Let’s talk about sports

Let’s talk about sports, baby
Let’s talk about you and me
Let’s talk about all the good things
And the bad things that may be
Let’s talk about sports
Let’s talk about sports

OK, so that’s the PG-13/Jock Jams version of the classic Salt-N-Pepa song.

But the excitement that the female hip-hop trio had for fornication in their early ’90s hit is the same excitement I feel right now for sports.

This is one of my favorite times of the year. March Madness is reaching its climactic end. The NBA and NHL are gearing up for the playoff season. And most importantly, baseball season is just days away.

There’s something about the great American pastime that invigorates me. The fresh-cut grass, the dirt spraying into the air when a batter slides feet-first into second base for a double, the mental chess match between a pitcher and hitter before a 3-2 pitch, and the arduous grind of a six-month, 162-game season where your team hopefully ends up on top.

When baseball is happening, it feels like natural order is being restored. It’s the only major American sport without a clock, which, in turn, has been a source of controversy as of late due to the increasing length of game times (an issue Major League Baseball targeted this year when they eliminated the need for pitchers to actually throw the baseball during an intentional walk).

Mets

I can’t help but think of the quote uttered by James Earl Jones in the movie Field of Dreams, as the character Terence Mann, whenever I want to describe what it is that makes me love baseball so much:

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.

When James Earl Jones talks about baseball, you listen.

Last year, I predicted my beloved New York Mets to win the World Series. Unfortunately, injuries derailed their season and they fell short, despite their best effort.

This year, they have nearly their full complement of young pitchers ready to go, and things look much more promising.

And even if things didn’t look bright, I’d pick them to win the World Series anyway. I will do it every year until they do. Hopefully, one year I will be right.

Baseball starts on Sunday. For many, Sunday is already a day of worship and reflection. For sports fans, it takes on extra meaning.

In other semi-sports related news, the North Carolina Legislature voted to repeal the controversial House Bill 2 today, also known as the “Bathroom Bill,” which required men and women to use public bathrooms that align with their gender at birth. Human rights advocates (and any one with any human decency) considered it egregiously discriminatory towards transgenders, which number more than 37,000 in North Carolina.

Tar Heels

The bill basically cost Republican Governor Pat McCrory his job, and cost the state from hosting the 2016-2017 NBA All-Star game, several NCAA March Madness games, and many other high-profile events.

The newly passed bill is not a straight-forward repeal, however, and as a compromise to right-wing hawks in the Legislature, it maintains a stipulation from the original bill that places a moratorium on local nondiscrimination ordinances through 2020, and thus leaves the regulation of bathrooms to state lawmakers.

LGBT activists say it still does not provide the protection needed to safeguard an already vulnerable population of people.

They’re probably right, but with Republican and Democrat ideologies being as divergent as they’ve ever been in the modern political era, sometimes a compromise is a victory. Even if it’s just in the short term.

The timing of the repeal is even more significant given that the North Carolina Tar Heels are one of four teams left in the NCAA Tournament, where they will face the Oregon Ducks on Saturday. The other game is between the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the South Carolina Gamecocks.

They promise to be some pretty damn good games, and as an added bonus, if South Carolina beats North Carolina in the finals, I win $650.

Go Cocks!

…I stand by it.

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Attention: I am initiating the Bloxit process

At approximately 8:37 p.m. on Tuesday, the Weinblog™ held its long-promised referendum to decide if we wanted to remain a member of the United Union of Bloggers.

Over the years, the Internet has grown increasingly volatile. The rise of social media has only highlighted that trend.

A major consequence of the Internet’s expansion is the deterioration of the English language: when experiencing a certain emotion, people invent acrostic behavioral terminologies, like FML or YOLO, because they’re too lazy to express how they truly feel.

Last year, fake news became an Internet epidemic.

And recently, the Republican-controlled Congress repealed Internet privacy protections preventing Internet service providers from sharing your data without permission.

It has gone far enough.

So, finally, on Tuesday, March 28, we held our long-awaited referendum to vote if we should leave the United Union of Bloggers – UUB for short – which I officially anointed as Bloxit.

The electorate comprised two people: myself, who voted with a resounding ‘yes,’ and my cat Marbles, who stared at me, licked his paw, and then rushed to a nearby window to stare at what I presume was a bird. I took those actions as a declaration of assent.

And with that, I initiated the process. I stood on my front lawn wearing a bandanna, while somehow equipped with a walking stick akin to the one carried by Gandalf in Lord of the rings, and yelled, ‘BLOXIT!” And then I went inside and ate a cheese sandwich.

OK, so this was a dramatic representation of what it would be like if individual websites were able to declare their own sovereignty from the Internet, not unlike the current trend of European countries deciding whether they wish to remain as a member state of the European Union.

Brexit

As we all remember, the United Kingdom voted last summer to leave the E.U., and this week, nine months after 51% of voters chose to support ‘Brexit,’ Prime Minister Theresa May has formally initiated the exiting process.

In the meantime, many other European countries have flirted with the idea of holding their own referendums, and Scotland is deliberating whether to even stay in the United Kingdom.

Theresa May accomplished the start of the Brexit process by triggering Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, also known as the Lisbon Treaty, meaning Britain must officially be out by April 2019. Think of it as your parents telling you that if you don’t get a job within two years, you’re kicked out of the house, whether you like it or not.

May sent a letter shortly before 12:30 p.m. local time to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, signaling the initiation of Article 50. And if you think the instructions provide an extremely complex and detailed protocol for an unprecedented departure from a continental geopolitical and economic union, you’d be wrong – it’s five steps. Monopoly comes with more instructions.

In case you hadn’t figured it out, there’s no such thing as Bloxit. I made it up. And if it did exist, my departure from the also-made-up UUB would be far less consequential than the UK’s forthcoming departure from the E.U.

But hey, it’s fun to joke about things that could cause real-life economic turmoil as well as deep uncertainty in the futures of young British people for decades to come.

Cheerio!

#LeggingsGate shows that America is slowly coming back to normal

It’s been a long time since meaningless, inane news items became the target of American outrage.

Like the color of a dress.

Or Ryan Lochte doing stupid Ryan Lochte things.

I can’t believe I’m saying it, but I miss those days.

The ascendancy of Donald Trump has been so quick and so fierce that it’s completely consumed our collective attention. Every single day, he does something that makes us throw up our arms sand say, “You kidding me? This motherfu*%er did what?!”

But recently, we have witnessed some limitations to his power. With federal courts proving as a watchdog to Trump’s authority, and a rebellious Republican Party showing that it will not make things easy for his administration to get legislation passed, a lot of angry Americans have finally begun taking a step back from the ledge.

And by ledge, I specifically mean the border between the U.S. and Canada.

As a result, the door has been left open for us to return to 2015 and early 2016 form, where even the slightest, insignificant “controversy” has the ability to roil the entire American population.

And United Airlines delivered.

As many of you have heard, two teenage girls were rejected by gate agents from entering an airplane in Denver, Colorado because their leggings did not meet the airline’s dress code requirements.

United Airlines leggings

After it was tweeted by a nearby passenger, immediate outrage ensued. Suddenly, United Airlines dictating how women should dress became the national narrative. It was an incorrigible thought, especially when you consider how badly unkempt and disheveled the majority of people are when they enter an airplane.

Everyone basically looks like an extra on The Walking Dead.

Celebrities chimed in. Model Chrissy Tegan said she plans to fly on her next flight topless. Countless young men then wondered what flight that would be so they could book it too.

Before long, calls to protest United Airlines surfaced on social media.

Finally, mired in intense backlash, United Airlines issued an explanation – the girls were not regular passengers, but were “pass riders,” meaning their tickets were given to them by employees or their friends at a heavily discounted rate, and thus are held to a much more stringent dress code.

But for many, that explanation was not good enough. Even if this type of dress code restriction is not uncommon for guests of employees who are receiving free travel.

As we speak, United Airlines is still defending itself from the criticism.

You can call this what you want. To some, it’s a continuance of a larger social issue. To others, it’s inspired some angst, but not worth harping on. Many others have probably already forgotten about it.

Regardless of what you think, I see this as a healthy sign for our nation. Hear me out.

Because if we’re mad at United Airlines over this, it means we’re not mad at Donald Trump. And if we’re not mad at Donald Trump, it’s because he’s not – or he’s been prevented from – doing something stupid!

And maybe, just maybe, this is the beginning of the end of Donald Trump’s autocratic, world-harming decision making. Perhaps we can finally return to a time when the hot news item of the day would be all we cared about, until the next thing happens. Heck, let’s bring back #FML! I’d welcome it at this point!

Wait, what did you say?

Trump just undid years of climate change progress with the stroke of a pen, all but guranteeing the fact that our planet will be uninhabitable in the not-so-distant future?

United Airlines, you’re off the hook.

Listening to music the way it was meant to: 33 RPM at a time

If I like a particular artist or band, then I make every effort to see them live.

It’s not only a great way to show your support for their work, but I’ve long contended that being in a live musical setting — where you can let yourself go with a few drinks while singing and swaying along to some of your favorite tunes – surrounded by fans who share your enjoyment for that particular artist is a soul-cleansing experience.

I always leave a concert feeling better than when I arrived.

Just think about when a song you like comes on the radio while you’re driving, and how happy it makes you. Now imagine that happening at a live show, with the band directly in front of you performing it. It’s awesome. And to share that experience with thousands of other fans makes it that much more special.

When I first became musically conscious around 7 years old, the dominant listening format was compact discs. I still remember the first three CDs I ever bought: Weird Al Yankovic’s “Bad Hair Day,” Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill,” and Third Eye Blind’s eponymous debut album, all released between 1995 and 1997.

By the time I entered high school, CDs were starting to phase out, and MP3s were becoming more and more accessible. I built up my MP3 collection, priding myself in downloading by the album, and not the single. By the time I graduated college, my iTunes library surpassed 10,000 songs.

Now, downloading is no longer necessary – programs like Spotify and Apple Music offer the entire musical universe at your fingertips. The idea of “owning” your own music no longer exists. It’s all streaming.

And while it’s much more convenient, it still felt unsatisfactory to me.

Vinyl.jpg

There’s something purposeful about picking and choosing what artist and what album you want to listen to, and manually taking the time to add it to your musical library. In a way, it helps you compartmentalize what artists you prioritize over others. But with streaming, that’s gone. The Beatles are as accessible as Selena Gomez and it takes no extra effort to listen to one over the other.

So recently, I decided to take things into my own hands and reclaim that feeling of control and ownership: I started a vinyl collection.

Until now, I usually go out of my way to defend myself from being called a hipster. But once you start a record collection, there’s no escaping it anymore.

To date, I have 11 record, comprising a nice mix of new music and classic rock. And while I’ve quickly learned is that vinyls are not cheap, it’s still one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I now get to be one of those guys that seeks out indie record shops, and stumbles in on a Sunday afternoon sorting through their shelves looking for hidden gems.

I proudly showcase my records. I pick my next purchase very carefully, deciding which artists are worthy of being in my possession, and in what chronological order.

(Hipster, remember?)

Lastly, and this is something that only fellow record collectors can attest to, there is something indescribably soothing about removing a record from its case, carefully placing it on the turntable, lifting the pin, and watching that record spin as sweet, sweet music echoes through the room.

The last step is to figure out if One Direction released their albums on vinyl.

Did I just say that out loud?

 

The Weinblog™ record collection:

Ryan Adams – Prisoner (2017)
Eagles – Hotel California (1976)
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago (2007)
The National – High Violet (2010)
The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt (2010)
White Stripes – White Blood Cells (2001)
Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2001)
Chuck Berry compilation album
Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band – Night Moves (1976)
Bruce Springsteen – The River (1980)
Foo Fighters – In Your Honor (2005)

Trumpocalypse 2017: At least we’re not Turkey

When things feel like they are going bad in the U.S., what I like to do to make me feel better is look around the world to find a country that is having worse problems than we are.

Trust me, there are plenty.

Last time I did this, I talked about the power struggle in The Gambia, where the nation’s outgoing president refused to step down after he was democratically voted out of office. It was an episode that required military intervention from neighboring countries, and fortunately ended peacefully.

Today I’d like to discuss a country that’s northern half is part of Europe, and bottom half is part of Asia, and yet, neither continent probably wants any of it: Turkey.

Outside observers have long concluded that Turkey has been experiencing a democratic backslide under the rule of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who served as prime minister from 2003 to 2014, and president after that.

The average person likely doesn’t know who Erdogan is. But you may have heard his name in a bizarre story that went viral in 2014 that underscores his perceived authoritarian rule. That involved a Turkish man who was arrested in 2014 after he compared Erdogan to Gollum on social media. Last year, the man was slapped with a one-year prison sentence.

Imagine that happening in America. If we locked up everyone who badmouthed Trump on social media, the only people left standing would be Sean Hannity and the entire state of Kentucky. And I would be in Guantanamo.

But those are the type of things that happen in Turkey. The country has been largely criticized in recent years for its tendency to turn a blind eye to ISIS fighters traveling through the country to get to other European nations.

TURKISH-ERDOGAN-POLITICS-GOVERNMENT

That being said, it certainly doesn’t diminish the fact that Turkey has also been victimized by deadly attacks from terrorists.

Erdogan’s regime has become even more oppressive since a surprise coup attempt last July, when members of the military organized overnight to – unsuccessfully – overthrow his regime.

Since then, his regime has suspended or fired more than 12,000 government employees, and arrested some 50,000 soldiers, police officers, teachers, judges, academics and lawmakers suspected of being dissidents.

Turkey also jailed more journalists than any other country in 2016, a number estimated to have reached greater than 150.

And it’s only getting worse. Earlier this year, the Turkish Parliament voted to allow a referendum that would give the president of the country – who happens to be Erdogan – greater power and authority. Historically in the country, the prime minister is the government chief and president is mostly a ceremonial role.

The vote in parliament was so contentious that one opposition lawmaker was sent to the hospital after having her prosthetic arm ripped off in a fistfight on the Parliament floor.

The referendum on the new Constitution is in April, and it’s actually led to international diplomatic disputes as Turkey has been seeking to campaign in countries where Turkish citizens live abroad.

But after Germany and the Netherlands refused to let Turkish officials in their country to do so, the Turkish government called the two countries “Nazis” and “fascists.”

So, as you can see, things are going awfully swell in Turkey.

Now this isn’t to say that we should observe the chaos happening abroad and consequently shrug off the problems happening here as trivial matters, but it does help to offer a little perspective.

Today, House Republicans postponed the vote on the new health care bill once they realized they didn’t have enough votes to approve it. But don’t celebrate … they will be back, and whatever they bring with them will not be good for lower-class Americans.

And with each passing day, the links between Trump associates and Russian officials continues to grow.

So things aren’t quite peachy here either.

But hey, at least we live in a country where I get to call our president Gollum, Sauron, Voldemort, Darth Vader, King Joffrey, Scar from the Lion King, the Wicked Witch, Cruella de Vil, Dr. Evil, Walter White, the Boogie Man and Donald Trump combined.

That’s right, I’m making a bold prediction that in 20 years from now, we’ll unanimously consider Donald Trump synonymous to a cartoon fictional villain.

Until then, we’ll keep trying him out as the top executive of the most powerful nation in the world.

Should go well.

The curious case of Tomi Lahren

For many millennials, this election season was a political awakening, and offered the prime opportunity to discover their voices.

I think it’s even fair to say that most people did know what they truly believed in — or their friends, for that matter — until this election kicked into high gear.

And that’s not a bad thing. It’s good to have beliefs and principles, as long as you don’t let it totally consume you in a fanatical way.

Most people learned exactly what their friends do think, as their Facebook pages become inundated with post after post about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, or any number of issues that came up in the exhausting 18-month campaign season.

I bet everyone reading this even blocked a “friend” or two whose opinion they simply couldn’t take anymore.

One millennial who found her voice in a big way is Tomi Lahren, who, in 2016, became something of a cult hero, particularly among young, conservative thinkers.

The fledgling political commentator, who hosts her own online show on the conservative website The Blaze, founded by Glenn Beck, became famous for her quick-talking, unapologetic rants about liberals.

What goes without saying is that she is a very pretty girl. It’s wrong and untrue to say that she became popular because of her looks, but it is no doubt part of her appeal. But what caused people to stick around and keep listening was the things that she said.

For liberals, who mostly avoid conservative websites like the plague, Tomi Lahren didn’t enter their consciousness until she was interviewed by Trevor Noah on the Daily Show last winter. I highlighted it when it happened because, although I almost fully disagreed with Lahren on everything she said, it was a positive example of how two people with very differing worldviews can sit down and have a conversation, and not yell and scream at one another.

Lahren has reaped the benefits of the added publicity from that appearance, appearing on Bill Maher’s “Real Time,” and more recently, on The View.

But it was her latter appearance that got her in trouble among conservatives.

Tomi Lahren

While pedaling her typical right-wing viewpoints, she blurted that she is pro-choice, going as far as saying the federal government can “stay out of my body.”

Even the hosts on the show were surprised, given that being pro-life is one of the hallmarks of the conservative doctrine.

Shortly after the appearance, and after significant conservative backlash, Lahren was suspended for one week by Glenn Beck, who accused her of being “intellectually dishonest” to her supporters, given that she’s expressed anti-abortion sentiment in the past. There’s speculation that her show may be canceled permanently.

Lahren subsequently defended herself on Twitter, calling herself an “independent thinker.”

Liberals, meanwhile, hailed the decision, having been long fed up with Lahren’s schtick.

But as much as I personally abhorred the drivel that frequently comes out of Lahren’s mouth, I find it very hypocritical for her detractors to celebrate this turn of events, especially considering she was punished for expressing a belief that the overwhelming majority on the left agree with.

To me, the story is this: Lahren, who is 24 and has more than 4 million followers on Facebook, became too popular too soon, and as a result, found herself in way over her head. Quite simply, she has not lived long enough to form fully composed, well-rounded ideologies. She’s getting there, as we all are, but she was given a platform before she could reach that point.

And as someone who is expected to give her opinion loudly and brashly, it was only a matter of time before she went ahead and contradicted herself.

So I have sympathy for Lahren. I really do.

When I was 24, I was still deciding whether I preferred Bud Light or Miller Lite, let alone liberal or conservative. And she’s doing it to an audience of millions.

At the end of the day, we’re all hypocritical. We all contradict ourselves. I’m sure you can find dozens of instances on this blog where I’ve said one thing and later said the opposite.

I applaud Lahren for taking a stance that she knew would be unpopular with her base, but I also hope that she learns a valuable lesson from this.

Her supporters and her critics, meanwhile, can learn something, too. We live in a country now where if you don’t subscribe to every single issue a certain way, then you are not considered a true conservative or liberal.

This is the fundamental problem underlying the divide that we find ourselves in right now as a nation.

Not only do pundits dictate how we should think, but we’re discouraged from thinking differently.

I say we organize an event where we gather Republicans and Democrats for a giant think tank session while blasting “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran the whole time.

It’s just a really good song.

Mr. Gorsuch goes to Washington

It was below freezing temperatures one January evening in 2009 in Illinois when a man named Alphonse Maddin, driving a truck attached to a trailer for TransAm Trucking, found himself stranded shortly before midnight.

It turned out his truck was fine, but the trailer’s brake stopped working, and thus couldn’t be towed along. Upon returning to his truck, the heat also wasn’t functioning.

Maddin notified TransAm, which told him to wait for help. He did. Hours passed, and Maddin fell asleep. When he awoke, he felt numbness in his torso and feet. He called TransAM again, which told him to keep waiting, or to drag the trailer on its frozen brakes.

Not long after, Maddin, fearing for his life, unhitched the trailer and took off. Assistance eventually arrived and the trailer was recovered.

Maddin was fired for disobeying orders.

He later sued the company, under a statute by the Department of Labor that says employees do not have to operate their vehicle if they have reasonable apprehension about a serious injury.

TransAm contended that Maddin was not protected by this statute because he did, in fact, operate his vehicle.

An independent arbiter ruled in Maddin’s favor that the dismissal was illegal. Appeals ensued, and an appellate court of three judges backed the arbiter’s decision, ruling 2-1 in favor of Maddin.

The one man who ruled in favor of TransAm?

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

Neil Gorsuch hearing

Now I’m not telling you this story to make you mad, or to confirm anyone’s worst fear about this judge who has been previously hailed for his conservative rulings.

In fact, I was out sick from work today, and watched a significant chunk of Gorsuch’s hearing before the Senate. From what I saw, I don’t think anybody could have watched the proceedings and thought that he is anything but an extremely intelligent man.

He clearly takes his job as an interpreter of the law very seriously, and was very disciplined in his responses to not indicate that he would have any premeditated ideological leanings.

So if he was conning us, then he sure fooled me.

Some of the highlights included his statement that “No man is above the law,” when asked about potential presidential overreach; and when asked how he would have responded if Trump asked him to reverse Roe vs. Wade (which legalized abortion nationally), he said “I would have walked out the door.”

But the reason I shared that story in the beginning is because it is clear that Gorsuch interprets rules and the law literally, regardless of morality. And that is a good or bad thing, depending on how you choose to perceive it.

In his minority opinion, Gorsuch agreed that since Maddin did indeed operate his vehicle, he lost protection under the Department of Labor statute, because that is exactly how it is worded.

Gorsuch will almost certainly be confirmed. And people can take heart in knowing that he is a competent judge who understands that the law exists to hold everybody in this country accountable, no matter how powerful or influential they are.

But his tenure as a justice of our nation’s highest court will always be questioned, because of the circumstances in which he eventually obtained the seat, and because of the character of the man who selected him.

Never forget Merrick Garland. (Odds say we all forget by June).

And if you’re thinking that there’s no way I watched an entire day of of Supreme Court hearings and was not once tempted to run out to Taco Bell to get a Taco Supreme… then you’d be 100 percent right.