Clayton Kershaw Injury: Updates on Dodgers Star’s Hip, Glute and Return

If there's one thing the Los Angeles Dodgers don't need, it's to see starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw battle any kind of injury. Unfortunately, the reigning National League Cy Young winner currently faces that predicament. 

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, Kershaw is dealing with a sore hip and glute, and the Dodgers are weighing whether to push their star pitcher's start back to Friday or have him take the mound for Wednesday's start against the Oakland Athletics. 

After a rocky start to the season, Kershaw has gotten stronger as the year has gone on, entering Wednesday with an ERA of 2.51 and a 0.94 WHIP. The Dodgers ace has been especially dominant in July, sporting a 0.27 ERA over four starts in which he went 3-0, tossing two complete games along the way.

If there is one silver lining for the Dodgers, it's that they have gone through a scenario without Kershaw recently. Last year, before he went on his ridiculous run to a third Cy Young and MVP award, the left-hander missed all of April due to back problems. 

The Dodgers were able to make it through the loss of their pitcher for a month in 2014, winning the National League West. An injury that significant in 2015 could lead to problems, as the division looks better on paper, with the San Diego Padres trading for virtually every right-handed power hitter. 

One thing that the new regime in Los Angeles did over the offseason was add better depth to the rotation. Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson, while injury prone themselves, have excellent potential. Joe Wieland is a quality back-end starter. In addition to that depth, Zack Greinke has put together his own Cy Young-worthy campaign to give the Dodgers two dominant pitchers at the top of the rotation.

Despite Grienke's impressive 2015, though, Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, and the gap doesn't seem particularly close. The Dodgers are exponentially better with him on the mound, going 23-4 in his 27 starts last year.   

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David Murphy to Angels: Latest Trade Details, Comments and Reaction

The Los Angeles Angels have added another outfielder to their mix, acquiring David Murphy from the Cleveland Indians. 

Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reported the two teams were nearing a deal for Murphy. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports confirmed the trade.    

Heyman also reported the Angels will send Double-A shortstop Eric Stamets to Cleveland in return. 

The Angels have been busy over the last 24 hours, acquiring Shane Victorino from the Boston Red Sox on Monday, per Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com. 

Adding Murphy after Victorino is a logical move, as noted by ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick:

While Murphy isn't a marquee name who will transform the Angels lineup, that's not what they need. Mike Trout and Albert Pujols give their offense pop in the middle. Murphy and Victorino add depth as well as serving an integral platoon role for manager Mike Scioscia. 

The Angels have a one-game lead over the Houston Astros in the American League West and only needed to make minor roster tweaks to ensure they are able to win the division for the second consecutive season. 

Murphy also knows how to handle the AL West after spending seven years in Texas. Given the lack of production from Matt Joyce in left field this season, a Murphy-Victorino platoon split will be a massive upgrade for the Angels. 

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MLB Rumors: Trade Buzz on Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon and More

Trade season has been blown wide open in Major League Baseball. It's one thing to have trades happen prior to July 31, but it's something else entirely when marquee names are involved as has happened already and may keep happening within the next three days. 

Having a Cy Young-caliber pitcher in Johnny Cueto traded to the Kansas City Royals and, per MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm (h/t MLB Roster Moves), Troy Tulowitzki going to the Toronto Blue Jays in a roughly 48-hour window speaks to where teams are this summer. 

Contenders seem willing to be more aggressive in their approach, while teams out of contention are taking steps to get better in the long run. It makes for a fun trading season, even if some things don't make sense on a surface level. 

Here is the latest roundup of rumors that will hopefully make this trade season even more eventful.

 

Astros Looking for Another Big Arm

The Houston Astros are not letting this season's surprising contention window go by without going after pieces on the trade market. They have already acquired Scott Kazmir to boost the rotation but don't appear to be done looking at impact arms. 

According to ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick, the Astros have eyes on Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels:

There are going to be a lot of rumblings about Hamels until he's dealt or July 31 at 4:01 p.m. ET—whichever happens first. Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported San Francisco would love to add the lefty but doesn't have a good enough package to entice the Phillies. 

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers, in that order, are seen as the top two suitors in the Hamels trade negotiations. 

Of those teams, the Rangers have the biggest need because of the lack of impact arms in their rotation. The Astros at least have Kazmir and Dallas Keuchel to fall back on if they don't land Hamels. The Dodgers have some guys named Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. The Giants just won a title on the back of Madison Bumgarner

Yet in terms of perception and showing the plan is fully in place, the Astros have more at stake in this than any other team. They have been building a farm system for years, it's finally starting to yield results, and the roster is going to be very good for a long time to come. 

Hamels would fit right into what the Astros are building because he's signed through 2018 with an option for 2019. His salary for those three guaranteed seasons combined is $70.5 million, which really isn't that extravagant for a top-tier starter who is just 31 years old. 

Here's how Hamels' 2015 numbers compare with another 31-year-old left-hander:

Hamels and Jon Lester have been roughly the same pitchers this season, but the difference is Lester will make $125 million from 2016 through 2020. 

It will certainly take a lot for the Phillies to move their ace left-hander, but the franchise is in a spot where it gains nothing by retaining him. Deal him now to maximize his value, while hoping the Astros are willing to part with at least two prospects from their still-good system. 

 

Jonathan Papelbon on Nationals' Radar

Speaking of Phillies players who really don't serve a key function at this point, Jonathan Papelbon may be a better candidate than Hamels because he's in the final guaranteed year of his deal, and relievers are always in demand this time of year. 

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, Papelbon has drawn the Washington Nationals' attention:

As the last part of Rosenthal's tweet mentions, there could be a hang-up for the Nationals in a possible deal for Papelbon. He has a partial no-trade clause in his contract with only 12 teams he's unable to block a deal with, per Comcast SportsNet's Jim Salisbury

That list doesn't include the Nationals, who have gotten a great performance from Drew Storen in the closer's role this season. The 27-year-old has a 1.73 ERA with 44 strikeouts, nine walks and 29 saves in 36.1 innings. 

Storen has shown a willingness to pitch in other roles before, notably in 2013-14 when Rafael Soriano saved 75 games for the Nationals. 

There's also incentive for Papelbon to keep his job as a closer because his contract includes a $13 million vesting option if he finishes 55 games in 2015 or a combined 100 games in 2014-15.

The Nationals would have to decide if Papelbon is worth that kind of financial investment, to say nothing of what they would have to give Philadelphia in return. They are trying to hold off the New York Mets in the division, but their problem is more on offense. 

Washington ranks 16th in runs scored, and players not named Bryce Harper have combined to hit a total of 69 home runs in 97 games. 

Perhaps the market for bats is such that the Nationals just want to see if they can pitch opponents into submission instead of paying a more substantial price for someone who can impact the lineup. 

 

Colorado's "For Sale" Sign Is Up

With the previously mentioned Tulowitzki deal, it's clear the Colorado Rockies have finally accepted the need to free up long-term salary commitments and rebuild through their young talent in the big leagues and farm system. 

The next logical candidate for the Rockies to deal is Carlos Gonzalez, which people in the organization expect to happen, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman

"They expect to move him," one general manager told Heyman

As far as potential landing spots for CarGo, Heyman noted the Mets, Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles are teams that have been most active in their pursuit of outfielders. 

The Angels already made a move to address that area, acquiring Shane Victorino from Boston, per Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com. 

The Mets would make sense simply because of how inept their offense has been, ranking 29th in runs scored, but Gonzalez is due to make $37 million combined in 2016 and 2017. 

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson did say in a press conference recently, via Joe Trezza of MLB.com, the team does have the resources to take on a player with a big contract. But at what point is there a limit? And what does it trade?

In the same press conference, Alderson said the Mets aren't trading Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard or Steven Matz to get offensive help. That's certainly a justifiable stance, but it doesn't give them a lot of leverage in trade discussions. 

The Orioles need more pop from their outfield. Adam Jones has 15 home runs, but Travis Snider, David Lough and Alejandro De Aza have combined for 10 in 469 at-bats. 

Yet Gonzalez is a frustrating player. He's certainly talented and just 29 years old, but he's got an OPS against left-handed pitching this season of .398 and a career on-base percentage against southpaws of .311. 

Gonzalez is a platoon player being paid like an All-Star outfielder. That's going to hinder his value, but a desperate team seeking left-handed pop will pony up a solid offer. It won't be as good as what Colorado may have gotten in 2012-13, but getting out from under his contract may be enough incentive for the front office. 

 

Stats and contract info via Baseball-Reference.com and ESPN.com unless otherwise noted. 

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Ian Kennedy Trade Rumors: Latest News and Speculation on Padres P

Ian Kennedy isn't a difference-making starting pitcher, but the veteran right-hander can provide depth to a rotation down the stretch. That's probably going to be a sales pitch for the San Diego Padres as they look to move him before July 31. 

Continue for updates. 


Fox Sports: Blue Jays Considering Kennedy

Tuesday, July 28

According to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, the pitching-depleted Toronto Blue Jays are exploring "many options" including trading for Kennedy. 

The Blue Jays, who the lead all of MLB with 528 runs scored, have already made a splash to boost their potent lineup by dealing Jose Reyes and prospects to Colorado for Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins, per MLB Roster Moves

However, the addition of Tulowitzki didn't address the issue of Toronto's rotation which is tied for 24th in ERA and 25th in OPS against. 

The starting pitching market has already been set by the Cincinnati Reds, who received two high-level minor leaguers and one low-level upside arm from Kansas City in exchange for Johnny Cueto. 

Kennedy doesn't explicitly make the Blue Jays rotation better. He's got a 4.58 ERA with 22 home runs allowed in 96.1 innings pitching mostly in Petco Park. Like Cueto, he is also a free agent when the season ends.

As bad as those numbers are, the 30-year-old still misses bats at a good rate (8.3 per nine innings, per Baseball-Reference.com) and may just need a change of scenery. He's certainly not at Cueto's level, but the Blue Jays may feel their offense can offset some third- or fourth-tier starters. 

 

Stats via ESPN.com unless otherwise noted

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Ian Kennedy Trade Rumors: Latest News and Speculation on Padres P

Ian Kennedy isn't a difference-making starting pitcher, but the veteran right-hander can provide depth to a rotation down the stretch. That's probably going to be a sales pitch for the San Diego Padres as they look to move him before July 31. 

Continue for updates. 


Fox Sports: Blue Jays Considering Kennedy

Tuesday, July 28

According to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, the pitching-depleted Toronto Blue Jays are exploring "many options" including trading for Kennedy. 

The Blue Jays, who the lead all of MLB with 528 runs scored, have already made a splash to boost their potent lineup by dealing Jose Reyes and prospects to Colorado for Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins, per MLB Roster Moves

However, the addition of Tulowitzki didn't address the issue of Toronto's rotation which is tied for 24th in ERA and 25th in OPS against. 

The starting pitching market has already been set by the Cincinnati Reds, who received two high-level minor leaguers and one low-level upside arm from Kansas City in exchange for Johnny Cueto. 

Kennedy doesn't explicitly make the Blue Jays rotation better. He's got a 4.58 ERA with 22 home runs allowed in 96.1 innings pitching mostly in Petco Park. Like Cueto, he is also a free agent when the season ends.

As bad as those numbers are, the 30-year-old still misses bats at a good rate (8.3 per nine innings, per Baseball-Reference.com) and may just need a change of scenery. He's certainly not at Cueto's level, but the Blue Jays may feel their offense can offset some third- or fourth-tier starters. 

 

Stats via ESPN.com unless otherwise noted

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Troy Tulowitzki to Blue Jays: Latest Trade Details, Comments and Reaction

The Colorado Rockies will be looking for a new face of the franchise. After nine-plus years with the team, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was reportedly traded early Tuesday morning. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, he was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays. Rosenthal added that Jose Reyes and minor leaguers will be headed to Colorado, while LaTroy Hawkins will join Tulowitzki in Toronto.

Sending Reyes to the Rockies makes sense, since it allows Tulowitzki free rein at shortstop. Although, a middle infield with those two together would've been electric.

Thomas Harding of MLB.com noted Tulowitzki is owed $108 million through the 2020 season, while Reyes is owed $44 million over the next two years. Rosenthal added Tulowitzki would receive $2 million assignment bonus for getting traded, and his contract converts to include a full no-trade clause. 

Rotoworld's Matthew Pouliot joked the rich are getting richer with the addition of a hitter like Tulowitzki:

Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wondered if Toronto is ignoring a key area that needs addressing:

In a way, it's a bit ironic Tulowitzki will be headed north of the border. Blue Jays fans never forgot the fact the team opted for Ricky Romero instead of the All-Star shortstop in the 2005 MLB draft. A decade later, he'll be suiting up for the Jays.

This is a surprising change of heart for the Rockies, though not an entirely unexpected one. According to Rosenthal, the front office started to consider trades for Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez in early November:

The Rockies, under new general manager Jeff Bridich, are not shopping either player or starting a fire sale, sources say. But team officials finally seem to have persuaded owner Dick Monfort to consider all possibilities.

A year ago at this time, Monfort said of Tulowitzki and Gonzalez, “The plan is to keep them. Next year, yes. And my plan is to always keep them.”

Tulowitzki and Gonzalez are incredible talents with two major flaws. Neither one has been able to stay healthy for most of their careers. Tulo, in particular, has only played in more than 100 games once in the last three years and hasn't appeared in 150 since 2009. 

While that salary doesn't necessarily look like as much of an albatross with the way baseball contracts have exploded over the years, it's still not cheap. It's even more expensive if you have to bookmark at least 30 games per season in which he won't play. 

At his best, Tulowitzki has been an MVP-caliber player. A shortstop who can lead the league in average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage with elite defense is the best player in baseball. Despite the nagging injuries, he's never had a problem putting up numbers when healthy. 

In fact, Tulowitzki's worst statistical season as a full-time player was in 2008 (.263/.332/.401). That's basically what Jhonny Peralta hit in 2014 (.263/.336/.443) when he led all MLB shortstops with 5.3 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs

Tulo is a rare, dynamic, game-changing talent who has done things no other shortstop is capable of. There's significant risk for his new team, but the upside is off the charts. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 

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Troy Tulowitzki to Blue Jays: Latest Trade Details, Comments and Reaction

The Colorado Rockies will be looking for a new face of the franchise. After nine-plus years with the team, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was reportedly traded early Tuesday morning. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, he was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays. Rosenthal added that Jose Reyes and minor leaguers will be headed to Colorado, while LaTroy Hawkins will join Tulowitzki in Toronto.

Sending Reyes to the Rockies makes sense, since it allows Tulowitzki free rein at shortstop. Although, a middle infield with those two together would've been electric.

Thomas Harding of MLB.com noted Tulowitzki is owed $108 million through the 2020 season, while Reyes is owed $44 million over the next two years. Rosenthal added Tulowitzki would receive $2 million assignment bonus for getting traded, and his contract converts to include a full no-trade clause. 

Rotoworld's Matthew Pouliot joked the rich are getting richer with the addition of a hitter like Tulowitzki:

Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wondered if Toronto is ignoring a key area that needs addressing:

In a way, it's a bit ironic Tulowitzki will be headed north of the border. Blue Jays fans never forgot the fact the team opted for Ricky Romero instead of the All-Star shortstop in the 2005 MLB draft. A decade later, he'll be suiting up for the Jays.

This is a surprising change of heart for the Rockies, though not an entirely unexpected one. According to Rosenthal, the front office started to consider trades for Tulowitzki and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez in early November:

The Rockies, under new general manager Jeff Bridich, are not shopping either player or starting a fire sale, sources say. But team officials finally seem to have persuaded owner Dick Monfort to consider all possibilities.

A year ago at this time, Monfort said of Tulowitzki and Gonzalez, “The plan is to keep them. Next year, yes. And my plan is to always keep them.”

Tulowitzki and Gonzalez are incredible talents with two major flaws. Neither one has been able to stay healthy for most of their careers. Tulo, in particular, has only played in more than 100 games once in the last three years and hasn't appeared in 150 since 2009. 

While that salary doesn't necessarily look like as much of an albatross with the way baseball contracts have exploded over the years, it's still not cheap. It's even more expensive if you have to bookmark at least 30 games per season in which he won't play. 

At his best, Tulowitzki has been an MVP-caliber player. A shortstop who can lead the league in average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage with elite defense is the best player in baseball. Despite the nagging injuries, he's never had a problem putting up numbers when healthy. 

In fact, Tulowitzki's worst statistical season as a full-time player was in 2008 (.263/.332/.401). That's basically what Jhonny Peralta hit in 2014 (.263/.336/.443) when he led all MLB shortstops with 5.3 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs

Tulo is a rare, dynamic, game-changing talent who has done things no other shortstop is capable of. There's significant risk for his new team, but the upside is off the charts. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Reggie Jackson Denies Pushing Fan Seeking Autograph at Restaurant

Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson was involved in an altercation with a fan who was seeking an autograph in Cooperstown, New York. 

According to Bill Madden of the New York Daily News, citing a video of the incident, Jackson was eating dinner with friends when at least one fan made an attempt to receive multiple autographs. 

"I already signed one," Jackson yelled, "and you go back to the f-----g line and come up again. That's f----d up. Now it's my time to eat dinner with people I seldom see. It's f----d up. Pay for them like everybody else."

Madden goes on to write that the fan said something else to provoke Jackson, at which point the Major League Baseball legend appeared to shove the man. However, he denies there was any physical altercation.

"You cannot touch a person," Jackson said. "It would be wrong to touch a person. Touching someone is not for me. You don't touch people in public. I was upset." 

According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Cooperstown police chief Michael Covert said he was aware of the incident even though a formal complaint had not been filed with his department. 

According to Madden, Jackson claims he did sign some autographs for fans, but this particular person already got one earlier in the day while on the golf course.  

Autograph seekers have been a staple of celebrity culture for a long time. Kansas City Royals Hall of Famer George Brett had a confrontation with a fan in 2013 that resulted in him using foul language in a public place. 

Athletes are human beings who will have good and bad days. Asking someone for an autograph while out to dinner with friends may not be the best time to do it. 

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The alphabet of months: a year of living with multiple sclerosis

My daughter took her first steps on the day I was diagnosed – a juxtaposition so perfect, so trite, so filled with the tacky artifice of real life that I am generally too ashamed to tell anyone about it.

Ebbs and tides in a battle of body and mind: the author, pictured on the beach in Brighton, was diagnosed with the condition 16 months ago. Photo: Laura Hynd for the New Statesman

I write a lot of notes to myself these days, but this one is different. Remember the body. A strange thought. How could I forget it? And yet I do.

For now, the body can often be ignored during the day, all thoughts of it swept away, returning only with the odd twinge or flutter. At night, though, with the radio silent and the lights off, my wife and daughter sleeping, the body is suddenly right there again, its unusual new voice amplified by the absence of other distractions. It is not happy. The feet tingle. The fingers sparkle with random jabs and jolts. The spine hints at sharp alien structures and moaning cavities, and there is something behind the eye that wants to splutter and grouch. As I ease out of bed every morning, it is such a thrill when my feet touch the ground and my legs support me. Again! Another day and it still works! Despite all this, I have not remembered the body. Not this year.

In the early days of an illness there is simply too much more to take in. Last September I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin sheaths coating the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Myelin is wonderful fatty stuff that both protects the nerve and enhances neuro­transmission. MS is like a stripping of the wires. As a result, vital messages muddle themselves, or vanish entirely.

The illness touches the body and the brain. It undermines the bridge between them. The nature of this relationship, not to mention the unpredictability with which MS works its nasty magic, also brings the mind itself into play, however, and the mind can cause all kinds of additional trouble. I should remember the body because physical problems, although frightening, allow me to give this wayward collection of symptoms a kind of shape – and because everything beyond the body involves the tricky intrusion of judgement. I have had MS for a little over a year and this has been the surprising, sometimes embarrassing challenge in my particular case: where does the disease end and where do I begin? What is the illness and what is just my maddening response to it?

Exhibit A: Lhermitte’s sign. Lhermitte’s was one of the first indicators that something was going wrong inside me, but in my first few months with MS I clung to it especially tightly because it had taken on a wider significance. It’s not that it was all-encompassing or even particularly painful. Instead, it had started to feel emblematic.

Lhermitte’s sign, I would explain with a world-weariness I had yet to earn, is an electrical sensation that runs down the spine and into the limbs. It is fairly common in people with MS. What I found interesting about Lhermitte’s, though, is the seemingly unimportant historical detailing. Jean Lhermitte, the French neurologist and neuropsychiatrist who published a report on this particular phenomenon in 1920, was not the first to describe the sensation, and it isn’t actually a sign, either, because it is not visible to an observer. Lhermitte’s sign is not really Lhermitte’s sign, in other words, and that, I would conclude with whatever flourish I could muster, is all you need to know about neurology.

I still get a quiet thrill from such arriviste certainty but I have started to understand that there are other perspectives available. After all, what I could be telling people is this: it took seven months to get an MS diagnosis but in fact my neurologist worked it all out in five minutes. The weeks that followed were just a hunt for the necessary proof.

 

***

 

In February 2014, I arrived at the outpatients’ building of the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton with a variety of strange and alarming symptoms, the most striking of which was an inability to do up the tiny buttons on my baby daughter’s bedclothes after her evening bath. My hands were numb, and they had temporarily ceased playing along when it came to precision work.

My neurologist made me tap my nose with each finger, he whacked my knees and elbows with a little rubber hammer, and he had me walk up and down while he timed my steps. Mostly, though, he listened to me and watched me as I spoke. I told him about a spiteful pain spreading along my limbs, and he spotted and then disregarded nearly invisible things, such as a shaking in my right hand which turned out to be a harmless hereditary tremor passed down through my father’s side of the family. Throughout our chat, I felt deftly, benignly scrutinised. It was all strangely intimate. And then my neurologist stunned me by saying that he had worked out that there was something wrong with my spine, and that it was possibly, very possibly, the first sign of a scary illness I had probably heard of. He was on to me immediately. He had rumbled my body’s secret.

Fear and wonder: I suspect these emotions are close relatives. They are both responses to the extreme, to the extraordinary, and so I found them coiled tightly together as my neurologist explained what MS is and what it could mean. The fear was for my daughter, my wife, my job, my mortgage, but also for the suspicion that, even if MS didn’t unravel me by itself, I would prove unable to resist the temptation to use it as an excuse to retreat from the world. And the wonder? I remember feeling wonder that a quiet, watchful doctor had discovered so much in such a short period of time.

Walk toe-to-heel and tell me how you’re feeling: it turns out that a neurologist is a bit like a highway patrol officer and a bit like a counsellor. From my experience, however, I would argue that they are ultimately detectives. The brain makes sense to these people; I have tried to keep that in mind these past few months as I have attempted to make sense of it myself. What do I choose: Lhermitte’s wayward history or my neurologist’s calming reason? Ambiguity and confounded expectations, or the pleasing certainty of a police procedural?

The very facts have been difficult to navigate. MS today belongs to the fuzzy world of averages and estimates: the average age at the point of diagnosis is 37 – I was 36 – and, according to NHS statistics, it probably affects about 100,000 people in the UK. The global tally is roughly two and a half million, and the illness is far more common in higher latitudes, which is why it is increasingly being linked to a lack of Vitamin D. I’m told by my neurologist that about half of all MS patients can walk unaided 20 years after a diagnosis; the disease most commonly causes problems with balance, muscle movement, co-ordination and fatigue.

A coloured MRI scan of the brain of a 35-year-old MS sufferer. The bright white areas are lesions. Photo: Science Photo Library

MS is degenerative and incurable, but for people like me who have the milder “relapsing-remitting” form, in which the symptoms come on in sudden spikes and then fade or even disappear for periods of time, the drugs that slow the overall progression are continuing to improve at an exciting rate. If I had developed MS 20 years ago, there would have been no treatments available. Two years ago there were eight. Now there are ten, although access to them varies – as does the time it takes to reach a diagnosis. I am extremely lucky and the NHS has been incredible: I am now on one of the latest drugs to be approved.

For patients suffering from the progressive forms, however – where there are few periods of relief to speak of – there are still no treatments. Equally, while there is hope for an overall cure, the sense I get from my doctors is that we remain at the point of trying to understand the true intricacies of the disease. This is a period of rapid progress but we are still heading uphill. As an example, the pills I take twice a day come with a leaflet that contains a page describing how the manufacturer thinks the drug operates. This is where we stand with MS: some things appear to work and we suspect we may even know why.

Public awareness of the disease is also hazy; most people don’t know very much about it. According to a recent poll conducted by the MS Society, 61 per cent of people with MS have been accused of being drunk at some point when they are only exhibiting their symptoms. Speaking of symptoms, 49 per cent of the population are unable to name even one.

A year ago, I couldn’t, either. MS meant vague associations with Richard Pryor, Jacqueline du Pré and President Jed Bartlet from The West Wing, as well as a certain degree of confusion with muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy and any other illness that hides behind a musical two-word name. Bartlet is the element that many people who watched the show can remember – we could rename MS “Bartlet’s disease” – but even then how much do people really recall? “Oh, you have Bartlet’s disease,” a friend of mine will say, their eyes suddenly bright and alert. “What happened to him in the end?”

The answer is that the show’s creators stopped writing about his adventures. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about my own. MS was so much of a mystery to me in the early days that I couldn’t help but be drawn into the murkiness. Lhermitte’s and my desire to see patterns, powered by an ignorance brought on by the fear that if I dug too deep I might learn something I didn’t like, helped foster a suspicion that neurology was a jarring, incomprehensible wonderland where any underlying certainties have been eroded or rendered perverse.

Or rather, it was Wonderland itself. As soon as I told friends that there was something wrong with my brain, they would inevitably start to invoke Alice and her tumble through the earth to a place where clarity had ossified into a maddening kind of literalism, where everything was familiar and yet nothing made much sense any more. Alice in Wonderland is, apparently, a global shorthand for any troubles with the head. Before my illness, I occasionally used to wonder how Lewis Carroll works in translation, when it does not have the staginess of the English language with its trap doors and its trick staircases to support it. I now see that there is something terribly universal at work in Wonderland: a shared fear that stuff might happen to you and then nothing in your life will ever again operate to rules that you can fully understand.

***

Compounding this, I was constantly hearing about a world of possible outcomes, many of them devastating, that I hadn’t yet experienced and might not have to. MS can leave you in a wheelchair; it can render you practically mute through problems with swallowing or word blindness; it can cause psychiatric as well as physical symptoms. The list of the things it can do to you is almost as long as the list of different parts of the body that can be affected. Or it might just ruffle your hair a bit and then step back.

I knew that very bad things could be coming my way but I also felt dangerously, foolishly healthy. Up to a point: sure, most of the scary physical stuff is in a holding pattern, bright lights in the sky, possibly growing closer. Meanwhile, though, the runways are clogged with problems of the brain and phantoms of the mind. When people ask what it’s like to live in a body that’s become unruly, I may not be able to tell them about specific shocks, like a day when my legs gave out at the supermarket, but I realise that I already have a few things to say. I know that you learn to distrust your own body – and then you learn to distrust your own sense of distrust.

So, from my own fiercely limited experience, let me tell you how the newly diagnosed sometimes feel. They feel lofty, as though their illness has given them some wider, more panoramic perspective. They feel perversely special, as they have something rare, even if it is not precious. They feel invulnerable, because something has finally happened to them and maybe it will be the only thing that ever does. They feel lost and compromised, as if their true identity was killed in the instant of diagnosis. They feel grateful whenever something small suggests that they are still the same as everyone else.

Mostly, I think, they do not feel any of these things for very long. Throw in the guilt and difficulty, too, that comes from having to share all of this with those around you. My own family has been surprisingly good about my diagnosis, perhaps because a deeply cherished fatalism has saved some of them from too much in the way of a surprise. After denial, my dad has steadily become an expert. My mum has fought to maintain a cheery distance from the facts that extended to a phone conversation during which it became clear that she thought I had motor neurone disease. They care and they are increasingly watchful, and in most ways it seems that my illness has merely made them more thoroughly themselves.

My wife, meanwhile, is shaken by our precarious new reality but she has dealt with so many of my imagined catastrophes over the past few years that it is easy enough to transition to something real. She probably expected a few lows, but I think the highs have taken their own toll. I am more present now and less able to sleepwalk through the day, as I used to. I have also, through necessity, become a deeply incautious optimist over the past 16 months, and this occasionally tips into something a little bit crazy. Sarah will return home to a dazed baby surrounded by dozens of teetering Lego palaces I’ve been constructing all day. “Oh right,” she’ll say, adopting the briskly jocular tone she probably employed when she worked as a nurse. “You’re manic again.”

Photo: Laura Hynd for the New Statesman

With MS, things rush into the atmosphere and may burn up quickly and it can be frightening to realise that some of these things are not real. One day a few months ago, I was putting together an Ikea bed – manic again – when suddenly I looked up and realised I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I had the parts and I had the instructions, but I had no idea how these two elements related to each other. This feeling persisted for half an hour. Somewhat ironically, I had to go and find a place to lie down while it passed. But when I asked Sarah if this was worrying, she said: “Oh, man, you always get like that when you’re putting stuff together.” She’s right.

How about this, though? During even the simplest of thought excursions the air can thin while a kind of dizzy, high-altitude poetry kicks in. Hunting for a calendar to write down a doctor’s appointment before I forget it, I’ll forget calendars themselves and ask my wife for an “alphabet of months”. Language feels out of reach, individual words become cumbersome and I struggle to put them together neatly. I write about video games for a living and the writing now sometimes feels like translation. I have become clearer as a writer but it is at the expense of speed, of flow and of clear certainty in what I am doing. At least the actual games have helped: little safe houses of simple tasks and wordless logic, places to experiment freely with disaster.

When I look back, it becomes clear that language is at the heart of many of my problems, real and imagined. Even when I’m thinking straight, I am still trying to describe sensations that are internalised and involve aspects of myself that I have never had to come up with names for. MS has given me an inside: it has opened up all the territory of the interior – the skeleton, the organs, the strange connections strung between them. It has made me aware of these places, and it gives me irregular causes to think of them every day. But it has not given me the language to discuss the things that go on there.

Take Lhermitte’s once again. When I first started to feel its effects, I spent a long time trying to classify the particular kind of wide, closely corrugated buzz I got from it. I initially wanted to say it felt orange somehow, or perhaps friendly. A sympathetic jolt! In the end, the thing I should have mentioned – the clinically significant thing – is not how it feels but that it can be reliably triggered by moving my head forward. Voilà: a cervical spine lesion comes into view.

It doesn’t help that even the most physical symptoms of MS mess with the mind a little. Sometimes frighteningly, as when prolonged pain in the intestines tricks me into wondering if perhaps I have bowel cancer hiding behind my MS. Sometimes even amusingly. Over the past few months, every door handle in the world has suddenly moved three centimetres away from me. I will grasp and come up empty as my body’s awareness of its own position – the technical term is “proprioception” – has started to weaken. Equally, a recent relapse meddled with my long-distance vision, separating a single three-dimensional image of the world into overlapping, ­two-dimensional images. The bus I catch each morning, which usually says “Brighton Marina” on the side, one day suddenly read “Britch Mar Marnimar”: a destination I quite like the sound of. I don’t find everything so jolly. I can feel a little trapped as a new invisible symptom flares up and I alone have to try to make sense of it – or at least find the right words before someone else can make sense of it for me. I have to probe but I also have to attain a certain distance and objectivity regarding what I may think is going on. If you want an easy sense of how tricky the relationship between the mind and the brain can get, consider the conceptual nail bomb that is the expression, “It’s all in my head.”

Reading around the subject a little, I have come to realise that language plays such a crucial role with all neurological illnesses because neurology in its own right, despite its SPECT scans and MRIs (and perhaps precisely because its worst mischief plays out in secret, in the dense matter of the brain, in the delicate hidden filaments of the spine), is often, like Wonderland, a thing of words. The real work for the professionals is to pick through the testimony, to find out what is actually going on and to translate the muddle of evidence into the cold terminology of a diagnosis.

 

***

 

Even the professionals can get frustrated. I have recently read Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole: Extraordinary Journeys Into the Human Brain (Atlantic Books), in which the Harvard neurologist Allan Ropper and his co-author, Brian D Burrell, argue that the unique challenge of neurology comes down to the neurologist’s primary source of information – his patients’ sense of their own experiences – being, by the very nature of many neurological illnesses, frequently unreliable.

Ropper believes in listening to the patient “as if to a book on tape”, but his annoyance shows through when the mind compromises the brain. In the middle of the book is a chapter dedicated to “malingering, shamming and hysteria” – to the way in which, besides navigating the confusing world of stroke victims, Parkinson’s sufferers and people with motor neurone disease, he encounters a steady stream of people who think they have problems that they don’t: medically impossible stammers, memory loss that helpfully covers infidelity, paralysis requiring peculiarly fine muscle control in order to exhibit itself.

I think some of my own symptoms over the past year would land me in this ­chapter. There’s no ducking the fact that I have MS and I am definitely not trying to fool anyone, but I had an irritating stammer that went away while I was reading Ropper’s book, and now, whenever word blindness sets in, I try not to give up on the hunt for what I was after quite so easily.

Like my own neurologist, Ropper has managed to make me feel a lot better, and this goes beyond his ability to peel away the real stuff from the imagined. Although he may steal his title from Alice in Wonderland, Ropper’s book presents a different perspective on neurology – one that I have ­encountered before. A brisk anecdotal tour of a ward, a lively tale of adventure, filled with patient histories and puzzling symptoms waiting to be understood, Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole is a detective novel, and despite his flapping white coat and squeaking Crocs, Ropper is Humphrey Bogart, cerebral yet tough and blessed with a terse wit. Beneath a clever stylistic choice, an important point is being made. Neurology is about fighting Wonderland: Dr Ropper is saying that his world makes sense and that although the logic may be hidden, it’s still there somewhere in my world, waiting to be exposed.

The doctor as detective is another cliché, of course, one that has been exploited rather elegantly in TV dramas such as House, which transposes the drawing rooms of Baker Street to the teaching hospital and the MRI tunnel. That said, it has made me realise that the past year may have been harder than it could have been, because initially, when offered a choice, I fell for the wrong cliché – the one stating that diseases of the brain must be relentlessly befuddling to the mind, too; the cliché arguing that neurology is the realm of Alice and the frumious Bandersnatch, and that it is incomprehensible, regardless of the angle from which you approach it. This is certainly true, unfortunately, for some illnesses and some sufferers, and it is magnified horrifically in the absence of a diagnosis, but steadily what I have come to understand is that in the early days of my own neurological illness, I was struggling with the sheer idea of having a neurological illness.

My daughter took her first steps on the day I was diagnosed – a juxtaposition so perfect, so trite, so filled with the tacky artifice of real life that I am generally too ashamed to tell anyone about it. Yet disease is a great educator, and part of that education revolves around ideas that you dismiss as artless or hokey. They are all true, disease whispers: the clanging truisms, the stodgy sentimentality. Life goes on. Live in the moment. Stay positive. The writer in me hesitates before typing these lines. The patient in me could not do without them.

In the year that my daughter has taken her first steps, the year she has mastered rudimentary balance, the pincer grip and the ability to put two words together, I have been learning, too. Clichés, truisms and much more besides. I have been learning how to understand what is going on in my own skull. I am still learning.

Alain de Botton: How to disagree (without starting World War Three)

We might fantasise about universal harmony, but vicious disagreement is not going to go away by itself. We need to learn how to disagree well.

An Occupy protester argues with a counter-demonstrator. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images
An Occupy protester argues with a counter-demonstrator. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

We live in a world saturated with disagreement. People are at odds about pretty much everything, from when to order a taxi or go out to dinner to whether there should be a caliphate; from the kind of orbit the International Space Station should assume or the right way to cook lasagne to whether Hungary is in eastern or central Europe and how long a child should be allowed to play Mine­craft on a Saturday morning.

Though disagreement can be civilised, ­interesting and productive, it is much too frequently a powerful source of misery: we get enraged and bewildered; we are ­appalled at the views of others and feel intensely bothered by them; we feel defeated, hopeless and lonely; we agonise, rehearse the conflict alone in our heads, worry, feel guilty, get upset . . . Disagreement is especially pressing now because of large societal forces that have been building for the past couple of centuries.

 

1. Politics

The developed world is now democratic. We’ve long been moving away from habits of deference and from hierarchies in which most people don’t feel it’s their role to have much of a view about a lot of things.

When everyone can vote it matters a lot what everyone thinks. Having opinions becomes more than a luxury; indeed, it’s a necessity in a well-functioning democracy. One needs to have opinions about everything from who should rule to where the nuclear power stations should be positioned. But although we are encouraged to have opinions, little attention is paid to what we do when – as constantly seems to be the case – we find that these opinions clash with those of our fellow citizens.

 

2. Relationships of equality

To ask any couple what they disagree about is one of the more fascinating and consoling exercises: we realise we are not alone.

At the same time, disagreement in relationships feels more troubling than in the past, because low expectations once made contentions both routine and in line with aspirations. One was less disturbed by disagreements because the idea of a relationship of total agreement, sympathy and mutuality wasn’t on the cards – it is a very recent invention, dating back to (at best) the mid-18th century.

There is also the issue of hierarchy. For most of history, we lived in patriarchies: it was the men who settled disagreements within families. Now there’s a profound (but historically still quite novel) sense of equality, between couples and also with children. We trust that couples should talk through their beliefs, they should know and be interested in, and respect, each other’s minds. No one can be the boss in any particular area. This extends to children: children are taken to be fonts of spontaneous insight and novel perspective. Their opinions deserve to be listened to as well. So concerned are we to ensure that children’s egos are not prematurely crushed, we encourage them to have opinions about all aspects of life. It can, as a result, be extremely hard to come to a decision about anything, including what to have for dinner.

The democratic cacophony and chaos within the family mirror those in the political world beyond. No longer able to govern hierarchically, we are not yet able to reach understanding and manage disagreement. This is the moment we are at.

 

3. Technology

Technology has made disagreement more vivid. We are very readily brought into contact with other people’s abrasive attitudes – which, until recently, would never have been available for us to encounter.

If you follow a BBC report on a speech given by the leader of the opposition (for instance) you are alerted to the fact that someone by the name of @Cockshield considers him to be an “ugly socialist maggot!” and you get exposure to the opinion of commenters saying such things as: “He does not care about Britain, he cares about his career and making money, he’s in it for four or five years if he wins and after that he gets a nice big pay cheque and an early retirement and a luxury life that is his real goal.”

In the past, the capacity to express disagreement was curtailed by a fear of laying oneself open to retaliation from the person one disagreed with. If one called someone else a “thieving, lying worthless piece of shit”, one would expect to be condemned by the community and possibly challenged to a duel. Now, one can throw out sentences like this on social media at zero cost and in total anonymity.

In addition, there is a feeling that being verbally abused online isn’t such a problem. One mustn’t be thin-skinned; one should be able to put up with the nasty comments of others. While our societies are very alive to certain forms of racism and misogyny, they are still remarkably sanguine about the ordinary forms of abuse that are traded on social media every minute.

We do not, as a society, take “being offended” very seriously – and therefore offence is rife.

Technology has also generated stronger opinions; it has emboldened people whose opinions might previously have been hedged by a doubt about whether anyone else agreed, by introducing them to people who agree with them and strengthen their convictions. Someone with a passing, slightly embarrassed sense that Pluto should be recategorised as a planet can now join multiple websites full of people who think of little else. The same applies to politics, pornography, religion and so on. If you are a Marxist but also a Christian fundamentalist, you can inhabit a corner of the online universe in which it is taken for granted that this is the only intelligent way to see the world. So, thanks to technology, we are exposed to the uninhibited disagreements of other people – and also the emboldening reassurance of fellow tribal devotees. In short, technology polarises and inflames.

 

****

Still, rather than despair, we must accept that disagreement will be constant and ubiquitous. We might fantasise about universal harmony, about reason prevailing spontaneously and about everyone being sweetly tolerant. But vicious disagreement is not going to go away by itself.

We need to learn how to disagree well, how to navigate through a life in which we will inevitably come into conflict with many people over expectations, demands, hopes, convictions, priorities and attitudes. We need to deal well with disagreement so we can cope better in our own lives and make our own contributions (however modest) to a saner society.

 

Helpful moves

Don’t import energy from elsewhere into your disagreements.

Many of our disagreements are broadly about intellectual matters: the future of the euro, immigration, debt, censorship, education . . . You might find yourself taking a passionate stand on the Peruvian economy, the importance of George Orwell, whether the Chinese reached America in the 15th century, the status of women in 18th-century France . . . (everyone’s list is unique). These are not inherently unworthy topics – but the intensity that gets invested in them can be disproportionate to what is really at stake. In cooler moments you might wonder why you get so worked up about them.

It is here we encounter the phenomenon of Energy Imported from Elsewhere: in this dynamic, the fuel for a disagreement is not coming purely from the topic under debate. The intensity comes from things going on elsewhere in your life. At the time we don’t realise that this is what is going on – which makes it very hard to calm a disagreement.

Energy gets imported in various ways. Sometimes we are disagreeing with people who are dead or gone. The present disagreement is a proxy for an issue from the past.

You could never get your father to see the merits of your career choice, so you try to convince him by getting worked up with the person sitting next to you at dinner.

There was an acquaintance at college whose political ideas irritated you; you are always trying to prove him wrong by lecturing strangers at drinks parties.

Your ex-partner was always going on at you for being selfish; now you try to win the argument against her by mocking “bleeding hearts” to anyone who will listen.

Sometimes frustrated sexual desire gets channelled into disagreement. There’s someone you are attracted to (though you might be reluctant to admit it); you find her exciting – but she doesn’t seem much interested in you. Disagreement offers a way of making contact; you contradict her, you make her acknowledge the importance of a certain fact; you rather forcibly try to dislodge one of her pet theories. The energy isn’t coming just from the overt topic: it’s borrowed from thwarted desire.

In theory, we are not meant to like strong disagreement – situations in which we tell ourselves that the other person is very, very wrong in their opinion.

But there’s a dark truth: instead of feeling uncomfortable, sometimes we even like it very much. Creating a more civilised world may mean forgoing some of the pleasures of violent disagreement.

Alain de Botton is the author of “Religion for Atheists” (Penguin)

Craig Sager Tells the Story of Being on the Field When Hank Aaron Hit No. 715

In 1974 when I was 22 years old, I was working for $95 a week at WSPB, which was an Atlanta Braves-affiliated AM radio station in Sarasota, Florida. Fresh out of Northwestern University, I was the news director at the station and my main bread and butter was to handle updates during the morning and afternoon drive times.

Sarasota in 1974 was a city of 46,459 people, the 73rd-largest market in the country and sixth-largest in Florida, according to Arbitron Ratings. To supplement my meager salary, I was a bartender at Big Daddy's on St. Armand's Circle and a sailing instructor at nearby Lido Beach.

I was a big sports fan, and I had been closely monitoring Hank Aaron's home run totals since I was a kid playing on the sandlot adjacent to the Foundry and Machine Company in Batavia, Illinois. Hitting tennis balls above the second-story windows became the passion for our "home run derbies" between Steve Peterson ("Peat Moss"), Greg Bradley, John Clark, Jim Freedlund, the Hubbard twins (Dan and Don), the Myer brothers (Stan and Steve), Greg Willard and myself.

Twisting our right foot a couple of times to dig our heels in the dirt or rotating our fingers continually on the barrel of the bat, we mimicked the great home run hitters of our generation: Aaron of the Milwaukee Braves and Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs. The end of the 1962 season when I was 11 years old found Banks with an edge over Aaron in career home runs, 335-298.

Aaron and Banks were our home run idols, but in our wildest imagination we couldn't fathom either one—or anyone else for that matter—ever approaching the unreachable record of 714 home runs set by the legendary Babe Ruth on May 25, 1935. Who could ever top that mark? You would have to hit 35 home runs a year for 20 years and you'd still be 14 short. How many players last 20 years in the majors, let alone hit 35 home runs in each of those years?

It was impossible; it would never happen. So we thought.

Banks retired during the 1971 season with 512 home runs, while Aaron kept hammerin' home run after home run, no doubt helped by the altitude of Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium, which at more than 1,000 feet above sea level was the highest park in the major leagues at the time. Although near 40 years old, Aaron was enjoying a very productive stretch of his career, and in the 1973 season he finished with 40 home runs, putting him at 713 for his career.

He was one swing away from the unthinkable...and that's all it took.

Aaron equaled Ruth's record on Opening Day, April 4, 1974, in Cincinnati, hitting a homer off a 3-1 pitch from the Reds' Jack Billingham. The Braves then wanted to "rest" Aaron so he could break the record at home. However, baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn had other ideas and required the Braves to play Aaron at least once more in their three-game set in Cincy. Hank played the series finale, going 0-for-3. So the stage was set for him to break Ruth's record in Atlanta on the next day: Monday, the 8th of April, against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I desperately felt the urge and need to be in Atlanta at the stadium for the record-breaker. I had a couple of issues though. My boss at the station, Cliff Lansen, told me I would be fired if I was not back in time for my shift on Tuesday.

But that was only one of my problems. It was expected to be cold and rainy in Atlanta, and there was talk the game would be postponed. Finally, even if I made it up to Fulton County Stadium and the weather was perfect, I would still need the 40-year-old Aaron to hit the big one on that day.

Back in the early '70s, there were two airlines that flew puddle jumpers from the Sarasota-Bradenton airport to Atlanta: National and Eastern, neither of which exists today. Eastern had a flight that could get me into Atlanta in time for the Monday game after my afternoon drive-time shift, and it also had an early-bird special 5 a.m. flight Tuesday morning that could get me back to Sarasota for morning drive.

The game was so big that NBC Sports carried it live nationally, which was unheard of in those days. The legendary Curt Gowdy was at the mic. An extra press box had been constructed along the right-field line to help seat the more than 300 reporters. The photographers were located on the first-base side because Hank was a right-handed pull hitter, and if he was going to hit it out, chances were it would be to left field or left center. Many of the writers were high up in the press box behind home plate. I had a last-minute credential, which left me with one place where I could stand, and that was in the third-base photographers' well.

Before the game started, as I got into the stadium, I made it a practice to introduce myself to a bunch of people around home plate. I brought my own tape recorder and did interviews with Hank's parents, Herbert and Estella; his first manager, Charlie Grimm; Braves chairman Bill Bartholomay; entertainers Sammy Davis Jr. and Pearl Bailey; as well as Aaron himself. He told me, "I just want to thank all my friends for being here. I'm just hoping this thing will get over with tonight." 

I recorded my own rudimentary play-by-play as the game was going on. Hank came up in the second inning and watched the Dodgers' Al Downing throw five pitches, drawing a base on balls. Aaron came up for the second time in the fourth inning. There was one on, a 1-0 count...the crowd of 53,775 people was on its feet cheering, and then...

The pitch was released by Al Downing, the bat was swung by Hank Aaron, and the stillness of the cool night air was shattered by a crackling explosion that reversed the field and launched the ball over the left-centerfield fence for home run No. 715. Hank Aaron had become baseball's all-time home run king!

Feeling the magnitude of the moment, I RAN OUT ONTO THE FIELD without thinking and met Aaron as he rounded the bases between third base and home. (Editor's note: Sager enters the picture in his trench coat at the one-minute mark of the video below.)

I captured history with recordings from his breathless teammate Tom House ("Here's the ball, Henry, here's the ball"), his crying mother ("I knew he'd do it...ohhhh...I knew he'd do it") and an emotionally spent Aaron ("Thank you...thank you...thank you...I just thank God it's all over").

Once the official ceremony to honor the accomplishment had taken place, I was standing next to Aaron, still recording as he answered questions. The TV people were yelling at me to get out of the shot because when they cut to Hank I was right there with him!

Shortly after the game resumed, the telephone rang in the dugout, President Richard M. Nixon wanted to congratulate Aaron on the historic mark, but he was told Aaron could not come to the phone right then because he was playing in the outfield. Between innings, when Aaron was able to return the call, he told the president, "It was a long struggle, but I finally made it."

After the ceremony, the game resumed and I eventually went back to my hotel. This was in the days before cell phones and social media. I got up the next morning and made my 5 a.m. flight back to Sarasota and morning drive time. When I arrived, there was bedlam. The station aired my play-by-play and the interviews, and the station manager, Lansen, of course took all the credit for putting me on "assignment" in Atlanta.

Even better was the reaction I got from people like my sister Candy, who was watching at a local pizzeria, and my Northwestern buddies, who were among the more than 35 million watching on television.

That summer I went to the MLB All-Star Game in Pittsburgh and met up with Hank with the express purpose of giving him a copy of the tape with my call, but most importantly the interviews as well. At first Aaron thought I was seeking an autograph, and he showed little interest in listening.

But then the historic moment and unique surroundings came back to him, and he blurted out, "You're the kid with the trench coat and tape recorder." And after listening to the tapes for the first time, he said they should be sent to the Hall of Fame, which is where they are now, 41 years later. In return for the tapes, I was given a lifetime pass to Cooperstown. I had made the Hall of Fame at age 22!

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

OhGizmo! Review: The Puffit 2, A Discreet Personal Vaporizer

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Continuing on our emerging column of vaporizer reviews, today we’ll be taking a look at the Puffit 2. It’s a personal vaporizer made to look like an asthma inhaler, in the hopes that your vaping experience will be more discreet and private. The Puffit 2 is meant for stealth vaping, when it’s socially inappropriate to light up and when other vaporizers might give you away. It’s the second generation Puffit, with our first review right here. We’ve been playing around with it for the past couple of weeks, and we’ll give you our impressions in this article. But up here in the first paragraph, what’s the quick verdict: so much better!

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The Hardware
The Puffit 2 is 20% smaller than the Puffit 1, and is now legitimately the size of an actual asthma inhaler. It’s got a new modular design, which allows for a lot of added functionality. For one, the inner core is removable, which lets you change the outer shell at will. The company is experimenting with the release of customizable shell design options for it, but for now it’s just black or blue. But the modular aspect of the device doesn’t end there. The inner core separates into two elements, the battery and the heating chamber. Not only does the new battery have 75% more capacity than the previous, it being detachable means you can carry a spare one with you (sold separately) and keep on vaping even when the first runs out.

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Adding to the benefits of modularity, there are plans to release an inexpensive (~$20) e-juice module, which will let you use the Puffit 2 with the nicotine ‘juices’ that you’re seeing in vape shops all over the place (really just propylene glycol with flavours and nicotine). There are even plans for a concentrate module that will better vaporize those than the standard heating chamber currently found on the device, and for a glass adapter that will let you use the Puffit 2 with a water bong.

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Now, the build of the inner core feels solid, and the two pieces lock together solidly. This inspires confidence in the device’s craftsmanship and durability. The heating chamber itself has been redesigned for more functionality and performance. While it has the ability to handle concentrates, as mentioned, it’s still more of a dry herb vaporizer. (We didn’t test concentrates so we won’t be making any comments on its performance in that arena) It has a hinged opening, held shut with a strong magnet. There’s a hole with a metal screen at the bottom, through which your vapours escape on their way to your lungs. Getting material in and out of it is simple and easy.

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A new alloy on the chamber makes for better conductivity, so that does mean this is a conductive vaporizer (as opposed to a convective one). As such, you will get better results by really packing the chamber so that more material makes contact with the walls. The volume of the chamber however is fairly small, maybe 1cc or 2cc, so you won’t be using that much herbs in each session.

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There’s a temperature setting button on the front of the heating chamber, with small LEDs indicating the current temp. You can use that to check the battery level as well, but the nice thing is that once the inner core is inserted in the shell, you don’t see the lights at all, which adds to its stealthiness. Even more impressive is the new haptic feedback system. In other words, the darn thing vibrates to indicate you what’s going on, rather than flashing some conspicuous LEDs, alerting the world that your asthma inhaler might be something else. It’s a very cool idea and works really well.

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The Performance
So how does it work? Really well, actually! You start a session by filling the heating chamber with dry herbs, packed tightly. You then insert the core into the shell and press down for a few seconds. It will vibrate to indicate it’s starting the process, then do a “heartbeat” double vibrate every few seconds to indicate that it’s still heating. When it’s reached the target them, you’ll feel two long vibrations and you’re ready to take a hit. For that, simply breathe in through the mouthpiece as you would an asthma inhaler. Know that the first cycle doesn’t seem to produce much vapour. However if you wait 12 seconds, you can press the core again and start a new heating round. The heating process won’t last as long, since the chamber will already be at temp, but by the end of the second heating cycle, you start seeing good vapour come out.

This vapour isn’t super thick, however it is very, very efficacious. The extraction process seems to be efficient, managing to achieve its effects with no trouble. Better still, the flavour is great. After about three or four cycles, you should open up the chamber and stir the herbs with the included metal stick. You can then keep going for about four more cycles before you start tasting the herbs being a little toasted. You can do a final stir and you’ll still get some effect for a couple more cycles, but after the 10th or 12th cycle, you’re reaching the end of the line.

The battery seems to last for about 50 cycles after a full charge, which is enough to fill up and empty the chamber about 4 times. And even when the battery is running low, it still reaches full temp and you get the full effect.

Conclusion
All in all, we have to say we’re really impressed with the Puffit 2, and the improvements that have been made. It’s smaller, has a better and longer lasting battery, it’s modular (which allows for tons of extra functionality), it’s got haptic feedback, it’s super discreet… What’s not to like? For $99, you get a very convenient and portable device that lets you smoke up just about anywhere. It works well, and has the potential to expand and become even more useful is all kinds of different settings. From OhGizmo, it gets two thumbs up.

PROS
+ Modular design
+ Haptic feedback
+ Larger battery and smaller footprint than predecessor
+ Super discreet

CONS
– Isn’t as good with concentrates, allegedly

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Private education wins higher salaries for young graduates

Three and a half years after finishing university, graduates who attended private schools earn an average of 7 per cent more per year than graduates who went to state school.

A teacher writes on a whiteboard. Photo: Getty
Why does private schooling continue to exert an influence on graduates’ earnings? Photo: Getty

University is often seen as a route to social mobility, providing the chance for all students to get higher status and better paid jobs no matter what kind of school they went to. But in our new research we found that three and a half years after finishing university, graduates who attended private schools earn an average of 7 per cent more per year than graduates who went to state school. This is even if we compared those who went to the same universities to study the same subjects and who received the same degree class.

Previous research has suggested that education plays an important role in “levelling the playing field” between poor and rich students. This has prompted substantial efforts by the government to improve the school and university results of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to achieve greater levels of social mobility.

Implicit in these policies is the assumption that once a person has graduated from university, their family background and the school they went to will cease to impact on how much they earn, or that the link will at least be reduced. But our new research proves that there is actually a strong relationship between the kind of schools graduates attended and their success in the labour market.

£1,500 premium

Our work relies on data from a cohort of British graduates who studied full-time for a first degree and graduated from a UK higher education institution in 2006-7. We have measures of earnings six months after graduation as part of the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey and then for a subset of the cohort some three and a half years after graduation.

We found that graduates who attended a private school went on to earn significantly more than graduates who went to state schools. As might be expected, some of the higher earnings of graduates who attended private schools is down to the fact that they have better A-level grades and go on to attend more prestigious universities and study subjects which tend to be more highly rewarded.

But even when we accounted for differences in the universities attended, subjects studied and the class of degree achieved, those who went to private school still earn 7 per cent more, on average, than their state-educated contemporaries.

Our previous work found that graduates who attended private schools are more likely to enter higher status and higher paying occupations. But even when we allowed for differences in choice of occupation amongst our sample, we still found that privately educated graduates earn 6 per cent more, on average, than their state-educated peers. This is equivalent to around £1,500 a year in our data.

Networks and fuller CVs

So why does private schooling continue to exert an influence on graduates’ earnings? And why does higher education not level the playing field? Our research cannot provide definitive answers to these questions but there are a number of possible explanations.

It may be that private schools inculcate attitudes, aspirations or other soft skills that help the graduate in the labour market and which could help to explain their higher earnings. Alternatively, it may be that private schools provide opportunities to develop strong personal networks that then help the graduate succeed in the world of work.

Or perhaps families that invest in private schooling also invest in other aspects of their children’s lives that then benefit these children in their early careers. For example, families may spend money on tutors, music lessons, art trips and foreign travel, which could provide additional skills that look good on a CV and prove useful in the labour market.

Since we do not have data on all these aspects of parental inputs, we haven’t been able to separate out their effects on the relationship between private schooling and subsequent earnings. Future research might usefully focus on distinguishing between these alternative explanations for why the influence of family background lingers long beyond graduation.

Claire Crawford receives funding for her research from a range of government departments, research councils, charitable trusts and other organisations, including the Economic and Social Research Council, the Nuffield Foundation, the Department for Education, Universities UK, the Education Endowment Foundation and the Sutton Trust. All of her research is independent and the views expressed in this article are entirely her own. Anna Vignoles receives funding from The Nuffield  Foundation. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.The Conversation

Monrovia, the city at the heart of the ebola outbreak

At least 200 health workers have been infected with ebola and 90 have died, according to the latest government figures, yet pay is modest. Last week they staged a two-day strike. 

Desperate: Liberian health workers at the NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres Ebola treatment centre in Monrovia, 18 October. Photo: Getty
Desperate: Liberian health workers at the NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres Ebola treatment centre in Monrovia, 18 October. Photo: Getty

Monrovia is a city where ambulances rush back and forth and burial teams in white hazmat protective suits have become so commonplace as to arouse no more curiosity. As the clock struck midnight on 13 October, health workers planned to abandon their posts at hospitals and ebola treatment units in the Liberian capital in a pay protest. Patients infected with the deadly haemorrhagic fever and vomiting, those who were “toileting” and bleeding, would be left alone in bed without food or care.

With close to 500 infected people in treatment centres, and almost three times as many yet to access care, the strike threatened to derail efforts to contain the crisis in Monrovia, now the centre of the ebola outbreak in West Africa. Given the huge risks and sacrifices endured by local medical staff, it is not hard to understand their anger.

At least 200 health workers have been infected with ebola and 90 have died, according to the latest government figures. Yet pay is modest.

At Island Clinic, a recently refurbished hospital that had been converted by the World Health Organisation into an ebola clinic, workers said they did not have contracts and that the government was skimping on hazard pay. Nurses and other staff claimed they had been promised $750 a month, and that the government was now offering them $435.

Workers elsewhere told similar stories. “They [the patients] are our people – we have to save their lives – but the government is not treating us fair,” said Matilda Weah, a 30-year-old nurse who had worked at Redemption Hospital, a government facility where five nurses and a doctor died after being infected.

In the end, the industrial action was called off, but only after a last-minute appeal from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as well as desperate negotiations between the government and the workers’ union leadership. Nurse Weah said it was concern for the patients, many of whom would have died, that persuaded them not to strike.

“When you see how sick they are, you cannot leave them like that,” she said.

Monrovia has teetered on the edge of chaos in these past few months. Desperate families transported loved ones in yellow taxis to hospitals because none of the city’s dozen or so ambulances was able to pick them up. Some died in the streets outside treatment centres even before being admitted. Others were turned away, returning home to infect relatives.

Schools were shut. The economy ground to a halt. Work stalled on the Mount Coffee hydropower plant, slowly being reconstructed by Norwegians; one of the darkest cities in the world could remain so for years to come.

Chinese workers building roads across the country were suddenly nowhere to be seen. Other foreigners –NGO workers, oil and mining company staff – scrambled for flights out. Coming the other way were specialists from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and WHO and USAID’s disaster assistance response team, with their safari waistcoats and caps.

US troops and military personnel are also trickling in as part of Operation United Assistance, announced by President Barack Obama last month. Their mandate is to build 17 ebola treatment units across the country, though these will not be staffed by Americans.

Many people welcome the assistance but some are suspicious of the motives of the US, which is widely seen as pulling the political and economic strings in Liberia. At a recent press conference, the US ambassador, Deborah Malac, felt compelled to assure people that US troops were not here to overthrow the government.

“They are here to provide additional heft to the effort that is already ongoing to fight ebola, period,” she said.

That fight remains a big one. Outside a former cholera clinic that has been turned into an ebola treatment centre sat five people: three men in their thirties, a young woman and a five-year-old boy. They had survived the virus and were waiting to go home.

“It was hell in there,” said one man, who wished to go unnamed because of the stigma associated with the disease. “We are traumatised. People were dying all around us.”

A jolly nurse who brought food to them while they were sick arrived to greet them. This was the first time they had seen her face; before, she was merely a figure in a mask. They thanked her for her help.

Yet the boy, who had lost his parents to ebola, was not on his way home but off to a centre built to care for some of the thousands of orphans who are expected to be created by this deadly outbreak. 

Damian Barr: Why do so many gay men hate camp men?

“Masc only”, “Str8 acting”, “Not into camp”. Strain your thumbs swiping Grindr and you’ll see a depressing amount of this prejudice. You’d think that, having been oppressed, we’d be more enlightened. 

Image problem: gay or straight, we are all actors. Image by Pacifico Silano, 'Male Fantasy' series
Image problem: gay or straight, we are all actors. Image by Pacifico Silano, 'Male Fantasy' series

Violence has a way of crackling the air just before it erupts. Like with thunder, you feel it before you hear it. An oppressive atmospheric weight. Gay men develop a sixth sense for it. Walking home along Brighton seafront around midnight about a decade ago, I lowered my head passing a knot of trackie-suited loud-mouthed lads. I knew I was going to have to run and that if I didn’t run fast enough I was going to have to fight. And if I didn’t fight hard enough?

The seafront was almost empty, so I could sprint properly. After what felt like for ever I dared to look back. They were gaining. Was that a knife? I felt ashamed for not turning and fighting. I felt desperate to get home to my boyfriend. I thought of all the times I’ve had to run. I remembered that scene in Torch Song Trilogy where Harvey Fierstein and Matthew Broderick finally dare to move in together and one of them pops out to get a bottle of champagne to celebrate but doesn’t make it back. Would I make it home?

I did. Just. I slammed the front door and fell back against it, panting. Milliseconds behind, the gang slammed into it, pounding the wood, shouting “poof” and “queer” and all the old names. Shaking, I hauled myself upstairs. I didn’t bother calling the police because back then it wasn’t worth it. Next day I told my then boss, who blurted: “But you don’t look gay!” As the day wore on, this response recurred, often accompanied by a sympathetic side-head or a cup of what passed for tea. They were trying to be nice: so why did I feel hurt?

What those sympathetic, mostly female, colleagues were really saying was: “You don’t look gay . . . so you didn’t deserve to be chased.” The implication being that a more obviously gay man would be fair game. It’s the short skirt argument. It’s blaming the victim. It’s where homophobia and misogyny meet and metastasise: men who refuse to perform masculinity and women who refuse to be corseted by femininity deserve to be punished. Much progress has been made in the decade since I last ran for my life but the twin forces of homophobia and misogyny are far from defeated. Now we have slut-shaming and the bullying to death of gay teens on social media. We have Emma Watson getting rape threats for speaking about feminism at the UN, and Women Against Feminism, and the rise of the straight-acting gay man – the most homophobic man there is.

“Masc only”, “Str8 acting” and “Not into camp”. Strain your thumbs swiping Grindr, the gay dating app, and you’ll see a depressing amount of this prejudice. You’d think that, having been oppressed, we’d be more enlightened. The punishment on Grindr is to click BLOCK so the offending profile disappears. The camp man becomes the invisible man. He is relegated to a minority within a minority. Like Jewish guards in the ghetto, we now police one another – we chase ourselves late at night.

I am a white, English-speaking, middle-class man. More accurately, I am white as only a Scottish man can be: white like the armpit of a cavefish (if fish had arms). I am English-speaking but my aforesaid Scottishness affords me bonus cultural prestige, especially as my baritone burr is non-threatening and heather-scented. I am middle-class now but wasn’t always so – I am the first, and so far the only, person in my family to go to university. I was born a man and haven’t felt the need to change that. I am, for the moment, able-bodied. I have basically won the lottery of life. Except for my gayness. If you work in “the media” this can be a bonus and it’s no accident that I’ve made a place for myself in an ecosystem where I can not just survive, but thrive.

There is a growing resistance to the straight-acting gay man. “Masc” is just another mask and the straight-acting gay man is just that – an actor. The bromosexual chooses his clothes as carefully as any drag queen; his mannerisms are as studied, his voice as carefully modulated. He is trying to pass. But so is the straight man. It’s just that over centuries all his careful nurturing has been naturalised. He is the norm but he is not natural.

All men and women are oppressed by straight male masculinity but we are not all oppressed equally. Some of us are chasing and some of us are chased, but we are all running. It’s time to stop.

Damian Barr’s memoir “Maggie and Me” is published by Bloomsbury (£7.99)

Alain de Botton: The terrible poignancy of the thinning pate

Baldness has been spun as synonymous with exaggerated potency, but the bald know that, far from having the vigour of a skinhead, most of them look like nothing so much as a fragile librarian.

Image: Chris Fraser Smith/Gallery Stock
Image: Chris Fraser Smith/Gallery Stock

Going bald as a man is a matter for public ridicule. Men are not meant to be vain; therefore, if they lose their hair, any sign that they mind their new appearance is proof that they are not deserving of pity. There is no figure more absurd than the man who goes in for the combover. “Just shave it off” is the mantra – and examples of implausibly beautiful bald men are typically wheeled in to support it, as though one would inevitably look like Sean Connery just by the act of shaving.

Baldness has been spun by its supporters as synonymous with exaggerated potency (as if lust and extra doses of manhood had pushed all one’s follicles out), but the bald know that, far from having the vigour of a skinhead, most of them look like nothing so much as a fragile librarian.

We are trained to see the bathos, not the terrible poignancy. At the same time – and in obvious contradiction – society likes a full male head of hair very much. Bald politicians are notoriously bad at winning elections. Hair is virile and gets you more money. So it’s entirely logical that one should be bothered about losing it.

For those unhappy with their locks, pictures are painful. Each new image brings more bad news. The worries are not trivial because personal appearance is a major currency of status. In a world where we are constantly interacting with strangers (who have little to go on but our bodies), nice treatment goes to the hairiest first.

To face the challenges of being bald, we need to develop a particular kind of wisdom. First, we should let our deficiencies feed our love of beauty. Appreciation tends to be stimulated by lack. When Baudelaire wrote his ode “La Chevelure” (“hair”), his praise was all the more intense, his love all the more poignant, because he was rapidly balding, much to his distress.

O fleecy hair, falling in curls to
   the shoulders!
O black locks! O perfume laden
   with nonchalance!
Ecstasy! To people the dark
   alcove tonight
With memories sleeping in that
   thick head of hair.
I would like to shake it in the air
   like a scarf!

It is the bald who are best placed to appreciate hair (and beauty in general), something the beautiful should surely bear in mind when they are considering upon whom to bestow their favours. The bald will – among other things – simply be more grateful.

It brings one to the crux of the issue. Anxiety around baldness is really about a fear of lovelessness and loneliness. But the good news for the bald is that you can’t assume you can know what everyone thinks of your looks. There will be exceptions, people who actually rather like the way you appear, even where it’s not perfect. The hotel receptionist might be enchanted by one’s pate or be deeply moved by the stubble at the sides.

The reason is simple. We learn about love from our parents; they provide the template for affection that we go on to apply to others when we are grown up. And fortunately for the ugly among us, many parents who are kind and loving are also bald. This means that many people, even very attractive ones, grow up predisposed to think very generously of not-so-perfect heads. Their owners were the ones who first looked after them and taught them about love: and they are the physical types with whom they may continue to associate comfort, safety and tenderness.

We should follow the comic flow of envy and frustration around baldness. The bald, affluent guy in first class deeply envies the thick locks of the cabin steward. The president or CEO is terrified of his receding hairline. This is interestingly humbling, levelling and democratic. Given the stubborn iniquities of class, how liberating that there should also be – alongside the feudal castes of money and power – another class system based on looks, in which the hierarchy is rearranged and a new elite established, based simply on the productivity of one’s follicles.

However unfair the distribution of hair is today, time will eventually bring justice. No one ends up with too much hair; it’s just a question of waiting. For some (like the author), disenchantment may start at 20. For others, it may take another 40 years. But it will happen for sure.

Rather than saying appearance doesn’t matter, which is trying to hold back the ocean, we should, as a society, get better at noticing the less obvious but still real beauties of certain bald types. The trouble with our culture is not so much that we love appearances but that we focus on too narrow a range of features and qualities.

Take action. Praise someone’s august forehead; note the melancholy sweetness of their eyes beneath that endless dome. Admire an expression of kindly acceptance; point out
serenity, a trusting face, a candid nose . . .

There are so many good and attractive things we can see in people’s faces when we are alert to different types of hairless beauty. And hopefully someone, somewhere, will one day do the same for us. 

OhGizmo! Review: The ZEUS Thunder Vaporizer Pen

zeus-thunder-pen-vape-04

Vaporizers are all the rage these days, so we were excited to find out that ZEUS Arsenal was getting in on the action with the Thunder Pen Vape. It’s a relatively small vaping device with a cool PVD coating that’s super abrasion resistant. It measures around 6 inches in length with the wax tank attached, and about half an inch wide. Aside from being able to vaporize oils, waxes, concentrates and loose leaf herbs, it’s capable of handling propylene glycol “juices”, which turns it into a regular e-cig. That’s some pretty cool versatility. The battery is 650 mAh, which isn’t as large as some of its competitors but still lasts for a good 300-400 puffs. We’ve tested the unit for the last few weeks, and it’s quickly become our favourite way of consuming our consumables.

Read on for our full impressions.

The Hardware
Our review package contained the battery, as well as a tank for oil/”juice”, one for wax, and one for dry herbs. There was a spatula for various purposes, as well as the charger cables and instructions. The craftsmanship on the Thunder Pen Vape is amazing. The PVD coating feels cool and solid, and does resist the kinds of scratches you’d expect to see when carrying it in your pocket with your keys or loose change. That’s in sharp contrast with the rubberized finish on a lot of its competitors’ offerings. The oil tank contained two wicks, which would bring the liquids up to the heating element, while the wax tank featured a rather massive coil at the bottom of a small funnel-like opening.

The Performance
As an e-cig, we were pleased but not blown away. For anyone who’s used vape pens before, you should know there’s no variable voltage on this unit, nor do we know exactly the resistance figure so we can’t say if it’s a sub-ohm vape. Most likely not. The vapour quality however was excellent, but not exactly plentiful. Also, the tank featured one coil and a fiberglass wick, which (as any vaping enthusiast will tell you) ends up tasting a little off after prolonged use. We prefer wickless atomizers, but for the price and overall functionality that the Thunder offers, this is a small sacrifice.

As a wax vaporizer however, the Thunder excelled. It was a little awkward trying to get sticky wax directly onto the heating coil, but once there, performance was amazing. Vapour quality was top-notch, rich and consistent. Puff after puff produced the same results, up until the moment the battery died. We were worried upon finding out that it’s a 650 mAh battery in light of the 1,300+ mAh offerings from its competitors, but we found that it uses what capacity it has quite efficiently and rarely found ourselves lacking.

As an herb vaporizer, the Thunder was once again great. Loading and unloading the herbs was simple and quick, while the vapour produced was tasty and thick. We don’t know what temperature the vaporization process happens at, which is one of our only gripes, but we can’t say this was a big issue.

Conclusion
Overall we are more than happy with the Thunder Vape Pen from ZEUS Arsenal. From the packaging to the craftsmanship of the products themselves, you can see this is quality stuff and not some “Made in China, flea market” garbage. Carrying the pen in our pockets has become our favourite thing to do, as it’s very small, durable and discreet. For $100, you get more than your money’s worth.

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Making the Case for Yan Gomes as the Cleveland Indians MVP

Perhaps the best move Cleveland Indians general manager Chris Antonetti made this offseason was inking Yan Gomes to a six-year, $23 million commitment.

After an unpredictable emergence as Carlos Santana’s backup behind the dish in 2013, the Indians took a shot on the least notable of last season’s Goon Squad. Gomes, who hit .294 with 11 home runs and 38 RBI for the Tribe in 88 games a season ago, was crucial during the Tribe’s magical run toward the 2013 postseason.

Despite such a small sample size of success, Gomes entered the season as the team’s primary catcher—mostly due to his defensive prowess and rapport with the Indians’ youthful staff members. Manager Terry Francona made it clear to Gomes this spring that he didn’t care what Gomes hit, largely because his main job was to run the pitching staff similar to the was Jason Varitek did it for Francona in Boston.

Much to the surprise of many around baseball, however, the 27-year-old Brazilian has transformed himself into one of the premier two-way catchers in the game.

In 128 games this season, Gomes has posted a slash-line of .284/.318/.475 while connecting on 19 home runs (including the towering blast above) with 66 RBI. Since the All-Star break, Gomes has tortured opposing pitchers to the tune of a .322 average with 22 extra-base hits and 30 RBI.

He just continues to get better.

In just his first full season, Gomes has posted the fourth-best average among big league catchers, the third-most home runs among AL catchers and the sixth-highest RBI total among all backstops according to ESPN.com. His caught stealing percentage (.333) and range factor (9.24) rank behind only Brian McCann for tops in baseball.

While Michael Brantley has undeniably led the charge for the Tribe all season long, it is Gomes whose contributions are most needed by the Tribe. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the first-year starter has hit a whopping .354 with 14 home runs in Cleveland victories this season while posting a mere .216 in losses.

In short, the Tribe offense goes as Gomes goes.

While Francona must get his catcher some time off, the skipper has found it difficult to take his catcher’s bat out of the lineup. As a result, Gomes has 27 plate appearances as a DH this season, where he has excelled with an incredible .500 average. Similar to Brantley, Gomes has found himself hitting all over the Cleveland lineup this season, notching starts in six different spots in the order.

Additionally, Gomes has been a catalyst in helping grow a revolving door of young pitchers—a group who have posted the best ERA in the big leagues since Aug. 9.

Gomes recently drew incredible praise from legendary Cleveland Plain Dealer writer Paul Hoynes, who wrote, “Traditionally the double play has been the pitcher’s best friend. Where Indians’ pitchers are concerned, it’s catcher Yan Gomes.”

While Cleveland’s pitching staff may have found a BFF, the organization might have found itself its MVP.

*Note: All stats from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MagicalButter Machine Makes Weed Butter For Fantastic Brownies

MB2_110V_Package__45039.1407446661.1280.1280

Making your own weed butter at home is no simple task. Your dwelling usually ends up smelling really strong, and it’s just a generally somewhat labor intensive process. Not so with the MagicalButter MB2. Looking somewhat like a teapot, you simply have to drop your herbs in, some butter, and press a button. The machine takes care of the rest, producing THC-infused butter which you’re then free to use in your various recipes. Magic cookies? Check. Magic caramel-wrapped stick of butter, Homer Simpson-style? Check.

Granted, it’s a little expensive at $175. But if you’re stayed away from baking your own magical goods because of the effort required to make the butter, here’s your solution. Incidentally, the MB2 is not restricted to making butter, but can also make oils and tinctures, is self-cleaning, and doesn’t look like anything a stoner might use. This way you can go somewhat incognito, if that’s your thing.

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West Africa on a hope and a prayer: the desperate efforts to contain ebola

The 16 August attack on an ebola clinic in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, is a sign of just how deeply western medicine is mistrusted.

Spread risk: a Monrovia classroom serves as a rudimentary isolation ward. Photo: John Moore/Getty
Spread risk: a Monrovia classroom serves as a rudimentary isolation ward. Photo: John Moore/Getty

Ebola, a virus with a 60-90 per cent death rate, has already killed at least 1,145 people in West Africa. There is no cure, which adds to the rising sense of fear in the affected countries and their close neighbours. There have been no confirmed cases yet in Gambia, but on crowded buses, crackling radio reports relay the latest death toll, a constant reminder that the threat is not far from home.

Having spread from a single Guinean village across swaths of Liberia and Sierra Leone and into Nigeria, this outbreak is the deadliest to date. There is little trust in doctors, a by-product of local traditions and popular reliance on faith healers. After months of bad news, many people lack hope.

The disease was first detected in February and was declared a Liberian national “public health emergency” by the president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in June. In early August, the World Bank pledged $200m to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, and the UK offered a further £3m in aid. Yet the death toll continues to mount.

The 16 August attack on an ebola clinic in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, is a sign of just how deeply western medicine is mistrusted. It is hard to convince people to put their faith in new medicine when it can offer no cure.

The fragile economies and weak infrastructure of many countries in the subregion also limit their ability to manage the disease. On average, West African states spend $100 per capita on health care each year – nothing compared to the $3,600 per person in Britain.

The slow response by affected governments hasn’t helped. Kudzi Makopa, a student volunteer from London, flew to Sierra Leone in late May. “When we arrived there, the disease was the subject of jokes among the general public and there was even a comedy film on the matter being sold nationwide,” he told me. “No one really believed ebola was happening because they’d never seen it, and they thought that witch doctors or God would send it away.” Today, posters and billboards line the streets of the capital, Freetown, reading “Ebola is real”, but perhaps it is too late.

In Liberia, experts called in by the government insisted that the first wave of a disease is often less destructive than those that follow, which arguably made the country’s response slower than it might have been. “We were acting appropriately. But because of weak health systems, the disease spread, and now we are responding again,” Tolbert Nyenswah, an assistant minister in Liberia’s health department told me.

Gambia risks making some of the same mistakes. Despite its proximity to the epidemic, few plans have been put in place to combat the virus. There is no sign of the ebola isolation facility that was due to be set up months ago, and testing for the disease is not available in the country.

At the Medical Research Council in Fajara, on Gambia’s Atlantic coast, doctors are disappointed that promises of resources have not been met. Outside the hospital, crowds of patients, including rows of mothers cradling malnourished babies in their colourful wraps, sit waiting on benches in the heat. Should an ebola victim be treated inside, these walk-in patients would be turned away. Doctors say people are turning to prayer to deter the virus.

West African countries have tightened their border controls, but the World Health Organisation has said that official figures may “vastly underestimate” the spread of the virus, making it harder to contain. Despite the international attention, the measures in place to combat ebola are inadequate. It feels as though people are still waiting for some intervention, whether governmental or divine, to end this crisis.