Category: Hokum

Hope and the Nationals

I will remain calm. I will. I will. I will.

But the Nats have their Best Team Ever, one that is full of tested veterans now, one that easily would have won 100+ games this season if the first-half-of-the-season bullpen hadn’t been so unspeakably awful (but that’s fixed now), one that cruised all year despite a genuine crush of injuries, one that is as healthy as a team is likely to be after a long season.

In short, This. Is. It. We’re unlikely to get a better Nats team here…well, ever. This team has World Series-level talent, including a batting order that is genuinely frightening all the way until you get to the catcher in the eight-hole. It has three aces on the pitching staff. It now has a stud bullpen.

But first they must beat the Cubs…the defending world champs, the best team in the National League by record over the second half of the season, a team that played under tremendous pressure in last year’s World Series and won the greatest Game 7 (and maybe the best baseball game, period) I’ve ever seen.

Of course. It can’t come easy for these Nationals, losers of all three playoff series they’ve been in, breakers of my heart in 2012, keepers of that great Washington sports tradition: Hope-building, followed by choking.

Screw it. I just bought a ticket to Game 5 of the Cubs-Nats series. GO NATS.

The test

From a certain empirical viewpoint, it is fascinating to watch this man spread his little seeds. Like many corruptors, he pulls people along by showing them their dreams, then twists those dreams into something awful and distorted for his personal benefit. Eventually, he leaves most of his believers exhausted (and often a lot lighter in the wallet).

Along the way, he portrays his opponents as a horrific enemy, one that will destroy all that is good in the world. He gives you the choice: Are you going to believe what he so convincingly offers you, or are you going to believe your lying eyes?

And so, he goes about the corruptor’s work of dividing, and subdividing, and sub-subdividing. He instinctively knows what may of us feared: Racism, sexism, class warfare and a hundred other flavors of us-vs.-them all are excellent tools to separate the masses. All it takes is the right kind of agitation. And even those who have been pulled into his orbit out of some sense of duty are consumed. They are spit out, rarely to be heard from again, when their worth has been extracted.

It’s a nonstop con, one that must be supported by an endless series of sideshows and distractions, lest someone start looking under too many rocks. Like most cons, it’s harder to pull off over time. Eventually, it all collapses — although the good con man knows how to skip away just before that happens.

But we’re not talking about some shady real estate development here, or some casino scam involving greedy people. We’re talking about the mechanisms of the greatest democracy the world has ever seen — one that, until very recently, has been the beacon of hope for millions of people across the globe. It is far more important than he will ever be, and its greatness — we all should hope — lies beyond his reach.

It won’t stay that way unless we fight for it. And this is not a matter of conservative or liberal politics. It’s a matter of standing for the principles that built this country — principles he’s trying to crumble for his greater personal glory and treasure.

This is a test. We must pass it.

The finger of God touches paradise


The remnants of Ivan’s Stress-Free Bar, White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, BVI.

St. Bart’s. St. Maarten/Martin. Tortola. Jost Van Dyke. St. John. St. Thomas.

I’ve visited every one of these islands, often repeatedly, in the last five years. And Hurricane Irene just did its damndest to wipe every one of these islands off of the map.

In some cases, it got about as close to succeeding as a hurricane can realistically get these days. All of the aforementioned Caribbean islands were basically flattened, hit by sustained Category 5 winds and massive rains. The pictures of the islands, denuded of most growth, are stunning. And all of these islands are so reliant on tourist income that it’s hard to imagine a recovery for years. That, in turn, will force thousands to leave in search of work, which could trigger another downward spiral and a generation of poverty.

St. John and Jost Van Dyke are particularly close to my heart because of the remarkable people on both islands. If you go there for any length of time, you’ll meet people you’ll never forget, and you’ll feel like they’re your personal friends (even though they meet thousands of people like you every year). And so, I immediately wondered if Seddy and Ivan (who’s really getting on in years) and Ali Baba and Foxy had survived the storm (they all did). I assumed Vinny was off the island, running his Harley dealership in Colorado (he was), and I was reassured by the fact that it was low season on the islands and a lot of people were gone anyway. But now they have nothing to come back to.

I certainly don’t want to discount the suffering of people in Florida, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina and Louisiana in the wake of hurricanes there, but I am comforted by the fact that the resources and people of the United States government are easily mobilized to assist them. St. John and St. Thomas are part of the United States as well, but as islands far from the U.S. mainland, they must wait for supplies and become too easy to forget. The consequences of that are potentially awful.

I love these islands. In this time of need, I’m not going to forget them. You shouldn’t, either.

Moving ahead with care

I’m most active these days on Twitter. This follows an obvious progression for me: Blogs to Facebook to Twitter. I doubt I’ll ever adapt to Snapchat, given my generation’s non-participation on that platform, and I’m not a big photo guy so Instagram holds little interest for me.

But it is all part of a pattern: The means of communication emphasize shorter and shorter posts, and simpler and simpler expressions. I mean, you’re nothing any more on Twitter (or text messaging) unless you’re using a lot of emojis in exchange for words.

I accept this, just as I’ve always tried to accept change, because resisting major cultural change is a sure sign you’re on the wrong side of the wave. But these changes always come with sadness. I’ve never seen an emoji that can move me like a well-crafted sentence. And you have to look no further than the White House to see the damage that can be done when you substitute a tweet for real diplomatic or political language.

I’d rather we push ahead while not abandoning the meaning of what we left behind. There’s a place in this world for subtlety, and you’re not going to find it in 140 characters.

Jason Isbell’s back

More of my friends are discovering Jason Isbell, who’s been all over the media landscape in the last few weeks after the release of his latest album. It’s another strong effort — I cannot believe his consistency in putting out great music — and it also features the bittersweetness that I admire so much in his songwriting.

It’s not easy being a singer-songwriter these days. In an era when the producer is more important than the musicians for a lot of acts and every musician seemingly gets scrubbed by electronics, singer-songwriters still put themselves out there, often accompanied by the simplest of music, and that’s just not the way most music listeners want things. But Isbell (and a number of my other favorite musicians) still do it this way.

This particular Isbell album is noisier than his last two efforts, but it still has plenty of contemplative moments. Even “Cumberland Gap,” my favorite song on the new album, makes devastating use of the line “Maybe the Cumberland Gap just swallows you whole,” and nobody I know makes it through “If We Were Vampires” unmoved. That’s really all you can ask of a musician.