Let’s Go Giants!

The San Francisco Giants have just announced a trade of Denard Span (getting on in age, less athletic with every passing year), Christian Arroyo (came in with a big splash last year, then his batting flattened out) and two minor league pitchers in exchange for slugger and infielder Evan Longoria plus cash, from the Tampa Bay Rays.  They needed a big hitter badly, and Longoria is also a great infielder, but I hope he helps to revive the old magic in the Giants’ dugout.  In winning three World Series in five years, they seemed to outperform any expectations based on the sheer talents of individual players; it was always the combination of players, the team chemistry as a whole, that led to their surprising victories over teams which often seemed stronger, at least on paper.

Baseball provided me with a metaphor for the homecoming theme in Fourth World and has played a major part in both of my novels.  Now as I write, I’m trying to think of a role for baseball in the third book of the trilogy.  To tide you over, here’s an excerpt from Fourth World Nation:

“Suppressing his excitement, he nodded at Hank, picked up a bat and stepped up onto the field.  A thousand hostile baseball fanatics, many wearing black PWE uniforms, glared at him.  A metallic voice announced the substitution, to a chorus of catcalls and booing.  Even the programs clutched in the fans’ hands—supposedly there to provide objective analysis of the game—reacted poorly.  The crowd rained scorn on Benn as he stood at home plate, their expletives addressing everything from his Asian ethnicity to the “gouging” water rates set by Hydra.  Benn, however, focused his thoughts and heard none of the noise; to his ears, the diamond was still and quiet.  Behind him, the mobile QI umpire adjusted his mask.  The catcher shifted stealthily to the outer half of the plate, his shoes grinding into the red clay.  The pitcher Helmut rolled the ball deep in his glove, his fingers seeking its seams.  To Benn’s eyes, events unfolded as if in slow motion:  he anticipated the limited wind-up; the delivery from a low release point; the seams spinning centrifugally; the appearance of a red dot at the center of the ball.  It was a slider, unhurried in its journey toward home plate, where Benn waited patiently.  He flexed his knees, shifted his front foot forward, then planted his lower body firmly.   As the ball curved low and away, Benn extended his arms and kept his body balanced.  On impact, the bat exploded into a hundred shards.”

SF Giants fans, having winced at the loss of prospects Stanton and Ohtani, will now turn to Longoria and pin their hopes on him (and Posey, Crawford et al), that the dream of another World Series will not meet the same fate as Benn’s bat.  Come on, Giants, let’s go!

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It’s That Time of Year

Christmas isn’t just a time for shopping!  In his thoughtful Christmas 2017 newsletter, a dear friend, A.D., reflects on moral foundations:  “There is still great danger in certainty, whether it is embodied by an ideology like Communism or in a fundamentalist faith… what we now hold as fundamental values and attitudes may look pretty silly in 200 years… even ‘Foundational’ beliefs change over time.”

Roy Moore’s senatorial candidacy in Alabama shows that the passage of 200 years is not required for things to start looking crazy.  Since the election of Donald Trump (heavens, only a year ago!), the moral foundations of the Republican party have morphed such that a credibly-accused pedophile, an Islamophobic racist who feels that America was last “great” during times of slavery, enjoys the full support of the Republican National Committee.  And, of course, Moore has the strong support of our Chaos President, himself a compulsive liar, misogynist, racist, xenophobic, white nationalist bully.  What in the world has happened to the Party of Lincoln?  The self-hypnosis and extreme moral rationalization necessary in order to sacrifice its traditional values for the sake of political expediency has the GOP either sleepwalking or tied in knots.

I’ve been reading Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live, or a Life of Montaigne (highly recommended).  Michel de Montaigne, a 16th-century writer whose influence remains powerful today, adopted several Hellenistic philosophies, particularly Skepticism.  He addressed life problems by saying, essentially, “I withhold judgment,” which freed him from having to find an answer to anything, including the endless unanswerable questions that plague us every day.  The Skeptics accepted everything provisionally, rather than try to confront a “real world” with absolute truths which could be known, categorized and arranged in an orderly fashion.  To be so supremely unassuming, as they saw it, was the path to relaxation, joy and ultimately the flourishing of humanity.

Montaigne’s essays were initially embraced by the Catholic Church as exemplary arguments in support of faith, and then, within a century, denounced as subtle works of the Devil.  The Essays remained on a list of banned books until their eventual rehabilitation in the eyes of the Church.  Back and forth went the interpretation:  even the Church, a purported source of moral “foundations” could not claim a firm grip on bedrock.  Bakewell suggests that Zen Buddhism, with its perplexing koans, may have been a better approach to the imponderables of Montaigne’s universe.

A.D. does not “affiliate with a particular catechism,” but nevertheless writes, “I may not be someone swayed by revealed truth, prophecy or miracles but I recognize that, in my attempt to live some sort of a ‘virtuous’ life, I function in a web of religious history and culture... without it, I would probably be paralyzed by a sense of relativity and by a cosmic complexity that is way beyond  my puny reasoning capacities.”  A.D. is being rightfully unassuming:  the only thing we know for sure is that we don’t know anything for sure, says the Skeptic, the Montaigne, in all of us.  Thankfully, faith of a more general (not necessarily religious) type and hope in goodness save us from living in a bleak, unknowable world.  I might also look into Zen…

Not a bad newsletter to get for Christmas!  With apologies to our friend A.D., even Fourth World Nation, the just-released second novel in my sci-fi trilogy, takes a stand.  Here’s a brief excerpt:

“They had so readily mistaken mindless mob behavior for unity, just as they were doing now, thought Benn.  And, according to Marc, the fact that their intolerance would only be assuaged by a tangible demonstration—such as a prophecy or a miracle—was the opposite of faith.  Benn could easily provide such a demonstration, but even then, he would either be seen as a messiah or a witch.”

On that cheerful but skeptical note, Happy Holidays to all those who follow this blog!

 

Sanity Clause II

Remember when the truth was important?  In a previous post (11/8/17), I bemoaned the fact that the country has been sliding into a collective delusional state, where there is a “new normal” and alternative facts can turn everything upside-down.  The truth becomes fluid (or is simply dismissed as inconsequential, as Sarah Huckabee Sanders has done); anything becomes possible; and history can be rewritten before it has even happened.  I had hoped that the Sanity Clause in our social contract would set things straight, but that appears increasingly to be a big pie in the sky.

Michelle Goldberg writes in her Opinion column today, “There is a debate over whether Trump is unaware of reality or merely indifferent to it.  He might be delusional, or he might simply be asserting the power to blithely override truth, which is the ultimate privilege of a despot.”  Hmm– delusional or overriding truth:  which is worse?

Arguing for the former, Dr. Bandy Lee, a forensic psychiatrist at Yale Medical School, represents thousands of mental health professionals when he writes:  “We are currently witnessing more than his usual state of instability– in fact a pattern of decompensation:  increasing loss of touch with reality, marked signs of volatility and unpredictable behavior, and an attraction to violence as a means of coping.  These characteristics place our country and the world at extreme risk of danger.”

Timothy Egan, in the NY Times, points out that our Chaos President still questions Barrack Obama’s birth certificate; does not believe his own words on the infamous “Access Hollywood” sexual assault videotape; still thinks (without any evidence) that three million fraudulent votes caused him to lose the popular vote; endorsed a website that says the Pope uses magic to mastermind world events; and “gave a thumbs up to a media outlet that claims NASA runs a child labor colony on Mars.”

No kidding.  For those unfamiliar with Alex Jones’s Infowars channel, he’s the apoplectic guy who claims that the Sandy Hook massacre of schoolchildren and teachers was a staged hoax.  A guest on his show claimed that NASA has secretly kidnapped children and is keeping them as sex slaves on Mars, forcing a NASA spokesperson to deny the existence of such a colony.  It’s just incredible, the kind of insanity that passes for conspiracy theory (already a very low bar)!

Here’s some Fake News from my sci-fi novel Fourth World:

“When had Tharsis One and Two dropped off the map?  Shortly after the Great War of Unification.  Mr. Otis Walker, Benn’s second-grade teacher, had explained it many times- often in heatedly emotional terms- to his young, impressionable students.  From the Martian (that is, Tharsis) viewpoint, the centralization of Earth’s government in 2096 marked the beginning of the end:  birth of the Pan-World Electorate.  What was it like, his teacher wondered, receiving the news that your home government no longer existed; that your country had been all but destroyed in a cataclysmic global war?  That NASA, an agency of the former United States of America and your lifeline to Earth, had suddenly vanished?”

What, no NASA?  It must have been brutal, hearing that there would no longer be any kidnapped sex slaves…