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Sunday, 10 January 2021

Now Can We Take Right Wing Extremism Seriously?

For about four years, I've been one of many talking about the risks associated with the Trump Administration (for the year before that I was foolishly downplaying his chances of getting the nomination, let alone the presidency). Like loads of others, I've drawn comparisons between his regime and that of fascists, Nazis and authoritarians the world over - not just the paranoia of Hitler or the megalomania of Mussolini, but also the deep corruption of Suharto.

A lot of people have responded, to me and others, like we're over-reacting. When I made the comparison to Suharto, four years ago, a friend replied that he'd taken power in quite a bloody coup, whereas Trump had been elected. My response was that the Suharto comparison was his family - I predicted then that his children and wife (wives) would cash in and be at the heart of loads of shady deals. I think it's fair to say that I've been proven correct.

Where I differed from some commentators was in Trump's approach to authoritarianism. I believed (and still believe) that he's not trying to dismantle democratic institutions because he has some agenda - it's just that they stop him doing the things he wants, and so he wants to eliminate them. Others did see a willful destruction of democratic norms, whether because he wants a private army or because he's in the pay of someone like Vladimir Putin.

The attack on the US Capitol building this week sort of proves us both right - he probably knew exactly what he was doing when he whipped those people up and pointed them at the place where the November election was being certified. But it's also still hard to imagine there's some overarching plan to all of his machinations - he failed to get Mike Pence on-side for the coup, for example.

But I think the most important thing that's come out of this week's actions is that we can no longer ignore how right-wing extremism is the biggest problem facing America at the moment. The last few years we've seen people discount the problem, or suggest that we on the left will let Islamist terrorists off but we freak out more about supposed right-wing extremists. But the proof is there on the screen - they exist, they're being directed firehose-like at democratic institutions, and they're racking up a body count.

This isn't to discount Islamist terror, by the way. ISIS is out of the news because of the coronavirus pandemic, but they're still out there, organizing and inspiring attacks in Asia and Europe, including two in France just last year. They're an ever-present threat, but attacks in the US have been fairly rare in the last few years, with 9 taking place since 2012.

Right-wing terror attacks, however, have been quite common in the US in the last decade or so, with 13 occurring since 2012. They're less common worldwide than the Islamist ones, to be fair, but it's clear that in the US you're more likely to be killed by a white supremacist than an Islamist.

The feeling is that the authorities here have handwaved racist and xenophobic terror more than Islamist terror, probably because it's supposedly easier to identify Islamists than KKK members or neo-Nazis. In turn, this has probably left right-wing terrorists more emboldened to carry out their attacks - and that's even without taking Donald Trump's influence into account.

What's ironic is that there's not much dichotomy between Islamist and right-wing terrorists, even if they mutually despise one another - both rely on imperfect understandings of their foundational texts, and target men who generally feel passed over by society, among other similarities. Online content is also instrumental in radicalizing both groups.

While the attack on the US Capitol resulted in far fewer deaths than the 9/11 attacks, we can hope that it causes a similar alignment of policy (although hopefully with far less demonization of "the other" than occurred 20 years ago). 9/11 was a sort of wake-up call to the US that despite its victory in the Cold War there would still be challenges to its hegemony; this will hopefully be a wake-up call that conspiracy theories and economic devastation come with wider costs to American prestige, and America's ability to achieve its goals abroad.

After all, Islamist terrorism would only ever be a sideshow to Great Power politics in which countries like China attempt to challenge the US's superpower status. China and Russia can use the images from Washington this past week to paint liberal democracies as overly chaotic, and build the case for bringing other countries into their own orbits of authoritarianism.

This comment is intended to demonize either country or its people, by the way - but both China and Russia have heavily nationalistic media apparati that depend on negative integration to tell their populations that they alone are the chosen people (similar to what we do here, of course). Chaos here serves the purpose of those apparati elsewhere in stifling dissent at home and in getting smaller countries to fall into line. Therefore, if we in the US are truly the shining city on a hill that we like to boast about, we need to get back to showing the benefits of an open and free society, to counteract the lures of stable but illiberal governments.

Monday, 4 January 2021

Ellis, Ennis and Morrison: Revisiting the Big 3 of Vertigo

Following on from my re-read of Hellblazer, this summer I moved on to what I call the Big 3 names of post-Sandman Vertigo. I talked about Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis a little bit then, but I haven't talked much about Grant Morrison, beyond my admiration for his runs on Animal Man and Doom Patrol. I also haven't talked much about Preacher or Transmetropolitan, which at the time were some of my favorite books.

When talking about Garth Ennis's Preacher, Warren Ellis's Transmetropolitan or Grant Morrison's Invisibles, I always think of them as their masterpieces, in that I can't really think of a more personal book that any of these authors has written since. Ennis's The Boys is a TV show now, and Morrison was instrumental in rewiring the DC Universe after he moved on from Vertigo, but I don't think anything of theirs has really landed as strongly as these three books did.

I started with The Invisibles, because of the three it's the book I know the least, and of which I remember the least. I have the first two collections, and the last one, so the story is a little disjointed when I read it again. And I have to admit that the gap doesn't do it a lot of favors. Given the preoccupation with 90s conspiracy theories, it feels the most dated of the three, and in my opinion suffers from the worst excesses of Morrison-being-Morrison. One example is all the conversations where one character is talking to another about something, and the second character responds by talking about the weed they're smoking at that moment.

He does do a nice job of tying everything back at the end that he's been teasing since the start, but the book never quite gelled for me the way some of Morrison's other work did. For example, Batman Incorporated felt more like what Morrison did best - unearthing lesser-known DC characters and giving them a new spin.

Preacher was up next, and of the three I think it holds up the best, though it can sometimes also feel quite dated. That, however, is mitigated by the themes that Ennis writes about, like male friendship and religion. In a lot of ways it's a spiritual sequel to his run on Hellblazer, specifically the aspect of a being born of a union between angel and demon, and I think it's done the best job of showcasing Ennis's preoccupations without the nihilism of his later work (for example, Crossed or Punisher MAX).

My collection of Preacher trade paperbacks also has a large gap, between the first five and the last volume. However, the volumes I do have present enough of the story Ennis and Steve Dillon were telling to feel like they're paying off in the final volume. Still, there are enough references to things that happen in volumes 6-8 that I'd like to revisit those books, and maybe one day reread the entire run from start to end.

The final one is Transmetropolitan. It came at around the time that I discovered Warren Ellis's other work in the WildStorm Universe, particularly Planetary and the Authority. Once again, it feels rather dated, though for different reasons than Preacher or the Invisibles - one aspect is the way he demonstrates his antagonist, the US President (as based on then UK prime minister Tony Blair), destroying the US constitution. I'm sure this read fine until January 2017, but the Trump administration has proven impossible to satirize or predict, and the Smiler just feels implausible now that we've seen it actually happen here.

It's also a little weird reading the wish-fulfillment of the protagonist, Spider Jerusalem. He's this witty, angry journalist who has a pair of attractive attendants (both of whom he sleeps with), and who everybody loves because of his words. He also wins all his physical fights despite being skinny and weedy, which is a bit absurd after reading Preacher.

I've called Transmetropolitan Warren Ellis's masterpiece, because it deals more with his personal preoccupations, but I like the Authority and what I've read of Planetary a bit better - he himself may not like superheroes but he wrote them damn well, especially as deconstructions of the genre.

Now, I've called these guys the Big Three of Vertigo, but there's a Big One that I'm missing, and that's Neil Gaiman's Sandman. I have the great misfortune of not owning any of the Sandman trade paperbacks, so I won't get to revisit that story on this go-round. But I'd like to, since I've probably read more of Gaiman's work after Sandman than I have of the other three above (apart from Morrison).

It's instructive to read these books again, especially after such a long time, and to understand them with twenty more years of life experience than I had when they came out. But it's also kind of a shame that there hasn't been a comparable work to any of them since, neither from the authors themselves or from their peers. Still, it's been exciting to revisit these personal visions of three of comics' most celebrated writers, and to see where I get the DNA of a lot of my own work and interest.

Sunday, 27 December 2020

Year in Review: Stuff I Liked in 2020

One of the themes I've heard people talk about all year is how we all have more time to do stuff now because we've been locked down at home. I kind of see what they've meant, but it oddly hasn't felt like that to me because I've been working steadily all year - if you're meant to be working, that still only leaves the evening hours and weekends to catch up on TV shows and music and books.

Nevertheless, I have been watching and enjoying stuff all year long, despite my worry early in the lockdown that the isolation would get to me. Below are some of the things that have helped - in addition, of course, to my girlfriend, who I've effectively been living with since around August and without whom I'd probably have gone crazy:

Football podcasts

The thing that made the pandemic's early stages feel particularly apocalyptic was the way sports shut down completely at the same time that we all went into lockdown. And as the European soccer leagues went on hiatus from one week to the next, for the first time since World War II, the football podcasts found themselves without content - since they're obviously based on dissecting what's just happened and what's about to happen.

So I have to praise Football Weekly, from the Guardian, and Totally Football for how they dealt with the lack of games. Football Weekly spent a few weeks introducing the regular correspondents, like Spain correspondent Sid Lowe and polymath Philippe Auclair, all while trading in the usual nonsense between hosts Max Rushden and Barry Glendenning.

Totally Football, meanwhile, added two nice sections to their regular and European-focused shows. One was a football trivia tournament among the correspondents, while the other was a segment looking back at each season of the Champions League from its start in 1992. The latter was particularly fun, since some of my early football memories are of Champions League finals from the late 90s, so it was good to hear (for example) the 1998-99 season, where Manchester United won, re-evaluated with two decades' hindsight.

It's a shame that both shows stopped doing these segments when the games started up again, but a related plus was the fact that Football Weekly started doing its live shows online, which meant I was finally able to catch them. After years of hearing the hosts talking about them, I'm glad I got to log in and listen to the silliness live.

German football

When the football did finally start up again, the first league to come back was the Bundesliga, so I duly took this opportunity to catch up on the league all the hipsters love. The matches in those early days were pretty surreal, with rules against celebrating too closely and a ban on fans in the stadia. That latter meant that you could hear every kick and every swear, a state that I oddly miss. Playing without fan noise may have been odd but I appreciated the novelty.

YouTube

It feels a little weird to praise a whole big corporation, especially one that's so devoted to spreading misinformation without repercussion. But YouTube brought me a lot that I needed during the first few months of the pandemic, and so I have to thank them and their weird, weird algorithm for helping me exercise, take tours of London and solve fiendishly difficult sudoku.

The first thing I discovered, like a great many people inside and outside Britain, was Joe Wicks, the Body Coach. I started hearing about his PE with Joe sessions, but instead of doing those I started following along with his HIIT workouts, especially the low-impact, low-noise workouts he'd record in hotels (this is because I live on the top floor of my building and don't want to pound on my neighbors' ceiling; just too bad they're not as considerate and constantly make noise running around and slamming doors). Following Joe's workouts helped me stay fit when the gyms closed, and also helped add some structure to my Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The next was Joolz Guides, a series of guided walks around London that helped ease my homesickness for the city. As you can imagine I focused on the areas that I know well, like Hampstead, Shoreditch and the like - it really was the next best thing to being able to walk around (well, not quite - but I had no choice!)

The final thing I want to flag here is the Cracking the Cryptic channel, which features two British nerds doing brutally hard sudoku puzzles. The algorithm threw it up for me at random one day, so I checked it out and basically spent the next three months watching it whenever I needed to wind down. I'd even watch a short video before bed, because it was so satisfying.

Books on Kindle

Another big corporation, but I have to hand it to Amazon for making so many books so easily available. I bought about twenty books all year, most because they were heavily discounted, and read them voraciously. Many were of series I was already reading, others were new suggestions from people I follow on Twitter, but it all made me happy, especially because in the early days the bookstores and libraries were all closed.

Some notable favorites this year were The Mortal Word, book 4 of the Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman; Das Reboot, a discussion of how the German national team worked to win the 2014 World Cup, as written by Totally Football correspondent Rafael Honigstein; as well as The Mixer and Zonal Marking, both by Totally Football correspondent Michael Cox on the evolution of tactics in the Premier League and in Europe. But there were a lot more good ones that I read in addition to those.

Uber Eats

Another one I feel a little uncomfortable praising, but I can't deny that it's been nice to get food delivered to me this year, particularly as cases surged and it became more risky to physically go to restaurants. My friend got me a voucher to Uber Eats for my birthday, and I took the opportunity to order in a bunch of stuff every week, whenever I got sick of the taste of my own cooking. My girlfriend also grew to appreciate it, so now we alternate between orders on different services when we feel lazy or just in the mood for some Shake Shack.

The MCU

I wrote about this earlier in the year, but I also took advantage of being on my own to watch (almost) all of the MCU movies again, in order. I appreciated some of them more on the second go, others less than before, but once again, it's hard not to appreciate how well the studio managed such a long, sustained streak of decent films over more than a decade. And it was just reassuring to come back each night to catch up on what Captain America or Iron Man or whoever was doing.

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Another great discovery for the year, this time thanks to Netflix. It fit into the trend of recent years where I've found older cartoons that are layered enough for adults to enjoy, like the Bruce Timm DC shows of the 90s. And because its voice director was Andrea Romano, it became a thing for me every episode to pause and see how many big names lent their voices to the show (like, um, Serena Williams). I also recently went back to watch the emotional "Tale of Iroh" from second-season episode, Tales of Ba Sing Se, and it nearly broke me. I've moved on to Legend of Korra, which isn't quite the same, but it's nice to explore that world again.

Mario Kart Tour

Another one I've written about, but playing Mario Kart has been a nice way to spend time with my honey that wasn't just watching Netflix. It's a little later than the others, since I only started it in October, when we shifted to my place from hers, but I've had fun building up my karts and drivers, and learning the various courses. It's worth saying, as well, that my initial assessment still stands: the game personifies the dog-eat-dog nature of modern capitalism quite well...

Foothills Park

The final entry on this list is my local open air zone. It was actually closed for a while early in the pandemic, and when it did open, it did so only on weekdays, so that the first time I went was on an afternoon off in May. I've gone a few more times since it fully reopened, and it's just been so nice to walk in nature, feeling far from my house and the path I've beaten into the suburban streets around my neighborhood.

There are, of course, other places to walk, but it's the closest, so that I can take just a couple of hours to drive up and enjoy the scenery all to myself.

You'd think solitude is the last thing I'd want after this year, but more than anything I've appreciated all these items above for how well they took me away from my own four walls - even the YouTube exercise videos. I've been very lucky that I've been able to work from home and acquire everything I needed, without having to worry about finding childcare or entertainment for my kids, so my only concern (other than staying healthy) has been staying sane.

With luck, the vaccines trickling into society mean we won't have to do this much longer, but I hope you've all found things that similarly helped you through... 

Monday, 21 December 2020

Year in Review 2020: The Hits Keep Coming

In preparation for this post, I re-read two posts that I wrote back in January: one looked back at the decade just gone, and the other looked forward to the year to come. The one about the 2010s talked about how my life had changed during that time, while the other considered what was likely to happen in politics.

They both feel incredibly far away right now.

I have to say, though, despite the title of this post, I can't say the year has been an especially awful one for me personally. I'm very lucky to have a salaried position that allows me to work from home; I'm also lucky to have a place to live and a lovely girlfriend with whom I've been cohabiting for the last few months, so I don't even have to stave off loneliness the way I did in the first few months of the pandemic. I did lose two relatives to the coronavirus, so I won't claim I'm unscathed, but again - many people have had worse years than I have.

I'm also happy to report that my worries about the 2020 election, as outlined in the post about what 2020 would hold, didn't bear fruit. The US elected Joe Biden as a pretty clear repudiation of Trump and his assault on the administrative state, so while the patient is still in danger, at least the blood loss and trauma is slowed.

Though not stopped: the year began with the impeachment trial in Congress, where the House voted along party lines to impeach, and the Senate voted along party lines (except for Mitt Romney) not to remove Trump from office. If the pandemic hadn't distorted American life, it's scary to think what Trump and his coterie would have gotten up to before Election Day, emboldened by the fact that the Senate wouldn't hold them to account.

I titled this post "The Hits Keep Coming" because this is just the latest in a long string of years where things have gone so, so badly. The pandemic may have derailed Trump's shot at reelection, but don't forget that it was so bad precisely because he and those around him downplayed it, ignored it and did all they could to stop the government helping the people who needed it the most.

It was also the latest year in which California saw apocalyptic fires and smoke, which turned our air poisonous and blocked out the sun for weeks on end. It struck me at some point that these awful fire seasons started affecting the Bay Area back in 2017, so they line up nicely with Trump taking office, though even I have to admit that it's more of a coincidence - the real problem has been mismanagement by our energy providers and a loss of preventive fire maintenance in favor of just hiring more firefighters. Trump's an idiot for saying we needed to rake the forests more, but it's true that our fire preparedness in this state has gone down the toilet.

The year was also marked by political and social upheaval, in another almost unbroken streak since 2014 or so. The reaction to the Black Lives Matter protests provided white supremacists and casual racists alike cover to vent their grievances against minorities, and provided Trump more opportunities to divide the country and fire up his base of extremely shitty people.

His loss at the polls probably even galvanized this shiftiness even further - talking about how the election was "stolen" has given his supporters a legend of grievance that I'm sure will resonate like the Nazis' "stab in the back" legend after the First World War. That, coupled with the Democrats' weak showing in Congress, implies that the US will continue to be ungovernable as a result of the GOP refusing to engage with political institutions.

The hope is that Biden will be able to accomplish something before the next midterms inevitably hand Congress back to the right wing. I've read pieces that suggest he follow Trump's playbook by trying to do everything at once, and not letting the sections of the commentariat arrayed against him to focus on bitching about any single thing, and at this point I'm hoping for any strategy from him (and from the rest of the Democratic Party) that will help the country move forward and turn fairer, healthier and safer.

On a personal level, I'm hoping to move forward with the writing, the fitness, my relationship and financially, as always. A lot of this forward movement I'm hoping for will depend on the course of the pandemic, especially since I'm pretty far down the priority list for getting vaccinated. I'll be surprised if I see the inside of my office again before June or so, let alone being able to get on a plane and leave the country (or even the state).

But luckily, my writing and fitness are things I can work on here at home. Something that living with the pandemic has confirmed for me is my need for structure to be able to accomplish the things I want to do - I may not have done all the writing I wanted to do, but the writing I did accomplish came about because I held to a strict schedule of writing most nights.

It's the same with fitness - despite not being able to go to the gym since March, I've seen my tummy slim down to levels I haven't experienced since I lived in London. This is an effect both of my religious adherence to runs and HIIT workouts on YouTube (thanks to the Body Coach, Joe Wicks!), but also the fact that my opportunities to snack between meals fell sharply once I couldn't walk to the Specialty's near my office and get my twice-a-week iced tea drink and turkey-swiss croissant.

It's a cliche to say that no one can tell what the future holds, but this year has shown us how true it is, and I think the chaos will continue to a certain extent. But hopefully everything can settle down for a bit soon - I'm tired of living in interesting times.

Monday, 14 December 2020

RIP John le Carré

Just saw the news yesterday that John le Carré passed away, and wanted to write a quick tribute to an author who was probably my favorite outside the SFF genre.

Because of my dad's interest in mysteries and thrillers, le Carré was one of the names I remember seeing on the bookshelves from my earliest childhood, along with Agatha Christie. I never picked up anything of his, however, until my early 20s, when I discovered copies of his two earliest books, hidden away on a bookshelf at our house in Italy.

I read A Murder of Quality and Call for the Dead, le Carré's second and first novels, in that order, and then went on searching for more of these books featuring George Smiley. Soon after I moved to London and found Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, followed by The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People, as well as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. I didn't love all of these - Schoolboy I found a particular slog, and I also don't remember being so dazzled by Spy Who Came in from the Cold - but the ones I did like I liked enough to keep looking.

Part of it, of course, was my personal circumstances. When I found Tinker Tailor I'd just moved to London and was experiencing firsthand much of what le Carré was writing about. It's hard to really appreciate the London of the 70s when you're sitting in sunny California, but if you're actually surrounded by the flock wallpaper and hissing radiators it's easier to imagine the milieu that Smiley's traveling in.

Over the years I read a few more of his novels, but none grabbed me quite like those first two, or Tinker Tailor and Smiley's People. Still, there were also the adaptations - Tailor of Panama, The Constant Gardener and so on. I remember, after the latter movie, being struck that le Carré had done well to identify unscrupulous corporations as the real villains of the 21st century after the end of the Cold War. Indeed the reviews of his books from the 90s to now have focused on his anger at the more venal aspects of the establishment - whether it's illicit arms sales, pharmaceutical malfeasance or the War on Terror. 

A recent pleasure was reading The Night Manager, and contrasting it with the TV version that came out a few years ago. I'd say le Carré was rather well-served by adaptations, as the TV version of the Night Manager updated and streamlined the novel quite well, and Tailor of Panama boasted a wonderful cast in Pierce Brosnan, Jamie Lee Curtis and Geoffrey Rush. But the two best have to be the BBC miniseries of Tinker Tailor and Smiley's People.

Featuring Alec Guinness as George Smiley, these two miniseries from the early 80s are probably the most faithful adaptations of his work that I've seen - and when I saw faithful I mean to the spirit of the books, rather than slavishly following exactly what happens in the pages. The film version from 2011 is decent enough, if slow and a bit hard to follow, but doesn't quite get across the time period as well as the earlier versions.

Citing an author as an influence is always tricky, because we cite authors and books that we think make us look more clever than we really are. However, it's fair to say that le Carré and George Smiley are all over my current work in progress, a melding of spy thrillers and fantasy novels. My main character is clearly based on Smiley, though I hope it's not arrogant to say that I'm trying to say something very different with my own character than le Carré was with his.

Regardless, I'm sad that another author I admire has gone. He himself may have despaired of how the public assumed everything he wrote was how the spy business is in real life, but his gift was that his world felt true. Moreover, as I wrote in my blog about the Night Manager, he had a gift for setting his scene, and for bringing to life the worlds his characters inhabited. There won't be any more from him, but I'm reassured that I don't have to venture much farther than my dad's bookshelf to find more books by le Carré that I have yet to read.

Sunday, 29 November 2020

RIP Maradona

Like the rest of the football-fan world I was stunned this week to see that Diego Maradona had died. I saw it on the BBC's website on Wednesday morning, so early, in fact, that when I googled it the snippet from his Wikipedia page that shows up on the first page of results still showed him as being alive. Since then I've been listening to football podcasts talking about his legacy, and reading whatever I could find about him.

I have to say, though, that his death doesn't hit me as strongly as perhaps it does other football fans of my generation, simply because I got into football after his heyday. In fact, I started watching with the 1994 World Cup, but only started paying attention after he'd been sent home for failing a drug test. So my knowledge of him comes filtered through secondary sources, of which the majority are English, so a little biased.

But I do also remember summer trips to Italy as a child in the 80s, and hearing his name mentioned almost breathlessly by various cousins. This would have been the period in which he was playing at Napoli, though I had no understanding of it until years later. And effectively, you can't deny that he did something impressive by joining a team that hadn't been that good and taking them to the Scudetto... twice. As someone said on either Football Weekly or Totally Football, it's hard to imagine the world's most exciting player of today going to some unknown team and dragging it to the league title almost single-handedly.

As for his presence at World Cups, what I know of him there comes almost exclusively from British reporting on the 1986 World Cup, which is hailed as both his showcase tournament and the best World Cup of recent times. Inevitably I heard about the Hand of God goal first, but to their credit the British media are just as likely to tell you about his second in that game against England, where he ran past five England players to score the winner.

That game took place in a time when it was harder to find out about footballers outside the country you lived in, so someone could pop up in an international tournament like that and blow everyone away. It was also a time when leagues in Europe weren't yet hoovering up talent from abroad as soon as it showed the least amount of potential, so a player like Maradona could develop his talent at home in Argentina before making the transition to Europe.

On the other hand, it was also a time when clubs just brought in players from abroad and left them to sort themselves out in a new country, which may have contributed to Maradona's downfall. He arrived in Barcelona at the age of 22 or so, which meant he wasn't particularly worldly yet, and his career after that was marked by chaos and misbehavior - one story I saw this week involved him partying with Colombian narco Pablo Escobar, at the latter's own prison.

Maradona's legacy may have also screwed up Argentina's national team for a long time to come. Ever since his retirement, any promising new Argentine player has been held up (somewhat desperately) as the new Maradona. Most haven't lived up to this potential, but the one who did, Lionel Messi, may be the unluckiest of all in this respect. He moved to Barcelona from Argentina as a child, with his whole family, which limited his ability to get into trouble (other than tax stuff), but that meant he hasn't been steeped in Argentine culture the way Maradona was.

Moreover, because of the world's search for the next Maradona, Messi and other Argentine players tend to be selected on the basis of their attacking prowess, which has left the national team pretty unbalanced with regard to midfield and defense. So while Messi is just as able to drag his compatriots to a final as Maradona was, he's surrounded by less accomplished players, and that may have made all the difference.

The other interesting point, made on Football Weekly, was in contrasting Messi and Maradona directly. The guest, Jonathan Wilson, called Messi's talent difficult to love, because it's so otherworldly, whereas Maradona was a completely fallible human whose talent was divine. I don't entirely agree, since Messi has always struck me as a player who makes you happy to watch, but there's something to the point that Maradona's volatility was part and parcel of his talent.

He was a good story because he was so chaotic and unpredictable - in the same match cheating egregiously and then scoring one of the finest goals ever. It's a shame, but also probably for the best, that we won't see a talent like his again soon, even if Messi surpasses him technically.

Monday, 23 November 2020

Covid hits home

A short one today, as my family has experienced two close Covid-19-related deaths in the past week.

One was on my mom's side of the family, in Rome, an old friend of my grandmother's from when they lived in Romania in the 1930s. They were so close in those days, and in the days after the war, that their children effectively grew up together with my mom and considered each other cousins. They're still friends to this day, which is what makes the loss more painful for her.

The other death is my dad's older sister, who was also my godmother. She had a difficult time of it from an early age, with her interest in painting curtailed by mental illness that plagued her through her life. Between that, and illness caused by decades of smoking, she had to go live in an assisted living facility several years ago, which is where our current plague found her, after several months cut off from her family.

Both deaths were in Italy, which has little directly to do with our current surge in cases here in the US. But for those gearing up to get on a plane to visit relatives, please think of who you're going to encounter while you travel. The people in the airport, or train station, or gas station might not believe in wearing masks, or might know people who think the virus is a hoax. You might not feel bad when you meet your parents, or cross paths with an assisted-living nurse - you might not feel bad at all throughout the time you have the virus.

But the virus doesn't care - it's opportunistic and fast. My aunt was diagnosed last week and was asymptomatic until this morning, at which point they rushed her to the hospital. She died seven hours later.

So please stay home. Take care of yourselves, and take care of others, by limiting your travels and visits to bars and other public places. The most vulnerable people in society - the old, the ill and the poor - are being decimated by this thing and so it's up to us to help keep them safe.