The Lofty Lads of Leicester City FC

leicesterOn the weekend of the USA’s hyper-opulent sporting event, the NFL Super Bowl, something magical is happening in English football that is, without a doubt, the #1 sports story in the world.

Professional soccer leagues in Europe are typically dominated by the “titan” clubs of the sport, like Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, Bayern Munich in Germany, and in England the super-rich clubs with huge fan bases from London, Liverpool, and Manchester. Not this year. The top club in the English Premiere League is poor, little, relatively unknown Leicester City FC, who just earned a spot in the EPL in 2014 after being relegated, and falling, two leagues down the rung nearly 10 years ago and had to fight mightily the last three years to return to the elite English league.

Today Leicester FC totally dominated rich and mighty Manchester City on City’s home turf to take a commanding 5-point lead over the second-place team in the EPL standings. Leicester’s payroll (48 million British Pounds for 25 players) could only pay the wages of Man City’s top five players, (Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, 48 million British Pounds), and yet, somehow, this scrappy club wins with vastly inferior talent in every position than most of the EPL. It has been breathtaking to watch this humble little club beat the big boys, even my beloved Arsenal FC, one of the super-rich, London-based titans.

Seriously, it’s as if a beer league softball team suddenly rose to the top of Major League Baseball. OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but still. All the titans should take notice: spending hundreds of millions to hoard top players isn’t necessarily the best way to win. Suddenly heart, grit, effort, and exceptional coaching are back in vogue after years of a spending war between the titans that sucked all the talent from small clubs like Leicester and placed the best players in the biggest, richest clubs. Take notice, titans. You can win without all those high-priced divas.

And I’m searching online for a Leicester City FC jersey. I’m a convert!

Bad Fiction is Bad Fiction

Firstly I consider myself an avid reader of “literary” fiction, secondly I’m an admitted intellectual elitist, and thirdly I was a huge fan of David Foster Wallace’s essays published in Harper’s and Esquire before he had his novel Infinite Jest published in 1996, for which at the time I was excited to shell out 30 bucks to buy. Having said that, I found Infinite Jest to be a massive, unreadable, incoherent pile of crap. I couldn’t finish it, moreover I don’t know anyone personally who did even though they too are comprised of the above three qualities I listed.

This NYT 20-year anniversary retrospective about Infinite Jest is such piffle and proves what I’ve thought since I began writing and submitting my work in the late 80s to magazines and publishers, that university “Lit Crit” and Creative Writing departments wouldn’t know good fiction writing if it bit them on their pretentious asses.

Wallace was a talented and brilliant guy, but Infinite Jest was a terrible work of fiction piled beneath about 500,000 too many words and an incomprehensible tendency to babble endlessly with words that are laughably way more complex than what needs to make sense even to a word snob like me. Wallace tried too hard to be clever and didn’t try, you know, to write like a good novelist and actually tell a real story with compelling characters, and he didn’t write prose that was clear, meaningful, and unpretentious enough to entice anyone to want to read it other than the douchemongers in academia (or who hail from it and moved on to the publishing or literary criticism side of journalism) who promote this incomprehensible “post-modern” fiction-writing style by such boring and pretentious dopes like Don DeLillo, John Updike, or John Cheever, et al.

For my money, Elmore Leonard was a vastly superior fiction writer than these boring poops, because, first and foremost, he wrote books I actually wanted to finish. I was forced to read Updike and Cheever in college and my scathing criticism of their work typically included words like “boring,” “pretentious,” and “mind-numbingly who gives a damn about some self-loathing Lit Crit professor who’s continually drunk and schtupping some fat ugly neighbor wife of another boring university professor.” Seriously. The only people who loved this crap were other Lit Crit professors who aspired to be the “next great American novelist.” Elmore Leonard, who wrote brilliant, funny, absolutely real pulp crime novels, sold millions of more books and will be remembered as a greater writer than these boring schlubs.

Wallace killed himself many years ago, which is sad. He left behind a few brilliant essays that were published in magazines, and a couple of books that compiled this work, but his fiction novels were not great. I love to read almost as much as I love to breathe, but I couldn’t finish Infinite Jest because it was just awful, both excessively wordy and incomprehensible, and he tried way too hard to sound clever and brilliant; in the end the novel was a gigantic waste of time to read, so I don’t finish it. I have no idea what book this NYT reviewer was reading that compelled him to write such specious and, to me, wholly disingenuous praise for such an unforgettable work by a writer I thought had so much more promise, but, in the end, failed as a writer of good fiction in my opinion.

Hillary for President 2016

HillaryAs much as I adore what Bernie Sanders is fighting hard to promote in his Social-Democrat stance, ethos, and governing positions, all of which are extremely congruent with my own belief system, what I, a lifelong Democrat, want more than anything is people in power who reflect my core beliefs and who can lead; President Obama brought executive power back to my party and it will be hard for my party to lose it if Hillary can step up and campaign well. I have often disagreed with Hillary, and I think she lacks the political acumen of Obama and her husband, but this brilliant, strong, motivated woman can lead and govern better than the rest of the clown-car buffoons running in the GOP, and, painful as this is going to be to express, better than Bernie, for whom I have been a huge fan for two decades as a statesman and Senator, but who I feel won’t have the political consensus Hillary can garner with her more centrist views.

However, I do want Bernie’s campaign to challenge Hillary and move her closer to the left of middle than to the right or along it. I think Bernie reminds all Democrats that the core beliefs we hold closest to our hearts require Social-Democratic solutions instead of the dog-eat-dog, ridiculously nihilistic libertarian dung heap promoted by the far right. We don’t see the masses of poor as parasites, we see them as the victims of a massive failure of our elites to lead our citizens and uplift them all. We have failed the poor if we allow the huge gap between rich and poor to continue. Blaming the poor for being poor is the domain of ignorant, mean, petty, and vicious barbarians. So I applaud Bernie’s position on this and hope he can bring Hillary’s campaign home to roost on this and other vital, necessary, Liberal social issues and political positions.

Hillary has been the subject of vicious, nasty, largely unwarranted right-wing witch hunts (Whitewater, Benghazi, email-gate, blah, blah, blah) since she first promoted universal health care when Bill was President, and yet, always, she’s handled it all with grace and class. She is not perfect and I freely admit I supported Obama over her in 2008, but in 2016, given the field of candidates we have, Hillary is far and above the only one I believe can be our next President and not lead the country to ruin and chaotic, divisive madness. She, like Obama, will face a Congress largely peopled with lunatic fringe morons who will adamantly vanquish any attempts she makes to govern through legislation, but she, like Obama, will check the power of these idiots to do our country great harm with their legislative power. Check and balance met, the true brilliance of democracy in action.

Hillary in 2016.

[Commenters, if you want to express your views, do it on your own damn online forums. I’m not going to tolerate a bunch of babbling on mine. This is my space, and if you want to babble your political views contrary to mine, do it on your own blog or Facebook our whatever. I’m not really up for a debate with people for whom I largely don’t give a damn what they think. Everyone has a right to his or her opinion, and I have the right to not give too much care what all those opinions are, especially if they are expressed ineloquently and without a shard of factual proof or logical and reasonable thought.]

Murder Machines Strike Again

This time I’ll let my President speak for me.

PopeLollapolooza 2015 in Philadelphia

Our reporter at Logan CircleI’m among the hundreds of thousands on Philadelphia’s JFK Parkway near Logan Circle, watching on a jumbotron as pope Francis, at Philly’s Independence Hall—standing at the very same lecturn as Abe Lincoln used to make the Gettysburg Address—addresses the millions of Americans watching in person and at home on TV.

To paraphrase his speech, I think Francis just said to Donald Trump and all the idiots who follow him: SUCK IT! The theme is immigration and religious freedom, and Francis is very succinctly rebuking the current Trumpesque sentiment of vile immigrant bashing. It’s a nice speech. You have to know Spanish to follow in real time as the English subtitles are minutes behind Francis, which has the non-Hispanic folk scratching their heads while all the Spanish speakers in the crowd, tens, hell, maybe hundreds of thousands of of them, are wildly clapping and screaming joyfully. Sarah Palin is probably pissed he was’t speaking American. I’ve clapped loudly at several of his main points.

My take on this pope:

The man has tremendous charisma and a quiet, beautiful manner that made many around me turn to tears as he spoke. A hispanic woman near me shouted in Spanish, “He’s so CUTE!” He seems genuine and not much of a political actor, moreover he wisely avoided making any radical statements that would set off the American right wing. I came to this not knowing anything about Francis and left thinking he’s a great man who says some beautiful things, inspiring things, though I am not a member of his religion nor do I particularly agree with much of its doctrine. But his words were powerful and moving. If, of course, you understand Spanish, and I do understand enough to have gotten the gist of what he said.

Francis is a pinko socialist like me on many social issues, not against capitalism as much as for a more regulated form that lessens the wide gap between rich and poor. His call for noblesse oblige, in other words the well-to-do among us reaching out to the poor and helping them, was inspiring. Then he called out specifically to Hispanics: Do not be afraid to assert your language and culture! THAT was inspiring, and all the Hispanics around me were crying out his name, or “Si, Papa!” There was a massive flood of Latino tears in Philly today.

I think he’s a good man leading a church that may not agree with his left-leaning ideals; there are too many who don’t agree with Francis in the halls of the Vatican and certainly the more right-leaning Catholic USA. While he won’t change the conservative orthodoxy and doctrine of the church he leads (you know, like the fact women are still second-class members of a church ruled by old, celibate men), I do think he’s making lots of people think, including skeptical me, the pinko socialist side of me, that is; on religion I remain steadfastly atheist, the very core of my intellectual belief system and something that will not budge, ever.

Francis does stand for peace, freedom, saving the environment, and equality, with the exception of the equality of women within his own male-dominated church. Most of my life, with usual bevy of priests, bishops, cardinals, and previous popes, I’ve largely ignored their fairly repugnant social views, and have been horrified by their treatment of women, plus I completely tuned out their religious dogma; after all, I quit being a Catholic long ago because, simply, I didn’t believe any of it, especially the part about there being a god.

This pope at least has me listening to his more enlightened social views with which I heartily agree. Now if he can show the same enlightened thinking with how his church treats women. THAT would be monumental.

The pope in Philly

The pope in Philly insanity begins in a week on September 25 and 26, 2015. Here’s a map of the security perimeter that Philly is erecting to “protect” the pope. Included in this perimeter are my home and neighborhood, where all traffic will be cut off and people have to pass through security checkpoints to enter the perimeter.

pope

I will be a prisoner in my own home next weekend when the pope arrives in Philly. All traffic in my neighborhood will be blocked, security will be tighter than in most prisons, and a gigantic jumbotron will be posted on Broad Street near my building so all the pope worshipers can watch his journey through Philly’s streets. We’re expecting 2-3 million people will be lining our streets, about as many as who celebrated the Phillies 2008 World Series victory.

Personally I am indifferent to the whole silliness; as an atheist and ardent believer in Democracy (notice the capital ‘D’), I have little use for unelected (by the people) theocratic leaders, especially this relic from our (European-Americans) barbaric, feudal past when we were harshly and unjustly ruled by kings, princes, bishops, lords, and other vile, unelected scum. I refuse to capitalize his title and could care less about him or his church, one to which I was forced to belong as a child and adamantly refused to believe in its religious dogma or god since I was intellectually conscious as a child. Sorry, folks, I’m just not wired for religious belief and I hold zero reverence for religious leaders.

I find all this a huge waste of resources and taxpayer money. All this pageantry and grandeur for a foreign potentate in a city, Philadelphia, that is the birthplace of democracy, where we demanded, and fought for with our blood, our freedom from these asshole kings, princes, and bishops from Europe’s Ancien Régime; the irony is not lost on me. The USA was created on the idea that all men and women are equal and we bow to no one in servitude as subjects, that no religion or church will ever hold power in our governance as free citizens. I choose freedom and enlightenment.

Scenes of Our Kafkaesque Dystopian Culture

James Blake is a fabulously wealthy (net worth: $8 million) former star tennis player who attended Harvard and has been known far and wide as one of the finest, most decent gentleman to play the game. Yet, a few days ago, to a NYPD officer he was just another “perp” who was guilty before he’d done anything, just another “scumbag” on this overly-aggressive cop’s radar in a case of “mistaken identity.” So the cop used excessive violence to “take down” another “scumbag.” Except one thing: James Blake is nothing of the sort, had done nothing wrong, and furthermore offered zero resistance.
 
We must ask ourselves a simple question: Is that what we citizens of this country are today, guilty until proven innocent to our police and at any moment can be subjected to violently excessive force? The cop was going after suspects for credit card fraud, hardly a crime of violence where such violent force is required to apprehend the perp. Furthermore, this cop, in plain clothes and not in uniform, bum-rushed and violently tackled Blake, who had done nothing wrong and offered zero resistance.
 
Take race out of this for a second, and this still rankles me as a citizen to see our police treat citizens with such disrespectful contempt. There was no need to tackle Blake had he been guilty! The fact he was an innocent victim makes this incident even more of an outrage.
 
Had this been done to some regular guy and not a well-known celebrity like Mr. Blake, we’d never know about it. He would just be another innocent citizen of this country violently treated by an overly-aggressive cop overstepping his mandate to “protect and serve.” The NYPD must fire this police officer to send a message to its rank and file: you need to treat your fellow citizens like fellow citizens. You are not judge and jury. Moreover, simple common sense says that this kind of force isn’t necessary for a crime like credit card fraud to apprehend a suspect you are pursuing, especially if they don’t seem to be the least bit resistant, as was the case with Mr. Blake in this video.

Update: “But of course” department. According to the New York Times, the officer who manhandled James Blake has a history of excessive force complaints. You think?

Blake, ever the gentleman that he has been his whole public life as a star athlete, has, since this happened, publicly handled himself with an amazing amount of grace and class. 

Fun at Work

Here’s a simple 3-to-1 conveyor merge I programmed the other day for my company’s current project. The key to this logic is introducing new cartons onto the main belt without crashing them into anything else already on it. This was my first test of my PLC code and it was a raging success!

 

Music Break

Occasionally I have been known to lay down a track or two when I have time. Here’s a clip of my unfinished work called “Say Goodbye.” I am looking for a singer to do the lead vocals. Know anyone? Call this funky techno. It’s my attempt at pop music, or at least how I imagine what pop should be. Dig the 1985 photo of me playing in my music studio I built in my Army barracks room at Fort Benning. A long time ago in my life, I wanted to be a music producer. That I became an automation engineer later in life was a result of the painstaking process making music through automation those many years ago. Now I want to return to my roots and give it a try in earnest this time. I quit Facebook and all other social media except this blog, where I’ll update how my progress is going. Here’s the first sample of my first music project, the song “Say Goodbye.” This file has all the backing tracks: bass, drums, synths, electric piano, etc.

Fiction Break II

A Humid Summer

A short story

©1985 Matthew C. Scheck

Part One: We Meet

You haven’t really experienced the pain of real humidity until you’ve spent a summer in southern Georgia along the Chattahoochee River. I spent three summers there and it got worse for me every year. The more pain it caused me, the more intensely I would fight it. Back then I was angry and intense and scared of my life, so I tried to push myself to insane limits simply because I could and because I was convinced I’d die young like my father, so what the hell, let’s make it happen. My last summer there I ran ten miles every day at four in the afternoon when the humidity was so horrible I could barely breathe after the seventh mile. What made it such a crazy test was that I couldn’t quit because the seventh mile was three-quarters of the way around Lawson Army Airfield at Fort Benning, in the middle of nowhere, and therefore I had no choice but to finish. Few of my friends would make this run and the few who tried hardly came back for a second try.

I met her during one of these crazy runs. Well, I didn’t exactly meet her on this day, since we’d already met informally at work at Martin Army Hospital, where she was a civilian registered nurse on a ward and I was an enlisted Army trooper working in pathology. But we really didn’t know each other than our understanding of our differing roles in the pecking order at the hospital.

I was just a kid, twenty-one, a bright Specialist Fourth Class who had dropped out of his honors program in college and enlisted in the Green Machine, winding up in the Medical Corps at Benning. She was thirty and married to a powerful, up-and-coming West Pointer, a major in the 197th Infantry Brigade at Benning’s Sand Hill. She was certainly the most beautiful woman at the hospital, which I’d noticed every time I saw her. Tall. Lithe. Athletic. Long, shiny, straight brown hair. Amazing blue eyes that made you smile for an hour afterwards even if they were directed at you for a brief moment. We’ll call her Jamie. Jamie McMahon. A University of Maine grad, originally from Bangor, Maine. A lovely singing voice, especially when singing Tears For Fears or Simple Minds songs, her favorite bands that summer. Her rendition of “Mad World” would make you cry.

I learned all this after I met her on that road in the middle of nowhere on one of my suicide runs in the nefarious and painful South Georgia summer humidity of 1984.

I’d tripped on a pothole and sprained my ankle, and right about when that happened she drove by in her convertible. And wouldn’t you know it I was injured and she was a nurse. So of course she stopped. My heroine, Jamie McMahon, RN. And wouldn’t you know it she’d just had a horrible fight with her horrible husband, who smacked her face and left her injured too. It was fate we became lovers. A magical, painful, humid fate.

“Hey, are you okay, Vampire?” she called out as she braked hard to a rather violent stop in front of me. She called me “Vampire” or “Dracula” because one of my duties was as a phlebotomist, so I was frequently on her ward drawing blood from her patients, and on one of these ward rounds she started calling me these silly nicknames. I didn’t mind her calling me them because she looked magnificent in her tight hospital whites. However, just because we playfully flirted on my ward rounds, I never considered having a chance with this upper-class, beautiful, magnificent, very married woman. She was far above my lowly station.

And then I tripped that day in the middle of nowhere in that god-awful humidity and there she was.

“My ankle is blown,” I replied. I was sitting on the side of road in obvious pain, covered in sweat, smelling like ass, and yet bemused she just happened upon me in the perfect time of need.

“Can you walk?”

“Hardly.”

“Can I give you a ride?”

“My hero! Yes!”

She got out of her car and went to her trunk, from which she got her first aid kit, from which she got out a chemical ice bag, with which she smacked to activate, then taped it to my ankle. “It’s not too bad, it looks like you’ve sprained it before, eh?” She said as she stood up.

“Wow, who gave you that shiner?” I asked as she put her arm around me and helped me hobble to her car.

“My beloved husband,” she sneered as she helped ease me into her passenger seat. Then she got in the driver’s seat and sat silently for a few minutes.

“I’m sorry. You need this more than I do,” I said as I took the ice bag off my ankle and gently held it to her swollen eye. She didn’t resist.

“C’est la vie,” she whispered.

I couldn’t stop looking at her during that silence. My ankle wasn’t the only throbbing extremity on my body as I leered at her in her snug Dolfin running shorts, white t-shirt, and flip-flops. I was six two and she was nearly six even; I loved tall women above all else. I stared at her the entire time she sat there without speaking. It was very quiet in the middle of nowhere. We were both beautiful and in pain. The rest just happened.

Suddenly, abruptly, she pushed the ice bag and my hand away, started the car, and looked at me earnestly. “You want to get a couple of beers and some raw oysters with me, Dracula?” she asked as we drove away. “I’m not going home and I don’t have any friends here and you’re really cute and a great guy and I like you.”

“Yeah…sure,” I mumbled.

And that’s how we became lovers. We went to Mick’s Shack on Highway 431 across the border in Alabama, where we got raw shucked oysters on the shell and drank many beers. Then we went to a dreadful motel in Phenix City, Alabama and made love until the next morning. Just like that. No awkward first date or cute meet. We just happened to be in the exact spot when we both needed each other, and from that moment forward we were inseparable.

In fact she was the love of my life. And my biggest tragedy.

Up next: Part Two: A Major Snag