Improving the College Football Playoff (if you're not interested in excising an immoral rot in American sports)

December 20, 2020

Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (2); Oklahoma defeated UCLA 48-14, Sept 14, 2019, Pasadena, CA.

College football gets a lot wrong. On the most fundamental level, I don’t think the NCAA should exist, but even setting that aside, in the summer, college football leaders wished the virus wouldn’t affect their season and then when cases and deaths kept piling up they struck forward anyway, unnecessarily risking the lives of participants, laborers, and spectators alike because it’s a business where people gotta get paid (but not the players, no sir).

All that said, if you’re willing to tolerate blood lust and sociopathic greed to get your kicks watching young people bash each other’s brains to prove your school-associated in-group is superior to others, the College Football Playoff and the specific idea of a committee choosing which teams will play for an official national championship is a great idea.

And So This Is Christmas

December 11, 2020

I wrote this piece of short fiction as an entry in this year’s Weird Christmas Flash Fiction Contest. While it wasn’t selected for a prize, I’m still proud of it and hope it sparks something in you.

And So This Is Christmas

At dusk I turned onto West 72nd Street and dodged icy patches on the sidewalk until I reached the federal communications office.

The real problem with Disney's live-action remakes

December 5, 2020

This weekend, my family will watch Disney’s live-action Mulan remake. I’m uninterested in reading reviews or forming a preconception beyond what I remember from the trailer and the original animated movie because there was never any question we would watch it, so there’s no real point in pre-viewing discernment.

Despite my disappointment with most of Disney’s live-action remakes, I’m optimistic it will be a solid movie for the simple reason Mulan is not a musical. I haven’t been able to make it through the Will Smith Aladdin remake, the Emma Watson Beauty and the Beast, or The Lion King, even though the actors are plenty charismatic and there’s solid production value in all of them. Meanwhile, I enjoyed The Jungle Book straight through.

The main problem with those musicals is that generally the songs are slow and drawn out, dragging down everything around them. (For all the songs I’m about to mention, here’s a Spotify playlist putting them in order.)

Will LaMelo Ball get 'royal jelly' from the Hornets?

November 22, 2020

Despite being a relatively big Beatles fan, I have almost no interest in seeing the 2019 movie Yesterday because there’s a massive flaw in the premise that I understand the film glides right past: If The Beatles “never existed” and some young English guy started “writing” those songs today, it’s exceedingly unlikely he’d get famous because so many of The Beatles’ songs hit they way they did because they are products of their time and place. Moreover, The Beatles were a ridiculously talented group of musical performers who put on slamming live shows and probably would have risen to the top of the pop world performing other people’s songs, too.

The easiest way to illustrate the point is to reimagine the premise in a starker setting. What if, instead of The Beatles, the Notorious B.I.G. disappeared from cultural memory and the only person who remembered his music and lyrics today was some 17-year-old white boy from Phoenix? Not only would this kid never be able to credibly rap Biggie’s lyrics, but he wouldn’t have Biggie’s charisma, his flow, his freestyle ability — everything else that made Biggie the force he was. And on top of that, this kid wouldn’t be in early 90s New York City, with an audience primed to hear precisely what Biggie had to say.

Which leads me to LaMelo Ball and the Charlotte Hornets.

In The Legend of Korra, what's so bad about 10,000 years of darkness?

November 13, 2020

Over the past few months, I watched the entire run of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and have now completed the first two seasons of its sequel series, The Legend of Korra. While Avatar is a straight-up masterpiece, I’ve been disappointed with Korra.

I understand most people agree things pick up from here, but the end of Season 2 presents a specific narrative problem that I keep seeing repeated in other works, perhaps most notably in the Star Wars universe.

How to start a new pro basketball league to rival the NBA

November 1, 2020

Soon enough, each of the major American sports leagues likely will have released a statement explaining that their teams, collectively, brought in a fraction of the revenue they expected to accumulate had there been no pandemic-related shutdowns and cancellations. While the National Football League is still in the thick of its season, so we likely won’t get a statement until December at the earliest, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association started disseminating their numbers around the time their seasons concluded.

Sportico reported that MLB clubs “will post $2.8 billion to $3 billion in operational losses this year,” per Commissioner Rob Manfred, while the Associated Press cited an NBA official saying that league’s total revenue was about $1.5 billion less than expected. The NBA had already played a large chunk of its season in front of fans when the pandemic hit, which may be the primary reason it reported not quite as large a loss as MLB.

As an indoor, contact-heavy sport, starting a new season in the current context is probably a more complicated proposition for the NBA than MLB or the NFL. Which might be why I keep thinking the time is ripe for someone to start a rival professional basketball league, and what that might look like.

MLB players should celebrate more flamboyantly

October 19, 2020

Sunday night, Cody Bellinger hit a no-doubt home run that put his team ahead late in Game 7 of the NLCS. He strutted out of the batter’s box and, before touching first base, yelled a bunch of stuff at his teammates who had spilled out of the dugout in celebration.

All of this is good and should be normal, because exuberance is both fun for the people expressing the emotion and because it’s fun to watch from the stands or on television.

I should follow my own advice and stop defending LeBron's greatness

October 12, 2020

Zach Lowe is one of the best NBA writers out there, and after the Lakers won this season’s championship on Sunday night he published an interesting assessment of the “LeBron vs. Jordan” debate, insofar as there’s a debate to be had. Lowe knows better than to come out and say whether MJ or The King is the greatest of all time on, but does an admirable job establishing a framework for how one might compare the two.

I’ve already written a lot about Michael Jordan and how his stans influence discussion of NBA players today, but I want to add a little bit about the wider NBA context, which Lowe briefly referenced, and proffer another explanation for why so many people still dismiss James’s greatness despite what appears to be an unimpeachable résumé.

What will MLB, the NBA, and NFL do if something more serious happens to Trump?

October 5, 2020

Members of the Trump Administration and cabinet gather in close proximity to each other in the Rose Garden at the announcement of Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court

It’s hard to tell just how sick President Trump is right now. On the one hand, he’s out and about in a car waving at supporters outside Walter Reed, and on the other he’s receiving experimental COVID-19 treatments that generally are used only on those severely affected by the virus. Furthermore, this administration — from the top down — lies so often and so brazenly that it’s hard to accept the veracity of any official statement, let alone one that purports to address the president’s health while he’s infected with a virus that has ravaged the country on his watch.

All that’s to say we don’t know what’s happening with him. He could be resting comfortably, and he could be deathly ill. So, naturally, I’ve been thinking about what MLB, the NBA, and NFL would do if Trump takes a turn for the worse.

Upon RBG's passing, a meditation on my middle school baseball team

September 20, 2020

The afternoon of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing, my social media feeds erupted in a cacophony of RIPs, Holy Shits, I’m Frighteneds, and a couple dudes very helpfully explaining Actually You Are Unsophisticated If You Think This Is A Big Deal.

I went through some scattered emotions, during which I sent a few texts and read a few reactions before realizing I was starting to spiral and stopped. Shortly after I put away my computer and phone, while privately contemplating Ginsburg’s legacy, I experienced an intensely clear vision of my middle school baseball team. Here's why.

It’s easier to quit the NFL than you think

September 13, 2020

I didn’t watch one minute of football this weekend. Part of it is because I hooked the NBA playoffs directly into my veins, and paying attention to any other sport feels, in comparison, like sipping Robitussin. But the biggest part of it is that football from high school on up forces spectators and all other participants to grapple with morality in a way the other major American sports don’t, and I’ve reckoned I don’t want to be involved. You should treat yourself better and ditch football, too.

The San Francisco Giants' face masks have an interesting backstory

August 23, 2020

This is a story about pandemic baseball and the surprisingly difficult task of identifying a specific piece of equipment used by multiple coaches and players on the field this season.

As a San Francisco Giants fan, I noticed that multiple members of the on-field personnel have been wearing a distinctive face mask. Manager Gabe Kapler, coach Alyssa Nakken, infielder Pablo Sandoval, and others wear a mask with straps that go around the back of the wearer’s neck and over their head, rather than looping around the ears. On Kapler, in particular, since he does mid-game interviews, I could see the fabric pulled tight against his face, showing the outline of his lips and nose.

MLB teams' empty-ballpark decorations, ranked

August 17, 2020

If you’re an MLB Extra Innings subscriber and you’ve flipped through multiple games in a day, you may have noticed that in the absence of fans Major League Baseball teams have dressed up the seating areas of their ballparks in a variety of ways. The following is a brief overview of each team’s approach, roughly organized from minimalist to maximalist.

MLB's cascading failures were foreseeable

August 2, 2020

By the time you read this, MLB’s season could be cancelled, because the league’s leadership, like much of the country, apparently can’t be bothered to take the coronavirus seriously enough to make real progress in holding it off, let alone suppressing it. Also, it was all foreseeable.

The Texas Rangers' new ballpark is a poseur

July 26, 2020

The newest Major League Baseball ballpark is Globe Life Field, in Arlington, Texas, home of the Texas Rangers. Though a good deal of attention has been devoted to how ugly the exterior is, the interior is where the action is, and there have been a few thoughtful pieces on how the new building will play and what the fan experience might be.

But I’m focused on one element of the stadium that afflicts almost every ballpark built after Oriole Park at Camden Yards: unnecessarily asymmetrical field dimensions.

College football leaders keep wishing the virus away. College football is doomed

July 19, 2020

This past week, published a fascinating story about how college athletics leaders have been positioning conferences and schools to maximize the chances of a football season getting underway this fall. The thrust of the story is that conference commissioners, athletic directors, coaches, and others initially took optimistic public stances even if, privately, they were pessimistic it would be safe to play at the end of August.

This strategy played out about as well as you would expect for the same reasons Donald Trump’s strategies—or total dismissal of federal strategy in favor of pushing responsibility to states and NGOs, if you prefer—have utterly failed.

Adrian Wojnarowski gave an appropriate response to a troll

July 12, 2020

When Adrian Wojnarowski received a press release from Missouri Senator Josh Hawley calling for the league to put conservative messages on player uniforms, he emailed back with two words: “Fuck you.” Now, the ESPN NBA reporter has been suspended.

You can go online and read a thousand takes on what happened, but I find it particularly exhausting because the initial exchange and subsequent burst of coverage only contained two honest words.

If your team changes its racist name, you'll be fine

July 5, 2020

With the NFL franchise in Washington and the MLB franchise in Cleveland reportedly moving toward name changes, it’s worth remembering just how long efforts to change the team names have been going on and why they haven't changed yet. Recognition that the names are racist is not new; what’s new is major sponsors have less tolerance for racist team names, mascots, and imagery given today’s cultural upheaval and that’s finally pushing team owners to (grudgingly?) change.

I ended up talking to the FBI: Recollections of a sports message board mod

June 28, 2020

Working for a major sports media company in the late 2000s was good, on balance. I met colleagues whose friendship I cherish to this day, got to write for a reasonably large audience, and spent all my time thinking and talking about sports with other people as passionate about them as I was. Well, almost all my time. I also had to answer customer service emails and phone calls and help moderate the message boards. This post is about that part of the job.

Mike Gundy seems to have won this time, in spite of himself

June 19, 2020

Oklahoma State’s football players fumbled. At a moment when they possessed tremendous leverage over their program’s coaches and administrators thanks to the coronavirus crisis and head coach Mike Gundy’s propensity to align himself with racists, they announced they were satisfied changes are in the works and they’re back to the business of playing football under those coaches and administrators.

Stop pretending that hosting the RNC is a big deal

June 12, 2020

This year’s Republican National Convention is essentially leaving Charlotte, North Carolina, because the GOP can’t agree with the Democratic governor and Democratic city officials on how to hold that kind of event during the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, Republicans will spend one day in Charlotte conducting some business and then the rest of the convention will be held in Jacksonville, Florida, where a Republican governor and Republican mayor will let Donald Trump put on the television show he wants.

So, of course, when the Charlotte Observer published its update on this issue, the report highlighted an unlinked and unsupported claim that the convention was projected to bring 50,000 visitors and have a positive $150 million economic impact on Charlotte’s economy. The number of visitors might have some basis in reality, but the $150 million number, as with virtually every other “economic impact” projection proffered by boosters of various events, is the product of a public relations effort designed to garner your support for the event or program and ought not be taken seriously.

Orange Cassidy is pro wrestling's logical next step

June 5, 2020

The world’s most famous and popular pro wrestler is also one of its funniest. From the start, The Rock was exceptionally charismatic both in the ring and on the mic, and at his peak he took multiple opportunities to perform extended comedy sketches and long standup routines. But when it came to the wrestling, itself, he usually stuck to the established combat format.

Orange Cassidy might be the funniest high-profile wrestler today, but instead of snapping off funny one-liners to the crowd, most of his work is physical in-match comedy. Even though I haven’t been a regular wrestling watcher in more than two decades, his character feels like a logical step in pro wrestling’s evolution because everything he does is a commentary on pro wrestling, itself.

Watch any of his many matches posted to YouTube, and you’ll see someone who completely subverts what wrestling “is”. As he explained in a short documentary posted in 2017, the Orange Cassidy character is driven by not wanting to wrestle and therefore does the bare minimum to get by.

You're grieving for sports

May 29, 2020

When it comes to sports, I gather a lot of us feel displaced and anxious right now. Major sports teams provide entertainment and cultural identity to millions of Americans that’s moored to the seasons, tracking the fundamental rhythms of life, and the global pandemic has disrupted that expected progression.

It’s a huge loss and something we ought to name because collective grief is influencing when and how big time sports return.

The ballad of Bam Bewton: What I learned from playing a bunch of NCAA Football 14

May 22, 2020

Ahead of the 2013 college football season, Bam Bewton was a 6-foot-5, 238-pound quarterback from Iron Mountain, Michigan with the college football world tracking his every move. He’d just completed a stellar senior season in which he led his team to a state championship, he was the consensus top recruit in the nation, and he had yet to commit to a college program.

Adding the DH to the NL is a half-measure; here's the full measure

May 15, 2020

Should Major League Baseball owners and players agree that the National League would use a designated hitter if there is a shortened baseball season this year, it would make all sorts of sense. For decades, it’s felt inevitable that the NL would adopt the DH because players want another starting job, owners don’t want weak-hitting pitchers to get at-bats, and apparently the parties felt that coronavirus negotiations would be the right time to finally go through with it.

In recent years, I’ve come to to accept the NL’s inevitable capitulation on the DH, even though the DH, as a concept, still feels incorrect. Yes, every league I’ve ever played in — youth through high school through adult rec leagues — had some version of one or multiple DHs allowed in the lineup, but there’s something smoothly satisfying about a lineup that has nine players, all of whom hit and field.

But as long as there’s a DH in MLB, and we’re completely dispensing with symmetry and the principle that each player who hits is assigned a position in the field, it’s worth thinking about whether even greater specialization would make baseball better. What if the manager were allowed to use as many DHs as they wished in the lineup?

How fast was Michael Jordan, really?

May 11, 2020

At one point in The Last Dance, North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams claimed he witnessed Michael Jordan running a 4.38-second 40-yard dash, which would be amazing today for a guy who’s at least 6-foot-5, let alone in the early ’80s. The New York Times reported a similar story back in 1983, so let’s say Jordan likely ran a hand-timed 4.3 or 4.4.

I don't believe he was that fast.

There has to be a better way to measure Jordan’s speed than anecdotes about hand-timed 40-yard dash times recounted in the service of fluffing up a great athlete’s legend. With a little digging, I think I’ve found a way to tell if Jordan was legendarily fast or if he was merely fast for an early ’80s college basketball player. (Spoiler alert: He was not legendarily fast.)

Is your newsletter fully yours? Before starting one, consider how independent you want to be

May 8, 2020

Substack on a screen

I love newsletters. I have five subscribers to the 29 Sunset newsletter as of this writing, and, as a writer, I love that this message goes directly to your inbox, where you’re notified of its existence and can read it at your leisure on the device of your choosing.

There’s something about email newsletters that feels more personal than when I choose to visit a website and browse its offerings, perhaps because email is a deeply personal medium, a platform where I’ve been trained to think of every message as being specifically for me, because that’s how it was in 1995 when I got my first email address. Of course, I get messages from companies trying to get me to buy things, my doctors’ health network sends me updates that I can’t figure out how to stop, and I know that all the newsletters to which I’m subscribed go to many other people, too. But this feeling that each email I receive was meant for me persists.

Newsletters have been having a moment the past couple years. At a time when the journalism industry has hemorrhaged money and jobs, a whole bunch of professional writers seemed to realize at the same time that instead of trying to start independent blogs, they could cut out most of their administrative costs and energy (or take a pass on learning a new medium like podcasting) by promoting and publishing personal email newsletters that allowed them to send messages directly to readers on an ubiquitous and stable platform.

More attractive, though, is that sites like Substack and Patreon have created simple ways for individuals to charge for access, and a few people have, so far, managed to make a living on those subscription fees. Others, like Dave Pell, whose NextDraft newsletter predates the current boom, and other, more corporate-inclined publications, have sponsors for their content.

But there’s one big problem with where independent newsletters are going that I think those publishers would be well-advised to consider: Right now, under the model most of them are using, their content lives on another entity’s URL and their design is so limited as to be effectively branded by the platform. Yes, the decentralized nature of email newsletters means archives are less important because the content also lives in multiple Gmail inboxes and archives, and sharing is as easy as forwarding. However, don’t you want your publication to be as unique as you are?

Now, every night is movie night: April Media Diet

April 30, 2020

I’m not running out of things to do; I just have a lot fewer options. So goes life during the pandemic. No hanging out in the library for a couple hours in the late afternoon. No spending Saturday at the zoo. Now, I stay home with the Co-Pilot and Little One, and, invariably, we choose a movie.

Who is behind that popular YouTube channel featuring Anna and Elsa dolls?

April 24, 2020

There’s a popular YouTube channel that my Little One will watch every opportunity she can. It’s called Come Play With Me and has more than 7.4 million subscribers. A brief search suggests it’s a wildly profitable channel, with Social Blade giving a low-end estimate of $68,000 monthly income.

For the uninitiated, the channel is essentially a soap opera in the form of imaginative play acted out by two girls controlling dolls mainly from Disney toy lines. The two dolls at the center of almost every episode are the “child” versions of Anna and Elsa from Frozen, though in this universe, the children are named “Anya” and “Elsya” to distinguish them from the adult versions. Other dolls show up here and there, too — the “adult” Anna is Anya’s mother, the “adult” Elsa is Elsya’s mother, and occasionally we see Kristoff, Barbies, LOL figurines, and more.

I’m not the target demographic, but I think the show is attractive to young children because A) it features recognizable characters (the use of which would be an interesting test of fair use) and B) it’s exceptionally well-edited despite the ultra-low-budget production value.

Your Michael Jordan, my Michael Jordan

April 17, 2020

Michael Jordan was a great basketball player. I’m not about to truther that he transformed the NBA, let alone argue that being the best player on six championship teams in eight seasons is less than incredible.

However, on the eve of The Last Dance, an ESPN documentary that has already prompted a bunch of retrospectives on Jordan’s career that mark him as the most important basketball player of all time, and will almost certainly prompt another avalanche of canonizing takes, it’s worth trying to head off at least one myopic line of discussion: Whether Jordan would have dominated today’s game, or, for that matter, if today’s stars would have dominated the NBA of Jordan’s prime.

Disney Plus censors movies, and I’m determined to figure out which ones

April 13, 2020

The other day, I noticed Splash is included with Disney+ and since my little one is in a mermaid phase thought it might be worth watching. But upon starting the movie, we were greeted with a notice that the film had been modified for content, so we didn’t bother.

I haven’t seen Splash, but a quick online search suggests Disney+ only includes a version of the film that removes some non-sexual nudity. After further poking around, it became clear that there are a lot of movies on Disney+ that have been edited for content without an up-front notice.

Why Republicans have no coherent answers for the Covid-19 crisis

April 10, 2020

As the crisis deepens and the president seems more interested in putting on a daily television performance than managing an effective public health response, there hasn’t been enough attention paid to how the modern Republican party has insufficient answers because all their proposals depend on attributing outcomes to individuals’ choices alone.

Cutting unemployment benefits and refusing Medicaid expansion were common GOP policy priorities from before the pandemic that now threaten millions of vulnerable people facing down the worst effects of a sudden recession. In the before times, leftists could argue that reducing unemployment benefits doesn’t actually encourage people to get a job faster, and the nature of health care is such that ensuring more people have care reduces costs for everyone, but it’s hard to use large-scale economic effects in a discussion with someone who’s relying on an instinctual principle. How do you explain to someone that life outcomes are heavily correlated with when, where, and to whom he was born when the air he breathes tells him he alone is responsible for everything he has, and that if people are wanting it’s because they, personally, are lacking?

I was worried about the wrong things

April 9, 2020

It’s becoming clear to a lot of us that isolation isn’t what we thought it would be.

Many introverts thought it would relieve pressure on them to socialize with groups, but after a short adjustment period, it turned out that many can’t avoid constant connection mediated by modern technology, and it’s just as draining as physical socialization, if not more so. Parents are realizing how much goes into education, with some deciding they have to focus on work and eschew homeschooling their children rather than take on a second full-time job.

Did I just write “parents”? In many households, it’s women who have to deal with childcare, education, and the additional housework that stems from preparing and eating more meals at home and simply having people around all the time.

Even after my child’s school closed, I thought I might be able to record more music. I thought I might plow through more books. I thought I might devote more time to drafts of a screenplay and a novel I’ve got in my files and that are just waiting for sustained attention.

Instead, it turns out having an extroverted five-year-old at home means that was all a fantasy. Thankfully, my job is in a slow period in our calendar, so I can run point on assisting the child with her schooling and keeping her from distracting her other parent while she works (a much more connected job). But I actually have less time to devote to solo pursuits than I did in the before times because on top of the work I still have on my plate and performing as teaching assistant, the time I used to spend commuting is now reallocated to preparing lunches, cleaning up, responding to requests for Lincoln Log time, and otherwise guiding the child’s energy into more positive directions.

All that’s to say that the school and daily childcare routine do not translate directly to isolation life, and I haven’t been able to find any new free time, which I suspect is a common experience among my younger-parent cohort.

I was a little worried about how bored and stir-crazy I might get if I had to stay home for weeks on end, and not worried at all about handling my daughter’s schooling and dealing with her demands for attention. Of course, now, I realize I had it all backward. Instead, all the educational and social interactions we’d previously offloaded to school — teachers, other students, afterschool supervisors — is on our shoulders now, along with the logistical burdens that come with rarely leaving the same confined space for days at a time.

(P.S.: Everyone should read Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. While not directly applicable to the kind of social isolation we’re undergoing now, it frames interstellar travel as a series of problems, foreseen and unforeseen, that require constant solving by an isolated group. Emphasis on "unforeseen”.)

(Photo: "Little girl takes kinder toys from plastic box." by Nenad Stojkovic. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.)

Here's why the coronavirus is a fundamental threat to the NCAA

April 7, 2020

A long time ago, Deadspin’s Tommy Craggs published a back-and-forth he had with Yahoo journalist Charles Robinson in which Craggs succinctly explained what has become my view of the NCAA:

What you guys are trying to do — demonstrate the fecklessness of the NCAA by exposing every NCAA violation across the land — is roughly akin to demonstrating the futility of marijuana laws by exposing every dude who packs a bowl on a Friday night. You begin from the assumption, in your reporting if not in your personal beliefs, that the NCAA is a worthwhile institution with flaws. I begin from the assumption that the NCAA should be dynamited.

I think you want me to offer pragmatic, adult, incrementalist solutions to fixing the NCAA. And my point is that pragmatic, adult, incrementalist solutions only further consecrate the fundamentally insane notion that higher education and big-time spectator sports have anything to say to one another.

I thought about this passage yet again when I came across a remarkable article from the Dallas Morning News which recounted all the ways big-time football schools are hoping they can get their seasons in. Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork was particularly blunt:

“I can’t comprehend it, especially looking at our place where you have facilities built specifically for housing these large gatherings, 100,000-plus people,” Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said in a recent interview, “and you have financing related to that based on ticket sales and advertising and suite sales and donations. 
“So the whole model rises and falls based on football. If there’s no spectators maybe we can play, but if there’s no spectators, the economics just don’t work. That’s what we have to focus on is that long-term picture.”

I thought about Craggs’s missive yet again when I read a Bleacher Report post about college athletic directors warning that a cancelled football season would be disastrous to their bottom lines. Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard is quoted by Bleacher Report saying, “If we can't play football this fall, I mean it's Ice Age time. Because there is nobody in our industry right now that could reasonably forecast a contingency plan for how they would get through not playing any football games.”

March Media Diet: Pandemic edition

April 1, 2020

Here, I’ve listed each book, movie, TV show season, and podcast I finished in March 2020. I’ve only included those works which I’d never completed previously, or which I’d finished so long ago it felt unfamiliar. (See previous Media Diet posts here.)

This is not my complete media diet. I also watched plenty of TV that isn’t worth recapping, notably a bunch of Simpsons and Billy on the Street episodes. I also subscribe to several podcasts which I enjoy, but don’t listen to every episode, and the only one I want to listen to, by default, is The Right Time with Bomani Jones.

I don’t have much loyalty to specific websites, but I do try every day to read Kottke, Dear Prudence on Slate (free entries only), and I check ESPN. I subscribe to several newsletters, but actively look forward to the ones from Will Leitch, Anne Helen Petersen, and the Action Cookbook by Scott Hines.

I was in the midst of quitting Facebook, but then a pandemic hit and I found myself relying on it for contact with people outside my immediate household and also for trying out strategies to convince people they ought to follow health experts’ recommendations for staving off Covid-19. I still maintain that someday I’ll find a way to kick my Twitter habit. Instagram sucks, too, but less than the other ones, probably because I’ve resisted following celebrities.

Let’s get to it.

The coronavirus pandemic is a life-changing event

March 18, 2020

That viral Twitter thread about how hard the coronavirus will hit the U.S. is terrifying, but perhaps the most frightening bit is how plainly it makes the case that in order to keep millions of people from dying we must essentially stay in lockdown for more than a year. Even if the federal government pulls its act together and performs heroically in coming months, and we get a miracle reduction in Covid-19 cases, we’re still looking at hundreds of thousands of deaths with lockdown conditions into 2021 to slow the virus’s spread.

That’s bad, and people more in tune with the economy than I am have already explained why we’re in for a good deal of pain in exchange for keeping people alive. But an underreported story is that a big chunk of people who emerge from this experience will be deeply affected by isolation tactics, separate from their respiratory outcomes, especially children who could find themselves next spring having spent a year experiencing anything from a dedicated home-schooling program, to a wide range of “distance learning” methods, to no meaningful education at all.

All that’s to say that even if we avoid total disaster, “only” a couple hundred thousand people die, and isolation tactics get called off the instant a vaccine gets developed and distributed, we’re still going to have a generation of young people whose educational and social paths were disrupted dramatically. What will that do to academic achievement measures? Friendship networks? High school and college students who are implicitly (or explicitly) developing professional networks? And that’s just what I was able to think of off the top of my head.

Maybe the kids will be okay and won’t miss a beat when they resume regular activities. But it’s looking more and more like at some point we’ll have to confront how this pandemic is going to alter the most basic functions of our society for a long time to come.

Photo: "New York National Guard" by The National Guard. Used under CC BY 2.0 license. Original caption: U.S. Army Spc. Reagan Long, a horizontal construction engineer assigned to the 827th Engineer Company, 204th Engineering Battalion, 53rd Troop Command, New York Army National Guard, alongside Pfc. Naomi Velez, a horizontal construction engineer assigned to the 152nd Engineer Support Company, 42nd Infantry Division, register people at a COVID-19 Mobile Testing Center in Glenn Island Park, New Rochelle, Mar. 14, 2020. Members of the Army and Air National Guard from across several states have been activated under Operation COVID-19 to support federal, state and local efforts. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Amouris Coss)

We’ll get through this together, mostly by staying apart

March 12, 2020

I’ve spoken to multiple people in the past couple days who have compared the current coronavirus crisis to 9/11. One person compared the panic they saw in a particular young man in the Bay Area back in 2001 who was convinced more planes would fall out of the sky to panicked people buying up hand sanitizer. Another person described feeling unable to come to an emotional reckoning with the scale and gravity of 9/11, and that they have similar feelings today.

Stray thought on a Wednesday

March 4, 2020

Am I the only person who has Princess Bride quotes pop into my head spoken as if they were written by Tarantino?


Carry on.

Media Diet: February 2020

March 1, 2020

This year I’m aiming to reflect on the media I consumed each month. Here, I’ve listed each book, movie, TV show season, and podcast I finished in February 2020. I’ve only included those works which I’d never completed previously, or which I’d finished so long ago it felt unfamiliar.

This is not my complete media diet. I also watched a lot of TV that isn’t worth recapping, notably a bunch of Simpsons episodes, plus NBA games. I also subscribe to several podcasts which I enjoy, but don’t listen to every episode: The Right Time with Bomani Jones, The Lowe Post, and WTF with Marc Maron. I also listened to a bunch of back episodes of the Grierson and Leitch movies podcast, focusing on their Reboot segments in which they discussed movies I’d seen before.

I don’t have much loyalty to specific websites, but I do make sure every day to read Kottke, Dear Prudence on Slate (free entries only), and I check ESPN. I subscribe to several newsletters, but actively look forward to the ones from Will Leitch, Anne Helen Petersen, and the Action Cookbook by Scott Hines.

I’m in the midst of quitting Facebook as much as work allows, and someday I’ll find a way to kick my Twitter habit. Instagram sucks, too, but less than the other ones, probably because I’ve resisted following celebrities. This month, I think got through a lot less media than usual, probably because I took a significant vacation and on my flights I was mostly trying to sleep (unsuccessfully).

Let’s get to it.

The Red Sox traded Mookie Betts because they don't care about you

February 4, 2020

Mookie Betts is one of the five or six best baseball players in the world right now, and is likely to remain one of the best 10 or so players in the world over the next few seasons.

The Boston Red Sox just traded him away because they want to get under Major League Baseball's "competitive balance" tax, which serves as a deterrent against teams spending above...

Thanks, Bill. That's what I was preparing to spend 3,000 words explaining, but you did a much better job.

Let today's transaction wire serve as a reminder that even the Boston Red Sox, which has long defined itself in large part as an organization built upon the unusually intense passion of its fan base, doesn't actually care about its fans. Betts is exactly the player that a team should spend the most money it possibly can to keep, in that he's both an amazing player and BELOVED.

The Red Sox were about $17 million over the tax threshold as of January 11, 2020, per Cot's Contracts. You're telling me no team would take Chris Sale along with David Price? Or just Sale by himself? Even if you got less of a haul -- and I use "haul" liberally, given that Alex Verdugo is a good Major League player right now, but expecting him to be a superstar is folly -- you'd still have Betts! The best player on your team right now and for the foreseeable future! Why wouldn't you want that guy?

(Photo: "mookie betts" by Rob Larsen. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.)

Media Diet: January 2020

February 4, 2020

This year I’m aiming to reflect on the media I consumed each month. Here, I’ve listed each book, movie, TV show season, and podcast I finished in January 2020. I’ve only included those works which I’d never completed previously, or which I’d finished so long ago it felt unfamiliar.

This is not my complete media diet. I also watched a lot of TV that isn’t worth recapping, notably a bunch of Simpsons episodes, plus NBA games. I also subscribe to several podcasts which I enjoy, but don’t listen to every episode: The Right Time with Bomani Jones, The Lowe Post, and WTF with Marc Maron.

I don’t have much loyalty to specific websites, but I do make sure every day to read Kottke, Dear Prudence on Slate (free entries only), and I check ESPN. I subscribe to several newsletters, but actively look forward to the ones from Will Leitch, Anne Helen Petersen, and the Action Cookbook by Scott Hines.

I’m in the midst of quitting Facebook as much as work allows, and someday I’ll find a way to kick my Twitter habit. Instagram sucks, too, but less than the other ones, probably because I’ve resisted following celebrities.

Let’s get to it.