Stick to baseball, 2/5/17.

My organizational reports for all 30 teams, featuring at least ten prospects ranked for each club (and as many as 25), went up this past week for Insiders. You can find them all here on the landing pages for each division:

American League East
National League East
American League Central
National League Central
American League West
National League West

My list of thirty sleeper prospects, one for each MLB organization, for 2017 went up on Friday, wrapping up the prospect rankings package for the year. I also held a Klawchat on Friday.

For Paste, I reviewed the complex strategy game Forged in Steel, a citybuilder with some worker-placement and card management aspects that, once you get the first few moves underway, really gets going and manages to be both smart and fun.

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…

  • The must-read piece of the week – actually published in early January – comes from British journalist Isabel Hardman, who wrote about how even England’s vaunted NHS doesn’t do justice to people with mental illnesses, although the piece itself also provides a great window into her own difficulties recognizing what was happening to her and getting properly treated.
  • It’s Super Bowl Sunday! If you wouldn’t let your kids play football because it’s dangerous (and has led to the premature deaths of many players), is it moral to still watch the NFL?
  • I thought this New Yorker profile of Evan McMullin, who has emerged as a major Trump critic from the center-right was both an excellent piece of balanced journalism and a good window into someone who, even though I disagree with him on a couple of major policy issues, speaks very clearly to my concern that the man in the Oval Office – well, that man, and the one pulling his strings – needs to be stopped.
  • The batshit insane people who claim Sandy Hook was a hoax believe Trump’s election furthers their cause. I’m just glad these hoaxers are facing legal consequences when they harass relatives of the deceased.
  • As if Betsy DeVos’ awful answers in her confirmation hearing and embrace of creationism and other anti-science bullshit weren’t enough to disqualify her from running the U.S. Department of Education in everyone’s eyes except, well, our President and 50 Senate Republicans, she’s also a major investor in an utterly useless pseudoscience business of neurofeedback that claims it can use brain waves to diagnose and treat autism, depression, and why are we even talking about this it is such obvious bullshit? If you have a U.S. Senator who is planning to vote for DeVos – that’s every Republican right now except Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Sue Collins (Maine) – get on the phone on Monday morning, or send a fax, or go to their offices and make it clear you want a no vote on DeVos. One more Republican will end her candidacy, and while we aren’t guaranteed that the next nominee will be better, I’m not sure they can find one who’s worse.
  • You want more about DeVos being delusional in her belief in anti-science folderol? Look at her use of code words for creationism. While her camp has hidden behind the federal law and court rulings that intelligent design can’t be taught in public schools – it’s religion, thinly disguised as pseudoscience – that opens the door for her to push to change such laws, or challenge the court rulings, to suit her own misguided beliefs.
  • The House Science Committee is something between a joke and a modern-day Spanish Inquisition, thanks to its science-denialist head, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas, where else?), and the new Holman Rule that allows House appropriations bills to target any federal employee and reduce his/her salary to $1. Boys, all you boys, you think you’re so American.
  • Is the white-supremacist (and possible fascist) Steve Bannon positioning himself to be the de facto President? Fifty Democratic Congresspersons have called for Bannon’s removal from the National Security Council, co-sponsoring a House bill that would ban political strategists from serving on the council. (Reports that the appointment requires Senate approval were false or at least incomplete.) Meanwhile, filings from Bannon’s second divorce include accusations that he failed to pay child support and was abusive toward his daughters.
  • I think this ProPublica piece has the wrong title. It’s not can the Democrats be as stubborn as Mitch McConnell, but will they? Of course they can, but so far, I see no signs that they well. Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley is prepared to lead a filibuster of Trump’s SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorusch, who’s filling a seat that should have been filled last year by Merrick Garland. (By the way, if you saw the claims that Gorusch had created a pro-fascism club while a student, those were false.)
  • Eric Trump’s business trip to Uruguay – that is, a trip to benefit the Trump family business, not on U.S. official business – cost the taxpayer over $97K in hotel bills. This is a good example of where the Democrats need to be obstructionist – Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill requiring him to divest, but even the Dems appear to have little interest in this fight.
  • How about that immigration order, now halted, that served as a de facto Muslim ban? The Archbishop of Chicago spoke out against it. The order stranded a Brooklyn doctor in the Sudan. VICE published a list of doctors and researchers thus barred from returning to the United States. Don’t you feel so much safer now?
  • Bloomberg published a short op ed that argues that Trump has failed his Wall Street and big business backers twice over, by putting all permanent resident employees at risk of deportation or refused re-entry, and by failing to repeal the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule, which – get this – which requires financial advisers to act in the best interests of their clients in retirement accounts. I don’t know what’s worse: that Trump’s camp wanted to repeal the rule, or that the rule was ever necessary in the first place.
  • The farewell message from Tom Countryman (!), Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, who was summarily dismissed along with five other State Department lifers last week, is well worth your time.
  • Who’s behind the fake-news site CGS Monitor, which uses real experts’ names in bylines on articles they didn’t write? It could be Russia – I mean, of course it’s Russia, right? – although this piece speculates it could also come from Iranian interests.
  • This post from “The Jester” on Russia’s infiltration of our federal government pissed someone off enough that the site was hit with a DdoS attack a few hours after the article went up. Within it, he points out that the ex-KGB/FSB official suspected of helping MI6 agent Christopher Steele assemble that dossier on Donald Trump was found dead in his car on December 26th, and the the author accuses the Kremlin of orchestrating his murder.
  • Republicans are further trying to rig the electoral college system in their favor by pushing blue states to adopt “proportional” electoral voting, which, as that FiveThirtyEight piece explains, means that Clinton could have won the popular vote by five percentage points and still lost the election.
  • A new law in Arkansas allows rapists who impregnate their victims to stop the latter from getting abortions, or a husband to sue to prevent his wife from doing so, and so on. Even setting aside the clear infringement of religious belief into law here, this is as blatantly anti-woman as you can get. I’ve got one state left to visit to be able to say I’ve visited them all, but you know, I think any trips to Arkansas can wait until they start to treat women like actual people. UPDATE: Snopes has more details on the law, such as pointing out that rapists can’t sue for damages, and that the law delays rather than prevents the abortions. The ACLU is still planning lawsuits.
  • Abortion is an important, sometimes lifesaving medical procedure, and keeping it legal and available reduces deaths from unsafe abortions, while improving access to abortion and contraception reduces abortion rates overall. Again, women are actual people, and the infamous photo of Trump signing an anti-abortion executive order while surrounded by men sort of says it all – and that’s why the photo of the Swedish Prime Minister trolling Trump is such a thing of beauty.
  • Protesters plan to shadow Trump whenever he travels so he feels their dislike, an extension of the idea that he thrives on public adulation.
  • The apparently random murder of a woman walking on a Reykjavik street after dark has shaken the city, which is known for its low crime rate and 24-hour party culture.
  • I tweeted about this earlier in the week, but donors across the country are helping pay students’ lunch debts. It’s such a little thing, and so easy to do if you have any cash to donate. We called our daughter’s school, asked how much it would take to clear any outstanding tabs, and wrote them a check. You’ll make a lot of families’ lives easier, and will reduce the shame these kids feel for something that’s no fault of their own.
  • The Brits have all the legislative fun: A Labour MP held up a sign saying “He’s lying to you” behind Nigel Farage in a televised address by the far-right UKIP leader.
  • The University of Nevada joins the growing list of NCAA football programs reneging on scholarship offers weeks or even days before the official signing day. I’m no lawyer, so I’ll ask the crowd: at what point does such an oral agreement become binding on either party?
  • I’d never heard of the Chinese delicacy fat choy, a bacteria that grows long, noodle-like strands, but it turns out its farming is harmful to the environment, and the Chinese government is now cracking down on its production and sale.
  • Recode has a long, fascinating interview with my former colleague Bill Simmons on The Ringer, the rise and abrupt end of Grantland, the demise of his HBO TV show Any Given Wednesday, and much more. I’m still not sure I get the mission of The Ringer; they’ve mixed some great sports content with some head-scratchers where they offer advice to the movie or music industry. But it’s early in the site’s history, and I’m 100% behind any site that supports good journalism and pays its writers.
  • I’m linking here to a piece I saw on Google’s home page (I think) but that I really thought was trash: you could read 200 books a year in the time you waste on social media. There’s a lot wrong with this piece, but let me highlight two things. One, not everyone is wired for the kind of sustained attention required to read a lot of books, and no one should make someone feel bad because s/he isn’t a book reader. I love finding fellow bibliophiles, but if you don’t read books, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Two, his math suchs. He says “typical non-fiction books have ~50,000 words,” which is wrong; that’s under 200 pages, and even Smart Baseball, which I did not want to be too long, runs over 80,000 words. He also says he reads 400 words per minute and assumes that most Medium readers will too; I doubt he reads that fast unless he’s speed-reading, which doesn’t work (you don’t retain what you read as well), because reading 400 wpm would mean reading about 80 pages an hour, which I think would put anyone at the far-right end of the scale for reading speed … or means he’s reading books written for children. I read a lot, and I read fast, and I doubt I read 400 wpm unless it’s something simple and incredibly engrossing, like genre fiction or a Wodehouse novel. So, yeah, if you don’t read 200 books a year or 100 or even 20, don’t feel bad. This article was just stupid.
  • Is the hunt for paid editors tearing Wikipedia apart from the inside? That seems a bit dramatic, but I think the mere existence of paid editors is cause to retain or recover our skepticism about the reliability of information found on the site.
  • From McSweeney’s: The Rules of This Board Game Are Long, But Also Complicated. I don’t understand why this is supposed to be funny.

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.

Stick to baseball, 12/3/16.

I had a couple of Insider pieces this week, on the trade of Jaime Garcia to Atlanta, the Cespedes contract, the trade of Alex Jackson to Atlanta, and my proposal for an international draft (written before the CBA negotiations ended). I also held a Klawchat on Thursday.

My latest boardgame review for Paste covers Grifters, a “deckbuilder without a deck” that I thought played a little too mechanically.

You can preorder my upcoming book, Smart Baseball, on amazon. Also, please sign up for my more-or-less weekly email newsletter.

And now, the links…

Stick to baseball, 9/17/16.

For Insiders this week I wrote about eight top 100 prospects who had down years in 2016; that’s not all prospects who had off years, just eight I chose to discuss. I held my usual Klawchat on Thursday. For Paste I reviewed the fun, family boardgame Saloon Tycoon, where players build across their boards and also add up to three levels as they build upward.

You can pre-order my book, Smart Baseball, ahead of its scheduled release on April 25, 2017. I promise I’ll have it written by then.

Several people I know have new books out recently, and while I haven’t read them yet, I wanted to highlight the titles here:
• Jessica Luther’s Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape
• Alan Sepinwall’s TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time (with Matt Zoller Seitz)
• Geoff Schwartz’s Eat My Schwartz: Our Story of NFL Football, Food, Family, and Faith (with his brother Mitch)

I’ve been sending out a weekly email newsletter with links to all of my content and some additional notes or thoughts that don’t fit anywhere else; you can sign up here if you just don’t have enough Klaw in your life.

And now, the links…

  • Scientific American asked the four remaining Presidential candidates to answer twenty questions on major topics in science and has published the answers of the three who responded. (Gary Johnson hasn’t deigned to reply.) My takeaway: Trump remains a terrifying anti-science candidate, particularly in his denial of climate change (note the scare quotes), while Stein comes off as a serious person here as opposed to the pandering crackpot she’s been playing on Twitter.
  • VICE’s Noisey site has an outstanding piece on the history and music of Homestar Runner, one of my favorite cartoons from any medium.
  • BuzzFeed is capable of some great investigative journalism (when they’re not stealing other people’s content on the Tasty or for their videos), like this piece on police departments “closing” rape cases without investigating them. They focus on Baltimore County, Maryland, where even men convicted of previous assaults were getting away with rapes because the cops couldn’t be bothered.
  • More great investigative journalism, this time from the Houston Chronicle: The backwater known as Texas has been denying special education services to special needs kids because they arbitrarily capped the rate of kids eliglible to receive those services at 8.5%.
  • Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker stands accused of, but not charged with, taking cash for favors from large donors, according to court documents obtained by the Guardian despite a court’s irregular order that the documents be destroyed.
  • Mother Jones writers about the dwindling numbers of black teachers in urban areas and the potential impact on black students.
  • How did a young power couple in Afghanistan, including the youngest woman in that country’s nascent Parliament, end up in Nebraska? The Omaha World-Herald has their harrowing story, from death threats in their home country to entry-level jobs at McDonald’s and Home Depot as refugees here.
  • Experts on hate groups say white supremacists see Donald Trump as their “last stand.” Well, when he’s bragging about the 88 military advisors helping him, how could they think otherwise?
  • I don’t even know what to make of the story that Peter Thiel says Trump will nominate him to the Supreme Court if elected. Thiel is the billionaire who funded the lawsuits that took down Gawker and Nick Denton; perhaps he believes that, but as much as I find Trump as President a horrifying prospect, this seems like Thiel’s own fantasy.
  • Speaking of Gawker, Univision, the new owner of Gawker Media, chose to delete a handful of posts related to ongoing lawsuits (some baseless); the chief news officer at Univision agreed to a long conversation with Gizmodo about these decisions. It’s long and meandering but there’s a lot of meat in here, and while the deletions don’t look good at a glance, I think Univision is also offering some strong support for its writers going forward, too.
  • The Scientific Parent explains why the “too much, too soon” anti-vaxxer argument is wrong. It’s ignorant of basic science: Your kid is ingesting more pathogens in a typical day than s/he’ll get in all the vaccines s/he ever receives, and the metals that vaccine deniers freak out over are present in food, water, even breast milk.
  • Dr. Bob Sears, who’s been accused of ‘selling’ medical exemptions to California’s new mandatory schoolkid vaccination law, may lose his license for medical negligence instead. Whatever gets these charlatans out of the medical business is fine with me.
  • Meanwhile, nearly 10,000 New Jersey schoolkids skipped vaccinations this year. If you live there, call your state legislator and ask him or her to sponsor a bill eliminating non-medical exemptions.
  • Trump’s campaign claims he’s given “tens of millions of dollars” to charity but the Washington Post found no proof.
  • A writer for the National Review claims that the left is “weaponizing” sports, citing the NCAA’s decision to pull championship events from North Carolina as a result of that state passing Hate Bill 2. He drops the ball (!) in sentence two, however, since HB2’s biggest effect is that it local governments from making sexual orientation a protected status in any anti-discrimination ordinances. It’s not about bathrooms; it’s about saying you can’t be fired just because you’re gay.
  • The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is chaired by an anti-science Republican and Christian Scientist, Lamar Smith (TX). Physicist Lawrence Krauss writes that Smith’s been politicizing scientific research, including that related to climate change and ocean acidification, in his little reign of terror, which will likely continue as long as Republicans control the House. And don’t be fooled by the religion’s name – Christian Science is about as anti-science as any cult can get, eschewing medicine and claiming that sickness is caused by an absence of “right thinking.”
  • Media Matters writes about ongoing criticism of the NY Times‘ perceived bias against Hillary Clinton. I’ve always thought of the Times as a clear, left-leaning publication, so their coverage of HRC’s campaign has surprised me this year.
  • Somalia is a failed state and has been without a real central government for a quarter century now. The northern section of the country calls itself Somaliland, and is seeking internal recognition of its independence. There are some recent examples in east Africa that argue against it, as Eritrea and South Sudan have been plagued by fighting and corruption since their secessions from Ethiopia and Sudan, respectively. Somaliland isn’t leaving a real country, however; there is no competing authority to their own bootstrapped government.
  • The U.S. ended sanctions on Myanmar, but it’s not clear Myanmar (ex-Burma) has actually earned this economic reward. Aung San Suu Kyi’s acquiescence has left many observers puzzled, and the linked piece from the BBC tries to explain it.
  • Author Lionel Shriver (We Need to Talk About Kevin)’s address to the Brisbane Writers Festival on cultural appropriation caused a substantial backlash against her claims that the term is the result of “runaway political correctness.”
  • The Washington Post‘s editorial board wrote that the Hillary Clinton email story is “out of control” relative to its actual importance. I agree; she made a mistake, a significant one, but one that pales in comparison to those of her opponent in this election, such as Trump calling again for Hillary’s assassination.
  • U.S. colleges continue to protect athlete rapists because sports. At UNC a rape victim went public to force the school and the county to stop delaying their investigation. Two women at the University of Richmond did the same, one revealing that a school administrator said the rapist had a right to “finish.”
  • New York Knicks guard Derrick Rose stands accused of gang-raping a woman, and Julie DiCaro writes for Fansided about the civil suit that’s going on right now – including his lawyers’ strange choice not to try to settle the case.
  • Mental Floss shows six math concepts demonstrated via crochet, with the first two (the hyperbolic plane and the Lorenz manifold) the most interesting.
  • Apple’s been getting killed – rightly so – for the iPhone 7’s lack of an analog headphone jack, but VICE’s Motherboard points out the iPhone 6+ has its own very serious engineering flaw.
  • Back in the 1960s, the sugar industry paid Harvard researchers for favorable results, part of a decades-long nutritional con that had us afraid of fat but thinking sugar was mostly harmless.
  • Colin Kaepernick’s protest is working, writes Josh Levin at Slate. Given the widespread conversation he started, I’d have to agree: He used a non-violent, non-disruptive act to make his point, and we’ve spent several weeks talking about all aspects of it, from race in America to the purpose of jingoistic displays at sporting events where many of the players aren’t even from the U.S.
  • Bayer’s pending acquisition of Monsanto has raised questions about Monsanto’s GM seeds business as some farmers find the returns don’t justify the higher costs. This piece from the WSJ is remarkably balanced, avoiding “frankenfoods!” hysteria and discussing pros and cons of genetically modified seeds. One point of note: Weeds that are or have evolved to become resistant to glyphosate have already started invading farms with GM seeds.
  • You’ve probably heard a lot about the Native Americans’ opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, which will cross much of their land, but before this NPR piece I hadn’t heard much from the pipeline company’s side. For example, I didn’t know that this pipeline will cover the same route as an existing natural gas pipeline installed in 1982, or that the areas the tribes affected say are sacred may not be so.
  • Why did the Governor of Kentucky speak before a hate group and threaten armed sedition if Clinton wins? Why does nobody care about an elected official doing this?
  • Radiolab had a great podcast describing the ordeal of a girl who turned 18 without any documentation to prove she exists. It has taken her over a year just to acquire some of the things we take for granted, and she’s still fighting for a social security number.
  • A man in nearby Smyrna, Delaware, reports that this relaxing tea better fucking work, according to The Onion.

Stick to baseball, 7/16/16.

Busy week for me over at the four-letter, with my updated ranking of the top 50 prospects in the minors going up on Thursday, four days after I watched and wrote about the Futures Game.

I wrote up Boston’s trade for Drew Pomeranz and their trades for Brad Ziegler and Aaron Hill. And I held a Klawchat.

I’m not writing up the Yuliesky Gurriel signing but Chris Crawford did, with a tiny bit of help from me.

I also appeared on Alex Speier’s 108 Stitches podcast, discussing the Pomeranz deal and the Red Sox’ farm system.

And now, the links…

Saturday five, 11/6/15.

My annual ranking of the top 50 free agents this offseason is now up for Insiders, and I held my weekly Klawchat right after they were posted.

I reviewed the app version of Camel Up for Paste this week. Since I wrote that review, there’s been a minor update that cleaned up some of the issues I had with the graphics, notably the info available on screen to you. It’s available here for iOS devices or Android.

And now, the links…

  • Well this just sucks: Kevin Folta, scientist and advocate of genetic engineering of food crops and generally of the safety of food science, is removing himself from public debate. He’s been attacked by the FraudBabe and the dipshits at U.S. “Right to Know,” a group that uses the veneer of consumer rights to mask a blatant science-denial/anti-GMO policy. They’ve been using FOIA requests to try to scuttle legitimate research and discussion. The only solution I see is for more of us to speak up and out about science.
  • Peet’s Coffee has purchased a majority stake in Intelligentsia, their second such move into high-end craft coffee after their purchase of Stumptown. I don’t know what this means for the space; I don’t see a natural synergy here but fear it’s more a move to neutralize competition from a higher-margin competitor
  • We forget that the people pictured in certain memes are actual human beings, such as the skeptical Third World kid, so the BBC has done a story on that picture, finding the aid worker pictured but not the child.
  • Canada’s new government seems about as pro-science as it gets, including the creation of a new post, Minister of Science. Can you imagine any of the current Republican candidates for President doing such a thing? So many of them have staked out one or more denialist positions that this seems out of the question.
  • Some good sense from the Environmental Defense Blog on what the news about China’s coal consumption really means. Tip: Climate change is still real, and the CO2 measurements aren’t affected.
  • Thanksgiving is coming and it’s never too early to start cooking, at least when it comes to preparing stock, as Michael Ruhlman explains. I actually make a brown chicken stock instead, since I always have chicken carcasses in the freezer (bones and necks, and sometimes wings) but rarely have turkey.
  • Smile You Bitch: Being a Woman in 2015” lives up to its provocative title. Rape culture is everywhere, and it’s ingrained in many young men from childhood.
  • Speaking of treating women like navel lint, I give you the NFL’s attempt to hush up Greg Hardy’s domestic violence case.
  • So the demise of Grantland led to a lot of thinkpieces (and a few readers telling me they were canceling their Insider subs, which, to be perfectly honest, just punishes all the wrong people here), but one I liked was from Fortune, talking about its implications for the business of longform journalism. I didn’t read a lot of Grantland’s stuff, but I do believe their mission mattered, and I hope the end of that site is just a blip.
  • From Forbes, a good piece looking at the limited research to date on pediatricians who turn away vaccine-refusing parents. That’s a lot better than the nonsense hit piece on Bryce Harper the same publication ran earlier last week.
  • I’ve often wondered about whether linking to Spotify in my music posts was helping or hurting the artists in question, but Cameron from the band Superhumanoids told me in September that it was the former, and now FiveThirtyEight has a piece supporting this with data.
  • The long-running TV series Mythbusters is ending after its next season, and the NY Times offers an appreciation, crediting the show with rising interest in STEM education and careers.
  • New research on the lizards called tuataras supports the theory that the penis evolved just once for mammals and reptiles and has just, well, hung around.

Saturday five, 8/29/15.

My main Insider piece this week was on sustainable MLB breakthroughs in 2015. I meant to include Rougned Odor on this list, and somehow just plain forgot him when I sat down to write the piece. Anyway, this is my mea culpa and statement that I believe his improvement at the plate is real, sustainable, and only the beginning for him.

I also covered the Metropolitan Classic high school tournament that’s hosted and organized by the NY Mets, writing about the top 2016 and 2017 draft prospects there.

And now, this week’s links…saturdayfive

  • The nationwide rise in the popularity of authentic barbecue has left black pitmasters behind, even though that style of cooking has roots in African-American culture.
  • An excellent longread from the BBC on the forced repatriation of Chinese sailors in the UK after World War II, with the story of one woman whose biological father was one of those deported.
  • Baseball is on the rise in Uganda, believe it or not. It’s a sport that requires a long gestation period when it manages to take hold in a new region or country, but it seems to be growing well in the small sub-Saharan African nation, where it’s still against the law to be gay.
  • A chemistry decoder to send to that idiot friend from high school who keeps posting FoodBabe links on Facebook.
  • A personal post from a woman whose son nearly died from the flu. It’s just about flu shot season, too.
  • Another sugar (sucrose) substitute, the natural but uncommon sugar allulose, may be moving toward the marketplace, but like sugar alcohols, it passes right through the upper GI tract and can cause some problems further on down the line.
  • Kevin Folta, a scientist at the University of Florida, is under attack by the tin-foil hat crowd because Monsanto provided $25,000 for an educational outreach program, covering his travel costs. The personal nature of the attacks and the ignorance of how corporate funding actually works in academic research result in a deeply disturbing application of the genetic fallacy.
  • Longtime reader Tom Hitchner has a good post up on why teams keep getting sweetheart government-funded stadium deals. It’s happening in Milwaukee, and it’s happening in disgusting fashion in St. Louis, where a law prohibiting such deals was overturned by a judge as “too vague.”
  • TV critic extraordinaire Alan Sepinwall asks if there’s too much good television right now. I say yes, there is, and I have little to no hope of watching most of it.
  • U.S. tennis pro Mardy Fish had to quit the sport due to anxiety, but he’s back, and he’s talking about his affliction.
  • Mental Floss assembled a group of clever airline safety videos from around the world. The two Delta ones are both funny and effective; the first time I saw each this year I had to put down my book to watch them.

Undeniable.

I’ve had three Insider pieces go up in the last 36 hours, on the the Johnny Cueto trade, a few Binghamton Mets prospects, and the Tyler Clippard trade.

Bill Nye’s Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation should be required reading for every American high school student, and I’d hand the book to anyone who indicated s/he plans on voting in our next election. Nye demolishes the many ignorant anti-evolution arguments out there, while eloquently and ardently presenting a case for science in a world of denial and fear-mongering.

The title refers to the persistence of evolution deniers, those folks who refuse to accept the scientific proof of evolution because it interferes with other aspects of their worldview. Nye engaged in a well-known debate with a particularly ardent denier, Ken Ham, who also refuses to accept the actual age of the earth, substituting his own fiction (I believe he says it’s 6000 years old, although some other deniers go with 10,000 years, not that it matters in the least because they’re wrong) for geological fact much as he substitutes his own fiction (that the first book of the Christian Bible is the literal truth of our creation) for biological fact. That debate, in which Nye clowned Ham, who continually referred to the Bible as his “evidence,” was one of the spurs for Nye to write Undeniable, but it serves more broadly as a frontal assault on the anti-science/anti-intellectual movement that hinders or prevents us from facing major societal or global problems, from disease eradication to feeding the planet to slowing anthropomorphic climate change.

The book should convince anyone who still denies evolution yet is willing to listen to some basic facts. We know now that all mammals descended from a common ancestor that lived some 70 million years ago, something demonstrated by patterns in the fossil record and the similarities between our DNA and those of many species seemingly unrelated to us. We’re barely distinguishable at the DNA level from chimpanzees, sharing 99% of our DNA with the related primates called bonobos, while we share about half of our DNA sequences with bananas (themselves the product of cloning; every yellow banana you eat is a Cavendish and is genetically identical to all of the other Cavendishes in the world). NOTE: I edited the common ancestor bit, as I conflated two numbers when writing this review from memory. Thanks to the readers on FB who pointed this out.

He attacks some of the most common (and dumb) creationist arguments against evolution, swatting them down like so many genetically-similar-to-human fruit flies. The argument that evolution violates the second law of thermodynamics fails because that law only applies to closed systems, whereas the Earth – getting energy from that big yellow ball in the sky – is very much an open system. The argument from irreducible complexity, that current organisms are too complex to be explained without an Official Designer™, fails on multiple counts, not the least of which is all of the suboptimal designs we see in nature; Nye even mentions ulnar collateral ligaments for pitchers in an amusing aside on this topic. He points out more significantly that the only reason you’d see the “designs” we see in nature are as the result of a process of incremental changes through genetic mutations, and that the “what good is half a wing?” variation of this argument misstates how features like wings evolved. He takes down the false dichotomy of macroevolution versus microevolution (which creationists claim is only “adaptation”), including how the latter is the inevitable result of the former – and how there’s plenty of tangible proof of the latter, despite what Ken Ham might claim.

Once Nye has explained the theory of evolution by way of the various insubstantial criticisms levied at it by creationists, he takes on multiple issues that are related to or follow naturally from our understanding of evolution, all of which are significant issues in the science policy sphere.

* GMOs. Nye has already walked back some of his criticisms from this chapter after taking fire from the scientific community at large, although the concerns he raises about the introduction of DNA from distant species into food crops – notably that their effects on the crops’ ecosystems are difficult to predict – are valid. Humans are particularly terrible at foreseeing unintended consequences, as explained in The Invisible Gorilla and demonstrated in nearly every public-policy decision or the entire Bud Selig reign in MLB, and such genetic modifications entail lots of unpredictable ramifications. Nye has continued to raise the alarm about the massive reduction in the monarch butterfly population thanks to the widespread use of glyphosphate, the enzyme-inhibiting herbicide marketed as Roundup, which has decimated the natural supply of milkweed plants. You should plant some in your yard if you’re in the right part of the country; we have for the last two summers and were rewarded in 2014 with several visiting monarch caterpillars.

* Abortion. Nye points out that the claim that life begins at conception is untenable, as a successfully fertilized human embryo may fail to implant in the uterine wall or fail to successfully undergo gastrulation; if such eggs are considered to be alive and human, then a woman who miscarries for these reasons has committed murder. Nye broaches the topic when discussing stem cells and the concerns, most of which are baseless, about harvesting such cells from fertilized embryos that would otherwise be headed for the sewer.

* Antibiotic drug resistance. If you’ve read my stuff for a while, you know this is a huge issue for me, particularly as it relates to food safety. The problem exists because evolution is true: bacteria that have beneficial mutations that allow them to survive an antibiotic purge reproduce and eventually spread, leading to resistant strains that defeat our drugs. We can’t ever win this battle, but we can certainly fight it more intelligently than we do now.

* Race. It’s not real – that is, not biologically real. Race is a social construct, and Nye explains why.

* Space exploration. Ah, here’s where Nye and I diverge in our views. Nye discusses the possibility of life on other bodies within our solar system, naming a few likely candidates (Mars, Europa, Enceladus), and argues in favor of fairly expensive missions to try to determine if there is life of the microbial variety on any of these planets or satellites. I won’t try to paraphrase his case for fear of doing it an injustice, but I did not find the case satisfactory. A multi-billion dollar mission like this has to have a significant potential payoff for us, and he doesn’t provide one. Knowing there’s life on other worlds would be interesting, but does it advance our knowledge in any practical or meaningful fashion? How would it? Perhaps we’d find microbes that can produce energy in a novel way, or that can consume chemicals that are pollutants on earth … but he doesn’t even broach those possibilities. And, of course, that $10 billion or $20 billion mission has a very high probability of finding no life at all, so the potential payout has to exceed the cost by a significant factor.

* Another chapter, on the evolutionary explanations for altruism, also fell a bit short of the mark for me, but for different reasons. I’m strictly a lay reader on this, and can’t put my opinions on the matter on par with those of Nye or his sources, but it seems even after reading Nye’s explanation that the evolutionary psychology explanation for human altruism is too post hoc – crafting a narrative to fit the facts, rather than working from the facts forward as evolutionary biologists have done. The comparison of human altruism to altruistic behavior in other species also struck me as facile, an argument by weak analogy that did not address the extent or nuance of human altruistic behaviors.

Nye does not explicitly offer any arguments against religion or theism, although he is arguing heavily against creationism, Intelligent Design, and any sort of Creator force behind life on this planet. He also makes several points that are inherently anti-religious, such as the fact that we are not “special” from a genetic perspective and the fact that we aren’t the end product of evolution because evolution has no end product. Nye points out that some readers may find these points depressing, but says he finds evolution and the march of science inspiring, especially because of the breadth of knowledge out there waiting for us to discover it.

I listened to Nye’s narration of the Audible audio edition of Undeniable, and there is no question in my mind that he made the book more enjoyable for me. He brings tremendous enthusiasm to the subject, and his comic timing and delivery are effortless and natural. It’s hard to hear him exude over these topics and not feel his excitement or his indignation. Nye says he wrote this book because teaching anti-scientific topics like creationism hurts our children and our country, a point with which I agree wholeheartedly. Hearing those words from his mouth made the message seem more potent.

Saturday five, 4/10/15.

My ranking of the top 50 prospects in this year’s draft class went up on Friday for Insiders; I also had a draft blog post specifically on Nate Kirby and Kyle Funkhouser, and I broke down the Craig Kimbrel/Melvin Upton trade. I held my regular Klawchat on Thursday.

My latest boardgame review for Paste covers the excellent baseball-themed deckbuilder Baseball Highlights: 2045, which is currently $32 over at amazon. My daughter, who doesn’t have much interest in the actual baseball thing, even asked me last night if we could play it again this weekend.

Amazon is having a huge sale on strategy games today in honor of International Tabletop Day, with almost half off Splendor, 7 Wonders, Five Tribes, and King of Tokyo.

And now, the links:

  • A repost from my social media accounts this week: Why the “Food Babe” is full of shit. The shame is that she could marshal her small group of followers to make meaningful changes to our food supply, like pressuring vendors to stop buying meat from animals raised with antibiotics, but instead propagates ignorance and anti-science sentiment.
  • More on the FraudBabe: A post from September on the harm such pseudoscience quacks can cause in their followers. And followers they are, much like those of a cult leader.
  • One baseball link, from my colleague Stephania Bell: What we’ve missed about Tommy John surgery, with a focus on why some pitchers require a second transplant surgery soon after their first one.
  • Longread of the week: Vanity Fair delves into the deterioration of NBC’s news department that culminated in the Brian Williams debacle. Shorter version: This was the end of a long decline.
  • The health of our bodies is related to the health of the trillions of bacteria that live in our GI tracts; one gene in the mother may affect the composition of bacteria in a newborn’s gut.
  • Children with maple syrup urine disease, an organic acidemia similar to the one my daughter and I have (3-MCC), can only be cured via a liver transplant. Now their discarded livers can be transplanted into other patients who might not qualify for a liver from a “healthy” (meaning dead but not diseased) donor.
  • This excerpt from Masha Gessen’s The Brothers: The Road to an American Tragedy on the death of one of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s friends at the hands of the FBI poses some uncomfortable questions about the nature of policing in an endless war against terror.
  • Cops are much more likely to stop black drivers than white drivers for investigatory (that is, non-safety) reasons. And that’s how you get situations like the murder of Walter Scott. (Confession: When I saw #WalterScott trending, I started thinking of Waverley jokes or something I could tweet in Scott’s variety of the Scottish dialect, only to discover what the trend was about and stop myself from being horribly insensitive.)
  • Daniel Vaughn, aka @BBQSnob aka Texas Monthly‘s barbecue writer/editor, went to Phoenix’s Little Miss BBQ and loved it. I feel validated by this. I like the slaw more than he did, and I’ve had better sausage there than he got, but otherwise we’re on the same page.
  • Vice has some ominous news for almost everyone on the Internet: Your porn is watching you, or, more specifically, it would be rather easy for someone to reveal any online porn viewer’s habits if they were to compromise any major site’s server logs. There’s some skepticism, but I think the larger point about our lack of privacy online (porn or not-porn) is valid.

Saturday five, 4/4/15.

My predictions for 2015 are now up for Insiders. Earlier this week, Eric Longenhagen and I put together a lengthy post of prospect notes from spring training, covering players from Houston, Atlanta, the Yankees, San Francisco, the Cubs, and Texas. My top 50 prospects update went up earlier in the week, with very modest changes other than the addition of Yoan Moncada.

My latest boardgame review for Paste covers the tile-laying game NanoBot Battle Arena, a quick family-strategy game with a high interactive (read: screw your opponents) component.

saturdayfiveI’ve got fewer links than normal this week due to endless travel; at this point I’m just relieved spring training is over and I can regain some kind of control over my whereabouts.