The Fifth Season.

N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season won the 2016 Hugo Prize for the best science-fiction novel of the year, and while I have had a lot of issues with Hugo winners, this one absolutely deserved the honor. Jemisin constructs a world that is thoroughly integrated with the plot, one that incorporates the theme of environmental degradation into its story, and uses a brilliant tripartite narrative that gradually comes together as the novel reaches the end, with a clever twist that I didn’t really see coming.

The Fifth Season is set on Earth of the very distant future, on a planet that experiences frequent seismic disruptions that cause “seasons” that threaten mass extinctions, like the way the 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora caused the so-called year without a summer. These seasons last years, decades, occasionally even a century, and wipe out most of civilization each time, although humanity attempts to learn and improve its survival chances with every change. There’s only one (known) continent, the Stillness, sort-of ruled by the remnants of an empire, with people organized into autonomous communities called “comms.”

People have evolved in the interim as well, with some people born with a special power called “orogeny” that allows them to draw strength from the earth itself and move stone or even tectonic plates. These orogenes, known colloquially by the pejorative term “roggas,” are often used to quell minor earthquakes, but can also move mountains, literally. Most orogenes are brought to the main comm and trained to use their powers, but some never learn and are a danger to themselves and others, leading to widespread prejudice and even violence. There’s also a third type of human running around, the stone-eaters, although their role isn’t clear till very late in the story.

Jemisin gives us those three intertwined narratives, all truly centered around orogeny – their roles in society and the way they’re simultaneously valued and feared by others. One is told in the second person, and “you” are the orogene mother of two, and when the story starts, you find that your non-orogenic husband has beaten your son to death, probably because he figured out the boy also had this power. The second follows a young girl, Damaya, who’s discovered to have the same power and is brought by a Guardian to the central comm for training in a special academy for orogenes, which isn’t exactly Hogwarts. The third follows Syenite, an adult orogene who is forced to join up with Alabaster, who’s implied to be the most powerful orogene in the Stillness, for the purposes of breeding and giving birth to lots of orogenic babies. When they’re also asked to visit a coastal comm and help them with a problem in their harbor, things start to go very wrong, a series of events that precipitates the union of the three storylines as the book reaches its conclusion.

Outside of Ursula K. Leguin’s work, The Fifth Season is probably the most outright feminist sci-fi novel I’ve ever read – but not in an overt way at all. The characters aren’t feminists; it’s not clear such a designation would have any meaning in this society. The entire story explores the role of women in society, the possibility of them having power equal to or exceeding that of men, and the timeless questions of a woman’s agency in matters like having children. Environmental degradation does underpin the overall story – Jemisin’s Earth often appears to be trying to kill people, and the humans’ pagan religion treats the planet as an angry god – but it’s the women themselves who are the stars of the novel, and their challenges drive the plot forward.

I could have done without some of Jemisin’s explicit descriptions of sex – they just don’t add anything at all to the story – and some of the cruelty inflicted on children in the book, while more relevant to the plot, was tough to read too. Jemisin’s biggest strength as a writer is the pure storytelling; she’s conceived a world unlike any I’ve seen, remaking the post-apocalyptic earth into something less nightmarish, a testament to the human desire to live and to keep something of civilization going. The dialogue can be clunky, especially when any of the characters is forced to confront something unpleasant or makes a sudden realization. Alabaster is the only well-drawn male character (although that’s kind of a welcome change from novels that don’t have a single three-dimensional female character in sight). It’s such an incredibly compelling story, however, intricate yet internally consistent, around three women you will want to follow to the story’s end … and the sequel, since it turns out this is the start of a new trilogy, with the second book, The Obelisk Gate, already out.

Next up: One of the early Pulitzer winners, the out-of-print Journey in the Dark, by Martin Flavin, which I picked up used because there isn’t even a library copy in the entire state of Delaware.


Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, another nominee for the Academy Award for Best Picture, is something of a rarity in movies these days: a major-studio film with a thoughtful, intelligent script that challenges the viewer with big philosophical questions while also satisfying everyone’s desire for a compelling plot. Based on a Nebula Award-winning short story by Ted Chiang called “Story of Your Life,” Arrival looks like a story about humanity’s first contact with an alien race, but in the end it’s truly about human happiness and how knowing the future might change your choices in the present. (It’s now available to rent/buy via amazon and iTunes.)

Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a polyglot and linguistics professor who is summoned by the US Army when twelve alien spacecraft land around the globe, including in one remote spot in Montana where most of the movie takes place. Before that, we see a brief overview of Louise’s story outside of the alien visit, where she’s married, has a baby, but loses the child to a rare disease in adolescence. At the landing site, she meets physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and Colonel Weber (Forrest Whitaker, using a bizarre accent), and begins the process of trying to communicate with the aliens, dubbed “heptapods” because they have seven legs. They write in a pictograph-like script of circular images that deliver entire sentences in one symbol because the heptapods perceive time in a different way than humans do, and the center of the film revolves around the effort to establish for the two species to interact.

It’s an incredibly academic story at its heart; I joked on Twitter that this was the best film ever made about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which is also the core subject of a book by Samuel Delany, Babel-17, currently sitting on my to-read shelf. Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer could have skipped over a lot of the details, but instead treated the topic seriously, consulting linguists, developing a consistent writing system for the heptapods, and spending a fair portion of the script on showing us Louise’s efforts. The script treats the viewers like intelligent adults, and that was probably my favorite aspect of the film.

Great science fiction stories should just be great stories, period, in different settings. Once the science part of the science fiction takes over too much (like Red Mars, the most egregious example of this I’ve ever read), the whole endeavor suffers. Arrival manages to strike a perfect balance between its two halves – there’s enough of the science-y stuff to satisfy genre fans, but this remains a fundamentally strong story about people. This is a story about Louise, and about how we choose to live our lives, including whether we’d do something different if we perceived time the way the heptapods do. In that sense, it’s smart, emotional, and very thought-provoking; I saw this movie three days ago and am still turning the ending over and over in my mind.

I’m floored that Amy Adams didn’t get an Oscar nomination for her performance here; I’d probably have given her a nod over Ruth Negga from Loving, but I haven’t seen three of the other nominees yet. (As great as Meryl Streep always is, I also wonder if she’s just an automatic nominee at this point in her career.) Renner doesn’t have a ton to do here, although I think he also infuses humanity into what could have been a stereotypical “brilliant but aloof scientist” role. Whitaker’s weird accent, best described as “drunk Bostonian,” was a terrible idea poorly executed, and his character is the most one-dimensional of all, serving as the “we’re running out of time!” guy in most of his scenes. It’s not quite a solo record from Adams, but it’s pretty close, enough that the film sinks or swims with her performance, and I think she nailed every aspect of it. (I was also mildly amused by their attempts to make her look a little frumpy, especially when she’s at the university. Needless to say, it didn’t take.)

I’m dancing around the film’s twist, although rather than one big reveal moment, Arrival gives it to you gradually to pick up over the course of the story. I thought it worked on two levels – as a surprise revelation, but also as a way to change the entire meaning of the film. Without that, the film is smart; with it, it’s clever. The story really stuck with me in a way that other great movies of 2016, including Moonlight, didn’t. Between that and Adams’ performance, I can at least see how it ended up with a Best Picture nomination, although I would put it behind at least three other films that also received nods in that category, as well as at least two films that didn’t get nominations.

Stick to baseball, 2/18/17.

For Insiders, I ranked the top prospects for 2017 impact, although we later removed Alex Reyes from the list now that he’s out for the year. I held my regular Klawchat on Thursday.

On the boardgame front, I reviewed the light family-friendly game Imhotep for Paste this week; it was one of the runners-up for the Spiel des Jahres last year, losing to Isle of Skye. Last week, over at Vulture, I wrote about some of the best games for couples.

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, S14E12.

So the show opens with the three chefs who advanced last week at Estadio Chivas in Guadalajara, Mexico, a huge soccer arena and host of the team Chivas. I’m told soccer is kind of a big deal down there.

* The guest judge for the quickfire is Francisco Ruano at Alcalde, who has a glorious beard.

* Returning from LCK is … Brooke. Thank goodness. Tesar “Here she is. Good luck to all of us.” I’m sure the producers enjoy the irony of the chef who lost to the only LCK contestant to win the whole thing going to LCK herself and coming back to the main group from it.

* Quickfire: Make a dish featuring goat (chivas means goats in Spanish). There’s sort of a dictum to make it Guadalajaran, but I don’t think that was enforced here.

* Sheldon points out goat can have a gamey flavor, but says it’s about getting a good cut of meat – which I would interpret as meaning you’d better know your source or your butcher. He’s cooking the cheeks because they’re tender and should cook quickly, using the pressure cooker because they have just 45 minutes.

* Shirley says she usually does a two-day preparation when cooking goat. Is goat at all a traditional Chinese protein? I only associated it with Caribbean and African cuisines, but I guess it’s a lot more common than I knew. (I’m still not sure if I’ve ever had it; if so it’s been a very long time, at a Jamaican restaurant that no longer exists.) She’s hand-rolling noodles by using a tortilla press because she doesn’t have a rolling pin. This is another one of those “are they deliberately not giving the chefs certain basic tools?” deals.

* Tesar is making a torta ahogada (literally a “drowned sandwich”), which is very cliché. For a guy who talks a big game off camera, Tesar brings zero creativity this episode.

* Brooke making goat ribs, but is concerned they don’t have enough meat on them. I’m at a loss here. Are they like lamb ribs, where there’s part of the bone that has nothing but cartilage?

* The food: Shirley made braised goat breast with handmade noodles, huitlacoche (a fungus, known as “corn smut,” that is a Mexican delicacy), and radish … Brooke made her ribs with chamomile, guajillo, pasilla, and some tropical fruit … Tesar’s tortas ahogadas have crispy braised goat and are drowned in fire-roasted tomato sauce and arbol chile sauce … Sheldon made braised cheek with ancho chile, charred salsa, and avocado.

* Brooke’s is great, in a surprising way, according to chef Ruano, because of the combination of fruit and goat. He also liked Sheldon’s, good contrast of stew with fresh salsa. He liked the idea of Shirley’s dish, but says it needed more contrast. Tesar’s needed salt, and Tom says there was too much bread relative to meat. I’ve had tortas ahogadas a couple of times, and they’ve always been sort of pressed – not quite as much as a banh mi, but flattened slightly, and the bread is never as thick as the baguette Tesar used. It’s usually telera bread, I think, which is spongier and thus can be smushed more easily.

* Brooke wins! She gets $10K plus an advantage in the elimination round. As Ad-Rock once said, “Welcome back, Kotter.”

* Elimination: They’re in Jalisco, the birthplace of tequila, and the only place (mostly) where a distillery can call its product “tequila.” Patron is the ‘client’ for the next challenge, by which they mean Patron is getting about 40 minutes of free advertising, as the chefs will cater a party for 100 people who work at their distillery. The chefs must each make a dish and a “perfect” margarita. The dish must incorporate sour, sweet, salty, and bitter notes, like the drink, although I’m not sure I’d describe a margarita as “bitter.” They’ll get help from the last four chefs eliminated as soups chefs.

* Just a quick aside: Isn’t a “perfect” margarita the classic version? Tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau or triple sec (both orange liqueurs), period. Skip the mango or guava or pineapple or whatever. I didn’t order a fucking smoothie.

* Brooke picks first and chooses Casey, and then gets to assign the sous chefs to the other three. Sheldon gets Emily, Shirley gets Sylva, so Tesar gets Katsuji, of course.

* Brooke doesn’t like the quality of the tuna at the supermarket, so she’s subbing with … coconut, an interesting switch from a protein to a fatty fruit. I do wish we’d seen more of what she didn’t like about the tuna, though.

* Is it just me or are we getting more cooking coverage this episode than any other all season? If every episode was like this, I’d be much happier even with the lackluster collection of chefs that started this year.

* Shirley’s cucumber and honeydew version of the margarita is just what I dislike. Those ingredients just mask the flavor of the tequila.

* Brooke charring onions, then throwing them in avocado oil. It turns out this is for a vinaigrette in her dish, but either she didn’t say that or I missed it.

* Sylva grabbed vanilla instead of agave nectar at the market. This seems significant, although Shirley seems happy with the result of vanilla in her beef marinade. Based on past Top Chef history, this is a terrible idea. Vanilla in a savory dish is nearly always a negative.

* Katsuji asks Tesar to do a shot “to your last episode on Top Chef.” Hm.

* Sheldon’s concerned that his octopus is overcooked, but then says it’s tender. I’m confused because I thought overlooking octopus made it tougher (the proteins tighten up in the absence of fat to ‘protect’ them).

* Shirley says this challenge is “her redemption time.” Don’t they all feel that way, though?

* Brooke does an “ay ay ay ay” to the mariachi music and Katsuji deadpans “that’s racist,” which might be the funniest thing he’s ever said on this show.

* The guest judge is Ray Garcia of Broken Spanish. Blais is here too.

* The dishes … Sheldon made octopus kinilaw, and a guava-coconut margarita with lime salt. The garnish sank in his drink, but it shouldn’t even be in there – don’t you strain a drink with huge components like that? Also, never put coconut in a cocktail, dude. It’s like a linebacker that just obliterates all other flavors in its path. Blais and Garcia love how the octopus is cooked, but say the cocktail is “out of balance.” Tom thinks the kinilaw is on the sweet side but the cocktail’s tartness balances it out.

* Shirley made charred beef with salsa molcajete and a watermelon and jicama salad, plus the aforementioned cucumber and honeydew margarita. Padma loves the spicy salsa, but, shocker, Tom says vanilla in the beef is not working at all. Padma says it’s like the dish has “invisible whipped cream.” Tom isn’t crazy about the cocktail because it’s thick and unstrained. It sounds like … a smoothie.

* Tesar made caldo verde con pollo with some sort of gelee on top (sorry, I couldn’t hear what it was). His cocktail is a classic margarita with Patron silver, Citronge (Patron’s orange liqueur), and lime juice. His broth and herbs are overcooked. Tom says the cocktail’s high alcohol content washes out the soup. Padma doesn’t think there’s anything special about it beyond the salt on the rim. This actually sounds like the kind of cocktail I like, although he didn’t create anything here.

* Brooke made chilled avocado soup with watermelon and cucumber plus a vinaigrette of citrus and burnt onion avocado oil, plus chile arbol in the salt. Her drink is a spicy watermelon and hibiscus margarita, with a touch of lime liqueur in the cokctail but no added sugar. Padma and Tom love the soup, other than that Brooke didn’t cut the coconut into smaller chunks; the lack of protein isn’t a problem. The cocktail masks the tequila a little for Tom but he thinks it works great with the soup.

* Tesar is sweating more bullets than Dave Mustaine.

* Judges’ Table: Blais asks Brooke if a cold soup is playing it safe. Tom gives him side-eye. (I thought the opposite when she served it, because I figured they’d hold her to a higher standard with a cold dish.) Padma thought it was beautiful, that it hit all the right notes, and she loved the margarita. Ray says Tesar did a good job with the cocktail, but the dish didn’t push the envelope enough. Blais thinks the cherimoya saved the day. Tom says the cocktail wasn’t creative at all, and the booze washed out the soup. Tom says Sheldon’s was beautiful, but ate “sweet.” The cocktail was sloppy with good flavors – like a “guava salad with tequila.” Blais says Shirley’s salsa was lights-out fantastic. Padma asks why she used vanilla in beef marinade. She explains the mistake Sylva made and said she liked the result. Tom “had a real hard time” with the vanilla, and a harder time with the cocktail, saying she needed to infuse the tequila. I can’t get past the vanilla part. It’s like lavender – it’s so dominant in any preparation that it kills savory dishes and really only works in high-fat desserts that mute its floral notes.

* The winner is … Brooke! She wins a limited edition crystal bottle of Patron, worth $7500, a rare blend of some of the oldest tequilas. She promptly takes a “$1500” slug. Anything that old is worth trying, and I’m not even a huge tequila guy (rum is my spirit of choice, as many of you know).

* Tesar is eliminated. The pairing seems to have been the killer. I’m so ready for him to be gone, and I think we at least have three of the top four chefs (Sylva being the fourth) from the start remaining. (I’ll take an argument for Silvia, but she just wasn’t around enough for us to know.) Next stop is a Secrets resort on the Yucatan, which has its own regional cuisine.

Fire at Sea.

Fire at Sea is about as far from a typical documentary as you can get; it feels for much of its two hours like you’re watching something unpackaged, an actual slice of life (and death) that hasn’t been cleaned up and edited for maximum impact. The film, which just hit iTunes two days ago, has been nominated for the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature and became the first feature-length documentary to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, all the more remarkable to me for how peculiar a film it is. It’s available now on iTunes, but not yet on amazon.

Director Gianfranco Rosi wanted to show the real impacts of the migrant crisis, including the massive losses of life among those attempting to cross the Mediterranean in substandard boats, often after the refugees have paid hundreds or even over a thousand dollars for passage. They come from all over Africa, but they’re all fleeing war and/or extreme poverty, from failed states like Somalia and Libya, Islamist-held northern Nigeria, war-torn Syria, or just countries kept poor by repressive regimes in Chad and Eritrea. Rosi shows the boats arriving on the island of Lampedusa, the southernmost part of Italy, about 200 km south of Sicily and closer to Tunisia than to any other country. With a population of just over 6000 people, Lampedusa has been overwhelmed by the inflow of migrants, and over 1500 migrants died at sea just in the first four months of 2015, part of the period where Rosi shot this film.

There are three intertwined narratives in Fire at Sea, but I found one of them never quite connected with the other two. The first involves the ships themselves – the Lampedusan and Italian authorities’ responses to distress calls from ships, efforts to bring them in safely, and their organized processing of migrants when the ships come into port. (Forgive my surprise, but as someone who’s ¾ Italian with quite a bit of family still there, I can say organization is not something for which Italians are known.) One ship, with 150 or so people on it, never arrives. Others arrive with some migrants dehydrated, burned, beaten, or dead, having traveled for a week in inhumane conditions. Rosi does nothing more than show their misery, to put faces to the statistics, and even show a few moments in the migrant camps, like what appears to be an impromptu soccer league organized by country of origin.

The second involves the main doctor who helps in the rescue efforts, and who speaks of the human tragedy he witnesses. He describes the conditions in the boats, the way that one boy is near death because of chemical burns, the corpses he has to count. It’s clear the job is taking an emotional toll on him as well, but he views helping the migrants as a moral obligation. But that third narrative, of a local family, a fisherman, his wife, and their misbehaving, obnoxious son, who is obsessed with making slingshots and slurps his spaghetti when he eats – seriously, I had to mute that scene – never tied into the rest of the story. Lampedusa is a small place, so it made sense to try to show us the migrant crisis through the eyes of the locals, like the doctor, but I never could figure out how the fisherman and his son or the radio station taking requests from older spouses tied into the bigger story. Rosi told NPR that he wanted to show the separation of the local population from the migrants and the operation that processes them, but I thought the result was just disjointed, and the kid is so unlikable that it detracted from the rest of the movie. (One exception: when he’s describing being short of breath to the doctor, there’s some unintentional comedy, because he’s clearly mimicking adults in words and gestures.)

The good stuff in Fire at Sea is Oscar-worthy – it’s an important topic, and one that provokes anger, xenophobia, and compassion in different people, but Rosi stays out of the way of the story. There’s no narration. There’s minimal conversation, period. You’re a witness to sordid history, which is something every documentarian should aspire to give the viewer. And I found it hard to see the migrants or hear them talk without imagining how awful the places they left must be that they would cross the Sahara, pay their life savings, and accept being packed into a tiny boat like anchovies in a tin just for the shot at something better in Europe – if they don’t die trying. That’s the real story of Fire at Sea and I would have been glad to have more of it.

I don’t think I’ll get the fifth Best Documentary Feature nominee, I Am Not Your Negro, before the Oscar ceremony, but of the four I have seen, I think ESPN’s own O.J.: Made in America is clearly the best, even if I discount it a little for being almost four times longer than the other nominees. It tells its story better than the other three told theirs, which is more important to me than the broader scope it achieves through its length.

Klawchat, 2/16/17.

Starting at 2 pm ET. Questions go in the frame below, not in the comments!

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.

Klaw: If knowledge is the key, then I think it’s time you learn. Klawchat.

Nathan: How quickly do you expect Hunter Greene to move through the minors once drafted? As a SS/P will he need extra seasoning on the mound or could he follow a Julio Urias trajectory if everything clicks?
Klaw: I don’t think he’s a fast mover, but I also don’t think this is about being a two-way guy – he’s athletic as hell with an 80 fastball and, if it is possible to throw an ‘easy’ 100, he does, but his secondary stuff isn’t that advanced and he’s a ways from average command. He’s better than Riley Pint at the same stage, though.

Michael: Is it time to cut bait on Joey Gallo as an MLB regular? Seems to be a long shot to start in Texas out of spring training.
Klaw: Joey Gallo is 23 years old. Talk of “cutting bait” on him as a regular is beyond premature. It’s a trumpian overreaction.

Michael: Can Jose Berrios be a 2-3 starter or is his fastball too flat as some have asserted?
Klaw: As *I* have asserted, you mean. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a 2.

Josh: No question. Just wanted to thank you for all the work you do & for voicing your beliefs in non-baseball related arenas.
Klaw: You’re welcome. I appreciate all the readers who’ve spoken up in support of me speaking up, so to speak.

Papa K: Do you think the Braves are making a mistake but not allowing Jace Peterson a chance to play full time at second base ?
Klaw: No, I think he’s a utility IF.

guren: I gather from previous chats, etc. that wine is not your preferred adult beverage. Do you still have an open mind with regard to wine appreciation, or do you think that boat has left the harbor?
Klaw: I’ve never enjoyed wine. If you put a decent wine in front of me, I’ll drink it, but it’s never my choice, and my knowledge of what’s good is incredibly limited.

Bob: Hi Keith – won’t be on during chat so hope you answer. Dave Stewart, paraphrasing that “his gut told him to not trade Dansby Swanson ” Didn’t his gut tell him to make that trade – I forget what his gut says. But he “was overruled by three people”. I am guessing the three are Kendrick, LaRussa and Hall. And Kendrick makes sense, he is a meddler. My question, as GM – if you are told to make that trade – why not just quit if your “gut” says its wrong
Klaw: Stewart said that, and Trump said he “inherited a mess.” Here’s a hint: I think they’re both lying.

joshkvt: What’s missing in the min wage debate is that raising it a reasonable amount also helps — not hurts — those making more. A skilled/educated worker making $16 now would benefit from a $15 min by having options. Where they probably wouldn’t quit stressful jobs and risk a $6/hr pay cut, they gain leverage if quitting to flip burgers would mean $1 less. Many skilled workers making $16 would quickly be bumped up to $18-20. It wouldn’t deter those who in the same breath say that unskilled workers don’t deserve a living wage and that we need to boot people off welfare, but it would help real people.
Klaw: Agreed. (This is a continuation of something from last week’s chat, for those of you who missed it.) I haven’t seen any good research showing that raising the minimum wage is harmful – again, within reason, because a $50/hour minimum wage would clearly wreak havoc.

JimLindeman15: Reyes out for season, not cool. I’m looking for Dakota Hudson to play a role with the big club this summer. Am I wrong?
Klaw: I think you’re wrong. I don’t think he’s ready, and I think they’ll cycle through a bunch of other guys (Weaver, Rosenthal, perhaps Gonzales) first.

Dale: Thanks for your shout out to Velocity Girl in your Top 100 songs for 2016. I miss them even though I never heard of them until yesterday. If ‘veterans’ match their peaks what do you think is the potential of the A’s rotation of Gray-Hahn-Manaea-Graveman-Cotton? Ho hum or one that will keep A’s in most games?
Klaw: I mean … health, health, health, #5 ceiling, high-variance, in order. I guess if everything works out for all five guys that’s a pretty good rotation, but what is the probability of that?

Gene Mullett: Of all the minor league games you see, what league do you see the most? Is there a stadium that you have visited the most? Do you have a favorite? Least favorite?
Klaw: I see the Carolina League the most because it’s in my backyard – I can truly go for just a few innings to see one player, or decide at the last minute to head over, because the Blue Rocks are so close. Favorite minor league stadium ever is tough – Greenville SC’s is pretty wonderful. I love going to Lakewood for games where the sun sets after first pitch. Aberdeen’s ballpark is amazing for short-season.

Nick: Do you think JJ Schwarz can stick at catcher at the next level?
Klaw: I think there’s 0% chance of that.

Patrick: Can Klaw do it better? Durned straight. Keith, any culinary cities in the U.S. on your current bucket list?
Klaw: Portland OR. Asheville NC. I could use another few days in Austin, especially now with Vigilante Bar (a boardgame bar & restaurant) opening.

Pei: You put out so much work on top of your hobbies and family obligations, so clearly you use your time wisely. However, I do remember (I hope correctly!) you saying that you once were not efficient with your time and wasted a lot of it watching tv etc until you realized that you could do better, and then you did. Do you have any tips on how you were able to break your time wasting habits and develop much more fruitful ones?
Klaw: The biggest problem for me was recognizing when I was wasting time – and that I could be doing “nonproductive” things (like reading, or playing games) that were more enjoyable than other time-wasters (watching mediocre TV, arguing with science deniers on Twitter)>

Nate: Hey Keith, a big story last year was how Giolito changes his mechanics. Some of the articles I’ve seen say he decided to do it mostly on his own. But my question to you, what were these mechanical changes that were made? How did his mechanics from last year differ from previous seasons? And what do you think the White Sox will do? Will they go back to his old mechanics? If that happens, is he a top 10 prospect in the game? In other words, are the mechanical changes the lone factor that led to his drop (velocity and command being results of those changes of course) in rankings? Thanks Keith.
Klaw: I haven’t seen those articles, and they would be false; the Nationals’ AA pitching coach did it. He already returned to his prior mechanics and I didn’t drop him much at all on my rankings this winter.

Justin: What are your thoughts on Shed Long? Any impact potential there? Or more of a reserve type?
Klaw: Reserve type. As a 2b only, he might be a tweener.

Brian In ahwatukee: I’ve started reading the Pulitzer list and appreciate your reviews. Do you read the nominees that don’t win?
Klaw: Only if they’re recommended somewhere. I have Kelly Link’s Get in Trouble on my to-read shelf at the moment, for example. I’ll warn you some of the winners from the 1920s and 1930s are really dreadful.

ED: Did the debuts of Orlando Arcia, who you had 10th, and Tim Anderson, who you had 45th, change your views on them at all?
Klaw: No. That would also probably be too overreactive. I did say last year that I thought promoting Anderson that soon might harm his development because he’d be hard-pressed to develop more patience while trying to just survive in the majors, but that’s not about his performance.

Max: Hi Keith, if Vlad Jr. has to move off 3B (I know you stated its a 50/50 chance he sticks) to the other side of the diamond, how much value does he lose? Is the bat good enough to profile at 1B or even DH?
Klaw: Yes, he profiles as at least an above-average regular anywhere, but if he moves off 3b he’ll go to RF before that worst-case scenario.

Matthew: If you had first hand knowledge of Jays player using PEDs from your time with the org, would you be able to report that now based on any contract language you may have had? And if so, would you based on your personal reporting guidelines?
Klaw: I do have this knowledge, although it’s only on a couple of guys, but I would not reveal it now. It’s pointless.

Kyle D: What announced but unreleased boardgame are you most looking forward to in 2017?
Klaw: A Feast for Odin, La Flamme Rouge, Yamatai, First Class.

Mike S: Moving from the city to the suburbs with my family. Any advice house shopping?
Klaw: Woof, that could be its own post. School district has always reigned supreme for us when buying or selling. Also, when buying, look for anything that might be an automatic turnoff to future buyers. Our first house was a real starter home with no backyard, and that ended up a real problem when we went to sell. (And then there was one guy who literally walked out because we didn’t have a fireplace. Wacko.)

Tim: With the Rule Draft is 4 months away (and knowing College and HS ball will have a lot to say about the top of the draft) do Wright, Kendall, Faedo and Greene all figure in your current top 5 2017 draft prospects? At least top 10?
Klaw: I posted a ranking with Chris Crawford in November. I’ll update that some time next month.

Philip: Which college pitcher isn’t quite in the first tier like Wright and Faedo that you think could get 1-1 buzz with a realistic breakout?
Klaw: Brandon McKay. In a related story, I’m seeing him tomorrow. (EDIT: It’s Brendan McKay, not Brandon.)

Ty: In last week’s chat you said no to the following question “Is there a team whose 11-20 is better than another’s 1-10?”. I submit Braves 11-15 of Weigel, Toussaint, Wentz, Jackson and Pache as being enough to beat AZ’s list that starts off with Anthony Banda.
Klaw: I’m aware of that list, and I disagree with your assessment. Banda is just outside the top 100, BTW.

Ryan: Just how good was Nathan Kirby’s stuff before the injury? I’ve heard some talk of three 60+ or better pitches and reasonable command. That’s nuts, right?
Klaw: That’s not nuts, it’s just inaccurate.

M: No fault of yours, but that welfare discussion last week was infuriating. When people use that word, what on earth do they think it means? It seems like every time I encounter someone complaining about “welfare,” it is as if they are discussing some sort of guaranteed income program! Makes me think American politics would be totally different if high schools spent some time in civics class teaching students what little the social safety net actually consists of.
Klaw: We do a lousy job of teaching economics in general and the politics of entitlement problems and social safety-net programs in specific. Welfare’s a terrible name for what is really poverty prevention. We can disagree on specific implementations, but even ignoring the compassion angle, society is better off in the long run if its poorest children are housed, fed, and educated.

RationalMLBFan: You list/rank a wide variety of things: baseball players/teams, books, songs, board games, and food recommendations, for starters. Have you always use lists/ranking as an organizing principle? Is it a tool to help you think deeply in order to make fine distinctions between, say, #33 and #34, even though, as you normally say, there is only a minimal gap between rankings within 5 of each other on a top 100?
Klaw: I’m a ranker by nature, but I’ve also learned that you guys love rankings. Someone asked the other day if I intended to rank 2016 movies (I do, probably Oscar Sunday). I think they just create a good starting point for any discussion because everyone will have a unique ranking.

Rob in Gilbert AZ: What is one thing that you would eliminate from the “stadium experience” at major (or minor) league games?
Klaw: No music during innings, ever. Music between innings, fine. Shut the fucking thing off when there’s baseball happening.

Ryan: Are you watching Trump’s press conference right now? This man is actually insane. How worried should this country be on a scale of 1 to 10?
Klaw: I saw bits of it while I was at the gym. I think we’ve elected This is fine Dog as President of the United States.

Ryan: How are events like the (accidental) sinking of the USS Maine, which gets used to turn fan the flames of the Spanish-American War, different than propagated fake content? or are they not? (by the way, I’d recommend recent non-fiction – The True Flag – on the idea/debate/adoption of American Imperialism at the turn of the century)
Klaw: That was basically staged to start a war, no? The yellow journalism that followed it was probably the ancestor of today’s fake news.

not James Baldwin: I saw your reviews of The 13th and Loving. I was caught up in the passion of the former, forgetting to demand the data that you wanted to see in it, and haven’t seen the latter. I Am Not Your Negro will be at Theatre N in Wilmington this weekend. Any plans on seeing it? If so, I’d love to read your review, unless I bump into you there.
Klaw: wait, what? I’ve lived here three years and never been there. They’re playing that and Neruda, so I might have to get to one of those. (I’d like to see both of those movies as soon as I can.)

Chris: Hi Keith, I’m the one who tweeted you the pic of the SMRT office here in Portland. Just moved here up the hill from Hadlock Field. Have you ever been to a game there, supposed to be one of the better AA parks (and I’m looking forward to seeing the loaded Trenton team visit)?
Klaw: Yep, great stadium, usually draw well, and obviously there will be a few prospects there too.

Ray: Do you think Kyle Wright/Alex Faedo are advanced enough to start 2018 in AA and see a big league cameo in 2018
Klaw: No. A college player who can go right to AA is pretty rare. I think two guys did it out of the 2015 draft (Bregman and Hader).

Wade: I believe you’ve mentioned trips to Italy in the past and that you still have family there. I’m going to Croatia for our honeymoon. Ever been there? Any suggestions?
Klaw: No, but Dubrovnik is a bucket-list place for me.

Scott: As grad student who can’t afford a fancy coffee press or something like that, what’s your best advice for making do with a regular coffee pot?
Klaw: Buy a Hario V60 pour-over device – they’re like $20, plus filters. Better than traditional drip or French press.

Kilgore: How do you decide what to read next when you have a shelf full of unread books? I tend to buy A LOT of books at once and end up with so many I actually get a bit anxiety trying to decide what to read.
Klaw: I almost always go in order to avoid that exact problem – or to avoid pushing a longer/more difficult book to the back of the queue. I might skip one ahead so I can alternative fiction with non-fiction, or light with heavy.

Chris: Btw, if you havent been to Hadlock Field, in addition to that and seeing SMRT for yourself, Portland has an indie bookstore called Print that just opened a few months ago (signing!) and a boardgame bar that is right around the corner called Arcadia. Just sayin’.
Klaw: If it wasn’t inside the Arctic Circle I might move there.

Jacob: Keith, Thanks for hosting these chats here. I realize this isn’t the optimal forum for this question and you aren’t a doctor, but you frequently do talk about health, so I’ll ask: how many drinks a week do you think is too many? Basically if a friend or colleague said they had x drinks per week, at what point would you raise your eyebrows.
Klaw: I’m definitely not qualified to answer that, but if a friend told me he was having ten drinks a week I would start to worry about him.

JR: At the gym? Trying to make sure you show up at spring training in the best shape of your life so you will fit in with everyone else?
Klaw: Well I might be in the worst shape of my life right now so I need to do something about that.

Darryl: Who loads up a bigger Brinks truck in 2 years…Machado or Harper?
Klaw: If they were free agents today, Machado. But I bet Harper ends up with more in two years.

Bill: Have you have ever been surprised by someone who has retweeted one of your posts? I know the bassist from REM (a big baseball fan) does on occasion…
Klaw: Yes – that’s one of the best parts of Twitter. JK Rowling liked one of my tweets a few weeks ago, and when I showed my daughter she screamed “that’s awesome!” and hugged me. (She’s 10. And a huge Potter fan.) Didn’t know that about Mills, though.

Michael: How do you feel about immigrants closing their restaurants? We are all immigrants except the Native Americans. Keep the restaurant open and market that there are great cuisines and cultures to be enjoyed through food. Don’t know how closing and losing profits helps- any insights?
Klaw: It makes news. I think that’s the point. And I agree, we’re all immigrants. My ancestors came from Italy (one grandparent, four other great-grandparents), Ireland (one great-great grandparent), and England (not sure how far back, but that’s where Law comes from).

Felix: If your the Reyes TJ news had come out before you finished your rankings how far down the list do you think it would drop him?
Klaw: Good question. I usually dock guys who are just out with TJ pretty substantially – probably to around the 30-40 range, maybe a touch lower because I feel like the delivery offered us clues that he’d get hurt. This is why Reyes 1) wasn’t my top pitching prospect and 2) couldn’t possibly be over guys like Benintendi or Swanson. Hell, I’ll bet there isn’t a GM in baseball right now who would have traded Benintendi for a fully healthy Reyes a week ago.

Bob: With Alex Reyes out for the year, it appears that Wacha is going to get the first crack at being the fifth starter for STL. If I recall right, you were never as high on him as others were and his performance has been uneven at best. If he has indeed strengthened the muscles around his shoulder, what would you expect from him going forward?
Klaw: My concern with him was really around the lack of an average breaking ball. He had an average fastball, 70 changeup, and above-average or plus command. Never thought he’d be inconsistent or regularly injured, so I take no credit here. If I’m Mozeliak, I’m putting Wacha in the mix for that spot, but figuring I get 15 starts from him, 10 from someone else, etc. I wouldn’t bank on him going 180 innings.

Howard: I have an Anova sous vide and I’m looking for some good, cheap options to sous vide – in particular, chicken? Any specific chicken recipes you’ve tried on that that came out amazing?
Klaw: Yes, Serious Eats has a chicken thighs (or legs) recipe that is foolproof. I also use the tip from Richard Blais’ Try This at Home to sous vide boneless breasts for about an hour at 145-150 – I’ve even done 155 and they’re still good but 150 is probably ideal – to use later in applications like chicken salad. I’ve done that to shred chicken for soups too. It comes out way more tender.

RAW: How do you get over the feeling that brain power devoted now to baseball (also, all sports & entertainment) is not wasteful, fake news?
Klaw: I think about it for a moment and then I go on living my life.

Dave: Does Braden Shipley still have a future as a starter? He’s dropped off the prospect list map.
Klaw: He dropped off because he lost his eligibility. Yes, I absolutely believe he’s a starter. Too athletic and too good a changeup & curveball.

Robert Gsellman: What makes Robert Gsellman so different than Michael Fulmer?
Klaw: Fulmer had better secondary stuff at the same stage of development.

James: What do you think of Josh Ockimey? He was so good in his first 75-80 games and so bad in his final 40 or so. I would imagine he’s an extreme risk, but it he a risky guy you like?
Klaw: Yep, he’s in my Boston org writeup, and it was just what you said. Has to hit, since he’s 1b only, but he really seemed to hit a wall in late July and was just toast.

CD: Can you speculate as to why Thames kind of busted here as a player his fist go round?
Klaw: Swing was a big problem. Tried to dead-pull a lot of stuff to RF. Also never very disciplined at the plate.

Harrisburg Hal: Can you see a day in the future when you invest in a restaurant? I picture you more as a “back of the house” cog. Although maybe I have that completely wrong.
Klaw: Yes, I could, if I ever had that kind of free cash. Right now anything we save goes to my daughter’s college fund, our retirement, or things like planning to replace our furnace (which I’m pretty sure is older than our marriage) before it dies.

Anonymous: Good Eats is _________ cooking show of all time? Alton Brown has to be on top of your people you would like to meet
Klaw: Number one, and yes.

Hank: I’m 39 years old with no college. I have a good paying job that supports my family. Yet, I CRAVE some sort of education in my life to keep my brain active. I read regularly, but I think I need something more. Is there anything you would recommend in order to keep my brain active?
Klaw: I’ve never tried those free online “great” courses, but some reputable universities have lectures online you might try. Also, I think learning a language is great brain exercise. So are boardgames.

Jeremiah: Hey Keith, love your work and your prospect material seems to come at just the right time to break up the bore of the offseason. I wsnted to ask, if you could start a team around one minor league player with no mlb experience, who would be the first one or two that come to mind? Who do you see with superstar potential..with no mlb experience. Thx for your time
Klaw: I put Kopech where I did for that reason – on the pitcher side, he’s got the best combination of upside (ace, maybe top 5 in baseball kind of starter) and probability (there’s a lot already in place). Position player, Rosario. I’d want a guy up the middle with offensive upside.

Austin: Sad news that Matt Imhof retired after the gruesome eye injury he suffered last year. Was he ever going to be more than just a guy for you? Was a 2nd round pick and pitched great on the collegiate national team
Klaw: Probably not. Pitched with a 45 fastball in college and less in pro ball. Still a tragedy, though.

Aaron: Smoltz is forecasting a “pitching shortage” in the near future due to arm injuries caused by infatuation with throwing hard starting in youth baseball and up to the big leagues. What is your interpretation of how the pitcher has evolved and how common TJ has become on the heels of another young pitcher going under the knife before his career has had a chance to get going?
Klaw: That’s an interesting forecast – I think there’s a lot of merit in that. Will parents steer kids away from pitching too, seeing the injury risk? Are they steering kids away from youth football now, seeing the death and dementia risk?

Ceej: Regardless of how much they play, do you think that Bellinger/Brinson are ready?
Klaw: Bellinger would hold his own, Brinson would struggle.

Scott in Fla: Spring training too long? Just right? Also for fun, even though this is serious stuff: Better top 3 of rotation Red Sox or Cubs? Thanks.!
Klaw: This year, too long. Actually most years too long, so this year it’s too long … er. Red Sox.

guren: If you were a professor at an American university, what are one undergraduate and one graduate class that you would like to teach?
Klaw: Something on modern literature, or on the craft of writing. I’m not qualified to teach anything else.

Steve Gasser: Do you think Rafael Devers will have any/many .300/.500 seasons in the majors? Thanks.
Klaw: Slugging .500, absolutely. Hitting .300, maybe a few. I think he’s a superstar, though.

Dana: Do you buy Adam Warren as a #5 starter?
Klaw: Not really. Swingman. Very good in that role, though.

Bruce: My son just turned 14 and is in advanced English. They have a regular assignment to read “classic” literature and write reports on these books. He has read 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 so far. I’ve made several recommendations of other books I have enjoyed. What books would you recommend for this age group?
Klaw: Animal Farm. War of the Worlds. The Yearling. Scoop. To Kill a Mockingbird (duh). Beloved might be a little mature, depending on your son. Frankenstein. Three Men in a Boat (and then have him read To Say Nothing of the Dog!).

Scott: Will Kennedy and De Niro ever actually pay anyone $100k?
Klaw: It sounds like they’ve rigged it to be impossible. They’re nut jobs and I’m disappointed in how much media coverage they’re getting for being information terrorists – by spreading irrational, baseless fears of vaccines, they’re putting public health at risk.

Tim: In non-prospect world – Jose Peraza or Dilson Herrera are in line for the keystone in Cincinnati – either of them project as a regular or better there?
Klaw: Herrera has more upside – better hitter, more power – but Peraza is faster and will probably make more contact right now. I’d rather play Herrera every day and let Peraza back up 2b and ss … or just bench/trade Cozart and play Peraza every day at ss.

Matt from Milwaukee: Klaw, love your stuff – thanks for all the insights! Wondering about Jacob Nottingham. He did not make your Brewer prospects list, even a mention, yet he had seemed to be a nice gain for their system at trade time with good power. Issues in ’16?? Fall into the same “not developing trap” the bulk of the Crew’s system is in? Thanks!
Klaw: Can’t catch. Was borderline a year ago, got worse across the board. Don’t see what they have there now.

Elf: I know you do prospect assessment without looking at others doing the same type of lists, but as someone who’s been compiling major prospect lists for the last decade, it seems like this year has had by far the most discrepancy of any year I’ve seen, with top 50 players that aren’t even mentioned by others. Do you see any reason why this may be happening; easier access to MiLB stats, prevalence of fantasy, change in valued skills, or just a fluke year with guys like Mateo and Zimmer making it seem like there’s a shift? Thanks!
Klaw: On the contrary, I know MLB’s list and mine lined up quite a bit – Mayo and I were discussing that just the other day. I haven’t looked at BA’s list yet and I don’t think Eric has posted one yet on Fangraphs. That’s all the lists I’d look at; I don’t think others are comparable (although I would never say “don’t read X,” I’m just saying a direct comparison doesn’t work because of how folks like Jim, Jonathan, John and I put ours together).

Bob: When my wife went to work in retail 15 years ago, I became the cook by default. What I lack in true technique I try to make up with creativity (I get most of my ideas from Food Network and America’s Test Kitchen). This past weekend, I tried a new creation that just didn’t work. My saintly wife was gamely going to eat it until I said, “How about if I go get a pizza.” She was so relieved. Do you often have meals that just don’t work? Does you family give you honest feedback?
Klaw: I do. I tried some new recipes from Isa Does It!, which is a vegan cookbook, because I love her restaurant in Omaha (and now Brooklyn) called Modern Love. It was a mixed bag – some great, some OK, one flop. My family’s used to it.

Frank: Any food recommendations in Salt Lake City? I’m there for a conference in 2 weeks and I know they have a AAA team where Mike Trout played, so I’m asking you!
Klaw: I haven’t been there in almost 20 years. I know scouts who rave about a place there called Red Iguana, though.

Ethan: Piggy backing off of question re: Smoltz…Pirates drafted several HS pitchers with little experience throwing a breaking ball due to their parents not allowing them. Could this be a trend, is it a good strategy? Thoughts?
Klaw: I think it’s an interesting tactic, but I don’t know that I like the idea of leaning on that as a primary criterion (if they actually did so). It might make me favor one guy over another.

Archie: Re: the Smoltz question….until teams draft guys who can pitch with lesser velocity over guys who have elite arm strength, but no feel for pitching, there will be no change. Could continued success of guys like Hendricks and Estrada potentially change the course baseball is on?
Klaw: We do, though. Garrett went 8th overall but pitches at 90-93. Groome was mostly 89-93 and went 12th. Colt Griffin doesn’t go top 10 in 2017.

Owen: Re: restaurant strike/closing – As I live in DC and work at a restaurant that will be open tonight, I think the strike is a good idea to show just how much a major industry relies on immigrants. If we have full participation, we’ll have only three people to work the BOH.
Klaw: I’m in favor of it. This idea that our economy can run with limited immigration, or that immigrants are stealin’ ur jobz, is not just counterfactual but brain-dead.

Jonathan: What would it take for a team to pry Bregman away from the Astros?
Klaw: A pair of pliers and a blowtorch.

Tom: What’s funny is that it’s actually been shown that the older the parents are when the child is born, the chances increase that there can be some sort of disorder, especially if the parent is over 50. But I’m guessing DeNiro is avoiding that one.
Klaw: Indeed. why blame yourself when you can blame Big Evil Pharma?

Sam: If you could get in a time machine, go back and get all of the game’s best pitchers, and bring them to today to compete, is it possible Kershaw would be better than any of them? There have been some stellar arms, but it seems like his mix of stuff and command may put him at the top of the mountain.
Klaw: Yes, especially because he’s likely bigger, stronger, and harder-throwing than any of them.

Marco: Do you see a problem with staying in a job you’re comfortable with over trying to “challenge yourself, make more money, etc.” People tell me I need to branch out or try harder, but I just like working in a job that’s easy with no responsibility and I don’t have to try too hard.
Klaw: Just be happy. If your job fills your financial needs and gives you the time to do other things that matter to you, then why worry about what anyone else says?

Klaw: That’s all for this week. I’ll be at the Louisville game tomorrow in Clearwater to kick off the draft season, but home next week, which should mean another chat on Thursday. As always, thank you all for reading and for all of your questions.


Even before I’d seen Loving (available via amazon or iTunes), I expected it to get a Best Picture nomination because it was a well-reviewed film that covered a major social issue with renewed relevance in light of November’s elections. The BBC even tweeted an errant image of the BP nominees that included Loving with the nine films that actually did get that honor. Now that I’ve seen it and can actually offer an opinion, I’m surprised it didn’t get one, especially with Hell or High Water, an entertaining but rather formulaic movie, earning a nod instead.

Loving tells the true and still somewhat hard-to-believe story of the perfectly-named Lovings, a white man and black woman in Virginia in the 1950s who got married in Washington, D.C., because Virginia had a law explicitly prohibiting interracial marriage. The couple was arrested and pled guilty under an arrangement where they agreed to leave Virginia for 25 years, but after some time in D.C., Mildred Loving wrote to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who referred her to the local ACLU chapter, which in turn saw the Lovings as a perfect test case to try to blow up anti-miscegenation laws across the south and midwest. Sixteen states still had such laws in 1967, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Lovings that Virginia’s law violated the Fourteenth Amendment; of those states, fourteen went for Trump in November 2016, the only exceptions being Virginia itself … and Delaware.

Director Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special) also wrote the screenplay for Loving and by all accounts, including comments from the Lovings’ daughter Peggy, hewed very closely to the truth, to an extent that might have actually hurt the film’s commercial appeal. This is a simple love story, not a courtroom drama or a rabble-rousing protest film. Richard Loving in particular was a very quiet man, uncomfortable with the public attention or the need to take any of this to higher courts; he just loved his wife and wanted the legal right to be with her. Mildred appears to have been the impetus behind the lawsuits and the charge up to the Supreme Court, conscious of the larger issues at play here than just their relationship (and the status of their children, who were considered illegitimate before SCOTUS struck down the Virginia law). It’s kind of a sweet story, with minimal drama and certainly no artificial flourishes to heighten the tension. I appreciated that aspect of the film because it’s such an antidote to hyped-up “based on a true story” movies that merge people into single characters or alter the order of events to make the film more exciting, but I can also understand viewers finding it dull because we just don’t see movies like this very often.

Ruth Negga earned a Best Actress nomination for her performance as Mildred, although I couldn’t see her winning over Emma Stone for La La Land on merit or popularity. Neither Mildred nor Richard is that intruiging a character, with Mildred the slightly deeper of the two, although much of Negga’s performance, while solid, involves showing varying degrees of anxiety or concern on her face. Loving doesn’t have a ton of dialogue, and neither character changes at all over the course of the film – because that’s the story, of course. The couple were already adults when they first chose to get married, and they stuck together through their challenges because they loved each other, but neither needed to acquire anything new to get to the conclusion. You might argue that Mildred showed unexpected strength in taking the lead during the legal process, but I interpreted it as showing that she already had this strength of character but was somewhat overshadowed because she was both a woman and a person of color, so less was expected of her.

Loving is, however, a classically romantic movie. These two people just love each other so much they were willing to break the law, resist arrest and imprisonment, and eventually concede much of their privacy to be together legally and to allow others to do the same. Nichols stays out of the way of the story in almost every aspect; I think the best way to know this is one of his films is the cast, with Michael Shannon making his required appearance (as a Life photographer) and both Bill Camp and Joel Edgerton (as Richard Loving) appearing as they did in Nichols’ Midnight Special. Perhaps it wasn’t quite flashy enough to attract Oscar voters, but I think it’s a beautiful rendition of a true story of great historical importance within our country and, of course, remains relevant to this day.

Hell or High Water.

Hell or High Water (available to rent on amazon and iTunes) earned Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay nominations for this month’s Academy Awards, which perplexes me no end because it’s just not that kind of movie. It’s incredibly entertaining, very well shot, but there is nothing in this story you haven’t seen before, whether we’re talking characters or plot. It’s cowboy noir, and while I love noir (and did really enjoy this movie), this iteration changes nothing of the noir formula except putting the action in west Texas.

Jeff Bridges, who earned a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his work here, plays Texas Ranger Marcus (not Josh) Hamilton, who’s – wait for it – just a few weeks away from retirement when a string of small-time bank robberies, all of branches of the same bank, crosses his desk and gives him one last ‘big’ case before he heads off to his porch. The robbers, played by Chris Pine (Toby) and Ben Foster (Tanner), are a pair of brothers who are robbing banks solely of the small cash in the drawers, and are working up enough money to pay off some specific debt that becomes clear around the midpoint of the film. Pine plays the sensitive brother who doesn’t want anyone to get hurt, while Foster is the ex-con loose cannon who seems to enjoy robbing banks for the hell of it. Bridges’ partner, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham), is a younger cop of both Mexican and Comanche descent, and bears the brunt of Bridges’ unending stream of bigoted “Injun” humor.

It’s two against two, and you can certainly guess how this is going to end if you’ve seen a few movies in your lifetime. That doesn’t make the trip less enjoyable, especially since the dialogue between the cops is snappy (other than the racist humor, which has a little shock value at the start and quickly overstays its welcome as a device to mask the affection Bridges’ character feels for his partner) and the scenery is stunning, with panoramic shots of the west Texas landscape. I haven’t been to that part of the state, but I’ve been to Arizona and New Mexico, even out of the metro areas, and it has that same feel of desolation between the arid climate and the lack of anything resembling civilization – buildings, paved roads, people, even animals.

The characters, however, are all straight out of Noir Central Casting. Foster plays his character turned up to 11 the entire film, and while he seems to be having a blast, it means the character has no nuance. He’s a psychopath and his only redeeming characteristic is that he loves his brother, although that’s just kind of a stated fact, with nothing resembling an explanation or a background. (He shows incredible empathy for his brother, but thinks nothing of shooting strangers, security guards, cops, and so on.) Bridges does everything he can with his character, although the cop who’s one case away from retirement is about as hackneyed as the hooker with a heart of gold, and it’s pretty easy to figure out who’s going to survive this movie and who’s not.

Where Hell or High Water really clicks is the dry humor, much of it around Texas playing a bit to stereotype. When the brothers rob their second bank, there’s an older gentleman at the teller; one brother asks him if he has a gun on him, and the man replies with a combination of shock and indignation, “You’re god-damned right I have a gun.” A young punk at a gas station who can barely hold his pistol correctly gets what’s coming to him for mouthing off to the brothers. Albert gets a few zingers back at Marcus that show him to be the more erudite of the two, despite the way Marcus talks to him as some sort of noble savage.

Was this script just a noir story, though, or was writer Taylor Sheridan trying to make some bigger points about evil banks and a dying way of life on the ranch? If the latter was true, it didn’t work at all for me; it was there but entirely superficial, and if the plot itself was familiar, the Big Bad Corporation aspect is downright bromidic. Sometimes a good guys/bad guys story is just that. Let them shoot it out for themselves and leave the bigger meaning to other films.

(By the way, two “where I have a seen that actor before?” moments for me from Hell or High Water: The brothers’ lawyer is played by Kevin Rankin, who played the priest on Gracepoint, and Toby’s ex-wife is played by Marin Ireland, who briefly played an Islamist terrorist on Homeland.)

I’ve seen five of the nine Best Picture nominees so far, and this would easily be at the bottom for me, and behind a few other movies I’ve seen this year, including Loving, which I saw Saturday and will review this week as well.

The 13th.

Ava DuVernay’s documentary The 13th, available for free on Netflix, aims high, trying to tell the history of mass incarceration in the United States while tying it inextricably to the history of the oppression of African-Americans post-slavery. DuVernay assembles a formidable group of pundits, activists, and politicians – not all black, and not all from the left – to examine the arc of American prison culture over 150 years through an narrator-less stream of commentary. It is almost guaranteed to disturb anyone who sees our racial divide for what it is, in social and economic terms. It is also an infinite loop of anecdotal fallacies, so light on hard evidence to support any of its many assertions that it is unlikely to convince the unconvinced of anything at all.

The 13th traces the history of the subjugation of the African-American in the United States from the passage of the 13th Amendment (hence the title) through the present day’s Black Lives Matter movements and the overt dog-whistling of President Trump while on the campaign trail. The 13th Amendment outlawed slavery but left a glaring exception within its text:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Did you know that “except” clause was there? I couldn’t have told you that if you’d asked me three days ago what the 13th Amendment said or did; I thought it ended slavery, full stop. What ensued set the stage for the modern era of mass incarceration, according to the various historians and pundits we see in The 13th: The southern economic engine ran on free black labor before the Civil War, so after it, blacks were arrested on trivial spurious charges, imprisoned, and then put to work to keep the engine running. White authorities used jail as a way to quell civil rights movements as well as a source of free or cheap workers, imprisoning nearly all of the major civil rights leaders at some point during the 1950s and 1960s, a practice the film implies ended with the acquittal of activist Angela Davis – a scene I’ll return to in a moment – only to have the system roll back over again on itself with a new tactic. “Tough on crime” politics gave authorities new reasons to lock up African-Americans, especially men, for longer periods of time even on lesser charges. Sentences for possession or distribution of crack were longer than those for equivalent quantities of powdered cocaine. Multiple levels of government enacted mandatory minimums and three-strikes sentencing rules. Many people were locked up simply for their inability to pay fines or post bail, something John Oliver covered well two years ago on Last Week Tonight. Prisons were privatized, and firms like CCA are now paid based on prison populations, so they have every incentive to keep jails full. The film asserts that all of these factors contribute to the ongoing high rates of incarceration for African-Americans relative to white Americans. You’re about six times more likely to spend time in jail in your life if you’re a black man than a white man.

It’s easy to sit here in 2017 and handwave away much of the black-and-white footage in the film as relics of our racist past, but much of what the film covers from Reagan forward should really get your attention. The War on Drugs could easily take up this entire film for its effects on people of color, our system of mass incarceration, and the colossal waste of public funds for little to no public benefit. Decriminalizing possession works in many ways, including reducing usage. Portugal decriminalized drugs in 2000, adopted a recovery-centric approach to helping addicts, and has seen drug use fall while HIV infection rates stayed stable. The Netherlands decriminalized in 1976 and they have so many empty prison cells they’re using them to help house migrants. I thought The 13th could have gone even farther down this road, talking not just about what imprisoning African-Americans on minor drug offenses does to the community (and how it provides free prison labor and supports an entire industry of firms that contract with prisons to provide goods and services, including Aramark), but looking at violence related strictly to the War on Drugs and the effect that has on people of color.

As for Angela Davis, who appears many times on screen to discuss the issue at hand, the movie totally whiffs on her own backstory. The film never explains why she was on trial in the first place, implying that it was a politically-motivated charge to silence her, praising her for dominating the proceedings with her defense, and claiming that the state wanted to give her the death penalty. Davis was actually charged with murder, kidnapping, and criminal conspiracy related to the Marin County courthouse incident, where an armed 17-year-old tried to free his brother and two other men, who were charged with killing a prison guard – it’s a complicated story, so I encourage you to read those links. The assailant used guns purchased by Davis two days prior to the attack. The charges may indeed have been trumped up for political reasons. She was placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List while she was on the run, which also seems like it was a political move. And I don’t see how she could even have been charged with anything but conspiracy if she wasn’t even present at the crime. But the film mentions none of this, and it’s pretty damn relevant to that entire sequence. The prosecution of Davis may have had a political motivation, but she wasn’t arrested without cause, either.

That’s a single example of a maddening problem with The 13th: It’s 90% opinion and 10% fact. Do I believe there’s a pyramid of firms profiting off our system of throwing people in jail for nonviolent offenses? Absolutely. But give us some data on that – how many people are locked up for these crimes? How many days or years are lost? Who’s paying for that imprisonment, and how much? In jurisdictions with lighter sentencing, do we see positive effects? Mandatory minimums vary by state; how have states that rolled back these laws fared? How about third-strike laws, which only exist in 28 states? These are subjects of real academic research, but instead of giving us data, or scholars discussing their work, we get circular reasoning, solipsistic assertions, and appeals to emotion. In fact, I thought the most fascinating commentary came from one of the film’s few non-African Americans to speak: Newt Gingrich, who offered thoughtful, intelligent remarks on the failures of the 1980s and 1990s efforts to get “tough on crime” and of the imbalanced sentencing laws on crack and cocaine.

The 13th has been nominated for the Oscar for Best Documentary feature along with Life, Animated; Fire at Sea; I Am Not Your Negro; and ESPN’s own O.J.: Made in America. While it has sort of the political angle the Academy tends to favor in voting, it’s so full of rhetoric without evidence that I couldn’t possibly consider it over O.J., even before considering the latter’s length and vast scope. This is more of a call to action to the faithful than the film to send your “All Lives Matter!” friend to get him to realize he’s being ridiculous. (Better to unfriend him anyway.) It’s a demand for change, but to convince enough people to push the change through in the face of enemies with enormous economic incentives to support the status quo, we’ll need a lot more than The 13th provides us.

Stick to baseball, 2/11/17.

No Insider content this week – you’ve had plenty, so don’t get greedy. I did hold a Klawchat on Thursday.

For Paste, I reviewed the asymmetrical two-player game The Blood of an Englishman, which is based on Jack and the Beanstalk. I also returned to Vulture with a post on eight great boardgames for couples, in honor of Valentine’s Day.

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…

  • Detroit Tigers owner and Little Caesars founder Mike Ilitch passed away yesterday. Here’s a 2016 piece on the hidden cost of cheap pizza, where reducing prices often means taking it out of workers’ pockets.
  • One of the best longreads of the week covered how a Huntington, West Virginia, school official improved school lunches contrary to the meddling efforts of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
  • Another great longread: how a young Wikipedia editor/admin is fighting back against misogynist trolls on the site.
  • Eater has a longread, more a collection of shorter pieces than a single story, on the things people will do to hunt and pick rare mushrooms.
  • As much as I crush the NCAA for some of its policies, they’re leading the fight against anti-LGBT discrimination right now, including a threatened six-year boycott of North Carolina that would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in lost business over that state’s hate bill HB2, which prevents local governments from passing laws or ordinances protecting LGBT citizens from discrimination.
  • There’s a potential famine brewing in sub-Saharan Africa thanks to the spread of the fall armyworm, which is devastating crops in Zimbabwe already and may be present in six other African countries. We can talk about organic agriculture all we want, but if a synthetic pesticide stops this worm, it’ll save millions of lives.
  • Speaking of which, Dr. Paul Offit wrote about how Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring cost millions of lives too, because DDT, while clearly bad for the environment as a broad-use pesticide, is extremely effective at stopping the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria.
  • Betsy DeVos was confirmed this week as Secretary of Education, but let’s recall the damage she did in Michigan with her charter-school endeavors. I’ve said on here before that I favor at least some school choice, but school choice is not a panacea for underperforming public schools, and her appointment is a potential disaster for public education in this country.
  • TIME became (I think) the first major publication to run an editorial arguing that it’s time to impeach President Trump. Meanwhile, good journalism keeps coming from unexpected outlets, like Vogue highlighting five things Trump is doing now but for which he attacked Hillary Clinton during the campaign.
  • Buy stock in telecom giants? The new FCC is going to kill off net neutrality, opening those quasi-monopolies up for greater power to squeeze money from content providers and consumers.
  • Meanwhile, Republicans across the country are fighting to restrict voting rights, moves that are likely to help their candidates in 2018 and beyond. If you live in such a state, make your voice heard now, before it’s silenced.
  • Why did House Republicans block a vote on a resolution stating that the Holocaust targeted Jews? Are they so beholden to party that they wouldn’t even vote on a fact?
  • John Yoo, who was Justice Department official under President George W. Bush and advocated heavy use of executive orders, wrote that President Trump has taken executive power too far. This is like Tony Larussa saying a manager uses too many relievers. And a former National Security Council member also wrote for the New York Times that Steve Bannon shouldn’t be on the NSC.
  • Are Trump’s opponents falling into his ‘trap’ with their outrage? I don’t know that I agree with this National Review piece’s conclusions, but it’s worth considering that there are still many voters who will nod their heads at his populist moves without considering their consequences.
  • Is Trump’s fight against the judiciary his Watergate? I doubt it, although there are some parallels.
  • Marco Rubio has moments where he appears to be one of the few GOP leaders willing to oppose the President or stake out a position near the center, including a little-heard speech he gave this week on the demise of civil disagreements. That’s great, Marco; now vote against your party’s President on something that matters.
  • Meanwhile, the GOP continues to use the term “fake news” to keep up its attacks on respected, objective journalism outlets, such as Alabama representative Mo Brooks calling the Washington Post fact-checkers “fake news” for pointing out that his voter fraud claims were, well, fraudulent.
  • Ah, North Dakota, where two Republican legislators said in session that women should spend Sundays taking care of their husbands. Will they face any electoral consequences for this? I doubt it.
  • Vaccines! There are over 400 mumps cases in Washington State’s outbreak. That’s why Peter Hotez, Ddirector of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, can say that the anti-vaxxers are “winning” in another NYT editorial. (I subscribed to the Times online in the fall, mostly to keep these posts going, because they are producing some tremendous content across the board right now.)
  • If you saw the Daily Mail piece claiming that politicians had been hoodwinked by falsified climate-change data, well, don’t read the Daily Mail, as it’s become an unreliable source on any economic, political, or scientific topic. And the story was utter nonsense.
  • Former Top Chef contestant Mark Simmons of NYC’s Kiwiana made his feelings on the Muslim ban quite clear with a pro-immigration message printed on his restaurant’s receipts.
  • Is artisanal chocolate the next big food trend along the lines of craft beer and coffee? I’m a little skeptical, and this piece glosses over chocolate’s big sourcing issue (there’s a lot of child labor and de facto slavery in the cacao supply chain), but I think there’s a market here for better chocolate that can make consumers feel better about what they’re eating.
  • An Intelligentsia Coffee staffer wrote this informative post on why we steep tea but brew coffee.
  • The British Academy of Film and Television Arts has published research on how to help women and people of color in the film industry, a sort of response to the #OscarsSoWhite criticisms we’ve heard the last few years. (The Oscar nominees are much more diverse this year, quelling such complaints for the moment.) It gets more at the root of the problem than the attacks on the Academy Awards do – you won’t see women nominated for Best Director if women are rarely hired as directors or if their films struggle to find funding or distribution. There were few acclaimed movies in 2016 directed by women; I think the best-reviewed was Certain Women, which received very little distribution at all.
  • Is mining asteroids an essential part of our future? I think it is, in some sense, although I’m surprised this piece doesn’t mention iridium, a critical element in manufacturing electronics; it’s believed most of the iridium on earth came from the meteor or comet that caused the K/T extinction event.
  • Vice’s Noisey asked a person with synaesthesia what several songs “taste” like to him. Synaesthesia is a rare brain function where senses ‘cross;’ Vladimir Nabokov had it. I don’t have this, but I do associate all twelve months with certain colors, because when I was maybe five my mom had a Peanuts calendar hanging in our laundry room where January, May, and September were colored in red; February, June, and October in blue; March, July, and November in green; and April, August, and December in yellow. Those months still have those colors to me today.
  • Humor: This New Yorker fake-dialogue post called “I Work from Home” hit a little close, especially as I’m writing this post at 10:30 am on Saturday while still in my pajamas.