Monday, October 31, 2016

Today, Tom Tomorrow Turns To Fanciful Brain-Science In Search Of An Explanation Of Our Current Political Malaise

Last week, it was Alien Hair as the culprit and this week it is a Brain-Eating Thing that explains the 2016 presidential election. If this is a (fair & balanced) political sci-fi fantasy, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
The Return...
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political blog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. More recently, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. Even more recently, Dan Perkins was a runner-up for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.]

Copyright © 2016 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License..

Copyright © 2016 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Today, A Bigendered 11th Hour AppealTo The Chump's Minions

Somewhere, the founding Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J.(ohn) Edgar Hoover is weeping at the spectacle of the 13th Director of the Bureau, James Comey, drew the traditionally nonpolitical FBI into the 2016 campaign with his October Surprise. When Comey laves the Bureau, he can become a ghostwriter for Donald T. (for "The") Chump. The now-political FBI Director has given Chump new rally-material to spout at his knuckle-dragging minions. However, this blogger soldiers on despite being waist-deep in the Big Muddy. If this is a (fair & balanced) comic opera, so be it.Vannevar Bush HyperlinkBracketed numericsDirectory]

[1] A Political Gastrointestinal Exam (Eags/Timothy Egan)
[2] A Stupid Woman's Plight (Sarah Elizabeth (S.E.) Cupp)

[1]Back To Directory
[x NY Fishwrap]
American Gut Check
By Eags (Timothy Egan)

TagCrowd cloud of the following piece of writing

created at

At least one of my siblings, and some of my friends from high school, will be among the 50 million or so Americans waking up on November 9 after giving their vote to a man who thinks very little of them, and even less of the country he wants to lead.

Allow me one last attempt to help you avoid a hangover that will stay with you the rest of your life.

If you ignored every blast of hatred from Donald Trump, every attempt to defraud people or stiff those who worked for him, every bellow from the bully, consider his low view of humanity in general. “For the most part you can’t respect people,” he has said, “because most people aren’t worthy of respect.”

This is the credo of a loveless man in a friendless world. He also says he has no heroes — not a Lincoln or Mandela, a Jackie Robinson or a Captain Chesley Sullenberger.

If you’re an evangelical Christian, you’re about to cast your lot with someone who goes against nearly everything you believe. I have a sister in this category. Her preacher told her that electing Trump is “part of God’s plan.” I’m not sure if the plan is apocalyptic, but that sounds like a deity who’s given up on all of us.

I would tell my sister and all like-minded souls to look at whether Trump has tried to live by the Ten Commandments. He’s consistently violated at least eight of them, from worshiping the God of Mammon to running up the biggest “pants on fire” liar score of any presidential candidate in history. As for adultery and coveting others, he’s bragged about cheating on the mother of his children in one interview, and outlined his methods for hitting on married women in another.

True, he hasn’t committed murder, but he did say he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, “and I wouldn’t lose any supporters.” If that’s who you want your children looking up to, those kids will be, like Trump, bereft of heroes.

If you’re a member of the white working class, “the poorly educated” that Trump once professed to love, your sense of dislocation is real. The economic gap between the wealthiest cities and the rest of the country has widened. So has the divide between college-educated workers and those who never went beyond high school. More than 20 percent of American men under age 65 had no paid work last year.

But a trade war, which Trump proposes, and his tax and immigration policies would bring widespread pain, and do nothing to help the most economically troubled of his supporters. Trump likes to remind people that he took business classes at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Well then, let’s listen to a report from his alma mater: It predicts that Trump’s policies could cost the United States four million lost jobs.

His tax plan, a giveaway to the rich and a budget buster, would likely lead to another recession. His overall economic proposals could cost the United States economy $1 trillion over the next five years, according to a report from Oxford Economics, a forecasting firm.

Building a wall, of concrete on the southern border, or through tariffs coming from Washington, is not going to bring steel mills back to Pennsylvania, or thousands of coal jobs to West Virginia. Even from a blunt, xenophobic perspective, the wall makes no sense. For over the last 10 years, more people have immigrated from the United States to Mexico than vice versa. Trump never mentions that.

I should add that 15 million new jobs have been added under President Obama’s watch, and that incomes grew across the board last year, especially at the bottom. Trump never mentions that, either.

Vice President Joe Biden has made it one of his final missions to ensure that Democrats don’t forget those living in places like his hometown, Scranton, Pa. One solution is to put people to work on roads, bridges, airports and other “big stuff.” Hillary Clinton has at least put forth a $275 billion infrastructure jobs plan. Trump promises nothing more than a slogan on a silly hat and a pipe dream of a plan with no way to pay for it.

Finally, if you’re a true deplorable, I have nothing to say to you by way of persuasion. You should follow the endorsements of neo-Nazis, and current and former members of the Ku Klux Klan who say Trump is the embodiment of their beliefs. A vote for anyone but Trump, as the former Klansman David Duke says, is “treason” to your heritage. He’s talking about a lineage that goes directly back to slavery.

For the rest of the Trump supporters, remember that resentment is not a political philosophy and hatred is not a sustainable force for governing. Remember, also, the words of a global citizen — Bono. “America is like the best idea the world ever came up with,” he said, “but Donald Trump is potentially the worst idea that ever happened to America.” ###

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

Copyright © 2016 The New York Times Company

[2]Back To Directory
[x NY Fishwrap]
The Lonely Life Of A Republican Woman
By Sarah Elizabeth (S.E.) Cupp

TagCrowd cloud of the following piece of writing
created at

As has become typical in an election marked by its often unpleasant surprises, I awoke to a storm of outrage on Twitter on Wednesday morning. Newt Gingrich had told Fox’s Megyn Kelly that she was “fascinated with sex” and didn’t “care about public policy.”

Mr. Gingrich unleashed this boorish attack after Ms. Kelly tried to pin him down on whether the many accusations of sexual assault against Donald J. Trump, and his own words on the matter, should disqualify him from the presidency.

That Mr. Gingrich (with whom I once hosted a television show) thought the best way to deflect attention from Mr. Trump’s awful behavior with women was to attack another woman tells you so much about the depths to which Mr. Trump has dragged the Republican Party.

It’s also a sobering harbinger of how hard it’s going to be for the party to win back Republican women, let alone appeal to new female voters in the future.

As a conservative woman who wanted very much to support the Republican nominee, it’s been a deeply disappointing year and a half. After helping the Republican National Committee address some of the troubling deficiencies the party faced after 2012, as outlined in its so-called autopsy report, and witnessing some real progress in our outreach to women in the ensuing years, I did not expect an egomaniacal arsonist to come along and set all that ablaze.

Mr. Trump has sent the party back to the Dark Ages — or at least the 1950s — with his provincial notions of masculinity and misogynist notions of femininity, his cartoonish bombast, his vulgar jocularity and his open hostility to women who question him. In short, he’s reaffirmed the worst stereotypes about Republicans that Democrats have pushed for decades.

It would be nice to be able to argue that Mr. Trump is an aberration, but clearly he has found a great deal of support. Who will believe us when we say that he does not speak for us?

In 2012, an unknown, inconsequential congressman from Missouri’s Second District, Todd Akin, sent the Republican presidential race into a tailspin when he argued that rape victims should not be allowed to get abortions, saying, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.”

The stench of Mr. Akin hung around the party for months, if not years. Mr. Trump is neither unknown nor inconsequential. His will be the stink of a hydrogen sulfide explosion. Containment will be impossible.

What’s surprising is just how many Republicans — men and women — have been all too happy to smell like him. Political operatives feigned ignorance about whether grabbing a woman’s genitalia is sexual assault (it is), while female supporters claimed these weren’t important issues to women (they are). Voters will punish the party for this collective shrug.

Alienating women — who vote in higher numbers than men, and who have voted Democratic in every presidential election after 1988 — would seem a flawed business model for the “Art of the Deal” mogul.

Women are not unwinnable for Republicans. Ronald Reagan won a majority of them in both of his elections, and by 10 points in 1984. The largest spread in recent history was in 1972, when Richard Nixon, even with that mug, won women by a whopping 24 points.

Still, more than 20 years is a long time to go without women. I’d argue conservative policies were badly explained and liberals benefited from more emotional messaging. But it’s going to be much harder to make that case now.

When women flee the Republican Party in the coming years, no autopsy will be necessary. The explanation is all too clear.

And yet we have to try to repair the relationship between the Republican Party and women. Not just so that Republicans can be competitive in national elections, but because I believe our policies are genuinely better for women.

Democrats’ lofty language about empowering women sounds great (and way better than Mr. Trump’s), but President Obama’s economy has done just the opposite. By many metrics, women (and men) are worse off. The poverty rate is higher than it was in 2007. Real median household income is down. More Americans are dependent on the government for assistance. Homeownership is down. Student debt has skyrocketed, along with the national debt. We now know that Obamacare is becoming unaffordable.

None of this is empowering, not for working women, mothers, small-business owners or students. Whether you’re a veteran or a millennial, it’s hard to argue that big government has solved your problems efficiently, if at all.

But before we can make that case to women, Republicans will have to earn the right to be heard at all. That will require emptying the party of Mr. Trump’s enablers. Who knows how long that will take, but in the meantime, women would frankly have to have been lobotomized to believe anything the Republican Party tells them.

We will also need better communicators. There are plenty of good, rational, compassionate and talented conservatives who deserve a microphone and a platform. It’s time to pass the baton to a new generation of leaders who don’t speak — or think — like Archie Bunker.

I was first drawn to the Republican Party as an 18-year-old at a liberal university. The party’s appeal wasn’t about barring Muslims, arming our enemies with nuclear weapons or joking about sexual assault. I didn’t become a conservative because someone told me to hate liberals, or to blame people who didn’t look like me for my problems.

I became a conservative because of words like “self-reliance” and “individualism,” because it actually seemed the more optimistic philosophy. Conservatism measured compassion by how much you gave, not by how much you told other people to give. Conservatism believed that individuals, not bureaucracies, produced the best solutions. And conservatism saw American democracy as a beacon of hope to share with the world’s oppressed, not something to apologize for.

Now that I’m a mother, those ideals matter more to me than ever. In the era of Donald Trump, it’s hard to argue to the women of America that the Republican Party deserves their vote this year. But we must return to our aspirational roots if we’re going to have a party left at all. ###

[Sarah Elizabeth (S.E.) Cupp is a conservative political commentator and writer. She received a BA (art history) from Cornell University and an MA (religious studies) from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University. She is the author of Losing Our Religion: The Liberal Media's Attack on Christianity (2010).]

Copyright © 2016 The New York Times Comapny

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License..

Copyright © 2016 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Saturday, October 29, 2016

If A Former Student Referred To The Blogger As A "Son Of A Beach" After A Test, Does That Confer Honorary Beach-Boy-Status To The Blogger?

From the Department of First Things First: Friday, October 28, 2016, was a dark day for this blog. First Bob Dylan does a 180°-reversal and accepts the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. Then, later on that gloomy day, the FBI director James Comey launched the October Surprise of the 2016 campaign with the announcement that the FBI was reopening the possibility of security leaks in private e-mail sent from The Hillster's basement to — all people — former US representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY), the estranged husband of The Hillster's closest aide, Huma Abedin.

So, that was then and this is now in the life of a blogger. Today, this lbog features the Beach Boys via a review essay by music critic Ben Ratliff. This essay was prompted by two recent and separate books by Brian Wilson (with Ben Greeman — I Am Brian Wilson: A Memoir (2016) and Mike Love's memoir (with James S. Hirsch) — Good Vibrations: My Life As A Beach Boy (2016). If this is (fair & balanced) recent music history, so be it.

[x NYRB]
Looking For The Beach Boys
By Ben Ratliff

TagCrowd cloud of the following piece of writing

created at

The story of the Beach Boys is a kind of philosophical problem. Not that they didn’t make some albums still eminently worth hearing, if we go by the unit of the album: Pet Sounds, from 1966, is the prize pony, full of confident hits as well as deep-purple self-absorption (“God Only Knows,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “Caroline, No”). For anyone justifiably wary of the whole idea of the pop masterpiece, Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!), from 1965, is a great uncool record—cornball, hard-sell with its lists of proper nouns and tour-stop shout-outs (“Amusement Parks U.S.A,” “Salt Lake City,” even “California Girls”), but getting grand-scaled in tone and mass. SMiLE, started in 1966 and not really finished till 2011, is the art-song project, a kind of underground labyrinth of melody, exhaustingly effective in its final form.

But time and social change have been rough on the Beach Boys. Their best-known hits (say, “California Girls,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” “I Get Around”) are poems of unenlightened straight-male privilege, white privilege, beach privilege. It is hard to imagine that they helped anyone toward self-determination or achieving their social rights. Brian Wilson’s great integrative achievement as a songwriter and producer was absorbed in bits and pieces by others—Paul McCartney especially—but it mostly worked for him alone. In their rhythm and humor the Beach Boys sound squarer all the time compared to Motown, the Beatles, and the Stones, and a lot of Phil Spector. Of course, it comes down to individual songs.

We all like songs. But we also tend to regard a cultural institution like the Beach Boys—a fifty-year-old rock band, heavy with institutional honor—as having some kind of fixed identity and owning some kind of essential rightness. What is, or was, the essence of the Beach Boys, and what were they right about? In this time of curation and reassessment, we have cash in hand and we are here to understand the Beach Boys. What are we paying into? What are we understanding?

Is it the Beach Boys as a performing and/or recording entity, neither of which since the death of Dennis Wilson in 1983 ever quite seemed the real thing, whatever “real” is? (The Beach Boys have never broken up per se, the way the Beatles did. But as of this writing in 2016, you can see two different versions of them: a touring band led by the singer Mike Love called the Beach Boys, which includes the non-original member and long-time on-and-off Beach Boy Bruce Johnston; or a touring band led by Brian Wilson, who does not have the legal right to call his band the Beach Boys, as well as the original Beach Boy Al Jardine, playing many of the same songs as Love does, as well as songs that were recorded under the name the Beach Boys but are basically Wilson’s.) Is it the corpus of the Beach Boys’ music, which is totally disunified: pre-and-post Pet Sounds, pre-and-post LSD, pre-and-post Dennis Wilson, with and without Brian as songwriter, with and without Brian as producer, and on and on? Or is it the projection, through time, of the individual members’ personalities, which have been widely simplified and are, finally, unknowable?

Brian Wilson’s storied vulnerability will never be quite squared with his demonstrated ambition: in a short amount of time, and before the age of thirty, he had dealt with great amounts of American musical culture. One class of his songs, like “Shut Down,” is built on Chuck Berry’s updated rhythm-and-blues—a driving beat under a twelve-bar blues pattern and wise patter about the will to win a drag race. (Roger Christian, a Los Angeles DJ, wrote the suggestive lyrics: “He’s hot with ram induction but it’s understood/I got a fuel-injected engine sittin’ under my hood.”) A different class, like “Let Him Run Wild” and “The Warmth of the Sun,” took up the lessons of the Four Freshmen’s vocal arrangements, moving them out of a jazz context and toward a new kind of rock and roll song—diffuse, harder to reduce, written with harmonic tension and shifting keys. For “California Girls,” Wilson composed a twenty-second prelude for electric guitar, bass, cymbals, and saxophone long-tones that suggested an American pastoral symphony. For “Guess I’m Dumb”—written in 1964 for Glen Campbell—you can hear him competing with Burt Bacharach, in sophisticated rhythmic phrasing and harmony, and with Phil Spector, in the imagining of sound as physical mass in a physical space.

The narrators of Beach Boys songs used their time as they liked: amusement parks, surfing, drag racing, dating, sitting in their rooms. Listeners through the mid-Sixties —I wasn’t there—must have responded to the way ordinary leisure and ordinary kicks could be enshrined by a cool, modern, prosperity-minded sentimentality. (Something similar had happened with bossa nova in Brazil, four years before the Beach Boys made their first records.) After that, listeners may have seen the paradox inside the Beach Boys’ music as a whole: the drive to be a man, to know the score, to win in small-stakes battles—the animating force of “Shut Down” and “I Get Around”—versus the drive to retreat and regress or live in a world of one’s own invention, which is the drift of Pet Sounds and SMiLE. Both sides of the paradox suggest a naive state. A lot of the allure of the Beach Boys may be about not knowing: about us not knowing them, which is pretty common in the relationship between pop stars and their audiences, but also about them—in some way, if only a performed way—not knowing themselves.

One possible standard for the Beach Boys as a band, as content, as knowable historical reality, is their appearance on "Good Morning America," ABC television, December 1980. Joan Lunden, in New York, interviews the band remotely, through a television monitor. The occasion is the band’s twentieth anniversary, one of the non-musical publicity hooks that have kept Beach Boys music flowing through American commerce.

The group, in Los Angeles, sits on a semicircular couch: the singer and guitarist Al Jardine (diffident, white suit over Hawaiian shirt), the lead singer Mike Love (diplomatic, ball cap and silver racing jacket), and the three Wilson brothers: the maestro Brian (puffy and impassive, thick beard, hair parted on the right), the singer and guitarist Carl (youngest and most eager to please, light suit over aqua-blue, open-necked shirt), and the singer and drummer Dennis (haggard and twitchy in the early morning after his thirty-sixth birthday—brown V-neck long-sleeve shirt and Native American-print knit vest).

Lunden: “Why do you think you’ve had such, you know, continued popularity?”

Dennis makes a rude, exaggerated shrug: Who knows? He is so, so tired. Three years later he would be dead.

Carl gives it a try. “Well, it’s the music, obviously,” he begins. “People enjoy sort of the happy, easygoing sort of spirited music that we make. The sound we all make together.” (What does all of that mean? Is that a style, an organizing principle, or the basis for anything?)

“You have teenagers, some of you,” notes Lunden, a bit later. “Do they like the music you play?

“Yes,” answers Brian, expressionless. He speaks out of the left side of his mouth because he is deaf in his right ear. “I have two daughters, Carnie and Wendy.” Lunden: “How old?” Wilson: “Twelve and ten. And they both love our music. I mean, they play our records on their record players.” (Off-camera, Dennis rumbles: “If they don’t, they go to bed early.”) A little later, Lunden again: “What do you listen to when you’re at home?”

Brian Wilson pauses for two seconds. “I listen to a record called ‘Be My Baby,’ by the Ronettes.”

Lunden laughs, perhaps because it is such an awkwardly specific answer, and because the idea that he might listen to one record over and over is funny. Mike Love begins a canned chuckle before Wilson has finished. “Ah, the legend lives on, right?”

The clip and everything about it—the occasion for its happening, Dennis’s shrug, Al Jardine’s silence, Carl’s gameness, Brian’s self-absorption, Mike Love’s critical stewardship of the narrative—seems to say a lot, in seven minutes, about who the Beach Boys are and how they worked together. In Mike Love’s skeptical, detail-oriented new memoir, Good Vibrations, Love mentions the "Good Morning America" debacle in an implied can-you-believe-I-had-to-put-up-with-this-bullshit kind of way, a tone that obtains through most of the book. He is known for preferring predictable success to artistic nuance—but this can’t quite be squared with the care he claims to put into his lyrics in songs such as “Good Vibrations” and “I Get Around,” nor with his lifelong interest in transcendental meditation. We shouldn’t necessarily think we know him.

Wilson doesn’t mention "Good Morning America" in his own new memoir (his second), I Am Brian Wilson, a book almost the opposite of Love’s: forgiving, chaotically associative. But he often brings up “Be My Baby,” and the song’s ability to “make emotions through sound.” You sense that this is where Wilson really lives: in emotions triggered by sound. The more the book makes that clear, the better it gets.

You will read of Wilson, at a party in the mid-1970s, drunk on chocolate liqueur, commandeering the turntable and playing the song’s drum intro ten times, until told to stop; “then I played it ten more times,” he remembers. (In Peter Ames Carlin’s Catch A Wave: The Rise, Fall & Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, published in 2006, the engineer Steve Desper tells of making a tape loop for Wilson consisting of only “Be My Baby”’s chorus, and leaving Wilson at home to listen to it. “I must have been gone for about four hours,” Desper told Carlin. “And when I came back, he was still listening to that loop over and over, in some kind of a trance.”) In describing his reaction to the song upon first hearing it, he remembers shooting a BB gun, as a boy, at a man in a bean field sitting on a motorcycle; pop!—the man fell off his motorcycle. It was like that, he explains: “Be My Baby” was the BB pellet, shot by someone crouching out of sight; Wilson was the motorcyclist, unaware of what was going to happen to him.

SMiLE may have been Wilson’s peak of creative ambition, perhaps of learning, perhaps of feeling that he knew himself and could believe in his own powers. The record is more Stephen Foster and less Chuck Berry, episodic and digressive, advanced and childlike, stylish and repetitive (he was entranced by the Rolling Stones’ “My Obsession,” a monument of repetition, which he saw being recorded in Los Angeles while making SMiLE). And it was a further step beyond Pet Sounds into new sounds: slide-whistles, marimbas, banjos, harpsichords, glockenspiel, body percussion, saws, hammers, and wild amounts of reverb.

It was also his Waterloo of drugs and psychosis. In I Am… Wilson appears fascinated and baffled by the question of what SMiLE means to people—the book is like Dennis’s shrug, but prolonged and more curious—even though he feels the record was “too much music—not too complicated but too rhapsodic, with too many different sections.” (Those are among the qualities for which many people worship it, and what his great underground-pop idolators of the 1990s—Neutral Milk Hotel, Animal Collective, the High Llamas—were most able to use.)

But back to “Be My Baby.” Wilson’s obsession with that song has indeed inflated to a myth, and Brian Wilson has perpetuated the myth. Neither Wilson nor the Beach Boys as such released a studio version of the song. The closest Wilson ever came to the curve of its melody in his own best work was in “Don’t Worry Baby,” recorded by the Beach Boys in 1964. But guess who did record and release a version, on his only solo album, Looking Back With Love, in 1981? Mike Love’s version is garish, cheesy, almost robotic. Its approach to a great song, Brian Wilson’s sacrament, is seemingly not to celebrate or interpret or amplify or investigate—only to reduce. Strangely enough, Wilson produced it. It feels almost like an insult, or a well-aimed BB shot: possibly a greatest hit. But it’s unclear who, or what, the target is. ###

[Ben Ratliff is a journalist, music critic, and author. Ratliff wrote about pop music and jazz for The New York Times (1996-2016) and has contributed to Granta, Rolling Stone, Spin, The Village Voice, Slate, and Lingua Franca. He also has written four books: Jazz: A Critic's Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings (2002), a critical biography of John Coltrane — Coltrane: The Story of a Sound (2007), The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music (2008), and Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty (2016). Ratliff also teaches cultural criticism at New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study. He received a BA (classics) from Columbia University.]

Copyright © 2016 New York Review of Books

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License..

Copyright © 2016 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Friday, October 28, 2016

Stockholm Calling Bob Dylan: Mr. Dylan? Mr. Dylan? Mr. Dylan? Mr.Dyl... (Click)

Kudos to Adam Kirsch for dissecting Bob Dylan's refusal to acknowledge the Swedish Academy and the proffered 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. An unspoken "Hell, No!" is louder than any statement of refusal. If this is a (fair & balanced) salute to Mokusatsu, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
The Meaning Of Bob Dylan’s Silence
By Adam Kirsch

TagCrowd cloud of the following piece of writing

created at

In the summer of 1964, Bob Dylan released his fourth album, “Another Side of Bob Dylan,” which includes the track “It Ain’t Me Babe.” “Go ’way from my window/Leave at your own chosen speed,” it begins. “I’m not the one you want, babe/I’m not the one you need.”

That fall, the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre played a variation on the same tune in a public statement explaining why, despite having been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, he would not accept it. “The writer,” he insisted, must “refuse to allow himself to be transformed into an institution, even if this occurs under the most honorable circumstances.” Mr. Dylan was talking to an imaginary lover, Sartre to an actual Swedish Academy, but the message was similar: If you love me for what I am, don’t make me be what I am not.

We don’t know whether Mr. Dylan was paying attention to l’affaire Sartre that fall 52 years ago. But now that he has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, he seems to be following in Sartre’s footsteps. Indeed, Mr. Dylan has done the philosopher one better: Instead of declining the prize, he has simply declined to acknowledge its existence. He hasn’t issued a statement or even returned the Swedish Academy’s phone calls. A reference to the award briefly popped up on the official Bob Dylan website and then was deleted — at his instruction or not, nobody knows. And the Swedes, who are used to a lot more gratitude from their laureates, appear to be losing their patience: One member of the Academy has called Mr. Dylan’s behavior “impolite and arrogant.”

There is a good deal of poetic justice in this turn of events. For almost a quarter of a century, ever since Toni Morrison won the Nobel in 1993, the Nobel committee acted as if American literature did not exist — and now an American is acting as if the Nobel committee doesn’t exist. Giving the award to Mr. Dylan was an insult to all the great American novelists and poets who are frequently proposed as candidates for the prize. The all-but-explicit message was that American literature, as traditionally defined, was simply not good enough. This is an absurd notion, but one that the Swedes have embraced: In 2008, the Academy’s permanent secretary, Horace Engdahl, declared that American writers “don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature” and are limited by that “ignorance.”

Still, it’s doubtful that Mr. Dylan intends his silence to be a defense of the honor of American literature. (He did, after all, accept the Pulitzer Prize for “lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”) No one knows what he intends — Mr. Dylan has always been hard to interpret, both as a person and as a lyricist, which is one reason people love him. But perhaps the best way to understand his silence, and to praise it, is to go back to Sartre, and in particular to Sartre’s concept of “bad faith.”

Bad faith, Sartre explains in “Being and Nothingness,” is the opposite of authenticity. Bad faith becomes possible because a human being cannot simply be what he or she is, in the way that an inkwell simply is an inkwell. Rather, because we are free, we must “make ourselves what we are.” In a famous passage, Sartre uses as an example a cafe waiter who performs every part of his job a little too correctly, eagerly, unctuously. He is a waiter playing the role of waiter. But this “being what one is not” is an abdication of freedom; it involves turning oneself into an object, a role, meant for other people. To remain free, to act in good faith, is to remain the undefined, free, protean creatures we actually are, even if this is an anxious way to live.

This way of thinking is what used to be called existentialism, and Mr. Dylan is one of its great products. Living like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone, is living in Sartrean good faith, and much of the strangeness of Mr. Dylan’s life can be understood as a desperate attempt to retain this freedom in the face of the terrific pressure of fame. In a profile in The New Yorker in that same year of 1964, Mr. Dylan was quoted as saying that he didn’t “want to write for people anymore” but rather wanted to “write from inside me.”

To be a Nobel laureate, however, is to allow “people” to define who one is, to become an object and a public figure rather than a free individual. The Nobel Prize is in fact the ultimate example of bad faith: A small group of Swedish critics pretend to be the voice of God, and the public pretends that the Nobel winner is Literature incarnate. All this pretending is the opposite of the true spirit of literature, which lives only in personal encounters between reader and writer. Mr. Dylan may yet accept the prize, but so far, his refusal to accept the authority of the Swedish Academy has been a wonderful demonstration of what real artistic and philosophical freedom looks like. ###'

[Adam Kirsch is a poet and critic and the author of seven books, including Benjamin Disraeli (2008) and Why Trilling Matters (2011) which was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award in biography. Most recently, Kirsch has written Emblems of the Passing World: Poems after Photographs by August Sander (2015). His writing appears regularly in the New Yorker, the New Republic, the New York Review of Books, and other publications. He is a columnist for Tablet magazine, and teaches on the seminar faculty of Columbia's Center for American Studies. Kirsch received a BA (English) from Harvard College.]

Copyright © 2016 The New York Times Company

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License..

Copyright © 2016 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Thursday, October 27, 2016

2016: The Year Of Voting Irrationally

One of the resounding points made in this essay is that "the folk theory of democracy" is a canard. The Stupid party candidate for POTUS 45 expressed an anti-democratic impulse when he suggested that he would refuse to concede the 2016 election if she (wink wink) won. Horror swept through the conventional punditry at the Stupid One's temerity to defy the "folk theory of democracy" that upholds the belief that democracy makes the people the rulers, and legitimacy derives from their consent. To defy the election result is heretical in our civil religion. Lee Drutman upholds the revision of the "folk theory of democracy" for a "realist theory of democracy." If this is a (fair & balanced) reinterpretation of the meaning of democracy, so be it.

[x CHE]
Ballot Pox
By Lee Drutman

TagCrowd cloud of the following piece of writing

created at

In 2016, it’s become fashionable to bemoan the state of American democracy. But maybe the problem is that we were expecting too much out of it in the first place.

That’s one takeaway from Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government (2016), a book that came out in the spring but that, as this election year comes to a climax, deserves to be highlighted as one of the most bracing books of political science to arrive in a long time. Political scientists have taken a lot of heat (unfairly in many cases) for getting the rise of Donald Trump wrong. But in Democracy for Realists, Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels (of Princeton and Vanderbilt, respectively) have come out with an impressively comprehensive statement on the limits of electoral democracy, a book that can both explain the emergence of Trump and potentially charts a new course for the field.

Esteemed political scientists, Achen and Bartels offer a harsh but fair message to their discipline: Too much of political science has been working with bunk assumptions for decades, ones that would overstate rationality and underappreciate Trump’s white-identity-politics appeal. It all amounts to a compelling claim that both political science and good-government advocacy are overrun with what Thomas Kuhn would call "anomalies" — the pesky empirical observations that seem to contradict the prevailing theoretical paradigms.

Perhaps it is finally time to stop pretending there is such a thing as a rational voter who seeks information to vote based on the issues alone, as decades of political-science research has assumed. Instead, Achen and Bartels argue, we can only progress by accepting that most voters are deeply uninformed and lack meaningful preferences, and even those who do know and care about politics are all just partisan loyalists. Can we acknowledge that social-group identities are the most important structuring force in politics, and politics is really at heart just identity politics? And can we build new theories around the undeniable evidence that politics is and always will be based on emotion and conflict, not logic and consensus?

For political science, this argument actually amounts to a rediscovery of old truths about group conflict being the center of politics. A half century ago, these were the mainstream views in the discipline. At that time, political science was also much more qualitative — for example, congressional scholars actually hung out in Washington and spent hours talking to people who worked there, instead of only staring at computers analyzing data — and sociological, in that scholars focused more on norms and cultures and folkways than they did on modeling individual incentives.

But sometime in the 1960s, political science took a turn away from groups and toward "rational individualism." Scholars began to treat both voters and politicians as utility-maximizing actors who had consistent and externally determined preferences along some unidimensional left-right spectrum. (Where these preferences came from, it was never clear.) And scholars also assumed these voters knew enough to adequately express these preferences meaningfully. Voters and officeholders and groups all existed in a "game" in which they tried to move policy to their "ideal point." Voters tried to hold politicians "accountable" for their performance, while politicians "maximized" their utility from office holding. Economics, not sociology, became the model discipline. Incentives replaced norms and cultures.

These assumptions were popular in the academy because they made both formal modeling and fancy statistical analysis more tractable, and therefore made political science more "scientific." Plus, there was plenty of easily accessible data on elections, roll-call votes, and public-opinion surveys to be tilled into publishable journal articles. "The result," Achen and Bartels write, "was a body of work that was simultaneously advanced in its methods and antiquated in its ideas."

They were also popular because they fit with the prevailing good-government idea, what Achen and Bartels dismissively call "the folk theory of democracy." Under the folk theory, "Democracy makes the people the rulers, and legitimacy derives from their consent." Elections should and can be meaningful events that truly empower the people. Therefore, if democracy has gone wrong, it’s merely because our voters are too uninformed, our candidates are too corrupt, our political discourse is too awash in lies. Like political science, good-government reformers pursued an idealized world of informed voters making meaningful independent choices that could give them actual power.

For Achen and Bartels, all this reformist moral exhortation is an exercise in futility. All the standard bromides of good-government reformers — more participation, better civic education, a more responsible media — represent mountains of wasted good intention that will never lead to more responsive government.

The most obvious flaw of the folk theory is that it expects far too much out of citizens: "Can ordinary people, busy with their lives and with no firsthand experience of policy making or public administration, do what the theory expects them to do?" Of course not. "Mostly," Achen and Bartels write, "they identify with ethnic, racial, occupation, religious or other sorts of groups, and often — whether through group ties or hereditary loyalties — with a political party."

For as long as political scientists have been measuring public opinion, they have found the same thing: Most citizens know very little about government and even less about policy. The 1960 classic The American Voter (1960, 1980), by Angus Campbell, Philip Converse, Warren Miller, and Donald Stokes, concluded that there was a "general impoverishment of political thought in a large proportion of the electorate." In 1964, Converse famously concluded that (in Achen and Bartels’s words) "the ‘belief systems’ of ordinary citizens are generally thin, disorganized and ideologically incoherent."

What is new with Achen and Bartels’s work is the suggestion that, after a half century of reformers and scholars wishing it were otherwise, it’s finally time to make peace with a simple fact of political life: Informed, individualistic rationality is a chimera. As Achen and Bartels write, "Converse’s argument is, if anything, even better supported a half-century later than it was when he wrote."

In addition to not knowing much, most voters also don’t fit neatly on the one-dimensional left-right spectrum that most everybody assumes they do. Among most voters, social issues and economic issues are largely independent, which means that most voters’ opinions are not well represented in a two-party system. But the deeper anti-democratic problem is that since elections reduce multidimensional issue spaces to binary choices, parties and leaders (not voters) shape the alternatives. Voters are left to choose between A and B. But for most voters, that binary choice represents something far from their ideal. Acknowledging this, however, means throwing out Anthony Downs’s "median voter theorem," another central paradigm of political-science work for half a century. Downs’s theory predicts that candidates will converge on a mythical political center, a prediction that has now been at odds with reality for long enough to call it into serious question. It also means acknowledging the fundamentally arbitrary nature of political conflict, and the fact that there can be no meaningful "will of the people" when voters are all over the map.

But even if we cast ideology aside and focus on performance alone, voters and therefore elections are not up to the task. Time after time, voters have blamed or rewarded incumbents for the state of the economy when incumbents’ actions had nothing to do with it. "Even perceptions of well-being," write Achen and Bartels, "are subject to considerable vagaries. Prospective voters’ economic perceptions are powerfully shaped by partisan biases, rationalization, and sheer randomness." Voters blame incumbents for droughts and floods and even shark attacks. They should know that these things are not the fault of politicians. But they don’t.

At this point, a subscriber to the folk theory might say, OK, well, this may all be true. But surely if voters were better educated, if they knew more, they would make better decisions.

Yet this is no solution either, because the more informed citizens are, the more they become reliable partisans. Most people "let their party tell them what to think about the issues of the day." And "for most people, partisanship is … but a reflection of judgments about where ‘people like me’ belong." As Achen and Bartels cleverly title their chapter explaining how all information gets filtered through partisan lenses, "It Feels Like We’re Thinking: The Rationalizing Voter."

So what’s the alternative? Democracy for Realists is mostly concerned with killing the folk theory of democracy and bursting the dominant political-science paradigm of "rational individualism." But its authors do offer some guidance to would-be builders of a new paradigm: "A realist theory of democracy," they write, "must be founded on a realistic theory of political psychology. At present, nothing of that kind exists."

For political scientists, this suggests a whole new research agenda, one in which the modern scientific tools of advanced formal modeling and sophisticated data analysis seem less relevant, and the old sociological approaches of close observation of actual people seems a lot more relevant. It also suggests revitalizing the study of "interest groups," long a marginalized subfield within American politics, and going beyond surveys to understand how identities and groups structure political life, as exemplified in the work of scholars like Katherine J. Cramer and Theda Skocpol.

For the good-government reform community, this suggests something equally radical: giving up on the deeply held belief that American democracy can be solved by giving citizens more opportunities to participate by emailing Congress or voting, and an end to thinking all would be better if more people would just "get informed on the issues." Instead, it means thinking harder about how citizens can use their collective capacity to shape the agendas and issue positions of politicians before and between elections, by engaging in more policy advocacy and trying to shape politicians’ priorities.

It also means coming to terms with the fact that we don’t think for ourselves; we think together. And maybe that’s fine. Partisanship and group loyalties are inevitable, and they can even be good things if they can help us realize shared interests. Given the centrality of identity politics in the 2016 election, the evidence is clearly on the side of Achen and Bartels. The big question is whether both political science and good-government reformers will finally face up to it. ###

[Lee Drutman is a senior fellow in the program on political reform at New America and the author of The Business of America Is Lobbying (2015).He received a BA (English and American literature, magna cum laude) from Brown University and both an MA and PhD (political science) from the University of California at Berkeley.]

Copyright © 2016 The Chronicle of Higher Education

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License..

Copyright © 2016 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Theo's Impossible Dream: Reverse The Curse?

The meeting of the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indigenous Peoples in Game 1 of the 2016 World Serious provided the irony of a meeting between two mythic figures in reversing the Curse of the Bambino that had haunted the Boston Red Sox for decades: Theo Epstein, the chief executive of the Chicago Cubs organization and Terry Francona, the Cleveland manager. Previously, Epstein (the Boston GM) and Francona (the Boston manager) had been integral components of Boston's World Serious wins in 2004 and again in 2007. In the first game of the 2016 MLB championship series, the former collaborators in Boston were with opposing teams. If this is the (fair & balanced) equivalent of present-day Aristotlian tragedy, so be it.

[x ESPN The 'Zine]
The Mastermind
By Wright Thpmpson

TagCrowd cloud of the following piece of writing

created at

Editor's note: This story contains explicit language.

Theo Epstein's got a finger bleeding on his pick hand.

There is blood on the strings and the fretboard, and he keeps hammering away on Pearl Jam and Led Zeppelin covers. He's sitting on a small orange amplifier, playing loud and fast. It's 1 in the morning in late August in the Cubs' players lounge beneath Wrigley Field, and he's got a half-cocked smile and his leg kicked out, about to do one more song before heading home. Pearl Jam finished a show at Wrigley two hours ago and the beer buzzes are wearing off. His wife, Marie Whitney, rolls her eyes at his rock star pose. She's earned a Harvard degree, and killed a scorpion with a shovel, in a rented spring training house, so she clearly doesn't take Theo's shit. Nobody here does. The room holds a mix of Theo's friends from Yale, San Diego and Boston, the people who've known him for 20 years, long before he became a boy wonder now slipping into middle age. Some guys take turns at Pop-a-Shot or air hockey, while a few sit in the big comfortable recliners and watch sports highlights. Theo plays the opening riff to "Better Man." His friend Sean leans into a microphone and starts to sing, and soon everyone in the room joins him. Theo hits the chords hard as the chorus approaches, and his grin, with the little gap between his teeth, makes him seem a lot younger than 42.

It's been a really good night in a summer full of them. His favorite band growing up was Pearl Jam, and today he watched the group play in what is essentially his office. He managed to stay in his seats, Row 10, right in front of the soundboard, until the first few bars of "Even Flow." Then he worked his way to the front, almost getting his friends onto the stage at one point, finally ending up in the pit. Twice a security guard shined a flashlight at him to get him down from the riser he used to better see the band. He held a beer cup in his teeth and cupped his hands behind his ears to make the music louder. From time to time he turned around and looked at the crowd, packed in every corner of the ballpark, bathed in the lights from the stage.

Eddie Vedder came out for an encore wearing a Cubs jersey. He thanked the team's management and "my great, great friend Theo Epstein." Theo's friends patted him on the back, and Theo raised his hand high in the air and gave devil horns as thanks. Three of Ron Santo's kids walked onto the stage. Vedder said what a gift it was for him, a lifelong Cubs fan, to play Wrigley Field during this magical season. Then he began strumming the song he wrote about the team. Theo and his two friends put their arms around one another, swaying to the music, and they all sang the chorus as loud as they could: "Someday we'll go all the way!"

Epstein walked home from the show through the dark streets of Wrigleyville and Lakeview. He walks to work every morning too, whether it's the dead of winter or Opening Day or the first playoff game. Most of the easy stroll from his house to the ballpark is through a quiet neighborhood. When it's really hot, kids on his corner set up a lemonade stand, 50 cents a cup. Most people don't recognize him with his baseball hat pulled low, one of the most famous sports executives in the country, the man who embraced the culture of analytics to finally bring a title to the Red Sox. When he got that job, at 28, he was the youngest general manager in baseball history, and in the 14 years since, he's built a reputation as a kind of championship whisperer.

It's seven blocks to his office.

Inside there is a window separating the baseball operations world, run by Theo, and the rest of the Cubs' business side. Sprawling formulas and equations fill the glass, straight-up vector-calculus-looking madness, which is exactly what everyone expects to see in Theo Epstein's office. Except it's all a joke, just fake numbers dressed up with sines and cosines.

"It's meaningless," Theo says, laughing.

Epstein knows how others see him, and he's self-aware enough to both understand his reputation and mock it. His friends are always baffled at his image as a cold exploiter of markets and inferior systems. One night this summer, the owner of the team, Tom Ricketts, held court at a charity boxing match and explained that few people are as different from their public narrative as Theo: He gets painted as a quant, while his attachment to baseball is actually deeply emotional. When the team is on the road, or playing a home night game, he sometimes brings his lunch to Wrigley just to eat in the empty bleachers. He loves how the ivy turns bright red at the end of October, which most fans don't know because the team has never played in Wrigley that late in the year. He loves the changing seasons, and quoting both "Dazed and Confused" and "Othello," and reading the Russian writers whose dramas play out inside the psyches of their characters. He read Crime and Punishment once in high school and again in college -- and he feels that those kinds of internal struggles are authentic to his own, which isn't against his environment (upper-class Jewish) or his station (intellectual Brookline, Massachusetts) but rather against the things inside his own head, cycles of guilt, passion and redemption. The main battle he fights is against himself. "If I let my brain follow its path unfettered, it would be kinda ugly," he says. "I learned simple mental health things: self-talk, breathing."

His public mission is simple and well-known: Break another curse. But privately, he came to the Cubs for something personal and nearly as important, which he doesn't talk about. In Boston, he lost control of his obsession, the belief that a collective of people can do one thing better than it's ever been done. At the very end, he became a shell of the person who fell in love with the game, stress turning into physical symptoms, like a neck that hurt so bad he couldn't turn his head more than a few degrees. His friends saw how the job changed his face. That's what they talk about when describing the cost Theo paid, how he looked different. "There is definitely at times a hollowness to him that drives him," says one of his old Red Sox co-workers. "There's some black pockets with him that are just dark. When he's down, he goes to extremes."

During the Red Sox's famous chicken-and-beer collapse, he couldn't sleep. Staff members made jokes about waiting on the sun to rise, mocking their own despair. But on a few bad nights, when things felt bleak, Theo would wander the internet, lingering on macabre things like air traffic controller recordings from plane crashes. He knew he needed to leave Boston, to start fresh, no matter how the collapse made the exit look or feel. "I hated I was seen as running from the collapse," he says, "but I guess on some level, I was running from something."

He arrived in Chicago to rebuild a franchise -- and part of himself too.

The rebuild is nearly complete, and the marching order for the 2016 Cubs baseball operations staffers is written on their conference room wall in huge letters: Find Pitching. Over the past four years, they've assembled great position players, trading for Anthony Rizzo and drafting Kris Bryant. While they were planning for the future, the actual team stunk, losing 101 games in 2012. Epstein and his brothers-in-arms Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod -- who all have tiered job titles but operate as a politburo -- sat in their suite, which has a bank of televisions and half a dozen remote controls scattered about. While the big league Cubs got killed down on the field below, they watched the Cubs of tomorrow dominate in the minor leagues on those TV screens. Some nights, giddy about the future and about to go down into a losing clubhouse, they had to remind each other: Don't act too happy.

A season like 2016 is why Epstein got paid nearly $4 million a year to move from Boston, bringing up two MVP candidates through the farm system and getting seven players on the All-Star team. The Cubs have the best chance of any team to win the World Series -- even if those odds aren't great. Theo had his people run statistical models on their chances, and the answer was less than 1 in 5.

To make a real postseason run, the team needs to use the trading deadline to find more pitching. And so Theo takes over a small space in the ticket sales office for the last week of July, turning it into a war room. The first trade brings reliever Mike Montgomery from the Mariners, a needed lefty. Less than an hour later, Epstein heads to the South Loop for a party thrown by Joe Maddon, and then across town for sushi. His friend and co-worker Colin Faulkner drives. As they get into the car, a drunk Red Sox fan opens Theo's door for him, ushering him into his seat while slurring out a thank-you for 2004. When Colin puts it in gear, Theo takes out his phone. Find Pitching. It's 9 PM on a Wednesday.

"I gotta call our pitching coach real quick," he says.

He dials Chris Bosio's number.

"Boz?" Theo says, followed by nearly two minutes of silence as Bosio describes that night's Triple-A game. Colin drives south on Clark Street, then underneath the El tracks, past the LaSalle-Van Buren stop, where a train click-clacks overhead. They pass the Americana Submarine shop while Bosio explains the situation: Veteran reliever Joe Nathan, trying to make it back to the big leagues, is pitching what amounts to an audition in Triple-A. The Cubs want him to stay down for another outing.

"Just tell him one more," Theo says to Bosio. "If it's bad, we'll probably cut bait rather than waste a roster spot. I think one more is fair."

Theo hangs up as Colin drives over Lower Wacker, turning to cross the Chicago River. They're near the restaurant when Epstein calls assistant general manager Shiraz Rehman to tell him what they've decided about Nathan. Rehman doesn't answer, so Theo calls Scott Harris, who just turned 29, the youngest one in the inner circle. These guys talk to each other more than they talk to their families.

"Hey, what's up?" Theo says. "Hey, I'm gonna conference Shiraz in ..."

He calls back Rehman, who picks up this time. "Shiraz," he says. "I got Harris on too, who I called after you didn't answer. Harris, you there?"

Shiraz apologizes. Theo laughs. "Nah," he says, "no problem."

He pauses.

"Well, dogs need to be walked."

He pauses again.

"Just a missed opportunity for a major league club trying to win the World Series," he says.

He laughs again, then leaves a final pause.

"Nah, I'm just kidding," he says, although people who've worked for Theo say his barbs always come with a little sharp, truthful edge. His point tonight is pretty clear.

Pitching first, then the dog.

One of his friends lovingly describes Theo as a "dick," which covers a multitude of behaviors. Epstein creates a movable locker room wherever he goes, where the most valuable currency is the ability to give shit, and to take it. After a game at Wrigley this summer, he walks across the street to the baseball operations office. The room is full of proprietary information, which the Cubs closely guard. "The only thing that is on the record in the whole office is that picture of Jed up there," Theo says, pointing as everyone laughs. Hanging high on the wall is an enormous photograph of Jed Hoyer posing in a field, in front of a turquoise pickup truck, with another man. Their feet are kicked back, like they're about to kiss in an Audrey Hepburn movie. It's Jed and his brother-in-law. They married twins, who'd posed for the same photo moments before. Jed did it as a joke, and it hit Facebook or Instagram, which meant Theo eventually saw it. Now it's blown up on the wall.

Theo's friends love to tell stories -- stories that define him to them as strongly as his use of data does to baseball fans. When the guy who wears the Cubs mascot costume started taking his job a little too seriously, Theo stole the head and then took a series of dirty photographs. In 2004 during spring training, he put laxatives in a bowl of hummus. The young guys knew to stay away from any appetizers Theo brought to the rental house, but an old baseball hand dug in and paid the colonic price. Nearly three years ago, he and a bunch of guys celebrated Hoyer's 40th birthday at one of their favorite Chicago restaurants, called Girl and the Goat. Once the evening got the better of them, Theo climbed the tall rotating neon goat in the place, nearly falling, cutting his right shoulder in the process. He posed for pictures with his wound, laughing at the imagined headlines: "Cubs President Felled by Curse of the Goat."

Now, after getting his dig in on Jed's photo, he sees one of his youngest employees wearing green slacks. Theo grins, pauses and then says, "He's waiting to win the Masters to complete his suit," and everyone laughs, including the butt of the joke. The one-liners are always pointed and often baseball-nerd specific. In 2002, Adam Grossman, currently a Red Sox vice president, wanted to make a good impression on his first day of work. He wore his best college-frat-guy clothes, complete with trendy loafers, and introduced himself to Theo by the batting cage. They shook hands. Theo looked down at Adam's feet.

"What would John McGraw say about those shoes?" he deadpanned.

Later that season, he stood on a desk and performed a dramatic public reading of the earnest cover letter Grossman wrote to apply for his job, leaving Grossman wanting to crawl beneath the floor. Hoyer had to come in behind Theo and make sure the kid was OK.

When Theo is mad, he likes to break stuff. Back in Boston, they all remember one night after a tough loss when he waved around a driver in the office. He set up a ball with the intention of crushing it down a narrow corridor, either into an empty office door or, better yet, shattering a window. With folks crowded around, he gave it a go, and the ball hit a concrete pole, then caromed at an impossible angle ... straight into the forehead of Ben Cherington, the VP of player personnel. They heard the moans first. Blood gushed from the wound. Minutes later, Theo went outside to meet Ben's irate wife, who'd planned on picking her husband up that evening to move stuff to their new house. "Don't be mad" is how Theo opened the conversation. Later, he signed the golf ball and gave it to Ben as a joke.

"He can't shut off The Theo," Grossman says.

Nobody in Boston took more shit than Amiel Sawdaye, who came to the Red Sox in 2002 and is now a vice president of scouting. Sawdaye gave it back harder than anyone else, sometimes literally trading punches with Epstein, wearing the boxing gloves they kept in the office to blow off steam. Around the time Epstein was moving to Chicago, Sawdaye sold his house while buying another that wasn't nearly ready for a move-in. His plan was to take his family to spring training, but a medical emergency with one of his children ruined that plan. He didn't have anywhere to live, so Theo waited to sell his and Marie's place in Boston so Sawdaye and his family could room for free. Despite the pranks, Theo is often thoughtful and generous. Once, Epstein sent a banner of Kris Bryant, which had been hanging on Wrigley Field, to Bryant's father. When a roving minor league consultant, Mike Roberts, lost his wife of 46 years, Epstein invited him on the road with the Cubs -- his first time ever traveling with a big league club, after a lifetime in the game -- and the players' wives and girlfriends made sure to deliver food when Roberts was at home.

He's always had a deep sense of empathy, of knowing what other people are feeling. For most of his life, he's reflected the energy of the room he's in, able to shape-shift, or more accurately, not able to not shape-shift. If he's talking with Kevin Millar or John Lackey, he can be just as filthy as the crustiest big league ballplayer. With rock stars, he can talk eloquently about the challenges and risks of fame, or really get into discussions of gear. With analytics experts, he can go deep on simulation methodology. He can talk Nantucket real estate with millionaires, yachts with billionaires and reality shows with the interns. "I don't think I'm a chameleon," Epstein says one night. "I can feel where people are coming from, what makes them tick, where they are vulnerable, what makes them feel good about themselves. I get just as much out of it as they do. I love connecting."

It began in part at Fenway, he and his father and twin brother, Paul, often walking to the park for games. Theo not only remembers but still inhabits those long-ago moments: his dad holding his hand through Gate A; the sound of the creaky turnstile; the smell of the brown-mustard packets, the dirt, the grass. Leslie Epstein let each boy pick three things from concessions, either spread out or all at once. Theo would go with a Fenway Frank, a pretzel and a little carton of milk. The company that made the hot dogs was called Kirschner, which became the Epstein family code word for fans who came to games but didn't know baseball. If someone sat next to them who treated it as a social outing, Leslie would say, "K-k-kirschner, boys. Kirschner," and Paul and Theo would explode in laughter. Some days, the boys would play arcade games or go candlepin bowling at Ryan Family Amusements, just down the street from the ballpark.

Twenty-five years later, Theo gave away his first World Series ring to his father, because seeing his dad stare quietly at it felt much better than getting it himself. His strongest memory of the 2004 celebration is watching the other baseball operations people pouring champagne on one another, seeing the look on Johnny Pesky's face. Such moments are fragile, and the state of rapture he craves is only achievable in concert with others. The morning after the Red Sox won in 2004, the team landed and made the familiar drive from Logan to Fenway. Theo gets chills even now remembering the cars pulled over on the side of the road and the Red Sox hats sitting on top of gravestones in a cemetery they passed. An entire city stopped. The living celebrated being alive, and they also remembered the dead.

The next title, won three years later in part by homegrown players Theo's crew found and nurtured -- Lester, Papelbon, Pedroia and Ellsbury, selected in four successive drafts -- felt deep and satisfying in its own right. He longs for that again, and a title in Chicago would combine the best of 2004 and 2007. He's after a feeling, even if he knows better than most how quickly it goes away, and how hard it is to find once it's gone.

On an exceptionally hot morning in July, Epstein stands outside his office on the sidewalk near Clark Street, sheepishly explaining why his phone is shattered. He broke it in a fit of anger when the team slumped before the All-Star break and hasn't found the time to get a new one.

All teams are more fragile than people want to admit to themselves.

"If we have a horseshit month, if we lose this lead, they will be paying attention to what time I come into the office," he says. "They will be thinking we got complacent. It's a human phenomenon that there has to be a reason for everything. There almost never is. Inexplicable shit, like flipping a coin or the outcome of a baseball game, we need to tell ourselves a story: This team has great chemistry. This team is tough. You know what? That shit all matters, but it's never the full answer that people want it to be. It's why we have stories about the stars in the sky, and the planets and the seas and gods and mythology. We evolve to a point where we can tell and understand the stories. Some are real and some are not, but we attach meaning to all of them."

This inability to control the most important thing in his life makes him, he admits, something of a junkie, which leads to a life without balance. Attempts by other teams to replicate his analytical process are misguided, because his baseball philosophy in truth comes from a hardwired place in his psyche. More than an exploiter of undervalued markets or an expert at predicting which high school seniors might turn into All-Stars, Epstein is completely unhinged. He obsesses over details, from the draft board to the recruiting video he made while wooing Jon Lester, complete with a fake World Series call by the real Cubs announcers, to the time he spent trolling taxidermy websites to find the perfect stuffed bear for the players' cafeteria. Last year, while the Cubs were building a new clubhouse, he hyperfocused on the number of inches between the couch and the ottoman. "I have dozens of pictures of circular sectionals," he says.

Standing on the street between his office and Wrigley Field, as a few fans hang back waiting for his intensity to fade enough to ask for an autograph -- a popular request is a baseball inscribed with "Reverse the Curse" -- he describes how they go about researching the backgrounds of people the team might want as players. For instance, in the Summer of Find Pitching, he gets a dossier on closer Aroldis Chapman, which includes the allegation of firing a pistol in his garage after an argument with his girlfriend. But the closer, according to outside simulations, raises the Cubs' chance of a title to slightly less than 1 in 4. Epstein is faced with a difficult decision.

Over the course of days, he collects information, weighs it, then makes a call. He sends a pitcher and three prospects to the Yankees and acquires Chapman. Giving up those players will absolutely make the Cubs weaker in the future, which Epstein knows, but the team needs a closer like Chapman to make a real October run.

The trading deadline, he laments over and over, is a "mindfuck." But his rationale is cold: The sign in his office still says Find Pitching.

He enjoys it, however, this hunt for information. It's the part of the job most connected to the questions he asks about himself. He loves the dossiers the scouts put together, full of details about friends and enemies, with copies of incriminating photos floating around the internet for stars like Chapman, and for high school kids, descriptions of their childhood bedrooms. "They write these background reports that all read like Russian novels," he says one day. "I'm telling you, everyone's life is a fucking Russian novel if you dig deep enough. Everyone."

Epstein might have ended up a writer or a lawyer or a juvenile delinquent, except for three things that happened around the time he turned 12. In the spring of 1985, his favorite baseball computer game on the old Apple II, Micro League Baseball, released a general manager disk that allowed him to make deals and create rosters. The game was just a year old, the first real simulator that emphasized strategy and not hand-eye coordination. Theo created a team of all Negro League players and dominated the computer game. Later that year, when he was 12, he got his first Bill James historical abstract, which came out in December of '85. Ten months after that, the 1986 Red Sox lost the World Series, and so Bill James and Micro League Baseball no longer appealed to him in a purely intellectual vacuum. They gave him a way to put his broken heart back together, combining the emotional and factual for the first time into a worldview. One night this summer, he's asked if any of his success would have happened if he hadn't been 12 in the fall of 1986. There's a long pause.

"Probably not," he says finally.

At Yale, he applied for baseball internships and landed in Baltimore, where he organized a celebration of many of those same Negro League players he got to know on his computer. His fantasy became real when a position in San Diego led him back to Boston as assistant general manager. When Billy Beane decided not to take the Red Sox job, the owners took a chance on the 28-year-old already working down in the basement.

The morning Epstein became the GM, he walked outside his condo near Fenway and found camera crews waiting, and they followed him to work as he reminded himself not to trip, concentrating on the steps. Even now in Chicago, he often tugs at the bill of his cap, a nervous tick left over from when he became a public figure overnight. "I was emotionally 16 when I was 28 and got the job," he says, then going on to describe how he acted in high school. "I was so introverted. I used to follow people home. I just like being anonymous so much that I would follow people home because they didn't know who I was and I could watch them. I know how that sounds. I could not exist but observe. I could put a hat on and follow them."

He nailed the news conference and then went to work. A few hours into the job, his co-worker and childhood friend Sam Kennedy called him.

"What are you doing?" Sam asked.

"I'm just sitting here being the GM," Theo said.

Back at home, Marie bought him an ice cream cake to celebrate his new job, but he stayed so late at the office, the cake melted. That should have been a warning. Those in the baseball ops team chased a title at the exclusion of nearly everything in their lives. They rarely left, working 18-hour days. When they did finally rejoin the real world, they kept talking about baseball, at Theo's apartment, or at a bar, or at one of the neighborhood places where they ate over and over again: tacos at El Pelon or chicken-fried rice at Rod-Dee II. Theo scoured the baseball rulebook for accidental loopholes to exploit, accepting nothing, even coming up with new ways to interview managers, like making Terry Francona manage a series simulation against the smartest data guy in the office. (Francona drew.) They grew up together, Theo, Jason McLeod, Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington. At the time, only Cherington was married, although he'd end up divorced. The lines between work and home disappeared. "There's a real connection," Hoyer says. "We were each other's families in a lot of ways."

Everything in Theo's world centered on his office in a basement, far away from the main Red Sox office on the second floor. That basement wasn't always used by the Sox. Before, it had been Ryan Family Amusements, where Theo and Paul Epstein went bowling and played arcade games, so that every morning he went to work, Theo plugged into the constellation of memories from his childhood.

Those years were the best of his life.

Then they won the World Series.

Theo called Patriots coach Bill Belichick for advice on how to handle success.

"You're fucked," Belichick told him.

They had won twotitles under Epstein, but by the end of his Boston tenure, the boy who'd fallen in love with the Red Sox had turned into a man who needed to get as far from the team as he could. The Boston sports media machine has written thousands of words about why this rise and fall happened, but the simplest explanation lies in Belichick's warning to Theo. The football coach laid out the conflict between winning and human weakness. Everyone would start wanting credit and feel like the underappreciated key to the entire machine. Theo saw this come true almost immediately.

A cold war broke out between the baseball ops bunker and the second floor, the conflict cutting through every part of the organization. Epstein felt that some of his bosses were obsessed with optics and credit, more worried about personally winning a news cycle than helping create the culture that had developed in Theo's world. "It's rare you can find true togetherness, selflessness, connectedness," Epstein says. "We had that in baseball ops. It was in opposition to what I saw going on in the rest of the company."

Theo is an absolutist. He came to see the fight against the business side as completely black and white, good and evil -- "French Revolution shit," he says -- and in the next seven years, he quit his job twice, first in 2005 for 80 days, the second time for good in 2011.

In 2005, he turned down a contract, unable to work with people who would plant stories in the paper to minimize blame for trades and who worried more about public perception than the long-term health of the franchise. Theo gathered his staff members in the basement and told them he loved them, and that they'd always be family, but he couldn't do this anymore. Several people burst into tears, and he broke down too. They started drinking beer and telling stories, while reporters covering the contract dispute gathered outside the door with television cameras. Because it was Halloween, Theo put on a co-worker's gorilla costume and did a full slide down the conference table in the war room. Then he sneaked past the reporters in costume. When he got home, his confused dog went crazy barking until he took off the gorilla head. After nearly three months of feeling adrift and pathetic, however, Epstein went back to work in the basement. He couldn't stay away.

The second time he quit his job, he and his bosses still hadn't resolved the conflict between baseball and business. He read reports about how winning alone wouldn't stop NESN's flagging ratings; the focus group data said his office needed to chase and sign the big-name free agents, whether the team needed them or not. Epstein felt the culture "jumping the shark," as he puts it today, but also says the only person to blame for his problems was himself. He chased the likes of Carl Crawford. He overreacted to the reports about television ratings. He'd once been willing to quit his job over these kinds of battles, but in the winter of 2010-11, he didn't even have the energy to fight them. Always self-critical, he felt himself slipping, showing the same weaknesses he couldn't abide in others.

Then he started to hear whispers about the Chicago job. Epstein needed out of Boston, or rather, he needed to return to how Boston felt in 2002.

The youngest guys in the Cubs' office work in the baseball operations video room, located between Theo's office and the door he uses to leave the building. When he wants a little hit of youth, he sticks his head in on the way out. Sometimes, after catching them watching reality television instead of breaking down film, he'll pull up a chair.

He loves reflecting the energy of that room.

There's always some new toy finding its way into their lives. The new Cubs baseball operations office, currently under construction across the street, will have a USA-CCCP bubble hockey game, which Theo wanted and found online. For a while now in Chicago, they've been jumping, just to see who can go the highest. At first, they used marks on a wall to keep score. That wasn't enough for Theo, whose instinct is to amplify everything until it is as ridiculous as possible. He tasked one of his guys with finding the exact model of equipment the NFL uses at the combine to measure vertical leap. The contraption cost $800 and is installed near the back left corner of the room.

"Eli, you're up," Theo says one night around 10 in the still-busy office.

Eli Shayer is a rising junior at Stanford by way of Anchorage, Alaska, who has done his own research about "the Frictional Cost of a Call to the Bullpen" and written something called a "Monte Carlo Markov model simulator in C++."

"Eli is a live, in-the-flesh intern," Theo says.

Shayer takes his dress shirt off and stretches up to set his standing mark. Everyone gathers around. Eli starts to bend and stretch and leaps up for his first attempt. He keeps going. Theo compliments Eli when he betters that first try, loving someone digging in and improving. The young staffers are always trying to impress Theo, perpetually the most annoying on the waiver wire in their office fantasy football league.

Tonight Epstein's encouraging, talking smack. "I thought Marshalls was out of small white T-shirts," he says, then he asks the scorekeeper how Shayer is doing so far.

"Nineteen inches," Davey says.

"And what was my best? Twenty-one?" Theo asks.


Theo turns to Eli.

"Now, be smart here," he says.

The Cardinals radio network broadcasts a game in the background. Some guys work. Others lean in for Eli's next jump.

Eli gets 2 more inches.

"One more," Theo says. "You can do it."

Someone in the background pokes fun at Epstein's competitive streak.

"If you do this," he says, "Theo will be here all night."

Eli leaps up and beats Theo's best mark.

"Twenty-two?" Theo asks, and when someone nods, he starts to stretch.

People are really laughing now.

"Am I reracking this for you?" Davey asks Theo.

"We're going around the office while I get loose," Theo says.

The other guys take turns. Theo floats around the room, disappearing into his office to work the phone. To the left of his desk he's hung the biggest thing on his wall, an enormous photograph of Ted Williams. The picture is from Ted's rookie year, Williams wearing a small-town grin, closer in age to Eli than Theo. Epstein loves the joy on Williams' face, how he's still happy and hopeful, not yet hardened into the angry man who wouldn't tip his hat to the crowd. It serves as a kind of visual mantra, a reminder to Theo to keep himself and his office young and ideologically pure, giving them all a chance to stay together, to keep the decay of Boston from following them to Chicago.

The photo is an emotional North Star.

The main difference between 11-year-old Theo in front of an Apple II and 42-year-old Theo across from Wrigley Field are the rewards and, of course, the risks. The older you get, the more there is to lose, and the less time there is to get it back. He's got crow's-feet and gray temples. He's got two kids and two homes. He's got a marriage forced to coexist with his obsession. One night this season, his baby monitor woke him up and he couldn't fall back asleep. He went down the hall to the guest room to read. Awake and alone for hours, he thought about being middle-aged, and how and why he'd made the decisions that had led him here.

Epstein always requests that his family be off-limits to reporters, which keeps Marie Whitney from appearing in many stories about him, an absence that perhaps prevents outsiders from fully inhabiting the deepest conflicts baseball creates in Theo's life. He skipped Christmas with Marie's family once to try to sign a free agent. A year later, he skipped Thanksgiving to do it again. He let an ice cream cake melt, creating an irresistible metaphor. So when he came to Chicago, he intentionally over-staffed the office, trying to build a world where he could be great at his job while also fully enjoying the life his job has allowed him to live. He talks a lot about Marie, and when they're in a crowd, he reaches back to hold her hand.

He has learned that being a husband and father is hard, but baseball is easy. Show up, do the work, be curious. Never cheat the process or rationalize laziness. When you're good at your job, the office becomes a place to hide from your actual life. "You should talk to my wife," he says, "which I definitely will not let happen. She tells me that too: 'At work, whether you admit it or not, you can snap your fingers and everybody will do whatever you want. At work, people are kissing your ass. At work, everybody is happy when you're doing your thing and you're locked in. At work, their job is to facilitate you into a good place where you can do your thing. Then you come home, and whether you recognize it or not, you bring that shit with you.' And she's right, to an extent."

She's watched his emotional temperature rise and fall for more than a decade. When he's doing well, he's joking with his staff and organizing office games and pulling pranks and creating a kind of playground for overgrown kids. When he's not doing well, he's alone in his office, paranoid and adult.

She sees the cost of it all.

They pay it together.

A Cubs winning streak grows to 11 games halfway through a home series against the Cardinals in August. On a Saturday, Epstein and the baseball ops guys gather in Suite 33 to watch the team try to win a third straight from St. Louis. Their world up there has its own set of rules and superstitions, and central to the canon is this: If the team needs offense, Theo makes Scott Harris, the director of baseball operations, take out a loaf of plain bread and start eating. When Harris eats carbs, the Cubs score. One game, when the White Sox were no-hitting them, Theo got an entire chocolate cake from the passing dessert cart on the suite level. Harris ate more than half of it and the Cubs won.

"Harris," Theo says, taking a bag of bread and throwing it to Scott, knowing that the Cubs always need hot bats against the Cardinals. "Just start eating."

Harris breaks a piece in half, to help choke it down.

"It's even more stale," he says.

"Good," Theo says.

The game goes well for seven innings, and then the bullpen starts to collapse. Nobody wants to verbalize what each of them knows: The Cubs have a 3-in-4 chance of not winning the World Series. Any serious problems in the pen and that number starts to climb. "It's such a fine line," Theo says, his hands laced behind his head.

Epstein starts muttering curses. He hands Harris the bread again.

"All right, Harris," he says. "Consume."

The Cubs lose the lead and the game, and the next day, all the same people are back in the same place to watch once more. Theo's still making Harris eat bread, a fresh loaf this time at least. The Cubs are leading in the top of the seventh when the game, and the mood in Suite 33, starts to turn. The speed with which the atmosphere becomes tense is astonishing. Theo is talking about one of the club's weaknesses, which is starting pitching health. John Lackey, the starter, looks exhausted, and with one out, a Cardinals batter hits a line-drive screamer directly at the third baseman for the second out. Theo turns and makes eye contact with Shiraz: It's time for Lackey to come out. Joe Maddon keeps him in the game, though, and on the next batter, Lackey leaves with a stiff shoulder. Theo is beside himself.

"Told you so," he says. "Fuckin' A. You just asked me what our Achilles' heel was."

Everyone gets quiet. People avoid Theo. Shiraz and Harris move outside to the balcony, while Epstein takes an iPad and pulls up the Cubs' internal website, called Ivy, where every piece of conceivable information is stored. Theo starts watching all the pitches thrown by relievers, and when he's not doing that, he's sending text messages to Hoyer, who is out of town. For a while, Theo just stares out at the field. Nobody says anything to him.

He's smoldering.

Hector Rondon eventually enters the game, then allows two baserunners.

The next batter hits a three-run homer, and the Cardinals are now ahead.

"Fuck!" Epstein yells.

"Should have seen that coming," he says, quieter and dejected. It's more than he can watch. He leaves the suite and walks out into the concourse alone, and when he comes back, he looks up at the television, which shows a replay of an Olympic gymnast on the vault landing flat on her ass.

"This is what our pen is doing," he says, pointing at the screen.

Epstein sprawls out on the couch against the back wall of the suite. Everyone is on a phone or computer, while Theo and Jed text back and forth. The game finally ends, a second straight loss to the Cardinals, and Theo is silent for about five seconds, looking out at the field. "Five days ago," he says to his guys, "we had our pen how we wanted it. Locked-down playoff pen. Now it's chaos. It's unbelievable. I'd never felt better five days ago."

Harris has the thousand-yard stare, sitting in one of the leather chairs, his foot up on a stool. Theo sighs. The baseball ops guys gather around to talk options. "In three weeks, we'll look up and it will all be better," Theo tells them wishfully, "but it's hard to navigate."

In August, to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary, Marie wants to take a trip. Theo suggests Pearl Jam at Fenway. She suggests Greece.

They compromise and go to Greece.

The team flies west to Oakland, and Theo and Marie east to Santorini, where they and two other couples take a boat ride through clear blue waters. Being away leaves him feeling a little unsettled, but he would have felt more guilty telling her no. He's trying to reach for something like balance.

One of the other guys and Theo climb on some of those orange sulfur rocks where people write messages. His fellow traveler scribbles "Go Buffalo Bills!" Theo goes next, trying not to fall. Over about 15 minutes, he neatly carves the initials of his wife and his two boys. Days later, he returns to the grind, and Marie goes back to waiting on him to find whatever it is he's looking for, some feeling that always seems just out of reach. The days are long in a pennant race. Some nights, when he's finally home, he falls asleep and dreams of the Cubs winning the World Series. His dream always ends during the parade. It never fails. He wakes up before he discovers what might happen next, on the first day of the rest of his life. ###

[A senior writer for ESPN online and ESPN The Magazine, Wright Thompson is a native of Clarksdale, MS; he currently lives in Oxford, MS. Previously, he worked at The Kansas City Star and the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He received a BJ from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.]

Copyright © 2016 ESPN The Magazine

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License..

Copyright © 2016 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves