Stick to baseball, 1/14/17.

I’ve been writing Top 100 stuff (and making related phone calls) all week, so the only content I wrote that didn’t appear here on the dish was my review of the boardgame DOOM, an adaptation of the 1990s first-person shooter video game and an update of an earlier attempt to make a boardgame of it.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

Top Chef, S14E07.

Just when you thought Top Chef Some-Stars couldn’t go any farther off the rails, we get this week’s episode, which ranged from the ridiculous to the inane. But it was the top trending topic on Twitter when I went to bed last night, so there’s that!

* The stew room scene from after last week’s elimination shows Katsuji being uncharacteristically gracious, saying of Amanda, “I don’t think she realized how good she was.” Whether he’s always been like this and we’re seeing more of it, or he’s just mellowing out, I don’t know, but we’ll see it again later this episode.

* Quickfire: The guest judge is Michael Cimarusti, chef/owner of Providence restaurant in LA, who is actually hiding a whole family of squirrels in his beard. This is a horoscope challengem and a few chefs admit to reading their horoscopes. They’re morons. Astrology is absolute bullshit. Throw it in the same dumpster as homeopathy, vaccine denial, and creationism. It’s just utter fucking nonsense. Why the fuck is anyone on this show talking about astrology like it’s real? What’s next, a phrenology challenge? The chefs can only use water they find with divining rods?

* The chefs are asked to take “inspiration” from their zodiac signs and use ingredients and tools grouped beneath that element (earth, fire, water, air) on the table. This idea of working to your personality’s strengths and weaknesses is fine, but the date of your birth has nothing to do with that. Oh, and it’s a sudden-death quickfire, based on complete twaddle.

* Whatever Emily’s element is, her section has a pressure cooker and an iSi canister, and she says she doesn’t know how to use them. How do you get to this point without knowing how to use either? An iSi canister isn’t even complicated, and it’s the fastest way to whip cream or create certain foams. And we’ve already been over the pressure cooker thing. This isn’t like asking someone to use an immersion circulator for the first time.

* Ugh. Let’s just get to the food: Neck-Tat made a lamb chop with fire roasted pepper salad and lemon yogurt … Sylva made fire-roasted poblano couscous, lamb, cherry smoke, and sage butter … Tesar made a snapper and branzino tartare with coconut milk and chili; it looks delicious but the only thing more cliched on Top Chef than raw fish is truffles … Brooke made an oyster with cucumber pepper broth, roasted poblanos, and ancho chili salsa … Emily made a pan-roasted chicken with spaetzle and herb salad … Katsuji made a charred onion with cauliflower puree plus roasted habanero and shishito peppers … Shirley made a crispy fried cauliflower with brown butter and soy … Sheldon made a kinilaw (Filipino ceviche) with shrimp, coconut milk, orange and lime juice, and radish … Jim made a charred bison with watermelon dashi and charred chiles … Casey made a deboned chicken wing stuffed with ‘nduja sausage (a spicy cured sausage from Calabri) and “pickled egg cream” sauce with the flavors of a deviled egg.

* The most original dish was Katsuji’s. Sheldon’s was “very thoughtful,” and keeping the coconut on ice made the seafood taste so much fresher. Neck-Tat’s had a good balance of heat from the spice and cool from the yogurt. The winner is Neck-Tat again, his second straight Quickfire win and second elimination challenge with immunity.

* Bottom three: Jim’s dish didn’t represent his element, fire. Sylva’s was underseasoned and the chiles didn’t come through. Emily’s risk in making spaetzle worked out, but the wing’s skin was neither crispy nor well-seasoned.

* Sudden-death QF: They’re making a dish based on the “earth” ingredients (which none of them had) and they all have to agree on the same dish to make. Sylva and Emily insist on a steak tartare over Jim’s suggestion of steak and potatoes. Jim says he’s incredibly familiar with the dish but rarely serves it at the Governor’s Mansion.

* Emily using is the mandolin with no glove or guard. Having sent myself to urgent care once by doing the same … you know, investing in some $10 cut-resistant gloves is a great idea.

* Sylva is making beet juice to brighten the color in the beef. He’s cooking it “tataki-style,” so the exterior is seared for ten seconds, but the interior should still be raw.

* Jim paired his tartare with arugula with egg yolk purees, EVOO, lemon, and chive, thickening the egg yolks with agar agar … Sylva’s tataki had beet juice, raw mushrooms, and brussels sprouts, and didn’t look like any kind of beef dish … Emily’s had fish sauce, egg yolk, rice wine vinegar, radish and beet salad, and potato and beet chips; Padma thinks the chips are seasoned “forcefully.”

* Jim is eliminated, with the judges saying it was too “simplistic” and perhaps not inventive enough. That’s brutal; he’d outperformed Emily by leaps and bounds so far during the season, and I thought he (like Silvia) had a real shot to get to the final group.

* So there’s some blah blah Blackbeard story going on, around the elimination challenge, but Casey then retells it in a much more interesting way in the confessional. If nothing else she’s a pretty entertaining personality.

* They’re split into three teams of three. One is Tesar, Emily, and Neck-Tat who has immunity, so you can probably guess right now they’ll be the team on the bottom.

* Neck Tat is a recovering heroin addict. This might have been an interesting little side story, but instead we need to watch the chefs run around downtown Charleston in a tropical storm. (Really? They couldn’t have postponed the challenge by a day?)

* They’re getting directions from some doofus in a bad pirate costume. Brooke says, “I feel like I’m at my eight-year-old’s birthday party.” OK, now imagine being in an audience watching someone else’s eight-year-old’s birthday party. Also, Brooke feels as I do about raisins (they’re just dead grapes, so throw them in the trash).

* Katsuji may complain a bit, but when he says the place is “heuricane (sic) infested” I’m with him 100%. I would want no part of running around a deserted town in those conditions.

* How about Tesar throwing Philip from last season under the bus – out of nowhere – for “just making stuff up” while he was on the show? I was no Philip fan, in any way, but that was totally out of left field.

* Sylva is prepping his eggs sous vide, at 145 F. I need to try this; Serious Eats has a guide to sous-vide egg cookery.

* I’m skipping the boring part, where the chefs were on a scavenger hunt for ingredients, because I kind of tuned out until they were back in the kitchen. Or, to be more accurate, I completely tuned out and made myself some popcorn.

* Neck-Tat is grilling chicken satay and says “someone turned the grill off” … how does this happen? Are people just running around turning appliances off at random? Now he’s cooking it in a toaster oven, which will go horribly.

* If this is a pirate-themed party, someone should have worn a puffy shirt.

* The food: Sylva made an asparagus soup with a 63 C degree egg and a tarragon and macadamia nut pesto .. Sheldon made a filet mignon with a charred pinapple nuoc cham and candied macadamias … Shirley made mussels with roasted red peppers, farro, and bacon. Tom likes Sylva’s but seems lukewarm on it. Padma likes Sheldon’s dish, while Tom says it was a little too sweet. Shirley’s they love.

* Casey made a salt-brined scallop with preserved lemon puree, toasted Brazil nuts, and radishes … Brooke serves fried cauliflower with lemon aioli and a mustard seed/raisin/Brazil nut relish … Katsuji made a very thick caluflower soup with spicy sausage and some other stuff. Katsuji’s dish is too thick to be called soup, but the judges all agree it’s delicious. Brooke’s is way too acidic. Casey’s scallop had a weird texture; Tom says they clearly weren’t fresh and she should have cooked them.

* Emily made a lobster and fennel chowder with crisp chicken skin, makrut lime leaves, and orange zest. (She uses the common name for the fruit, kaffir lime, but kaffir is a racial slur and I really wish Top Chef would just stop using it, even if it means asking chefs to restate something.) … Tesar made lobster with truffle butter and gnocchi made from canned peas … Neck-Tat made chicken satay with pickled fennel and orange salad. Emily’s flavors were so muddy and the dish so rich and heavy that Padma calls it “mud chowder.” Tesar’s is fine. Neck-Tat’s satay is terrible; I think Tom called it “new-age cafeteria” food. Graham says it’s the combination of predictable and bad that really sinks it – but Neck-Tat had immunity.

* Judges’ table: Yellow team on top. Shirley’s didn’t look like much, but it overdelivered. Sheldon’s was boosted by the charred pineapple introducing a smoky element. Sylva’s soup may have been a little too hearty? Shirley wins.

* They bring the other two teams up to air them out, although the team with Emily, Tesar, and Neck-Tat is actually the losing team. Brooke concedes she overdid the acidity because she wanted to mute the raisins. Casey’s dish looked better than it tasted and the judges all agree the scallops were fishy. Casey insists they were fine to cook – I assume it’s rather insulting to be accused of serving fish that wasn’t fresh. Michael says scallops aren’t considered fresh “unless you can still see them moving.” That’s a little more freshness than I can stand.

* As the judges tear up the red team’s dishes, Emily ambushes Tesar, saying Tesar wanted to throw crappy ingredients at Neck-Tat because of the latter’s immunity, and then blaming Tesar for having her waste so much time breaking down lobster. Although I have no particular love for Tesar or how he treats people, this is a bit much – Emily’s dish was bad and she can’t just blame the team for that.

* Jamie – I’ll call him that, since things are getting serious now – offers up his immunity to be judged with his team. I don’t think that’s ever happened before, and I think Tom was taken aback by it. It’s a boss move and Katsuji offers his respect.

* Tom and Michael think Jamie’s satay was the worst dish; Padma and Graham think Emily’s chowder was. If the immunity stands, Emily’s clearly going home, and who could argue given her season to date?

* Padma asks Jamie once again if he’s willing to cede his immunity, and he is, so he’s eliminated. He lost because he showed some integrity, saying, “Gotta live with yourself at the end of the day.” Emily’s in tears, and makes a halfhearted statement about not wanting him to be eliminated, but that’s how it ends.

* Two more rookies were eliminated this week, so only two remain, Sylva and Emily, and she should have been gone weeks ago. With Restaurant Wars next week, she could easily sneak through again if someone goes home for being team lead or front of house.

* Rankings: Brooke, Sheldon, Sylva, Shirley, Katsuji, Tesar, Casey, Emily. There’s a lot of mediocrity in four through seven – not that they’re bad chefs, but none of those four is doing anything so exciting that I feel strongly about wanting them to get to the finals or semis. The first three have at least shown flashes of upside.

Midnight Special.

Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special came to my attention primarily via the Grierson & Leitch podcast, with Will Leitch naming it one of his ten best movies of the year (of which I’ve now seen six). It’s Nichols’ fourth movie, although it’s been overshadowed this year by the release of his fifth film, Loving, a fact-based dramatization of the couple behind the Loving v. Virginia court case, foreshadowing the upcoming effort in Texas to end interracial marriage.

I’ve never seen a full Jeff Nichols film other than this one; I started Take Shelter, which also starred Michael Shannon, but as a father of a young daughter (as his character was in that movie) found the conceit too upsetting and never finished it. Nichols does mine some similar psychological territory here, with Shannon again playing a father trying to protect a young child from unknown threats, but Midnight Special‘s demons are real, and the story doesn’t remind you that it’s terrifying to be a parent, instead wrapping the viewer up in the mystery of what exactly young Alton can do that has both the U.S. government and a Branch Davidian-like cult trying to capture him.

When the movie opens, we see Roy (Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton, who also plays the male lead in Loving) on the run with young Alton, who wears blue goggles, reads comic books, and is apparently extremely important to the cult from which he and Roy have fled. FBI officials raid the cult compound shortly after they’ve left, also in search of Alton, who we learn has apparently been revealing codes critical to national security when he speaks in tongues, and the church’s leader incorporates them into sermons. NSA analyst Paul (Adam Driver) is one of the lead investigators looking for Alton, believing the boy may be some sort of weapon, the one fleshed-out character among the multi-agency force behind the manhunt, while the church appears desperate to get the boy back because they believe he’s their savior.

Alton brown (cropped).jpg
This is not the boy you’re looking for. (photo by Lawrence Lansing)

Most of this works well, better than the vague description might imply, because the nature of Alton’s powers is not actually relevant to the final story, and the climax only partially explains what’s going on (although what the viewer sees is what Roy and the other characters would also see). This is light science fiction, and like better works of that genre it’s focused on character and story rather than goofy sci-fi tricks. Roy and Alton’s mother Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) are all grappling with their breaks with the church, their duties to protect Alton, and their utter confusion over what he actually is and why he insists on going to a specific location at a specific date and time. Lucas faces a similar inner conflict, the nature of which isn’t revealed until the second half of the film. Even Paul has to choose between the government that employs him (and to which, we might assume, he’s loyal beyond the paycheck) and his intellectual curiosity once he meets Alton and sees some of the boy’s abilities himself.

Midnight Special is thus driven by the strength of its performances, and fortunately for the film, the two leads are very strong. Shannon’s always a presence in any film – he has a commanding look, and he broods as well as anyone – while Edgerton, an Australian actor who was one of the highlights of Animal Kingdom, delivers a more nuanced performance here, wearing his discomfort a little less on his face and putting it more in the tone of his speech. Dunst has less to do, and there’s more handwringing to her performance as the worried mother who has little more than one moment of significance in the plot – when she tells Roy what she fears will happen when Alton reaches his destination.

Where I thought Midnight Special fell apart, at least a little, was in how it merely dispensed with plot points that it no longer needed. The cult stuff just disappears with little explanation and felt to me like a red herring within the larger story. Once we pass the climax, Sarah is similarly gone from the story, and it seems like she was there primarily because Nichols had to show us Alton’s mom. Even the nature of her last scene with Alton rang a little false to me, although explaining why would spoil the ending.

And that ending, at least, deserves some praise, because Nichols avoids excessive explanation – or, God help us, monologuing – in favor of just showing us what happens. We get the merest glimpse of an answer to the mystery of Alton’s nature, and even that probably leaves you with more questions, or at least opens the door to a whole separate exposition on what exactly that other space is, than you had before. But if you were there, part of the story as Roy or Sarah or Lucas are, then this would be all you’d get. That’s admirable restraint in a film that relies a bit too heavily on chase scenes, gunfire, and off-screen threats.

Right now Midnight Special is on my top ten list for 2016, but that’s primarily because I’ve only seen ten movies from last year so far and I think this would be tenth. (I’d put it behind Hail, Caesar!.) I am assuming it’ll drop out given the films I still need/want to see.


I’m a bit surprised that Philip Tetlock’s 2015 book Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction hasn’t been a bigger phenomenon along the lines of Thinking Fast and Slow and its offshoots, because Tetlock’s research, from the decades-long Good Judgment Project, goes hand in hand with Daniel Kahneman’s book and research into cognitive biases and illusions. Where Kahneman’s views tend to be macro, Tetlock is focused on the micro: His research looks at people who are better at predicting specific, short-term answers to questions like “Will the Syrian government fall in the next six months?” Tetlock’s main thesis is that such people do exist – people who can consistently produce better forecasts than others, even soi-disant “experts,” can produce – and that we can learn to do the same thing by following their best practices.

Tetlock’s superforecasters have a handful of personality traits in common, but they’re not terribly unusual and if you’re here there’s a good chance you have them. These folks are intellectually curious and comfortable with math. They’re willing to admit mistakes, driven to avoid repeating them, and rigorous in their process. But they’re not necessarily more or better educated and typically lack subject-matter expertise in most of the areas in the forecasting project. What Tetlock and co-author Dan Gardner truly want to get across is that any of us, whether for ourselves or for our businesses, can achieve marginal but tangible gains in our ability to predict future events.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Superforecasting is the need to get away from binary forecasting – that is, blanket statements like “Syria’s government will fall within the year” or “Chris Sale will not be a major-league starting pitcher.” Every forecast needs a probability and a timeframe, for accountability – you can’t evaluate a forecaster’s performance if he avoids specifics or deals in terms like “might” or “somewhat” – and for the forecaster him/herself to improve the process.

Within that mandate for clearer predictions that allow for post hoc evaluation comes the need to learn to ask the right questions. Tetlock reaches two conclusions from his research, one for the forecasters, one for the people who might employ them. Forecasters have to walk a fine line between asking the right questions and the wrong ones: One typical cognitive bias of humans is to substitute a question that is too difficult to answer with a similar question that is easier but doesn’t get at the issue at hand. (Within this is the human reluctance to provide the answer that Tetlock calls the hardest three words for anyone to say: “I don’t know.”) Managers of forecasters or analytics departments, on the other hand, must learn the difference between subjects for which analysts can provide forecasts and those for which they can’t. Many questions are simply too big or vague to answer with probabilistic predictions, so either the manager(s) must provide more specific questions, or the forecaster(s) must be able to manage upwards by operationalizing those questions, turning them into questions that can be answered with a forecast of when, how much, and at what odds.

Tetlock only mentions baseball in passing a few times, but you can see how these precepts would apply to the work that should come out of a baseball analytics department. I think by now every team is generating quantitative player forecasts beyond the generalities of traditional scouting reports. Nate Silver was the first analyst I know of to publicize the idea of attaching probabilities to these forecasts – here’s the 50th percentile forecast, the 10th, the 90th, and so on. More useful to the GM trying to decide whether to acquire player A or player B would be the probability that a player’s performance over the specified period will meet a specific threshold: There is a 63% chance that Joey Bagodonuts will produce at least 6 WAR of value over the next two years. You can work with a forecast like that – it has a specific value and timeframe with specific odds, so the GM can price a contract offer to Mr. Bagodonuts’ agent accordingly.

Could you bring this into the traditional scouting realm? I think you could, carefully. I do try to put some probabilities around my statements on player futures, more than I did in the past, certainly, but I also recognize I could never forecast player stat lines as well as a well-built model could. (Many teams fold scouting reports into their forecasting models anyway.) I can say, however, I think there’s a 40% chance of a pitcher remaining a starter, or a 25% chance that, if player X gets 500 at bats this season, he’ll hit at least 25 home runs. I wouldn’t go out and pay someone $15 million on the comments I make, but I hope it will accomplish two things: force me to think harder before making any extreme statements on potential player outcomes, and furnish those of you who do use this information (such as in fantasy baseball) with value beyond a mere ranking or a statement of a player’s potential ceiling (which might really be his 90th or 95th percentile outcome).

I also want to mention another book in this vein that I enjoyed but never wrote up – Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions, another entertaining look at cognitive illusions and biases, especially those that affect the way we value transactions that involve money – including those that involve no money because we’re getting or giving something for free. As in Kahneman’s book, Ariely’s explains that by and large you can’t avoid these brain flaws; you learn they exist and then learn to compensate for them, but if you’re human, they’re not going away.

Next up: Paul Theroux’s travelogue The Last Train to Zona Verde.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

Ben Fountain’s 2012 novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction for that year and has since been adapted into a widely-panned film by Ang Lee, although part of the critical response is because Lee used a super-high frame rate that apparently is quite distracting. That’s a real shame given how strong the story and dialogue are in Fountain’s novel, which all takes place on one day and deftly blends elements of satire, indignation, and hope.

Billy Lynn is part of an Iraqi platoon, Bravo company, involved in a firefight that was caught on video and has turned the group into American heroes, feted across the country, attached to a Hollywood agent trying to strike them a lucrative movie deal, and, on this day, an appearance at the halftime show on Thanksgiving at a Dallas Cowboys game. There are flashbacks to events from before the day on which the book takes place, but the bulk of it follows the boys around the stadium, into luxury suites, meetings with the team’s owner (not Jerry Jones … but okay, that’s pretty much Jerry Jones), a fortuitous meeting with the cheerleaders, odd encounters with fans, and a tussle or two with overzealous security guards. There really isn’t any football to speak of in the book – the Cowboys get destroyed, and fans get drunk – and the halftime show is just one scene in the entire story, which is far more about the kind of reception Bravo gets, especially in the heart of rah-rah ‘Merica, compared to the nature of their experiences and the signs of PTSD throughout the unit.

Fountain accomplishes a ton in this relatively short, quick-moving book. He crafts a number of interesting, clearly distinct characters among the soldiers, most of whom appear to be damaged to some degree from the ordeal – one dead, one severely injured, with numerous insurgents killed – and coping or not coping in different ways. Billy Lynn, just 19 and forced to grow up in a big hurry after joining the army to avoid jail after he destroyed his sister’s ex-boyfriend’s car, gets the most thorough treatment, since we get to spend time in his head and face his confusion over various moral questions, not least among them whether to finish his tour of duty or desert and become a symbol for the war’s opposition. But despite the relative lack of page time for most of Billy’s platoon-mates, Fountain manages to infuse each of them with enough unique attributes to make them distinct and memorable on their own, notably Sergeant Dime, Bravo Company’s leader.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk also creates a stark contrast between the reality of warfare and the perception of it back home – especially when the war is half a world away, against not a nation-state but groups of terrorists who don’t look, sound, or worship like us. Bravo Company’s actions are celebrated, and Fountain makes most of the Texans the soldiers meet come off as jingoistic and wholly naive about the state of the soldiers. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a toll even beyond the deaths and physical injuries; multiple government agencies have said at least 20% of Iraqi war veterans have come back with post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of Bravo Company are worse off than others, reflected in their actions and levels of substance abuse, but Billy Lynn in particular finds a real disconnect between their mental states and the way the locals, right up to the Cowboys’ (possibly sociopathic) owner, treat them as conquering heroes who did what they did because they just love their country so damned much.

If there’s a weak spot here, it’s the cheerleader subplot, although I suspect Fountain included it to provide a single thread of light in what is ultimately a dark comedy – funny, yes, but a very unflattering look at how we wage war today and treat returning veterans. Fountain brings up masturbation way too often, and then works it into Billy’s lust-at-first-sight dalliance with a cheerleader named Faison, a relationship that starts crude but ends up feeling like a desperate teenage love story. The contrast helps lighten the book, but there’s also a sentimental aspect to this thread that doesn’t fit the novel’s overall tone … but it did allow Fountain to introduce the only female character of any substance at all in the book, which probably didn’t hurt when it came to selling the film rights either.

The movie version was filmed at 120 frames per second, five times the normal frame rate for a movie, which even positive reviews have criticized for distracting from the plot and dialogue; that’s enough reason for me to skip it, as I’d say 90% of the time I see a book and associated film, I prefer the book anyway. In this case, I wonder if a film version could really capture the characterization Fountain has created in the novel, given how movies tend to eliminate or merge characters, and filmed versions of dialogue-heavy novels have to cut substantial amounts of the chatter to fit everything into two hours. But I can’t imagine choosing to make a movie about an important idea – that contrast between the reality of war for those in it, and the way those of us over here tend to sanitize or glamorize it – in an experimental way that detracts from the story’s core message. And none of the reviewers I trust has given me any reason to go see it.

Next up: I’ve been reading at a torrid pace since Christmas, finishing four books in the last seven days, including John Banville’s chilling novel (and Booker Prize finalist) The Book of Evidence, written as the confession of a sociopathic murderer, and Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner’s Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction. I’ve just started Dorothy Sayers’ Strong Poison, the sixth Lord Peter Wimsey mystery and the fourth I’ve read.

Stick to baseball, 1/7/17.

I’ve been working on the top 100 prospects package, which begins a three-week rollout on January 18th, since New Year’s, so I didn’t write anything for Insider this week. My boardgame reviews continue, with a review of the Celtic-themed game Inis for Paste and a review of the boardgame and new iOS app for Colt Express here on the dish. I did hold my regular Klawchat on Thursday.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon, or from other sites via the Harper-Collins page for the book. Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

  • Several former Justice Department lawyers penned an op ed claiming that Jeff Sessions is lying about his involvement in civil rights cases. They say, “Sessions knows that his real record on race and civil rights is harmful to his chances for confirmation. So he has made up a fake one.” In a rational world, that would end his nomination for Attorney General.
  • Venezuela’s ongoing political and economic meltdown may lead to a recall of president/dictator Nicolas Maduro, but he appointed a successor this week in new Vice President Tarek el Aissami, who is (or was) under investigating by U.S. authorities for drug trafficking.
  • Author Ryan Holiday wrote an insightful, somewhat angry piece on the ‘online diversity police’, folks who immediately decry the lack of diversity on any list or grouping (often inaccurately, as it turns out).
  • Lindy West wrote one of the week’s best, most important essays, on why she left Twitter after six years on the service, citing the endless abuse and the rise of neo-Naziism.
  • The Daily Beast exposed the long con of 55-year-old “millennial” comedian Dan Nainan, who tries to pass himself off as 35 and has fooled several media outlets as such.
  • Esquire has a longread on former Deadspin and Gawker EIC A.J. Daulerio, whose career was derailed by the Hulk Hogan sex tape lawsuit.
  • Grierson & Leitch each posted their top ten films of 2016, along with a 100-minute podcast where they reveal their lists to each other and discuss them. As usual, Leitch’s list comprises fairly well-known films, while Grierson’s has several films I’ve heard of and three that may not actually exist.
  • The eight-year-old transgender boy kicked out of a New Jersey Cub Scouts group after other parents complained talked to the Jersey Journal, as did his mother, about what happened, in a piece that also explores the psychiatric community’s evolving understanding of “gender dysphoria.”
  • Jill Saward’s death didn’t garner much coverage here either, but she was an important figure in the movement for sexual assault victims’ rights, as the first British rape victim to waive her right to anonymity and publicly discuss her case.
  • Will Trump’s election mark the return of civil disobedience? So far it has, but can the various movements opposed to the Republicans’ reactionary agenda keep it up for four or more years?
  • Let’s talk about the Russian hacking operation, which a US intelligence report says Putin ‘ordered’ to get Trump elected. David Remnick weighed in as well.
  • The Seattle Times called out Trump’s “reckless linkage” of vaccines to autism, desperate overwhelming evidence that there is no link.
  • Lauren Duca of Teen Vogue has quickly become one of the most important voices in political journalism, thanks to pieces like this one about the family selling access to the President-Elect at a party at Trumo’s Mar-a-Lago resort that made over $420K.
  • Republican Christine Todd Whitman headed up the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush, but she said she fears for the planet under a Trump regime for many reasons, including his denial of climate change.
  • The Washington Post‘s Dave Weigel outlines the Republican Party’s plan for a “sweeping conservative agenda” now that they control the White House and both houses of Congress. I’d dispute the word “conservative” here, though; this is very much an agenda written by and for white Americans, especially Christians, but doesn’t bear much resemblance to the traditional economic and libertarian-minded conservatism of Reagan or Buckley.
  • The political crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo hasn’t gotten much attention here amidst our own, but President Kabila hasn’t signed the agreement to end his rule, which has been marked primarily by his looting of the country’s coffers of millions of dollars.
  • Finally, the Huffington Post made news of nothing with a piece on Mark Zuckerberg apparently becoming an ex-atheist. I’m linking this for one major reason – my disdain for the need to classify people by their religious beliefs, something I first encountered on Wikipedia maybe a decade ago, where articles on people can be categorized by the subject’s religion. You can change your religious beliefs on a dime; you can lie about them (in many countries, you may have to); you can fail to fit in any neat bucket of beliefs. As a general rule, I don’t think your religion is any of my business unless you wish to make it so, so I particularly dislike the idea that you need to know what someone believes or, as in this case, that a possible change in the beliefs of a famous person are somehow newsworthy. I’ll be happier when Zuckerberg’s beliefs include extirpating fake news sites from Facebook.

Top Chef, S14E06.

Welcome back to this season of Top Chef Some-Stars! Let’s see if any of the rookies can survive another challenge.

* Quickfire: Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy is there, talking about getting people to eat more healthful foods. The challenge is to make a more healthful version of fatty, carb-heavy comfort foods – chicken pot pie, meatloaf, beef stroganoff, and more. All dishes must be made vegetarian, which is good, and chefs can only grab tools and ingredients one at a time, which is stupid, and yet another way the show consistently discriminates against chefs who are older or heavier or just less athletic.

* Sheldon has no clue what tuna casserole is, which is to his credit, I think. (I’ve never eaten it, and couldn’t tell you how to make it.) Also, he’s coming off an injury in the previous episode, so running back and forth seems like a great idea!

* Neck-Tat is making his dish “almost vegan,” with crumbled tofu as the protein. He says his son has been vegetarian since age 3, but I’d love to know why – did his son ask where meat comes from and then ask to stop eating it?

* Jim is using eggplant for its meatiness in his vegetarian version of chicken-fried steak, and that’s why I don’t love eggplant – it does have a meaty texture, but not the good kind. Unless it’s really handled well, like salting it ahead of time to draw out moisture, eggplant slices develop a texture like wet meat.

* Tesar says he’s never seen seitan before. Is that possible? He’s correct that vegetarian protein substitutes often aren’t very flavorful; you have to infuse them with flavor through marinades, seasoning, cooking methods, and so on. He calls them all “tofu derivatives,” but seitan is actually wheat gluten.

* The food: Amanda made a vegetable stroganoff with charred eggplant, tomato, and yogurt … Katsuji made spaghetti (zucchini noodles) and zucchini meatballs, cut with a melon baller, so he really made a big plate of zucchini … Brooke made vegetarian lasagna with grilled zucchini, bechamel, and tomato sauce, using tofu in the base to add creaminess … Tesar made a veggie burger with mushrooms, curry powder, and cranberries … Sylva made seitan and masa dumplings (a riff on chicken and dumplings) … Casey made a vegetable pot pie with silken tofu and crumbled farro crust … Neck-Tat made a crumbled tofu sloppy joe with bell peppers, onion, and tomato paste, along with a side salad … Jim made his baked eggplant steak with a pistachio, mint, lemon zest, and parsley topping plus a mushroom gravy … Emily made a vegetarian “meatloaf” with almonds and charred tomato.

* Dr. Murthy is kind of a big nerd, right? That’s not an insult, not when I say it at least. He didn’t like Sylva’s (hard to chew), Casey’s (topping was grainy), or Katsuji (noodles were soggy and oversauced – look at the doctor dropping some cooking knowledge). Favorites: Emily’s was tasty and looked right; Neck-Tat’s; and Brooke’s lasagna, which looked great and had a creamy texture. Winner is … Neck-Tat. Thought Brooke should have had this one, based on comments and Dr. Murthy’s emphasis on visual appeal.

* Elimination challenge: Honoring southern chef Edna Lewis, the first African-American celebrity chef and a pioneer in spreading the gospel of southern cooking as a cuisine. Toni Tipton Martin and Alexander Smalls are there, with Smalls, a restaurateur and a Grammy and Tony-Award winning opera singer, serving as guest judge. Padma compares Lewis’ influence to Julia Child’s influence on French cooking in the US. The challenge is to create a dish that pays homage to her legacy, and the chefs will be cooking at the same restaurant kitchen Lewis used to cook in. Her cookbooks made her a celebrity, especially The Taste of Country Cooking, first published in 1976 (when Lewis was 60 years old) and still in print.

* This is the kind of challenge I would love if this entire season hadn’t been only southern cuisine challenges. Now it’s just more of the same kind of food.

* Katsuji is doing fried chicken and watermelon. Sylva implies that’ll be an insult to the table of southern chefs. Lewis’ frying medium for her fried chicken was oil flavored with bacon or ham and then butter. I get that that sounds awful, but it probably made for very crispy skin, and I assume some of this was the old ethic of saving and reusing everything you could. If you cook and eat bacon, save that fat. It’s good for a lot of things, including greasing the pancake griddle and making flour tortillas.

* Sylva’s father blocked him from going to the Culinary Institute of America because he said “no son of mine is going to be a domestic.” Oof. Also now I have that awful Genesis song in my head.

* Jim is making a dish with a consomme and discusses the need to thoroughly clarify it. Michael Ruhlman wrote in The Making of a Chef about how at the CIA the instructor wanted to be able to see the lettering on a dime sitting at the bottom of the pot. That’s a fantastic read, by the way, even if you don’t cook.

* The food: Jim made seared shrimp with a smoked turkey wing and smoked pork consomme, plus spring peas and squash; Hugh (Hugh!) says it was very clean & seasonal, says it’s really working, but Tom says the peas were undercooked … Katsuji made fried chicken with pickled rind watermelon salad, and it turns out everyone likes the use of the watermelon, especially that he pickled the rind to pair with the fried chicken; he seems to have been aware of the stereotype and wanted to make it “go away” … Brooke made a warm salad with braised chicken and bread crumbs, grilled Swiss chard, sunchokes, blackberry vinaigrette, and lemon curd; Hugh says it’s either a dessert that wants to be savory or savory course that wants to be sweet. I’ll say this is a big pet peeve of mine at fine restaurants – I don’t like much if any sugar in savory courses. It’s such an overpowering flavor that it can ruin the complexity and texture of a lot of dishes. And there is a special level of hell for people who put sugar in their tomato sauce.

* OK, back to the food … Emily made deep-fried semolina-crusted chicken livers (she wanted to pan-fry but ran out of time) with corn puree, dandelion green salad, blackberry sauce; Gail says the livers were totally underseasoned and no one seems to approve of the deep-frying … Shirley made chicken and rice, confit chicken wings with collard greens and rice, and a watercress salad; Smalls loves the collard greens and rice, but come on, watercress salad is so 1996 … Tesar made “pan-broiled” chicken thigh (which is what Lewis called frying it in butter until the skin crisped) with roasted sunchokes and watercress; Art Smith says he “channeled” Lewis in that dish … Sylva made a flour- and cornmeal-crusted skillet-fried snapper that looked absolutely gorgeous with garden vegetables and vegetable broth; clearly hit the mark, Art loves how crispy the fish is, so does Biggie Smalls, and did I mention it looked amazing? … Sheldon made pork belly and cabbage with cabbage jus and potato; Tom loves the idea, but I’m not sure he liked the dish … Amanda did a roast duck breast with sweet potatoes, spiced pecans, balsamic onions, dandelion greens; Padma dislikes the chunky nature of the dish, Hugh says duck is chewy, and the dish isn’t southern enough … Casey made chicken and dumplings stuffed with chicken, and ham (maybe tasso?) … Neck-Tat fails to plate one of his dishes, which of course goes to Padma; he made roasted strip steak with sunchokes, spring onions, corn soubise; the meat is a little rare – I saw one of the steaks moo and head for a Chik-Fil-A billboard – while the corn soubise is the best part for Tom.

* Brooke’s dish was “a mess,” per Hugh. Emily’s chicken livers lacked complexity and were overwhelmed by the sweetness. Hugh says Amanda’s “pulled at no heartstrings.” And the components weren’t done so well either. Really, I was happy to get Hugh’s opinions on everything since he wasn’t at Judges’ Table.

* Favorites: Jim, Sylva, and Sheldon. Gail loved Jim’s flavors and the simplicity of the dish. Biggie Smalls praises Sylva’s, says “it’s an Edna Lewis piece,” that Sylva handled the fish brilliantly and paid respect to the vegetables; Gail can’t get over how the breading was thick and still crunchy. Biggie says Sheldon “brought the ancestors with you today.” Smalls is like Morgan Freeman here with that heavy, slow delivery; I would pay to hear him narrate an audiobook. The winner is Sylva. That fish looked stunning – I love fried fish, but it’s so often disappointing, and his looked as good as any fried fish I’ve ever eaten myself. He says afterwards it’s his favorite dish that he’s ever cooked. I can see why.

* Least favorites: Amanda, Emily, and Brooke. Amanda’s dish had no “soul,” the duck was dry and a little boring. Emily’s bad mix of sweet and savory didn’t work; she’s teary in front of the judges, but she’s had a bad run on the show and there’s no sign of progress here. Smalls says to Brooke that with her clash of tastes, he “didn’t get the blackberry, didn’t get the lemon;” Tom thinks she tried to get too modern. Brooke says she got inspired by too many things in the book, and regrets introducing the sauce to the dish. Without that, she’s probably not on the bottom, since no one is questioning her execution of any element.
* Amanda is eliminated, and she knew it as soon as Tom said “we didn’t get that feeling” from the losing dish. That leaves us with six veterans, four rookies. Did Emily survive so we didn’t end up at seven to three?

* Quick rankings: Brooke, Jim, Sylva, Sheldon, Shirley, Tesar, Casey, Katsuji, Neck-Tat, Emily. I truly can’t see any of the last four winning, and even Tesar seems to lack the kind of ingenuity that usually wins (but not last season). This is still Brooke’s to lose, even with the slight stumble this week.

The Night Of.

I started HBO’s limited series The Night Of when it premiered in July, liked the first three episodes, got busy and just never got back around to it, because it’s the kind of series that demands your full attention, not scattered looks here and there. I finally binged the last three episodes over the past few days, racing to the end, and, well, as usual Alan Sepinwall got it right, although I think on balance I liked the series more than he did.

Co-written by Richard Price, who wrote several episodes of The Wire along with the incredible novel Lush Life and the solid Clockers, HBO’s The Night Of was adapted from a five-hour British TV series called Criminal Justice, keeping the same core elements but adding several critical details. The story centers on Naz (Riz Ahmed, nominated for a Golden Globe Award), a naive college student of Pakistani descent who “borrows” his father’s cab for a night out, ends up picking up a girl, partying and sleeping with her, only to find when he wakes up in her apartment that she’s been brutally stabbed to death. After a sequence that’s both gripping and a comedy of errors, he’s arrested and charged with the crime, which informs the remainder of the series. (If you don’t have HBO, you can watch the series on amazon.)

The Night Of splits across at least four intertwined plot threads that eventually coalesce in the eighth and final episode. Naz is first represented by eczema-riddled, $250/pop defense attorney John Stone (John Turturro, also nominated for a Golden Globe Award), later joined after various machinations by the young idealist Chandra Kapoor (Amara Karan); they’re opposed by DA Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin) and about-to-retire Detective Dennis Box (Bill Camp), with each side’s efforts forming one subplot. A third focuses on Naz’s experiences in prison, where he’s taken under the wing of convicted murderer Freddy Knight (Micheal K. Williams, a.k.a. Omar Little). A fourth focuses on the impact of Naz’s arrest on his family and the Muslim community, including the destruction it wreaks on his family’s finances, and the harassment they get from Muslims who fear that it will stir up further prejudice against them and from white supremacists who, frankly, need little provocation anyway.

Awards aside – this is going to lose everything to The People vs. O.J. Simpson at the Golden Globes – The Night Of is strong and compelling but flawed. The storylines don’t carry equal weight or even work that well when presented in counterpoint; the prison stuff felt very rushed and often lurid, while the investigative threads are deliberate, almost cautious, building tension because the stakes are high, and the truth of what happened that night doesn’t become clear until the last episode. If you look only at those two subplots – the prosecutors and the defense – The Night Of is a smart crime drama elevated by several brilliant characters. Interspersing prison scenes or the languid (if entirely plausible) vignettes of Naz’s family presents pacing issues that dragged the middle episodes for me.

And then there is the utter disaster of Chandra Kapoor’s character, who is completely undone by her utterly inexplicable and unrealistic choices in the seventh episode to shatter ethical boundaries between attorney and client, putting her career at risk (or right in the toilet) with no warning or internal justification. Karan nails this character up through that episode, effusing intelligence and confidence with her voice, her posture, and her facial expressions; this is a young lawyer on the come, a woman of integrity, destined for big cases where she owns the room and the cameras, so when the writers have her do two mind-blowingly stupid things as mere plot contrivances (i.e., so Stone can deliver the closing argument), they undo all the work they and Karan have done to build this character into a credible, three-dimensional person.

(Unrelated, but I was floored to find out Karan was born in the UK; her American accent isn’t just good, but precisely neutral. Ahmed is also British, but his character’s accent is very New York, and you can hear little moments where he’s emphasizing certain consonants to harden it. Doing a dead-neutral accent like Karan is a harder task.)

In the original series, the defendant was played by Ben Whishaw (The Lobster, The Hour), so the switch to a Muslim character and son of immigrants introduced an entirely new element to the series, one that the writers chose to explore on the outside of the courtroom but sort of dropped on the way to trial inside it. With white supremacists becoming more open in their hate and their actions, I feel like the treatment of the hostility toward Naz’s family and Muslims in general could have received more thorough handling in the family thread, perhaps with less of the pandering violence scenes from the prison.

Peyman Moaadi (A Separation) is great but underutilized as Naz’s father, reduced to a sad-sack character whose life is spinning beyond his control, and Williams chews up the screen most of the times he appears, playing a character (the criminal with a code) we’ve seen from him before. The series has a bunch of fun cameos, though, with J.D. Williams (Bodie from The Wire) appearing in several episodes, Trudie Styler (an actress best known as Sting’s wife) as a cougar who dated the murder victim’s stepfather, and Roscoe Orman (Gordon from Sesame Street) as the jury foreman. I didn’t recognize rappers Sticky Fingaz of Onyx or Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian, but both appeared as fellow inmates of Naz and Freddy at Rikers Island.

Despite all of those issues with the series, I found the core storyline – did Naz do it, and how would both sides assemble and present their cases to the jury – very compelling. The final episode doesn’t resort to cheap tricks or big gotcha moments; we get small, very human glimpses into most of the characters, even ones we don’t know that well like DA Weiss. The resolution of Naz’s story is poignant yet ambiguous, and Stone gets almost the same kind of half-and-half treatment. But I do think the cat was just a metaphor, nothing more.

Klawchat 1/5/17.

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Klaw: Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of. Klawchat.

Ron: Use of second half stats such as your piece on Desmond’s second half slump as a representation of what to expect going forward. This is not true and any study of projections will demonstrate that this is a false picture. Data for players is so limited anyway and full season data is the much stronger option to use. When you use second half stats to misrepresent a player’s value it produces a false narrative just like you always warn against. Of course that doesn’t detract too much from your overall point in Desmond’s case. Anyway not a jab. I follow your work extensively for a reason. Just a heads up
Klaw: Except that I didn’t do that. I pointed out that Desmond’s second half looked a lot like his performance from 2014-15. That’s a much larger sample to work with. Second half stats alone are subject to small sample size issues and caliber of competition problems with September callups.

Niles standish: Does Christian Arroyo have a chance to crack the top 50 on your next list? Do you think moving him to 3B will be a struggle for him due to his limited range? Thank you.
Klaw: I don’t think he’s a top 50 prospect.

ILLINIcheid: With all the talk about the obscure California labor law that could affect player free agency (Trout, Bumgarner, Posey…not Pujols), if a lesser player used this clause would they be blackballed by MLB teams? Would the directive be from MLB brass, owners, or would General Managers take it upon themselves?
Klaw: Fangraphs ran a piece yesterday claiming a California labor law could grant free agency to players with seven years of employment for any California-based team. The article is almost certainly wrong – the CBA would supersede that law – and doesn’t seem to have any opinions of anyone but the author. I didn’t see anyone from MLB or the union mentioned in there. To your question, blackballing such a player would result in a lawsuit and probably wouldn’t stand, even if such a thing happened (all 30 teams ignoring a player of value).

Dave: As someone who obviously values paying for creative services (and rightfully so), what are your thoughts on Spotify and how it pays artists? From what I’ve read, seems that artists (the smaller ones mainly) get underpaid, potentially even enormously. It’s led to my hesitancy to make the switch to Spotify.
Klaw: I’ve asked some professional musicians I know, and they favor it – they do make money from it, hardly enough but some, and it gives them wider exposure. I actually signed up for the paid service after one of the members of Superhumanoids (Cameron Parkins) told me he thought it benefited small artists.

Jamie: Gavin Cecchini made the back end of your Top 100 last year and you still seemed optimistic that he could stay at SS. From all I’ve read it seems his defense got even worse, but he still looks to be a solid hitter. Will he be anywhere near your Top 100 this year? Do you see him ending up an everyday player?
Klaw: No, he got much worse, and I think he’s a 2b only.

Zach: In theory, do you think teams that ask for taxpayer money to build stadiums should have their full finances open to the public?
Klaw: Yes. Or I’d favor a federal law banning this. If no cities can offer it, then the practice goes away. (And yes, this sort of corporate welfare happens in other industries too, probably to states’ or cities’ detriment, but at least those factories or offices create better jobs.)

Trumbo: Why do you think there’s been such a lull in the FA market?
Klaw: Market is weak and most of the top guys on my rankings have already signed.

Jarrod: Recently heard Sam Miller voice his distaste for ROY award, citing it favors older players and is biased against players who enter midseason for fiscal reasons (e.g., Gary Sanchez). As an alternative, he suggests best player awards by age groups (e.g., best under 25). As part of his case, Miller stated that Felix Hernandez was younger than at least one top 3 finisher for ROY for 7 straight years(!). Thoughts on Miller’s idea?
Klaw: My solution to this problem has been to consider players’ ages, look at performance relative to playing time, and perhaps consider their prospect status as well. I don’t think the award should be just “rookie who had the best year.” We’re trying to point to stars here and tell fans, “hey, watch these two guys, they might be stars.”

Sam: I’m struggling with the whole RP shouldn’t be in the HOF argument. I get that many, if not all, relief pitchers are guys who weren’t good enough to be starters, and I get the argument that they don’t throw as many innings as starters so it’s difficult to impact a game as much. However, relief pitching is still certainly a very important part of baseball, and wields itself in virtually every game one-way or another. As so, can’t we just appreciate relievers for what they are and what their role is? And put the guys that were the very best in this role in the HOF? I know you don’t like Hoffman as a HOF’er, but he’s a guy that had a lot of success for a long time, and as we know, that kind of sustained success is rare for relievers.
Klaw: If you put most average, not HoF-caliber starters in relief roles, they’d be as good as or better than nearly all closers (Mo Rivera excepted). Relievers are guys who couldn’t start, like utility infielders are guys who couldn’t play every day.

Nick: Could either of the big name PR players (Ricardo De La Torre & Wilberto Rivera) sneak into the first round of the draft?
Klaw: I think that’s a low probability, maybe 20% chance we see a Puerto Rican player go in the true first round this year. There are a lot of probable top 100 guys in PR this year, but nobody who’s clearly first-round worthy.

JD, Arlington: Does Tyson Ross have anything left? SD ditching him is damning. I’ll hang up and listen.
Klaw: I’m out. Bad delivery, hurt often, never throws strikes.

Mike: Seems like the holdup on the Twins trading Dozier to the Dodgers is the isistance on getting 2 MLB-ready prospects from the Dodgers. Are the Dodgers being unreasonable by trying to hold on to both DeLeon and Stewart?
Klaw: I don’t think that’s an unfair ask for the Twins, but that would severely cut into the Dodgers’ starting pitching depth, and I think the result would reduce the Dodgers’ potential gains from adding Dozier.

Adam: Why don’t people make a bigger deal of Faedo’s knee issues when discussing his draft stock?
Klaw: Because we don’t know anything about them yet. Teams haven’t seen medicals. He hasn’t come back to the mound and had any trouble, or shown no ill effects.

Chris: In some parallel universe where the Wilpons didn’t own the Mets, what kind of return would you expect for Bruce if mets ate his entire salary?
Klaw: Very little. If you get someone’s 8th best prospect you’re probably happy.

Jay: When do you expect to have your top 100 up?
Klaw: The team rankings will appear starting on January 18th, and the top 100 will start rolling out on January 23rd, appearing in blocks of 20 each day.

JR: Surprised at all the bats still available this late in the offseason?
Klaw: I’m not because they’re all pretty flawed. Few guys who can play a position. Lot of platoon DH types. Why pay more for that when you probably have someone who’s 85% of that in your system?

Josh: People have frequently talking about Wieters’ lack of pitch-framing skill this offseason. Do you believe that’s something a catcher can “learn” at some point in their career or is it an innate skill that can’t necessarily be taught?
Klaw: We have tangible evidence it can be taught. Jason Castro is one good example.

Scott: I’ve seen some talk lately of Robert ‘The Lighthouse’ Stephenson being destined for the bullpen this year due to his command issues, but wouldn’t it make more sense to keep trying him as a starter and using those three option years he has remaining to be sure he can’t maximize that potential?
Klaw: I would, because he has three pitches that grade out as above-average to plus, and I think in his case it’s not just the catch-all command issue but the overuse of the changeup.

Jeff: I’ve heard you say repeatedly that the Angels will not trade Mike Trout. But, it just doesn’t make sense to me. If you can trade one 9-win player for three 4-win players, don’t you do that?
Klaw: This isn’t the issue. The issue is the owner won’t trade him.

Rob: Dave Cameron mentioned shortly after the Eaton trade that sources he spoke to said Giolito’s stock is down and those sources have doubts about Giolito reaching the #1 starter type, more of a 3 or 4 now. Do you agree with that assessment?
Klaw: I do not, nor do the folks I’ve talked to; the common refrain has been that the Nats shouldn’t have altered his delivery or brought him to the majors while he was still readjusting, and that the 2015 version is likely still there.

Matt: So…Curt Schilling. He seems like he’s become a bitter angry man that blames others for his own shortcomings. If there is ever an example of money doesn’t make you happy, it’s him. I’m glad I don’t go through life with so much anger and hate.
Klaw: It’s been sad to see; I’ve said before I never had any issues working with Curt, and I think he’s got a lot of stuff to contribute when talking pitching. His commentary of late has moved even further away from anything I can comprehend.

Mike: Has the outlook on Berrios dimmed at all? Any clue on what we can attribute the control issues to?
Klaw: His fastball is flat and straight, and I think in the majors he tried to pitch away from contact more. I have to take a break for that phone call – it moved 1 to 2 to 1:30 – but I will return in maybe 45 minutes to finish the chat.

David: Can you imagine Dusty working with Dave Stewart? That would be a historic train wreck, wouldn’t it?
Klaw: I think that’s too many old ideas and not enough new thinking.

Dustin: I have vowed to listen to (even) more music this year. I am quite open-minded and enjoy many genres. Please recommend as many non-mainstream albums/artists as you feel compelled to name.
Klaw: If you have Spotify, check out my top 100 songs of last year.

Jason: Why has Tyrell Jenkins been picked up and released four times in the last month? Is there a particular reason (contract, options, or otherwise) why teams can’t just keep him stashed in the minors?
Klaw: Talked to a few scouts about him this winter. Consensus is that for a great athlete he’s got a less-athletic delivery, something that either was taught to him or that came about after the shoulder surgery, but that either way the stuff wasn’t as crisp and of course he couldn’t miss bats. I think he’s a perfect project for the Padres – try to restore the delivery, get some length back, take advantage of his size and looseness, see if you can find the missing stuff.

Bob: Here’s an answer to the closers-in-the-HOF argument. Would you have traded prime Trevor Hoffman for prime Curt Schilling straight up? Yeah, I thought not.
Klaw: That’s another way to look at it. So is just the sheer total innings comparison; Hoffman’s career IP is about six innings of a starter, which wouldn’t even qualify you for the Hall.

Bucky: How soon do you think Bellinger can be ML ready? Can you forsee another Belt/Huff situation with he and Gonzalez?
Klaw: Some time this year, and I think the Dodgers will make room when he’s ready.

Gene Mullett: Heard the Goblin Cock LP on JoyfulNoise? Certainly not trying to be facetious, I didn’t pick the name. It’s Rob from Pinback & it’s been a very pleasant surprise.
Klaw: Yeah, it’s actually pretty good, like they started out as a parody band and suddenly made some decent music.

John Liotta: Hope you had a great holiday! I finished the year having read 128 books- my goal was 100. I knocked out a lot of the books I wanted to read. Of course there are still more; there are always more. What were some of your favorites this year? What’s on your list to read this year? And, is there anything you have been continually pushing aside?
Klaw: Nice job! I’ve never gotten to 120 or even 110 in a year. Some of my favorites that I read in 2016: In the Light of What We Know, The Executioner’s Song, the Caine Mutiny, The Vorrh, Station Eleven, The Most Dangerous Book, The Sellout, The Doomsday Book, Predictably Irrational, The Alchemy of Air. The to-do list is already about 20 deep, and the book I’ve pushed aside is Brin’s The Uplift War, which I started reading last January, and gave up when I found it slow and, as it turned out, was about to get horribly sick.

Ryan S: What level of baseball understanding is your target audience for your book? I love your baseball input but don’t want to spend the money if it’s way over my head or meant for a complete novice.
Klaw: It’s not over anyone’s head. A complete novice? Well, I’m not explaining what a ball and a bat are, so you might be OK.

Paul: Hi Keith, what are your thoughts on Louis Gohara? Can he be a number 2 in a few years? I know he had some make up issues but he seems to have found his focus last season
Klaw: I think the upside is at least a two, but there’s huge risk, not least because he’s huge.

JB: Thoughts on what Wikileaks and Snowden have provided? Traitors or heroes?
Klaw: Snowden’s a hero to me. Wikileaks as a conduit is what it is – an outlet for leaked documents. Assange is a sleaze, and I have no idea why the Ecuadorian embassy (or anyone) would protect an accused rapist.

Anonymous: The Yankees appear to be at a critical point in the win curve, have spaces in their rotation that could use an upgrade, have one of the deepest farms in the game, and just gave nearly 18 mil a year for a closer. Specific package aside, are there any reasons why the Yankees shouldn’t press hard for Quintana?
Klaw: No; I think any holdup is over the price in prospects. When you have a deep, strong system, people will ask for a lot.

Bryan: Based on your recommendation, I bought Pandemic from Amazon 2 months ago, and my wife and I love it. However, we seem to be able to win relatively easy. This might seem like an odd question, but how much do you collaborate with other players when you play? We keep our cards face up during the entire game.
Klaw: We collaborate too. You can tweak the difficulty level by increasing the threat level and using more Epidemic cards.

Votto: Klaw, every now and then, usually around HOF time, you insist that “there is no evidence” that PED’s have any effect on baseball performance. So what are you saying, exactly – that you have doubts that HGH or steroids have even an indirect effect on one’s playing performance because a peer-reviewed study in a medical journal doesn’t say so? That until this happens, players may as well be popping Smarties?
Klaw: I thought that was clear. There is no evidence that they help. That’s not saying they DON’T help; it’s saying that the absence of evidence has allowed the tight-underpants crowd to treat all PEDs as superpills and to act like they’re all equal in power. For the record, I believe that amphetamines, which are classified as PEDs, truly do help – but I can’t tell you how much, or even necessarily prove that belief.

J: Smart Baseball book tour means Portland which means Powells which means Apizza Scholls & Le Pigeon. Good reason to write the book
Klaw: Book tour is still TBD but, as Doug Judy would say, that’s still very much on the table.

Albert: As arguably the best defensive CF ever, with almost 450 home runs, Andruw Jones belongs in the Hall of Fame, right?
Klaw: He’s going to be very tough. My gut says yes, the best CF ever belongs in the Hall, and it’s not like he was Bill Mazeroski with the stick, either. But he was effectively done at 30, and I think his career totals across the board are a little light for the Hall. One of my favorites to watch, though. I believe I get a vote in his first or second year on the ballot, so at some point I’ll have to commit.

Shaughn: Keith, with all of the activity around A’s ownership/loss of revenue sharing this offseason, I expected some bigger moves (moving Sonny, exploring more trades), but the lack of activity this offseason (Rajai Davis?) has me scratching my head… is there any hope on the horizon?
Klaw: I didn’t get the Davis move – he’s likely a 1 WAR guy this year, and $6 million for one win in Oakland probably is a net loss (a win isn’t worth much to a below-average team in with a low revenue base). Would playing Eibner for nothing really be that much worse?

G: Word around the time of the Adam Eaton trade was that Giolito’s value amongst teams around the league isn’t as high as recent prospect lists would lead one to believe–and now similar things are being said about Glasnow amidst the Quintana talk. When making your yearly list, do you consult team executives, or do you rely on your own scouting and reports?
Klaw: My list is more reliant on my scouting, notes from all the scouts I talk to, and some analytics work. I do discuss my list with execs, and their input matters, but it can’t be wishy-washy kind of feedback like what you’re describing. Also, bear in mind sometimes you may get folks trying to run certain prospects’ value down.

Orbit: How good can Astros Martes be? Would you have traded martes , tucker for Sale?
Klaw: I wouldn’t have traded Sale for Tucker & Martes.

Anonymous: Am I just being particular and pedantic when I get annoyed by people who talk about an “aging player” or an “aging roster”? I mean we’re all aging. E just aged reading this question.
Klaw: It’s the polite way of saying, fuck, you’re old.

Zach: How high do you think walker buehler’s ceiling is?
Klaw: If he can really hold this stuff over a full season, I don’t see why he’s not a number one starter. But we have no evidence he can do that yet.

Ray Grace: It sounds like Willie Calhoun doesn’t have the defensive chops to be the Dodger’s long term 2nd baseman but I saw someone write that he’s most likely a Zobrist-like super utility type player. Do you agree and does the bat ultimately play in the majors?
Klaw: He’s not a second baseman, and won’t be good enough on the dirt to be Zobrist. That little SOB can hit, though. I think he finds a way to be an everyday player somewhere, maybe LF.

HugoZ: Given that Oakland’s payroll projects to be around 72 million at the moment, is there any real reason to get as concerned about Davis’ salary as one twitter pundit appears to be? They can play him, trade him, bench him, what difference will it make?
Klaw: Their resources are finite, so that $6 million doesn’t go to a player with a real chance to return something in trade. Daniel Hudson got $11 million over two years, and that’s a deal with much more potential upside for the club, either in trade or returned value, than a 36-year-old whose bat is pretty clearly in decline.

ILLINIcheid: RE: blackballing in MLB. You mention that a blackball situation would result in a lawsuit. I would agree except that it can be very difficult to provide evidence of blackballing unless you have a smoking gun that would likely come in the form of an email that would likely require a whistle-blower. That being said, Barry Bonds was a 3+ WAR player coming off a 28 HR season in 2007, and didn’t get a sniff from any team during Free Agency of 2008. Were Bond’s contract demands simply too high or did baseball decide he was not worth the headache?
Klaw: I think Selig – excuse me, Hall of Famer Bud Selig – made it clear to teams he didn’t want bonds to sign. Remember, Bonds offered to play for the minimum. That said, Selig’s gone and I don’t think Manfred would do such a thing.

Aaron C.: As a longtime A’s fan, I wonder if yesterday’s ridiculously passionate defense of the Rajai Davis signing & rumored interest in Mark Trumbo is evidence that the “cult of Beane” is a little *too* in the tank for a front office that is deservingly lauded, but also…guilty of more than a few missteps in recent seasons?
Klaw: This is my interpretation as well.

David Coonce: I read the Master and Margarita on your suggestion. Complex read but I loved it. I’ve read there is a film adaptation in the works but can’t fathom how that would work. Can you?
Klaw: Nope. Unfilmable, and I’m OK with that. I saw The Handmaid’s Tale is coming as a movie or TV project and I’m not sure I could stomach that. It’s bad enough Texans have to live it.

Matthias: I think my biggest problem with top chef this year is that all returning contestants did very well on they’re years. Idea would have worked better if just chefs returning were eliminated in their first or second episode. This is like if you took the all stars season and added eight rookies to the cast.
Klaw: Yes. It’s Top Chef Some-Stars.

Pete the Cat: Cruising to St Maarten, St Kitt, Grand Turk and Puerto Rico next week. Only on land for 8ish hours at each island. Any food or tourist recommendations for those spots? Thanks!!
Klaw: Only been to two. St. Kitts, if you can seek out the Spice Mill, food was good and view was spectacular. Puerto Rico, if you have a car, find Gustos Coffee a little out of San Juan, in an industrial area, maybe the only Puerto Rico-grown coffee you’ll ever have. I wanted to try La Princesa in San Juan but they were closed for a festival the last time I was there.

Gene Mullett: Do you do vinyl/physical copies of music or are you all digital? Are you the same way with books?
Klaw: Mostly digital music other than occasional vinyl I get from friends in the industry. Books I’m split. I prefer paper but if I see something I want for sale on Kindle I buy it.

Paul: Keith – did you happen to read the Thrillist series on the impending burst of the restaurant bubble? (Part 3 is here, with links to parts 1 and 2 inside.). I thought it was really good and, sadly, made all too much sense. I know you have gotten to know some restaurant owners and wonder if you have an opinion besides “this sucks”.
Klaw: I haven’t, but I’ll check it out. I have wondered sometimes how we can possibly support all these new restaurants I see opening – not just famous ones, but even all the chain places i see. There can’t be enough disposable income and people with time to keep them all in business.

Dave: So you do think that Tyson Ross will soon be out of baseball altogether?
Klaw: No. I wouldn’t sign him, though.

John T: My 5-year-old son got Ticket To Ride: First Journey (ages 6+) for Christmas and loves playing it. I’ve been trying to think of some other games to get that don’t involve reading or more than simple addition. Any suggestions?
Klaw: There’s also a My First Stone Age game I haven’t tried but that might work.

Ted Timmerman: Favorite Prankster: Francine Carruthers, Danny Rebus or Manny Spamboni?
Klaw: Annie Scramble was kind of cute.

Ethan: So, the Org rankings are out the 18th. When do the Team Top 10’s come out?
Klaw: The final week. My editors chose to change the schedule and roll all the content out slowly.

Larry: Any early reports on Maitan out of instructs?
Klaw: He looked great, because no player has ever looked bad in instructional league.

Dave: What are your thoughts on Dylan Cease? He throws hard, but barely throws any innings. Is he a bullpen guy?
Klaw: He barely throws any innings because he had Tommy John surgery in 2014.

Larry: Dustin Peterson a regular?
Klaw: I think so – a 40-50% chance to be a regular, maybe.

Aaron (Astrobeerman): No question. Thanks for the turkey spatchcock turkey advice. I don’t see making turkey any other way. Skin was fantastic.
Klaw: It’s unbeatable and so much faster.

MJ: Did you see Nathaniel Grow’s article on Fangraphs regarding Trout (or other CA based players) possibly being able to exploit a law to grant them free agency after 7 years? Thoughts on whether or not Trout is the one (possibly only?) player for which it’d be worth the risk to try to exploit the law?
Klaw: Answered above. I don’t think it’s accurate.

Bob: Should college students have the right to due process when expelled for allegations of sexual misconduct?
Klaw: That’s a complicated question. I will answer an easy question instead: Colleges should turn questions of sexual misconduct over to the police if they appear to break any laws.

Donald J: Mazara, Conforto, & Dahl… 1) How would you rank them this year? 2) How would you rank them going forward? Do any of them have a bigly future?
Klaw: Love them all, they are tremendous players, they get the best hits. This year, Dahl, Conforto, Mazara. Long-term, flip it.

Barry: Speaking of your book tour I’m guessing you’re going to be signing books at independent book stores and B&N? Any chance of linking them too for preorders instead of just Amazon? I’ve checked and and have your book available to order. FWIW, I don’t mean to sound rude. I work in publishing and authors just linking Amazon is a pet peeve of mine. I’m looking forward to buying and reading your book.
Klaw: Harper Collins’ official page links to all of those. I use the amazon link because then I can see how often people are clicking and/or ordering. I can’t do that through the other sites.

Darryl: Which Stanford hurler has the most future stardom potential…Quantrill, Hock or Beck?
Klaw: Quantrill. Might have been 1-1 if he’d been healthy all spring.

Anonymous: Did you see anything in Patrick Corbin’s delivery last year that explains his fall from his pre-TJ days? Overcompensating to be protective of the elbow?
Klaw: Nope, I have no good explanation for what happened. Although to be fair to Pat, he was far from the only AZ pitcher to struggle in the majors last year.

Marshall MN: The Andruw Jones question is interesting – he is part of a group of CF’s (Edmonds, Lofton, to a much lesser extent Torii Hunter, who I don’t think deserves to get in) that I think will all get overlooked when it comes to HOF voting. And in regards to Edmonds and Lofton in particular, they already have gotten the boot.
Klaw: Andruw was much more famous, he had an all-time elite skill, and had some postseason glory as a kid. I think he’ll stick around on the ballot but not get in.

Dave: Theo/Jed are among the best in the business, but they have drafted over 100 pitchers since 2012, and not one of them is a reliable starter….is it that much more difficult to evaluate pitching? Do you just have to get lucky?
Klaw: I don’t think that’s quite fair. Did they even sign all those guys? And are you counting 2015 and 2016 draftees? Trevor Clifton was a 2013 draft pick and looks like he’s on track to be a big league starter at age 22 or 23. That’s not a failed pick.

Brian: Settlers of Catan – rhymes with “Satan” or “rattan”? It’s really been bugging me. Thanks
Klaw: Rhymes with “rattan.”

Justin: Can WAR be simply extrapolated when talking about a shortened season ala Jose Reyes. He had a 1.3 WAR for 60 games, if he stayed consistent can we assume 3.5 WAR for a season? And if so, at 500K wouldnt that make him pretty valuable?
Klaw: I don’t think that’s a good way to make a projection. You should ask Szymborski et al, but I’m guessing that you’d want to project based on the components that are most predictive. For example, Reyes, who choke-slammed his wife into a door last offseason, posted his highest ISO in ten years. You can’t expect that to continue in his age-34 season.

el fuego 25: If you were granted an expansion team, where would you concentrate your draft resources? It feels much more difficult to predict pitching, but sadly someone has to put the ball in play.
Klaw: In an expansion draft? I’d focus on guys who seemed to have untapped upside – players who might benefit from new coaches, from getting healthy, just from more playing time – and thus who might return more in trade than, say, the generic 5th starter types you might otherwise get.

Mike: Have you had a chance to see Sixto Sanchez ? If not, have you heard from others who have ? Is there serious reason for optimism if you’re a Phillies fan ?
Klaw: He’ll be in the Phillies org writeup. I have not seen him – I don’t see any games in the GCL or DSL.

Telly: Why would an organization draft a player, like Giolito, watch him perform well with elite tools, then decide he needs to change things? If my memory serves right, the Giants tried the same thing with Bumgarner, saw him stink for awhile, then let him go back to his natural way of doing things. At least they realized the stupidity of their ways.
Klaw: I don’t have an answer to that, although I ask the same question. And it’s not like the Nats are dumb. They’ve got good people there, including in player development. Someone made a mistake.

Ed: I think we all know what Reyes did. And no one approves, but what is the point of answering the question like that? Is “chokeslammed his wife” part of his name now for you?
Klaw: It’s part of his identity. That is who he is, and all the fake-apologies and references to “the incident” won’t change that.

John from Cincinnati: You mentioned earlier in the chat about not thinking Manfred would blackball players… am I wrong in thinking that he’s going to be a very good commissioner? I don’t distrust him the same way I did Selig.
Klaw: I’m a fan. I think he’s going to be great for the sport.

Matt: Do you have any recommendations for books/shows on what I’ll call Cooking Theory 101? I’m hoping to get a better, broader understanding of spices, flavors, etc. and how they all go together. Feels like a good way to be able to cook well without recipes.
Klaw: The Flavor Bible. Lists of ingredients that play well with others, based on wide surveys of chefs.

Tom: How would you say the D-Backs FO is doing so far this offseason? Or is there too little to comment on?
Klaw: Small moves so far but I’ve liked them all. The one big move, trading Segura for Walker and Marte, was just the kind of move they need to make – trading a guy coming off a career year with two years of control left for two former top prospects with upside and risk and more years left.

Jessica: Trea Turner’s power and hit tools seemed higher than expected last year. Has his ceiling changed for you? Are we talking about a top 10 player in MLB?
Klaw: Yeah, I was light on his strength overall, so he’s going to hit and have more power than I thought. I changed my personal forecast for him early last season, which is why I kept banging the drum for the Nats to bring him up and bench Espinosa.

John: Two other factors for Theo/Jed drafting pitchers: they haven’t used any first round pick on pitching. That means (1) they haven’t drafted elite pitching prospects, and (2) they haven’t drafted many pitchers who are expected to move especially quickly through the minors. (As an aside, even though they didn’t draft him, they should probably get some credit for some of Hendricks’ development)
Klaw: I believe their draft philosophy specifically excludes taking pitchers up top unless a no-doubt college arm is there, which hasn’t happened. (I think they would have taken Appel in 2013, but he went 1.)

Rob: What are some of the causes of Tyler Glasnow’s control issues and are they fixable to the point where he reaches his potential?
Klaw: He’s 6’8″ and his control has already gotten way better since he first signed and had his velocity jump. Those super-tall guys often need more time and physical maturity to get enough coordination to repeat their deliveries. I’m not terribly concerned.

Pat: Keith – have you spoken with some attorneys on the Trout/CA labor law thing? Just wondering why you think the CBA would supersede. I’m a lawyer — albeit not one in CA and not a labor lawyer — but generally speaking I think a CBA would only preempt a state labor law if it’s made pursuant to a federal statute, like the Railway Labor Act.
Klaw: Yes, I have spoken to attorneys about it, because I am not one and don’t know jack about it.

Sean: Do you care to provide a current or former MLB comp for Amed Rosario?
Klaw: I really dislike doing comps unless something strikes me as very apt.

Bob: Have you ever seen anyone throw as many career innings as J Arrieta before having such a massive breakthrough? What did the Orioles do to him??
Klaw: That’s a long story, but I think it’s fair to say that Buck and Rick Adair did a lot of things wrong with him, with his mechanics and with how they handled him. It’s a mistake they should be very wary of repeating with any of the other very talented arms they’ve brought in recently, like Gausman and now Sedlock or Akin and I hope eventually Harvey.

Klaw: That’s all for this week – thanks so much for bearing with me on the time, but it’s top 100 research time which means a lot of phone calls. I will try to chat every week this month as long as the workload allows me to do so.

Colt Express.

Colt Express won the 2015 Spiel des Jahres prize as the best moderate-level boardgame of the year, beating out Machi Koro (which I think should have won) and something called The Game, which was apparently named by designers who wanted to be sure no one could ever Google their product. Asmodee, the publisher of Colt Express and now owner of the boardgame and app publishing studio Days of Wonder, has just released an app versionof the game, and it’s a solid adaptation with a couple of major frustrations built into it.

Colt Express pits players against each other as bandits in an old-fashioned train robbery, with the twin goals of collecting as much loot as possible while also shooting as many of your opponents as possible; the final scoring rewards the gems and purses you collect, and gives a bonus to the ‘best shooter’ who’s discharged the most bullets. There’s a marshal on the train as well, and if you happen to run into him, you get shot and forced up on top of a train car.

All movement and action takes place via cards that are played to the table at the start of each round, most visible to all players but some hidden when the train passes into a tunnel, but not actually enacted until all cards for that round have been played – it’s a two-phase process, playing all cards, then going through the pile and letting players act on those cards. Cards allow for movement along the train, movement up to the top of a car or back down into one, punching an opponent (which forces him/her to drop one item), picking up an item from the floor, shooting at an opponent, or moving the marshal one car in either direction. If you’ve been shot, you also get a neutral, useless bullet card in your deck, which just reduces the options in your hand for your turn. You can also pass on a turn to draw three more cards from your deck if you’re looking for a specific card. A round can involve as few as two card plays or as many as five; sometimes the order reverses, sometimes you’ll get to play two in a row (very valuable for sneaking up on someone and poking him in the snoot). Some rounds end with a special rule, such as any character on top of the car that contains the marshal draws a neutral bullet card.

The entire strategy of Colt Express involves guessing what your opponents are likely to do and planning out your cards to anticipate those moves and/or give yourself flexibility to react on the fly, once the cards are played but before they’re used. When a player plays a card at the start of the round, that player doesn’t have to specify, say, how far they’re moving or in which direction, or who the target of a shooting or punching card would be, so you need to see what’s played and keep track of the tree of potential decisions from that. The only random aspect of the game is the card draw, but there’s a ton of luck involved in the guesswork – you can plan well and still whiff because another player did something unlikely or unanticipated.

The app version looks great, as all Asmodee and DoW apps have, with strong graphics and bright colors, and it ran smoothly on my iPad Pro. (I just upgraded from a five-year-old iPad 2, which couldn’t run a full game without crashing.) The app allows you to play in Classic mode with any number of the game’s pre-set characters – each of whom has some special ability; I think Cheyenne’s is the best – and has the potential for you to play with some variants, although those aren’t immediately available.

There are two real flaws with the app, one easy to fix, one less so. The app comes with a story mode that includes five short missions for each of the five characters, and completing all five missions for a character unlocks a variant for you to use in the base game, such as having the last car on the train detach at the end of a round. I have never liked this concept in app design, where certain aspects of the game are inaccessible unless you complete something else; Catan made this mistake and it is one of the main reasons I don’t recommend that particular app. If you pay for the product, you should get the whole product up front. I completed the stories for two of the characters, but the missions generally are more like puzzles than full games, because you’re often ignoring what the AI characters are doing; you’re completing one or two tasks, while the AI characters are playing the game normally. Just make the variants available from the start and use Achievements to reward players who complete the stories.

I’ve also found the AI players to be a little dumb, at least in terms of card choices. Obviously, you’re playing a little blind, not knowing what other players will play or do over the course of a round, but there are certain cards that you know you won’t be able to use, or are maybe 5% likely to be able to use – for example, punching another character when there won’t be anyone in your space, or picking up an item from the ground when the ground is empty. The AI players tend to do that a couple of times per game, in total, and there’s no excuse for it; AI players have the advantage of calculating every possible set of moves in a game this limited, and moves that are 5% (or less) likely to work should be discarded.

There’s one technical glitch that could also have been user error (meaning I may have screwed up). When you play a card to shoot or punch another character, you have to select the target, and sometimes you have more than one choice (e.g., you’re in a car with two other characters). Choosing the right target is occasionally tricky when you’ve got several characters bunched up together in a car. Twice I thought I clicked on one target but the game selected the other one, so either 1) it was not clear which selection button attached to which target or 2) I just did it wrong.

The app is $3.99 for iOS devices or $4.99 for Android; I have only played the iOS version. I think the game itself is enjoyable enough for a $4 price, but I think you’d get more out of it if you use the online multiplayer feature instead of facing off against AI opponents.