Idle thoughts on basketball

And not even college basketball, or the Warriors, both of which at least have the benefit if currently being interesting. I’m watching the Bulls play the Knicks, and wondering if there has ever been a superstar with as pointless a career as Carmelo Anthony. He’s undoubtedly one of the best players of his generation, and has largely been healthy, but has maybe one memorable playoff run?  Can you really think of a signature moment? His most interesting time in the biggest market in the league came when a Chinese-American kid played pretty well for three or four weeks. Even his annoying drama with the trade looked Punch and Judy compared to the media Gotterdammerung of The Decision.

This is completely pointless, of course, but I can’t think of a parallel. Until recently, he was a top-5 player, but no one has cared about any of his teams or his career. Even the jokes about the Knicks seem perfunctory.  It’s not even a “what if” career; it’s a minor shrug, a weird blip for someone who could be a first ballot immortal.

Brussels and The Price of Modernity

“Always on the run, not knowing what to do any more, being looked for everywhere, not being safe any longer and that if he waits around any longer he risks ending up next to the person in a cell.”

From the will of Ibrahim El Bakraoui, Brussels terrorist

Ripped from context, the will of one of the (still-living) murderers from Brussels could be taken from the diary or blog or hastily scribbled and terrible poetry of any mildly disaffected 21st-century youth. It is of course more direct- the brothers who carried out these attacks and their companions had reasons to feel they were being hunted, after the nearby capture of one of the Paris attackers, but the sentiment rings true, globally, and it is a reason why terrorism is the dominant issue of our time. It is the sharp end of the modern condition, one marked by alienation, disconnection, and a sense of sliding across the surface of something vast, mysterious, and implacable.

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Ted Cruz Makes Clear How Much He Hates America

There aren’t really any words.

“We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant Al Qaeda or ISIS presence,” the Texas senator said in a statement. “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.”

It’s a mark of the wild danger howling through the country that this kind of loose and dangerous talk drips easily from a major candidate. What happened in Brussels is a horror, and it is the kind we’ll be living with for many years. There is no easy solution (more on this forthwith), but there is also no question that this kind of weaponized rhetoric only serves the cruel forces of Islamic militancy.

What’s clear is that Ted Cruz’s major problem with America is that it is, well, America. This is clear in a further part of his statement.

“The days of the United States voluntarily surrendering to the enemy to show how progressive and enlightened we are at an end,” he said. “Our country is at stake.”

The “voluntarily surrendering” is inflammatory and reality-ignoring and dangerous enough (were it true, you’d think Cruz would have the stones to pursue impeachment). It’s the second part that really captures his whole program: he has nothing but contempt for the Enlightenment values the country was founded upon. He is directly saying that since our country is at stake, everything that makes America what it is should be thrown over the side. It’s a sneering yawp at modernity itself.

He means it, too. He can’t really believe that ISIS is an existential threat. But the march of progress is an existential threat to his perverted value system. The country is at stake only because atavistic reactionaries like Ted Cruz aren’t in complete control anymore. He wants a grim mix of plutocracy and theocracy, and fears that he won’t be able to get it. Attacks in Europe give him the opportunity to promote his real program: the erasure of post-Puritan progress.

Combined with Trump’s lunatic ravings about borders and shutting it down “until we figure out what’s going on” (an off-the cuff remark that was made into a somehow-viable policy), it is clear that the GOP has zero interest in the threat of radical Islam other than its use for them in their endless culture war. Everything is a symbol, a fetish object for their retrograde obsessions, and the deaths of dozens of Europeans is merely a cudgel to win the next battle.

Ted Cruz Is A Fanatical Liar, Part Who Can Count

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Gawker noted this interview Ted Cruz had about yesterday in which the somewhat controversial notions of one of his senior advisors came up.

“Frank Gaffney is someone I respect,” Ted Cruz said Monday, defending his foreign policy advisor. Frank Gaffney is a serious thinker.” Frank Gaffney thinks that President Barack Obama, Governor Chris Christie, and longtime Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin are part of a secret Muslim conspiracy.

“I don’t know what he said in 2009,” Cruz said, after Blitzer read him a quote about Obama being America’s first Muslim president. “I just read it to you,” Blitzer said. “I don’t have the full context,” Cruz said.

To say you don’t know this about Gaffney is, without a doubt, an absolute lie. There is literally no way not to know it. It’s, like, the only thing about the guy. It’s his whole essence: implacable hostility toward anything Muslim and wild conspiracies about the secretly powerful role that Muslims have in American life, the proof being the bombing campaigns we’re running all over the Muslim world, apparently. It’s all there is about Gaffney.  Saying you aren’t aware of what he said is like hiring Sammy Sosa as a hitting coach and not only saying that you weren’t aware of the steroid thing, but you didn’t even hear about all these home runs. “He just interviewed really well!”

Of course, the real lie in this is “Frank Gaffney is a serious thinker.”

Bringing someone like Gaffney in is a sign that you are going to have a team of fabulists and messianic, people who desperately wish they could be at war with an existential foe like the Nazis (although not doing to actual fighting, god forbid). They’ll blow up a real and serious threat to an unrecognizable proportion to live out their McArthur fantasies.

It’s a sign of the Republican Party today that one of the only two possible candidates bringing in someone like Gaffney elicits little more than a shrug. It’s an even stronger tell that the party has gone completely insane that in order to “pivot to the middle” even slightly, to appeal to mainstream Americans, Ted Cruz knows he has to straight-up lie regarding the only thing that matters about a top advisor.

 

Ted Cruz, In A Nutshell: The Problem With Anti-Obama and Cuba Arguments

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Ted Cruz is a fantastic and fanatical liar, the kind who believes that whatever he is saying is not just true, but divinely inspired, and that if you point out he is lying, then you are an unpatriotic leftwinger who wants to destroy America, and probably shoot God in the face. It isn’t just the lying, though: it’s his ability to say complete nonsense with utter self-righteous conviction that makes him so loathsome. His statements on President Obama’s visit to Cuba, written for Politico, are a perfect example. 

Before we get into the heart of his “argument”, it is important to look at how he opens. This is why Ted Cruz is the preeminent culture warrior of our time. Luxuriate in the connections here, in his ability to conjure up every fear that an aging white reactionary might have. No one is a better name-dropper than Cruz. Trump is an amatuer compared to him. Angela Davis!

Communist Havana has always been a magnet for the radical chic of the left, drawn like moths to the flame of this western outpost of totalitarian Communism. Back in the 1960s, the visitors included Angela Davis and Stokely Carmichael, while Che Guevara himself received Jean-Paul Sartre.

Now this scene will include a president of the United States. On Sunday, President Barack Obama, a retinue of celebrities in tow, is expected to arrive in the Cuban capital to hang out with Raul Castro and his henchmen, all of which will be breathlessly documented by the media mavens along for the ride

Stokley! Che and Sartre! Ted Cruz imagines himself the perfect melding of Buckley and Spiro Agnew (see, it’s easy!), and he quivers with the privileged anger of every sort-of-smart Young Republican.

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Life on Pluto?

 

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The dark parts are the “heavily craters and ancient terrain of the Ctulhu Region”, and that’s just awesome. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI via Scientific American

No, of course not. That’s just clickbait. But as this amazing Scientific American post by Lee Billings highlights, Pluto is far weirder and more inexplicable that we had imagined. If this paragraph doesn’t give you chills, you’re made of sterner stuff that you should be.

 

The biggest surprises have been Pluto’s surface and atmosphere, which are restlessly active and diverse despite average temperatures of only tens of degrees above absolute zero. Some scientists expected New Horizons would find Pluto to be little more than an inert, sunlight-starved orb. Instead, the spacecraft encountered a world where nitrogen glaciers flow down into plains of frozen methane from towering mountains of water ice. Sunless half-frozen oceans lurk deep beneath the surface, and multiple moons tumble overhead through hydrocarbon-hazed red skies that tinge to blue at sunrise and sunset.

You really owe it to yourself to read the whole piece. What strikes me- beside the haunting beauty of an ancient distant object that has billions of years of scarred and shattering history, without realizing it, and without having any connection to our magnified insignificance- is that the solar system is far stranger and more unexpected than we had even imagined.  Pluto is bizarre. Its moons are bizarre. Its oceans are mind-blowing.

To me, I think that our with knowledge that even the parts of the universe relatively right next to us are capable of enormous surprises, combined with the recent awareness that there are billions of planets potentially capable of holding life, we’ve passed the point where anyone can reasonably say we are definitively alone in the universe. There was no single point where that happened, but we are in the middle of a major turning point for our species.

We almost certainly won’t discover life in my lifetime, the only thing that actually makes me depressed about a finite existence, and we might not ever in the timespan of humans, an end to which we weirdly accelerate. But since there is no way to reasonably of logically think that life can’t exist elsewhere, and since in an essentially endless universe that which can happen almost certainly does, it’s pretty clear we aren’t alone. I think as that awareness seeps in, over the next few generations, regardless of a major discovery, we’ll have to start to really reckon with it, morally.

I don’t, of course, think there is any impact in the knowing that somewhere, there might be life. It won’t affect us directly. But we’ll have to reconcile that with our narcissistic mythologies and increasingly witless eschatologies. That isn’t a bad thing. It might actually be the most incredible development in human history, as breathtaking as nitrogen glaciers, with no measure of man, tumbling silently to a sunless sea.

 

 

In Which I Converse With My Dearly Departed Father About a .207-Hitting Muppet And His Son…

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A scenario in which one can reasonably assume that the dead can interact with the living, but can’t get ESPN. 

Bob: Hey!

Me: Whoa! Oh, hey.

Bob: Isn’t it a little early for a beer?

Me: It’s uh…I don’t think…I mean

Bob: (laughs uproariously, in surround sound)

Me: (laughs uproariously)

Bob: So, how are our beloved White Sox doing? How do they look this year?

Me: Well…they’re the talk of spring training! Every news outlet is doing a story on them. Even People magazine!

Bob: Well, that’s great! They must have gotten some powerful lumber-wielders and slick leather-slingers to complement their already fearful coterie of flamethrowers. 

Me: Well…actually, it’s about a 14-yr-old boy.

Bob: …

Me: Yeah

Bob: I assume he’s some kind of phenom? A Griffey-esque prodigy who the suits at MLB won’t let play, due to some kind of rules against taking kids too early- a policy, by the way, about which I’ve been meaning to complain to Management, that we don’t have here. 

Me: Nope. Just a kid whose dad wants him in the locker room all the time. It’s sort of tearing the team apart. It’s all anyone can talk about. So yeah, big news. Big, big news.

Bob: …

Me: …

Bob: I gotta go. I’m having dinner with Groucho. 

Me: Oh, tell him I said hi!

Bob: Nope.

Fin