Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy Final Friday!

It's the last Friday of the year, so we're celebrating. Hope you are, too.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

They Don't Make 'Em That Way Anymore

Sometime in 1988, McDonald's sold a Christmas tree ornament from Disney's Oliver & Company. It's a little blush toy, and it plays some Christmas carol.

Our version of this toy hung on our Christmas tree year after year throughout my childhood, and now that I am officially grown up and have a tree of my own, it hangs in my house. When we set up our tree 3 weeks ago, my wife pressed the Dodger and discovered that he no longer plays his carol.

However, he tries. He beep-beep-beeps, and if you squeeze him he'll get through the entire song... and then start beep-beep-beeping all over again.

I'm not upset that he no longer works the way he's supposed to; I'm stunned that he still works at all. The batteries are nearly twenty five years old, and he beep-beep-beeped for 3 straight weeks, from tree set up day, straight on to Christmas! Our own little miracle on Greenwood.

I do believe. I do believe. It's stupid, but I do believe.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Wild Yankees-Angels Trade Scenario

The New York Yankees have been surprisingly quiet this offseason. This is likely the convergence of all the imaginable factors: the age and composition of the roster, this specific moment in the midst of the Yankees' expiring contracts, the new CBA and the lowering boom of the payroll tax.

But I wonder if the biggest reason for the front office's seeming complacency is just what it seems: from 1995-2011, the Yankees made the playoffs every year but one, usually while leading the league in dollar spent; but starting in 2012, the Yankees no longer need to be the best team in baseball, nor the best team in the AL East, nor the second best- thanks to the shiny new second wildcard, the Yankees trust that they no longer need to push so hard to make the playoffs.

So, maybe just maybe, the Yankees figure they can afford to jettison some talent now in exchange for cheaper future roster options.

For my mild trade proposal, check out Pinstripe Alley.


The Yankees don't need brilliance to make the playoffs, and once you make it to the dance, all you need is luck.

So the Yankees send two arbitration eligible players to the Angels: Brett Gardner and David Robertson.

In exchange, the Yankees get an MLB ready top pitching prospect, a mid-level 3B prospect, a veteran outfielder, and cash: RHP Garrett Richards, 3B Luis Jiminez, Torii Hunter and several million dollars to offset some of Hunter's salary.

Why do the Yankees do this? 
Gardner and Robertson's price tag is due to rise in the near future, and while they will still be inexpensive, they are both players whose bubbles could burst soon and brutally. While I love Gardner's patience at the plate, his slap and run approach will give no warnings of decline (see Ichiro). Robertson's strike outs are sexy, but the walks are something less beautiful. Instead, the Yankees get another starting pitcher on the brink of big league success, a corner bat worth watching, and a chance to rewrite the future of the franchise with young starting pitching. Now the Yankees top ten pitching prospects features 7 starters ready to take the ball at the big league level (Richards, Banuelos, Betances, Noesi, Warren, Mitchell, Phelps).

Why do the Angels do this? 
With CJ Wilson in the fold, the Angels currently boast 6 starting pitchers, so the use of Richards as a trade chip should hurt less than it normally would. Instead they send a speedy youth movement into the outfield, with Peter Bourjos, Gardner and Mike Trout chasing down everything in the park. They pitch a starting rotation 3 aces deep and hand the ball over to a 3 headed monster in Robertson-Takahashi-Downs in front of closer Jordan Walden. With Pujols hitting third, they walk to the division title and enter the playoffs the World Series favorites.

The Yankees, confident in their arms and their (aging) offense play a long term game while the Angels go all in to build a juggernaut ready to win multiple pennants in the next 3-5 years.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Beaming Away Like Father Christmas

Rose Tyler: Look at you, beaming away like you're Father Christmas!
The Doctor: Who says I'm not, red-bicycle-when-you-were-twelve?

There's a wonderful counterbalance to the horror of socially mandated gift giving: getting a perfect gift.

I got one of those today (on one of my best buddy's blog). I love horoscopes: they're a belief in magic greater than our skeptical cynicism. I'll be happy to share my present with any other capricorns out there (and all you people with other birthdays have a present of your own waiting). Horoscope link!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Friday!

This one's for Jane, who hasn't heard the New Amersterdams yet, though she really should:

A little work, a little play, a little while in the car. Look out Christmas, here we come!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Book-a-Week New Year's Resolution Planning Part 2

Since I've started thinking about this read a book per week New Year's Resolution it's been buzzing through my brain for at least a small portion of every day.

In that last little post, I mentioned 14 books already on the shelf that I haven't read yet. Some of them are whoppers (I'm looking at you, Gravity's Rainbow). If a quarter of my books are going to be heavy duty literature, I need to mix in a few I'm confident I can read quickly to balance things out: plays, novellas, and graphic novels.

I love graphic novels (comics that tell a self-contained story). I'm a late life convert, and like all converts, I can preach with zeal. I'll save the full sermon for another day, but the Cliff Notes version is that the "novel" hasn't been around all that long (many people credit Charles Dickens with popularizing the novel, but even his work almost always appeared in serial format before being republished as a single work); it's a relic of the Victorian Age, basically unimagined before then and uninteresting since then (though, truthfully, my favorite novels are probably from the early to mid-twentieth century- I think the Victorians are too long winded and just plain boring). Basically, I think that the modern reader is searching for something, anything more engaging than a novel.

So we revert to kindergarten: books with pictures. Isn't that the stereotype? But, let me tell you, these picture books include some of the most powerful works I've ever encountered. It's not all superheroes in spandex, not anymore. Check out Fun Home or Blankets if you don't believe me.

I've spent a little time in the last few days searching through lists of the best graphic novels of the last few years (since the last time I went on a real binge) and some "all time" lists. I'm looking for books that tackle real life: memoirs or non-fiction or realistic fiction; no super-powers (though a world in which the impossible occurs, a la magic realism, would be ok).

Here's my list (all books I haven't read):
Acme Novelty Library by Chris Ware
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
Caricature by David Clowes
City of Glass by Paul Auster
Ed the Happy Clown by Chester Brown
Habibi by Craig Thompson(new work from the author of Blankets)
I Never Liked You by Chester Brown
It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken by Seth
Of Lamb by Matthea Harvey 
Onward to Our Noble Deaths by Shigeru Mizuki
Pinocchio by Frederic Felder
Robot Dreams by Sarah Varon
Troop 142 by Mike Dawson
Why I Hate Saturn by Kyle Baker

That should keep me busy!

Cookie Party Photo Gallery

So Blogger was giving me trouble earlier when I tried to load all of my pictures from last weekend's cookie party into a single post. Let's see if it's more co-operative today (cooperative always looks weird without the hyphen, don't you think?).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cookies and Cocktails

 Saturday marked our second annual cookie decorating party, and it was our most successful cookie decorating party yet, if I do say so myself (and I do, I do!).

A slew of all the coolest kids in the neighborhood and the surrounding region made the trip down to Greenwood for the festivities. We made Zombies (an icky cocktail with rum, apricot brand and pineapple juice; I hate pineapple), Midori Sour, and Wassail (I made the wassail in the slow cooker, but next year I'll start it much earlier; I had some the next day and it had picked up a lot more apple flavor from marinading overnight).
 I think I like theme parties best. I'm awkward at parties, never know what to say or how much to say or (often just as important) when to just shut up. I get restless without something to do, some goal that needs achieving (I suppose, now that I think about it, that's part of why I'm often willing to be the grill man at cook-outs: it keeps me busy.

But theme parties are definitely the best. And the parties at Greenwood have prizes. Which means we have pictures of the winners:

Friday, December 16, 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thinking About A New Year's Resolution

Every year I make a New Year's resolution. Some years I even keep it.

This year, I'm considering a 52 week challenge: read a book a week for the full year. I managed to do it when I was in college, and I remember it as one of the best, most invigorating, most challenging years of my life.

In starting to think about taking on such a project, I started looking through my bookcases for a few dozen seed books. I'm looking for a mix of lengths, topics and styles; and for this round, I want to consider books we own that I haven't read.

A few titles on the opening list:
Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin
Natasha by David Bezmozgis
If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino
World's Fair by EL Doctorow
The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
A New Life by Bernard Malamud
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
Natalie Natalia by Nicholas Mosley
Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien
Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
I Married A Communist by Philip Roth
Don't Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk

I think there are 6 books on this list that I've started before (Bezmozgis, Calvino, Mann, Pynchon, Roth, Wouk), and they're all books that I've honestly been meaning to read. I figure there's (very roughly) 40,000 pages here that I'd propose to read in about 3 months.

(There are other books in the book case I've been meaning to read that I simply won't be putting on this list: DeLillo's Underworld, Pynchon's V., Ulysses and The Unnameable are all undertakings for another time. Books are funny things: two people may have very similar tastes, yet two "similar" books [perhaps even two different books by the same author] may not appeal to both readers; I think this is different than movies or art in that the activity of reading demands that fraction of additional participation; one of our two readers may struggle with one book's flavor, it's tone and timber, in ways make the book inaccessible for the other.)

To make this list a little less daunting, I'll be thinking up some plays, novellas and graphic novels that have been on my list. Maybe after I've paid off the holiday bills I'll let myself go book shopping.

Now there's a happy thought for a Wednesday morning!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hum Bug Infestation

I don't really think of myself as a Bah Hum Bug kind of guy, but something about the holidays brings out the worst in me. It's been suggested to me that I must have had some sort of Christmas tragedy in my past to so sour me on the season, but I think it's deeper than that.

I truly despise enforced gift giving, and this tradition is at the core of the modern Christmas. I have plenty of stuff (and I should be more grateful for that, but the status quo is often difficult to appreciate). And I think I've always felt intuitively what recent research is confirming: gift giving is as much about the giver as about the receiver.

I don't want to receive a gift from someone who says "I hope you like it." If you're not sure I'd like it, then I'd be happier if you'd saved your money for yourself. I also hate that we lump our gift giving around specific dates (mainly Christmas and birthdays); a surprise gift is much more meaningful. I want someone to say, "I saw this and I thought of you so I here's a gift." And I want to be able to say that, too.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Power of the Narrator

Among the many things I loved about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, my favorite is the narrator. I have a soft spot for narrators who are characters (in both literature and drama); I am enchanted by the power to step out of the narrative to comment, to reflect, to frame, to misdirect. The best narrators do all those things at once.

That is what captivates me about Brief Wondrous' narrator, Yunior. He positions himself as the machismo ideal, the athlete, the womanizer, the champion of the world; yet, he reveals himself by degrees to be deeply steeped in the nerd culture that he contemptuously tries to pull Oscar out of. Either Yunior is not the man he claims to be, or else his "sham" friendship with Oscar (he claims to have faked it all) was layered with a complexity that Yunior may not fully understand.

Yunior's voice is unique, as his perspective. Most of the great narrator characters tell their own story. It's a tried and true device to allow the audience into the mind of the protagonist: Holden Caulfield, Nathan Zuckerman, Humbert Humbert, and Huckleberry Finn all live at the center of their own storms. Yunior belongs to a much smaller class of narrators who relay to us what happened to someone else. The two closest comparisons (and ones I do not make lightly) are both anonymous: the narrator of Slaughterhouse Five (who tells us the story of Billy Pilgrim) and the narrator of Heart of Darkness (who tells us the story Marlow ostensibly told to him).

In all, Brief Wonderous is a fantastic read (or if you're an audiobook lover like me, a fantastic listen). If it's spend the last couple of years in the midst of your to-read list, it's time to put it at the top of the stack.

Happy Friday!

We have furniture in the living room. We have art work on the walls (and a frame on its way). We have beautiful new lamps, and we have a table full of board games to play. Now we just need to go pick out our Christmas tree!

Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A New Project

One of my favorite things about writing for Pinstripe Alley was getting to review books. I've had my hands on some of the best Yankee books of the last few years before they hit book stores: Last Boy, 56, and more.

So when my friend Lindsay pointed me to the website LibraryThing, where they give early reading editions to contributing members... well, I have a new project.

I've copied the 400 or so books I'd marked as "read" on my old, long dormant Goodreads account, and I'm going to start going through posting short reviews. I'll dual post my reviews of my favorite books, and post the ensuing tangents (and trust me, there will be tangents), which will lead where they will.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

An (Un)Organized Study of Words

From the OED:
Forms:  lME organyse, lME– organize, 15– organise.
Etymology:  < Middle French organiser to give an organic structure to (14th cent.), to play the organ (14th cent.), to provide with organs (1510–20; French organiser ) and its etymon post-classical Latin organizare to accompany on the organ (c1090 in a British source; already in Vetus Latina in sense ‘to play the organ’), to arrange (c1190 in a British source), to provide with bodily organs or physical structure (13th cent. in British sources) < classical Latin organum organ n.1 + -izāre -ize suffix.

Interesting that the history of "organize" so muddles up the bodily organs with the operation of the musical instrument; a look at the history of "organ" suggests that there were actually two separate ancient words (a feminine word for all things music, and a masculine word for the body stuff) that got mashed together in Middle English.

Just goes to show, you can't trust the Middle English.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fitness, Memory and Me

I find reports on this study of the effects of exercise on memory quite interesting.

The basics:
Immediately after the strenuous activity, the cyclists had significantly higher levels of a protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which is known to promote the health of nerve cells. The men who had sat quietly showed no comparable change in BDNF levels.
For some time, scientists have believed that BDNF helps explain why mental functioning appears to improve with exercise. However, they haven’t fully understood which parts of the brain are affected or how those effects influence thinking. The Irish study suggests that the increases in BDNF prompted by exercise may play a particular role in improving memory and recall.
It makes sense that a release of proteins that produce healthy nerve cells would make the brain, that big ol' bundle of nerves, work better.

For the last few years (as I found myself in more sedentary jobs, after years of physically intense jobs while I was in school), I've felt that my memory was getting worse. I've never been good at connecting names and faces, and the kind of memorization we were expected to do in school never interested me.

But I've definitely felt that my memory for conversations, for instructions, and for all those "what did I come into this room for?" moments was getting worse. I won't pretend to believe that my memory has improved at all just because I've been exercising more in the last 6 months. But it would be nice to believe it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Words with Friends, Or One More Thing to Hate About Facebook

I love board games. I love word games. I love Scrabble.
Most of all, I love playing games with friends.

So, you'd think that Words with Friends would be my favorite thing on the internet: a quick and easy way to play my favorite game with my favorite people.

But I can't love Words with Friends because I can hardly ever play. A third of the time it freezes trying to select a board; a third of the time it freezes trying to play a word; a third of the time it won't load at all.

Might this be intentional on the part of Words with Friends or Facebook as a way to compound traffic, driving up ad revenue and increasing page views? Or could a company really have developed a game so poorly supported that its servers and programming are overwhelmed by its popularity?

Deceptive marketing or shoddy design? I can't decide which would be worse.

Happy Friday!

First Friday, plus Chester River Chorale, plus Carol got a job.
Happiest Friday in a long time!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Muppets (Spoiler Free, I Promise)

I grew up with a certain degree of nonsensical in my life, and I love it.

(This may be the key to the modern condition: we've ceased to expect a rational narrative to our art, our politics, our lives; at the same time, Enlightenment ideals deny any non-rational exploration of the world. The nonsensical is then reduced to the fringes of discourse: humor, children's stories, "modern" art.)

Sometimes, we don't recognize the thing we've been missing until we find it. That's how I felt throughout The Muppets. All the other sources of humor, of joy, of unexpected celebration were just filler as we waited for this. I won't get into the details of the plot for the sake of spoilers, and frankly, I think the details of the plot are secondary to the emotion and the flavor of the movie.

This was a movie with a taste. The last movie that left me feeling like this was Lilo & Stitch, ten years ago. Go see it. I'm going to see it again.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Things I Learned This Thanksgiving

Apparently, that beautiful and crispy bird is backside up. At least the breast meat was nice and juicy! File that one under: things to improve upon that turned out ok.

Carol's folks brought the turkey, Mom brought chocolate and apple pies, Carol baked a pumpkin pie, and Ed and Kristen brought wine.
It was fantastic getting everyone together. We played Pandemic and Rummikub, watched some football, had an adventure climbing onto the roof to re-orient the antenna, and we went to see The Muppets.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Things to be Thankful For-ish...

When your relatives force you to look at photos on their phones, be thankful they no longer have access to a slide projector. When your aunt expounds on politics, rejoice inwardly that she does not hold elected office. Instead of focusing on the dry, tasteless turkey on your plate, be grateful the six-hour roasting process killed any toxic bacteria. 
 But I'm in charge of the turkey...

I'm looking forward to trying my sausage and apple stuffing, and Carol's making mashed potatoes with blue cheese.

I'll have to take some pictures before we carve it all up...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Things I Did Not Know I Need

Things I did not know I need, but look forward to enjoying, now that I have them:

A couch and a chair in my living room.
Friends at work to go to lunch with.
Traveling dinner parties.
Another glass of wine.
A good book to chew on.
Board games after dinner.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Happy Friday!

By the end of the day I'll have a couch and a coffee table and a living room chair, plus 4 kitchen chairs for our currently chair-less table.

Happy Friday, indeed!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Doctor Who: The Doctor Dances (Probably with Spoilers)

I think I may have succeeded in entrapping Carol within the world of Doctor Who.

One of those shows that friends here and there have always told me I'd love, but that I'd never gotten around to watching, I finally started the revival of the British classic this past fall. As a fan of the self-sustaining mythology (see: Swarming Life), I'm hooked.

Carol just started season 1 of the restart, and a couple days ago we watched one of my favorite episodes (actually a 2-parter) The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances.

I feel pretty safe writing about these episodes, since they first aired in 2005, but I feel it's necessary to reiterate: the post below this point is likely to contain spoilers.

Basic plot: The Doctor and Rose follow a piece of space junk (possibly a ship) through time, landing in the middle of the London Blitz. They encounter a creature with phenomenal power in the form of a lost little boy in a gas mask, who transforms everyone he touches into a version of himself.

It's a tense episode crowded with teeming shadows and narrow escapes (which, I think, is when Doctor Who is at its best: when the fear of the unknown becomes palpable). The episode introduces a major character in Jack Harkness, and it contains my favorite moment through 5 and half seasons of Doctor Who:

"Come on. Give me a day like this. Give me this one."

The clip doesn't really do the moment justice (I'll admit I get a little dewy-eyed when I watch the episode) because you need to have seen the Ninth Doctor struggle with elements of PTSD and survivor's guilt, his rage when he meets a Dalek, and his almost self-destructive mania in trying to save the world in several earlier episodes. Pile those previous episodes atop the tension of The Empty Child, and "Just this once; everybody lives" becomes a brilliantly realized moment of catharsis.

It's a fantastic moment, my favorite of the series so far (I'm mid-way through Season 6), and one of the few times that the series truly tugs my heart strings in the way I want to connect with art.

Being Baffled as Route to Hope

I attended a fantastic talk last night (one that will likely lead to another post or two later this week), and I wanted to share one of the central joys of the evening: the discovery of a new meaning to a familiar word.

I love words, both the sounds and the layers of meaning they inhabit.

So today's word is baffle.

I was only familiar with baffle as a verb describing challenges and confusion:
1. to perplex; bewilder; puzzle
2. to frustrate (plans, efforts, etc.)
3. Archaic to cheat or trick
But baffle in fact has another set of connotations in an engineering context:
4. to check, restrain, or regulate (the flow of a fluid or the emission of sound or light)
5. to provide with a baffle
This gives a whole new flavor to "baffled by fate;" life constantly redirects our best laid plans. In the spirit of optimism and my own little quest to maintain the modes of joy in my life, I'll try to remember this word the next time I'm perplexed, frustrated or feel cheated by the many people and obligations around me.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Yankees and the Best Interest of Baseball

Let me start by saying I love Dave Cameron's work. For me, he's in the second tier of great baseball writers currently working (the first tier is a club of one: Joe Poz). I'm really, really picky about whose work I read regularly, but Cameron is one of the few I come back to again and again.

All of this is a way of saying I'm not trying to pick a fight when I think the premise for his most recent anti-Yankee article is surprisingly nuance-less.

To sum up his key points: the Yankees exist in a different monetary universe than the other 29 clubs by virtue of their domination of the largest media market in the country, and this is bad for baseball because "when one organization can simply put aside cost as a significant factor in their evaluation of whether or not they should acquire a player, they’re simply not bound by the same factors as the other franchises."

I'd agree with the final conclusion: even if it's ok for teams to exist in separate payroll strata because of their popularity/ home territory, it's not ok for the top strata to belong exclusively to a single organization.

The Yankees' primary advantage comes from two compounded areas: the population of New York City with it's influence on attendance, and the profitability of the Yankee owned goliath the YES Network. The first factor, population, is close to intractable. The second issue is simply (if inexactly) controllable.

My steps to introducing balance to MLB (notice, I didn't say restoring balance; there's a false narrative floating around that at some mythical past time, the playing field was leveler. In fact, for long stretches of baseball history, the Yankees dominated more easily because there was no revenue sharing, no media deals to create alternatives to box office revenue, and no luxury tax [distinct from revenue sharing] to support small market teams; this reality helped create the Yankee "golden age" including the sale of Babe Ruth and Red Ruffing from Boston, the bonus babies of the '47-'65, and the Kansas City A's pipeline that fed to Yankee Stadium).

1) Make all teams open up their books.
Be transparent. The only reason to keep this information secret is that the books are crooked (I expect that for most teams they are; I suspect that few owners, if any, have ever lost money on their team).

2) Tax revenue instead of payroll.
At the moment, most of MLB's taxes are payroll dependent. This is basically an attempt to force all teams into the "window of opportunity" cycle that small market teams exist in.

3) Tax different revenue streams at different rates.
If the problem is that the Yankees can pour the money from their tv deal back into the team (I don't really think it's a problem per se, but I'll allow that it may be a problem that the Yankees can do this on a scale that the Seattle Mariners can not. For instance, Box Office sales above $X may be taxed at 10% while TV revenue above $X may be taxed at 25% and above $2X be taxed at 35%.

4) Incentivize success.
You want to know why the Yankees spend so much to win? Because it makes them the most money. Want to know why the Pittsburgh Pirates spend so little? Because it makes them the most money.
Create tax credits for successful franchises, and improvement benchmarks for struggling franchises. Don't let the owner of a small or mid-market franchise pocket millions season after season. I'd create a profit ceiling, a level of shareholder profit above which revenue sharing funds are withdrawn. So if I'm the Pirates (who reportedly turned 8 figure profits in '07 and '08), and I'm writing all these checks to shareholders, then I'm obviously not pouring this money back into the team. So I don't need it, and it can go instead to a team trying to win.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Goodness Grows: The Yummiest Thing in My Life Right Now

Since I was in Pittsburgh last week, I drove up to Youngstown to see my best friend Adam and to sample some of the food at Goodness Grows' Harvest of Hope.

It was an interesting night; a half dozen local chefs and restaurateurs made bite sized samples for a crowd that packed the church where the event was held. Stuffed turkey, jerk chicken, beef brisket, a squash soup- all locally grown/ raised.

I'm not the world's biggest localist, but I love good eats. I think it's fantastic that I got to eat some home made capicola (and later, a chocolate ball with bacon on top).

The question I have after spending the night with so much local grown food in Ohio: if I get that delicious pork delivered to the Eastern Shore (and I've their business card, so I can and I will), do I still say it's "local?"

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

V for Vendetta (Possibly with Spoilers)

How awful is it that I have to type "vendetta" into the googlemachine before I will believe I've spelled it correctly?

Awkward segue (another word I can't spell): V for Vendetta is a good movie. I saw it once, years ago (probably when I lived in Scranton), and I remember being disliking it. I had read the book first, and while I didn't love the book, my memory tells me that the movie is a shadow of the book.

But I watched it again last weekend (on the fifth of November) with friends and fudge and pumpkin roll, and I found it to be pretty enjoyable.

I picked up on some details I hadn't noticed before/ forgotten, like everyone dead being part of the end mob, and I also empathized more with the powerlessness of the masses necessitating the use of violence.

To connect to a half-thought I'd had in a post earlier this week, I think we can measure our own growth as people in the transformation of our reaction to re-viewing a work of art. I'm pretty firmly anti-violence, but I'm at a point in my life where I can imagine the need for NON-nonviolent resistance to government. This surprises me.

That said, I still object to the essential premise of V for Vendetta: that people are sheep, easily cowed, who will choose secure misery over freedom (in all it's messy, dangerous fun). I can't imagine that people who ever debase themselves to such a level that they yield complete control back to (effectively) a pharaoh (another word I apparently can't spell). I think people will always be interested in rising up against hegemony.

That's what I see in Occupy Wall Street, in the Arab Spring, in this summer's London riots, and other places around the world. The idea of democracy is a funny thing: the feeling that I possess a crucial, consensual stake in the world around me; the belief that I have the right and the responsibility to make my voice heard even if, or especially if, I am in the minority.

I see history as the progression of communication: the development of language, then the development of means to convey that language around the world. With word goes thought, and the human word is "I." I matter, I have a voice, I deserve to be heard. I see all of history pointing to the expansion of power in include more people, not an ebb and flow of power among the elite who may alternatively protect and enslave the rabble. I think Alan Moore (plus Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, and other giants of the graphic novel world) miss the power of communication as a (nearly) irreversible force.

Hello Pittsburgh

Hello Pittsburgh!

My wandering feet (and work) have brought me to the Pennsylvania peninsula. The drive out was fun; flew through Baltimore at 5 a.m., stopped for breakfast at a diner a few miles off 375 just outside Pittsburgh, then got turned around 3 times and had to cross and re-cross the river to find my hotel.

Adventure awaits.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

First Friday and The Water Children

First Friday did as First Friday does, so of course, I've needed the entire weekend plus Monday to recover from the hijinx.

One different, and enjoyable thing about this past First Friday was taking the trip up to campus to see the senior thesis production of The Water Children. (NYTimes review from the original production here, playwright's notes here).

I love live theater. Most art measures the audience; a movie, a photograph, a book always functions the same way. This makes it a returnable experience in that we can watch a movie once a year (more on that in a day or two), and measure our new observations and reactions as changes in us. Theater (and for me, to a lesser extent, live music) measures the work and the performers.

I haven't seen a drama in years, probably not since I lived in North Carolina.

The Water Children's central topic is grief and guilt, focused through a lens of abortion. This abortion topic loads the debate in a certain direction. For me, abortion is a Catch-22: I've never been at a point in my life where I've wanted to have/ felt I could support a child, so at the logical level, if a girlfriend had become pregnant, how could we have kept the child?; at the same time, my personal beliefs are built around the concept of "Where there's life, there's hope," so a properly lived life demands accepting the unexpected, coping and overcoming.

I spend a lot of my free time lost in the back corners of my mind, pondering those what ifs. It's a part of why I write and what I write about: the fictionalization of life. At different points I have given a lot of myself to regret over missed opportunities and unexplored forks in the road.

That feeling, it seems to me, is what The Water Children mined most effectively. The main character's unborn child follows her through every scene (whether the child is unborn past tense or unborn future tense, or some hybrid of the two, is for the audience to decide). I've had that own feeling for most of my life: if I had spoken up, or not; if I had gone out this night, or hadn't.

It's this haunting feeling that I'm left with as my dominant impression of The Water Children, beyond the show's success and weak spots (there were a few of each for both the actors [tempo, characterization and subtext] and the script [credulity and emotional content]). Maybe it's just my reaction to a very fun night, the kind of night when the laughter just pools around you, but The Water Children made me more acutely aware of it. It made me appreciate the night a little more.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Happy Friday!

First Friday shenanigans. I can't wait.

Friends Are Awesome

I've been meaning to post this all week, and just haven't had time.

Lamb Burgers are awesome (see picture). Lamb Dogs, slightly less awesome, but still high on the delicious scale.

Dinosaur Barbecue sauces are highly awesome.

LambFest 2011, and the weekend of board games and hilarity that come with LambFest, is the highest level of awesome.

Next project: Chuck Fluxx. Yes, that means plagarizing the game Fluxx to give it a Chuck theme to play with my awesome friends. Take that consumer media! I will take your ideas and subvert them for my own amusement without paying you a nickel!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Chekhov's Gun and Perks of Being a Wallflower

One night last week I read the first 200 pages of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and the next night I finished it. I liked it a lot; it was an easy, engaging read. I thought it was heavy-handed with some of the scenes of drug use and homosexuality, maybe being released on an MTV imprint the author, Stephen Chbosky, felt pressure to push that envelope as far as it could go (or maybe the publishers for the MTV imprint found a work that suited them; the book is also all over the place with cultural references to movies, music and books).

But my impetus throughout the novel was to solve the opening mystery.

The novel opens with the main character, Charlie, writing:
"Dear Friend: I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn't try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have."

At that point, the mystery solver in me is hooked. Who is Dear Friend? Who is she? What person (interesting androgyny, "that person"), what party, when, and why not sleep with him/her?

These questions, it seems to me, are unanswered.

I am not, I think, a militant adherent to the theory of Chekhov's Gun, in which the playwright famously suggests: "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there." But in my post last night about things I love about Chuck, I touched on the idea of the importance of a self-sustaining world. The best works are self sustaining. Perks... shows us a gun (Dear Friend), and we spend the rest of the novel waiting for it to be fired (to see the party, hear the girl talk about her friend, see Charlie make the decision to write). In the best books (Huck Finn, Lolita, American Pastoral), the narrators' omissions are as telling as their claims; "the gun" can be fired by silence if the author is talented enough.

Perks..., then, is sloppy by comparison. It wastes a fantastic literary moment, a big reveal that could be layered or buried, could have shown us more of Charlie's life, or connected Charlie's world with the wide, scary world of someday. Instead, "Dear Friend" is just a literary device, a crutch that allows the work to exist epistolarily.

I want to say that this one fault doesn't undo the magic of the novel... I want to say that the novel's many shocks and twists make it a page turner, because they do and it is... but, in the end, all of the book's payoff depends on our seeing the world only through Charlie's eyes, and there's no reason for us to enjoy that view except that a character we can never meet suggests that a person we can never meet can "listen and understand" in a scene we can never see.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Chuck Season Premiere, Swarming Life and Television

Carol and I just finished watching (via the magic of the Interwebs) the season premiere of our favorite show, Chuck. In fairness, it's probably not both of our favorite shows (I adore Doctor Who, and I haven't gotten Carol to start the reboot yet, while I'm sure there are other shows out there she likes as much or more than Chuck), but it is our favorite show to watch together.

So as we were watching, I was trying to identify why Chuck is our favorite show (don't worry, this is spoiler free).

Television works, I think, because the viewers find a character or characters they identify with, someone with a perspective they can inhabit in their daydreams. This connection has been simplified and codified by reality-contest tv (as distinct from reality-documentary tv); starting with game shows like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, where we call out answers at our television encouraging/ chastising/ competing with the game show competitors, we now can vote along for and about a slew of dancing, singing, performing "stars." We, the audience, have become the prize to be won.

I would also argue that audience identification with a character or characters fall into one of two categories: recognition and desire. Every successful character has a combination of traits that the fan either recognizes and connects with, or traits that the fan envies and desires (my best off-hand example of this is House; we [fans] all recognize our misanthropic tendencies while envying his brilliance. Better still, because he is an addict despite his genius, we are able to claim moral superiority).

So we (Carol and I) love Chuck because it charms us; it turns exciting to witty to whimsical to romantic at a pace that suits our personalities. Our least favorite episodes have consistently been those which give too much air time to one aspect of the aspects listed above: the action oriented episodes lose the romance, the most comic lose the spy mystery-thriller sense of danger, while the romantic episodes are mirthless. This, I think, says as much about us as about the quality of the show.

Chuck also does one of the things I love most in art: develops a self-sustaining world in which the fantasy's initial assumptions reveal to be a crux upon which the story turns. Bilbo's ring is truly the One Ring; the Enterprise crosses space to encounter new life, who then become the allies and villains of future episodes; "Obi-wan never told you what happened to your father." This is the unifying force that is always missing me from reality television and conventional sitcoms (where the characters are usually static, ie. Archie Bunker never really learns anything from episode to episode). This, I think, says a lot about me as an artist and as a consumer of art, and this thought has popped on a light bulb about The Perks of Being a Wallflower (which I read last week and have been unsatisfied-ly ruminating on ever since). More on that later.

Ok, if you're still with me, I'm about to go off the deep end in an effort to get this post back on track. Hang on to something secure.

Does there exist a pleasure in writing? I don’t know.... You write so that the life you have around you, and outside, far from the sheet of paper, this life which is not much fun, but annoying and full of worries, exposed to others, can melt into the little rectangle before you and of which you are the master. But this absorption of swarming life into the immobile swarming of letters never happens.
This idea of the "absorption of swarming life" into a controllable, enjoyable, master-able life resonates. Television offers the same absorption through reduced labor. No self-reflection, no terrifyingly blank pages, no cramps in your neck or hands. Choose the channel and watch life "melt into the little rectangle before you." Especially in the reality-contest and sitcom formats, we know that any drama created in the course of the first 20 minutes must be resolved in the final 10. How's that for immobile?

So Chuck, then, serves in some way as a miniature diary for Carol and I. As one of us said to the other in a commercial break: in between seasons Chuck and Sarah have worked at being married, and so have we. The show has, at certain moments, spoken to each of us on the challenge of a relationship and the spectacle of a well executed somersault. What we love about the show must be things we identify in ourselves, either in recognition or desire.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Visit the Serotonin Factory!

Three great reasons to click this link:
1) Jane's blog (The Serotonin Factory) is hilarious and heartfelt.
2) It's Friday, and you don't want to be doing any work anyways.
3) The Serotonin Factory has published one of the poems I wrote for Carol as part of her wedding present.


(For the record, I only got the idea to write Carol a book when a poem I wrote about Carol got published in the chapbook Friday Love Poems.  To read that one, you'll have to click the little button on the right hand side of Jane's blog and buy a copy of the book!)

Happy Friday!

A little work today, then up to Binghamton for Lamb Fest 2011 and a Chuck themed Halloween party!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thanks, Pinstripe Alley

It's a strange thing, to walk away.

I've been writing for Pinstripe Alley for 5 seasons. That's nearly as far back as the pinball machine of my memory goes. That's before I got my first job working for Keystone College after graduating from Bing. In the time I've been a writer for PA, I've lived in 5 states. I've gotten serious with my girlfriend, gotten engaged and gotten married. I remember writing on rainy days with nothing to do, and writing hurried posts before racing out the door or on lunch hours.

In all, I've written 1750 posts and 16633 comments on Pinstripe Alley. If my average post was 200 words and my average comment was 10 words (I'm kind of long winded, so I'm willing to bet it was more than that), then I've poured in 516,330 words. I just looked it up, and that's basically The Grapes of Wrath plus Huck Finn plus A Tale of Two Cities plus To Kill a Mockingbird. Or, a little less than Atlas Shrugged.

It's been a lot of writing.

I don't think I'll miss it, in the sense that the blog is only a click away when I need to talk baseball. I'm not sure I'd have been able to leave otherwise.

I searched out PA after reading about it in the New York Times just before the 2004 postseason. I was going to college in Maryland, and I had no one I could talk baseball with who could match my obsessive intensity. It was a lonely feeling, having this interest that no one else could relate to. So I found the community and dove in.

My favorite thing about PA was how much I've learned there about baseball. Internet communities are at their best, I think, when they are receptive to the work of teaching new members the things that are important to know. They are at their worst when members are impatient with new members stubbornness/ ignorance.

(Take WHIP: fancy name, odd numbers [1.12, 1.36, 1.5], no apparent connection the game and stats most of us grew up with. Call it baserunners per inning, and a baseball fan can understand it. Explain how a pitcher's baserunners per inning is more consistent year to year than their earned run average, and how WHIP has less luck involved with it, and it starts a great conversation that could turn the ERA proponent into a fan of WHIP- but you've got to want to have that conversation [and, in some cases, have it again and again]. In a lot of ways, running a baseball blog is like teaching: every year, new students who need to learn the same things, but you have to be as excited and engaged as though you were teaching it for the first time, never expect them to know the material already, because they are learning for the first time.)

My other favorite thing about PA was fitting in. My brother and father like baseball around as much as I do, and they are Yankee fans. That's everyone in my life I can talk to about the details of the game. I think I'll still need PA to feed that beast. Carol has learned a little bit about baseball, and she did get the trivia question right about teammates winning Cy Young Awards, but it's not quite the same intensity.

So, thanks Pinstripe Alley. I'll be seeing you soon.

The Yankees, Payroll, and the Free Agent Market

"No decision on Swisher has been made yet,'' the source said.

I can think of only one reason: the Yankees are deciding how to allocate their money, and it's possible they think they'd rather spend that $10.25M on a pitcher rather than Nick Swisher.

The dynasty Yankees had a platoon of fair to good players in left field, but the top rotation in the league. The teams that return to the postseason year after year, while all need an offense (see: Giants, 2011), they need starting pitching more.

I would be sad to see Nick Swisher leave, especially because there's no one in the system who I think can handle right field every day. But I'd be thrilled if Swisher leaving meant Darvish, or Buehrle, or even a trade for one of the high quality starters at the end of their arbitration years.

More pitching can only be good for the Yankees.

Student loan reform

While this blog isn't really intended to be a political blog, it is a receptacle for my stray thoughts.
So when I saw this tidbit on President Obama using an executive order to help new and recent graduates cut down the amount they owe on their student loans, I had two thoughts (actually, by the time I finish writing it's likely to be more than two thoughts).

First, the details:
the president would use his executive authority to expand the existing income-based repayment program with a “Pay as You Earn” option that would allow graduates to pay 10 percent of their discretionary income for 20 years and have the rest of their federal student loan debt forgiven.
Thought 1:
I wish this had been an option for me.

While my student debt is not crushing (locked in around $120 per month) it does feel interminable: I'll be paying that for the next 28 or so years. I assume I didn't qualify for the "Pay as You Earn" option when I was in college ('02-05, grad '06-07), because no one ever told me about it. But I also don't feel like I'd ever heard of the option.

(This is a fairly major concern for me, because I definitely think that education and information are the two things most lacking in this country at the moment.

For example, people believe that cutting taxes to increase corporate profit can help the economy, and because they believe this to be true, they want it to happen; but the only reason they believe it is because someone(s) with the platform and the incentive to provide false or misleading information has chosen to abuse a bully pulpit. Those with the money [read: corporations and billionaires] have almost unilateral control over the education of the majority of Americans.

If I could do 1 thing to transform the country, it wouldn't be reforming the tax code or shattering the 2 party system: I would break up the major news corporations. I would enforce the [almost always waived] prohibition on a single corporation owning multiple outlets and multiple platforms. I would require news outlets to run prominent corrections when fact-checked by independent reviews and auditors like Media Matters.)

Thought 2:
About damn time.

I'm a little worried by the precedent, and by the question of who will hold those bills, but at this point, who really cares?

The cost of a first class education has far outpaced the growth in earning power that degree confers, and something has to be done. Personally, I'd prefer a world where we accept that not all learners are best served by a 4 year degree, where community colleges and trade schools do the major work of career educations, where the value of a degree is not so watered down that more and more fields expect graduate work for entry-level to mid-level positions.

Since that world is unlikely to develop in the next month or so, this is the next best solution: demand of those who are most likely to default (and, therefore, contribute nothing towards the cost of their education) a reasonable share of their earnings for a very long time (for most of them, longer than they were alive before they made the decision to take on the education debt).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Get fit or die trying

Went to the gym this morning. 6:00 AM power hour.
Love it, need it, know it's good for me.

But man oh man, are my legs sore. Among the tortures exercises we put ourselves through, we did a lateral step wearing resistance bands around our ankles- just push your leg out and in from feet together to shoulder width apart, as fast you can, for about 20 seconds on each side. Repeat.

On the bright side, I've lost 15+ pounds in the last six months. But I've been feeling the down side all day.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In Search of a Broadside

Tonight, after Tuesday chess, Carol and I are headed to the Lit House to start working with the press there.

I think I'd like to begin working on a broadside, but I don't want to set one of my own poems. What to set? A friend's work? A favorite (Larkin, Yeats and Hughes all spring to mind)?

I think that as a warm up, while I turn this question over in my mind (and take opinions in the comments), I'll start by laying out the quote that serves as this blog's title and epigraph: "Love and fighting, and a little wine. Then you are always young, always happy." It's from Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Book Review: The Long Vigil by Jerome Charyn

Originally published on Pinstripe Alley

Jerome Charyn's Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil makes a fascinating piece of social anthropology, centered on the exploration of DiMaggio's relationship with Marilyn Monroe, how it captured national attention, and how it has resonance as a cultural touchstone.

Mining the wealth of biographies and documentaries about Joe D. and Marilyn, Charyn's slender volume is clearly a labor of love. He writes of living in the Bronx and following Joe's post-war exploits as a boy.

Charyn is puzzled by DiMaggio: "Why did his intensity and terrifying heat in center field diminish away from the field and leave him with so little sense of purpose?" Charyn writes in the prologue. "Why did [DiMaggio] become so dysfunctional and end his days in a golden ghetto, frightened of his own fame yet needing to guard it with a stubborn, maddening will?"

Friday, March 18, 2011

Book Review: 56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports by

Originally published on Pinstripe Alley

I was recently given a chance to read 56, a new biography of Joe DiMaggio. You can read my interview with author Kostya Kennedy here. The book focuses on the young DiMaggio in 1941, an expectant father, a budding superstar, but not yet an icon. Drawing from his interviews and research, Kennedy draws us back to this world, showing us the characters lives through their own eyes.  This frees the book of the mustiness that clings to most posthumous biographies.

The book functions on three levels: the intersection of DiMaggio the ball player and DiMaggio the man, the reactions and observations of those around him, and the view from the larger world.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Interview with Kostya Kennedy, Author of 56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports

Originally published on Pinstripe Alley

I recently got to talk by telephone with Kostya Kennedy, author of the new book 56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports.

Not to give to much away from the book review I plan to post tomorrow, but if you spend the $20 on that book, it'll be the best investment you make this spring.

I definitely have to thank Mr. Kennedy for spending time talking with me about my favorite ball player, and I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it.

J: I want to start with, why write about Joe DiMaggio? What is it that you find so fascinating about the Streak?