Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Archive for July 2013

A Slightly Delayed Milwaukee Brewers-Centered Blog…and Other Stuff

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Before I get to what’s been keeping me from blogging, first a few Milwaukee Brewers-centered updates.  The most obvious update has to do with Brewers LF Ryan Braun.  Braun came out with another statement, this one issued through the Brewers public relations department, saying that Braun cannot be more forthcoming than he already has due to the “ongoing investigation” by Major League Baseball.  And because no other MLB player has yet to step forward and admit to wrongdoing besides Braun, Braun’s suspension has remained front and center in the national news for nearly a week now.

What’s saddest about this saga, aside from Braun’s fall from grace, is how many sportswriters of national repute piled on Braun.  Christine Brennan, who writes brilliantly about ice skating, horse racing, and also is a noted baseball writer, was harsh in her condemnation of Braun — his lying, his taking of whatever PED (testosterone, allegedly, which as far as I know doesn’t help anyone hit a baseball any better, though it might be a “performance enhancer” in other ways outside of baseball), and how self-righteous Braun was in proclaiming his innocence back in 2011 and 2012.  But Jeff Passan went even further, calling Braun a “cockroach,” then admitting in a follow-up column that Braun, loathsome as Passan obviously finds Braun to be, still deserves to be paid under the contract previously negotiated between Braun, Braun’s agent, and the Brewers.

And those are just two of the many, many sportswriters who found it in their heart to cast oil on the waters, just so the story might burn a little hotter for a little longer, and thus sell more periodicals.

In other Brewers news, closer Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez was traded to the Orioles for minor-league third baseman Nick Delmonico.  This is largely considered a “win” for the Brewers front office because K-Rod wasn’t even signed to a minor-league deal by the Brewers until April was nearly over.

And, of course, the Brewers are still in last place in the National League Central.  Their next series will be against the Chicago Cubs, the team in second-to-last place.  However, as the Cubs are five and a half games ahead of the Brewers, I cannot rightfully call the next series “the battle for last place” right now.  (Maybe later?)

Oh, and by the way — the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (say that five times fast) have placed first baseman Albert Pujols on the disabled list with a partially torn plantar fascia.  Pujols is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

The reason I mentioned this?  Well, Pujols’ injury is the same one that Brewers first baseman/OF Corey Hart played with — and on — for two solid months during the Brewers 2012 stretch run for that coveted second Wild Card spot.  Had Hart not played, the Brewers wouldn’t have been in contention until the last week of the season.

Now, it’s impossible to know whether or not Corey Hart would’ve needed to have both knees repaired this year if Hart had done the prudent thing and gone on the DL last year when Hart’s injury was first incurred, as Pujols has just done.  But one thing I do know — playing on that injury was a gutty move that I truly hope will not shorten Hart’s career.  (In other words, here’s hoping that Hart will be able to make a full recovery from double knee surgery, whether it takes six more months of rehab, a full year more, or even longer.)

Anyway, after all of these Brewers-centered updates, you might be wondering why I said right up front in my blog title today that this blog had been “slightly delayed.”  It’s simple: I’m working on a story submission for a major anthology, I played another in the summer series of concerts with the Racine Concert Band (free every Sunday night at the Racine Zoo; do check us out if you’re in town), and I’m continuing to ponder various things, editing-wise.

All of this is why I only just got around to discussing the K-Rod trade, much less this whole bit about Pujols going on the DL with the same, exact injury that Corey Hart suffered last year (but played through), today.

Hope it was worth the wait.

Milwaukee Brewers 2013 Woes Continue — Ryan Braun Accepts 65-Game Suspension, Out for the Year

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Folks, when it rains, it pours.

While I was working on my previous update, I had written this about my favorite team, which are of course the Milwaukee Brewers.  They are currently on a four-game winning streak, and I thought it worthy of celebration.  So here’s what I said, moments before the news about Ryan Braun broke in Milwaukee:

The Milwaukee Brewers are on a post All-Star break roll, sweeping the Florida Marlins out of Milwaukee yesterday and winning all three low-scoring games due to excellent pitching (Friday’s starting pitcher was Kyle Lohse, Saturday’s was Yovani Gallardo, and Sunday’s was the rapidly improving Wily Peralta) by both starters and bullpen.

Let’s see how well they do against San Diego tonight, though I do think they should have an excellent chance as the Padres have won only two more games than the Brewers and are exactly the same in the loss column.

(Granted, it seems odd to quote myself.)

I wrote this prior to the knowledge that Braun had accepted a 65-game suspension and will consequently be out the rest of the 2013 season, forfeiting over $3 million of his 2013 salary.  (Please see this link from Yahoo Sports for further details.)  Which is why I pulled it out of the previous post, quoted it here, and now will have to discard all of that as the much bigger story is Braun’s upcoming absence for the remainder of the 2013 season.

Oh, brother.

Look.  I’m someone who fully believed that Braun was innocent of using any performance-enhancing drug (or PED, for short).  Mistakes can happen when it comes to drug testing; they’re rare, sure, but they still can happen, and it seemed plausible to me that a man whose physique had never changed, whose lifetime numbers (batting average, on-base-percentage, slugging percentage, etc.) had never changed, either, and who vehemently declared his innocence was worthy of defending.

It has also seemed to me, for quite some time, that Major League Baseball has a grudge against Ryan Braun.  They are annoyed that he managed to win his arbitration case in 2012, and that he was never suspended at that time for PEDs.  And they have continued to go after him since then, doing their best to vilify his reputation in the process.

So, what am I to think of this statement from Braun, then?

As quoted from the Yahoo Sports article by Jeff Passan:

“As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect,” Braun said. “I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers organization. I am very grateful for the support I have received from players, ownership and the fans in Milwaukee and around the country. Finally, I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed – all of the baseball fans especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization, and my teammates. I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love.”

This statement doesn’t really say anything, does it?  Other than that Braun accepted punishment for unnamed “mistakes,” apologized for the “distraction” afterward, and wants to play baseball again, there’s nothing here for a fan of the Brewers to really hang her hat on.

This article by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel baseball beat writer Tom Haudricourt clearly states this about the Ryan Braun suspension:

Major League Baseball has suspended Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun without pay for the remainder of the 2013 season and he has accepted the penalty, meaning he was caught red-handed either buying and/or using performance-enhancing drugs.

The suspension takes place immediately, so Braun will be suspended for the final 65 games of the season, beginning with the Brewers’ game Monday night at Miller Park against San Diego. The sanction came as a result of MLB’s investigation into the infamous Biogenesis clinic, which was exposed as having sold PEDs to players after documents were released to various news agencies earlier this year.

The suspension also exposed Braun as a liar because he has stated many times that he never used PEDs and never wavered from that stance.

So it appears that Tom Haudricourt isn’t too thrilled with what happened here, either.

Again — as a writer, I am trained to spot inconsistencies.  Braun’s story, as Tom H. clearly said, never wavered.  Braun loudly proclaimed his innocence at every turn.  Braun blamed the guy who collected the urine test for the reason it came up positive, and was able to make that stick, and doing so made it appear to me that Braun really was telling the truth.  Especially as Braun hadn’t failed any other drug tests before, or since.

But there are other ways to cheat the system.  Baseball itself knows that better than anyone, and fans — even good ones, like myself, who are aware of steroids and other PEDs and know something of their effects on the body — aren’t really able to fully grasp why someone like Ryan Braun, who seemingly has the world at his feet and has no reason to skirt the rules whatsoever, has now admitted to doing so.

Even if his admission has all the oomph of a non-admission, mostly because he hasn’t said exactly what he’s been accused of doing.

Baseball fans will forgive almost any player if he tells the truth about what he’s done.  Andy Pettitte said he used HGH — human growth hormone — in an effort to heal from injury faster, and wasn’t suspended.  Alex Rodriguez admitted to using unspecified PEDs a few years ago, and wasn’t suspended (though he may be now due to apparently using them again via Biogenesis).  Fernando Vina admitted to using steroids when he was with the Brewers long after the fact — he was a broadcaster, by then — and no one has ever vilified him.

But when someone doesn’t admit it and apparently did use them — whether it’s Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, or Rafael Palmeiro — fans get upset.  And then the player in question faces consequences, including shunning, booing, boorish behavior by the fans, or worst of all, exclusion from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

My attitude regarding PED use remains much the same as it’s always been.  I think if you’re trying to stay healthy to play baseball, that’s a lot different than trying to cheat the system, which is why McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Bonds (if he really did use them) should be given a pass, as all of them had well-known health problems that steroids/PEDs may have alleviated.  And if you’re willing to accept all sorts of adverse effects on your body, as seen by Lyle Alzado’s tragic death after his brilliant NFL career not so long ago, have at.

My particular problem with Braun isn’t that he used (or maybe didn’t use) PEDs.  It’s that he still hasn’t come clean regarding that use.

I believe very strongly in redemption and second chances.  But one of the things most people need to do before they can fully proceed with either is to be honest.  With themselves.  With the other important people in their lives.

So far, Ryan Braun hasn’t done this.

Like it or not, Braun is a public figure by the dint of his baseball stardom.  That’s why whatever happened must be explained to those who’ve supported him from the beginning — some specific explanations, not today’s weasel-worded non-denial denial — the fans of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Until he does, he’ll probably face all sorts of unintended consequences of today’s admission.  And he’ll keep on facing them until he’s finally, fully and freely explained just what happened here that’s bad enough for him to accept an unpaid suspension for the rest of the 2013 season.

An All-Around, Generalized Update

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Folks, I’ve been hip-deep in editing this past week — I’ve been doing a last-ditch edit of my novel, ELFY, and have decided to re-do some chapter lengths.  I also edited a short project for a friend, and have consulted on two other projects . . . and as if that’s not enough, I prepared for a concert with the Racine Concert Band that was unfortunately rained out last evening, too.  (I was to play my alto saxophone.)

So I’ve had plenty going on, which is why I haven’t written a blog in over a week, why I haven’t reviewed any books, either, and quite frankly, haven’t really had much time to even turn around.  (Ask my friends, as they barely see me, online or off.)

At any rate, here’s what I think about this, that, and the other, July 2013 style:

The George Zimmerman trial stirred up a lot of bad feelings.  The African-American community is outraged, as is completely understandable, that Zimmerman wasn’t held accountable for his actions by the Florida court system.  The Hispanic community is upset because they mostly seem to believe that Zimmerman is a poor reflection on them.  And many white Americans seem to believe that Zimmerman is a martyr and should be embraced at all costs.

While I completely understand how the public at large could have conflicting feelings — and these three segments of the American “melting pot” could feel in completely different ways — the fact remains that as Zimmerman was not initially charged with anything for over a month, many bits of evidence were completely lost.  The prosecution didn’t have much to work with, which may be partly why they seemed to do such a terrible job in going after Zimmerman.  And the laws of Florida are such that there was absolutely no way with the evidence the prosecution had left to work with that the prosecution could have ever gotten a jury to sign off on the charge of second degree murder, either, no matter how competent the prosecution had been.

I said on my Facebook page that I thought Zimmerman would not be convicted of second degree murder or the high degree of manslaughter, which came into play only in the final days of the trial and was ill-defined to boot, not because I think Zimmerman is an innocent — he’s not — but because the prosecution hadn’t proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Had the prosecution gone after something much more likely to have been understood by the jury, albeit with much less high of a profile than second degree murder, they would’ve charged Zimmerman with whatever Florida calls “reckless endangerment of human life” coupled with “unlawful use of a firearm.”  Zimmerman most likely would’ve been acquitted of the last due to the way Florida’s laws are written, but at least the prosecution would’ve had a snowball’s chance in Hell of making the charges stick.

A sentence for something like that in Wisconsin to a first-time offender is usually anywhere between two to five years in jail coupled with the loss of the firearm in question.  I think if the jury had been looking at something like that for Zimmerman rather than the lengthy stints in jail required for second degree murder or the high degree of manslaughter the Florida authorities were going after, they may have been able to consider the actual evidence in a different light.

All I know is, I’m glad there weren’t nationwide riots after the verdict was read, and that the jury’s verdict has been respected (even if not appreciated by vast segments of the population).  Because truly, there are better ways to continue the conversation Trayvon Martin’s untimely death has prompted than to cause permanent damage to people and objects — like actually talking.

Edited to add:

A very interesting column by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Eugene Kane has this to say about the Zimmerman trial:

After Zimmerman’s acquittal, widespread dissatisfaction was expressed by black and white supporters alike who didn’t understand how an African-American teenager’s life could have so little value in the criminal justice system.

Without a video, the Zimmerman jury felt compelled to buy the defense portrayal of Zimmerman as someone just defending himself from attack, even though testimony showed he sought the confrontation by stalking the teenager in the dark of night. Zimmerman’s self-defense argument (not technically “stand your ground”) angered many black parents, who wondered how someone could be considered not guilty after initiating contact with a black teenager who ended up dead.

I agree wholeheartedly with Kane’s assessment, and think this is the main reason why the jury wasn’t able to do any more than acquit Zimmerman of what he’d been accused of — particularly because the evidence was definitely not there (something the prosecution must have known) for second degree murder due to the 45-day delay between the death of Martin and the arrest of Zimmerman.

(Now back to my original post.)

I’m also reading a really interesting book right now by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks called THE GREAT PARTNERSHIP: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.  I have found it most enlightening thus far, and may post some quotes from it soon.

So that, and watching baseball (thoughts about the 2013 Milwaukee Brewers and Ryan Braun accepting a 65-game suspension will be forthcoming, honest), and working are what I’ve mostly been doing this past week.

And because of all I’ve been doing in July, I didn’t get a chance to mention that I’d passed my third year of bloggery (is that even a word?  ‘Tis now.) here at WordPress earlier this month.  (Hip, hip . . . something?)  But I hope things will have calmed down so much by this time next year that I will be able to write a much more proper celebratory blog — or at least an informative one — discussing what I’ve learned from blogging, my fellow authors, and you all . . . because I’m sure that post is inside me somewhere.

At any rate, thanks for continuing to read my blog despite the infrequency of my recent postings.  I truly appreciate it.

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 22, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Just Reviewed Lee and Miller’s “Dragon Ship” at SBR

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Folks, it’s really tough for me to write a negative review, especially when I truly enjoy the writers in question.  Yet when a book comes in that I find lacking, regardless of who writes it, I have to give my honest assessment.

Such is the case with my review for Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s DRAGON SHIP over at Shiny Book Review tonight.  I praised the writers, said I enjoyed the way they told the story for the most part — but I just didn’t get behind two conscious author’s decisions that the pair of authors made.  And because of that, I just couldn’t like or recommend this book even though I have liked and/or appreciated what Lee and Miller have written in every other case.  (Yes, even the dark fantasy duology comprised by DUIANFEY and LONGEYE.  There I knew going in that there would be some aspects of the story that would disturb me due to the genre, and was not put off.)

The two plot twists that really bothered me were these — making Captain Theo Waitley irresistible to anyone of either sex (including AIs) really wasn’t necessary.  And putting a male lover, a female lover, and a male AI lover on the same ship with Theo being basically oblivious to all of them, much less the trouble they could get into if they ever fully realize that Theo’s not truly in love with any of them, doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.


Warning — major spoilers ahead.  You have been warned.

Now, back to our original post.


The whole idea of Bechimo the ship wanting to fully unite with a human (or in this case, half-Liaden) captain, to the point that Theo ends up being nearly forced to submit to a procedure that will give Bechimo full access to her thoughts, her soul, and her very being, also is deeply disturbing.  That Bechimo, the person, wants to unite with someone on a deep level is not disturbing, of course — most people of any types want this, if they’re honest.  But that he’d actually want his lover the captain to submit to such an invasive procedure and not realize that it’s akin to mental and soul-rape is also incredibly disturbing.

And Bechimo the person being obviously naïve despite his many centuries of life and roaming the galaxy does not even begin to excuse this.

So, we’re left with a young woman, Theo, who’s basically married in all the ways that count to Bechimo the person at the end of DRAGON SHIP.  But she still has both her male lover and her female lover serving aboard the ship.  Theo’s not worried about them, or anything else, and seems to be floating in the way most newlyweds do — excepting one thing: she never, ever consented to this level of invasion in her personal life, because she couldn’t have possibly understood this is what Bechimo (the ship) meant by “needing to be served by a full Captain.”

All of that really bothers me, to the point that I could not in good conscience recommend DRAGON SHIP even though the writing is as stellar as ever.

As to the other problematic plot point, bringing a long-dead character back to life — or even attempting to do so — is really difficult for any author or authors to pull off.  It can be done, sure.  (Stephen R. Donaldson has done just that with his character Thomas Covenant, and of course the original Star Trek brought back Spock.)  But it has to be done carefully, and with planning.

Otherwise, it just doesn’t work.

That’s why even the thought of bringing back Aelliana Caylon, by far my most favorite of all the wonderful characters Lee and Miller have ever written, bothers me so much.  (Even though she’s been around as a ghost for years, and even though she obviously takes an interest in what’s going on all around her, bringing her back in a new shell — a new body — does not seem right.)

Those two conscious author’s decisions are why I don’t like DRAGON SHIP and am most unlikely to ever re-read it.   And it’s why I delayed writing my review until I had a full handle on exactly why I didn’t like this book despite my admiration for the writing pair of Lee and Miller and for their creation the Liaden Universe in particular.

Hopefully, I’ve done a good job in conveying the pluses of this book (the writing, the writers, the skill they take in their craft, etc.) and the minuses — the plot and the two author’s decisions that completely perplex — in a way that show I didn’t intend to bash the writer or their creation.

I just didn’t like it, that’s all.

And before anyone else says it — yes, I realize that someday, someone’s going to dislike my books, too.  (Maybe many someones, though I hope more of these “someones” will like my writing and my books than not.)  I just hope that they’ll be polite about it when they criticize, as I can handle that.

Whereas outright rudeness is much tougher to swallow, which is why I tried hard to avoid that in tonight’s review.

Homeless Youth in Racine Finds Tough Sledding

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This past week, I’ve been trying to help a homeless youth in Racine who I’m going to call “Allan.”  Allan is eighteen, African-American, polite to a fault, well-spoken, well-intentioned . . . and completely without any place to lay his head.  The reason I’ve become involved is that I have known Allan, on and off, for the past two months; he used to stay next door with a friend.  However, his friend was put in jail on an armed robbery charge (fortunately, Allan was not involved), and Allan was consequently evicted.

At this point, I learned that Allan’s situation was desperate.  He actually had been staying in this friend’s garage (some friend, hey?).  Before that, he’d lived with his grandfather, until his grandfather became homeless.  Before that, Allan was in jail on a minor weapon’s charge (carrying an unlicensed weapon).

As for family, Allan has adoptive parents who live up in Milwaukee County.  But they basically turned him out when he turned eighteen, saying they’d “done enough,” and are not willing to help him now under any circumstances.  He has his grandfather.  He has a few friends, most of whom seem to be of little account.

In any event, none of these people are either willing or able to help Allan.  So he’s still stuck.

What disturbs me is this: Allan has been homeless now for a week.  He hasn’t slept well, or much, in a week, because he mostly has to move from place to place.  And he’s not eaten well, or much, aside from whatever my Mom and I have been able to do to feed him.

Mind you, we’ve been doing this while trying to get someone, anyone to help.  We don’t have many resources.  Many times, we don’t have enough for the two of us.  But we could not let this young man, who’s skinny as a rail, go without food.

We just could not do it.

I can hear most of you now.  “Where are the advocates for this young man, Barb?  Where are the shelters?”

Well, this young man doesn’t have any advocates.  And the two shelters in town have thus far refused to take him.  Love and Charity Mission over on Douglas Avenue said that Allan is too young, because the minimum age for their services is twenty-one.  And HALO, which is the only other shelter in this area, at first refused to take him because Allan had no proof that he’s homeless.  And even though a policeman spoke with Allan on Saturday afternoon and actually took Allan over to HALO and said, “This kid really is homeless” (this according to Allan’s account), Allan is still in limbo.

Part of the reason Allan is in this trouble is due to state and federal cutbacks for shelter funding.  He was in a local shelter meant specifically for homeless teens, Safe Haven, once upon a time, and he’d probably be there right now except for one thing: They closed a few months ago, citing a lack of federal funding due to the sequester cuts.

This is a bureaucratic nightmare of major proportions.  And all the while, Allan continues to have no place to live.

This is just wrong.

I interviewed Allan at great length earlier this evening in preparation to write this blog.  I found out that Allan has no resources other than some food stamps (which he’s out of at present) and a small check that he’s to receive until he graduates from high school due to his adoptive father being a military veteran.**

Obviously, this is not nearly enough for Allan to get an apartment, or maybe even to rent a room.

High school graduation for Allan is a few more months away, as Allan needs to complete two more credits in summer school.  (I’m not going to name which school Allan’s been attending to preserve whatever vestiges of his privacy that I can.)  Allan told me he’s looking forward to graduation, as he has hopes to work with computers and make a good life for himself.

Yet how is Allan supposed to learn when he doesn’t have the basics every person in this country should have — food, clothing, and shelter?  How is he supposed to put all of his earthly cares aside under these appalling circumstances?

What I’ve observed this past week in trying to help Allan is that very few people, in government or out of it, seem to care.  I find that so disgusting that I don’t even have the words to express it.

We in Wisconsin pride ourselves on our compassion.  Well, where is the compassion for this young man?

I’m sorry.  When one person like Allan falls through the cracks, that means our whole system is a failure.

I do know this: every religion worth its salt in the history of the world has said to help the poor.  Protect the weak.  Heal the sick.  And help the homeless.

In other words, Jesus Christ did not believe that young men like Allan should be left to fend for themselves.  Gautama Buddha believed that compassion and mercy should be shown in all cases.  Confucius believed that those who had should help those who didn’t as a form of noblesse oblige, while more contemporary prophets such as Baha’ullah and even Joseph Smith believed that if you were to be one with God, you needed to act like God would want you to act — which means that you should give to those less fortunate, and try to help them get up on their feet.

None of these religions ever said that it’s OK to abandon a homeless young man who’s two credits short of high school graduation to whatever fate he can find on the streets.

I wonder what our Governor, Scott Walker, would think if one of his teenage sons was simply turned out one day and told to fend for himself without money or hope.  I wonder if the Governor ever once thought what it means when the state slashes funding — that someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s family member, is left on the streets because homeless shelters are filled to capacity.  And no one wants to be the one to take this young man in when there’s no guarantee they’ll get any funding to help him out.

I do know what I think, however.  And I do know how I will act, as I will continue to help Allan in whatever way I can.

I really hope that HALO will open its doors to Allan without further delay.  (They should, no matter how full they are.)  He is a young man who works hard, is respectful, and truly seems to want to better himself.  He’s the type of youth that anyone should want to help, as his potential is limitless despite the current exigencies of his situation.

Why no one else seems to care about that is beyond me.


A note about the title: I used “tough sledding” to imply an ice-strewn path.  That’s what it seems like “Allan” is on right now — any step he takes could put him through the ice and into an even worse situation than the one he’s already in.

Besides, Wisconsin is known for our winter weather.  So “tough sledding” seemed a natural fit, under the circumstances.  (Yes?)

** A correction to the record: Allan’s adoptive father is the disabled veteran.  Allan said he does not know who his natural (birth) father was, nor his natural mother, either, when I talked with him earlier today.  All apologies for my earlier misunderstanding.