Crash Bag, Vol. 27: Richard Branson’s Underwater Wonderland

I have a confession to make. I’m a recovering button-pusher, and I had a relapse. From age 15 on, I realized that I was very good at getting people into trivial arguments. Often I would do this with people I knew I was smarter than and lay elaborate rhetorical and logical traps, or I’d get into arguments just to see if I could torture logic enough to win them. I fancied myself a young Nick Naylor from Thank You For Smoking–if the facts were on my side, I’d argue them. If not, I’d tie my opponent in philosophical knots or reshape the question until it bore only a passing relationship to the original statement. I remember standing in front of my U.S. History class in high school and changing an assigned debate about slavery into a debate about beastiality. I was very good at what I did.

Other times, I’d tell my friends elaborate lies just to see what I could get them to believe. Often, I’d let those lies sit over the course of days. For instance, I once got four of my friends to believe that, while I was a sophomore in high school, I’d struggled with and overcome an addiction to crack cocaine. I made up months that I’d missed out of school, even though I eventually graduated high school with perfect attendance (because I was a loser), made up fights that I’d had with the very people I’d been talking too…outrageous and obvious lies that I realized I could pass off as truth if I repeated them often enough with a straight face. Come to think of it, I’d have made an excellent politician. I did this because I thought it was fun, and remarkably, no one ever visited physical violence on me for doing so.

Anyway, sometime around my senior year of college, I realized this habit was destroying my life. I’d get into arguments with people just because I knew I could win, and not realizing that I’d stumbled upon some topics that actually hurt people’s feelings. My habit damaged friendships, not least among them my relationship with the person who’d become Kate, the Long-Suffering Fiancee. So when I was 23, I decided that I’d give up idiot-baiting in particular and button-pushing in general. I had an addiction, and it had taken over my life, and I had to stop before I destroyed myself. I managed to salvage my relationship with KTLSF, but I had to give up my favorite hobby.

There are people who can push people’s buttons and bait idiots without losing their dignity and self-control. In fact, one of the best I’ve ever met at this is Crashburn Alley’s own Ryan Sommers. I can’t. If I start, I lose myself entirely.

I tell you all this, because yesterday morning, a friend of mine linked to a blog post that contained an alarmist, glib and idiotic political message. My friend did not write this post–she linked to it out of a genuine curiosity, a desire to start an honest dialogue. But I couldn’t help myself. I went in, and in a comment longer than the original post itself, I indulged my demons. I called for the collapse of American society, invoking Robespierre, Chicken Little and John Rawls all in one sprawling, condescending rant. And I got the feeling back. The distorted vision, the shaking hands, the pounding heart. I had quit idiot-baiting so suddenly and so cold turkey that I’d forgotten what it was like.

I relapsed. Some people can control a button-pushing habit. I can’t. That’s why, when I get angry and florid on the internet, either here or on Twitter or on my own Tumblr, it’s a diffuse, omnidirectional blast. Because if I feed the idiot, I turn into someone I don’t like. Thanks for listening to me share.

You’re going to ask me a series of questions and you want them answered on the spot right now.

@uublog (paraphrased): “If you were running for president, who would be on your senior staff?”

I’m going to stop you right there. Because while I appreciate the spirit of the question, if you think I’m going to actually run for president,” well, you’re wrong. No, no, no. I don’t want to be president. I want to be dictator of the world. So by your leave, I’ll rephrase the question to something like this: “When you’re dictator of the world, who will you put in your cabinet?” That I can answer.

  • Minister of Justice: Dr. Joseph Schwartz. I don’t mean “Justice” in the sense that he’d be my chief lawyer. I mean “Justice” in the sense of political philosophy. Dr. Schwartz teaches political theory at Temple University, and is a former professor of mine. He’s a brilliant, thoughtful, gregarious, hyperactive Marxist whose knowledge of political philosophy is encyclopedic, and whose reasoning on social and political justice is unimpeachable. He’s also the only professor I’ve ever known to cite Bill James in a graduate political theory seminar. If I’m blowing up the socioeconomic system and starting over, I at least want his input. And because I know we’ve got some readers who either go to Temple or are thinking about going to Temple, here’s some free advice: Take a class with Uncle Joe. It’ll change your life. Some more free advice: there’s a big green and white food truck parked across the street from Gladfelter Hall. It says “$5 footlongs on the side.” Eat their buffalo chicken cheesesteak. The lady who runs the truck is wonderful, and the food gets you more bang for your buck than anywhere else on campus.
  • Minister of Education: Ryan Sommers. When I’m dictator of the world, everyone who cares to participate in public life will need to have at least a working knowledge of statistics, logical reasoning, comparative religion, history and economics. And by “participate in public life” I don’t mean voting. I mean operating a computer or speaking in public. Maybe even holding a job that doesn’t involve a broom or a shovel. This will be a massive task that will require subject matter experts, but it will also require someone to run the whole operation who won’t lose sleep over condemning the stupid or the stubborn to a lifetime of subservience. Ryan is just such a man. Somehow I don’t think Uncle Joe would like that very much.
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs: Joe Biden. On a serious note, the only time I’ve ever been overawed by a lecturer was when I went to see then-Senator Biden give a talk on foreign policy when I was in undergrad. He knows what he’s talking about. On a non-serious note, I think he’d be more fun at cabinet meetings than any other wonk I could get.
  • Minister of Transportation: My dad. This might not be a coincidence, considering that the man taught me everything I know about urban planning, but if I’m dictator of the world, I’m going to give my father a blank check to commission whatever public transportation projects and zoning reform he sees fit. The trains will run on time and they will run everywhere. We will walk more places. We will foster urban growth that is designed not to increase corporate profits but to nurture a sense of community. And we’ll stop those idiot Pennsylvania drivers from trundling around at night with their high-beams on. Y’all’re gonna kill someone.
  • Minister of Space Exploration: @AntsinIN. He promised he’d put a man on Mars by 2020. We choose to go to Mars and to do the other thing not because they ah easy, but because they ah hod.
  • Minister of the Arts: Paul Boye. Because he asked nicely, and because Anthony beat him to the space thing.
  • Minister-Without-Portfolio: Richard Branson. I tell you what, he’s the only white guy over 50 I’ve ever heard of pulling off a goatee without looking like a pederast, so that alone merits consideration. But if I am in charge of the world’s resources, Branson is precisely the kind of lunatic I want whispering ideas in my ear. Space elevator? DONE. Ocean-floor mining colony the size of Delaware? LET’S GET THE SUBMARINES A-MOVIN’. I don’t think I want to put him in charge of anything in particular, except maybe air travel, but I want someone behind the scenes wondering why we can’t connect New York and London with a giant zipline. Plus I bet he’d be even more fun than Biden at parties.

That’s all than I can think of right now, though if you want to apply for a particular portfolio, I’ll be right over here, humming The Internationale.

@JakePavorsky: “Speaking of dictators, what player would be powerful enough to overthrow the front office?”

Have you been following the Texas Rangers lately? I’m pretty sure Michael Young has already done that.

@tholzerman: “Do you think Nate Silver would be justified in taking a dump in the National Review’s water cooler?’

So Nate Silver’s had himself quite a week. There’s been a temptation, since he’s a Baseball Prospectus alum, to tout his seeming prescience as a victory for all sabermetricians. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it does seem like a victory for empirical study over people with TV shows who are afraid of math and throw temper tantrums when the world doesn’t actually work in a way that conforms to their normative expectations.

I think the most amazing thing about Silver’s supposed prescience (because really, my understanding is that his models, while sophisticated, aren’t phenomenally involved, particularly compared to the kind of multi-level Bayesian formal modeling of legislative behavior the ties up a room full of supercomputers for three weeks) is that while he’s been confident and eager to engage his critics, he hasn’t really rubbed America’s nose in it as much as a less-restrained individual (me, for instance) would have.

If I were Nate Silver, I’d have gotten “If you come at the king, you best not miss” tattooed in Comic Sans across my chest, then strode around Manahattan wearing nothing but camouflage cargo shorts, swim fins and one of those beanies with the propeller on top, with a bottle of King Cobra duct-taped to each hand, singing REO Speedwagon’s “Roll With the Changes” as loud as I possibly could. And if you don’t think I’d do the synth solo when the time came, you’ve got another thing coming, son.

Suffice it to say, I think Nate Silver has earned the right to poop wherever and whenever he so chooses.

@brendankeeler: “you get an hour to influence one of the following: obama, ruben amaro, or any media corp owner. who do you choose”

I was gonna try to influence someone important like Ruben Amaro, but it’s got to be the president. Because then I’d have the chance to persuade him to do what no president since James Madison has had the foresight and courage to do: invade Canada. Here are some reasons why the United States should invade, liberate and annex Canada.

  • It would be a boon to American sports. Imagine a U.S. women’s soccer team with Christine Sinclair, or a hockey team with Drew Doughty, Jonathan Toews and Shea Weber, or a baseball team with Joey Votto.
  • Canada has natural resources America needs: grain, oil, timber, and most importantly, legions of beautiful French-speaking women. I went to Montreal once and even the meter maids were hot. I almost didn’t come home.
  • The eventual unification of the warring Canadian Bacon/Pork Roll factions, ending decades of sectarian breakfast strife.
  • Liberate some 30 million hardworking, honest North Americans from the tyranny of having to add an extra “u” in every fifth word they write.
  • Canada has something to offer people of all political stripes. Liberals can enjoy the free healthcare and tea party folks can enjoy all the white people with guns.
  • Canadians want to be liberated. The curse their ancestors for not having the foresight and moral fortitude, as ours did, to throw off the yoke of British imperial rule and assert their own superiority over a nation of ungrateful, tiny car-driving, low TV production quality-having nitwits who see fit to mock America whenever they choose, so long as it doesn’t interfere with their parasitic consumption of our grain exports, our military protection, our computer technology or our popular culture. For that matter, let’s invade the U.K. too and turn England into a penal colony and the Isle of Man into a go-kart track.
  • Like I was saying, Canadians want  to be liberated. I follow what seems like a billion Canadian sportswriters and bloggers on Twitter and all of them talk about American politics like it matters to them. They’re like the nosy neighbor who comes to your kid’s soccer games. I don’t give a good goddamn about Canadian politics, because I’ve got politics of my own to worry about. Don’t these Canadians have their own politics? Is Jean Chretien running for re-election? Or did Conn Smythe beat him last time around? I can’t keep them straight.

The point is, I don’t know how long we can put up with a nation of u-abusing, imperialist puppet busybodies sitting on our collective head. LIBERATE CANADA.

@ETDWN: “What’s your favorite NASA Space Race era mission (Mercury/Gemini/Apollo)?”

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times. If someone were to dedicate a television channel to the years leading up to and including the Space Race, I’d watch nothing else. I’d probably do nothing else. Nothing but watch documentaries about research airplanes and spaceships from 1945 to 1975 or so. Weekly back-to-back showings of The Right Stuff and Apollo 13, the whole works. If such a television channel existed, I’d stop watching baseball and right now you’d be reading Longenhagen’s musings about Roman Quinn or some such thing. I’m hardly alone, but this mindset is not the norm. I know this because, to my knowledge, no such television channel exists.

Most Americans, I think, can rattle off about four of the capsule missions: Alan Shepard and John Glenn‘s Mercury missions and Apollo 11 and Apollo 13. Apollo 11 is, perhaps, mankind’s greatest achievement, but I suspect that you didn’t write this question so that I could give you the obvious answer. For that, I’ll make a list of things that the Soviets beat us to.

  • First satellite (Sputnik 1)
  • First living thing sent into space (Sputnik 2; I’m not much of a dog person, but I’ve thought about getting a dog just so I can name her Laika, after the first Soviet space-mutt)
  • First moon probe (Lunik 3)
  • First man in space; first man to orbit the Earth (Those sneaky buggers checked both of those off with one mission: Vostok 1)
  • First man to stay in space for more than a day (Vostok 2)
  • First communication between manned spacecraft (Vostok 3 and 4)
  • First woman in space; first civilian in space (Vostok 6)
  • First three-man space mission (Voskhod 1)
  • First two-man space mission; first spacewalk (Voskhod 2)

So despite eventually beating the Russians to the moon, they beat NASA to pretty much every waypoint. For that reason, I was going to say the joint Gemini VI/Gemini VII mission was my choice, because it is hailed as the first orbital rendezvous when the two spacecraft flew in formation within a few feet of each other, but since they didn’t dock, I’m not sure what that gets you that Vostok 3 and 4 doesn’t. I mean, it’s a tremendous feat of precision flying, but it’s not as great a quantum leap as you might think.

For that reason, I give you Gemini VIII. It was the first spaceflight for Neil Armstrong (who was also the first civilian to fly in NASA’s capsule program) and the first docking between two spacecraft: the Gemini capsule and a target vehicle. It was also NASA’s first emergency in space, when a thruster jammed open, forcing Armstrong and David Scott to re-enter after only a few hours in space. So apart from that docking and the first orbit of the moon on Apollo 8, the Russians beat NASA on pretty much every other milestone in space exploration up to the moon landing.

@nerdyITgirl: “The Reading Phils are changing their name, rumor has it’s the Fightins’. Good idea or bad? What would you pick?”

I keep forgetting that this is a baseball column.

Bad idea. I think that minor league teams should fall into one of three categories:

  1. Either the major-league affiliate’s name or a derivation of that (i.e. Reading Phillies, or if the Rangers, say, had a farm team called the Troopers or something).
  2. Something related to the local culture, history or economy. For instance, Columbia, South Carolina, has a wood-bat summer-league team called the Blowfish, after Hootie and the Blowfish, the most famous band to come from that city. (And before you say anything, I tried for three years to make it in the Columbia music scene. No one knows better than I do how awful it is.) Alternatively, I give you the class-A Lancaster JetHawks, a team with a stupid nickname until you find out that the team’s home region, California’s high desert, contains the aviation Mecca of the Western Hemisphere, Edwards Air Force Base.
  3. Something entirely outrageous that you couldn’t get away with on a team that has to take itself even remotely seriously. For this reason, I find myself wearing minor-league hats as often as I do major-league hats. To wit: the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, who also satisfy criterion No. 2, and whose sneering pig logo I proudly sport on my head quite often. Growing up, I wore out at least two hats representing the Norfolk Tides, the triple-A team that I saw whenever I went to visit family in Virginia and the reason for my everlasting and unreasonable emotional attachment to Alex Ochoa.

Anyway, you can make the argument that the “Fightins” is derivative of the “Fightin’ Phils,” but I don’t think it stands alone. There are a couple problems. First, “Fightins” is, to many Phillies fans, the name of probably the most widely-known Phillies blog ever, or at least it was before editor-in-chief and proprietor Mike Meech was killed tragically during the 2010 offseason in a cable car accident. Even though Meech’s death caused the blog to shut its doors for good, I’m not sure there’s room for another “Fightins” in our cultural lexicon.

Second, the Phillies are one of several teams that, let’s face it, don’t have particularly imaginative or derivative-friendly nicknames. Sure, you can name a Tigers farm team the “Cats” or the “Cubs” or the “Stripes” or whatever, but the Philadelphia Philadelphians? I once mocked a soccer match between Sibir Novosibirsk and Tom Tomsk of the Russian Premier League for conspicuous nominative indifference, but I was rightly put in my place by someone who pointed out the hypocrisy that statement, considering my favorite team is the Philadelphia Phillies. Gotta be honest–now that I think about it, they probably should have made the name change to the Blue Jays official back in the 1940s. We might have all been better off.

But as weird and silly as the Reading Fightins would be, it could be worse. If they’re the Reading Phightins, with a “ph” at the front, I might be left with no choice but to corner the market on carbolic acid, load it into an airplane and drop it over populated areas.

I mean, it’s almost as if Ancient Greek had no letter for the “f” sound, so they used “ph” instead! Isn’t that wild? Say, you know what’d be hilarious? If we went out of our way to replace the letter “f” with “ph” in marketing material related to the city and, in particular, its major league sports franchises. Man, there’s NO CHANCE WHATSOEVER that the novelty will wear off on that! NO CHANCE!

Seriously, the next person who thinks he’s clever for replacing an “f” with a “ph” in a word will not only face the swift and violent justice of my monkfish, but he will spend the rest of his life mining copper at the bottom of the North Atlantic in Richard Branson’s underwater wonderland.

So what would I call them? I dunno–is Reading famous for anything apart from being poor? I thought they should be renamed the “Otis Reading,” but I might be the only person who thinks that’s funny. Speaking of novelty wearing off, there is no shortage of possibilities based on a mispronunciation of the city name as “REED-ing” (as in a book) instead of the proper “RED-ing” (as in the color). While I think calling the team the Mirandas would be funny, the clear champion of those pun names is the Rainbows. Calling this team the Rainbows has two obvious advantages: First, it would allow the team to trot out some truly creative uniform designs. I’d buy a hat for sure. Second, it would probably make the Phillies’ double-A affiliate the official professional sports franchise of the North American LGBT movement, which could make for some interesting demographic divides within the ballpark. That one’s the best I’ve heard, though, again, if you’ve got a better idea, you know where to find the comment section.

@fschultz35: “should the GOP move to the middle or farther to the right?”

Who cares? It snowed here this week. The only place I’d move if I were the GOP is someplace warm, like Aruba.

@DaVetTurf: ” will the phillies ever get a legit third baseman or do the Philies have a Rolen curse?”

Third base is weird in that some teams go generations without having a good one. The Mets famously had trouble filling that position until David Wright came along, though Howard Johnson was pretty good for a few years in the 1980s, in addition to being the only major league ballplayer at whom Don Draper abandoned his wife. Likewise, the White Sox could find good help at third for something like 40 years, if I remember correctly, until they called up Robin Ventura.

The Phillies, who went pretty much from straight from Mike Schmidt to Dave Hollins to Scott Rolen, had third base on lockdown for the better part of 30 years, so we’re not in much of a position to complain. And even since, remember that Placido Polanco was more than a win above average on defense there in 2010 and 2011, and even if he had no speed, patience or power, his exceptional contact skills allowed him to hit for a decent average and contribute almost 7 fWAR in those two years. And before him, Pedro Feliz was close to a win above average on defense in 2008 and 2009, and even though he didn’t walk or run or have even mediocre contact skills, he hit for a little bit of power and contributed a total of 3 fWAR to the Phillies’ two World Series teams. So the Phillies haven’t really been hurting there recently as much as you might think.

And between Cody Asche and Maikel Franco, two of their better position player prospects are third basemen, so while I don’t think help is immediately available, it’s on the way, probably sometime before the next presidential election.

@RiehlyAwesome: “Please PLEASE tell me the Phillies are not really considering Torii Hunter as an outfield option. He’s THIRTY SEVEN.”

I don’t think so, but even if I did, I couldn’t answer your question seriously, because all I can think of now is this:

I didn’t you were called Dennis…

@pinvert: “current phillies sent to hunger games. who is the first one eliminated? who wins?”

I tell you what, if there’s one question (or form of question) I get more than any other, it’s the “Phillies players as…” but “Make the Phillies fight each other to the death in your imagination” is a close second. I’ll say this: Utley probably wins. Howard or Chooch is probably first out, because having a bum wheel where your life depends on hand-to-hand combat skills and evasion is not good.

I will say this, because I saw The Hunger Games for the first time this week: 1) It’s outrageous that Glengarry Glen Ross, a movie about adult men who don’t kill or have sex on screen, but who use bad words from time to time, gets a higher rating than The Hunger Games, which is, manifestly, A FILM ABOUT CHILDREN KILLING EACH OTHER WITH MELEE WEAPONS? Even assuming that children mindlessly emulate whatever they see in fiction, I’m totally comfortable with my hypothetical 13-year-old dropping the periodic f-bomb. I am not, however, okay with him killing his classmates with a gladius. The MPAA, it seems, would rather the reverse happen.

And 2) For a movie about a competition where children kill each other, whoever wrote the story went to remarkable lengths to avoid having our heroes kill the other children. I find that to be a cop-out almost as disgusting as the violence the film glosses over. It’s like writing a baseball movie, but deciding that hits are morally objectionable and having the goodguys score five runs on a single, five errors, a stolen base and a passed ball. You shouldn’t get to have the shock value of kids killing each other with their bare hands and then have your heroes escape with both their lives and a clean conscience.

@writelikemike: “Will Chase Utley go to Germany to get the Andrew Bynum surgery? Will he play before Andrew Bynum does?”

You know, that’s not a half-bad idea. Apparently there’s some horse placenta surgery or somesuch that is not performed in the United States, but is at the same time TOTALLY ON THE UP-AND-UP. But really, I don’t give a crap about shaky medical practices in sports, so if Utley wants to get his platelets replaced or have his knees turned into a wine key or something, then he should knock himself out. I do love how Germany, which is for my money the most civilized country on Earth that’s worth a crap, has been turned into some lawless backwater in the American sporting imagination. It’s not like Bynum and Kobe went to Thailand or Mexico or Sierra Leone. Germans are probably even more fastidious than Americans. These are the kind of people who make BMWs, not the kind of people who put on donkey-centered sex shows. And frankly, I suspect that their experimental sports medicine reflects this cultural attitude.

And to answer your second question, Bynum absolutely plays before Utley. At Liberty Ballers, I predicted that Andrew Bynum would make his season debut sometime later this month, based on no empirical or even circumstantial evidence whatsoever. But Chase Utley can’t play, even in a preseason game, until March, and I don’t want to entertain a scenario where Bynum is out that long.

@magoplasma: “what’s the most obscure joke you’ve ever made?”

Well, there’s this one. And this one. And this one. And this one. I’ve made a big ol’ mess of obscure jokes in my day, don’t you worry. I will say that no joke of mine will ever be as obscure as the second episode of the first season of Archer, which is 21 minutes of a television show masquerading as an elaborate setup for a Chekhov’s Gun joke. It’s brilliant.

 @mattjedruch: “how can we force RAJ to read Crashburn Alley on a daily basis? (Assuming he doesn’t already)”

I was just assuming he did already. After all, with the untimely demise of Meech (God rest his saintly brow), Crashburn Alley is probably the best place to go for Phillies minutiae. But in case he doesn’t, maybe we could get J.K. Simmons to pose as a psychic mechanic who tells Ruben Amaro that he and Bill Baer are meant to be together. How does he know? By Rube’s choice in car.

And Maggie? That’s the most obscure joke I’ve ever made. Go Google that, gigglybits.

 

Crashburn’s Favorite Moments of the Year (Part 5 of 5)

Triple-A baseball creates a strange clubhouse habitat. A roster typically contains a top prospect or two on their way to the show, filled with hope, optimism and youth.  The other twenty-three roster spots are occupied by aging journeymen; graying veterans of minor league highways hoping to escape the bus one last time. This can generate an interesting social dynamic as those who rail against the dying of the light interact with those who are still climbing towards it. It can create dissention and jealousy. Then there are moments that transcend an environment driven by individual goals. Moments like the one I’m about to describe.

On a seemingly innocuous Tuesday night just off of Union Boulevard in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the Gwinnett Braves were in town to play a series with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Things were progressing as they often do in your typical International League game. Then Todd Redmond called for time. Kevin Frandsen, one of those journeymen clinging desperately to his glove and spikes, reacted poorly to the brief if frivolous delay and began jawing at the Braves pitcher from the home dugout.

Frandsen’s next at-bat went as you might expect. Shortly after digging in, Frandsen was met with a stubble annihilating fastball intended for his left cheek. It missed and Frandsen would line out a few pitches later. He and Redmond exchanged verbal jabs as Frandsen trotted back toward Suidae Sanctuary on Coca-Cola Park’s third base side. Just out of view, an angry young left-handed hitter planted his spikes sixty feet away from Redmond.

That hitter was Domonic Brown. His career the yin to Frandsen’s yang, Brown was struggling to reclaim the electric skills that made him baseball’s top prospect for a short while just a year before. For the next thirty seconds, Domonic no longer cared about his healing hand, his fragile hamstring, or the changes the Phillies organization wanted him to make to his swing. He only cared for vengeance. Thanks to an 0-1 changeup Todd Redmond couldn’t quite get down and away enough from the talented youngster, Brownie got it.

The pitch was deposited in the parking lot. Literally, the ball flew just underneath the Waste Management sign in right field and into the parking lot. Several events transpired after this but I think the video does it more justice than I can articulate. I loved this moment because, well, I was there. And the very old-school, blood boiling conflict that took place was a refreshing dissent from the otherwise fratty, love filled dap fest modern athletics have turned into.  It was also lovely to watch Domonic Brown forget about everything other than kicking ass if only for a short while. Spoiler alert: The benches clear. Enjoy.