Sunday, November 29, 2015

Gheorghe Explains the Elections: Part IV

I'm no social scientist. Seeing as how I'm sitting here alone on a Saturday night, drinking by myself, you could argue that I'm barely social. But I do fancy myself a connoisseur of common sense, a student of simplicity, an observer of the obvious. (An asshole for alliteration, even.)

We've offered explanations in these pages for the frothing absurdity of the American presidential election, trying to find meaning in the alternately absurd and depressing spectacle of the GOP primaries. Far more august publications have done the same, as everyone with a byline has taken a run at understanding the inchoate rage of the largely white, largely middle class base of the modern conservative movement.

For my money, nobody's answer is better than the one recently offered by Princeton economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case. Their recent study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this month, details a sharp increase in the mortality rate for white men and women 45 to 54 years old with less than a college education between 1999 and 2013. According to the Washington Post, "An increase in the mortality rate for any large demographic group in an advanced nation has been virtually unheard of in recent decades, with the exception of Russian men after the collapse of the Soviet Union."

More ominously, and perhaps more telling in terms of the broader societal implication, is the authors' hypothesis for the cause of increased mortality rates for a group that makes up nearly 40% of the U.S. population. Noting that the rise in mortality for the demographic cohort in question is driven by drug and alcohol-related illness and increased suicide rates, Deaton and Case surmise that financial strain is the culprit. As Olga Khazan explains in The Atlantic, "Jobs in fields like manufacturing and construction, which were historically filled by people without college degrees, have been evaporating quickly over the past 15 years. [L]ess-educated people are more likely to be unemployed and to make less, so they struggle to afford things like therapy, gym memberships, and recreation that isn’t drugs. Without jobs, they may lack the social networks and sense of purpose that have shown to reduce mortality.

Nearly half of Americans in their 40s and 50s don’t have enough money saved for retirement to live as they’re accustomed to, even if they work until they’re 65. All of this is crashing down on Boomers, who were raised on the promise of the American Dream."

Deaton sums up his findings simply and starkly, saying that "half a million people are dead who should not be dead."

A generation of Americans may not be aware as a group of these statistics, but they're certainly individually cognizant of the fact that their friends are dying, and of a sense of demographic despair. At the same time, they lack a voice, something that's the province of the elites, the degreed, the financially secure. They're scared, and they're pissed, and they're lashing out at a world that's operating under new rules.

And it's hard to blame them for what's a genuinely human response to a brutally real, personally frightening, and seemingly intractable problem.

There are no easy answers here. The perfect storm of generational anxiety and political opportunism predicts a bleak 2016 presidential campaign.

Where we go from there is anyone's guess.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

This Day in Wrenball Pigskin Special

I've been in Pittsburgh since Wednesday, ostensibly celebrating Thanksgiving by overeating, drinking tons of wine, and studiously ignoring both my in-laws and the cacophonous screeching of my kids and their cousins.

All that revelry is just a cover, though. I'm really here to scout the Duquesne Dukes, first-round FCS Tournament opponents of your William & Mary Tribe.

W&M returns to the postseason for the first time in four years, having tied Richmond and James Madison for the CAA title. Both of their co-winners received first-round tournament byes, despite the fact that the Tribe beat JMU head to head. Duquesne, champions of the Northeast Conference (which may or may not be a real league), makes their first-ever postseason tournament appearance this afternoon at 3:30 in Williamsburg.

Tribe senior defensive tackle Tyler Claytor previews the Dukes about as effectively as we could, so we'll let him tell you. "We don’t know much about them, they don’t really know much about us. That’s the beauty of the playoffs. It’s definitely something new, something different. It’s really enjoyable just having, hey, there’s a new team, new school, new group of guys we’re going to face. … There’s a little bit of mystery. It’s challenging. It’s intriguing.”

Based on my time spent on the ground behind enemy lines, I can also tell you that Duquesne is in the middle of downtown Pittsburgh, and has a pretty cool old church right in the middle of campus. Norm Nixon went there, as did former head of the CIA Michael Hayden, who's kind of a loudmouth jerk. Reason enough to get fired up to play these Dukes, as far as I can tell.

The Green and Gold, and in particular quarterback Steve Cluley, will need to bounce back from a dismal performance against Richmond in the regular season's final game. Cluley's three picks were a big factor in the Spiders' 20-9 win, and kept W&M from a conference title and sure first-round tournament bye.

In what passes as small consolation, the tournament draw gives W&M an opportunity to get revenge on their arch rivals from Richmond in short order. The winner of today's game takes on U of R next weekend in the tournament's second round.

W&M's favored by 22 1/2. And after spending some time around the Duquesne program (I played golf within 20 miles of their campus yesterday, for example), I feel pretty good about our chances.

Bring on Spidey.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

As God Is My Witness...

It's that time of year again, yes, the day when Les Nessman rises from the ashes like Lazarus to be our Thanksgiving Day filler. Well, Les, Big Guy, Dr. Johnny Fever, and the whole gang at WKRP, in what is my favorite Thanksgiving episode of television ever.

This is either the fifth or sixth time we have used this iconic scene on Turkey Day, making it the most frequently recurring bit outside of Gheorghemas.

Which reminds me...time for the GTBers to get to work on those 12 glorious days.


Enjoy your day of gluttony and gridiron games, and perhaps revel us with some tales of holiday hi-jinx in the comments section.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

This Week in Wrenball: Nutcracker

Midway through William & Mary's road contest against Dayton, the Tribe had a nine-point lead on the favored Flyers, and visions of hoops-flavored sugarplums danced through my head. W&M was 20 minutes from a second major conference scalp (we're counting the Atlantic 10 as a major hoops conference because it suits our purposes) in four games after a 17-point whipping of the ACC's North Carolina State in the season-opener.

And I was 20 minutes from debuting the #wmtribe4top25 hashtag.

Then Dayton went on a 37-19 run to start the second half, and early-season delusions drifted away. Funny thing happened next, though. Four different Tribesmen scored as part of an 11-0 run that gave W&M a 60-58 lead with 2:18 to play.

Dayton scored seven of the next eight points and closed out the Tribe, 69-66, but the result matters less at this point in the season than the lesson - this Tribe team's a tough out.

Omar blockin'
It's too early to make much of statistics, but it's noteworthy that seven Tribe players are averaging more than five points per game (led by Omar Prewitt's 16.3) and five of them are grabbing 4.3 or more rebounds (Terry Tarpey's 7.3 are pacing the team). Sean Sheldon's been the most efficient offensive player on the roster, while David Cohn's averaging four assists a game even though he's only averaging 23 minutes. CAA Tournament hero Daniel Dixon dropped in a career-high 24 against Dayton, and freshman Hunter Seacat (!) has yet to miss a shot in his college career.

W&M hosts Hampton tonight before traveling to play at Howard over the Thanksgiving break. DC Gheorghies, represent. They return to Williamsburg to take on former CAA rival Old Dominion, and then play Virginia in Charlottesville a week from Saturday. At the risk of reading too much into a few good outings, something would be really amiss if this team finishes the out of conference schedule worse than 8-3. And if they beat ODU, they really should be 9-2 when they enter CAA play.

Through four games, we've learned that this W&M team is experienced, poised, tough, and able to compete with better teams. That's a recipe that'll make some tasty sugarplums.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Test 24: Stacey Demands (More) Numbers

The first thing I want to point out is that the two ladies that I make The Test are very smart. They're great teachers: motivational and analytical and funny and very intelligent. Stacey could talk philosophy with Socrates and Cunningham knows how to tear into a difficult text, AP English style. Their students are lucky to have them.

That being said, listening to them discuss anything numerical is a fascinating cognitive experience. I have to give Stacey credit-- in this episode her answers do make more sense than usual-- but her methods are circuitous and bordering on lunatic. Cunningham actually enters the realm of the absurd. If you haven't tuned in to the show yet, this is the one to start with. It's an interesting set of questions, Cunningham channels Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Stacey does some math, and I question the capacity of the human mind. We get a little testy with each other, and some judgemental pronouncements are made, but in the end a good time is had by all.

Check it out, play at home, and see how your number sense compares the the ladies. I promise you'll laugh out loud, and if you're not careful, you might even learn something before it's done (or get roofied and have your toes licked).


Monday, November 23, 2015

The Sublime, Beautiful Dave Grohl

The arc of the Foo Fighters' story is long, but it bends towards humanity.

Back in July, we told you about the seemingly quixotic attempt by a thousand Italian musicians to get the Foos' attention. Organized by Fabio Zaffagnini, the group performance caught Dave Grohl's attention, and the band promised to come to the small northern Italian city to perform a show. They made good on that promise on November 3.

What a show it appears to have been.

In nice piece of theatrical symmetry, the band opened the show with 'Learn to Fly'.



A moved Grohl thanked the crowd the musicians, saying "I fucking cried", when describing his reaction the first time he saw the group video.



Grohl dedicated 'My Hero' to Zaffagnini, and the joy and pure happiness on the latter's face tells you that we might be seeing the best moment of his life. And what happens from the 5:30 mark or so is just a brilliantly human moment. It made me happy to see it.



Finally, the band invited one of the stars of the original video, a mohawked drummer, to sit in on the skins while Foos drummer Taylor Hawkins handled lead vocals on Queen/Bowie's 'Under Pressure'.



There's so much to love here. Not the least of which is Dave Grohl's essential decency. Long may he rock.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ballsy

Australia is cooler than us. The evidence is overwhelming, so much so that I don't feel particularly compelled to list it. (There are other reasons why I don't feel like listing it, many of them related to the fact that I'm lazy as fuck.)

No, I won't list it, but I will provide yet another exhibit in the case. Bonds Australia is a maker of undergarments. They're also the geniuses behind an advertising campaign that's made a pair of testicles superstars Down Under.

Really, that should be enough to make the case, no?





Friday, November 20, 2015

No Money Mo Problems

Just days after the triumphant close of BlazerCon, our very own footie fetishist stops by for a timely look at the state of the Premier League. I, for one, will be eagerly scanning Fat Guy in Speedo's work for commentary on Fulham's hiring of former West Brom manager Steve Clarke to the top spot at Craven Cottage and/or Fulham's inability to lure Clarke to the job. Eighth/Fourteenth place in the Championship, here we come!

After noting Gheorghies waiting for Godave’s post, I figured I’d quickly pop off some more Premier League propaganda in hopes that I could beat Dave’s probable self-promotional post to the proverbial punch. (Editor's note: Dave's post was at once self-promotional and non-existent, as he actually posted it on a different blog. We're not sure he completely understands the modern world.) It’s week 33 into the 86-week season and pundits are already waxing poetic about the incredibly improbable and unpredictable shake up among the leagues traditional powerhouses. The top 4 generally consists of some iteration of Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal and Man United in those positions. However, the leaderboard currently reads Man City, Arsenal, LEICESTER CITY and Manchester United. Note that one of these teams is not like the others. Stop the madness. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, squirrels riding birds... mass hysteria!

What’s worth noting is that Leicester City is a recently promoted Premier League side, having returned to the top league in 2014 for the first time since 2004, so the fact that they are flying at such heady heights is nothing short of remarkable. In the Premier League, money spent on player salaries generally correlates to a team’s position in the table. The top four salary spenders are Manchester United (£215), Manchester City (£205), Chelsea (£192) and Arsenal (£166). The lack of a salary cap in the MLB makes that league a (luxury tax noted) reasonably comparable model and there the top four wage bills are Dodgers ($273M), Yankees ($219M), Red Sox ($187M) and Tigers ($174M).  The two World Series teams were the Mets are at #21 ($101M) and the Royals ($113M) at #16. What does this prove? Win or lose, owning any professional sports team in the United States is a guaranteed license to print money.

Wait, what about Chelsea? Their poor play is proof that if enough people wish for something worldwide, it will come true. The 2014 league winners have collapsed and currently occupy 16th place (out of 20) in the EPL table. There is no real reason for their decline, the same players, owner, coach and horribly defensive style of play are replicas of what drove them to victory last season. Every week heralds a new low and the players look defeated before play even begins.

Meanwhile, Leicester City play with total positivity and attacking abandon, they are like an injury-laden Notre Dame team without the international support, coffers or Showtime series. They have come from behind several times and never show intimidation regardless of the venue. Check ‘em out this weekend, I’m sure if you do based on this post you will be rewarded with an incredibly dreary 0-0 defensive draw. In other sporting news, does anyone really think that a one-defeat Notre Dame team will get trumped out of the playoffs by whatever crap team climbs to the top of the turd tower that is the Big 12?

I was at this game.




See you on Boxing Day! Dave’s post should be up by then.

Additional editor's note: says here that Tottenham Hotspur will claim one of the Prem's four Champions League spots. They haven't lost since the season's opening match, and they boast one of the youngest and most athletic lineups in the league. Plus, they have guys with fun names, like Dele Alli, Erik Lamela, Toby Alderweireld, Hugo Lloris, Moussa Dembele, and Harry Kane.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

This Town Needs an Enema

I confess that the events last weekend in Paris and the resulting race to the bottom by American political and media voices (lest I be accused of partisanship, I'm looking at you, too, Chuck Schumer) have left me in a funk. Frankly, we've managed to look cowardly, xenophobic, and just plain cruel all at once.

As a response to my dismay, I found myself seeking moments of bliss to counteract the darkness. Fortunately, I'm surrounded by idiots with a penchant for joyous dipshittery. One, in particular.

Thanks, man. You're the best.




Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Test 23: Princess Cunningham

Stacey, Cunningham and I have recorded twenty-five episodes of The Test and I'm happy to report our enthusiasm for the project hasn't flagged. And we've got listeners (God knows who . . . but we've been listened to and downloaded over 13,000 times). We are to the point where we are occasionally making tests to annoy the shit out of each other-- that was Cunningham's plan with this one . . . she knows I hate all things Disney and wanted to put me on the spot. Don't fret, as I exact my revenge next week.

Give this one a shot, sing along at home, and see if you can channel your inner princess. Special features include Stacey blurting out an answer and not realizing it, a very difficult two word tongue twister, and some confusion on my part between a post-apocalyptic '90's movie and an abandoned waterpark.




Monday, November 16, 2015

Math is Our Friend

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

Not a galaxy so much as a life phase, really. In any case, it was nearly 25 years ago when several GTBers and friends conceived of the Bad Brewery Tour as an offbeat Spring Break journey. The details are a bit hazy, but the trip centered in Milwaukee, with plans to visit Pabst and Miller (in hopes of finding the source of Milwaukee's Best and Mickey's Big Mouth), among others. There was a stop planned at the National Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame in St. Louis, too, if memory serves.

It may well not.

Now that we're older, wiser, and much more to the point, drinkers of far better beer, I think it's time to revisit the wintry reveries of far younger men. And thanks to the mathematically-inclined hops heads at Flowing Data, we don't even have to work very hard to plan.

Flowing Data is dedicated to the analysis, exploration, and visualization of data to help scientists and the rest of us understand information more easily and completely. The brainchild of UCLA PhD Nathan Yu, the polyinformatic site covers a breadth of data-related topics, from voting patterns, to genomics, to solar weather, to the predicted date of the end of the world. And most relevant to our uses, to beer.

Anyone can make a map of great American craft breweries, and lots of people have. It takes a bit more effort and data manipulation skills to turn that list into an algorithmically optimized road trip planner.

This is a lot easier to read on the Flowing Data site
The trip is designed around the 72 American breweries that made RateBeer's list of the world's top 100 brewers, but Yu has helpfully visualized areas with a high concentration of additional breweries and brewpubs using thicker lines. But the real value of the Flowing Data planner is in route optimization, as seen below.


Y'know, if we do this right, we can hit Surly, Pabst, Founder's and Bells in a three-day mini-tour. Spring Break, anyone?

Friday, November 13, 2015

This Season in Wrenball: Dread Locked Out

Tonight in Raleigh, North Carolina, at venerable Reynolds Coliseum, the William & Mary Tribe put Bill Simmons' Ewing Theory to the test.

Man, I miss that dude
The theory, as postulated by Simmons, suggests that a team that never fully achieved its potential with a star player is likely to reach new heights once that player is no longer available. Marcus Thornton, nothing less than the greatest player in school history, has graduated and now puts up his points for the Sydney Kings of Australia's National Basketball League (16.1 of them per game through his first nine professional starts). If you buy the Ewing Theory's predictive power, you've got reason to be optimistic that this is the year.

I'm not that optimistic.

(Let's be really honest here. In order to apply the Ewing Theory to the 2015-16 Tribe, you have to make one very large concession: you have to believe that the Tribe teams of Thornton's junior and senior seasons should have won the CAA Tournament. That's a stretch, though the last 70 seconds of the 2014 tournament final may have an argument.)

That's not to say there aren't things to like about Tony Shaver's 12th W&M team. The CAA coaches picked the Tribe to finish 4th in what promises to be a very competitive league. Senior All-CAA first-teamer and defending conference Defensive Player of the Year Terry Tarpey returns to stuff stat sheets. Omar Prewitt is now an upperclassman, and there's hope that he may grow out of his youthful inconsistency. (Consecutive games of 33 and 4 points in the semis and finals of the 2015 CAA Tournament say hello. That's twice in one post that all or part of sporting contests have assumed human form and spoken to us. Maybe an omen, that.) Jerry Beach's good pal Daniel Dixon shot 45.1% from deep as a sophomore, and averaged 11.1 points as the third or fourth option.

The Tribe is decidedly long on wingspan and flexibility, with no fewer than seven contributors listed between 6'4 and 6'7 (Oliver Tot, Michael Schlotmann, Connor Burchfield, and Greg Malinowski (46.8% 3FG) join Tarpey, Prewitt, and Dixon). Aside from Malinowski, though, the others are unproven at the collegiate level.

In the frontcourt, senior Sean Sheldon carries a heavy load, as the only real pivot. Sheldon averaged 6.2 points and 4.3 boards as a junior, shooting 64.6% from the field. 6'9" sophomore Jack Whitman will need to make a big leap, or freshman Hunter Seacat (Hunter Seacat!) will need to mature quickly if the Tribe will have any depth at all in the post.

It's more likely that Tribe fans will see lots of five-guard sets and a ton of motion and spacing this year, as word out of Williamsburg suggests that sophomore point guard David Cohn has been lighting it up in practice. The 6'2" Cohn sat out last season after transferring from Colorado State, but the W&M faithful tabbed him early on as a key addition.

Rawr
In a very competitive CAA, where preseason favorite Hofstra looks loaded, defending champion Northeastern returns significant production, and everyone but Charleston has hope, it's really hard to predict W&M's fate. This is Terry Tarpey's team, and the do-everything wing won't sneak up on anyone this year. Tarpey led the CAA in rebounding and steals last season, finished second in blocks per game, and averaged 11.8 ppg despite rarely being the focal point of the offense.

It says here that W&M will be competitive in nearly every conference game, but will finish fifth in the league with a .500 mark overall. In addition to the season opener against the Wolfpack, W&M's noncon schedule includes #5 Virginia, Old Dominion, and Dayton, tough matchups all. The Tribe is experienced, deep, flexible, and well-coached. But they'll need a few bounces to go their way to earn a first-round league tournament bye, and a glimmer of a hope of a third consecutive CAA Final appearance.

Marcus Thornton ain't walking through that door.

But he ain't no Patrick Ewing, either.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Amuse Yeux

Just a little palate cleanser for you today in advance of tomorrow's tipoff of the college basketball season for the one team we care about. Note that this has nothing to do with college basketball.

But this from Luis Suarez and Neymar in Barcelona's 3-0 La Liga win over Villareal is as good a soccer goal as you'll ever see in terms of individual skill and teamwork. 

I call your attention to Suarez's perfectly weighted and bent pass, which beats two defenders to land at Neymar's feet. It's perhaps even more sublime, if more understated, than what follows.

Holy shit, though, what follows. Neymar's possession, flick, spin, strike is otherworldly. There aren't three strikers in the world that would even try this, let alone coolly execute it.

Enjoy:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Bite Me Randy Newman

Football is a game played by behemoths, generally speaking. It's not usually the province of the littles, which makes the odd Darren Sproles, or Trindon Holliday, or Eddie LeBaron all the more compelling to those of us who celebrate BMRN.

Enter Ryan Lewis, a newly-minted member of the wee tribe. The 5'9", 164-pound freshman at Auburn turned the game on its head this weekend, using his size to his advantage, performing a bit of gridiron jujitsu against Texas A&M.



Lewis' 28-yard scamper was his first-ever collegiate touch, and clearly was the catalyst for Auburn's 26-10 win in College Station. Texas A&M lineman Chris Jones still doesn't know where Lewis went.

Can't hit what you can't see, you big, slow doofuses.

Bite Me, Randy Newman.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Expanding the Parameter

TR clued us into Nathaniel Rateliff a few months ago, describing him as 'vintage Johnny Cash'.

And just last week, the world (non-Nashville division) learned about Chris Stapleton. By 'the world', I mean 'I', as the guy did have the country album of the year, so I suppose a few folks knew about him before Justin Timberlake took him mainstream.

I'm not the world's biggest country music fan, but I do love a well-written tune regardless of genre. So if we're gonna do country music quarter here, we could do worse than featuring Chris Stapleton. Here's a stripped-down version of the title track to Stapleton's 'Traveller'.



Here's a live version of 'Sometimes I Cry'.



Finally, here's the ballyhooed Stapleton/Timberlake performance from the CMA's, where they cover the legendary George Jones' 'Tennessee Whiskey' before performing Timberlake's 'I Can't Drink You Away'. I don't exaggerate why I say that there may not be a better living entertainer than Justin Timberlake.




Sunday, November 08, 2015

The Test 22: Stacey's Songs (Have Still Got It Going On)

This week's episode of The Test is another excellent musical clip quiz from Stacey . . . I didn't get this one right away (but I sure as hell should have). Take a crack at it, identify the music, and see if you can figure out the overarching theme. You'll certainly do better than me and Cunningham.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

I'm 45. I'm a Man.

I love a good whiskey, but I've never found much to like about Scotch. Try as I might, I haven't been able to develop an appreciation for the taste of peat.

But last night, a breakthrough.

A neighborhood friend with a penchant for the stuff hosts a Scotch party every six months or so, giving us neophytes a chance to try things we wouldn't usually. I go mostly for the camaraderie, though I try gamely to enjoy the tipples.

Last night, the first two Scotches on offer were more of the same for me, but the evening's final pour was a revelation.

Bruichladdich's The Classic Laddie "is unpeated, floral and complex." It's also "trickle distilled from 100% Scottish barley using much of the original Victorian machinery." You should know that "the methods employed by the craftsmen to coax the spirit into being continue unchanged." And that it "matures for all its life in warehouses on the shores of Loch Indaal and is bottled at the distillery using Islay spring water."

I don't know much about all that, but I do know that it's the first Scotch I actually wanted to drink. And for that, it's a blessing.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Wah, Wah Wah Wah Wah Wah

The G:TB staff is ambivalent about the CG-3D Peanuts movie in wide release today. On the one hand, Charles Schulz himself was clear that he did not want any new Peanuts material developed after he passed in 2000. On the other, it's the Peanuts, man, still the GOAT.

One thing we are decidedly not ambivalent about is the casting of the voice of adults in the new film. You'll remember the 'wah wah, wah wah wah wah' mumblebrass from the original animated Peanuts episodes.



But this is 2015, and our wah wah technology has advanced substantially.


If you're jonesing for a preview while you're waiting in line this evening for the show, the good people at 20th Century Fox have set up a Wah Wah Machine. You probably won't spend more than an hour playing with it.

Good grief.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Sound, Fury, and No Good Answers

This rant has been building in me for some time. There are a lot of words below about the current sorry state of what passes as public discourse in America. Some of them profane. Many of them angry. Feel free to change the channel. Dave's podcast updates will resume soon.

I love my daughters. Deeply, unconditionally, irrationally love them. Takes my breath away, sometimes, to watch them do the things they love. They're smart, funny, talented, kind-hearted, and thoughtful.

My daughters are frequently incredible assholes to me, my wife, and each other. They're stubborn, hyper-competitive, by turns lazy and indifferent, and they piss me off on a regular basis.

These two descriptions are not mutually exclusive. It's possible to love and honor something with your full being while recognizing that it has flaws and might be improved.

In America today, however, there's no percentage in nuance. There's no political gain in perspective. You either love it, or you should leave it.

Case in point, a Facebook post that my mother shared on her feed recently. Mom's a reasonable, stoic New England type, and I'm quite sure her intent was to share the story, which is quite compelling, and not the political afterthought. I thought it was great, too, right up until the final two sentences. It's posted in its (long) entirety below:

I confess that those final lines, likely just a throwaway thought, angered me. I think it's the certainty with which the author employs them that raised my ire. You presume to judge my patriotism, or that of anyone else, based upon a willingness to pass along your story? With all due respect, go fuck yourself. You call me and others less than American because we're not reflexively genuflecting at the altar of 'God Bless Our Troops'?

My father, who readers of this blog know is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, raised me to honor military service in the same way he raised me to think for myself, and pushed me to be willing to defend my beliefs. In the years before he passed, we had some donnybrooks on a wide range of topics: politics, legalization of drugs, the Iraq War, among others. Frankly, I think that at least half of those arguments were him just pushing my buttons to see if he could get me wound up. He could. And I think he loved both the debate and the fact that I was eager to have it.

I can say with some certainty that he'd be really uncomfortable with the notion that our military is infallible and any criticism of it reflects some anti-American strain. Military leaders make mistakes, and so do troops on the ground. Drones strike civilian targets. Innocent people die, or get displaced. War, and the projection of force by any country, has deadly, ugly, tragic consequences.

Our military operates in our name, and reports to a civilian Commander-in-Chief in recognition of the fact that it is subservient to us. When it's wrong, it's not unpatriotic to ask for better. Rather, it's an act of patriotism to want the people that represent us held to the highest standards of behavior and performance.

The military isn't the only institution that's become a litmus test for patriotism. It's possible to believe that law enforcement officers in this nation have an incredibly difficult and dangerous job made more complex each day by emerging technology, the proliferation of weapons, and an ever-changing and watchful society. It also possible to wish that fewer Americans, especially those of color, were killed by law enforcement officers. A thoughtful person can hold both of these things to be true, and not demonize the police in so doing.

In a speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago last week, President Obama himself made the same point, saying, “We’ve got to resist the false trap that says either there should be no accountability for police, or that every police officer is suspect, no matter what they do. Neither of these things can be right.”

Just a week prior, Obama offered his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement, saying, "I think the reason the organizers [of the movement] used the phrase “black lives matter” was not because they were suggesting that nobody else’s lives mattered. Rather, what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that is happening in African American communities that is not happening in other communities. And that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address."

Since it was Obama that made those objectively fair statements, half the country immediately thinks they're wrong. Had it been Ben Carson, a different half would. And therein lies the seemingly intractable problem.

Too many of us can't think for ourselves. We want to be told what to believe, because the world is a complicated motherfucking place, and we want certainty. And anything that dents our sense of certainty is obviously, objectively, wrong.

I've had more than one pointed argument with good friends over the past few years - decent, honest, smart people - about President Obama. Any time I offer facts about the things that have been accomplished during this administration, I'm met with invective about 'hating America' or some such nonsense. Facts don't matter. Feelings do.

And that's a terrible fucking way to run a country.

Presidential candidate Jim Webb's son James took to the editorial page of the Washington Post several weeks ago to defend a comment his father made in a debate. The essential Jim Fallows published a back and forth between people deriding the younger Webb and those supporting him. That exchange is interesting, but the most salient point to me was made by a 20-something self-professed liberal, who said,

"We love America, but not the gay on the other side of the aisle. We love America, but not the guy in my own party who wants to compromise and win more voters than merely the core base at which we throw red meat political rhetoric. We love America, but not the liberal intellectual elites. We love America, but not the rural rednecks who think homosexuality and abortion are sins."

This implicates all of us. I'm no more exempt from that disdain for the other than those people who say Obama hates America. And for the life of me, I don't know how we change it.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Chronicles of an Aging Gheorghie: The Heart Wants What It Wants

This is actually post-retirement Dave Fairbank
I’m back in rhythm, or at least my heart is. The rest of me remains beat and rhythm challenged as ever, my affection for George Clinton and ‘70s era funk and soul notwithstanding.

Following an outpatient hospital visit that included a sizeable memory gap, my heart was shocked back in line and now pumps away like a little metronome. I’m told it was routine and not terribly dramatic, which I would argue is the case involving other people’s hearts.

This all started several weeks ago when a physical exam revealed something called an atrial flutter. My heart was beating out of rhythm, increasing the risk of clots and strokes and various unpleasant outcomes.

I showed up at the local hospital bright and early, because the staff had to get to the Halloween party upstairs. They first did a transesophogeal echocardiography test, basically an ultrasound where a tube is inserted down your throat so that a clearer photo of your heart chambers and valves can be taken. If no clots are found, they perform an electrical cardioversion: a small jolt to try to get the heart back in rhythm. They attached two oblong patches, one to my chest, the other to my side, hooked up to, I think the technical term for it is, a contraption.

I was given a two drug combo of Versed and Fentanyl. Versed induces sleep and relaxation, and is an anti-anxiety drug that can cause loss of memory during traumatic experiences, which would be helpful for Kansas football fans and many 7th-graders. Fentanyl is a narcotic and heavy duty pain reliever.

In combination, the drugs are supposed to produce something called conscious sedation or “twilight sleep,” where you feel nothing but can follow directions and believe that Kristen Stewart is a capable actress. They worked as advertised. I was out. Gone. I recall nothing. There were a half-dozen people in the room with me before the procedure. When I woke up, maybe 60-75 minutes later, there was just a very pleasant cardio nurse to monitor me. I assume there’s a photo in the nurses’ break room of ferrets eating Fig Newtons off of my lifeless torso, with the staff mugging it up in the background.

I was a little groggy when I awoke, but lucid enough to ask how the procedure went. The nurse said it went well. No clots in the chambers or valves. They performed one jolt, and the heart responded. 

Sweet.

Honestly, the most unpleasant part of the entire procedure was a nurse depressing my tongue into gag territory and spraying a foul, metallic-tasting local anesthetic into the back of my throat, multiple times, to deaden the area for when they inserted the tube. Afterward, my throat didn’t feel bad, just a bit raw. All in all, the entire ordeal was about as seamless as it gets, for a major organ and electrical charges.

I went home and slept for a couple hours, apparently mindless of the dog barking. I’ve felt fine since. Hell, I felt fine before, unaware of my condition and the associated risks.

Though my heart is back in rhythm, the procedure doesn’t come with a warranty. There’s no guarantee that it won’t lapse back into arrhythmia at some point. I’ll go back for regular checkups and EKGs and such. In the meantime, they said live your life, do what you normally do. If you experience any chest pains or dizziness or symptoms associated with a heart flutter or fibrillation, come see us.


I was advised not to take drugs or medicines that stimulate the heart. No cocaine, amphetamines, diet pills, caffeine or nicotine. Sure, it’s easy to cut back on Diet Coke and the occasional Jagerbomb, but when you take away a man’s Adderal and Benzedrine, well, now you’re making it tough.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

So Hit It

We've created posthumous playlists and CD's for friends we've lost along the way.  Too late, I say.

I've had many music recommendations, influences, and shared fandom from many friends.  John "Otis" Day is a good friend who's a music guy, in addition to serving as the scribe at Dangerman Futbol.  He's always had a taste for tunes that aligns with mine, and we've gone to shows, exchanged recommendations, and turned it up to 11 together since 1988.

I can't provide much of a salve to the bad fortune he's had in losing both of his folks in the last few years.  But as a small tip of the cap for the hours of great music I've enjoyed with or because of him, here's a swig of Jameson, a Spotify playlist, and an expectation of many more to come.


* Spotify doesn't have the "Straight to Hell" cover by Skinnerbox that Otis enjoys, so here it is.

And worth follow-up inclusion is Big Country, "Chance," from a show in their homeland in Glasgow, Scotland. The crowd participation is outstanding.


Cheers, Otie, and keep the recommendations coming.


The Test 21: Poker Face Off

Stacey and her brother Brian certainly know when to hold them and when to fold them. Do you? Play along at home, see if you do better than the siblings, and enjoy the priceless piece of bonus audio provided by Cunningham.