evil man with bent symbols and a toothbrush moustache.

As of this moment, according to data being tracked here by the Johns Hopkins University, more than three quarters of a million people in the world have contracted the SARS-CoV-2 virus (COVID-19). In the US, we now have 164,000 confirmed cases.

Both numbers are likely an order of magnitude wrong at this point.

We've all seen the images from Italy. Many have seen the devastating numbers in Spain.

Six years ago, during the last viral outbreak (Ebola, at the time), I wrote this about the treats our ancient enemies (viruses and bacteria) present:

There has been a number of movies and books with doomsday stories.  In order of decreasing likelihood, the list includes asteroids crashing into the earth.  Widespread terrorist attacks,  nuclear war.  zombie apocalypse.  The first is a virtual certainty given sufficient time; the last is, despite an actual epidemiological simulation run at a reputable university in Canada, not ever going to happen outside the imagination of George A. Romero or Rick Grimes.  I am not particularly concerned about any of these.  But one thing I do actually have on my fear radar is a viral or bacteriological plague.  

In short, we are overdue - WAY overdue - for a thinning of the herd, so to speak.  The last really great plague was the so-called Spanish Influenza of the early 20th century.  What? No.  SARS does not count.  In 1918, the flu infected nearly a half billion people, killing around 20% of them.  100 million dead is a lot of people just on its face.  But considering that the world population then was only about two billion, the Spanish Influenza killed around one out of every 20 people on earth.

  • Stay home.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Avoid unnecessary travel.
This is not a drill.

SARS-CoV-2 is not likely to be the Spanish flu (and we should be on our hands and knees being thankful for this); but we need to take this seriously.

I repeat - if the epidemiology from 1918 plays out here today, more than one hundred million people around the world are going to die in the next 18 months.

This does not need to be our future.

We are not merely ships tossed on a tumultuous sea of fate and fortune.

Here in California, our governor ordered a state-wide "shelter in place" more than two weeks ago. He made it clear why this was so. And he reminds us, daily, that our future is in our hands.

Like the soldiers who hit the beaches of Normandy in 1944, we have been called. The ask of us, like them, is not complex.

We aren't being asked to load into troop transports pre-dawn. We are not asked to face enemy fire. We are not asked to storm dug-in positions on a beach in a faraway land.

We are asked essentially to do nothing.

And unlike those soldiers, if we follow orders, most of us are going to come out unharmed.

Our moment. Our choice. Our future.

Here is a simple breakdown of the course of disease, from initial infection to resolution.

For most of us, SARS-CoV-2 represents a fairly mild problem. 85 per cent of us fall into the top two cohorts. Most who are infected will have no (30%) or mild to moderate (55%) symptoms.

A small number (10%) will have severe symptoms, and will require hospitalisation.

Fewer still will have critical symptoms.

ALL of those who are infected will have a period where we are contagious. Even those who have no symptoms at all will, for about three weeks, be able to infect other people.

Critically, those in the 5 and 10 per cent cohorts.

And here is the rub. Of those who land in the critical cohort, current data are that fully half will die. In the severe cohort, estimates are that 15% (one in about six) are also going to die.

These two skew heavily into groups who are older (over 60) and/or those who have other underlying conditions. Asthma. Diabetes. Immuno-compromise.

Many people are discovering that they have "underlying conditions" after they are diagnosed with COVID-19.

But you are going to know someone who does.

By these estimates, crudely, if half the critical cohort (5% of the population) and 1/6 of the severe cohort (10%) are at risk of death, that's about four per cent of the population.

SOMEONE you care about is in that group.

Let me put that another way.

Think of twenty people that you know. Your mother. Your uncle. Your sister. Your daughter. A teacher you're fond of from when you were young.

If this model holds true, one of them is not going to be alive in a year if you don't stay home.

Maybe you're young. Maybe you're healthy. Chances are pretty good that you're not going to get terribly sick.

Do you have someone in your life that you want to nominate to be taken away by this? I don't.

The movie does not have to end this way. There is no need to panic; there is absolutely a need to act.

Stay home. Wash your hands. Avoid unnecessary travel.

Our moment. Our choice. Our future.

Please stay home.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Like Clockwork

Image result for images clockwork

Today is one that's been on the calendar for a long time. In truth, since calendars were made of course, but from my own personal calendar, since 2000.

One of the advantages of being born in a zero year (I was born in 1970) is that the maths for the milestone years are a bit easier.

As a result, in the year 2000, I turned 30 years old. While the rest of the world was exhaling from the fact that we achieved the year without the computers simultaneously exploding and taking the developed world with them, I woke that day 20 years ago to the idea that I was finally, officially, a bona fide adult.

I've written a couple of times on the topic, but I clearly remember that birthday. My mother was visiting me in my home (in those days) in San Jose, California. The day began with some showers, but the sun came out. We spent lunch at Valley Fair Mall (now "Westfield Shoppingtown") where we grabbed a quick meal and a tiffany lamp for the house. On the way home, we stopped at the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden (which was one of my favourite spots in the city) before returning for dinner. Even at 30, it was a nice treat to have my mother prepare my favourite meal for a birthday.

I remember thinking that 30 was a milestone because I know longer thought of myself (or referred to my friends as) a "kid." All the trappings of adulthood of course existed already - real job, dog, house and mortgage. I had done my taxes already several times. I had a retirement fund. But now, there was no going back.

After all, 30 was the age when people in the 1970s cult film "Logan's Run" faced the final curtain.

But I also thought of the reality that at some point, I was actually going to be 40. And then 50. 40 came and went a decade ago.

50 arrived today.

Those who know me are already aware that my hobby is my 1952 MG. It's not "modern" in any way - 54 BHp engine, no power steering, no top. All its workings are mechanical.

I got the car for my 40th birthday, and from time to time, I am in the garage working on this or that 'thing' that decides in its uniquely British way that it just no longer wants to work properly.

The car was already 18 years old when I was born.

In the past decade, certain parts have just...worn out.

About 8 years ago, one of the carburettors developed a hairline crack, so it had to be replaced. It took a while, but I found a spare in Oxfordshire, England - ironically just a few miles from Abingdon, where the car was made. The factory was closed in 1980 or so, and now, a Starbuck's is where the cars used to roll off of the assembly line.

A carburettor is a device that used to exist in cars that more or less functions the way that your lungs do. Gasoline - the life's blood of an internal combustion engine - is mixed with air before being sucked into the ignition chamber, where the two are combined with a spark to drive the piston, and then, the car itself. If the carbs leak air, or are out of balance, your car will gasp in much the same way that you will if your lungs aren't working.

Two years ago, the starter's solenoid needed replacement. That was an easier "find" - an OEM still manufactures Lucas knock-offs online. A week later, the old one was out and the new, in. Back on the road.

In time, I've also replaced the dynamo, an oil line, and an odometer cable.

A 70 year old car has 70 year old parts that fail. But those parts can be replaced. So it will remain on the road as long as I have the interest in keeping it going (and the physical ability to do so). At some point, I hope that my son (now 14) will be interested in it, and I can give it to him. When he was six or so years old, he "helped" me replace the broken carb.

A human being is in one sense, a collection of parts. Some can be replaced easily, some not so easily. One of other off-time activities is running. 11 years ago, I wrote a brief blurb about it here.

In 1998, I was able to run 2000 km in a year. At the time, I could pretty easily keep a seven minute per mile pace. Pushing it was 40 minutes for a 10km (about 6.30 per mile).

At 40, I could keep a seven minute per mile pace, but it was not easy.

Age and wear and tear slow you down.

Last year (2019), I was able to log about 500 miles total And my goal is now eight minutes per mile. I get the occasional leg injury (pain in the heel of my foot, a strained gastrocnemius). These injuries take much longer to recover than they did. A tweak used to put me on the shelf for a week, maybe two. This past fall, leg tightness meant reduced activity for two months.

Unlike the car, I cannot go out and get a new lung, or replace a leg. Joints can be replaced with titanium, but they honestly aren't the same.

I used to laugh when my father would fall asleep in our green armchair in the living room after dinner. Last night, I was sitting on our sofa and briefly nodded off. Dad was 53 when he died, so he never was really an old man, even though I thought of him as one for most of our shared time.

Today, I'm fifty years old. And despite the fact that my own parts don't work as well as they used to, I am ok with it.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

For Though Your Dreams May Toss and Turn You Now

Today is the 21st of January. For most of the world, one of 365 days (or in this Leap Year, 366) in the calendar. Another page on and another off.

However, for my family, today is my father's birthday. 

Dad's been gone for 26 years as of this coming July. More than half of my life. My own birthday is up on just over three weeks. This is a big one for me, but mainly because people think in base 10 (I suppose because, per Tom Lehrer, for those of us not missing two fingers...)

Many years ago, I thought my father was a big man. That he was the strongest person in the world. I thought he knew just about everything. We used to watch "Jeopardy!" on television every night after dinner, and I was amazed at how many of the questions he could get right. 

As I got bigger, I found out, one by one, that of course, none of these things was true. Dad was six feet tall and 155 pounds on a good day - hardly the biggest man in the world. More than once, as I got older, I could lift and do things that he couldn't. And there were times when, Jimmy Stewart to the side, I went to dad for an answer and even between the two of us, we could not find it. 

I have my own son who once looked at me in the same way. I was the big person who knew the answers to everything. Now, my own son is an inch taller than I am (he's 14, so he caught and passed me; I never reached my father's height). Years ago, he started asking questions I could not answer.

But while my father was not the biggest man in the world, and he did not have all the answers, he always remained the most important man in my life.

When I was young, I thought dad was an old man, which I suppose all kids do. He lost his battle to cancer in 1994. He was three years older then than I am right now. 

Dad never got to be an old man.

With the passing of time, I've found, as everyone does, that with each year - with each day - I have fewer and fewer plans and more and more memories. 

I think about dad often. Today, he would have been 79.

Happy birthday dad. I miss you a lot. 

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Scars Are Souvenirs You Never Lose

No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget

Over dinner last night, I was having a conversation with my wife about a family friend. The friend, not unlike us (and you, I suspect) is fond of posting images on social media. The pictures show smiling faces, fun in the sun. A nice meal. A fantastic sunset.

People are smiling. Always smiling.

Many people today are talking as well about the scene of Academy Award-nominated actor Bradley Cooper exchanging a silent but loving look with "Lady Ga Ga", his co-star from the recent movie remake of A Star Is Born. Of course, Cooper and "Ga Ga" are professional actors, and they are paid to feign emotion. And quite skilful at it.

I remarked to my wife, people on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media project a certain idealized image of the life that they wish that they had.

This is not to say that they are not happy. It does not mean the emotion in the photos is false. But images online capture the soft light that shines into our lives. What is missing from our digital footprints is the shadows that fall on us all.

How are our actual lives stacked up against the way we want the world to see them?

Several years ago, there was a film released called One Hour Photo. For those who came of age in the era of digital photography, in the olden days (like, pre-2005), people took pictures using cameras with actual film in them. The rolls were taken to drug stores or to speciality photo printing shops to be printed. You dropped the roll of film and a couple of days later, went to retrieve the prints.

For an additional fee, you could get them back, as the title indicated, in one hour - a rush job.

I think most of the PhotoMats of my youth are long gone.

In an odd, against-type casting, Robin Williams played a character named Sy Parrish, who worked developing other people’s pictures. The movie opens with a soliloquy by Parrish:
Family photos depict smiling faces... births, weddings, holidays, children's birthday parties. People take pictures of the happy moments in their lives. Someone looking through our photo album would conclude that we had led a joyous, leisurely existence free of tragedy. No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget.
I liked the movie, though it comes to rather an unhappy and surprising end. But this observation has stayed with me since then.

“No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget.”

Therein lies your answer. No one is as happy as they appear in their on-line world.

That is the ugly truth of life.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Another Year

Today is the 13th of February, which for those who know me, means that the odometer today clicks another digit over. Any one year is not significantly different from the last, but after a few revolutions, the chassis has picked up more than a few miles.

This year (49) is not a mile-stone year by any stretch. 49 is not even a prime number, so it's just another footnote in the stats almanac and not "black ink" as baseball writer Bill James liked to say.

It's today a rainy, stormy day here in San Francisco (speaking of 49ers). It reminds me a bit of my 30th birthday, which (incredibly) is now nearly two decades ago.

I turned 30 in the year 2000, which made it especially auspicious. Remember the Y2K scare? How silly we all felt when really, nothing happened?

That February, like this one, saw a lot of rain. The Bay Area is close to a desert in terms of annual rainfall, but we do get between 15 and 20 inches of rain in a year. But that rainfall is packed into a couple of months of the winter. For eight or so months per year, we typically do not even get a cloud in the sky, fog excepted.

I remember how wet it was in 2000. I remember more than that that my mother was visiting me. At the time, I was living in San Jose, California, in a sub-division called "Naglee Park." For my 30th birthday, I took the day off. My mother and I spent the middle part of the day getting lunch and then at the Municipal Rose Garden, just west of downtown. The Rose Garden is a beautiful park in central San Jose, with crushed gravel parkways, some sculptures and topiaries, and of course, rows and rows of roses.

It's the sort of place you might expect in a European city more than the self-described "Capital of Silicon Valley."

It was rather a stormy week (much like today), and in fact, it began to sprinkle. So we went to the Valley Fair shopping centre nearby for some shelter. My mother got me a Tiffany glass mission-style table lamp as a Christmas present before we headed home.

For dinner, my mother prepared my favourite meal - a recipe of oven barbecued pork spare ribs. She and I - and my dog Rowan - shared a birthday dinner.

I'm soon heading home from work, and that same menu is on for tonight. I'll share it with my wife and son. My dog Eiffel will get a bone if he behaves as well.

I still have that Tiffany lamp; it's on the dresser in my bedroom. I think about my 30th birthday when I see it each night.


Tuesday, 22 January 2019

A Close Shave

Image result for cartoonstraight razor

A lot of noise the past few days about a pretty quotidien item. The Gilette corporation last week unveiled an ad campaign that sought to ride along with the zeitgeist of the US. 

Essentially, playing on the old tag line that the company's razor's were "the best a man can get," the piece opens with a series of men looking into the mirror, and asking if this really is the best we can do.

What follows is approximately two minutes of images of bullying, caddish and demeaning behaviour towards women, and a host of other less than stellar examples.

The spot has drawn a lot of criticism for its suggestion of what constitutes "toxic masculinity," much of it from people whom I would typically consider fellow travellers.

Up-front, I want to say that I find the term "toxic masculinity" equal parts trite, cliched, and false. There is nothing specifically "masculine" about bullying, as anyone who has seen the way girls emotionally torture one another as adolescents. And the same ad that points to cartoonish laughs of an old sit-com where the boss pinches the bottom of his secretary does not go on to talk at all about the staple in sit-coms of dad being basically a useless fool who does not know not to put ice cream in the microwave.

Both of these are outdated tropes that lazy Hollywood writers used in lieu of creativity for decades. 

But setting aside the politics of the terminology, I have to say that what actually is in the ads is remarkably uncontroversial, isn't it? Who would argue that we can - and should - be better?

And what they are really showing here (again, cliches to the side) is bullying and how we facilitate it. Not "men," but all of us as a society. The image of kid, perceived by his peers to be weak,  targeted and chased by a wolfpack. 

I've written before here and here about what I have seen, both as a kid and a parent. I hate bullying. I find it, among the pantheon of vices, perhaps the most despicable.

The Chinese have an expression, 弱肉強食. It means, the weak are meat, the strong eat.

I believe now as I did then, that we live in a society that likes to pretend that it is more refined than it really is. We believe that, if some bad guy tries to break into our house, the cops will get him. Or that white collar crooks who game the system can be constrained by ever more “regulation.” For all of our rules and our therapists and our technological wonders, we are not so removed from what we have always been - human beings are tribal, violent creatures who over millennia have evolved skills to kill or be killed.

We live in a world of predators and prey. Kids can sense this.
The ad shows in each situation that small eyes watch and see. They observe how we act. What we are, they become.

It's politically expedient today to talk in silly buzzwords about toxic masculinity and privilege. 
But ultimately, what is being said is that we can do better. I don't have any problem with that.

We must do better.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

New Year New Look

2018 is now officially in the books. The holidays are over. We've tossed out the final page of the old calendar, and now have 12 fresh, new pages to confront us.

I am not one for resolutions; at this point, I have come to a sort of detente with time. Each year is, despite my best efforts, likely to be very similar to the one that just concluded, and ultimately, time is going to win anyways.

One thing that has changed - on the final day of the year, I went to have a new prescription for my glasses made. My last visit to the optometrist was in the end of 2016, so it was time. Like time, I am fighting a gradually losing battle with my vision, and thus, the glasses I got in December of 2016 are no longer up to the task. I could no longer read my monitor at work.

Worse still, my vision has now got to the point where I simply am unable to read anything in less than 20 point type unless I hold the thing an arm's length away. This does not work in restaurants (two weeks ago, I ordered a pizza on-line using my phone, and even with the help of my 13 year old to read what the options were, wound up with a mushroom and onion rather than a pepperoni pizza).

I now sleep with my eyeglasses on the table next to the bed in case I get a call or message overnight.

The exam went OK. I got my new prescription. Once again, I can see more or less clearly as I type these words.

Joy of joy, the doctor informed me that I have just the slightest onset of cataracts in both eyes.

It's really nothing she said. Hardly even there. Barely noticeable.

But it partially explains how my vision is now markedly worse than it was just two years ago, especially in dim light.



This is the first, real incidence of an old man ailment that I've experienced, and I'm not sure what to make of it.

Ultimately, I know that they will need to be dealt with. Not in the next couple of years, but ultimately.

Of course, I know that ultimately, we all face a grimmer future than cataract surgery. As Keynes pointed out, in the long run, we're all dead.

But cataracts? I didn't see that coming. Not even with my new glasses.

Happy new year.

Friday, 5 October 2018

You'll Never Get a Better Chance

Like the rest of the country, and a chunk of the rest of the world it seems, I've been following the goings-on in Washington with the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court.

I have my own feelings about the nomination, the allegations of sexual assault against him, whose telling the truth, how the vote should go down.

This is not about that.

Recently, President Trump made a speech in which he said
It is a very scary time for young men in America, where you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of.
He's referring specifically to the as yet unsubstantiated charges against Judge Kavanaugh, but also more broadly of the accusations flying in the "#MeToo" movement of women (and some men as well) coming out with disturbing stories of sexual harassment and assault.

Again, I do not know if the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh are true, partly true, or made up of whole cloth. The FBI are looking into the situation, and though not tasked with deciding truth and falseness, will issue a report on what they find.

I was asked recently what I thought of President Trump's comments. Is it really a "scary time for young men in America?"

I am no longer a young man, but I am the parent of one, and my time being one is not so distant so as to be forgotten.

Now, while I did not vote for Donald Trump, I was not upset that he was elected over Hillary Clinton. I think that Trump is a terrible choice for president; he's crude, impetuous, seems ignorant of many basic elements of governing. He makes statements that are damaging to his own cause.

But had I been forced to choose between the Trump and Clinton, I would have opted for his (at the time presumed, but now to a degree demonstrated) incompetence vs. her demonstrated competence at making the wrong decisions.

I think Trump has been about what I would have expected, bumbling from mistake to mistake, and saying some pretty laughably dumb things along the way. But still, I'm glad that Hillary Clinton (and worse, the actual powers behind the throne) have been again kept from the levers power.

In addition, Brett Kavanaugh is, with a few exceptions, the sort of judge I would want on the court. The (in my opinion, ridiculous) decisions like using the commerce clause to justify federal government intrusion into decidedly non commercial activities, upholding the ACA as a ‘tax’ when the authors themselves explicitly argued that it wasn’t, the justification of affirmative action with a wink at the 14th amendment because “it is likely only to be necessary for a little longer.”

Finally, the timing of the release of the accusations by Senator Feinstein, and the partisan way that the Democrats have used it not as a means to get to the truth, but as a cudgel that I suspect is more to try to prevent the court from tilting too far from how they want it and less about the truth or justice for Professor Ford. I think that (Professor Ford aside) what we are seeing is pretty much unadulterated political theatre.

So, the all of the elements of the situation make me inclined to to lean towards support of Kavanaugh. Under other circumstances, I would be a strong supporter of his nomination, in fact.


What I think of President Trump's claim - that it is a 'scary time' for young men is this:

It’s rubbish. I think that it should be pointed out in the most direct words for the wrong-headed and hyperbolic cant that it is.

It’s true that, as of now, there is no solid, irrefutable proof that Professor Ford is telling the truth. It’s true that false accusations can - and do - happen. While I personally have not been accused of something falsely (in each case where someone has said I was guilty, I was as guilty as hell), I know people who have. I understand that it can happen. It has happened. It surely will happen again.

But I am roughly the same age as Judge Kavanaugh. When I was in high school, I was not in the “cool” crowd, so the sorts of parties alleged, and the sorts of behaviours described were outside of my social orbit. I never - not one single time - was invited to a house party. I never - not once- attended one.

The only "house parties" I attended were playing cards in friends' basements.

But the events that have been described, I can say with absolutely no fear of mis-remembering or exaggeration, strike me as 100 per cent believable.

If you were in high school or college as I was in the 1980s, I suspect that you know that this is true.

These parties were well known in my school - which was about as close to a middle-of-the-road American public high school as you could imagine. They were well-known even to people way down the social pecking order like me. The events were described in lurid detail. Think about the sorts of people along the “Breakfast Club” spectrum who were your classmates - the cool kids, the sport-os, the geeks, the guys who wore jeans jackets and smoked out behind the library. Can you think of one or two guys who, if it were suggested, had gotten a girl drunk and had sex with her, you would say, “Yes. I believe it?” You know damned well that you can.

So can I.

Over the weeks, I’ve seen a lot written about how, in the mid 80s. What was considered “sexual assault” is way different from what it is today. The Atlantic magazine recently published an article that drove the point home to me as clearly as it could possibly be done. It was a piece about movies of the period - focusing on "Sixteen Candles" as its device - and how getting a girl drunk and taking advantage of her was not only not sexual assault, it was funny.

There is a scene towards the end where "The Geek" gets put into a Rolls Royce with the prom queen, who is too drunk to even know who he (and likely, she) is. They end up having sex, though neither really knows for sure. It's a plot device in a classic "coming of age" movie.

A month or so ago, I got into a debate with a friend on Facebook, and stated that the movie Animal House (1978) was one that I thought (and mostly still think) is hilarious. But there are parts that have just not aged well at all. One shows a fraternity brother in his room with a girl (who turns out, in the end, to be 13) who get drunk, and then listening to a debate between an angel and a devil on his shoulder about whether to have sex with the girl. The devil actually at one point says “You’ll never get a better chance.”

The audiences laughed at the scene. I laughed at it as a 16 year old.

Just today in a discussion, someone pointed out that "Pinto" ended up listening to his angel rather than his devil, and waits until later - and in fact, when his date tells him that he "won't need" beer to "get lucky."

Great; but in the very end of the film, Bluto kidnaps Mandy Pepperidge, tosses her into a car, and drives off victorious. He is identified as "Senator Blutarsky."

The claim that it’s a scary time for young men in America just does not square with this reality.

Not at all.

“You’ll never get a better chance.”

That is really all I need to think about when considering this statement, sorry.

Are there cases where young men get falsely accused? Of course there are. People get falsely accused of crimes, which is regrettable. Is it difficult to respond to an accusation of sexual assault where it is quite literally just your word and hers. That is undeniable. The recent debacle at the University of Virginia, where a coed made up, out of whole cloth, a phony story about getting raped in a fraternity, as it turns out as part of a “catfishing” scheme is disgusting, and people who make false accusations must be held to account.

I have a 13 year old son, who is close to entering the stage of his life where dating and perhaps sexual politics become part of the ambient noise. I am not sure what I would do if he were accused falsely.

It does happen. But it is not the norm. Let’s look at the reality. Accusations of sex crimes are false in about 5% of cases according to a recent study published in the Journal of Forensic Psychology. 5 per cent is not zero, but it's not high. And it certainly is not enough to make for "scary times."

Put another way, in 1978, the mayor of San Francisco (George Moscone) and a supervisor (Harvey Milk) were killed by a disgruntled former supervisor (Dan White). It made national headlines. Was that a “scary time” to be a mayor? No. It was an outlier where one angry man with a grudge killed two other politicians. It was not “the norm.”

Should my 13 year old be "scared?" I don't think so.

Look - it is, in my opinion, incumbent on him as a “young man” to behave with decency and respect towards men and women. Part of the responsibility falls on his mother and me to show him through our own role-playing what a healthy relationship looks like, that pressuring a girl into sex or getting her drunk so that he will “never have a better chance” is just out of the question.

He should not do these things - not because he is afraid of being accused of them, but because they are wrong.

I am now 48 years old. I’ve done things in my life that I really wish I hadn’t. But I do not fear that there will be someone who will, for financial or political or personal or indeed, no reason at all, accuse me. I suspect that the only young men who do fear this are those who should be afraid.

“You’ll never get a better chance.”

No. It’s not a scary time for young men. It really isn’t.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Image result for baseball images faceplant

As summer transitions to fall, the days are shorter and shorter (and soon, we will be returning home from work in the dark), and the kids settle back into their school routine, the inevitable real end of the seasons approaches.

Saturday is the first of September. For baseball fans, September is a key point where the pretenders (which is most of the teams) bring their minor league prospects up for the traditional cup of coffee, and the "wait til next year" chorus begins warming up.

I am a Toronto Blue Jays fan, and 2018 has been another pretty dismal season. The team has played poorly, and worse still, has a roster stocked with an admixture of non-prospects, nobodies, and has-beens. 

No; that's not really fair, their "has beens" largely never really were much to begin with (Kendrys Morales?) Losing with a roster of young players at least offers some level of excitement. One (or more) of those guys at some point might be a star on a contending team.

The 2018 Blue Jays are losing with the oldest roster in the major leagues.

So, they are going to lose more than 90 games this year; and in all likelihood, the team will actually be worse in 2019.

In March, I thought that the team would possibly be historically awful - the Blue Jays have not lost 100 games in a season in 40 years. A "hot" start (they won 13 of their first 19 games, and were briefly in first before reality came around) made that unlikely. 

So the Blue Jays will have to settle for an unremarkably poor season - the sort that Toronto fans have come to expect over the past quarter century.

But 2018 has provided something interesting that has, as far as I know, gone un-noticed.

While this Toronto team is going to go down as yet another forgettable bunch, the Baltimore Orioles of 2018 actually can reach a level of futility for the ages.

There are, of course, many ways to answer the question. Worst, cumulatively? The most losses in a single season? Winning percentage? Who finished the furthest down in the standings.

When talking about terrible teams, you almost have start with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies were the first team in all of professional sport to amass 10,000 losses, which they accomplished in 2007. But to be fair, they’ve been in the National League continuously since 1876, so of course, they have had a lot more opportunity to lose than, say, the New York Mets (born in 1962).

They Phillies have been joined by the Cubs, Pirates, and and Braves in the 10,000 loss club.

The St Louis Browns from 1901–1953 racked up a record of 3462–4554 (.431), which translates to a 162 game average of 92 losses per season. The Browns lost more than 90 games on average every season they existed. In their 53 years in St Louis, they appeared in the World Series exactly once (in 1944 during the War when man of the top players were off in the Army). Only 3 other times did they finish less than 10 games out.

The Browns were an epically horrible team - and it's worth noting, the predecessors to the Baltimore Orioles, having moved in 1953 from St Louis to Baltimore.

The Kansas City Athletics were in KC for only 13 forgettable seasons, and in that time produced no winning seasons. The “best” record they produced (1958) saw the team win 73 and lose 81 games. They still finished 19 games out of first. Four of their 13 seasons saw the team lose more than 100 games (and for half of those, the season was only 154 games long).

In terms of single-seasons, there are of course the 1962 Mets (40–120) and 2003 Detroit Tigers (43–119) have posted the most losses in a single season.

By percentage, the 1916 Philadelphia As (36–117, .235) and 1935 Boston Braves (38–115, .248) are the only two teams to lose more than 3/4 of their games in a season.

By games behind, the 1909 Braves (65), 1939 Browns (64) and 1932 Red Sox (64) have finished the  furthest out.

So what then, does that mean for the Baltimore Orioles?

In 2018, as of today (29 August) the Baltimore Orioles stand at 39–94 (.293), and 52 games behind the Red Sox. At this pace, the Orioles will finish with a record of 47–115.

47 wins and 115 losses is a terrible record, but does not pose serious risk to the records of the Mets (total losses) or Athletics (worst winning percentage). 

Projecting their position in the standings, however, over 162 games, the Orioles are on pace to end the year 63 games out of first place. They are in a position to challenge that record.

With a little bit of luck, the Baltimore Orioles in 2018 can set the major league record for most games out of first place in the modern era.

The 2018 Orioles are within reach of a season of historical importance. Baltimore fans, it seems, do have something to be cheering for.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Who? Whom?

Contrary to popular belief, clown shes come in red AND blue

I read in the papers today yet one more story about a cartoonishly ignorant politician making offensive, racist comments on his Facebook page.

(Why does any serious politician comment on Facebook about anything other than the baby kissing opportunities that he is looking forward to at this week-end's barbecues?)

This one had everything. Stupidity about "climate change." Crazy conspiracy theories. Anti-semitism. Phony contrition. A non-apology. And a hastily-orchestrated visit to a Holocaust museum.

I know what you're thinking. Some rube Republican in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Wrong. Sorry. Would you like to try for Double Jeopardy!, where the scores really change?

This is not some hick town in Mississippi, but a council man in our nation's capital.

One could not be blamed for thinking that it was, however. Because that is the narrative that you are being fed. Ignorant, racist fool? Must be some Republican from the south. Better get some footage of the rube for The Daily Show, ASAP. What? It's a Democrat from the District of Columbia? Oops. Nix that and write me another joke about Sarah Huckabee's face.

Washington Councilman Trayon White got into trouble when, on his Facebook page following an odd, early spring snow storm, he posted a video and comment:

It just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man. Y’all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation. And D.C. keep talking about, ‘We a resilient city.’ And that’s a model based off the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities, man. Be careful.

Confronted with the obvious problems with the science if not the prejudice in the comment, it was deleted. White tried to inoculate himself by making at appearance at the national Museum of the Holocaust.

It went about as well as you might expect for a man who believes that French-Jewish banking families can control the weather in DC.

Standing before a photo of a woman being subjected to ritual humiliation, White asked if the Nazi soldiers on either side were there "to protect her." The docent informed Mr White that, no. The woman was being marched through a ghetto, to which he replied "marching through is protecting."

"Um. No. I think that they are trying to humiliate her," the docent responded.

Later, when informed of the walls encircling the Warsaw Ghetto, members of the council member's staff asked, "Is that like a gated community?" Rabbi Batya Glazer answered simply, "Yeah, I wouldn’t call it a gated community. More like a prison.”

Worst of all, about half-way through the visit, Mr White sneaked out the side door and was no-where to be found. 

So much for contrition. And for educating oneself.

The whole story is as ludicrous as it is pathetic. This man, who according to the Washington Post has seen no damage to his support in his district (which is described as the most "isolated" in the city, though how someone can be isolated in a city of about 70 square miles is a mystery) is incredibly ignorant of many basic things. And his empty mind gives space to crazy theories about Jewish conspiracies to tamper with the weather to enrich their banks. 

All of this is just begging to be mocked by alleged "comedians."

It has escaped the attention of Trevor Noah. Jimmy Kimmel has not tweeted about it. I do not watch John Oliver, but I am guessing he's not yet touched it.

The point is that controlling the megaphone of popular culture allows people to control the national narrative