Spring Training

Well, we went to Phoenix for Spring Training and to be in Arizona again. This is our fourth year and our schedule only allowed us Phoenix this time. The first year we had been split the trip between Sedona and Phoenix and the past two years we had split the time between Tucson and Phoenix. I think I’ll just put down my thoughts on the baseball this time.

We squeezed in 4 games in 4 days this time. The first day was raining and all games were cancelled. Except one. A Cubs game against the Athletics was scheduled as a night game. So I decided this was one time I could make an exception and go see a game with the one team I dislike the most (the Cubs). They play in Sloan Park out in Mesa, a little to the east of Scottsdale.

As I’ve come to understand it, if you put Phoenix in the middle of a table, the downtown area is the southeast edge. Glendale is about 15 miles west. A few miles north of that are more stadiums (Mariners for example) and a few miles south is Goodyear (more about that later). Directly to the east of Phoenix is Scottsdale which is where the well-healed folks always go to as a destination and the home of the Giants. Further east is Mesa. To the south of Phoenix is Tempe which includes the Angels stadium. Most of the games we’ve gone to are in Glendale. We’ve seen the stadiums for the Brewers, Angels, Rangers, Reds, and Giants (that I remember). My spouse sort of tracks the Giants as they were really good (World Series winners) when baseball caught a spark for her (tied to our son being pretty good at it)

Sloan Park is definitely the least favorite stadium I’ve been to for Spring Training. And I think I can definitely say it’s not because I despise the team. It felt like a cavern. It was cramped -not just crowded, but cramped. The people were annoying (that’s my bias) and way too much standing and chatting socially with the game as just a backdrop (okay in the lawn but please not in the front rows). This is a fan base and environment where the team seems to just overall be a backdrop. The fan base grabs the identity and rolls with it. Lots of ‘oohs’ over routine flyballs. Of course the  Cubs are a good team and they won this one with hard hits from their starters (not unusual for opening day even in Spring Training to feature more starters). The parking was grass and mud and water. Food looked unappetizing to me (my spouse thought it looked good though). We left after 4 or 5 innings.

The 2nd day we saw the Sox take on the Reds in Goodyear. This was a fun trip since we followed the game with an afternoon hike at Estrella Mountain which is right by Goodyear (more on that in a follow-up post on hiking, but it set us up nicely to climb Camelback Mountain the next day). It turns out that Goodyear comes from the Goodyear tire company and there appeared to be other R&D, Airplane connections when you went though town. I want to follow up on that. The stadium is not overly complicated, it’s wide open, which I love, with some lazy Palm trees blowing about. Food was mediocre I thought. We had seats in the very front row behind the right corner of the Sox dugout. My spouse (MS) was able to get a photo of Eloy Jimenez mugging for the camera. He’s a ham, but an awesome player. The Sox fell behind early but came back to win it.

The 3rd day we saw the Dodgers at Camelback. this was a fun game and a crowded one. The Dodgers and Sox share Camelback. Due to the proximity to southern California and the fact that the Dodgers have been a much better team for the past several years, the place really gets crowded when it’s a Dodgers game like today. I had us sitting behind the Dodgers dugout this time (MS likes Dave Roberts and recognizes some of their players). That was a fun game although from the 3rd base side, I have a harder time tracking the ball on pop-ups because the Sun is a backdrop during the afternoon – Home plate to Center runs South-East so during the afternoon, the sun is above the right field fence.

The last day we watched the Giants at Camelback. This was a great send-off for us, since Adam Engle won it for the Sox, and he’s a favorite of MS. I think this was the game where Yermin Mercedes also had a home run, but it could have been one of the other games. Finally, this game had one of the weirdest coincidences in that the last Sox pitcher and winner was Christian Friedrich who is the son of the Thesis Advisor for MS’s Ph.D which she finished 10 years ago or so. That was cool and weird.

The Sox showed all the signs of being a pretty fun team that people expect. I have a hope (a very Spring Baseball hope) that they’ll have a good year.

Repeat

My spouse and I recently watched ‘Parasite’ for the 2nd time (within 2 weeks or so). It was on the ‘small screen’ rather than in a theater, but still truly awesome. I have mixed emotions about film as an art, but like it or not, it’s part of the art scene that I need to think about. Some day I’ll blog about it, there’s a personal element around someone I knew in college who had a passionate, loving way of thinking about film as an art that infected me for all that I instinctively disdain seeing movies these days.

Well, that second time watching Parasite was not as great from the ‘experience’ point of view, but the movie rocked as I already said. What I wanted to put some thought into was the fact that we watched it again. It feels like it used to be (my faulty memory?) a way of adjudging the quality of a film was to ask how many times you saw it. It was somewhat expected that decent movies merited a second look, etc. Maybe because modernization has made entertainment so ubiquitous that the pleasure afforded a repeat viewing can be made up by just watching the next film come out. That feels to me to have a ring of some part of an echo of the truth. Missing from that thought-line is the particulars of the viewers. I feel like part of the equation (and it does feel like an equation) is my own biography and context and basis for engaging in art.

 

Parasite

I went to see the movie, ‘Parasite’ over the snowy, wet weekend with my s.o. and that was wild. It may be cultural (in multiple ways) but a trepidation of mine about movies has been their predictability. When I grew up, I think I sort of took for granted just how creative they were at that time (I’m thinking the early-mid 70’s in particular). I feel as though I either know every plot now because they are derived from a well known book or I know the plot because they just aren’t very creative or intelligent. This movie showed how to do all that.

The story is about a family – a poor one – in Korea. They’ve adapted to their circumstances by doing what they need to, spending more time appreciating small victories than grieving the circumstances that put them in need of those abilities. For instance, they scamper all over their apartment trying to find the magic spot to land a free, publicly available WiFi service. When one is password-guarded, they know how to go about guessing what it likely is. When they get it, the family as a whole are happy as clams -over that victory.  The son ends up being ‘gifted’ a chance to be an English tutor for a wealthy family’s teenage daughter. He leverages that to land his sister a job as an art tutor. He also leverages his place to land his Dad a job as a car-driver for the family. He is then able to land his wife a job as a house-keeper. In each case, no-one knows that these individuals are part of a family. In the cases of the car-driver and housekeeping jobs, the family uses their ‘smarts’ to get people who already had those jobs dismissed.

One fateful night when the Parks (the rich family) are out of town and the Ki family (I think that’s their family name) is squatting the their home, the former housekeeper comes back and it turns out that her husband had been living in a hidden basement cellar for many years. That pair discover the Ki’s ruse and the two families fight (physically) which ends up in the former housekeeper and her husband being tied up in the basement when the Parks come back. The housekeeper suffers what is eventually a fatal blow to her head falling down into the basement. The next day, after a rainstorm and sewage failure flood the Ki’s home, they are called back to the Parks to help manage a birthday party for their young son. The Ki’s son, goes to the basement -I think with the intent of killing the couple there. He ends up being ambushed and badly hurt. The man in the basement goes on a stabbing rampage in the party, killing the Ki’s daughter. The Ki’s patriarch kills the Park’s father, and the Ki’s mother kills the man from the basement.

The killing of the Park’s father is the only moment where the family explicitly reacted to some part of their circumstances that crossed their line about how to be treated.  It followed a chain intermittently linked throughout the movie about how the Ki’s are thought of by the Parks with regards to their smell. The Park’s young boy comments that all of their ’employees’ have the same smell.  The Parks comment about the Mr. Ki’s smell when he is hiding nearby and can hear them. The killing of Mr. Park comes not long after Mr. Park has made a comment for the 3rd time (I think) about Mr. Ki being good but ‘almost’ crossing a line for being too familiar. The wealthy get the privilege of having a line that cannot be crossed, but are completely unaware of such a line for others. The film expresses just how alien and segregated the two families are without taking away what would make the audience perceive as familiarity in each with themselves. It’s a nice trick.

I could (and maybe will) write a lot more about this movie. Again, we don’t watch a lot, but this one was wild and will stick in my memory for a long time.

 

Snow and Memory

We had a lovely snow last night. It was powdery, there was lots of it, and it was piling up instead of being smooshed, sloshed, and smeared. The slight wind and nature of it made for that lovely smothered quiet where you can hear small layers of it building up and being flown about. My wife and I walked to the grocery store in a delightful quiet with few others about. Most years, when these snows happen, I find myself thinking back to a short film we watched in elementary school. It was an adaption of the story ‘Silent Snow, Secret Snow’. As far as I could tell or remember, it was about a young boy who sort of gets drawn in and mentally engulfed about snow. A little mentally disturbing but just pleasurable to engage in.

I never did actually read the story (I think it was from Ambrose Bierce) and there’s a part of me that wonders if my memory of it is related to the sort of nostalgia-laced memories we have for other things we were fond of in school. I wonder about the times when we find the fondness does not repeat when given a chance. For instance, I think a lot of us have had the experience of revisiting a food we loved as a child but it’s not quite the same when we try to re-engage as an adult. I’m thinking about things like Macaroni and Cheese. Now that could be related to our taste buds but the memory thing is weird, more broadly. It reminds me of the Oliver Sacks material I recently read.

Elitism

I read Aisha Harris’s piece in the NYT (Dec 29) – a decent read, but I wanted to get some thoughts down on a subject that was referenced there, elitism. The word is usually used in a pejorative sense, suggestive of a group that feels they share a set of qualities to those who are not in their group. When I reflect on it, I think there are some subtleties to the definition that I suspect matter a bit in considering its impact on us.

I would constrain the definition further to say it means a group who consider themselves to have innate qualities that make them superior to others. As an example, think about the stereotype of a group of highly accomplished high school students who get into a selective college. They could be displaying elitism in the sense that they regard themselves as having the qualities to have accomplished what was required to get into that college. They might think it is because they are innately more intelligent or innately better at working hard,  but there is a notion that most people not in their group could not have similarly succeeded because they lack the innate talent. One sees that in thinking about that example, the idea gets caught up in understanding people’s motivations for aspiring to something and the idea that what one chooses to do is often obviously desirable to other people.

The idea of elitism is not confined to a self-reference to that idea of an innate superiority though – people can confer an elite status on others as well. Those same students who regard themselves as elite are not surprisingly considered as such by many in society as well.

These ideas of identifying people who have some superior abilities has a practical effect on how we construct our society, specifically on to whom we give the ability to influence or make decisions for the larger group. A good example of this is laid out in David Halberstam’s ‘Best and Brightest’ on the Vietnam War. ‘Wise Men’ were regarded as elite by looking at accomplishments and considering them to be reflective of superior abilities that would translate to the mission of our country around the world in the challenging times of the broader Cold War. That’s a good example to sketch out some of the risks that come with how elitism is used. Specifically, because elitism conveys an idea of inner traits, it is not usually something that can be explicitly seen and therefore is ascribed by means of interpretation.

By interpretation, I mean that someone sees all these impressive things that happen in someone’s life and infers, or interprets, them as emerging from that person’s innate talents. It has some similarity to Calvinism which is maybe why it seems to me to be more pernicious in our society.

Interpretation is a messy business in most contexts, but in identifying elites who should make important decisions for society, it can be shaped by the uglier parts of ourselves. It’s not a coincidence that elites in our society have historically been groups of white men. There is a feedback that takes place there too. Having identified who we think are elite and give them power, we, as a society, go to some length to justify the view and start to believe our own case for innate superiority and make it that much more difficult to be honest about why individuals get to where they are. I like to think of Molly Ivins reference to George H.W. Bush: ‘Born on third base and thought he hit a triple’. But society sits in the stands and claps away as though they believe the story too.

Our current president has managed to take advantage of our relationship with elitism in two ways. First, he looks to re-enforce those uglier aspects that got caught up in our understanding of who has great innate talent. He turns nativism and white superiority into reflections of an idea of what success ‘looks like’. Making America great ‘again’, means re-ascribing power based on the superficial, magical way of thinking about talent. There are many people who really do think that a white male is likely to be inordinately better. It’s a very slightly different thing that simply stating they ‘hate’ non-male, non-white people and I think I can see how it emerges from a place that is not evil, per se, but can drive us to evil as we look to continue to be defensive about our own inability to understand what happens to individuals in our society.

The second way the president has leaned on elitism is to inveigh against another set of elites. It would be a mistake of oversimplification to think that Trump is striving to speak for the common man as a populist and against elites. He is doing that, but the targets are more specific – they are identified as fraudulent elites, easily seen as such by lacking the markers that a common man would use to pick out a true elite. Part of the reason he is so effective at this is though timing having applied it on the heels of our first African-American president and at the doorstep of our first woman president. He’s not alone in this regard. As much as I love Maureen Down, I always felt there was a waft of this in her pieces about Barack Obama as well. 

The challenge for ourselves, I think, is to better frame meritocracy and understand how we can formulate a place for it in our society as a way to replace elitism. Meritocracy is not elitism. It is not without it’s own risks similar to those of elitism but I think it has the potential to better serve all of us. I’ll defer thoughts on that for other posts.

Voting

With less than 20 months to go until the presidential election and maybe 7 until the first primaries and caucuses roll around, ones thoughts go increasingly to political topics. I think I’m a bit of a political junkie and I certainly love the storyline of political campaigns – even as I’m unsure whether that aspect is healthy for our society. I’ve told folks, and I think I’m not far off, that this election reminds me of the 1976 election primary. At that time I collected Newsweek magazines as my parents finished them (they had a weekly subscription). The magazine format was a much more important part of the social fabric than today of course. 1976 was the first presidential election since the Nixon resignation. Nixon’s resignation wasn’t the only thing that had happened in the previous 4 years of course – society was something of a big muck of ‘stuff’ and lots to be remembered for could come in any year. One 1976 Newsweek cover touted the score or so democratic candidates lining up for a shot to be nominated. The Watergate debacle made Dems the team to beat for November. Jimmy Carter really came out of no-where (still not sure how) but there was Frank Church riding in from the Church CIA hearings, Mo Udall, Jerry Brown, Scoop Jackson (remember the term Jackson Wing of the democrats?), Birch Bayh, Sargent Shriver, and others. One of the things that strikes me is how many of these have progeny who’ve continued in their wake. Nepotism? A strong thread in US politics. It’s a topic that makes me start thinking about our wealth gap in the US but I feel I’m going off on another topic.

I’m pretty worried with how our world writ large is evolving. I have a small sliver of hope. That worry seems to overshadow how I feel about the elections – do I go for the candidates that reflect where I want us to go now or the ones that optimize the chance of getting small changes done. I feel like Obama was right at the sweet spot and accomplished about as much as can ever be feasible in our (American) political era.

Fear, Anxiety, and Chit-Chat

A person was fired at work today. I hesitated before writing the noun down, since at times they’ve felt like a friend, at times like a colleague, and at times a person with a personal backstory. It’s incredibly sad to me. I can make comments about it’s reflections on our want to be needed and how that might be something we get out of a life of work, but it’s hard to think about some of the particulars that I’d like to speak for themselves. His wife was diagnosed with Cancer not too long ago. His kids are entering the danger years of adolescence and uncertainty about the future, he has to wonder who values him. Who values any of us?

I’ve spent a fair number of  evenings when we both worked late, just chatting a late night at work. There was a fair amount of griping – doesn’t that word convey just a real pejorative sense? – on his part about how his role at work was perceived and the (my read) powerlessness he had to do anything about a system that just didn’t want him around any more. I use the word ‘system’, but he usually personalized it. I think that’s normal. It’s not normal or right for anyone, and I mean anyone, to have a life turned from anxiety to outright fear. What’s wrong with us?

 

Election(s)

With less than 20 months to go until the presidential election and maybe 9 until the first primaries and caucuses roll around, ones thoughts go increasingly to political topics. I think I’m a bit of a political junkie and I certainly love the storyline of political campaigns – even as I’m unsure whether that aspect is healthy for our society. I’ve told folks, and I think I’m not far off, that this election reminds me of the 1976 election primary. At that time I collected Newsweek magazines as my parents finished them (they had a weekly subscription). The magazine format was a much more important part of the social fabric than today of course. 1976 was the first presidential election since the Nixon resignation. Nixon’s resignation wasn’t the only thing that had happened in the previous 4 years of course – society was something of a big muck of ‘stuff’ and lots to be remembered for could come in any year. One 1976 Newsweek cover touted the score or so democratic candidates lining up for a shot to be nominated. The Watergate debacle made Dems the team to beat for November. Jimmy Carter really came out of no-where (still not sure how) but there was Frank Church riding in from the Church CIA hearings, Mo Udall, Jerry Brown, Scoop Jackson (remember the term Jackson Wing of the democrats?), Birch Bayh [ed: as I followed up writing this, Birch Bayh has died. Boy I take my time completing this no?], Sargent Shriver, and others. One of the things that strikes me is how many of these have progeny who’ve continued in their wake. Nepotism? A strong thread in US politics. It’s a topic that makes me start thinking about our wealth gap in the US but I feel I’m going off on another topic.

The topic that was banging around in my head today was how does one figure out who one should vote for? Or hope should win? This is part of the old topic of whether to vote straight for who sees the world and the problems to solve as you do or go for the one likeliest to win or the one likeliest to achieve part of what interests me? In the past there have been elections where I voted for someone based on wanting to be idealistic. For instance, I voted for (gasp) Ralph Nader in the 2000 election.

I’ve gone back and forth. I’ve made argued vociferously that my particular vote simply does not have the likely ability to make any changes. That is something that is absolutely true. Voting is something of an act of faith – or maybe a giant Monte Carlo. So does focusing on how I should vote become a shiny ball? In other words, the variance in the outcome according to the variability in how I do it is negligible compared to the intent which is to gauge public sentiment.

There’s also a (I think) new component to all of this – the public pressure that is there by virtue of electronic media. Think about the increasing number of close electoral results where people are castigated by voting for a fringe candidate because the small perturbation was enough to be a decisive factor overall. Note that I said ‘a’ decisive factor. It feels like a peer pressure thing and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with it. I’ve given in to it as well and felt anger towards Jill Stein voters for instance. A messy, see-through bowl it is.

Arizona

It’ll take a while to get all I want to get down about our trip to Arizona. This was our 3rd consecutive trip to the desert, timed in part to coincide with part of professional baseball’s ‘Spring Training’. It’s a period of a month or so where teams will play practice games against one another to get ready for the regular season and to give some last thoughts as to who should be part of the team going forward. We will spend the other half of our time in another part of the state just enjoying the outdoors – mainly  some combination of hiking and biking.

Too many of our trips start off with some pre-trip crisis (a topic for another post!) and this one did as well. D and I definitely were high strung going into the last minute before the cab came for us but by the time we were at the airport all was cop acetic. (Spelling check, is that word really two?).  Odd factoid, I tend to drink less when I’m on trips and vacations, though this time I had 3 good shots at 9:30 AM. Also, I tend to sleep like a baby on airflights. Not so much this time. Connected?

Phoenix was wonderful to us again. An interesting town where I can again sense a big gap from the haves and have-nots. The terrain is absolutely not to be missed though. In our 7 days, we hiked with increasing ardor every day and then on the next to last day capped it off with a 45 mile bike ride (in Tucson). I know we’re getting older, but damn, it felt good to be physically alive.

Biases, Literature and Computers

I take a fair amount of pride in what I deem to be an ability to communicate well through speaking or writing. The math and science of the world has always come second nature to me and I’ve probably taken it for granted, but I can point to a few milestones in my life with regards to speaking and writing: in high school, I very vividly remember writing a paper as a Junior (I think) where the purpose was to take a position on something. In my very egocentric way, I wrote a paper arguing why reading was important but in a style which was very self-centered and really a stand-in for why I am just better than everyone else for seeing how cool reading is. My teacher at the time, Ms. Alwood, was somehow able to get through to a part of me that was able to put aside the part of me that was convinced of my being right and to re-think what I was doing. The technical change was just to reconceive the paper with regards to who the audience was. Okay, that wasn’t hard, the challenge was to get me to re-evaluate what I was doing. I’m not entirely sure, but I sense that there’s a connection there between that ability to communicate and having to weaken one’s sense that one is always the arbiter of truth. It’s a weird notion given how some people, lawyers for example, are explicitly trained to do the very opposite – be artful at explaining why you are correct (at least in an adversarial judicial system). A second milestone was in college where, at least in the first 2 years, I felt like my literature courses were the ones I enjoyed most.  My freshman literature course was cool – taught by a very nearly-hippie, stereotypical boomer dude (this was 1982 after all). The class was very wide ranging and able to connect extremely disparate ideas into a cloth of literature that left one feeling that you really learned something. For example, we read Dante’s ‘Inferno’ and we also read the book of Job from the bible. The portion on the Job and the bible was neat because it raised the idea that Christianity and Judaism are at their hearts more ‘Eastern’ religion than one realizes in their attempt to give very non-material, meditative answers to questions about life. The perspective on God in Job is one that posits an entity that is very ‘apart’ from us and leaves us in a continual meditative posture with asking the question about why bad things happen to good people.

Now, what does this have to do with computers? Well, in my inbox was another set of links from a computer/programming-oriented website. The ability to assemble blogs and articles is so omni-present these days that I think it has done good in adding some literacy to many such parts of life. This article included a link to ‘books you have to read in 2018’. But my reaction as I read them was a mix of ‘I know better than to enjoy this one’ and ‘Over-rated’ and ‘can you justify this with anything other than claiming one is better for having read it?’. I think my fur rises in part because I deem the source to be someone who I stereotype as likely good at technical things, but surely they don’t have the literature/arts chops that I do.  I have similar feelings though even when people who I know recommend books. And I’ve been wrong! When I lived in a condo in Oak Park in the first years of our marriage, I was loaned a book “Ahab’s Daughter” by our neighbor downstairs. I started it and instinctively wanted to disparage it. In fact, when our neighbor asked me what I thought,  my first response (I was about 1 chapter in) was to openly criticize it – I think I said it seemed okay, but there were no male characters, to a fault. I was not only boorish, but possibly misogynistic and I was wildly wrong as well. It ended up being one of  my favorite books I’ve read in the past 20 years. Ugh indeed.