every day should’ve been

Thinking about that last post put me in mind of college football, obviously.

I can’t be the only person, seven or eight months on, who randomly goes back to edsbs.com and clicks to see if there’s any new content. There isn’t, of course, since Spencer Hall’s site got shut down to be reincarnated as Banner Society, a website that seems to be focused on trying to do snarky college football without any of the elements that made EDSBS indispensable for a decade or so. The community, such as it is, seems to have migrated to more millenial-friendly outlets like Twitch or Discord or Reddit. They started a Slack for weekdays while we all work from home, but the first day was the day I went for my steroid injection on Friday the 13th and I’ve forgotten about it every day since until I get the noon notifications that the channels are being archived. So much for being distracted by another social outlet.

College football sucks. Let’s start with that. Maybe it’s being a Vandy fan, maybe it’s being a Vandy fan and a Cal fan both, maybe it’s just the coming of the Playoff era and the open admission that only six or seven teams matter in college football, or maybe it’s just the best decade of Commodore football in my lifetime working out to roughly .500 ball – and realizing that for a certain type of Southerner, it’s a permanent reminder that you were lied to about what is important, what matters, and who is worthy and worthwhile.

EDSBS punctured that bubble for a little while. It took the piss out of everyone and everything, mocked the champions, shone a bright light on the avalanche of offseason malfeasance (until, irony of ironies, Vanderbilt players did something too horrible for it to continue), and generally said what we all knew in our heart: “look, you know and we know this is bullshit, but we care about it for some ungodly reason, so let’s treat it with all the respect it genuinely deserves: none.”

And for a little while, it was an outlet for people like me: smart, clever, witty folks who were willing to go along with the joke, and the joke after that one, and the creation of a subculture that was ostensibly based around this common interest but at heart was the validation of our own selves. It was fun for a while. Hell, it was fun for six or seven years. I actually met two or three real people and one dog through it, and the dog would become one of my best local guy friends before he emigrated to Norway. I shipped a bottle of whiskey and a box of fudge to a couple who acted as my agents at the 2014 College World Series. I virtually walked a savage rabid venomous platypus down the aisle on a leash as the ring bearer in a pretend online wedding. At a time when I’d changed jobs and the friends I’d made in the Bay Area were slowly starting to disappear, it allowed me to pretend I had more of a social life in a more real and interactive way than podcasts or Facebook permitted.

And then 2014 happened, and college football stopped being fun, and I stopped coming round as much, and so did many if not most of the old commentariat, and and and. And then one day Spencer closed up the shebeen and even though I could hardly claim to have been a participant for a long time, I felt the absence I’ve felt over and over as one piece of the past after another crumbles and tumbles into the darkness behind me.

I’ll give the last word, as always, to the Fearless Leader, Orson Swindle: “The horizon is always hungry for daylight, and takes it ray by ray. Run one way or the other. Stay still and your choice is made for you anyway.”


So let’s distract from the world burning down and talk some sports. Namely the Houston Astros, whose attempts at electronic cheating in 2017 have apparently tainted their World Series win in a way unprecedented since the 1919 Black Sox. The biggest consolation for me in this is that Tony Kemp was not implicated at all (and apparently refused the system lest it screw him up) and that a Houston team that set all of MLB on the path of “burn it down and refuse to compete for three years” is now being socially punished for malfeasance, and maybe other teams will be discouraged from the course of “let’s charge major league price for AAA baseball because we’re sucking to get better…someday”.

I say socially punished because really, what is the alternative? You can’t punish the players without the cooperation of a players’ union with whom you have an extremely antagonistic relationship (the current crisis is good preparation for the inevitable lockout when the CBA expires). You fired the manager and GM…two years after the fact. It’s not like the Dodgers are going to get made whole for this, any more than Cal got made whole in 2004 when a cheating U$C team pipped them out of the Pac-10 title and their first Rose Bowl berth since 1959. In fact, that’s the problem with sports cheating: nobody can be made whole after the fact. You were there, you saw the confetti and saw them hoist the trophy and went to the parade, and taking down the banner and collecting the trophy is meaningless after. What are you going to do, send the sheriff around to confiscate the merch? Put everyone through the Men In Black neuralyzer so they forget it?

That’s what makes punishment a farce in the NCAA: you can’t really punish anything. You can make teams hurt after the fact, but stripping a rack of scholarships from Penn State and SC didn’t keep them from meeting in the Rose Bowl within a decade after. It begs the question whether it’s worth trying to punish teams at all, and way too many – if the abortive Adidas-FBI basketball investigation is anything – merely accept these nefarious practices as the price of doing business and carry right on. Because the reward of doing so is greater by far than the risk of getting caught.


From 1980 to 1984, Southern Methodist University posted the highest winning percentage in all of Division I-A football. They went 49-9-1 over 5 seasons, contending for the national title despite spending part of that stretch on “probation” for all the same violations that ran rife through the old Southwest Conference. Then, in 1987, the NCAA pointed to the the existence of a slush fund for payments that had been known about for years, and gave them the death penalty – the first and only time a football program had been shut down completely.

Two years later, the program came back to life. Their first season back was 1989. Their first winning season after that was 1997, when they went 6-5. Their second non-losing season was 6-6, in 2006. Their first bowl bid was 2009. They finally got to double digit wins and finished the season ranked under Sonny Dykes…in 2019. The death penalty was an atomic bomb to the Mustangs that reverberated for three decades.

And the NCAA never used it again. They did other things – bowl probation, scholarship reductions, they once kept Auburn football off television in a season where they went 11-0 (and promptly claimed a national title) – but never again did they unholster the most powerful weapon they had. Not for Miami’s Pell Grant scandal. Not for USC’s flagrance with Reggie Bush or Tennessee’s with Tee Martin. Not for Alabama and the Logan Young scandal, despite threatening it even though there was no finding of lack of institutional control or staff culpability. Not for Penn State,  despite embodying the very definition of “lack of institutional control.”

The “official” reasoning behind the unwillingness to use the death penalty in college football is because of the implications for other teams in the conference, the impact on television, the fact that it’s such a severe blow to the teams it’s used against. But that’s the point. If you have to weather a couple of years of probation, fewer scholarships, maybe the coach loses his job if the team only wins six games, but cheating means a shot at the sweet sweet lucre of the New Years Six (unless you’re one of the six or seven actual Playoff contending teams, in which case you better be cheating as much as Bama/Clemson/Ohio State) – there’s no arithmetic there. You cheat. Get caught, get fired, and you’ll probably still get a few years at Father Saban’s Home for Wayward Coaches. I think the last coach to wash all the way out of coaching with no TV safety net was the late Woody Widenhofer, who wound up working a toll booth in Florida at one point. If Urban Meyer and Houston Nutt can be on TV, anyone can. 

But the death penalty is meaningful consequences. It’s money out of your pocket, maybe for the entire athletic program, maybe for the entire conference. Hell, the Southwest Conference never recovered from having SMU firebombed out of existence. And now that the NCAA has demonstrated they won’t do it again, it’s all for naught.

Not that baseball can firebomb the Astros out of existence. But if we had a real commissioner of baseball – which we haven’t had since 1993, when Fay Vincent was terminated for being insufficiently supportive of the small market owners’ cash grab – with the actual powers to act in the best interests of baseball, it would be possible to do things to the Astros that would get everyone’s attention. Deny them their share of national TV rights money. Deny them September callups (well, that got done to everyone already). Suspend players who were implicated in the scheme even if they’re on other teams and allow those teams to sign replacements – or. better,  compensate them with Astros draft picks. If the Houston Asterisks were willing to suck out loud for three years, they shouldn’t have a problem with ten more.

(And spare me the mention of Barry Bonds. Either you wipe all the steroid people from baseball or you don’t, but you don’t get to pick one guy to die for the sins of MLB because you didn’t like his personality. Bud Selig looked the other way on steroids, and so God sent His messenger to take that which Bud cherished most. Fair is fair.)

California Held Hostage, Day…whatever

So now it’s not me, it’s not the Bay Area, it’s the entire state of California. I used to say that Silly Con Valley is where your future comes from, and you won’t like it, and it sure as Hell seems that way as more and more places realize the only way to stop this thing is to lock shit down as tight as humanly possible. The big fear at this point, obviously, is that it’s not going to work – that it will have to go on for so long that the lag time between action and results makes people say “hey, it hasn’t gone away despite everything, why am I still being cooped up if it doesn’t make a difference.” Which is a real risk, because we are a pretty dumb country being led by pretty dumb people.

Which is where the bailout shit comes in. It’s hard not to think about the last time, when Wall Street got rescued and promptly turned on the public. If you need a quick summary, grab your King James Bible and re-read Matthew 18:21-35, and think about it. A bunch of corporations and industries that got a tongue bath of tax cuts for three years and wasted it on CEO pay and stock buybacks now needs a bailout? Fuck that. Give everyone who made less than six figures last year a check for $5000, and let the free market decide what companies need to get bailed out. That seems a lot more fair and sensible than just saying “we’re going to save these specific industries” – especially when the main thing that needs saving is employee salaries.

Because a lot of salaries aren’t high enough, and right now we’re seeing just whose. The guys driving the garbage truck that’s keeping us from being buried in our own waste. The grocery clerks ringing up all the people who can’t be bothered to social-distance. The teachers handling your rabid kid every day times thirty. We’ve spent a generation or more deprecating actual work when we aren’t trying to abstract it away, and a lot of affluent twentysomething Stanford grads in this valley are running up against the limits of what happens when the app that does what Mommy used to do doesn’t have anyone willing to work for it any longer. 

It would be nice to think that we can come out the other side of this okay. That people are being repelled by what they see every day from the White House and are being affected by having to think about other people around them and realize that we live in a society that depends on us to rub along in a civilized fashion. It’d be nice to think so. But we’ve got to make it to the other side first. We have to have enough testing, which we don’t have yet. Until we have a vaccine, which we won’t for a year or more, our only hope is testing so we can actually find out who has it and keep them safe. In the meantime, we have to keep everyone safe, which means we all live on lockdown. And anyone who doesn’t like it needs to think long and hard about who decided we didn’t need pandemic funding or planning at a federal level any longer. And vote accordingly.

I can’t think about November now, though. Right now is all about win the day, and then win the next one, and then and then and then.

The Bay Held Hostage, day 1

At 12:01 am this morning, seven Bay Area counties went into Shelter In Place. From now until April 7, you have to remain at home indoors unless going to get food, going for medical reasons (including care taking duties) or going to a designated essential job. Which, well, my employer may be essential but my role is at best “the guy behind the guy behind the guy”, and we are doing everything 100% remote until made to do otherwise. Which seems to be working, as I have already been remote for almost two weeks at this point owing to trying to be sure I could have my corticosteroid injections on time.

For a long time, when asked for my vision of what I would like life to be like, it was that whole small town where I could work 100% remote, walled off from the bullshit of Silicon Valley and the real world. Now, through no fault of my own, I’m almost going to be test-driving that vision for a minimum of three weeks. Which is sort of a “careful what you ask for” thing…I don’t know how much longer the closest purveyors of takeout food and sorta-groceries will continue to be open, and the restaurants further out that are doing curbside takeout pickup may not have that long to function without some kind of financial relief. I suspect there’s a real chance this will trend less wish-fulfillment and more slow-motion apocalypse, but that’s not a right-now problem.

At least we’re acting. It’s difficult not to feel like this crisis interprets the Tr*mp Administration as damage and routes around it. California has been ahead of the curve on scaling down gatherings, and if putting the Bay on lockdown is going to bend the curve, then let’s !-ing go. I’ve got beer and snacks enough to last two or three days, in confidence that we’ll still be able to go get groceries and the like. Which may be foolish, because it’s who knows where this thing could go from here, but we have some canned goods and the usual earthquake supplies. Our 72-hour quake planning was sound, so now we just have to keep outrunning three days.

So now we work remote, we Zoom and FaceTime with friends and family who need contact, we watch Ken Burns documentaries and brew coffee and wait for Sunday when it’s probably going to be farmers’ market time again, and we see what’s doing tomorrow. And tomorrow. Win the day, keep going. That’s where we are right now in 2020, which is honestly where we’ve been all along.


Well, I’m scratching my head for what ESPN is going to show for the next six months. Darts? Bags? Sumo wrestling? Bass fishing? With the five major North American pro leagues shut down, minor league baseball and basketball as well, and the NCAA basically cancelling the rest of the academic year including the cash cow of March Madness, we are looking at a time in America without sports – and while I am not the sports fiend I was in the 1990s, by far, it’s still weird to not have the background noise of baseball as the rhythm of spring.

I’ve been working from home since Wednesday night, initially because of a doctor’s appointment but since then to avoid anyone who might get me sick before my latest round of epidural steroids tomorrow. Like 2012 and 2016, election year means pinched nerve and shoulder pain, so here we go again. It’s been mostly in my arm this time, though, so maybe one round will be enough instead of two. And it would be even less of a big deal if being laid off hadn’t wiped out my sick and vacation time. Having the payout check from vacation isn’t much good when you actually need days off.

Then again, I’ve had to rethink a lot without vacation time. When you don’t have any prospect of seeing two weeks in London before sometime in 2021 at the earliest, you make do. The kind of money it takes to be abroad for ten days will easily fund three hours at the local British-style pub every Saturday night for a year – or, more likely, several years at home on a Sunday night with a jug of pub ale and a Peter Ackroyd book while RTE in Irish plays through your headphones. It’s affordable, it works, and if you do it just right – with the lights dim, the iPhone SE to hand instead of the X, no extra apps on the phone to distract you with Twitter or Insta or the like, and wearing comfy clothing heavy on the flannel and slubby cotton – you can almost imagine yourself in another world, another life, vacationing from reality.

And that’s really become a thing, these last few years. Even the pub isn’t an escape; refuge comes from not having to engage with the world at all on any terms but the ones you dictate. Thirty minutes in an underground lounge at work, earbuds in for mediation. An afternoon or evening driving down the coast. A weekend with nothing on the agenda but to recover from a medical procedure, maybe augmented with a short trip on an empty light rail that puts you in front of a bar or a market that you can then train back from in short order, or even a walkable trip to the taqueria or the coffee shop. Vacation has always been about escaping to the kind of life you wish you had. Now it consists largely of carving that life out of the surrounding world as much as you can get away with.

I mean, maybe things will get better? You definitely won’t get any younger. Life isn’t going to stop taking things away and start giving them back. The move is to find joy now, wherever you can, and if it can be manufactured simply and at little cost, do it. The world’s on fire, and yet the ability to work from home for a week feels as good as retirement. Pitcher of iced tea, flannel shirt over a gray T that suggests nothing so much as someone who hasn’t changed his wardrobe in almost 30 years, stay out of the spouse’s way and take turns having your meetings without headphones, and try to be at peace while everything is in full on chaotic neutral mode.

Of such is our life made in 2020. 

the world spins

Here’s the thing: Bernie failed to grapple with the fact that like Obama, he got an easy ride from a press that hated Hilary Clinton. Once left to his own devices, well, it doesn’t matter how popular you are with voters under 30 if they only make up 15% of the electorate that shows up (as was the case in Michigan). Yeah, Bernie may be big with the young people, and he may be moving the window on Democratic policy goals in future, but when it’s down to two candidates, your viability as a candidate gets marked to market pretty quickly.

Because it looks like it’s gonna be Joe. Once he proved he could win South Carolina, it’s like everyone said “okay, let’s go” and that was that. He thinks he can win, and he’s not the only one, when you consider that Trump literally just weathered an impeachment that came about as a result of efforts to sandbag Biden out of the race. This is a single issue race, and the issue is “get that orange asshole out of here.”

I mean, of course it is. We’re seeing the consequences more than ever now. Stock market is officially back in bear territory, and I don’t mean Berkeley. It turns out that slashing the CDC’s budget for pandemic response in 2018 has consequences in 2020. And ironically enough for a solipsistic dementia case who thinks he only has to be the president of the people who voted for him, he’s paved the way for COVID-19 to run riot through the precise demographic that put him in that office to begin with. I mean…buy the ticket, take the ride.

Which is a warning and an imperative at the same time. This is what we signed up for by not packing our bags and fleeing the country in January 2017. We knew it was going to be harsh, and ugly, and we might not all make it, but there was a chance – one – that the old ways could work one more time, that an election in 2020 could stop the bleeding. And this intersects nicely with Joe Biden, who absolutely should not feel any guilt for not running in 2016, who had every reason to pack it in, but who apparently needed to give it one more run – and who now finds himself as the guy.

So this time, we know the mission, we know the stakes, and we know what happens if we lose. And the excuses are gone – there’s no speculating about what it might be like for Trump to be President because now there’s four years of economic stagnation outside the NYSE, four years of children in camps, four years of lighting our foreign relations on fire, and now, four years of destroying our defenses against a literal pandemic. 

We’re out of excuses. This is last call. It’s Joe or go.

No Future 2020

Cops used to have revolvers, not automatics AND plate carriers AND tasers AND tear gas AND automatic rifles in the car. Mall security didn’t use to have MA-1 jackets and bloused BDU pants and jump boots. The chance to go out and see the country and the world from Alabama used to be a good thing. You could have Ed Koch lip-sync in a country music video. Your Southern Baptist music minister could get a job at Opryland and wind up on a soap opera and it was impressive, not scandalous. You could trick-or-treat and your parents would roll their eyes at the people handing out religious tracts. You had opponents, not enemies. 

Then the middle hollowed out, and it became okay to use rage and hate to keep them that hadn’t from ganging up on them that had, and them that had wanted more and more and could never give any back, and and and. Three decades of “anything goes” from one side, and a political culture and media that would never call them on it, is how you can have the kind of deterioration that has a bankrupt racist reality star giving a State of the Union address.

And the problem was made most obvious by Robert Muller, who did an investigation for two years, uncovered an ocean of malfeasance, and then issued a strictly-limned report on only what had been asked. No fishing expedition or ancillary investigations like Ken Starr. By the books, with the narrowest possible remit. And it sank like a stone, and the buffoon in the Oval Office took it as clearance to do it again. Which led to impeachment, which failed in the same Senate that defanged the gravity of impeachment twenty years ago, and which will clear the way for even more misconduct without fear of reprisal or consequence. Because consequences are for younger and browner people.

Some people actually want to blame Obama for this, as if he somehow failed to deliver something that was in his power. It wasn’t. Even if he were unconstrained by a Republican Party that made 218-60-5 a mandatory formula for passing anything – a majority in the House, a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and a majority on the Supreme Court – he was constrained by history and circumstances to play by the books, above board, never be angry, never fight dirty, against an opposition that had spent fifteen years normalizing the very worst of Southern politics. The current GOP isn’t Obama’s fault at all, it’s Newt Gingrich’s and those who went along with him.

It’s all been mainstreamed. We’ve been slow-boiled for years and years. The effect of the 1998 impeachment, at a time when the public was resolutely against it, was to permanently tar it as a political maneuver – and thus nullify it for a time when an actual crime would be the subject of an impeachment. And so it has been. The race to be the 46th President is led by four septuagenarians and one callow youth who’s never won an election bigger than mayor of a college town. The spayed and neutered media will chase any grasshopper, equivocate about everything, and the odds are strong that the Democrats will lose again, even if they have the most votes. The general consensus seems to be that the Republicans can lose the popular vote by as much as 3% and still prevail in the electoral college.

And that’s a risk. Mayor Pete was too young and too gay. Warren was too old and too female. Bloomberg was too old, too rich and too Republican. Biden is too old and rickety. Bernie is too old and socialist. (I will swallow my misgivings and support any of them, even Bernie, despite my suspicion that if the shoe were on the other foot I couldn’t count on his followers to do the same. If Sanders is the guy, you’d better fucking know you can either swing Ed Earl Brown or bring out enough of the base to outweigh him.) There’s not some perfect opponent out there to do the deed, not that there ever is. And I know that right now, they all beat Trump in a national poll right now before the press goes in the tank, but we don’t vote right now and we don’t vote in a national election. The Electoral College was made for just this purpose: to preserve the opinion of the rural elites against the depredations of the public and the cities. Whatever grand notions you have about what the Democrats should do will be dust and ashes if they lose, and for the third time in six tries, they could easily lose with the most votes.

And at that point, I honestly don’t know what I’ll do. Maybe in future, you could fix the Electoral College, if only with the National Popular Vote machinations. Some people still think that demographics will prevail in the long run – you know, when we’re all dead. But the Senate will always be with us, and the smaller and rural and whiter states will always have disproportionate power over the urban multicultural majority for as long as I can expect to live. And if the Democrats don’t prevail in November, the judiciary will be locked down for a generation and more with the kind of know-nothing Patrick Henry-Bob Jones-Hillsdale-ACLJ types that have flooded the vacancies ever since Merrick Garland was stonewalled.

I don’t want to live in the United States of Alabama. I left there because, pace Carvell Wallace, I could not stay and be human – and which state returns Trump his highest approval ratings? I know that California will hold the line for as long as it can, and that might be enough to see out my days, depending. I don’t have any children, which in retrospect was absolutely the right decision even if it’s going to be painful in years to come. But we don’t have the kind of reliable retirement our parents could count on – instead of pensions, we have the same 401(k) and 403(b) stock market roulette wheels that could see us done about half as we prepare to retire. And looking around the Valley, as everything turns temp-to-hire-only and vendor-contractor and 1099, it’s hard to shake the sense that you’d better hang onto whatever job you have with both hands, no matter how miserable and soul-sucking, because without it you’re going to be driving Uber. The Amazon bomb is killing the Wal-Mart greeter. And it’s all the worse because Silly Con Valley is where your future comes from. Gig economy, Tesla worth more than any of the Big Three automakers, you can’t afford to move here, you can’t afford to stay. Corporate power without appeal or resort to governmental action, the constant petty tyranny of private associations from your “employer” to your HOA, selective application of law and policy – bad enough that’s what’s coming, but I’m already living it, where the only law that matters is the one that gets enforced. Dodging bikes and scooters on the sidewalk is on you, but heaven forbid you park on the street in front of your own home.

The hardest part of all this is experiencing it again. To wake up once and realize that the place where you live taught you a values system and way of life that it doesn’t actually believe in and actively works against? That’s bad enough. But to experience it a second time, when you left that state and moved as far as you could, only to have the country turn on you – and on itself – begs the question of where’s left to run to. Even if you could afford it, even if there were visas and work permits and all the bric-a-brac involved in finding a safe place to wait out your days. Six years ago, I said that “if the Old Scratch himself appeared before me, offering to jump me ahead to age 60, but I’d be retired, with my wife and a healthy pension, and a cottage in a cold seaside town where the cops still carry revolvers and the coffee shop is still where you go for bacon and eggs and gossip, and where the one dive bar in town has a fireplace and doesn’t sell anything more exotic or complicated than Guinness, and where the sputtering air-cooled VW can get us around without the hassle and strain of walking on a bad back…I’d have to think long and hard before turning it down.  Assuming I would.”

Well, I wouldn’t. I would give away the next decade in a heartbeat if it meant the prospect of twenty good years of retirement, someplace sane and simple and more human and humane than 2020 America. Apart from a slightly smaller iPhone, I don’t need any more than I have. So many of the things I want aren’t things, and the ones like that which I do have, I want to keep instead of having them slowly whittled away by an increasingly awful world.

Pandora opened the box, but I’ll be damned if I can still see hope in the bottom of it.