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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Films of 2020

This is my annual post about the new movies I watched in 2020. It is not a comprehensive list of every film I saw -- just the ones that were released this year. There is some slight overlap with last year's list because a couple of the 2019 Traverse City Film Festival films I saw were not commercially released until 2020. 

Needless to say, I saw nearly all of these films at home rather than at my local multiplex. I think the last movie I saw in the cinema was Little Women in December 2019. On Long Island. I vividly recall the experience and miss it dearly. 

The top tier list:

Never Rarely Sometimes Always
First Cow
Sound of Metal
Saint Frances **
The Assistant
Palm Springs
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
I'm Thinking of Ending Things

I'm not sure how many of these movies are Best Picture Oscar-worthy, which means I'm not sure what the Academy Awards are going to be like after this extraordinary year. Some of these films and the acting performances are definitely award-worthy, but if feels weird to be making assessments without the clear end-of-year Oscar-bait movies (and ad campaigns). Nomadland, which I have not seen, may be in that category. And I read that the Academy will make films released through February 2021 eligible for 2020 Oscars.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is fantastic, though sometimes a difficult film to watch. It is a realistic movie about a teenager's efforts to terminate her unwanted pregnancy. She has to depart small town Pennsylvania for New York City with her cousin to make this happen.

First Cow was a strange but interesting film. It's worth your time, though it tells an unusual story and sometimes moves at a slow pace. The film provides somewhat subtle commentary about economic inequality, arguably, and mostly focuses on the ingenuity of ordinarily people (including a cook-for-hire and an immigrant). 

As a side note, my spouse and I watched another very good Kelly Reichardt film this year, Night Moves, about eco-terrorism. Previously, I'd seen Meek's Cutoff and Wendy and Lucy. She might be nominated for Best Director, which is too rare for female filmmakers.

I didn't have high expectations for Sounds of Metal, partly because I'm not a fan of that musical genre. However, the film is excellent, focusing on a drummer's unexpected loss of hearing -- and his struggle to regain control of his life. 

My wife and I caught Saint Frances at the 2019 Traverse City Film Festival and it was a highlight. The acting was first rate and the story was compelling. 

The Assistant is another film that is difficult to watch at times, but it reveals a good deal about the world in covering just one day in the life of a young female assistant to a prominent individual in the entertainment world. 

I'm a sucker for the Groundhog Day plot (it is one of my favorite films) and Palm Springs does a very good job with that conceit. It's genuinely funny and entertaining. Feel free to watch it on repeat.

Chadwick Boseman and Viola Davis are outstanding in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. The film was apparently based on a play and it often seemed like a filmed play to me. Like The Assistant, it primarily focuses on a series of workplace interactions on a single day in the arts world. This may be the best Netflix original film I've seen over the years. 

Elisabeth Moss's performance in Shirley is almost over-the-top, but the script is relatively strong and the other acting is top notch. I've seen Moss several times this year (I watched last year's Her Smell early in the year in addition to The Invisible Man) and she can get under my skin in a lead role. Her characters are often unlikeable, even when they are supposed to be more sympathetic (such as the heroine in The Invisible Man). This may be my fault. 

Most of these are genre films

Blow the Man Down
Sometimes Always Never
Vast of Night
Lovers Rock
The Trip to Greece
Invisible Man
Da 5 Bloods
Extra Ordinary **
Standing Up, Falling Down
Frances Ferguson
Love Birds
Happiest Season
Troop Zero **

Both Blow the Man Down and Sometimes Always Never are humorous, but also feature serious storylines that make the films unique. Both have elements of the thriller genre. 

Vast of Night is sci-fi and not for everyone. The first half of the film proceeds at a very slow pace -- my spouse stopped watching, in fact. The second half of the film zooms by and the payoff made watching the entire film worthwhile to me. It is set decades ago in a remote western US town. The main characters are producing a radio program that takes an unexpected turn even as most of the town is focused on a high school basketball game.

Lovers Rock is another film about a single day in an artistic setting -- this one centers upon a house party in West London in 1980. Much of the film seems like a series of music videos as the story about the first and second generation West Indian immigrants is a bit thin and very few of the characters receive extended time on screen. The atmospheric effort is very short for a feature film and is apparently part of a series of interrelated movies from Steve McQueen. This was entertaining and interesting, but a bit more plot could readily have sent it to the first tier above. 

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have now released 4  "trip" films and there is a fair amount of redundancy. But they are also funny men and the food and scenery are spectacular to see. In a year with no personal travel since February, it was a timely choice. In this film, filmmaker Michael Winterbottom plays around with ideas about comedy and tragedy, especially as reflected in the retracing of Odysseus's epic journey from Troy to Ithaca. There are overt references to the Sirens, for example, and other figures, locations, and plotpoints. 

I'm not sure why "Invisible Man" was marketed as horror. It's really more of a sci-fi thriller, with a focus on the gender and power dynamics in a personal relationship. Without context, many of the special effects seem like standard tropes from horror, but if you realize there's an invisible person opening doors or making noises (or attacking people), then that's not my view of horror. 

Da 5 Bloods earned a lot of great reviews, but it didn't resonate with me nearly as much as most Spike Lee films do. I know it referenced a number of other Vietnam films, but that didn't help all that much. Platoon and Apocalypse Now are worthy of Lee's nods, but there's too much Rambo here. 

Most of the remainder of the films are worth viewing, though they are mostly lightweight films with comedic intent. 


Crip Camp
Dick Johnson is Dead

These were both excellent and worth your time. Either could compete for an Academy Award.

**I saw these films at the 2019 Traverse City film festival, but they actually had a 2020 release date.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Books of 2020

This is my annual post listing books I read in the most recent year. I have done this annually since 2005 -- here's a link to the 2019 list if you want to work backwards. I accidentally published this 2020 list on December 30, but I'm editing the post on the 31st to add some narrative detail. 

The list is not comprehensive. I read an unlisted book for an academic review, but that is not yet published so I'm not (yet) listing it here. I also read a couple of other academic books for a promotion case, which I'll never list. 

 I posted short reviews of most of these books at Goodreads


Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die

Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller, The Only Rule Is It Has to Work

Randall Schweller, Maxwell's Demon and the Golden Apple: Global Discord in the New Millennium

John Lithgow, Trumpty Dumpty Wanted a Crown

Karen Greenberg (ed.), Re

Masha Gessen, Surviving Autocracy

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, The Israel Lobby

Joyce Kaufman, A Concise History of US Foreign Policy

Ronnie Lipschutz, The Constitution of Imperium

Adam Kucharski, The Perfect Bet

Nick Hornby, More Baths, Less Talking

Leonard Koppett, The New Thinking Fan's Guide to Baseball

The Levistky and Ziblatt book was probably the most important book I read all year. Indeed, I assigned some excerpts in a couple of classes, encouraged my spouse to read it, and recommended it to others. Anyone worried about the drift of America away from democracy would find valuable insight. 

The Lindbergh and Miller book was the best baseball book I've read in some years as the analytical authors got to apply their ideas about baseball to a low-level independent league team in California. 

Lithgow's book of poetry is a quick and entertaining read.

Schweller's book had a very interesting last chapter that made it valuable. About ten days ago I wrote a thread about it on twitter. 

My review of the Greenberg volume was published online in January 2021 at H-DIPLO. 

Kaufman I assigned as a recommended text in my spring US foreign policy class. It is reasonably short and served its purpose. 

Most of the rest of the books were OK, but all had some key flaws. I had high hopes for Kucharski, but it really didn't stick with me. Koppett's book is often listed on "best of" baseball booklists, but I found it much less interesting than I might have twenty years ago -- given what we've learned about the game even in the last decade. 

Literature and Genre Fiction

Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

Shawna Seed, Identity

Philip Kerr, The Pale Criminal

Kate Atkinson, One Good Turn

Michael Dibdin, Vendetta

Ross MacDonald, The Instant Enemy

Lawrence Block, The Girl with the Long Green Heart

Charles Portis, True Grit

John Macdonald, Cinnamon Skin

Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Len Deighton, Spy Story

Richard Stark, The Green Eagle Score

Robert Parker Valediction

Nick Hornby, State of the Union

Chester Himes, The Real Cool Killers

Denis Johnson, The Laughing Monsters

Sue Grafton, J is for Judgment

Ruth Rendell, Sins of the Father

Charles Willeford, The Way We Die Now

Walter Mosley, Gone Fishin' 

Joe Kremer, Brainstorm

Lawrence Block, Eight Million Ways to Die

R.D. Rosen Fadeaway

John Lange, Grave Descend

I read Station Eleven very early during the quarantine -- it's about life in a post-pandemic world that has suffered "the big one." Frightening and interesting.

Shawna Seed's book is well worth your time. I knew her when we were both undergrads at Kansas -- she had been friends in high schoo with one of my roommates and ended up dating my other roomie. We've occasionally stayed in touch over the years.

You'll notice a lot of genre fiction on this list, mostly crime novels. The best of the group are nearer to the top, meaning I really liked Kerr's work set in 1930s Germany as well as Atkinson's book set during Fringe in Edinburgh and Dibdin's book set in Italy. Maybe I was missing the fact that I was unable to travel to Europe in 2020 after having done so in both 2018 (Ireland and Belgium) and 2019 (Scotland and Germany). 

With Levitsky and Ziblatt, Lithgow, Gessen, Schweller, and Kerr, as well as Mandel, I spent a fair amount of my leisure reading time thinking about real-world politics in the US and beyond. 

On that note, I'd add that Block's first book listed above is about a group of con artists that are able to fool some level-headed people, including some who should know better. 

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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Pete Browning

As I've previously blogged, I've walked many of Louisville's nearby cemeteries this year -- it's a way to get some exercise while avoiding other people during a pandemic. 

Months ago, I walked to one of the city's most famous burial grounds, Cave Hill, and found the grave of Major League Baseball player Pete Browning, who played in Louisville for the Colonels during the 1880s and died in 1905. 

Browning was a star player, leading his league in hitting three times and compiling an overall record that arguably should have landed him in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He twice led his league in on base average and once in slugging, and twice led in OPS+, which is a ballpark adjusted measure of offensive contributions based upon on base average plus slugging percentage. The guy could hit.

His nickname was "The Louisville Slugger." 

Browning is buried within walking distance of my home -- and not far from Colonel Sanders and Muhammed Ali, two other local legends who are buried in the same cemetery. I've previously visited both of their gravesites as well. Paul Hornung is a 2020 addition, but I have not looked for his gravesite yet.  

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Sunday, November 15, 2020

"Doc" Powers

During the summer, I read the fall 2014 issue of SABR's Baseball Research Journal. The issue included a short piece by Robert D. Warrington about physician Michael “Doc” Powers, "a catcher who played primarily for the Philadelphia Athletics and whose baseball career was cut short by his untimely death." Powers was injured running into a wall while catching a foul ball during the first game played at Shibe Park on April 12, 1909, and he died on April 26.

Powers first played in the major leagues for the Louisville Colonels in 1898 and he also played part of the 1899 season for the team. His career batting statistics are not especially notable, but he was apparently a fine defensive catcher who was well-regarded by pitchers. 

In any case, the part of the story that caught my eye is that he was ultimately buried in Saint Louis Cemetery, Louisville, which is very close to my house. Using findagrave, I discovered the approximate location of his headstone and found it fairly easily on one of my daily walks.

I took these photos in early August:

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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Another America First piece

Kurt Mills and I have published another piece about America First and human rights. This is a short "engagement" style article for The Conversation, a widely read academic blog written for a broader readership.

This is the piece published today: "How Donald Trump’s ‘America first’ agenda has damaged global human rights."

Incidentally, because of this online piece and the approaching US presidential election, publisher Taylor and Francis has made the longer Journal of Human Rights article available for free reading (and downloading) through October 31: "America First and the Human Rights Regime."

These articles are both tied to my May-June 2019 Global Scholar gig at University of Dundee at the Institute for Social Science Research.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

America First and the Human Rights Regime

Last week, Journal of Human Rights published online my new article coauthored with Kurt Mills, "America First and the Human Rights Regime." This week, it already appeared in print! 

This is the citation:

Kurt Mills & Rodger A. Payne (2020) America First and the human rights regime, Journal of Human Rights, 19:4, 399-424, DOI: 10.1080/14754835.2020.1809362 

And this is the Abstract

Donald Trump’s populist, nationalist “America First” agenda advocates a transactional, zero-sum, hypercompetitive, and sovereigntist view of US foreign policy, which many scholars and policymakers conclude poses a considerable challenge to multilateralism. We explore the threat America First presents to the international human rights regime as reflected in important institutions and norms. We survey America First policies regarding immigration and refugee norms as well as norms prohibiting torture and war crimes. We examine its position on the UN Human Rights Commission and the International Criminal Court, consider Trump’s sympathies for autocratic governments, and explore the development of the Commission on Unalienable Rights. Finally, we explain why the America First norm transgressions pose a novel threat to the human rights regime, potentially more worrisome than prior US norm violations. America First’s performative element risks reconstituting US identity as an outsider state, if not an outlaw, vis-à-vis the international community.

Regular readers may recall that this piece was tied to my Global Scholar appointment at University of Dundee in May-June 2019, when I was on sabbatical. 

If you want to read it and don't have access, let me know. I have a pdf and I have a link for up to 50 readers online. 

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Saturday, September 12, 2020


In early August, I noticed that our Sprint mobile service phone bill was about three times its normal amount. Obviously, I was shocked by the total when I saw it online. You don't often see a monthly phone bill for over $750 these days. Needless to say, I immediately started investigating. 

It turns out that we had over $500 in unexpected international calls on the bill.

Let me start by saying my family is global and it is not unusual for us to have to pay for some international calls. My field is global politics and I traveled to Canada, Belgium, Ireland, and the UK in the recent past for various academic gigs -- or vacations. Altogether, I spent about 6 months of my recent sabbatical outside the US.

Moreover, my wife's father was a US Foreign Service office, which makes her side of the family even more globally-oriented. Her sister has lived in the UK for most of the time I've known my wife. 

When we travel abroad, we typically set up our mobile phones for international calling and texting. We've also paid for a similar service when calling abroad from the US. Sprint has a reasonably priced plan that customers (at least in the past) can change month-to-month. It is one of the reasons we have remained as Sprint customers for about 15 years. I think my spouse got the first Sprint mobile phone in our family back in 2005 when I had a sabbatical at Harvard.

However, I'd probably leave today but for three lease contracts we currently carry on various phones.

In this case, it turned out that one of my daughters had to cancel a European flight on one of those discount Euro airlines. Before the pandemic, she had planned to visit her aunt and family in the UK, then fly from there to Spain. The discount airline didn't have a US 800 number and my daughter didn't realize we currently didn't have international calling on our phones.

Worse, she didn't realize that Sprint was charging $3 per minute for the 3 hours she was on hold to that discount airline. 

The phone bill MASSIVELY exceeded the price of the flight tickets she was trying to cancel and/or change. 

If we were paying the modest sum for international calling, the cost would have been 25 cents per minute (still ridiculous these days) and would have been less than $100 even with the exorbitant taxes and fees mobile phone companies charge their customers. The precise cost would have depended if the monthly fee would have been applied to only one line, or if we would have had to pay for 4 lines of international calling.

If we only had to pay for one line for one month, the total cost would have been something like $65.  That's about 13% of what they actually charged, so it is obvious that the $500 charge was simply profiteering from the situation.

I called Sprint when I saw the bill and asked for some relief since we had been longtime good customers and this was an honest mistake. Indeed, more than that, I argued, Sprint had failed in a number of ways here.

As it happens, my daughter split the calls over two days. She was on hold for over an hour on July 21, gave up, and called that airline back on July 22 -- only to be on hold for even longer, resulting in a call that lasted just over two hours.

I argued to Sprint that my credit card company, (let that sink in) -- my CREDIT CARD FROM A BANK -- would have alerted me to unusual activity on my account after the first incident, which was billed at about $180. They likely would have frozen my account. For god's sake, Sprint itself could have sent an email advising me to buy the international plan if we intended to continue making such expensive calls.

But nothing. Total silence from Sprint in July. I only learned of the cost when I checked the bill online before it was due.

My persistence on the phone on August 9 resulted in slow incremental credits to our account as I was passed from one associate to a supervisor to a manager to a customer service specialist, etc. 

In the end these representatives credited a flat $200. 

That means Sprint still billed $300 for 180 minutes, which works out to about $1.67 per minute. In 2020! Ridiculous.

My wife called her sister this morning for an hour using the free Duo app on her phone, got to talk to the niece and nephews with video, and was billed NOTHING extra as the call simply used the internet. 

If you are not familiar, there are "dial around" services that consumers can buy that reduce the costs of international long distance to pennies per minute. This article recommends AGAINST dial around because it costs nearly a dime per minute (a DIME!) and that cost is significantly more than it would cost simply to use Voip

During the negotiations with various reps, I asked if Sprint would retroactively bill us for international calling and charge the full amount for the 3 hours of calling. It would have been $100 maximum. Maybe only $65 if the fee was applied to merely one line.

Sprint refused.

Then, I explained to the various Sprint representatives that I thought a minimum fair outcome would be for us to pay the costs for the first hour and for the company to credit the costs for the final two hours the following day since it had made no effort to warn customers about the ridiculous prices it was charging for international calling.

I still would have been unhappy paying an extra $180, but it would have been better than paying another $120 on top of that. 

Sprint refused to budge from the $200 credit.

And so we paid, but I am now unhappy about our phone service, and I've actively looked at switching providers. When those phone contracts are finished, Sprint is likely to lose the 4 customers on our family plan. My daughters are in their 20s, so this might mean decades of lost revenue over somewhere between $120 and $335 in remaining disputed charges.

So much for the old maxim, "the customer is always right."

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Sunday, August 30, 2020


Back on March 12, I had beers with a neighbor in a local watering hole. That week there was all kinds of fast-breaking news that was leading to big changes in our lives-- Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson had tested positive for the new corona-virus, a couple of NBA players had tested positive, and the NCAA had announced it was cancelling its post-season basketball tournament. 

Those were the last alcoholic drinks I had inside a structure other than my own home. I'd say any drinks, but I've had water in my office on campus. 

The bar played a song performed by Wilson Pickett and my friend and I discussed the fact that his funeral had been held in Louisville. Given that we live in an area with many cemeteries, we wondered if he was buried near where we were sitting. He wasn't, as it turned out.

I mentioned that despite their proximity, I had rarely been in any of the nearby cemeteries. I noted my visits to the Colonel Sanders and Muhammad Ali graves in Cave Hill and wondered if any famous people were buried in the other surrounding cemeteries. 

My neighbor knew of one buried in St. Michael's -- 1950s film actor Victor Mature. He had visited the grave and described the highly stylized hovering angelic statue on the gravesite.

So during the quarantine, I eventually found the grave while walking.

Mature was in The Robe, which I think I've seen, and in Samson and Deliliah, which I may have seen -- and certainly knew about. His IMDB bio page reveals that he married 5 (!) times, served in the Coast Guard during WW2, loved playing golf (even at the expense of his career), and died of cancer at age 86 in 1999.  

There are many humorous quotes associated with him, including one that he allegedly uttered when he was denied entry into a Country Club in California (where he wanted to play golf). The club apparently always turned down applications from actors. He said, " I'm no actor, and I've got 64 pictures to prove it."

Here are front and side views of his grave marker, taken on different days (as apparent from the foliage):

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Saturday, August 08, 2020

Whistling in the Cemetery

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I've taken to walking in my neighborhood cemeteries. I live near at least four major cemeteries -- Saint Louis, Saint Michael, Calvary, and Cave Hill. None of them are particularly crowded with living visitors and they all have nice quiet walking paths. 

I've lived in Louisville for decades, but until this year had rarely set foot in any of them. A few years ago, my oldest nephew visited town with his then-spouse and we walked to Colonel Sanders's gravesite in Cave Hill and took a couple of pictures. And last Easter my spouse and I walked to Muhammed Ali's gravesite (while Lonnie Ali was present, actually) in the same cemetery. And I had walked a few times through a portion of Saint Michael's as a shortcut to a local grocery store. 

In any case, I'm going to post some stories about Louisville's history related to these cemeteries. 

To start, I live closest to Saint Louis cemetery, where John Henry Whallen and his younger brother James Patrick Whallen are buried (in a tomb). Those names might not be familiar to you, but they apparently dominated politics in Louisville for many years more than a century ago. They also made lots of money from whiskey and operation of a downtown burlesque spot -- the Buckingham Theater. The Whallens allegedly made even more money from prostitution and gambling as well and allowed police officers to make extensive use of their facilities.

However, their businesses were apparently threatened by some of Louisville's elite establishment and so John Henry Whallen worked to become a central figure in local Democratic politics and was eventually the powerful  "boss" of the city's political machine -- earning the nickname of "Napoleon." He engineered a mayoral election in the 1880s for a friendly candidate and was named Chief of Police as reward. Whallen's power over the city endured for nearly 30 years, built primarily upon his connections to the police and his ability to control primary elections -- and even general elections. 

Whallen, who became one of the wealthiest men in the city, was said to be generous to the poor during hard times. His political base was constituted by immigrants and Catholics. However, as University of Kentucky historian Tracy Campbell has made clear, Whallen was willing to emphasize white supremacy to maintain political power. His machine intimidated black voters and appealed to racist ideas to win white votes. The local Irish-American newspaper, described as "an instrument of the Whallen machine," published the following lines after a Whallen-backed candidate lost a rare election: “Do you want Negro domination or do you want Louisville to remain a city of white people, for the white people, and governed by white people?”

John Henry died in 1913 and though his brother took over the businesses, he was unable to maintain the level of political clout his older brother had. The machine's rule ended.

Much of this sounds like the plot to Boardwalk Empire, but set in Kentucky before World War I instead of in Atlantic City during Prohibition. 

Here are a couple of photos of their tomb -- one more distant and the other closer up so you can read the name more clearly:

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Monday, July 20, 2020

TP Wiz

My long-time American League fantasy baseball league decided to set aside our "keeper" squads until spring 2021. Restocking the rosters would require a long all-day auction to establish players salaries. We drafted new teams online Saturday in about 3 hours, using a standard snake draft. 

I had the 5th pick based on my 8th place finish last year (of 12 teams). That was true through all odd-number rounds. In the even numbered rounds, I picked 8th. 

We continued to use AL-only players, agreed to use 5 hitting (R, HR, RBI, SB, and OBA) and 5 pitching (W, 2SV+H, ERA, WHIP, and K) categories.  We only use 4 OFers, but 10-man pitching staffs on our otherwise standard 23 man roster. We also select 3 reserves to make this a 26 round draft. Finally, we require 1000 innnings in a regular year, so 370 are needed in this 60 game season to avoid last place in ERA and WHIP.

Rather than use the moniker Hardy House for the league, I set it up to be the KBO Western Division. If you have followed the KBO, you may know there's a team called the KT Wiz. My team is the Tyler Park Wizards of Armageddon, or TP Wiz. I live in the TP neighborhood and Wizards of Armageddon was a terrific book I read in graduate school about the nuclear scientists who developed the US deterrent force posture. The name seems appropriate for the unusual season and it references my Hardy House league team name, the Bolts from the Blue (which is a nuclear strategy term). 

This is how my draft went, round-by-round:

1. P/DH Ohtani LAA

A stretch, perhaps, but my software had Ohtani as a top tier player when his hitting and pitching dollar values are combined. I hope it is correct. Most draft software said I should have selected 3B Ramirez of CLE, OF Martinez of BOS, or P Justin Verlander of HOU ($38). Ramirez and Martinez are supposed to be worth about $31 in a standard 5x5 roto league. While Ohtani's hitting is only projected to be worth $20, his pitching is forecast at just over $13. That's $33, which is greater than $31. 

I wasn't going to take an old pitcher using that high pick, so Verlander was out for me. Forecasts suggest Ohtani pitching on Sundays will get 10 starts. Verlander in 60 games on 5 day rotation will likely get 12 to 14. And he might be a lot better in that role, but he might not be.

2. OF JD Martinez BOS
3. SS Bichette TOR
4. C Grandal CHX

I didn't really intend to pick Martinez, but had to get him when he was still there as the 20th player picked. After all, my software said he was the hitter I could have picked in round 1.  Bichette was perhaps a reach in round 3, but I really wanted to be strong at key positions -- 2B, SS, and C. 

5. P Paxton NYY
6. OF Verdugo BOS
7. OF Tucker HOU
8. P Puk OAK
9. OF Buxton MIN

I didn't intend to fill my OF so quickly, but I really like these guys for their youth, speed, and potential for a breakout performances. Paxton is a very solid pitcher, if healthy, and I think Puk will be too. Both have had serious injury problems in the past.

10. 2B Chavis BOS
11 OF Calhoun TEX
12. P Canning LAA
13. 2B Madrigal CHX

At this point, I basically decided to go all-in on youth. Chavis is really a corner IF who happens to qualify at 2B. Calhoun is going to mash. Canning has really good upside, especially as a #4 starter. Madrigal is an outstanding potential rookie, especially valuable in a league using OBA. Hopefully I have enough power elsewhere. 

14. 2B Alberto BAL
15. 1B Nunez BAL
16. P Magill SEA
17. 3B Franco KC

I think the Baltimore guys were undervalued because of their team. They are not stars, but it is surprising they lasted this long. Also, at this point in the draft there were many teams drafting young guys with upside, so I reversed my earlier course and zagged when others were zigging. 

Magill supposedly has the inside track to closing for the Mariners, but who knows. All the real closers were gone by this round. Franco was picked as a token Royal at a position I needed to fill, though I ended up with another KC pitcher later.

18. P Ottavino NYY
19 1B Tellez TOR
20. P Lyles TEX
21. P Buttrey LAA

Ottavino and Buttrey are second in line for saves on their current teams. That's true largely because Aroldis Chapman apparently has tested positive for COVID19 and will likely start the year on the injured list. 

Tellez has real power, but was hurt by the decision to move Vlad Guerrero to 1B. Hopefully, he gets plenty of ABs as a DH. Lyles had a fairly good year last season and the new Texas park is supposedly more favorable to pitchers. We'll see.

22. OF Margot TB
23. C McGuire TOR
24. P Singer KC
25. P Andriese LAA
26. P Edwards SEA

Margot provides some needed steals, hopefully, and plays on a team that uses its depth and has a good track record of getting performance out of imported NL players. 

McGuire is a young backup catcher with upside. Brady Singer is KC's top prospect (unless Bobby Witt Jr. has already usurped him) and is likely to get some starts in the majors this year sooner rather than later.  Edwards is insurance on saves, though I suspect he'll have a short leash in my bullpen. 

In all, I have young bats all over my lineup. I have four Angel pitchers in part because they work in one of the AL's better pitcher's parks. Plus, this season they only play against AL West and NL West teams. That's also true of the Mariner and Oakland pitchers I selected. The best pitcher's parks in the AL include Oakland and Seattle and the best in the NL include LA, SD and SF. I'll want to bench my pitchers when they appear in Coors and maybe Arizona. Of course, some of the western teams have great offenses -- especially Houston and the Dodgers -- so this strategy may backfire. We'll see.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Baseball 2020

Given the surge of COVID-19 cases around the country, particularly in Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas, it seems odd to think that major league baseball is gearing up for a 60 game regular season -- and then a post-season.

Those 4 states I mentioned, by the way, are home to all major league spring training sites and 10 of the 30 major league teams. The league has averted the first problem by sending teams to their own cities and stadiums for the abbreviated "summer camp" that is about to start prior to the regular season, which is slated to begin on July 23.

The 10 teams in the afflicted states will have to grapple with the reality of operating amidst a worsening pandemic. It's also not clear what happens with the Toronto Blue  Jays as the US-Canada border is still mostly closed to non-essential crossings. 

My long-time American League rotissiere-style fantasy league is going to set aside the keeper element this year and have a one-time Zoom draft tentatively scheduled for July 18. We're debating some category changes, but not everyone has agreed to play. The picks will be either linear or snake-style. The "regular" Hardy House league and auction-style draft will resume in 2021.

My long-time head-to-head 24-team league is making plans to resume the linear draft that was interrupted on March 12. We'll begin picking a couple of players per day again starting July 9 and then initiate a short 7 week regular season on July 23. We'll use 3 divisions of 8 teams, so every team will play against all the other teams in its division. The divisional champs and then the 2nd place team with the best record will have playoffs and a World Series in the last two weeks of the season, ending September 27.

Let's hope the players, managers, coaches, and staff associated with the various teams are able to pull this off safely. I've been watching some KBO games that I record on the DVR and they've been playing without a hitch for many weeks -- even though the league says it will shut down for at least 3 weeks if anyone tests positive. Of course, South Korea has done a much better job managing the virus.  Despite this success, the situation remains precarious, of course. 

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Saturday, June 27, 2020

Hulu Film Festival

During quarantine in May and early June, my spouse and I activated the 30-day free Hulu offer that was promoted with the Roku device I purchased last fall. We streamed a large number of movies during those 30 days and I'm going to rank them quickly here.

Must-viewing: excellent and very good films

Parasite (South Korea)
Honeyland (North Macedonia documentary)
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (France)
The Guilty (Denmark)
Biggest Little Farm (documentary)

The top 3  here were serious Oscar contenders last year. Indeed, we signed up for the free month primarily to see Parasite.

The Guilty was a tense crime drama that was unexpectedly good. Maybe on a different night I would have put it in the category just below.

We're not big fans of Elisabeth Moss as we don't watch Handmaid's Tale and didn't see Mad Men. Her Smell was really difficult to watch last year. However, if you really like her, then this is a great showcase for her talent. The story is also good. Moss has a nack for playing unpleasant characters, at reflected in her recent films.

Biggest Little Farm is flawed, but I'm putting it here because it made me think about my own gardening processes -- and my eating.

Entertaining, but flawed
Alternatively: Interesting and probably worth your time

Jane (documentary)
The Day Shall Come
Killer Joe
Citizen Jane (documentary)
Non-Fiction (France)
Vox Lux
Hotel Mumbai
Plus One
A Brilliant Young Mind
I Kill Giants
The Sound of Silence **

The two Jane documentaries are both great in spurts, but have some dull or weird spots that brought them down a notch. The Day Shall Come is probably not as good as this ranking suggests, but it is an appropriate film for the social moment we are experiencing in the US regarding policing and racial injustice.

If you liked Tremors (1990), you'll probably like Grabbers. No Kevin Bacon or Fred Ward, but Ruth Bradley was good.

Non-Fiction was trying hard to be important, but I was resistant to its commentary on modern forms of communication. McLuhan's "the medium is the message" is pertinent.

The Sound of Silence is slow with a very subtle message. Did you like Noise (2007) or Safe (1995)? It had that vibe.

Natalie Portman was giving Moss's character in Her Smell a run for the money, but this had an odd twist in the story.

Plus One was predictable, but watchable thanks to Maya Erskine primarily. Male lead Jack Quaid is the son of Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid, which likely helped him get cast.

Give it a Pass

Greener Grass

This satire had its moments, but too few, sadly.

** My spouse likely would have put this film in the Give it a Pass category.

Note: After the free trial ended, I activated the Sprint mobile phone offer to get Hulu free -- but with commercials. Thus, if we've missed something particularly good, we could return to it. However, we really hate commercials. I tried to watch an episode of "Ramy" and it had more/longer breaks than I was anticipating.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Best Films of 2016

As promised, I'm working my way backwards through the annual Metracritic lists of top films as compiled from the rankings posted by film critics. I didn't see all of these films in 2016-2017 so I'm looking for possible viewing opportunities in the next few weeks (or months) of home lockdown.
Movie and Metascore# 1st Place# 2nd Place# OtherPoints
199 Moonlight653391353
294 La La Land371982.5232
396 Manchester by the Sea212995218
481 Arrival14775.5133
593 Toni Erdmann161145116
688 Hell or High Water7768105
790 Paterson1125684
896 O.J.: Made in America *7104182
984 The Handmaiden3953.581
1089 Elle51036.572
1181 Jackie2645.564
1279 American Honey2632.552
1382 The Lobster153650
1486 Cameraperson252642
1579 Silence332641
1683 20th Century Women3128.540
79 Sing Street1035.540
83 The Witch0137.540
1983 Everybody Wants Some!!1132.538
2079 Green Room0329.536
2182 Certain Women212533
2290 The Fits2515.532
2395 I Am Not Your Negro1222.530
2487 Love & Friendship002829
2578 Zootopia022428
84 Kubo and the Two Strings022328
2765 Deadpool1120.527
2879 Loving1022.526
79 Fences2019.526
83 13th112026
* The eight-hour documentary O.J.: Made in America was screened in two theaters to qualify for film awards prior to airing as a miniseries on ESPN. As a result, you may see it appear in lists from movie critics in addition to those from TV critics.
This is a quick and crude ranking -- keep in mind that I haven't seen some of these films in four years.
Readers may recall that 2016 was a trying year for my family, so it's not really a surprise that I missed seeing so many of the top ranked films. Once I see them, I will move them in the list and mark the updates with yellow highlighting. 

Best Films of 2016

Hell or High Water
Manchester By the Sea


Sing Street
La La Land
I Am Not Your Negro
The Lobster
The Fits
Certain Women

Very Good, But Flawed

20th Century Women
Green Room
Love & Friendship
American Honey
Everybody Wants Some!

Update: I would have ranked Cameraperson higher for the cinematography, but the film simply lacked narrative structure. It is a series of scenes, some are connected to one another, but some are not. The commonality is the talented woman behind the camera.

Have Not Yet Seen

The Handmaiden
Kubo and the Two Strings
O.J. Made In America
Toni Erdmann
The Witch

I confess that Toni Erdmann has been on my priority list for awhile. While in Ottawa on sabbatical, I checked it out from the local library, but never watched it (partly because of the length). I'm unlikely to see the animated Kubo or Zootopia. There are several documentaries on the list and a horror flick, genres I never prioritize for quite different reasons.

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