Don’t Get Cocky, Kid
by Ken Arneson
2020-08-17 23:30

It’s a weird thing, but in this version of Catfish Stew I seem to have a hard time getting started writing these essays until I come up with a title. Once I have a title, it all flows from there. But if I don’t have a title, the words get stuck. I don’t know where to start, I don’t know where to go.

I don’t always stick with the title I start with. Sometimes I think I’m going to build the story around one metaphor, but then I discover a different one along the way that works better, and I change it.

The titles come from wherever a creative idea comes from: the subconscious output of the System 1 mind, taking in the disparate elements that I am trying to tie together– the game, the news of the day, what’s going on in my life, plus and perhaps most importantly, the emotions I’m feeling as a result of all of this.

So after a game, I kind of go around and let all this stuff stew together. Maybe I do the dishes, or go for a bike ride, or have a snack, and at some point while I’m doing this other thing that is not writing, my subconscious will assemble this data, find some pattern that connects these things, and a title will pop into my consciousness.

So today, I’m thinking about A’s losing the exact kind of game that they’ve been winning lately, and also the “scandal” of Fernando Tatis Jr. hitting a grand slam on a 3-0 pitch with a seven run lead, all while the Democratic National Convention was getting started. Somehow, the phrase “Don’t get cocky, kid” pops in my head, and I think, “Ooh, that could work, let’s go with that.”

That phrase is from Star Wars, the Original Film, or so I thought, until I googled it and found out that the real phrase that Harrison Ford actually uttered in the film is, “Great, kid! Don’t get cocky.” Which, IMO, doesn’t actually work as well as a title as the phrase that popped in my head. So the inaccuracy stands.

The phrase is, of course, a warning: that even though you may have had some success, that doesn’t mean you’ll have success the next time, or that any of this is going to be easy.

And that warning is why some old-school baseball types were mad at Tatis swinging on that 3-0 pitch. Of course, in that situation, you’re going to get an easy pitch to hit. Don’t think you’re hot stuff just because you hit an easy pitch.

But the phrase is also a warning in the other direction: just because you’ve had success in this game so far with a seven-run lead, don’t think the rest of the game is going to be that easy. I mean, did any of those people even pay the slightest attention to the A’s-Giants series this weekend? The A’s scored five runs in the ninth on Friday, four runs in the ninth on Saturday, and then had a nine-run fifth inning on Sunday. The A’s trailed in all of those games, but never, ever gave up, fought to the very end, and came back to win all three.

So why should Tatis and the Padres assume the game is locked up? What is wrong with the Rangers that they assumed they’ve already lost?

The A’s, by the way, fell behind 3-0 to the Diamondbacks yesterday. They were no-hit for five innings by Zac Gallen, who was absolutely brilliant. I’d never seen the guy pitch before, but I have to assume from this performance that he is an up-and-coming star. His changeup was simply amazing all day long, dancing along the bottom of the strike zone, sometimes just barely in the zone, sometimes dipping below it, keeping the A’s hitters mesmerized all evening long. Robbie Grossman managed to connect with one of his pitches for a solo homer, but other than that, the A’s did nothing against him.

But did the A’s give up? No, dammit! They fought to the very end. And when Gallen hit his pitch limit and the Diamondbacks bullpen took over, the A’s got to work. They immediately tied the game 3-3 thanks in part to a costly error by Nick Ahmed.

At one point during the game, Michelle Obama was giving her convention speech, so I switched the channel from the game to watch it. Her basic message was this: yes, our opponent sucks, yes, we have a big lead in the polls, but baseball is baseball, and politics is politics, and you can’t assume that your opponent will give up so you can’t assume any lead is safe. You have to do the hard work, every day, every play, to make sure you win that game.

In this game, however, it didn’t work out for the A’s. Arizona scratched out a run in the bottom of the ninth to beat the A’s 4-3. But even though the A’s lost, the fact that they came back to tie the game even against probably the best pitching performance against them all year, is a warning to the rest of baseball: never get cocky about any lead you have against the 2020 Oakland A’s.

by Ken Arneson
2020-08-16 23:30

The baseball gods tried their best to make me miss yet another ballgame. But little did they know that yesterday I decided to change religions, so I thwarted their thwarts.

I was awakened this morning around 4am to a thunderstorm. I was completely unaware beforehand that a thunderstorm might be coming, so I had a whole bunch of windows open to thwart the heat, which had reached almost 100F the previous day, and was projected to get over 90F again. So as the rain came down, I had to get out of bed to close those windows to keep things from getting wet.

That thunderstorm kept me awake for a couple of hours until it passed, and then I went back to bed. I woke back up around 10:30am, which is probably the latest I’ve awakened in years. Game time was 1pm for the A’s-Giants game was 1pm, so I checked the weather forecast to see if there were any more surprised in store. The report did not give any indication that the game would be in any danger of not being played.

And then just around noon, seemingly out of nowhere, there came a thunderclap that was as loud as any natural sound I had ever heard.

If the lightning bolt had hit my house, I would not have been surprised. It’s been that kind of year. But it did not. Instead, the lightning hit a nearby power station, and blew out three transformers. Power to a large chunk of Alameda was immediately cut.

But for once, my house was spared the power outage. So let the game commence!

The game started out like a lot of A’s games this season: the A’s kind of plodding along against the opposing starter, and the A’s starter (Mike Fiers this time) kind of plodding along, too, keeping the game close until the bullpens come into play.

The score was 2-2 when Giants starter Logan Webb ran out of gas, and was replaced by left-handed reliever Wandy Peralta. And as we’ve seen before this season, this was another example of the three-batter minimum playing to the A’s advantage. Giants manager Gabe Kapler saw Matt Olson sitting as the third batter that the reliever would have to face, and if he wanted a lefty to face Olson, he would also have to face the two batters before him. This allowed the A’s to pinch hit right-handed batter Chad Pinder for left-handed batter Tony Kemp. Pinder has some of the biggest platoon splits on the A’s, he’s never hit righties well at all, but he’s pretty good against lefties.

And that’s when the metaphorical thunder started.

Pinder crushed Peralta’s first pitch, a 94.7mph fastball right down the middle, sending it the other way at 112.1mph and 422 feet away into the left-field bleachers. That gave the A’s a 4-2 lead.

Peralta ended up failing to retire a single batter. Matt Chapman and Matt Olson singled (Olson’s being a perfectly laid bunt against a shift), Mark Canha tripled to drive them in, making it 6-2. When Robbie Grossman followed with a walk, Kapler replaced Peralta with Dereck Rodriguez.

On the sixth pitch to Piscotty, Rodriguez hung a curveball to Piscotty. Piscotty obliterated the pitch, sending it 32 feet farther than Pinder’s blast, landing at the top of the bleachers and then rolling under the giant baseball glove behind the bleachers.

A few batters later, when Marcus Semien also homered on a hanging curve from Rodriguez (this one traveling a meager 379 feet), the A’s had scored nine runs in the inning.

The rest of the game was just a mere formality, save for the major league debut of A’s pitcher James Kaprelian, who pitched a solid two innings, giving up one run. Final score: A’s 15, Giants 3.

The A’s have the best record in baseball now at 16-6, which is fun. The complete dominance in this game aside, I don’t know that the A’s are quite as good as their record. But they are good.

You can see from all the mistakes the Giants made in this series that their team is full of holes, and the A’s team isn’t. The A’s are solid everywhere, and so while they can be beaten by other teams when they play well, if the other team does not play well, the A’s will often at a minimum just grind through and outlast the opponent, and if the other team plays flat out poorly, like today, the A’s have enough lightning on their roster to strike them down and blow them out.

Oh My God They Did It Again
by Ken Arneson
2020-08-15 23:30

…were the exact words that came out of my mouth the moment Mark Canha hit his three-run homer in the ninth inning.

For the second game in a row, the A’s hit two home runs in the ninth inning off Giants closer (for now) Trevor Gott.

In the first game, the A’s overcame a 5-run deficit in the ninth. Matt Olson hit a leadoff homer, and Stephen Piscotty hit a game-tying grand slam. The A’s eventually won that game 8-7 in the 10th inning.

In the second game, the A’s overcame a 3-run deficit. Sean Murphy hit a leadoff homer, and Canha hit a 3-run homer to give the A’s a 7-6 lead, which they held onto for the victory.

The A’s became only the fourth team in MLB history to overcome 3+ run deficits in the ninth inning or later in back-to-back games.

I am of three minds about this stunning turn of events:

  • I feel ecstatically happy about these comeback victories
  • I feel guilty about being ecstatically happy during the pandemic/social turmoil/fascist takeover
  • I feel worried that the baseball gods are giving us A’s fans these happy moments just to set us up for ending the season in the most unimaginably painful way possible.

Pure joy is not a thing that exists right now, at least not for long, at least not for me. Happiness is ephemeral. You try to grab it when you see it, but then when you open your hands to look at what you’ve caught–poof, it’s gone.

That’s a remarkably Lutheran thing to say, now that I think about it. It’s like living in an Ingmar Bergman film, with a Lutheran priest hanging over your head, ready to remind you how difficult life is, to impose upon you the discipline needed to overcome those difficulties, with the side effect of also stomping out any little joy you may muster up.

Bergman Fanny & Alexander image

Maybe I need to find a different religion.

Double Imcompetence
by Ken Arneson
2020-08-14 23:30


There’s an old political joke that goes: Republicans believe that governments lack competence, and so when they hold government power, they set out to prove their theory.

Which…I don’t know. Like any joke, it is both appropriate and inappropriate at the same time. It just seems to me like imcompetence is spreading like a virus throughout our society. And like a virus which doesn’t care if it infects a Democrat or a Republican, imcompetence doesn’t care if it infects the government or the private sector, it just keeps growing no matter what.

Take, for example, the last two A’s games I have tried to watch. On Wednesday, when I tried to turn on the A’s-Angels game on my TV, I was greeted with this message, indicating that the game was blacked out in my area:

This content is subject to blackout restrictions in your area.

This should not have been the case. What seems to have happened was this: the game was being broadcast locally on the NBC Sports California channel, and also nationally on the MLB Network channel. If you’re in the local area, the MLB Network content was supposed to be blacked out, in order to force you to watch on NBC Sports California. However, my service provider, Sling, blocked out NBC Sports California, instead.

So I got online, and I complained: to Sling, to the A’s, and to A’s President Dave Kaval. Kaval acknowledged the mistake, and said he’d try to fix it. Sling messaged me, acknowledged the mistake, and said they’d try to fix it.

I appreciate the acknowledgements. But it did not get fixed.

This is not the first time this has happened, so I remembered a workaround from the last time: I could log into the NBC Sports app using my Sling credentials, and watch the game on my computer instead. Which was OK for a workaround, but that’s exactly what it was: a workaround.

There was nothing governmental about this imcompetence. This was 100% the fault of private sector, which, in the aim of maximizing profits, created byzantine, complicated rules about who can see what content and where and on which technologies, rules which are too hard to follow on a consistent basis without making mistakes.

For the following game (A’s vs Giants), I was not blacked out from watching it. Instead, I was browned out.

It was a hot day in Northern California, which apparently taxed the state electrical grid enough that the state electrical regulators decided they needed to start implementing rolling blackouts. Which they did, at exactly 7:30pm, 45 minutes into the game.

So for the second game in a row, my consumption of A’s baseball was interrupted. My power was out, so my TV wouldn’t work, nor would my internet connection. I tried to use cellular data, but the signal was very weak. No way I could stream anything. I could get some Twitter updates, that was about it for data options. Which left radio as my only possible workaround. Until a couple weeks ago, even that might not have worked, because the A’s had gone streaming-only. But they had recently picked up a Bay Area terrestrial radio station, AM 960, to broadcast their games. However, the only transistor radio I own only gets FM radio now; the AM on it has broken for some reason. So I had exactly one option: my car radio.

So I went outside to the car in my driveway, opened the windows, turned up the volume, and sat out on my front porch to listen to the game in the warm evening.

Which actually turned out to be a quite pleasant experience. Some neighbors who also had lost their power decided it was good time to take a walk. I chatted with them as they walked by on the sidewalk. Again, it was not what I had planned, but the workaround was tolerable.

But what has happened? Brownouts used to be a thing that only happened in developing countries. But ever since our electrical grid was deregulated in 1990s, brownouts have become a regular thing in California. How did we become so imcompetent? Democrats will argue that deregulating the grid and privatizing PG&E was all a big mistake, while Republicans will argue that it was only a partial deregulation, and they should have gone all the way.

This argument repeats itself in other areas besides electricity: healthcare, education, the prison system, etc. And now the Trump administration is now trying to “fix” the post office, and in doing so, are rendering imcompetent both the post office itself, and all the systems that depend on it: small businesses, medicinal delivery, and elections. You can choose sides picking out the blame, but whether socialized or privatized, it seems to me imcompetence happens no matter what you do. The DMV is socialized, but nobody looks at it as a bastion of competence. Cable TV is privatized, but trying to get any service from them is as frustrating as the DMV.

There’s something else going on here that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are modeling correctly. I think it has to do a phenomenon I explained in an essay I wrote in 2016 called The Data/Human Goal Gap.

To summarize: a good way to improve any human endeavor is to measure your success. Try something, measure what you did, keep the stuff that the measurement says works, throw out the stuff that the measurement says doesn’t work, and then rinse, lather, and repeat.

Doing this puts you on a trajectory of change, which almost always brings you closer to the success you are trying to achieve, at least at first. And because this trajectory worked in the past, you come to believe in those measurements you took, that these measurements are the key to success.

The problem comes when the thing you are measuring is not exactly the actual goal you are trying to achieve. When there is a gap between your goal and your measurement, the measurement can only take you so close to your target. Once you reach that closest distance to your target, if you keep following that same trajectory, you will start to move further away from your target instead of closer to it.

Politicians measure themselves with polls, and with election victories. But poll numbers and election victories are not the end goal of politics. The end goal of politics is the welfare of the people. Measuring yourself with election victories, when you come from a dictatorship, can start to yield improvements in welfare over time. But at some point, the things that bring you election victories can cease to be the same as the things that improve the welfare of the people. When that happens, the only way to improve the welfare of the people is to be willing to do things that will lose you an election.

But because the name of the game is winning elections, and politicians believe in that particular game, and we have reached a point where public welfare and election numbers have diverged, politicians can’t bring themselves to do the things that will increase our welfare, because they can’t let themselves go from the measurements they cling to. And the people start to regard politicians as being ever more imcompetent at their jobs.

Similarly, a profit motive might help you build an electrical grid effectively at first. But after you reach the minimal possible distance between your target (profit) and your goal (a reliable electrical grid), chasing further problems takes you further from your goal, not closer, as we saw with the California electricity crisis of the early 2000s. Profit motive works great until you reach that critical point where it becomes counterproductive. That’s when you need to shift gears, change directions, and measure yourself by something different that will get you back to moving towards your goals.

If I’m right, if this is what’s going on, the left and right dichotomy in our politics isn’t helpful. The profit motive isn’t always bad, as diehard socialists say, or always good, as diehard capitalists say. It’s sometimes good and sometimes bad, and it requires wisdom and intellectual flexibility our politicians and political parties lack in order to tell the difference.

So: two straight days of infrastructural imcompetence while trying to watch the A’s. Doubly frustrating: two straight games of imcompetence on the field, too. The A’s were getting their butts kicked by the Giants while I was listening to the radio, utterly unable to hit Giants starting pitcher Johnny Cueto (who is incidentally one of my favorite non-A’s pitchers). But I was kind of enjoying the evening in the warm but pleasant air of a summer evening, so I didn’t hurry back to my TV when the power went back on about an hour later. I just kept listening to the game on the radio.

When Cueto left the game, the A’s started to chip away at the Giants lead off Cueto’s less competent successors. The A’s entered the ninth inning trailing 7-2.

The A’s got a home run from Matt Olson to lead off the ninth to cut the lead to four runs. After by a mental error by Giants first baseman Wilmer Flores, whose indecision turned a potential double play into no outs, the A’s loaded the bases for Stephen Piscotty.

As A’s radio announcer Ken Korach called Piscotty’s grand slam which tied the game at 7-7, I leaped out of the chair I was sitting in and rushed back to my TV to see it instead of just hear it. I ended up watching the rest of the game on TV, no more blackouts, no more brownouts, and the A’s ended up winning the game in 10 innings, 8-7.

It was a remarkable comeback. A’s manager Bob Melvin said the victory had a “high degree of difficulty”. But there may be a lesson to learn there. Everything may seem hopeless and riddled with imcompetence one minute, but if you don’t give up, if you are willing to change your perspective and adjust your approach, you can sometimes discover a new path to success that you didn’t even know was there.

by Ken Arneson
2020-08-12 23:30

Yesterday, in my Freudian slumber, I dreamed myself the wisdom of a pelican, soaring over land and sea, over rooftops and houses, taking in the aerial views of the ground, where with my wide perspective on every thing below me, nothing could hurt me at all.

I wrote how Ramón Laureano and Kamala Harris are now entangled in my own dreams, connected by a random juxtaposition of fates. Further, I wrote an imaginary scenario where I’m imagined Harris 16 years from now having been very successful, and implying by omission that Laureano would be retired by then and maybe almost forgotten.

<Ramón Laureano charges Ken Arneson and starts a brawl>

Although I never referenced Ramón’s retirement, my actions were inappropriate. I apologize for my part in yesterday’s unfortunate incident. As writers, we are held to a higher standard and should be an example to the others. Hopefully, other writers will learn from my mistake so that this never happens again in the future.

In a dream, nothing is quite what it seems. I had no reason to assume that 16 years from now, Harris would be remembered and Laureano would be forgotten, when it quite easily could be the other way around. I realize now that my dream was empty and absurd.

Laureano has been sentenced to drift into suspension for six games and as an A’s fan, you hope, because it’s only a week, that the A’s can get by without Ramón Laureano for that period and be fine, and we won’t miss him too much.

We will miss Ramón Laureano. Laureano made sure, in today’s game, likely his last before the suspension, to make clear exactly how much.

In his last at-bat of the game, Laureano singled in two runs, to seal an 8-4 victory for the A’s. But it wasn’t his bat alone that will make us remember him.

Perhaps playing with added incentive in this game, Laureano covered that green center field like a vacuum cleaner possessed, determined to not to allow any ball to fall for a hit. He made one diving catch in front of him, one leaping catch just in front of the wall, and then, perhaps most remarkably, leaped over the fence to take a home run away from the opposing Angels.

Laureano came to America as a teenager, alone, to pursue his baseball dreams. He has had doubters all along the way. All along the way, he has worked his ass off to prove those doubters wrong. He continues to work his ass off, to prove all those doubters wrong. He is focused and determined.

Too focused and determined, perhaps, in a pandemic. That’s why he’s being suspended. But in most eras, focus and determination is a good thing. Focused and determined people may make mistakes, but they will learn and improve from them.

Ramón Laureano regrets charging Alex Cintrón. I regret doubting Ramón Laureano. This game: points made, lessons learned. We made mistakes, but we will build on them and come back better.

Dance of the Pelicans
by Ken Arneson
2020-08-11 23:30

In most team sports, the truly elite, best-of-all-time teams win about 90% of their games. The best regular season NFL team of all time won 100% of its games. The best regular season NHL team of all time (counting ties as half a win) won 91% of its games. The best regular season NBA team of all time won 89% of its games. The best English Premier League of all time won 88% of its games.

Baseball is harder. The best regular season MLB team of all time, the 2001 Seattle Mariners, won just under 72% of its games.

Even if you’re the best team in baseball, on some days, the best player in baseball will beat you. Or a starting pitcher who is better than your starting pitcher that day will beat you. And it’s not some occasional random fluke. It will happen about 35-40% of the time. That’s baseball.

I think we sports fans who enjoy multiple sports sometimes forget how different baseball is. If we think our team is good, we carry our other-sport expectations with us, and want them to win about 90% of their games. When they don’t, we feel like they’re not living up to their potential. We feel like they’re letting us down.

The lesson, therefore, is: never watch any other sports. Watch baseball, and only baseball.

That’s a joke, of course. Baseball is my favorite sport to watch, but I never really played it much. As a player, my sports have been basketball (before my back and knees made me quit) and soccer. But with contact sports being out of the question because of the pandemic, I’ve had to resort to my (roughly) 23rd-favorite sporting activity, cycling, to get my exercise.

I get bored of most forms of exercise if I’m not chasing a ball. To give my cycling a goal to chase, I try to ride around and find something new. There’s a lot of construction going on near my house, so if I vary my routes, I can usually find something new that’s happened around town.

Yesterday on my bike ride, I was riding along the bayshore, and I came across three pelicans flying around in circles, looking for food in the bay, and as soon as they found something, quickly diving down to catch it. I filmed a video of one of them.

It was a very peaceful moment. For a few minutes, all the troubles of the human world disappeared. Instead, I was onstage for a performance by a completely different species. There was no anger, no disappointment, no frustration. There was just being, free of judgment.

When I got home from my bike ride, I opened up my Twitter and was instantly given two major pieces of information:

  • Ramón Laureano had been given a six-game suspension for his role in the brawl against Houston.
  • Joe Biden had chosen Kamala Harris to be his running mate.

And then my Twitter feed was full of all sorts of opinions and judgments about these two major pieces of information.

These two news stories are completely independent of each other, but now they will always be linked in my mind, both because they arrived in my consciousness simultaneously, and because they were national stories, and even international stories, that both involved Oakland.

Kamala Harris, who was born in Oakland in the same hospital as my wife and two of my kids, could spend the next eight years as Vice President, and the following eight years as President, and every time sixteen years from now I think back about her career, and make some kind of judgment in my mind whether she was a good or bad VP or POTUS, I’m going to think about Ramón Laureano and the time he charged the entire Houston Astros dugout in the Oakland Coliseum in the middle of a pandemic.

That’s just how it is now.

Later that evening, the A’s lost their second straight game, 6-0 to the Angels. Mike Fiers didn’t really have his curveball, which made him much less effective than otherwise. Meanwhile, Dylan Bundy had all his pitches working for the second time against the A’s this season. And with two straight poorly pitched games, panic started setting into my mind. Oh NOeS! WE cAn’T WiN 90% oF OUr gAMeS iF wE LoSe tWo gAmES iN A rOW! WE NeEd NeW PItcHErS! MaKE sOMe tRaDEs!

That isn’t a particularly helpful or useful state of mind for a baseball fan. A baseball fan needs to be more like a pelican, circling around, calmly looking down at these events from a distance, only making a judgment when it’s worth taking a closer look at a particularly delicious-looking fish.

The Last Competent Man in America
by Ken Arneson
2020-08-10 23:30

Once upon a time, there was a land called America whose rulers became imcompetent. The amount of imcompetence coming out of the White House and various state governments was staggering. Yes, I said imcompetence, because, well, at first I made a typing mistake, and then I realized that this mistake more accurately described their imcompetence than spelling it correctly, so I decided it should stay, now and for the rest of this essay.

I was thinking about this story because I was reading today an essay by John Cochrane, who said that we wouldn’t be so desperately waiting for a vaccine right now if our testing systems weren’t riddled with imcompetence:

A vaccine is a technological device that, combined with an effective policy and public-health bureaucracy for its distribution, allows us to stop the spread of a virus. But we have such a thing already. Tests are a technological device that, combined with an effective policy and public-health bureaucracy for its distribution, allows us to stop the spread of a virus.

For that public health purpose, tests do not need to be accurate. They need to be cheap, available, and fast. When the history of this virus is written, I suspect that the immense fubar, snafu, complete incompetence of the FDA, CDC, and health authorities in general at understanding and using available tests to stop the virus will be a central theme.

Tsk tsk, Cochrane spelled imcompetence correctly, thereby completely whiffing on matching the theme of this whole essay. What an imcompetent boob.

There used to be a phrase “the strong, silent type”, which was meant as a good thing, meaning a sort of consistently reliabile person for whom competence was its own reward. Technology has changed all that. Television and the Internet have made fame the most valued character trait in our society. You can’t win in our culture by being silent, you have to call attention to yourself. If you’re not on social media, you’ll have no fame, and therefore no value. A person who shuns social media must be instead be some kind of creepy lonely pervert. Nobody admires that. Meanwhile, if you are on social media, every dumb idea that passes through your brain will lay bare your imcompetence for the whole world to see. But it doesn’t matter if you’re imcompetent, because at least you’re famous, which is what really matters.

But hey, maybe I’m just complaining because I’m jealous, because I’m the type of person who lacks the kind of charm and charisma to direct the world’s eyes on my visage, and therefore I have no choice but to pin my self-esteem on my worthless ability to avoid imcompetence. It’s not like I can invent a culture dedicated to cancelling the power of celebrity, and promoting the power of competence, or expect one to organically emerge. That will never happen. People love celebrities! So what’s the point of being competent if nobody notices it?

That’s my flaw, I guess. It’s my bad for being frustrated when we elect leaders who are complete geniuses at staying famous, while the imcompetence piles up, and millions of people suffer needlessly downwind of it.

I watched a baseball game today between the A’s and the Angels, played in Anaheim. It was riddled with all sorts of imcompetence from pitchers who couldn’t throw strikes, who walked a bunch of batters, and with runners on base, took forever between pitches figuring out which bad pitch to throw next, which if it wasn’t missing the plate badly, ended up being an utter meatball down the middle sitting on a tee to get crushed for a home run. The first six innings took a full three hours to play.

All that imcompetence was frustrating and depressing.

But in the middle of all this stumblin’ and bumblin’ emerged two men, one from each side, a pair of strong, silent types, named Matt Chapman and Mike Trout, who rose above all the imcompetence, to restore hope to mankind, to let us believe, for just a moment, that a good, solid trustworthy person could emerge and lead mankind into a better future.

And so we went to the eighth inning, the game was tied 9-9. Matt Chapman and Mike Trout were each 3-for-4. Each had already homered in the game, Chapman twice. Each had one at-bat left to decide the game, to decide who would win and who would lose.

Sadly for us A’s fans, the mighty Chapman struck out. The Angels’ Mike Trout–steady, solid, strong, silent, competent Mike Trout– came up in his last at bat, and hit a home run. The Angels won, 10-9.

And that’s how Mike Trout outlasted everybody else to become the Last Competent Man in America.

The End.

by Ken Arneson
2020-08-09 23:30

When we look back upon this day many years from now, we will all remember it as the day that Jesús Luzardo got his very first Major League win.

Ok, maybe not. But it would have been the story, and should have been the story, if Alex Cintrón hadn’t opened his big fat mouth, and goaded Ramón Laureano into starting a brawl.

First, some background: in 2017, the Houston Astros cheated. They used video cameras and banged on trash cans to relay what pitch was coming to the batters, which is not allowed. They won the World Series that year. This past offseason, current Oakland A’s pitcher Mike Fiers, who was a member of that 2017 Astros team, revealed what the Astros did to the world. Everyone was outraged, the rest of the world at the Astros for cheating, and the Astros at Mike Fiers for ratting them out.

Lots of people involved in the cheating scandal lost their jobs. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch were suspended from baseball for a year, and also fired from the Astros. Alex Cora and Carlos Beltrán, who were also in the middle of the scandal but had subsequently been hired as the managers of the Red Sox and Mets respectively, also lost their new jobs. A leaked internal email from an Astros employee named Tom Koch-Weser revealed who was at the heart of the cheating program:

I don’t want to electronically correspond too much about ‘the system’ but Cora/Cintron/Beltran have been driving a culture initiated by Bregman/Vigoa last year and I think it’s working.

MLB tried to investigate Fiers’ accusations, but no players on the Astros would talk until they got immunity. MLB granted the immunity, and players talked to the investigators. The scandal came to light, but because of the immunity, no players got punished.

And Alex Cintrón, who is now the Astros hitting coach, did not get punished.

Remember what I wrote just three days ago about Ryan Christenson’s Nazi salute?

Giving a mere apology, and then moving on as if nothing had happened, feels inadequate to many people. Apologies are inadequate because they don’t cause any loss of dignity, any loss of status. And if it feels inadequate, the issue will not go away. People will continue to pursue the issue, to try to punish Christenson further, until they feel justice is done.

The punishment doled out to the Houston Astros was inadequate. So everybody expected, when the season started, that the Astros would have a big target on their backs. They would be hit by pitch after pitch after pitch, until everyone was satisfied that the Astros were properly humiliated.

In particular, this first post-scandal A’s-Astros series was under the spotlight. Both sides had reason to feel that the other side had not been properly punished. Mike Fiers had suffered nothing for squealing on his former teammates. Would they try to get back at him somehow? The A’s, perhaps worrying about that a bit, arranged their pitching rotation so that Fiers would not pitch in this series. And since Fiers doesn’t bat, either, there really isn’t a good way to punish Fiers directly.

So coming into this series, people were very curious what would happen. Would the A’s hit the Astros with pitches? Would the Astros hit the A’s with pitches? Would there be fights? Would there be brawls?

Why do people cheat? Let’s ask Dan Ariely, who is perhaps the world’s leading expert on cheating:

Wired: What did your tests tell you about the ways people cheat and why they do it?

Dan Ariely: We came up with this idea of a fudge factor, which means that people have two goals: We have a goal to look at ourselves in the mirror and feel good about ourselves, and we have a goal to cheat and benefit from cheating. And we find that there’s a balance between these two goals. That is, we cheat up to the level that we would find it comfortable [to still feel good about ourselves].

Now if we have this fudge factor, we thought that we should be able to increase it or shrink it [to affect the amount of cheating someone does]. So we tried to shrink it by getting people to recite the Ten Commandments before they took the test. And it turns out that it shrinks the fudge factor completely. It eliminates it. And it’s not as if the people who are more religious or who remember more commandments cheat less. In fact even when we get atheists to swear on the Bible, they don’t cheat afterwards. So it’s not about fear of God; it’s about reminding people of their own moral standards.


It’s basically about the mirror that reminds us who we are at the point where it matters.

Now I don’t want to say this is the only factor that’s going on. Take what happened in Enron. There was partly a social norm that was emerging there. Somebody started cheating a little bit, and then it became more and more a part of the social norm. You see somebody behaving in a bit more extreme way, and you adopt that way. If you stopped and thought about [what you were doing] it would be clear it was crazy, but at the moment you just accept that social standard.

Wired: What’s the difference between the person who goes along with the standard and the whistleblower who says enough?

Dan Ariely: It’s a very good question, but I haven’t done stuff with whistleblowers and I don’t really know what makes them decide to stand up. My guess is that at some point they get sufficiently exposed to other forces from outside of the organization and that gets them to think differently.


We understand cheating is bad, but we don’t really understand where it’s really coming from and how we can reduce it. The common theory says that all we need to do is to make sure we don’t have bad apples and that the punishment is sufficiently severe. I think that’s not the right approach. I think we need to realize that most people are not bad apples – we find very, very few people who really cheat in a big way – but a lot of people are cheating just by a little bit.

In most circumstances, then, in order for cheating to take place, two things have to happen:

  • There has to be an absence of moral reminders
  • There has to be a belief that other people are cheating, too.

These are the conditions which can create a snowball effect. People see other people cheating, so they cheat too, not a whole lot more than the other guy, but just a little bit more. The other guy then does the same thing, cheats just a little more than the other guy, and it grows slowly with compound interest over time, until without anyone really noticing that a line has been crossed. And it doesn’t stop until somebody with an outside perspective looks in and says, this is immoral.

The belief that other people are cheating, so that you have to cheat too, has a name: cynicism. Cynicism is what emerges in the absence of a strong moral code. Cynicism holds that everybody behaves selfishly, all the time. Instead of a matter of right vs wrong, under cynicism, morality becomes a matter of what you can get away with, and what you can’t. Leadership becomes not about being good and right, but about being strong and clever enough to get away with the dirty deeds needed to win a cynical game. And as cynicism wins, cynicism breeds even more cynicism in an ever-growing vicious cycle until morality vanishes, and all the benefits of moral behavior in a human society vanish with it.

There has always been cynicism. There will always be cynicism. It is the default mode of human nature. It is what happens when moral systems fail, when the drumbeat of moral reminders vanish. We have a president now, Donald Trump, is undoubtedly the most cynical person ever to occupy the White House. He didn’t get there alone. It was decades of growing cynicism and collapsing moral systems that made him possible.

Every single religious and philosophical system exists, or ought to exist, to expressly and directly oppose cynicism. If it embraces cynicism instead of opposing it, it has become corrupt, and should be thrown out.

The Astros cheated in 2017, because they had a pervasive culture of cynicism. They believed everyone else was cheating, and therefore didn’t see any problem with cheating better than anyone else. And they lacked leadership which would hold and communicate a strong moral code.

The Astros hired Dusty Baker as their manager because he is, besides a good baseball manager, a good man, a walking moral reminder. If you want to correct a culture which enabled cheating to grow like a cancer, you need to bring in a man like Baker, who has a wider moral perspective on life than most people. But unfortunately, Baker got thrown out of the game for arguing balls and strikes. The walking moral reminder left the room. And then the Astros within minutes reverted to that culture of cynicism.

A’s manager Bob Melvin is also a man of some integrity. The A’s could have taken revenge on the Astros for their cheating. He held that the best revenge is just to defeat them, honestly. And so they did. The A’s kicked the Astros ass all weekend, legally, on the baseball field. They did not hit a single Astros batter all weekend.

The Astros, on the other hand, hit five A’s batters during the series. Interestingly, all five hit batsmen (Robbie Grossman 2x, and Laureano 3x) were former Astros players. Perhaps that’s all a coincidence. Perhaps not.

Nevertheless, when Laureano got hit by a pitch for the third time in this series, and the second time in this game (the first being by the person he was traded to the A’s for from the Astros, Brandon Bailey), Laureano had some opinions he wanted to express as he walked to first base. And he did, and he went to first base, and all was fine, until Alex Cintrón inserted himself into the proceedings.

Cintrón stood at the top of the dugout and started chirping at Laureano. Why he would do this is unfathomable. He’s the hitting coach, not a pitching coach defending his pitcher. He took some steps toward Laureano and signaled him with his arms to a fight. Laureano claims Cintrón then said something unmentionable about his mother. Laureano charged him, and the skirmish was on.

Cintrón, of all people in that dugout, the one coach most involved in the scandal that made things tense to begin with, should not have been chirping at Laureano. Your team just hit him three times. Shut up and let him vent.

Meanwhile, Laureano should not have taken that bait. There’s a moral context here, the pandemic, that both people forgot about in the moment. If someone in the dogpile of people who ran in to break up the fight happened to have COVID-19, it could spread through both teams like wildfire. Someone could get seriously sick, or die. A brawl in a pandemic is an immoral act. Both of them should face punishment as a result, and rightly so. But what kind of punishment?

This kind of behavior could be fatally dangerous. If I were in charge, I’d have kicked both of them out for the year. But you can’t do that in arrears. You have to declare in advance that this kind of behavior is immoral and intolerable, and let them know in advance exactly what the punishment will be.

MLB has this bad habit of defining punishments ad-hoc in arrears. This does nothing to ward off cynicism, but in fact breeds it. If you don’t know what the punishment will be, if there even is one, it’s easier to believe others are cheating. And when you fail to define a punishment for breaking a rule, you also fail to define exactly how immoral the act is considered to be. So you’re neither reminding people about moral standards, nor are you fending off the idea that others are breaking the rule, which leads to cynicism.

It’s too late now for that. If MLB in arrears invents a suspension of these two men for the season, it will be be too much. Especially since the Astros sign-stealing scandal resulted in no discipline at all for their players. They have little choice, I think, but to do something in proportion to their other brawl suspension this year of Joe Kelly, which was 8 games. Otherwise, they’re just making stuff up that makes no sense.

One Man’s Floor is Another’s Ceiling
by Ken Arneson
2020-08-08 23:30

When historians look back at the year 2020, they’ll probably spend most of their time looking at the big events, the 4,000,000 people infected in America, and the 200,000 excess deaths, and the big effects on popular culture, like baseball being played in ballparks with 50,000 empty seats. They’ll probably gloss over the little things that have changed about our lives, like the small cascade of COVID-19-triggered events that indirectly led to me falling through my ceiling yesterday.

Before COVID-19 happened, everybody in my house would head off in different directions each morning. The kids went off to school, and my wife would go to work, or her yoga class, or shopping. I, being kind of semi-retired at this point, would get a few hours to myself at home to fiddle around however I wanted.

When the pandemic hit, all those external activities became home activities. The kids started schooling over the internet, and my wife began doing her morning yoga class over Zoom. My youngest kid, who didn’t have a computer before, took over my primary one. I downgraded to my somewhat underpowered laptop. Our wifi network, which I had taken for granted until this point, suddenly was reaching its load capacity with mulitple live video streams running at the same time.

Nothing I wanted to do took priority over anyone else’s activity, so I just had to defer. I tried to stay out of their way when they were working. I tried not to do anything on the wifi network that would degrade their signal. But I began to miss my little alone time when I could do whatever the heck I wanted. So I hatched a plan to restore a little bit of what I was missing.

Our wifi router is in our attic, because that’s where it can provide the best coverage for the whole house. So some weeks ago, I embarked on a project to clean out the attic, and carve out a little workspace for myself. That would solve two problems with one stone. First, it was a place I could be by myself and not interfere in anyone else’s activity (and vice versa). Second, because the router was up there, I could plug my computer directly into the router over ethernet, and thereby not use any wifi bandwidth.

Our attic, like many attics, was primarily used as extra storage, a place to store junk you don’t need very often. And as the years roll by, you forget you even had most of that stuff at all, and you never really needed it. So I started to go through all that junk, throwing a bunch of it out, and then organizing the rest, until I had cleared out enough stuff to build a little desk up there where I could fool around on my computer however I wanted once again.

Today, my wife had organized a gathering of friends and family over Zoom, which is how family gatherings happen nowadays, if you’re not a COVIDiot. It’s a kind of game night, although it’s only night for some of us, because we’re all in different time zones. For us, it happened at 1pm, right about the same time as the A’s first pitch. As a result, this was the first A’s game of the 2020 season that I did not watch live.

Because we’re zooming and playing online games separately on our own devices, the same wifi bandwidth limitations applied, so I went up into the attic to participate. The problem here was that the sun was shining through the attic window behind me, which made my zoom background too bright, so I decided to try to turn my desk 90 degrees to get the sun out of the image.

Now, remember this is an attic, so even though I had cleared a bunch of junk out of the way, there are still various posts and pipes and beams and other house infractructure tucked away up there. One of those pieces of infrastructure is a sun tunnel, which brings natural light from the roof into an otherwise fairly dark room.

So here’s the incident: as I was turning my desk 90 degrees, I unwittingly stepped on the side of the sun tunnel tube. My leg then came down with its full weight onto the ceiling window contraption, which broke and fell out of the ceiling into the room below.

So one second, I was standing in the attic, and the next, I found myself on the floor of the attic with my leg dangling down from a hole in the ceiling of the room below me.

I wasn’t badly hurt. I scraped my ankle and achilles heel, which bled a bit, but band-aids quickly solved that problem. My self-esteem was more hurt than anything. The whole incident had been broadcast live over zoom to my friends and family! How embarrassing.

On the bright side, now I have another home repair task I can livetweet on Twitter at some point.

Anyway, after all that, I didn’t watch the A’s game live. I had considered streaming it on a second screen while we played games, but I just didn’t have the mental energy to multitask like that after falling through the ceiling.

I ended up recording the A’s game, and watching it later that evening. I don’t think I’ve ever been more thankful for a quick, efficient ballgame. The A’s won 3-1, but compared to some other low-scoring A’s games this season, there wasn’t a lot of action. Two of the three A’s runs were scored on solo homers, requiring no time-consuming rallies to accomplish. Frankie Montas was brilliant, and mowed down the Astros quite quickly through seven innings. I was able to zap through the game, skipping commercials and such, in about two hours. That was just what the doctor ordered for my wounded pride.

by Ken Arneson
2020-08-07 23:30

Well, first off, there weren’t any Nazi salutes in today’s A’s game, so that’s a relief.

If you had asked me in January what would happen in the first A’s-Astros game of the year, I wouldn’t have guessed I’d be thinking more about Nazi salutes than the Astros sign-stealing scandal. I would have said there’d be a ton of hit-by-pitches. All those cheatin’ Astros — Bregman, Altuve, Correa — they were gonna get theirs.

There were, in fact, three hit-by-pitches, but they were all A’s batters. Robbie Grossman got hit twice, and Ramon Laureano once. A’s pitchers didn’t hit any Astros batters at all, nor did they get particularly close to doing so, either.

If you were going to hit some batters with pitches, this would have been a very good day to do so, because nobody on either team could drive in a damned run to save their lives. The Astros were 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position, the A’s were 3-for-19. But that doesn’t even touch how bad that was, because often, they didn’t even need a hit to drive in a run. There were many, many opportunities for both teams to drive in a run in this game just by putting the ball in play, and the batter struck out instead. The Astros left 13 runners on base in this game, the A’s left 18. And so, despite every extra inning beginning with a runner on second, nobody could score in the 10th, 11th or 12th innings.

Praise be to the pitchers, I guess. Zack Greinke is a freakin’ genius. If I could take one player in MLB and move him to another team — well, I guess I’d move Mike Trout out of the AL West because that dude just kills the A’s 20 times a year — but besides Mike Trout, I’d move Greinke off the Astros because I really like Greinke and really dislike the Astros. The Astros have had a ton of pitching injuries this year, and after Greinke they paraded a bunch of young arms out there, like Enoli Paredes. Paredes was impressive, too; there were times the A’s could win by just putting the ball in play, and Paredes just blew fastball after fastball by the A’s hitters, and got the strikeouts he needed.

On the A’s side, Chris Bassitt was really impressive today. Aside from Sean Manaea, who doesn’t seem to have more than three innings in his gas tank these days, the A’s starting rotation looks pretty darn solid, as does the bullpen. There’s not a single player in the bullpen who has pitched poorly this season.

J.B. Wendelken gave up a double to Alex Bregman to lead off the 13th that scored a go-ahead run for the Astros, but he didn’t put the runner that scored on base, the rules did. Wendelken then proceed to strand Bregman, as he had stranded the inserted runners in the two previous innings. It was an excellent job of pitching through several artificially manufactured tight spots.

Wendelken ended up getting the win in the game when the A’s managed to score two in the bottom of the 13th. They were down to their last strike on Austin Allen, who finally managed to get the A’s their first RBI with a runner in scoring position in the game, which tied things back up at 2-2. Then the next batter, Marcus Semien, got a hit that normally would have been a double to the gap, but counted as a single because the bases were loaded and it ended the game.

The A’s are 10-4 now, which seems hard to believe given how poorly they’ve hit in most of these games. I bet you could look at almost every game they’ve played so far, change the outcome of one play in those games, and make it so the A’s are 4-10 now instead of the other way around. They have not been as dominant as a .714 winning percentage and a 3.5 game lead in the AL West would indicate.

But if you go out and pitch well and play defense well, you will have a chance to win every game, even if you don’t hit much. And if the other team doesn’t match you, you will succeed in those chances to win more often than not. Everyone celebrates a flashy winner, but there’s more than one way to win. A steady competence works, too.

Penance for Ryan Christenson
by Ken Arneson
2020-08-06 23:30

I’m going to retell a story here that my mother told me. I am absolutely astonished that this story from half a world away and three-quarters of a lifetime ago would ever have any relevance for an Oakland A’s blog, but here we are.

If you’ve followed me at all on these Internets, you know that I am of Swedish descent. My mother, however, was actually born in Norway. Her first language was Norwegian. When she was about five years old, her parents moved to take over a general store just across the Swedish-Norwegian border in a small village called Hällestrand. My mother became a Swede instead.

If you look at a map of Scandinavia, you’ll see that border between Norway and Sweden runs almost entirely in a north-south direction, except for a little piece at the bottom of Norway that does a turn to the west. My mother’s family comes from this area, where the border turns. My grandparents came from large families, so my mom had lots of aunts and uncles and cousins. I remember visiting these relatives as a child. Some of them lived on the Swedish side of the border, and others lived on the Norwegian side. They lived in two different countries, and spoke two different (but mutually intelligible) languages, but none of them lived much more than an hour’s drive or two from each other. When my mom was growing up, they would take trips to visit these relatives often.

Or they did, until two days before my mom’s 13th birthday, Nazi Germany invaded Norway.

The Nazis occupied Norway for the next five years. For five years, although they live mere miles from each other, the family was cut in half, some of them living in relative freedom in Sweden, the others forced to live with the flag of the swastika flying overhead, symbol of one of the most evil regimes in the history of mankind.

The Norwegian side of my family, I am proud to say, did not roll over for the Nazi invaders. Many of them joined the Norwegian resistance, helping to sabotage what they could, resolving to never make anything easy for their oppressors.

Apparently my mother’s grandparents, my great-grandparents, took part in this resistance. I don’t know what exactly they did, but at some point in 1943 or 1944, they decided it became too dangerous for them to stay in Norway. Although communication was very limited, somehow they got word to my grandfather, who met them as the snuck across the border with just the clothes they were wearing. They spent the rest of the war living with my mom’s family in Sweden.

The generation of people who lived through that experience are almost all no longer with us. My mom, now 93 years old, is the only one I know of who remembers World War II who is left on that side of my family. When they go, they take something that makes those stories real with them.

World War II ended 75 years ago. With that distance, the Nazis can seem preposterous. They can become cartoon characters of evil, not something real that real people lived through for five years, if they lived through it at all. And I’ll admit, I’ve held a detached, arm’s-length understanding of Nazis, too. Most of my experience with Nazis growing up was watching dozens of episodes of Hogan’s Heroes.

My mom had a cousin in Norway named Else who was the same age as her. They were very close. Else had been in the resistance movement, too. She passed away a few years ago. She was a small, energetic, upbeat, lively woman, very kind and sweet and generous. I remember the last time I visited her before she died. She told a story how she had recently visited a WWII museum in northern Norway. In this museum, there were some young German tourists, probably in their teens or early twenties. As she told it, these young students were being loud and boisterous, sometimes even joking and laughing, instead of being quiet and solemn.

Else was offended. Offended. Her eyes, which were normally so bright and welcoming, turned cold and hard and fierce and determined.

I’ll never forget that look in her eyes. That look made WWII feel more real to me than any book, film, lecture, TV documentary or essay ever could. Those eyes made it clear: This is not funny. Not to her. You. Absolutely. Do. Not. Joke. About. Nazis.

Yesterday, the Oakland A’s beat the Texas Rangers, 6-4. In a normal year, players coming off the field after are victory are greeted with a line of high fives. But because of the pandemic, however, high fives are not allowed this year. So the A’s have taken to greeting each other with forearm taps.

Everyone on the team held their arms out to the side to greet the incoming players with bent elbows. Everyone, that is, except A’s bench coach Ryan Christenson, who held his arm out straight, in a fashion that was identical to a Nazi “Heil Hitler” arm salute.

A’s closer Liam Hendriks, who is from Australia, immediately noticed this as he passed by, grabbed Christenson’s arm, and told him to bend the elbow. Christenson then turned around, faced the other direction, and then threw out the arm straight again.

There are two ways to interpret those events. One is that Christenson is a white supremacist, and intended those straight arms as a Nazi salute, either seriously or jokingly. The other is that he didn’t realize he was making a Nazi salute, and that when he turned around and did it again, he was confused why Hendriks had admonished him for it, then did it again to figure out why, and only then did the light bulb go on and he realized what a stupid thing he had done.

Obviously, Christenson claimed the latter, and apologized.

Is an apology enough? Or should Christenson be suspended, or fired? It largely depends on which of those two interpretations you believe.

What do you think? Answer that question to yourself, and hold it in mind, because there’s one more part of my mom’s story I want to tell.

The Nazi occupation ended in May of 1945, just as my mom turned 18. My mom and her family immediately crossed the border to visit those relatives they hadn’t seen in five years, and to bring them gifts of so many of the kinds of goods they had been deprived of in all those years of scarcity.

During one such post-war visit to a cousin named Synnøve, my mom saw a woman with a shaved head walking down the street with one foot on the sidewalk, and one foot in the gutter. “Why is she walking like that?” my mom asked. “She’s a ‘tyskerjente’,” was the reply. “That is her penance.”

My mother was appalled. She did not agree with treating these women that way.

‘Tyskerjente’ was the derogatory term given after the war to Norwegian women who had relationships with occupying German soldiers. There were an estimated 300,000 German troops stationed in Norway during the war. How many of them had relationships with local women during that time cannot be precisely known, but it is estimated to be between 30,000 and 100,000.

One of the goals of the Nazi regime was to create a master white race to rule the world. The Nazis regarded Norwegian blood to be even more ‘pure’ than German blood, so they strongly encouraged such relationships during the occupation. They created a special breeding program called Lebensborn to facilitate this eugenics program. Norwegian women who got pregnant with German soldiers received special privileges.

When Germany lost the war and the occupation ended, however, these women were strongly ostracized. They had given aid and comfort to their Nazi occupiers. They had participated in a plan to create an elite master race designed to rule over them and the world. They were regarded as traitors to their country.

They not only were forced to shave their heads and suffer other humiliations, they were also often jailed on fake charges. While they didn’t technically fit the legal definition of treason, authorities rounded them up and placed them into ‘investigative prisons’ where they were interrogated until some trumped up treason charge could be laid upon them.

While incarcerated, children of these relationships were separated from their mother and placed in special orphanages. These children were similarly ostracized, neglected and bullied, and grew up to suffer quite a bit of psychological damage. There were an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 of such children born from Norwegian mothers and German fathers during the war.

Some of these women tried to escape persecution by marrying their German boyfriends. They found, often to their surprise, that Norway had passed a law revoking Norwegian citizenship to anyone marrying an occupying soldier. Upon marriage, they became people without a country. A lot of them found themselves stuck in Communist East Germany, living under a government that didn’t care about them any more than the Norwegian one did.

Other women fled anywhere else in the world they could find a willing host. Often this meant to relatives who lived in Sweden or Denmark. One such woman had a daughter by a German father in December of 1945, fled to her mother’s home in Sweden to escape persecution, but died shortly thereafter. The girl was raised in Sweden by her grandmother, and grew up to be a world-famous musician: Anni-Frid Lyngstad one of the four members of ABBA.

Who was right? The Norwegian people for punishing these women who allied themselves with Nazi soldiers, the very people who were oppressing them for five years? Or my mom, whose instant reaction to the punishment of these women was abhorrence?

About a year after the fake prisons for these women were set up, they were disbanded. A single Norwegian official in charge decided that they too much resembled the concentration camps of their Nazi occupiers. But for over fifty years, Norway did little else to help these women, or their children.

In 2007, a group of these children sued the Norwegian government in the European Court of Human Rights. They didn’t win their case, on the grounds that they hadn’t exhausted local remedies before bringing it to a higher court. But as the people who remembered the horrors of the Nazi occupation first hand began to die off, sentiment began to change.

Finally, in 2018, Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg offered an official apology to the Norwegian women who were mistreated for their relationships with German soldiers:

“Young Norwegian girls and women who had relations with German soldiers or were suspected of having them, were victims of undignified treatment,” Ms Solberg said at an event to mark the 70th anniversary of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Wednesday.

“Our conclusion is that Norwegian authorities violated the rule fundamental principle that no citizen can be punished without trial or sentenced without law. For many, this was just a teenage love, for some, the love of their lives with an enemy soldier or an innocent flirt that left its mark for the rest of their lives.

“Today, in the name of the government, I want to offer my apologies.”

Norwegians were victims, for five years, of one of the most evil states in history. They were angry, and hurt, and naturally wanted anyone who aided in that evil to be punished.

This is the sort of thing that happens when an injustice is done, but the legal system is inadequate to address that injustice. Something wrong happened, and just because the legal system can’t do anything about it, it feels wrong that you should just move on as if nothing had happened at all. When that happens, people take justice into their own hands, and/or manipulate the system to get what they want. And all the kinds of mistakes that happen when people manipulate the system, and take the law into their own hands, end up happening. They punished these women, and their children, as much as the law allowed. And when the law was not enough for their liking, they punished them even further by shunning them from their society.

The A’s have the legal right to decide what happens to Christenson. Ryan Christenson gave a Nazi salute. Twice. Whether it was intentional or not, it happened. Giving a mere apology, and then moving on as if nothing had happened, feels inadequate to many people. Apologies are inadequate because they don’t cause any loss of dignity, any loss of status. And if it feels inadequate, the issue will not go away. People will continue to pursue the issue, to try to punish Christenson further, until they feel justice is done.

If the A’s feel Christenson did not intend to do a Nazi salute, which I’m sure is their position, firing Christenson is an excessive punishment. But if they want this issue to go away, they should do something that is proportional to the act.

Perhaps the A’s should suspend Christenson for a couple of weeks. Or perhaps Christenson ought to pay some penance on his own volition, the 2020 equivalent of walking with one foot on the curb and one in the gutter, so that Christenson suffers some loss of dignity, some loss of status, from his offensive act. And once that loss of status is noted, that the contrition is recognized, then we all can forgive, and move on.

The Science of a Mustache
by Ken Arneson
2020-08-05 23:30

If I have a mission in life, beyond my family, it is to get everybody on the planet to understand the difference between the two types of memory in the human brain, and why that difference is so important to every aspect of human endeavor.

So far, I have been a complete and utter failure at my mission.

It’s not that people disagree with me. Nobody disagrees with me because, well, face it, I’m right about this. It’s more like those movies where a kid discovers there’s an alien in the backyard, and goes in to tell mom, and says “Hey mom there’s an alien in the backyard!” and mom, who is on the phone and not really paying attention says, “That’s nice, dear” and goes back to talking on the phone.

Part of the problem is that here is no standard nomenclature for these two types of memory. Every endeavor is affected by this issue, but every endeavor gives it a different name, so you can’t really see that the problem Matt Olson is having with his batting slump is the exact same problem as, say, a guy trying to convince people with an essay that there’s an alien in his backyard.

Neuroscientists call it “nondeclarative and declarative memory”, behavioral economists call it “System 1 and System 2”, psychologists call it “the subconscious and the conscious”, philosophers call it “passions and reason”, but nobody seems to realize that when baseball players talk about “zoning in” and “pressing”, that’s the same thing, too. They’re all talking about the architecture of the brain.

Matt Olson was in a slump. He hit a walkoff homer in the first game of the season, but had done not much of anything since. So yesterday, he decided to grow a mustache, to see if that could change his luck.

And ha ha ha, what do you know, he hit two home runs in his first game with the mustache, and the A’s won the game 6-4. Ha ha ha, now he has to keep it, because ha ha ha, the mustache worked and made him hit those homers. Ha ha ha.

Why are you laughing? Because we know correlation is not causation, and we know the mustache did not really make him hit those homers?

Stop laughing. I’m going to argue, seriously, that the mustache did make him hit those home runs.

The System 1/nondeclarative/subconscious/passion/zoning system of the brain is primarily built for two things: pattern recognition and muscle memory. This is different from the System 2/declarative/conscious/reason/pressing system of the brain, which is built to slowly and consciously work through problems that are too difficult to solve with pattern recognition and muscle memory alone.

Hitting a baseball is not too difficult to problem to solve with pattern recognition and muscle memory alone. In fact, just the opposite: a baseball comes at you too fast for you to be able to use any sort of rational process to figure out what to do. You have mere fractions of a second to recognize a pitch, and then swing (or not swing) at it. If you try to insert rational thought into the problem of trying to hit a baseball while it’s on its way towards you, you’re going to react too late to hit the ball.

By the time a player reaches the Major Leagues, he has trained his pattern recognition and muscle memory brain cells to an extremely fine degree. Those brain cells know exactly what to do.

The problem here is that those brain cells are subconscious. You cannot directly and deliberately control them. They function automatically. They learn automatically. If you want to manipulate those brain cells, you can’t just decide to change them. You have to trick them into changing, with practice and repetition.

It’s a very very very common mistake, however, to try to decide to change them. A small run of failures, and a player can start consciously second-guessing what they’re doing. They start trying to do something their brain is not trained for, like a home run hitter trying just to hit a single, or a singles hitter trying to hit a home run, or a pull hitter trying to go the other way, or a slap hitter trying to hit the ball in the air, or a guy who is normally patient at the plate waiting for a good pitch decides to start trying to hit everything.

It’s so common, that baseball players have a word for it: pressing. “I’m pressing,” they say.

“Pressing” is trying to insert a System 2/declarative/conscious function into a normally fully System 1/nondeclarative/subconscious process. You’ve been failing a bit, so you try to consciously figure out why you’ve been failing. This can often make things worse instead of better.

If you start pressing, if you start inserting conscious thought into what should be a subconscious process, it’s a really good idea to give your conscious thought a distraction. You want a distraction that gives your System 2/declarative/conscious brain process something to think about that is completely unrelated to the subconscious process, If your conscious system is working on something unrelated to the subconscious process, then the System 1/nondeclarative/subconscious process can just go back to doing what it does best, without the unnecessary and unhelpful meddling from the conscious mind.

If Matt Olson goes to the plate thinking “I’m in a slump, I really need to get a hit here, how do I get a hit?”, then the System 1/nondeclarative/subconscious brain system isn’t free to do the thing it’s been trained to do best, to just “see ball, hit ball”

And so, a mustache.

If Matt Olson goes to the plate, and his conscious thought process is, “I’m at the plate wearing a mustache, I’ve never worn a mustache at the plate before”, that may be on the surface a ridiculous thing to thinking about there, but it also may be just what he needs. His upper lip is not involved in the swing mechanism. If his conscious mind is busy interfering with his upper lip mechanics, then it’s not interfering with the processes of pitch recognition and swing mechanics.

And boom, two home runs in one game. GIVE ‘EM THE STACHE, THE STACHE, THE STACHE!

Just the Facts, Ma’am
by Ken Arneson
2020-08-04 23:30

Nobody reads old blogs. Maybe historians will, a thousand years from now. But usually, like baseball games, they are very much a thing of their moment, and forgotten soon after.

So I suppose it’s rather pointless that I’ve always had a goal, with my blogging, to make them readable not just in their moment, but many years down the line. But if, for some reason, someone does decide to go back and read these things, I think I somewhat succeeded in that goal. By focusing on what it feels like to be an A’s fan, instead of going into detailed analysis of each game, I think the previous version of Catfish Stew is still readable, fifteen years later.

If the blog was merely a list of “Kirk Saarloos did this in the third inning” and “Dan Johnson did that in the fifth inning”, and “What do the A’s do now that Bobby Crosby is injured?” on the other hand, aside from the nostalgia of reviving forgotten names, it would be a dreadful bore. Facts and events are local. Emotions are universal.

The exception is, of course, when moments of significance happen. Those are always fun to revisit, even if it’s just the facts. Today’s A’s-Rangers game was bookended by two such moments.

The first moment was A’s rookie sensation Jesús Luzardo’s first major league start. He was magnificent, even if he didn’t have all his pitches working. His fastball was sparkling, he located it well, and he kept batters off balance with his changeup. He went five innings and didn’t allow a run.

He accomplished that without having his slider working very well. He tried to get some right-handed batters to chase his backfoot slider, but he wasn’t quite locating that pitch exactly where he wanted it. It started low and inside and ended up even more low and inside, so hitters never chased it for a strike. The exciting thing is, if he does manage to find that pitch so that it starts out looking like a pitch over the plate, and ends up in the dirt by the back foot of the right-handed hitter, he will be even more difficult to hit.

I haven’t been this excited about a young A’s pitcher since Rich Harden. He looks like a star in the making to me.

Luzardo did not get the victory in this game, as the game proceeded the way most of the A’s games have proceeded this season. The A’s offense did nothing against the Rangers starter, Lance Lynn, who was similarly magnificent in this game, moving his fastball in and out with various cuts and sinks like a vintage Bartolo Colon. Luzardo left the game with the score tied, 0-0. The Rangers scored a run off Luzardo’s successor, Yusmeiro Petit, in the sixth inning. Matt Chapman managed to time one of Lynn’s fastballs in the seventh for an opposite field homer to tie the game at 1. The game then moved to the ninth inning, tied 1-1.

The other moment of significance happened in the bottom of the ninth. Just like in the first game of the season, the A’s loaded the bases in a tie game with one out. A sacrifice fly would win the game.

In the first game it was Matt Olson who came up in that situation. This time it was Stephen Piscotty. Just like Olson, Piscotty was facing a new reliever coming into the game. And just like Olson, Piscotty hit the first pitch he saw into the air into the outfield, deep enough for that sacrifice fly. And also just like Olson, Piscotty’s ball kept going, and flew over the fence for a game-winning walkoff grand slam. Final score: A’s 5, Rangers 1.

This was the first time the A’s had ever hit two walkoff grand slams in a single season, and they did both of those in a span of less than two weeks. And given that this is a shortened season where each game is worth 2.7x what a game is worth in a normal 162-game season, I joked on Twitter soon afterwards that “The Oakland A’s are the first team in major league history to hit 5.4 walkoff grand slams in a season.”

And that’s the fact, Jack.

Or What You Will
by Ken Arneson
2020-08-03 23:30

Life is full of drama, and you have to take that seriously, but sometimes you just need a little break from that with a fun 11-1 comedic romp. Here is, as I remember it, a basic summary of what happened on the Twelfth Night (a/k/a Tenth Game) of the Oakland A’s season:

There are these infielders, Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, and nobody can tell them apart, even though one is right-handed and the other is left-handed, because, you know, they’re both named Matt, and they end up shipwrecked and separated in this town full of Mariners called Seattle, and they both think the other is dead, and they go and have a bunch of interactions with various characters in this town, and sometimes these characters think they’re interacting with one Matt, while they’re really interacting with the other Matt, and all sorts of hilarious mixups ensue, but it all turns out happy in the end. Oh, and Ramon Laureano wears big yellow socks for some reason.

Matt and Matt are the lead characters in the show, and they are therefore considered the big stars. But really, the juiciest role is Ramon Laureano. Just imagine if you had the legs to pull off big yellow socks, and an arm to die for to boot, people are going to remember you when they go home more than boring old Matt and Matt. But what nobody knows is that you’re also an excellent swordsman, although nobody seems to even notice that, because of the yellow socks and all. You just can’t get any love. But you’re the best, Ramon Laureano. Really, you are.

Ha ha ha, what a great show that was!

by Ken Arneson
2020-08-02 23:30

I have spent a lot of time over the years contemplating the role of sports in our lives. Why is it so important to us? Why is it so popular, everywhere across the planet? Its global reach, even with local flavors, must say something about human nature itself.

I have my theories, which center around allowing us to satisfy the tribalist and competitive aspects of our nature in a manner which were, in previous generations that didn’t have sports, satisfied in violent and destructive ways. Sports becoming so popular is a very important innovation towards the welfare of human beings. It shouldn’t be dismissed as just mere entertainment, an unimportant, frivolous activity.

But there is a value to sports that I hadn’t even thought to consider until now. Being without any sports to follow for several months at the beginning of this pandemic, every single day seemed to just blend into the next. When you get up and there’s nowhere to go and you just do whatever whenever because you’re alone and there’s no one you need to particularly coordinate with, the clock and the calendar begin to disconnect from your life. There were times in May and June that I thought it was Tuesday, and it was actually Friday.

The rhythms of a shared sporting culture provide structure to our lives. What time is the A’s game on today? Is it a day game? Night game? Who are they playing? Is it the first game of a series, or the last?

Other things can provide that kind of structure, too, of course. Commuting to work five days a week. Going to church every Sunday. Participating in these rhythms, particularly with other people, creates a feeling of stability and belonging. The pandemic has removed many of these kinds of rhythmic structures in our lives. We’ve been forced to creatively find alternatives, or suffer the psychological penalties of going without.

Baseball is back. For how long, we’ll have to see. At what risk, at what cost, I don’t know. But it’s not just a frivolous vanity. It’s not without value. Whether that value is worth the cost, is a valid question. But planning my day around the time of first pitch, watching the game, talking about it with other people on Twitter, and then ritually writing about it here on this blog afterwards–all of that fills a part of my soul that has felt empty for months now.

But it would help to overcome that feeling of one day just bleeding into the next if the baseball game I watch didn’t just repeat itself in consecutive games. The A’s 3-2 victory over the Mariners today played itself out very much in the same manner as their 3-2 victory over the Mariners yesterday.

Both games: the A’s fell behind early. Both games: the A’s bats were listless against the Mariners starting pitchers. Both games: the A’s pitching was good enough to keep the team within reach in the game until the offense could do something. Both games: Mariners manager Scott Servais let a left-handed reliever pitch to a right-handed A’s batter when he didn’t really need to, and that A’s batter hit a home run that gave the A’s just enough runs, despite their meager offense, to hold on to a win.

Like a matinee performance of a Shakespeare play, the script was the same, but some of the cast was different. The understudy stepping into the starting pitcher role this time was Chris Bassitt instead of Mike Fiers. The right-handed batter hitting the homer was played by Ramon Laureano instead of Chad Pinder. And this time, they ended the play in nine innings instead of ten.

Like watching multiple versions of the Scottish play, I’m willing to watch a decent script multiple times with different players. I won’t turn down more 3-2 victories if that’s the script that works for the A’s this year. But there are other great scripts we could try, too. How about a fun comedy with an effective offense and a nice, easy victory for once?

Calibrate Good Times, Come On!
by Ken Arneson
2020-08-01 23:30

Each game this season is worth 2.7 games in a normal season. The first time I heard that fact, I assumed people were just rounding it to 2.7, and the real number was something like 2.7182818284. There would have been something extremely satisfying about having the value of each baseball game be worth e, but then I did the math: 162 ÷ 60 actually equals exactly 2.7, no rounding needed.

I now know the number 2.7 in my head as a fact, but I still haven’t quite accurately calibrated my emotions to this idea. Sometimes this season, I’ve watched games with the normal detached indifference of a regular season game being just one in 162, and sometimes I’ve watched like each game is worth 27 games, not 2.7, and a single loss would mean the season is basically over.

But then again, the pandemic could bring an end to the season at any moment. Today’s game was the eighth game of the season, and if the season did end today, each of those games would have been worth 162 ÷ 8 = 20.25 games.

So perhaps my emotions haven’t been wrong after all. Perhaps my intensity will just ratchet down as the season goes on, along with the certainty of how valuable any particular game can be. Today’s game was 20.25 as intense as a normal game, the next one will be 162 ÷ 9 = 18x, the following one 162 ÷ 10 = 16.2x, and so forth.

But then again, baseball is meaningless right now if you think logically. Place baseball for even a second in its proper perspective in the world, and your intensity ought to rachet back down to zero.

And it does, for me, in those moments of clarity and perspective that I have. But the honest truth is, most of the time, when I think about the meaninglessness of this baseball season, it’s not because I’m trying to be rational. Really, what I’m doing is thinking about it that way because my team is losing, and I’m looking for an emotional escape from the pain of that failure.

I’m an emotional yo-yo, is what I’m saying. And also an intellectual fraud.

Be that as it may: yesterday, in a moment of compartmentalization over perspective, I felt very annoyed at how crappy the A’s have played so far this season, and how they were playing in this game. The A’s were listless. The A’s should be better than this. From the first inning through the ninth, I felt certain the A’s were about to lose and thereby fall another 20.25 games behind the first place Astros. I was full of despair.

But somehow, the A’s managed to squeeze out a 3-2 victory in 10 innings over the Seattle Mariners. Instead of going 0-for-infinity with runners in scoring position, the A’s went 2-for-infinity instead. The Mariners left a left-hander in to face the extreme platoon-splitty Chad Pinder for some reason, who homered with Mark Canha aboard to tie the game at 2-2 in the 7th. Then in the 10th, Robbie Grossman, who might have pinch-hit for Pinder had the Mariners brought a righty in to face him in the 7th, pinch hit in the 10th instead, and doubled home the winning run. Along with some pretty good pitching, and the Mariners going 0-for-infinity themselves with runners in scoring position late in the game, that was enough, barely, for the A’s to win.

As the Astros also played extra innings but lost, the late evening felt like it had suddenly turned into a huge 40.5-game shift in the standings. It felt like the A’s went over the span of a couple of innings from being virtually eliminated from the playoffs to being tied for first place instead.

What a moment of sheer, fraudulent joy that was!

This Petty Pace
by Ken Arneson
2020-07-31 23:30
She should have died hereafter;

Today on Facebook, an old classmate from Sweden messaged me to say that next year, they’re planning a 40th reunion for the school I went to. He was going to send me an invitation soon.

I suppose one should be glad to be alive for the 40th reunion of anything. Some of my classmates didn’t make it this far. And the way the coronavirus has been rampaging both through Sweden and the USA, some of us still might not make it to the reunion next year.

There would have been a time for such a word.

Holy cow, it’s been almost 40 years since I, as a 15-year-old, decided to leave Sweden and move back to America.

What would my life be like right now if I hadn’t made that decision? Are we destined for the same fate, no matter where we are? Would the alternate Swedish version of me have a house, and a wife, and three kids? Would I be spending today chatting with old friends on Facebook about our school reunion, and then watching an A’s game streaming over the Internet?

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

I might not be in America at all if not for one particular day in PE class in that school, when our teacher decided to give a speech about our future. I might have just stayed where I was, letting one day after another roll by, if that PE teacher hadn’t, for some reason, chosen me to use as an example for his story. He pictured me living in a nice Swedish apartment, with a nice steady job, and a beautiful summer cottage, where I’d spend my glorious five weeks of summer vacation relaxing on a small boat on a lake.

I felt the weight of all those days to come. “A boat? A lake? Is that my aim in life? Is that my future? That’s not what I want! Give me instead the American dream! I want to fight, strive, battle, conquer, win!”

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

The American Dream is about playing in the seventh game of the World Series, about having the fate of everything in your hands, about being ready for that moment, and succeeding. But the reality is, most of the time in most of our lives, we’re the playing in the seventh game of the regular season, an ordinary road game in an ordinary season against an ordinary opponent.

Most of the time, our lives are a 5-3 loss in an empty stadium in Seattle. Maybe our pitcher is Sean Manaea, who might have some good moments at first, throwing his fastball 91-92mph, but then just sort of runs out of gas, and the fastball slows to 88-89mph, and he tries to trick people into believing he’s a hero, but the deception doesn’t work. And maybe we don’t give up. Maybe we keep grinding through the game, and maybe we make a comeback, of sorts, turning a 5-0 deficit to 5-3. But it’s not enough.

To the last syllable of recorded time,

This is the beauty of baseball. It captures the American Dream better than any other American art form. It holds the carrot of triumph out in front of us, making sure it always remains a slight possibility, while actually subjecting us to an insanely long sequence of one small indignity after another, until the dream is eliminated.

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

So who made the better choice? The people who stayed behind, the people who chose the standard-issue minor accomplishment, the nice job and the nice home and the nice relaxing five week vacation with the boat on the lake? Or the person who rejected that life for the small chance of some bigger glory but usually came up short?

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Seven games go by, 162 games go by, 40 years go by, and we both end up in the same place.

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

I told my friend who invited me to the reunion that I hoped I could make it, but that right now, we Americans aren’t allowed to travel to other countries.

Not because the US Government won’t let us go, but because nobody else will let us in. Because we suck.

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

Rumor has it that several members of the Miami Marlins, while playing an exhibition game in Atlanta, Georgia, went out at night, partied a bit, and visited some bars, Which the MLB rules of pandemic baseball didn’t exactly expressly prohibit doing, and the State of Georgia didn’t exactly expressly discourage. Which led to them contracting COVID-19. Which led to an outbreak on the team.

And rumor has it that some member of the St. Louis Cardinals traveling party visited a casino at some point. Which led to them contracting COVID-19. Which led to an outbreak on the team.

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Did the player visiting the bar meet his dream girl? Did the person visiting the casino win a bunch of money? This is the untold story.

The told story: a bunch of baseball games have been cancelled. The cancellation of this entire baseball season is now a real possibility.

It is hard to believe that MLB would do that. It is easier to believe MLB will muddle through and try to make it work somehow.

The story of America is that Americans can, will, and do suffer a lot of indignities. We will suffer children being shot down by machine guns in our schools. We will suffer Black men being choked slowly to death by indifferent police officers. We will suffer 4,000,000 citizens getting sick of a preventable disease. We will suffer 200,000 American people dying of that disease, for no good reason.

But the one thing we will not suffer in America is the loss of our carrot, the loss of the possibility of triumph, the loss of the dream of success. If that disappears, the idea of America falls apart. If that disappears, America becomes Sweden. If that disappears, America goes mad.

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

The more impossible the American dream becomes, the stronger and more loudly we cling to it, even though our choices make no sense, like opening bars in a pandemic, and then going to them, like opening casinos in a pandemic, and then going to them, like opening schools in a pandemic, and sending our children and teachers into enclosed hallways and classrooms, like going all around the country, traveling in cars, and buses, and planes, and entering elevators, and hotels, and locker rooms, and ballparks, in order to play a game of baseball in order to keep the dream of victory alive whatever the cost.

Signifying nothing.
by Ken Arneson
2020-07-29 23:30

I have Donald Trump’s Twitter account blocked, muted, hidden, buried and shielded every which way Twitter’s technology allows. Normally, this makeshift force field is enough to prevent the accidental destruction of brain cells that results from directly reading whatever nonsense he is spewing that day. I usually only get exposed to second- or third-hand Trump radiation, not the pure poison itself. This morning, however, my force field failed.

WARNING: Dangerous Trump radiation ahead.

Please apply all appropriate personal protective equipment.

This morning, he wrote this: “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood…”

Trump using the power of his office to spew barely hidden racial dogwhistles is par for the course now. But this one stings in particular because my suburb, Alameda, is embroiled in exactly that sort of argument. We have a provision in our city charter, Article 26 (a/k/a Measure A), enacted in 1973, which prohibits the construction of multi-family apartment buildings. The city council voted 4-1 to place this article up on the ballot for repeal this November.

I’m convinced this article exists in order to keep Black and Brown people from Oakland from moving into Alameda. Nobody admits that, of course. Nobody wants to be labeled a racist. They use other arguments so that they can plausibly deny that their motivations are racist. They say it’s about preserving our architectural heritage and neighborhood character and crime and traffic and such things.

There may have been a time I would have believe these arguments were sincere, and given those people the benefit of the doubt. But after four years of a President tweeting non-stop plausibly deniable racist bullshit exactly of this ilk, I no longer accept those arguments, even if they are sincere. Plausible deniability isn’t good enough anymore. The burden is on the people in power to prove that not only is this not racist, but that it is anti-racist, that it actually improves racial relations. Otherwise, you’re just joining with Trump in keeping the powerful in power, and the powerless without power.

The one person on the Alameda City Council who voted against placing the Measure A ballot, Tony Daysog, is a friend of mine. We went to high school and college together. Obviously, I disagree with his position on Measure A, which he supports. So when Trump wrote this tweet today, I was compelled to write to him about it.

Anyway, to make an already long story not any longer, I spent my mental writing energy today in an email exchange with a local politician, instead of trying to write something brilliantly clever for today’s blog post.

Sorry about that, Catfish Stew fans. That’s what 2020 is like. We’re trying to play and watch and discuss baseball, but there’s a pandemic to fight, and racism to fight, and housing shortages, and climate change, and whatever dramas are happening in our personal lives, and God only knows what tomorrow will bring. We all have to pick our battles, one day at a time. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. Sometimes we don’t have the energy to fight, so we save it for another day. Sometimes, like today, we choose to spend our energy fighting a likely hopeless and futile cause, because fighting and losing feels better than not fighting and saving our breath. Sometimes, we have the power to give voice to the powerless, and sometimes we’re the powerless ourselves. Sometimes we have the time to care about the drama of a baseball game on TV, and sometimes it feels like the least important thing in the world.

I did watch the A’s game today. The A’s lost to the Rockies, 5-1. There was an infuriating non-reversal of a replay call the kept an A’s run off the board. There were defensive near misses–plays that, if made, that could have turned the game around.

Blah blah blah. A bunch of little things went wrong. But those little things are little. The big thing is this: the A’s just aren’t hitting. More specifically, they aren’t hitting with power.

In the last two years, the A’s have hit home runs about once every 26 plate appearances. They’ve hit doubles about once every 20 plate appearances. Those big hits for power are where much of the A’s run scoring has come from in this generation.

But this year so far, the A’s have been mostly powerless. They’ve only homered once per 43 plate appearances. And worse, they’ve only doubled once per 54 plate appearances. The A’s slugged .439 in 2018, and .448 last year. They’re slugging .319 this year. They’re offense is all walks and singles, and with that kind of offense, it’s hard to put up any big innings that can sew up easy victories for you. Instead, every game becomes a grind. Their pitching has been pretty good, and that’s kept them in games enough to win some of them.

So the A’s have been a mixed bag. Their 3-3 record is accurate measure of their performance. It would be weird, at this point, with that kind of hitting, if the A’s were above .500 right now. The powerless usually don’t win most of their battles.

One Day in Summer
by Ken Arneson
2020-07-28 23:30

There was a birthday in the house today
which was celebrated promptly at midnight
with song
and candles
on some homemade cupcakes
which is a thing you do
when the kids are older
and they go to bed whenever
and the time of day
has lost all meaning
because it’s summer vacation
in a pandemic

and there was a pseudobrawl today
when a Dodgers pitcher headhunted
a couple Astros batters
which is a thing you do
when the Astros cheated you
out of a championship
three years ago
and you’re not allowed to fight
and it’s a warm summer evening
in a pandemic

and there was Dave Stewart on TV today
appearing on the A’s pregame show
appearing on the A’s postgame show
which is a thing you do
when your mom taught you to show up
when people are relying on you
even though his mother
who was 92 years old
passed away yesterday
on a sad summer day
in a pandemic

and there was a boring ballgame
at the Coliseum today
where the A’s used none of their best pitchers
which is a thing you do
when you overused those pitchers
to win a tough series against a rival
and so you hope your slumping batters
can come alive for one day
and slug you to an unlikely victory
but Khris Davis still isn’t Khris Davis
and you strand a bunch of runners
and you never really threaten the lead
and you kind of just go through the motions
and you lose 8-3
on a cool summer evening
in a pandemic

by Ken Arneson
2020-07-27 23:30

I awoke this morning to the news that fourteen players and staff in the Miami Marlins organization had tested positive for COVID-19.

Oh, hell.

This was the inevitable trouble everybody hoped they could avoid confronting. But there’s no avoiding it now. You have to stare the trouble straight in the eye.

Maybe the outbreak is limited to just the Marlins, and everyone else can work around it. Or maybe this is all a terrible idea, and the season should be cancelled. I don’t know.

But with only one team currently affected, I kind of doubt MLB will just give up and cancel the season. I explained on Twitter what I thought would happen instead:

The NL/AL East pseudo-bubble, being compromised, will be shut down for a week or so and reset until tests clear. The Central and West pseudo-bubbles will keep going. Playoffs will be awarded on winning percentages.

I like that word, by the way: “pseudo-bubble”. But does it really need the hyphen? Nah. Pseudobubble! Pseudobubble, pseudobubble, pseudobubble.

There are three pseudobubbles in MLB this year, because the AL/NL East teams only play each other, the AL/NL Central teams only play each other, and the AL/NL West teams also form a closed circuit.

MLB has pseudobubbles because they are implementing their restart unlike the other American sports leagues that have relaunched. NWSL, MLS, WNBA, NBA and NHL are playing inside true bubbles, where nobody can move between inside and outside the bubble without strict protocols.

MLB only has a bubble when they’re on the road: they go from plane to hotel to ballpark, and don’t interact with anyone outside their bubble while traveling. When they’re not traveling, however, they live in their own homes, where other members of their households can interact with the general public, and potentially bring a team member in contact with the virus.

The pseudo part of the bubble is where it seems inevitable that the MLB protocols will eventually fail. Some player will catch the virus from who knows where, and before the testing can detect the problem, it has spread to half the team. (See: Marlins, Miami, above.) And if, in turn, that one team spreads it to an opposing team, then the whole season just might fall apart.

The A’s are not in the same pseudobubble as the Marlins, so the A’s-Angels game proceeded as scheduled.

The A’s won the game, 3-0. It was a fairly unremarkable victory, as ballgames go. There were a few nice plays. Matt Chapman fielded a grounder at third and threw out a runner at home to prevent a run. That was followed by nifty 1-2-3 double play started by Chris Bassitt. Almost the entirety of the excitement in the game came in the last at-bat, when Mike Trout came up as the tying run with two outs in the ninth. Joakim Soria struck Trout out with a fastball on the top of the zone that the umpire called strike three. Trout did not agree, and protested as vehemently as Mike Trout protests, which is to say some, but I’ve seen a lot worse.

The most memorable part of the game was not found in play-by-play. What was notable was the effect the Marlins news had on the players. A lot more players were wearing masks during the game. Matt Olson put one on anytime he was holding a runner on first. A lot of baserunners put on their masks when they reached base, too.

Getting the MLB season launched was a difficult accomplishment, and there was a danger that players might become overconfident with the protocols they set up, and let their behavior get lax. The Marlins news, if it does not bring down the whole season, is a sobering reminder of how fragile these protocols are. If the players don’t comprehend exactly how pseudo their bubble is, at any moment the whole thing could pop.

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This is Ken Arneson's blog about baseball, brains, art, science, technology, philosophy, poetry, politics and whatever else Ken Arneson feels like writing about
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