If what they say about the rain at the end of the year’s first quarter is true, we here in southeast Texas are going to be lousy with buds and blooms any time now. It has been a day better spent inside in thoughtful contemplation: there’s still the whole COVID-19 thing but it feels like it’s getting better, and still disagreement about whether to get vaccinated or not (just do it; I did) which then forks off into another look at the drama of the American political dichotomy, coming along right as the new president passes a milestone day in office.
Yeah, not gonna do it.
Unless…unless I could get someone else to do the hard work. Someone funny; someone Canadian; someone with a YouTube series I could share with you for free. Yeah, then I’d do it…I mean, do this:
I say it’s worth subscribing—he doesn’t publish too frequently so you don’t burn out, his pieces are short, and to my mind invariably funny.
Now, while getting this set up I had one of those great ideas I sometimes get…just seconds before I forget why I thought it was such a great idea. In this case I had a very specific connection from Casually Explained to a particular Tom Lehrer song, right up until I couldn’t remember which song it was. So now, before I get lost online listening to Tom Lehrer songs, here’s one for you to enjoy…
This is a miserable day: there’s a small hurricane a few hundred miles to the south that is shooting enough rain over my area that the golf course has actually closed, and they rarely do that; I’m finishing four months mostly stuck at home doing my tiny part to stifle the spread of COVID-19, which has a renewed outbreak here in southeast Texas thanks mostly to simple impatience encouraged by misguided state and national political leadership; and while the Major League Baseball season finally began in Houston last night I found from watching just a bit of it on television that the lack of fan excitement in the ballpark compounded my disinterest arising from the off-season report that my team cheated.
But there is good news: support for Donald Trump among Republicans is starting to crack! Finally.
I do not understand—have never understood—the attraction of Donald Trump to the American people, beyond the fact that he is not Hillary Clinton and that was enough for many. Trump has no guiding philosophical principles (beyond self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement) that might attract like-minded people, and even if he did, you’d think the cold, clear reality that Trump lies (about everything) should be enough to persuade those people that he cannot be trusted in anything that he says. Even his TV catchphrase “You’re fired” was misleading, in that we’ve now seen that he doesn’t have the courage to fire anyone to their face, no matter how much they may deserve it. He’s a con man; a fraud. He’s also an incredible whiner, obsessed with whether people have been “fair” and “nice” to him—why didn’t he ever learn that life is not fair, and people are not always nice? (Has he looked in a mirror?)
He’s also proven himself to be conspicuously susceptible to praise—he thrives on having others tell him how great he is. Don’t think the leaders of Russia, China and North Korea haven’t noticed. I’ve never seen anything as demeaning as those Cabinet meetings and other gatherings at which Trump kicks it off by going around the table “giving” everyone the chance to open up their Roget’s and find new ways to kiss his ass—in public! Like they had a choice…I do not understand why, after the first one of those, the people around that table ever came back.
Actually, I think I do understand, at least to an extent: leaders of the Republican Party in and out of government are willing to put up with all the hideous and despicable behaviors of Trump because that’s the price to pay for getting what they want from having their party in power. What other reason could there be for men and women who have demonstrated their skill in the system and risen to these positions of power to now debase themselves without public complaint to the same man most of them strongly dismissed and ridiculed right up to the minute he secured their party’s nomination?
The “what” of “what do they want?” from Trump differs, of course. It could be as simple as political spoils, personal appointments or government contracts. It could be as clear as being part of the plan to advance a philosophical agenda, either by, for example, enabling racists to control the levers of power, or by installing a generation of judges to lifetime appointments to influence the nation’s laws. But in supporting him as president, they have also enabled all that we get from Trump: the disinterest in properly handling the government’s response to a pandemic, the misguided policy priorities, the self-inflicted trade wars, the attempts to use the government to enrich himself and to punish his enemies, the damage to relations with our allies as well as our enemies, including the attempt to blackmail a foreign leader for his personal and political gain that led to his impeachment. (Don’t forget impeachment!) And despite all that, the polls have been showing that Republicans still support him.
A remarkable thing is happening: Trump's depiction of this national moment is losing its grip on the country. He's being openly defied and repudiated everywhere, from players taking knees to officials resisting his authoritarian fantasies. New piece:https://t.co/kxwRsUu2z0
In a revealing aside, President Trump told chief propagandist Sean Hannity on Thursday night that he traces much of the overwhelming enthusiasm for his reelection now sweeping the country back to his Mount Rushmore speech commemorating Independence Day.
“Since that time, it’s been really something,” Trump told Hannity, before raging that fake polls are deliberately obscuring the mighty depth and reach of his support.
In that speech, Trump offered his canonical statement on the unleashing of federal law enforcement into cities, conflating protests against police brutality and systemic racism with a “far-left fascism” out to “take” our “national heritage” away from the “American people.”
At around the time Trump appeared on “Hannity,” all four Major League Baseball teams playing Opening Day games took a knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter before the national anthem, flatly defying Trump’s relentless disparaging of the protests, and more broadly, the vision outlined in that speech.
In all kinds of ways, Trump’s depiction of this national moment, as enshrined in that speech, is losing its grip on the country. In some cases, Trump’s own officials are defying his efforts to carry that depiction to the authoritarian climax he so craves.
Meanwhile, Trump’s sinking popularity — which is linked to that loosening grip, as his efforts to impose that understanding on us are surely helping drive his numbers down — is leading to open defiance among his own party.
Players taking a knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, Republicans standing up to Trump on Confederacy issues and on vote by mail: Sargent cites these among seven examples where, across the country and including Republicans, people may finally be getting so tired of Trump and his constant drama that they are ready to tell him to shove it. I hope he’s right.
Another example: Republican Congressional candidates in the Houston area who recently won their party primary runoffs by trumpeting their support of Trump are kicking off the general election campaign by…toning it down. A lot.
Of course, I wonder why it’s taken so long, especially for elected officials who generally consider themselves, each and every one of them, the bright center of the universe around which all else revolves. After swallowing their pride and kowtowing to this spoiled child for so long, they would not be abandoning ship now if they thought he was going to win in November. Maybe they’ve finally seen the light and are doing what’s right for it’s own sake. (Right.) You decide.
It turns out that getting a better chair wasn’t the whole answer.
Two weeks ago I wrote about getting a new desk chair to ease my ability to work from home since my employer and the surrounding cities and counties had ordered those who were able to do so to start right away in order to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus. That first order expired last Friday; they have all been extended. This isn’t going away like I thought it would.
At first, subconsciously, I think many of us in the Houston area treated the stay-at-home orders as a direction to do what we do when a hurricane comes: get your house ready, lay in supplies if you’re not going to evacuate, stay alert. That might explain the inexplicable run on water and meat and soft drinks and toilet paper at every grocery store, drug store, convenience store and purveyor of paper products all across God’s creation. When we lost electricity during Hurricane Ike it took three long days to get it restored here, but I have friends for whom it took three weeks, or longer. In the meantime we all assessed the damage and made repairs, or started to, and life was returning to normal.
No hurricane lasts this long. I think we didn’t really understand what we were in for when this started three weeks ago.
I work in television production for NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and we’d been directed to come to the office if that’s what was necessary to keep making the products we make. Since I do a weekly live television broadcast, I would have to come to the office, at least on that day, because that’s how you do these things. Well, we did that once, although we put me in a studio by myself instead of the International Space Station flight control room, as usual, to support a plan to protect the flight controllers who fly the station from exposure to the virus. By the following Monday our boss directed us all to figure out how to do the show without anyone having to come on site; we weren’t able to meet that goal, but we did scale it down to just one person and that wasn’t me—hence, the first episode ever in which America got to see a slice of my entry hallway at house.
It wasn’t that we couldn’t figure out how to do our jobs differently, it was that—at least for me—I didn’t get that I would have to. Now I do. And I have realized that, had this happened a few years ago, the technology that’s necessary would not have been available to us. It wasn’t that long ago that most of America wouldn’t have had easy access to the audio and video conferencing hardware and software that we’re using all day every day right now. The Houston Chronicle’s technology editor Dwight Silverman has a great story in today’s paper making the case that “Working from home, learning from home and getting your entertainment at home will become the newer normal when this is over”.
Within my own family there’s an instructive cross-section of how America is dealing with COVID-19, which at this point does not include anyone who has become sick. There is a communications consultant, an accountant, a corporate manager, a salesman, and a customer service support specialist who, like me, are mostly doing their jobs routinely from home. There are a couple of elementary school teachers who are learning how to teach their classes online, and other parents who are teaching their own kids at home. The ones who work in restaurants and in-home child care are at work as usual, as are the banker and the computer chip manufacturer supervisor and the school district police officers and the owner-operator long-haul truck driver, and the one who has breast cancer finished her chemotherapy right on schedule. The dental assistants have reduced hours because their bosses are only handling emergencies, and the real estate agent says “work for me has come to an almost complete standstill,” as it has for her son who she recently brought into the business. Those who are retired are trying to adjust to not having the house to themselves any more.
I’m not complaining; for most of us, so far, this is an inconvenience. Honestly, I’m having some cognitive dissonance trying to reconcile my experience with the one I’m reading and hearing about across the rest of the country and the world. Three times as many dead in the New York City area as were lost on September 11; more than 9000 dead across the U.S. so far and nearly 70,000 across the world; more than 10 million people in the U.S. have filed for unemployment assistance with concerns of revisiting jobless levels not seen since the Great Depression; Queen Elizabeth addresses the United Kingdom on television for only the fifth time in 68 years (not counting Christmas addresses); no baseball or basketball or golf tournaments.
By the time Donald Trump proclaimed himself a wartime president — and the coronavirus the enemy — the United States was already on course to see more of its people die than in the wars of Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
The country has adopted an array of wartime measures never employed collectively in U.S. history — banning incoming travelers from two continents, bringing commerce to a near-halt, enlisting industry to make emergency medical gear, and confining 230 million Americans to their homes in a desperate bid to survive an attack by an unseen adversary.
Despite these and other extreme steps, the United States will likely go down as the country that was supposedly best prepared to fight a pandemic but ended up catastrophically overmatched by the novel coronavirus, sustaining heavier casualties than any other nation.
It did not have to happen this way. Though not perfectly prepared, the United States had more expertise, resources, plans and epidemiological experience than dozens of countries that ultimately fared far better in fending off the virus.
The failure has echoes of the period leading up to 9/11: Warnings were sounded, including at the highest levels of government, but the president was deaf to them until the enemy had already struck.
The Trump administration received its first formal notification of the outbreak of the coronavirus in China on Jan. 3. Within days, U.S. spy agencies were signaling the seriousness of the threat to Trump by including a warning about the coronavirus — the first of many — in the President’s Daily Brief.
And yet, it took 70 days from that initial notification for Trump to treat the coronavirus not as a distant threat or harmless flu strain well under control, but as a lethal force that had outflanked America’s defenses and was poised to kill tens of thousands of citizens. That more-than-two-month stretch now stands as critical time that was squandered.
What could have been done in 70 days? Read the story, remember the details: the leaders of our government ignored the warnings and refused to take the actions that very likely would have saved lives. Thousands of lives. Thousands of American lives. The Trump Administration did not cause the virus, and shouldn’t have been expected to stop it from entering this country. But hoping it would just go away on its own was not the right answer.
A week on his HBO show, John Oliver had a good summary of how I feel today. (Start at 15:16)
We can all do our part to help, if only by keeping our distance from each other. As Oliver said, what we do out here to fight the spread of this virus will have an impact inside the hospitals where real heroes are at work fighting to save the tens of thousands of people who have been infected. Since they don’t (yet) have the medicine and the hardware they really need to keep those people alive, the best thing we can do to help them is to try to keep more patients from flooding in. Let’s do what we can.
When it comes to fighting a deadly virus, it appears that we are all learning that sooner is better than later. That’s the stated reason why at my workplace, NASA Johnson Space Center, and at the other NASA centers around the country, we moved from Stage 2 to Stage 3 of a response plan in just two days, even though there was no significant change in reported cases of COVID-19. Administrator Jim Bridenstine’s message to the troops employed some of the same boilerplate we’re all getting pretty familiar with, in emails from every credit card and department store and restaurant and car repair shop and golf course with which we have ever had digital congress: a sincere declaration that they are “closely following the advice of health professionals” and that “Implementing best practices early and quickly will increase likelihoods for better outcomes.”
Despite there being verrry few cases at NASA of people who have come down with COVID-19, and no one at all here in Houston, the agency has gotten in line with the latest recommendations from the White House and moved to a stricter standard for allowing people to come to the office to do work. As you can see in the chart (below) Stage 3 means that as of this morning only people with mission-essential tasks were to come to work, and the on-site day care is now closed, but the hardest part for many people will be, I fear, that in-person meetings are prohibited.
I did have to go to the office today to take care of some things I couldn’t do from home but left as soon as I could and headed home, stopping on the way to get my car washed. (It needed it, I promise.) I chose the medium-priced of the three packages, advertised at $24.99. But when I went inside to pay, the cashier asked for $18.49; assuming I’d just misread the sign, or that I had caught an unexpected sale, I gave her my card, signed the slip, and headed for the window to see my car transformed back to its original beauty. Standing there across the waiting room from another menu board, I saw the advertisement that Wednesdays are Senior Days, with special pricing on the regular wash or any of the packages; I pulled out my receipt and looked more closely.
Fellas, you owe it to the fans. We may not forgive you and get over it right away even if you mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa all over the place, but I can promise you that a hell of a lot of us will never get over it if you don’t even try.
What happened today in West Palm Beach is much closer to “don’t even try” than to a real, honest explanation or apology.
After months of investigation by the Office of the Commissioner, Major League Baseball released a report last month finding the Houston Astros guilty of cheating for using technology to steal signs from their opponents in 2017 and 2018. Astros owner Jim Crane fired the manager and general manager for not stopping the player-driven scheme, and a week later he ran interference for his players—who at that point hadn’t yet said anything—by saying they would all talk when they got to together in spring training and then offer a public apology. That meeting happened last night, and the big apology came in a news conference this morning. Here, courtesy of KPRC-TV in Houston, is the entire pathetic performance.
No doubt the Astros in-house public relations folks consulted with outside experts in crisis management to come up with a plan; Crane needs to be asking for his money back from all of them. Putting the owner front and center speaking on behalf of his team seems the start of the right response, but the script they gave him to read was, as the kids say, an epic fail. Over the course of about half an hour Crane (1) repeatedly made the point that he personally was not responsible at all, even though (2) he hired the general manager and the manager who were assigned blame in the commissioner’s report because (irony alert) they did not properly supervise their subordinates, (3) acknowledged that his players broke the rules but refused to say they “cheated,” at one point (4, in answer to a question that starts at 8:04 into the clip) said his team’s rule-breaking actions did not impact any games, and then (5, two questions later, starting at 9:39) denied that he had said what we all heard him say. Over and over, his answer to every question that tried to start getting some into specifics became a variant of “the report says what it says, and that is what is right, and we will say no more than that.” He looked stupid. As an Astros fan, I am embarrassed by his ignorant performance.
“The core of the problem is that the team’s owner and players tried to declare the crisis over before it’s really over,” [Gene] Grabowski [of crisis communications firm kglobal] said. “They sounded arrogant when they said they are moving on. That’s for the fans and sports writers to say — not guilty players and owners.”
Mike Androvett, who owns a public relations, marketing and advertising firm that works with attorneys in Dallas and Houston, said the news conference failed to put the past to rest and, instead, “reinforced that the 2017 World Series win will likely be forever tainted.”
“I felt like the apologies by Mr. Crane and the two ballplayers seemed a little begrudging and lacking in specificity,” Androvett said. “If the intent was to nip this controversy in the bud, I think it will have the opposite effect.”
Crane, he said, “was not willing to share specific details, and he seemed only too ready to defer back to the commissioner’s report.”
Androvett said [Alex] Bregman and [Jose] Altuve, each of whom spoke for less than a minute at the news conference before giving more detailed answers in the clubhouse, “were placed in an unwinnable position, and as a result, their apologies rang a little hollow.”
Marjorie Ingall with the website sorrywatch.com, which tracks and rates messages of public contrition, said the Astros news conference “was spectacular in its horridness. It’s the way not to apologize. It’s every example of terrible corporate policy.”
Among Crane’s failures during his news conference, Ingall said, was refusing to acknowledge the damage the Astros inflicted on their opponents.
“You have to apologize to the people you’ve harmed,” she said. “If you’re not doing that, you’re not really apologizing.”
You can see Bregman and Altuve at 2:56 and 3:45 of the news conference: they said little, but did seem taken with the seriousness of the moment if not truly sorry for what they did to cause it. They did a bit better later in the morning inside the clubhouse, when they and a few teammates—Carlos Correa, George Springer, Justin Verlander, Josh Reddick and Lance McCullers—seem to really start to express some contrition for this illegal plan:
As I’ve put the pieces together, the story is that a team intern showed up with an Excel-based program (“Codebreaker”) that helped the front office decode a catcher’s signs, but that effort was denounced as pedestrian by Carlos Beltran when he was signed as a free agent before the 2017 season. (The original story from The Athletic is here, a version out from under a paywall is on Sports Illustrated here.) Beltran and bench coach Alex Cora, both now “ousted” as managers of the Mets and Red Sox, respectively, because of this affair, reportedly got the scheme rolling to route a center field camera video feed to the clubhouse/dugout area so the catcher’s signs could be deciphered and a short message—sent via bangs on a trash can in the tunnel behind the dugout—could be sent to tell the Astro-at-bat what kind of pitch was coming. And, we are given to believe, many of the Astros players and coaches opposed this scheme but “felt powerless” to stop it.
Clubhouse dynamics came into play, and Beltrán, a 20-year veteran, reportedly didn’t take too well to players approaching him about the operation. Players described him to The Athletic as “El Jefe, the Godfather, the king, the alpha male in the building.”
A half-dozen former Astros players spoke with The Athletic on the condition of anonymity and said some players were afraid to approach Beltrán and express their disdain for the cheating scheme. At one point, veteran catcher Brian McCann approached Beltrán and asked him to end the operation.
“He disregarded it and steamrolled everybody,” one of the team members said. “Where do you go if you’re a young, impressionable player with the Astros and this guy says, ‘We’re doing this’? What do you do?”
(Beltran retired after the 2017 season; the Astros players reportedly stopped using the system to steal signs sometime in the 2018 season because they felt it was not productive.)
To this point, I have not heard a single Astros player, coach, executive or team official try to make a case that the charges are false, that the Astros are innocent. (We’re starting to hear rumblings that there are plenty of other teams that are guilty, too, but that’s irrelevant to whether or not the Astros cheated; no one is saying the Astros didn’t do it.) Nobody I’ve heard has tried to pardon any of the players individually, make us believe that this guy didn’t participate in the cheating. They are publicly accepting the accusation that they violated the rules of the game, that they cheated in a way that effected the outcome of games.
Today Jim Crane and his players spent a lot of time reminding us us that they are have said they are sorry, that they have expressed remorse, as if that is all they need to say for us to be honor-bound to start to forget the whole sorry affair and rightfully turn attention to who will be the fourth and fifth starters this year, and whether or not Myles Straw can adequately replace Jake Marisnick as the designated late inning pinch runner.
The players and owner Jim Crane held a team meeting on Wednesday to plan a course of action for the next day of camp. On Thursday, they severely underwhelmed. Astros hitters Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman provided roughly two minutes of insincere, vague remarks, while Crane issued a strange denial that the team’s cheating actually affected the outcome of the games.
“I am really sorry about the choices that were made by my team, by the organization, and by me,” Bregman said, squeezing as much out of the passive voice as he could.
The Astros’ talking points all had heavy overlap. The players said most of them didn’t speak out earlier because they wanted to get together and address it as a team. (Or maybe they wanted to get their stories straight and not admit any more than what was in MLB’s investigation.) They were sorry that they didn’t do more to stop it. They hoped to move on and be better in the future. They also didn’t specify what exactly they were supposed to be sorry for.
One more thing: it occurs to me that there is a way that the Astros could still make this even more annoying. If—despite all we’ve learned so far about the Astros cheating and whatever may still come out—if the team and the players come out tomorrow, and the next day, and next week and next month, and for however long it is that people in and out of the game are still pissed off and/or disappointed about this sorry episode…if they now take the attitude that they have done all the apologizing that is necessary and have nothing more to say on the matter…if one of them looks down his nose at a reporter and huffs that he has “already addressed that issue” and refuses to say another word…
And if the reporters let them get away with that? If they don’t “chase them ‘round the moons of Nibia and ‘round the Antares maelstrom, and ‘round perdition’s flame” to get a honest answer to a legitimate question…well, that’s a whole ‘nuther blog post.