Thursday, February 25, 2016

An Endorsement. And An Explanation.

I’m supporting Bernie. He better (not best, better) represents the values I want to see in a Democratic candidate. 
But Hillary is a very very close second. Close enough that the bullshit BernieBros and BernBots are tossing out there made me reconsider my vote, which is why I'm late to the endorsement. 
I've decided that I’ll vote for him anyway, if only to register my support for a left-wing platform, but it will not be a particularly happy vote unless the rhetoric starts redefining itself.
I have very serious practical & pragmatic concerns about a Sanders candidacy:
1) He will have to raise at least a half billion dollars, and more likely $2.5 billion (if you include SuperPAC and 501(4)c spending). The Kochs have committed $1 billion to getting a Republican in the Presidency already. I don’t see how that happens without going to Wall Street and even then, how that happens going to the very people he’s vowed to destroy….unless he sells out the way BernBots claim Clinton has. 
Maybe….MAYBE…if he gets the 50 million or so people who vote for him to pony up $50, he covers that nut. Maybe. Which brings me to point two:
2) He’s going to have to, inside of three months, define his brand of socialism to that slice of the population who have made reality TV popular — in other words, the uninformed. 
In fact, I think I should probably amend that $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion because a rough estimate of the ads he’ll have to run that say “No, the OTHER kind of socialism!” is massive. Meanwhile, the Republican strategy to defeat him is simple: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Sanders. 
Hillary hasn’t stooped this low, thank God but does anyone think the Trumps of the world will play nicely? Which raises point three:
3) Right now, Bernie Sanders is the only candidate in either party with a net positive favorability rating (Dr Ben Carson flatlines at neither positive or negative. Hillary has a -8 net unfavorability rating). But you’ll notice, apart from the occasional joke tossed Bernie’s way, no one has truly vetted him in opposition research. There are serious issues surrounding him that have not come to light (or have been investigated and dismissed, a possibility I will admit). Burlington College will be an issue for his campaign (Jane runs his staff). His missing mid-1960s years (he’s not particularly forthcoming about them). His conscientious objector status during the Viet Nam war (remember, these are people who Swiftboated a decorated hero from that war). 
None of these have to be true to quickly turn that positive into a negative, in the skilled hands of Frank Luntz and Karl Rove. Hillary, for all her baggage, is pretty much naked in the fields: her ratings build in the best the Republicans have smeared her with.
So well have they smeared her that Bernie’s most zealous supporters are parroting Luntz talking points. 
So yea, I’ll vote Bernie and if he’s the candidate, I’ll work my ass off to get him elected because the alternative is Trump and the Idiocracy. But I hold no illusions that it will be hard work. Very very hard.

Monday, January 11, 2016

RIP David Bowie

The news of the death of David Bowie was profoundly shocking to me, and it's taken me a moment to collect my thoughts why.

Bowie was an artist who was always able to stay relevant without becoming a parody -- unlike, say, Madonna. It was the endless variety of music he could produce without losing the underlying thread of his talent by imitating a style. He lived that style, worked that style, mined it and made it his own.

From his early glam-rock days to his more recent "rock crooner" era, he never let you lose sight of the fact that it was David Bowie, no matter what name -- Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke -- he cloaked himself in. 

If anyone had found a veritable fountain of youth, Bowie had. The endless reinvention and reincorporation of music made him a walking performing encyclopedia of the past forty years.

And he never seemed to age physically. Sure, there were lines and wrinkles, the occasional wattle when he lost weight (possibly from the cancer that took him), gray hair so neatly combed and styled that you were sure he added the gray as a final touch, but you never sensed any less energy from him.

You look at a Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney, Elton John or Peter Gabriel, and you see how time wounds us, saps us of strength and vitality, despite our best efforts at covering that up.

But Bowie never seemed to drain, never seemed sapped. He seemed endlessly energetic.

Many years ago, he foresaw this day as Ziggy Stardust, in "My Death": 
My death waits like a beggar blind
who sees the world through an unlit mind
throw him a dime
for the passing time...
My death waits there between your thighs
your cool fingers will close my eyes
let's think of that and the passing time
My death waits to allow my friends
a few good times before it ends
so let's drink to that and the passing time

But what ever lies behind the door,
there is nothing much to do
angel or devil I don't care
for in front of that door... there is you
Of all the people I imagine who might beat death back, it was the Man Who Fell To Earth. Godspeed, David. You've brought us all joy.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

And So This is New Year...

So what have you done? Another year older. A new one just begun.

(Yes, I took license with the lyrics, sue me)

2015 was a weird year, to be sure. I remember writing early on that the year would be defined by marijuana, and while it wasn't as dominant an issue as I thought it might be, the year sure had the stank on it of old weed.

I mean, really...Donald Trump, the front-runner for a major party nomination? Why? Because he speaks his mind?

Yes, he speaks his mind, the trouble is he is half out of his mind. That this low-rent, tin-plated dickless wonder is even taken seriously by anyone is a testament to the failures of Republican education policies.

Libertarians around the nation lifted their snouts from the troughs of crumbs from their overlords and snorted, squealed, and then rose up on their hind hooves and murmured approvingly. Fucking idiots.

Personally, I can't complain. I had a good year. I cut a lot of chaff out of my life, culled the grain, dropped a lot of dead weight and managed to move on. I grabbed life by the throat and let me tell you, there is no more terrifying or liberating thing to do. And 2016 is poised to be fantastic now that I don't have all the hangers-on to deal with.

So, my dear reader....and I hope I still have many of you around, because goodness knows there were times I wanted to give this up and forget about blogging anymore...thank you for 2015. Thank you to my friends, my family, and my casual acquaintances. Thank you even to those who wished me harm, because fuck you, I won. You only hurt yourself, not me.

On to 2016, my preciouses!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

How to Defeat Terrorism

We need to try something different. America has waged a full scale war in South Asia for thirty years.  We've waged a sort of Cold War against Islam for decades longer, going all the way back to Mossadegh and Iran. 

All we've managed to do is inflame the situation. Europe has struggled with Islamic extremists for centuries, and while things were quiet for a long time, the beginning of the twentieth century saw Europe interfere yet again in Middle Eastern affairs, igniting old passions and angers.

Thirty years of war (going back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) has done nothing but make more rabid dogs. That's a failed policy. This is not a war against people, it's a war against an ideology -- the ideology of jihad -- and every time we've bombed a country, we created more enemies as we've attempted to wipe out that ideology.

One reason President Obama has been correctly circumspect about mentioning Islam in discussing terrorism isn't that he's afraid to call it that, but that by linking it to the religion and not to the morons committing these crimes, he gives our enemy comfort. 

The comfort of having his words slipped into a recruiting video to prove that "America is at war with Islam". A fine recruiting tool, to be sure. ISIS and Al Qaeda appeal to people who are looking for a scapegoat for their problems, and by isolating Islam as a cause of terror (it's not), we give the poor and tormented in South Asia something to vent their frustrations on. 

(It's the same schematic that the Tea Party uses here, I should point out, just not to such an extreme degree. That's a post for a different, more political day.)

All we've done with our "war on terror" is give potential members reasons to hate us, to join their organizations. We in the west have consistently installed dictators and tyrants over them and while those installations have helped tamp down the some of the international violence, it hasn't stopped the anger, only inflamed it. It's like clamping down a lid on a pressure cooker: you'll stop the steam from parboiling your hand over the pot, but eventually, the pressure will release in an explosion and destroy your hand. 

When we've decided to take out one of those tyrants we've installed, it's the people we claim to want to protect that have suffered the most. A hundred thousand Iraqis died in our wars against Saddam, and that's ignoring the collateral damage of the Iran-Iraq war that we probably ignited by weakening Saddam in the Nineties, too. Or the Kurds we abandoned back then. 

I want to be clear, the West is not the main problem here, but we exacerbate the very real problems of starvation and poverty and joblessness and the concomitant hopelessness all that implies.

It's no coincidence that since President Obama's "apology tour" early on in his administration that there have been no organized terror attacks in the United States. That's not to say that terrorists aren't licking their chops thinking about killing Americans, to be sure, but I'm betting it's been really hard to recruit suicidal terrorists to attack us, Obama is just that popular even in the Middle East and South Asia. 

The takeaway, in my view, is that America and the west must disengage from the region and let things settle themselves down, or we're going to end up in a world war, if accidentally. Already we've had frightening incidents that could easily have triggered nuclear annihilation. 

So how to defeat terrorism? Better minds than mine...yes, there are some...have tossed this problem around and come up with nothing. I'm afraid I've done little better. I can imagine a framework that solution might take, however.

1) Economics -- This facet is the easiest one: stop buying crude oil from the Middle East. We've had thirty years of warnings to prepare for this, from skyrocketing gas prices to global warming's effects. It's about time we made a commitment to stop using fossil fuels, but particularly oil. 

This might seem counterintuitive: if people are poor, buying oil can only help them. Well, no. That enriches the status quo, which means it enriches those who are at the top of the economic chain in the Middle East, like the emirs and kings, at the expense of the people. To give the people freedom, we have to defund those who would take that freedom. Note that this would also directly hurt ISIS, who have taken crude oil fields across Iraq. 

But notice something: global warming also directly impacts the people in the region in another way: the troubles in Syria began with a drought in Syria, which forced farmers to abandon their farms and migrate to the cities where they might try to find gainful employment.

But those jobs were non-existent as the economic meltdown of the late Bush administration worked its way through the global economy. 

We need to establish economies across the region that don't rely on the resources of the rich, but on the labor of the poor. Trade with the governments of the region is counterproductive. Trade with the people of South Asia is imperative. 

Trade what? What can replace oil?

Frankly, anything can. Remember, facet one of this discussion is to stop using oil: no oil, no oil economy, no reinforcing the status quo. 

2) The Marshall Plan -- After World War II, and despite the war's far heavier toll on the West, the United States in its capacity as the last man standing extended an olive branch not only to our allies, but to our enemies. We would commit to help them rebuild

Why? We learned the lessons of the interregnum of the two world wars: letting problems fester only made them worse, not go away. 

We do owe it to the people of South Asia, we in the West. We created artificial borders that ignored tribes, rivalries, nationalities and ethnicities in an attempt to be expedient. Literally. The divisions were drawn with a ruler on a map. We reinforced those arbitrary borders with force and armaments, and interfered in internal matters when those matters threatened our interests.

Imagine if the cops taped off your house and prevented you from using the bathroom, then stormed your part of the house if you took a piss in a flower pot. That's what we're doing in the Middle East. 

Some would call this appeasement. Some would call this a waste of resources. I would argue that the trillions the United States alone has spent in the last fifteen years to "defeat terrorism" was a waste of resources and that we have to find a better way. A few billion versus tens of trillions sounds like a bargain to me, even if the outcome might end up being the same (it won't.)

To me, this Marshall Plan redux would involve helping the Middle East and South Asia rebuild their infrastructure. It would bring permanent water to drought-stricken areas. It would rebuild roads that we've bombed to hell and back. It would build better schools and hospitals and it would all be done by paying the local residents to do the work and administer the projects. We'd provide resources. They'd get the credit for the accomplishments. 

And yes, we'd rebuild mosques, too. We have to. 

3) Diplomacy -- To sum this up, we need to get the fuck out of the way. The West has spent the last decade dictating policy to the Middle East and South Asia: you will do this, you won't do that, you'll take this and like it, we'll take that and you'll be quiet. 

What I see happening is a Middle East summit comprised of everyone: the nation-states, the sects of Islam (including the radical Islamists in some capacity), the South Asian states like Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, the Turks, the Russians, the Chinese and the West. 

Obviously, we won't just hold one meeting and be done with it. This will take time and energy and focus. It will require reaching out even as we kill terrorists, or finding intermediaries to understand the problems that we can solve with diplomacy and those we'll just have to let them sort out on their own. We can't settle the Shi'a/Sunni divide, for one thing, but if we can persuade the Muslim people that we'll accept any settlement between them that keeps everyone in the region safer, they'll sort it out.

After all, Northern Ireland seems to be working its Troubles out, and surely they've been more peaceful now than twenty years ago. 

Eventually, these disparate talks can be built upon, bringing factions together in the same room, then bringing the agreements made in those rooms to bigger rooms and higher levels. 

If the West gets out of the way and makes the Middle Eastern nations enforce these agreements -- and frankly, without oil and the commitment to rebuilding, why the hell would we even be there anymore? -- they'll eventually work things out. We may not agree with their solutions, but the point is, we won't have to, as we do now.

4) Stealth -- Let's face facts: we're going to have to cripple ISIS and Al Qaeda (again). We don't have to commit to waging a regional war to do so. We have the tools and ability to decapitate the leadership. As we saw with Al Qaeda last decade, that at the very least buys us time. Time can buy us the space to implement the rest of this plan. It lowers the heat under the pressure cooker of recruitment. It buys us the eyeballs and attention span of the people we want to stop from joining these organizations.  

Clearly, this means an unconventional war fought under the radar. We have national policies that prevent us from interfering in the internal affairs of other nations, but those were state matters, and this is a criminal enterprise. And besides, since when has the United States paid anything but lip service to any international agreement? If we're going to break one, let's at least break the right ones, and not the Geneva Convention.

5) A Thicker Skin -- This applies to the West more than to the Middle East and South Asia.

Americans and Europeans are going to die. There is no way to prevent that. Whether we declare all out war and our soldiers die by the thousands or we fight this fight the way I outline above, and citizens and soldiers die by the dozens, we're going to have deaths. My argument is that there will be far fewer casualties for a far shorter period of time.

We're going to have to mature a bit and shrug them off. A little. We're going to have to put aside the bloodthirst for revenge and retribution and work to understand that these deaths are martyrs for a greater cause: the safety and security of all citizens of our nations. 

We can rattle sabres, to be sure, just as we did after 9/11 (and failed to defeat even the enemy that attacked us, much less protect ourselves from future threats), but remember that on 9/11, we even had the "Arab Street" on our side. And lost it in our monumental hubris. We had the opportunity to exhibit dignity and grace and would have prevented hundreds of thousands of enlistments against us. 

Today, the day after the Paris attacks, even Iran has expressed condolences and condemned the attacks, as they too are in the fight against ISIS in Iraq. It's a glimmer of hope. We can take them up on that gesture. 

The other facet of that "thicker skin" is the more troubling one: we have to present a unified front on this project. In America, that will be next to impossible and we may have to cede leadership here to China and Russia. The old dictum that politics ends at the border was thrown out the window by the yahoos of the Tea Party and any attempt to implement this program will have to shut them up somehow. They'll need to develop a thicker skin and stop betraying our national interests. That's the only way we can be effective in this construct.

I think this five step program may be the only way to defeat an ideology. A good parallel in American history is the Mob. We didn't beat the Mob on the battlefield, we beat them by starving them of them of members, by giving immigrants better jobs, and better education, by assimilating them into our culture and providing the opportunities to attain the benefits of that culture to them, and finding ways of tying up the resources of the Mob so they could no longer wage an asymmetric war. 

After all, it took an accountant to put Capone in jail and effectively end his reign of terror. We won't defeat ISIS or Al Qaeda in the desert, we'll finally defeat them when we get the people in the region to stop joining them. Suicide bombers and jihadists have a very short shelf life, so the organizations are always desperate for new members.

It took decades, and even today, we still have mobs and gangs and violence, but only to the extent that we can now treat them as criminal organizations and not an armed resistance. We'll always have ISIS and Al Qaeda and Hezbollah and Hamas or something like them because there will always be underinformed people who are easily manipulated by charismatic leaders and simplistic solutions. This project will make it harder for them to be effective. 

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Innocent as Children

My Mets are losing the World Series.

I'm OK with that. Truth is,  I've watched about three innings of the Series in total. I may have watched nine all playoffs long.

Which is actually more than I watched all season.

That doesn't mean I don't have an emotional attachment to them. I do, and want them to sweep the next three games and take the trophy out from under KC's feet. They can do it. The one thing this team has demonstrated over the season is the ability to turn adversity into wins (see: Wilmer Flores) and there's no reason to think that a team that should be up three games to one can't win three in a row, particularly one that has ben as streaky as the Mets season suggests.

That I know all that is a testament to my loyalty to the team. That said, it saddens me what sports has become in this country, and I think it's a large part of the underlying troubles we endure right now.

For instance, the reason I'm a wishy-washy fan when it comes to watching my team on the TeeVee. For not the first time in my life, I can't, and not because I'm superstitious or some such, but for a more prosaic cause.

The Mets network isn't carried on DISH and I'm more loyal to people who do right by me than I am to people who present a product and tell me to take it or leave it (In order not to sidetrack this discussion, let me just say that DISH has worked hard in the thirty years or so that I've been with them to keep me as customer, keeping my costs down while putting together programming and service to suit my needs).

SNY is not carried by DISH -- neither is MSG or YES, for that matter, which prevents me from following nearly every other local sports team on a regular basis except football, ironically the most socialist of all sports -- so the only games I can watch are the ones on networks or on the local broadcast outlet, WPIX. Those number maybe a dozen or so.

They were, but the Mets decided to abandon whatever percentage of Mets fans have DISH when DISH didn't buckle into their somewhat outrageous demands. Profit, before product.

The first time the Mets abandoned a significant portion of their fan base, that time was a lot harder to swallow. The team decided to take nearly all games off over-the-air broadcasts and put them on cable TV (first on Cablevision's SportsChannel, which morphed into FoxSports NY, and then ultimately to SNY, the Mets-owned outlet).

The team banked on fan loyalty to carry it through these, and they were pretty much spot on in this. As more and more cable subscribers signed on (that's another story, the roll out of cable in NYC), the team grew a larger fan base.

All the while, every month, nibbling away at the combined pocketbooks of their fans, even when the season was over. Profit, over product.

I wrote all that to personalize the rest of this post, which is really about the business of sports.

I could bore you with statistics and numbers about the growth and mutation of sports from entertainment to a large and wildly profitable business, but let me put it on a human scale for you.

When I was a kid, watching the Mets on a 19" black and white Philco, the average ballplayer made less than the average union worker. He had to take a job to feed his family until training camp opened up, usually blue collar since college sports was what it should be, a sidelight to getting an education, so most players if they wanted a major league career refused to forfeit four years of their prime for a degree.

If he was smart and good looking, maybe he quarterbacked the local team, he could get a white collar job in a bank or a brokerage, entertaining clients. Only the really big stars, the Willie Mayses or the Joe Namaths, made enough from endorsement contracts to tide them over between seasons, or could command a contract big enough to allow them to focus on their careers and not on survival after the season.

And God forbid you have a career ending injury, altho that happened all too frequently. You had no education, no job prospects (because, really, how many jobs require you to hit a 0-2 curve ball?) and an aching body. It's no wonder that, even today, all professional sports unions have to provide charitable help for their forebears, forty years after the explosion of money in sports.

Today? Even a slightly-better-than average player (say, Daniel Murphy, since he's on my mind, who has an average WAR over 162 games...I'll get to the statistics thing in a bit....of 2.27, meaning he'll give you almost three wins more than the average second baseman. A great player can give you ten or more extra wins) can command tens of millions of dollars a year.

The average player doesn't need to work a second job. He has healthcare through his union or his team, is vested in a pension based on his salary after a certain number of years playing (and is partially vested starting on day one of his contract).

None of this is to begrudge large money contracts. I'd rather a millionaire kid who busted his ass and forsook his youth take a few million than let some rich trust fund kid who happened to cobble together enough money from his inheritance or the markets take it.

Indeed, that's the point. The contracts are indicative of precisely how much money there is to be made in sports, if you can afford to take the risk (and once you reach a certain threshold, the risk is zero).

Case in point: my Mets. Concurrent with the launch of the SNY Network, the Mets also built an entirely new stadium, primarily with private funds (there were some municipal funds that targeted renovating the surrounding neighborhood and that's an entirely different story).

The owners, the Wilpons, were also friends with one Bernie Madoff, who suggested many years ago that they invest their money with him. Presumably, an awful lot of that loot was tied up into the stadium and cable channel deals. The Wilpons made money with Madoff, to be sure, so much so that, if not for an arbiter who took a very lenient view to their cause, they likely would be bankrupt today, forced to sell the team and channel.

As it is, they spent an awful lot of the last decade on a very tight team budget, what with building up reserves for the new stadium, the new channel (they lost all that guaranteed income from FoxSports, as well as a lot of fans who had to wait until SNY was carried on their provider), then building a reserve in anticipation of the Madoff decision.

In practically terms, this meant the on-field product suffered, since baseball is a business, not a sport, and athletes expect to be paid, and paid well. They aren't doing it for the love of the game anymore than the Wilpons are giving away a product for free.

The short story, then, is the team sucked, the fans hated it and Citifield, a really beautiful ballpark, was basically empty for five seasons. Money was being lost hand over fist. Attempts to make changes that involved as little expenditure as possible (moving in outfield fences, twice, making the park's best quality, a pitcher's park, one of its worst) were made, but they didn't help. It was a dismal place to be.

Once the favorable decision was handed down -- $75 million instead of $162 million -- things seemed to ease up, and spending commenced. That was in February of this year. Not coincidentally, the Mets made the World Series that same season, even if it was not smooth sailing the entire way.

In 1964, the entirety of MLB made $21 million dollars in television revenues nationally, all teams, including local TV deals. . The average player's salary of $15,000 (adjust to 2002 dollars, respectively, $123 million and $85,000). In 2001, the last year for which figures can be compiled, the national TV revenue jumps to an eye-popping $1 billion (average salary, $2.4 million). Note that, because teams are all privately held, we can't even put together a total television revenue figure anymore. That's just the national contract for FOX and ESPN (among others).

We can't even estimate what the local contracts paid out, but someone has tried and calculated a few billion dollars more annually, making the entire revenue package for baseball upwards of $8 billion dollars (including tickets, merchandising and other sources). Using those same estimates, as recently as 1995, baseball took in about $2 billion in real dollars ($1.4 billion unadjusted). That's about a 7% return every year for twenty years in real dollars.

Staggering. It also explains the rise over the past two decades of the statistical analysis of games and players. I mentioned WAR earlier, or Wins Above Replacement. What this measures is the amount a player contributes to the wins his team gets each year. I don't want to get too technical so let's make this brief.

The average wins a team has each year is 81 (there's 162 game schedule and for every win, there has to be a loss, so the league average is 81-81. It has to be). That hypothetical average .500 team is populated with precisely average players, then. If you replace that hypothetical average player (who hits .250, by the way; again, the league average) with any other player, how many wins does that player contribute to the team (or deducts, as the case maybe. Again, for every above average player, there must be a below average player).

So a player with a positive WAR helps your team be better. Daniel Murphy helps slightly more than the hypothetical average player over the course of a season, giving you 1.6% better team. To put that into perspective, a team with 95 wins, which usually means its playoff bound, is about 60% better than average. He helps. Just not that much.

Back when players worked as grave diggers in the off-season and families owned baseball teams and precious little else, teams could afford to assess players by the seats of their pants. There was a lot of scouting, talk about "five tool players" (run, throw, hit for average, hit for power, and field), and whether a guy had a "good attitude" (e.g. he could be counted on to make curfew). There was some statistical analysis -- batting average, ERA, slugging and fielding percentages -- but they were rudimentary and fairly unreliable for decision making.

Back in the late 1970s, just after the introduction of free agency, and just as sports was becoming a billion dollar business in America and the world and computers were becoming something more than a defense contractor's wet dream, a group of statisticians and mathematicians decided that baseball needed an upgrade. Forming the Society of Baseball Research and led by Bill James, sabermetrics was born.

The goal was simple: to try and understand why some teams win, and some teams lose. What factors play into this? Was there a way to codify differences in the outlying circumstances for a particular player that would allow a manager to assess a player objectively (apply the scientific method to baseball, in other words)?

This could only have been accomplished with computers, of course. The massive amounts of data involved make this physically impossible, even with a good calculator.

Naturally, as the science evolved, it started to attract interest from ball clubs desperate to field a winning team.

Because winning teams attract money. Just ask the Yankees or Dodgers.

Titles are nice, but money is nicer. That really could be the motto of all sports nowadays. But look what happens: once you start to codify precisely how to maximize the utility of your roster of players, you put yourself into a mindset of maximizing the utility of your entire investment.

Sports becomes less game and more business. It becomes less about raising a trophy over your head and more about raising your dividend.

And that sucks the joy out of anything. Just ask anyone who works a job. Or runs a small business.

Once you introduce serious money into an industry, you start to attract serious businessmen. It's like farming: once a businessman realizes that your family farm is underutilized and could make a lot more money, he'll make an offer to buy you out.

If you sell, the farm will stop growing potatoes, and start growing soybeans. Or worse, if it's in a valuable location, it'll start sprouting condos and mini-malls. It doesn't really matter if those potatoes were the best in the business, or if you fed an awful lot of families who needed the food. It only matters how many dollars could be combed out of your furrows.

The same construct happens with sports teams, which aren't so much "teams" anymore as attractions for the mini-mall that a ballfield has become.

Sports is not alone in this, to be sure. Everything has a price tag on it now, right down to the local news broadcast, which increasingly is filled with promotional pieces for the latest premiere from the flagship film company that owns the station, or whatnot.

But sports holds a particular place in the hearts of Americans. Baseball, especially. After all...and I quote:
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. 
Which is why it still hurts to see my Mets losing, even tho they lost me years ago. In the end, I see Wilmer Flores crying at second base and I think back to Bud Harrelson and how much heart he played with. And I see Noah Syndergaard throwing a hundred mile fastball at someone and channeling Nolan Ryan. And I see Jacob de Grom with his wild hair, and Michael Conforto and Steven Matz, and look back to Tom Seaver and Ed Kranepool and John Matlack, heroes of my childhood.

I'm reminded as I watch that this team that I follow has a history with me, and that history was a bigger part of my life than it should have been (even if I was thrilled when a Mets scout once told the adult me I could have been a big leaguer). Sports plays on that nostalgia, baseball more than others. It's long been promoted as a multigenerational game -- a dad tossing a ball with his daughter, a little boy biting into a hot dog at his first ballgame, grandsons and granddaughters arguing statistics with grandpa.

And we'll gladly fork over hundreds or thousands of dollars a year without even thinking about it, for it is money that we have and peace that we lack.

For me, baseball was about the only thing my dad and I shared a passion for. That was an innocent time, a better place. A part of me that was once good.

But never can be again, and I'm having a hard time reconciling myself to that.

Lets Go Mets!