Thursday, September 30, 2010

Earth as Subatomic Particle

Game Story: Padres vs Cubs

San Diego Padres' odds of making the playoffs as of August 26th: 96.7 %

San Diego Padres' odds of making the playoffs as of today September 29th: 21%


After seeing on Twitter that there was a special ticket promotion for last night's Padres game offering a buy-one-get-one-for-$1 deal, I immediately jumped on it and was downtown in my favorite section in Petco Park (Toyota Terrace close to home plate) within a couple hours. It was my first Padres game since an August Saturday afternoon loss to the Phillies when the first place Pads had just begun their long streak of losses.

Last night they were coming off a successful (2 out of 3) weekend series against the Reds but had lost 1-0 the previous night, Monday, to the Chicago Cubs. Fiery, young, and talented staff ace Mat Latos was on the mound facing Ryan Dempster, one of the Cubs' consistently strong rotation cogs for years now. This season, while the Cubs have been terrible and put a pretty weak lineup to the plate, Dempster has continued to be reliable on the mound, ranking in the top 10 in his league in strikeouts, innings pitched, and fewest walks allowed.

The first four innings of the game went very fast as both starters settled into a groove quickly. Dempster allowed only one hit through 4 even though Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Denorfia had both smoked line drives deep into the outfield that centerfielder Marlon Byrd snatched at a full sprint and Latos let up a hit and a couple walks. Then in the top half of the 5th, the 22-year-old Latos gave us another example of how he can pretty easily let his frustration and anger get the best of him while on the mound and have his composure and effectiveness rapidly snowball downward. Latos without a doubt has the ability to be one of the top pitchers in the major leagues (he had the most dominant month in San Diego Padres history back in May with a .160 average allowed) but he is his own worst enemy. He gets pissed when he screws up and he knows it. In the top of the 5th, he allowed the Cubs two runs on an error of his own while trying to barehand a groundball, and then 3 consecutive hits including a hard liner off his leg. After Latos had been struck by the ball, it seemed for a moment like the manager and team trainer weren't even going to come out and check if he was okay (even though you always see them come out just as a precaution, especially with a young pitcher) and I thought maybe they were afraid to come out and talk to him because he just appeared so visibly enraged and explosive due to the inning's proceedings.

He managed to make his way out of that 5th inning allowing only 2 runs but then quickly crumbled in the 6th right after his catcher had smacked a two-run homer to tie the game. A clean liner by Xavier Nady and then a bomb to centerfield by Alfonso Soriano knocked Latos out of the game with his team trailing 4-2.

That's where the game stood in the bottom of the 7th with the (surprisingly meager) crowd lively after their stretch and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"-singing, ready to scream like crazy for their team to tie the game. Matt Stairs did his part, opening the frame with a smashed ground rule double to centerfield. Chase Headley followed with a walk and the Padres had the tying runs on base and nobody out. As Ryan Dempster beared down and started throwing his slider almost exclusively, here's how the Padres responded:

Nick Hundley: struck out swinging, 1 out

Chris Denorfia: struck out swinging, 2 outs

Yorvit Torrealba: struck out swinging, 3 outs

I was monitoring Dempster very closely during those three at-bats and he really seemed to reach back for something extra in his adrenaline bucket and threw his awesome slider viciously. According to FanGraphs, Dempster's slider alone has been worth a wopping 20.1 runs saved above average this season and he effectively used it to strike out the side and escape a Padre rally in his final inning of the night.

That series of events totally deflated the entire stadium and I began deeply considering leaving the game early (something I absolutely never do) and officially giving up on this disappointing Padres playoff chase. When the long-limbed lanky (physically he is perfectly emblematic of the word "wiry") reliever Mike Adams allowed a home run to the long-limbed lanky (emblematically "wiry") Alfonso Soriano, I was done. I left at the end of the 8th after the Padres amounted absolutely no comeback.

I've loved watching this team play all year. I've been to more of their games this season than I've ever been to see one team in my life and I even once seriously considered them as a World Series threat. But I think the dreamy 2010 Padres Cinderella Story has slowly disintegrated and turned to dust. They won tonight and they need 4 more wins in their last 4 games to clinch the playoffs but from what I saw of them Tuesday night, they don't look like they can mount that last grunt towards the finish line that they need. They look tired and worn out and stressed from the beating they've taken over the last 30 days or so (the team is now 11-15 for the month of September after winning over 58% of their games for the first 5 months). I give them credit for knocking the Rockies off the postseason hill and it's certainly not inconceivable that they beat the Giants head-to-head this weekend but I just don't see these guys suddenly bursting back to life. I'll eat my words if they prove me wrong but to me they look like they're finished.

I'll still be watching and rooting for them, though, and interestingly enough I'll be up in San Francisco all weekend while they battle the Giants. The inevitable dream/fantasy/miracle scenario would feature me at the ballgame Sunday afternoon with a postseason berth on the line and a Padres victory but....we'll see.

As it stands right now the Padres are 2 games behind the Giants in the NL West and 1.5 behind the Braves in the Wild Card. Just going by run-differential, a pretty simple gauge of team skill and overall performance, the Padres (+84) are now lagging well behind both the Giants (+112) and Braves (+121) after being atop the National League for much of the season. There's no doubt these Padres have overachieved for the whole year and no matter what happens these next few days, their current 88 wins is a great season for them (I pegged them for 85 wins before the season and even that was wishcasting*). It's a bit sad that it has to end with them slowing down to a crawl but it shouldn't take away from how posterity views their overall performance.

*By the way, don't look back at those preseason projections...I picked the Giants to finish dead last.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Century of the Self

I'd like to share with you a pretty amazing but fairly unknown documentary. It's called "The Century of the Self" and it tells the story of Sigmund Freud and his American nephew Edward Bernays who actually invented what we call "public relations" which, as he explains in the film, is just a nicer way of saying "propaganda". Very interesting, highly educational (who knew that it was once taboo for women to smoke cigarettes until Bernays flipped the script on the public?) film, it will really open your eyes to all the media material being thrown at you through television shows, advertisements, product placement (another Bernays invention), and especially government blabber. Bernays was hired by the US government to rally up to the country to support our entering World War I. After his success with that, most of the major corporations in this country hired him to promote their products and help transform the masses from the "American worker" into the "American consumer". But I've already said too much...

The film is split into 4 parts (I originally saw the first 2 parts at a nice little theater in Union Square years ago) and it is written and narrated by Adam Curtis.

"This series is about how those in power have used Freud's theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy." - Adam Curtis

It is available in its entirety on YouTube:








Sunday, September 26, 2010

On the Advantage and Attraction of a Martzian Offense

I like the Chicago Bears this year. And I by that I don't necessarily mean "I like their chances" but instead (and in addition to that) I mean I enjoy watching this year's team play, will root for them, and will use them when I play Madden 2011. Why? Simply because they have assembled what I find to be a very interesting and exciting team. I will elaborate on that in a moment but first let me explain the nature of my unusual sports team partisanship.

Like pretty much everybody else who likes sports, I am a fan of those teams based in the region I grew up in. As pathetic and embarrassing as they've been the last couple years, I will always be a Mets fan. The New York Rangers had some years of ridiculous ineptitude but I'll always consider myself a Rangers fan. In the NBA, it's both the Knicks and the Nets or whichever of those two is currently not horrible (at the moment, they're both not looking too good).

My interest in NFL football sprung about pretty late; it wasn't until I was 13 that I really took interest in it. That was 1998 and the Jets went all the way to the AFC Championship game led by quarterback Vinny Testaverde, scrappy Wayne Chrebet and (one of my all time faves) running back Curtis Martin, capturing my attention and giving birth to my passion for the sport in the process. They lost to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Broncos in that game and Testaverde ruptured his Achilles on the first play of the season the next year. With Ray Lucas under center the team somehow managed to finish 8-8 but I didn't pay much attention. In 2000, though, I was officially a diehard Jets fan. I tape recorded each game every Sunday and then would watch it in its entirety throughout the week, skipping the commercials and all the other bells and whistles we're bombarded with these days during a football broadcast (this was before TiVo, of course).

There was one Monday night game that season that I'll never forget. The Jets were hosting a tough Miami Dolphins team and they quickly fell behind 20-0. Going into the 4th quarter the Jets were down 30-7 and, since it was pretty late on a school night, I decided to go to sleep but I still had the VCR recording the game...until my mom came in the room and, seeing that I was asleep and not knowing the mistake she was making, shut the VCR off. Testaverde led an absolutely epic comeback, putting up 30 points in the final quarter to force overtime before claiming an improbable, exciting and historic victory in OT. And I missed it. Luckily, NFL Films made a pseudo-documentary about that game shortly thereafter and I got that on tape and watched it a billion times. Jets radio announcer (and current Miami Dolphins radio announcer) Howard David's yelling "JUMBO ELLIOTT! JUMBO ELLIOTT!" is etched somewhere deep inside my brain. Elliott was an offensive linemen who lined up as a receiver and caught the tying touchdown in the 4th quarter to tie the game at 30.

That same season, Mike Martz took over as head coach of the St. Louis Rams and that team, a year after winning the Super Bowl, officially became the most exciting and entertaining football team of my generation. With a duo of elite wide receivers (Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt) an all-around unstoppable running back (Marshall Faulk) and a strong-armed quarterback (Kurt Warner), Martz dictated a system of offense that was designed to offensively bludgeon opponents to death. That year they set a new NFL record for passing yards in a season with 5,492 and blew the league away with by far the most total points scored in football(540 points, almost 34 per game). It should come as no surprise that, for a 15-year-old kid whose main recreation with friends was playing Madden football, they were a dream come true. While I still kept track of my Jets every Sunday, the Rams became my mistress. "The Greatest Show on Turf," as the team was dubbed, often made its way onto national TV and I savored every moment of their games (at least when they had the ball).

Years later, the Rams have faded. The last remnants of that famous squad are gone and, while they've got a great running back in Steven Jackson, they're a pitiful team to watch. I really could care less about them and, honestly, I find it very hard to even look at this group of players wearing those same jerseys as the epic "Show" of the early 2000s.

The same thing happens for me with other sports as well: I was a huge fan of the 76ers while Allen Iverson was torching up the court for them, the Red Wings usually capture my attention and interest with their high-scoring fun-to-watch teams, and in baseball I've usually got a favorite team in each of the six divisions every year. It changes from year to year. Some people find this hard to believe and it's often a struggle to explain to friends of mine who are diehard, close-minded fans of their particular team that I have a strong interest (and even a rooting interest) in teams outside my region (or hometown). I've been an Oakland A's fan for years after reading Moneyball and even before I moved to San Diego I followed the Padres because their teams' decision-makers usually seem to focus on sabermetrics. I always try to watch the Phoenix Suns whenever they're on TV and, though they certainly won't make the playoffs, I thought the Toronto Blue Jays were an extremely fun team to watch this year.

Now, back to the Chicago Bears. In my decade-or-so of football fanhood I've never cared about the Bears and certainly never liked them. I've always found their teams boring even when they were good (even their jerseys are kinda boring). Last season they were an absolute disaster. While they managed to finish 7-9, pretty much every aspect of the team was bad. Looking at my Football Outsiders Almanac, by a special stat of theirs called DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), their passing was ranked 23rd, rushing 30th, and overall their once-vaunted defense ranked just 22nd in effectiveness. So, why do I care about this team?

As part of a complete overhaul of their coaching staff in the offseason, the Bears brought in my old pal Mike Martz (shown right, contemplating this very blog post). They already seem to have the pieces in place to operate a solid Martzian high-octane offense:

- while he led the league in interceptions last year, Jay Cutler is still an elite quarterback and he's already off to a superb start this year. After two games he leads the league in quarterback rating and yards per attempt. He has one of the strongest throwing arms in football and a pretty quick release. He's also relatively mobile and can throw on the run. Martz' scheme is almost entirely pass-based so it looks like we might have the makings of something very special here.

- running back Matt Forte had a disappointing sophomore campaign last year but he's looked great so far in this revamped scheme. He's been used almost exclusively as a Marshall Faulk-style receiver out of the backfield and he already leads the team in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. The team also brought in Chester Taylor who's another running back with great receiving skills and so far they've essentially eschewed the run game---they're currently 29th in the league in rushing yards and Forte leads the team with 79 yards on the ground.

- this is a receiving corps with lots of potential. Devin Hester still seems to be learning the position but he's got great speed and should succeed in an offensive system that likes to find receivers in a spot where they can catch the ball and run upfield. Johnny Knox, as the Football Outsiders Almanac says, "has a skill set which is reminiscent of the poster boy for Martz receivers: Torry Holt." Knox already has one huge catch (he brought in a 59-yard bomb last week in Dallas) and, along with Devin Aromashodu and tight end Greg Olson, this crew gives Cutler a pretty sure-handed and speedy group to throw to.

This team also has something those old Rams squads never seemed to have: defense. Although current Bears head coach Lovie Smith was the guy running the defensive show during the glory days in St. Louis, he never had a group this talented. Brian Urlacher returns from a season missed due to injury and joins linebacker Lance Briggs, defensive tackle Tommie Harris, and one of the best defensive players in all of football, free agent signee Julius Peppers, for a very solid front seven that should be able to butt heads with any offense in this league.

They'll get the chance to test their true skills on Monday night in a great rivalry matchup with the Green Bay Packers and their own high-powered offense led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Should be a very exciting game and you can bet I'll be rooting for the Bears.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Briefly examining Dali's Centaurs

Just read something extremely intellectually pleasing: a clear and lucid explanation of a part of Salvador Dali's painting Marsupial Centaurs. Came across it in my current research on the "paranoiac critical method" that Dali perfected and it's so good that I'd like to quote a huge chunk of it here.

Here's the painting we're talking about.
And now quoting from a post on a website cleverly named "brain-meat":
When asked why the centaurs in his painting, Marsupial Centaurs, were riddled with holes, he replied, “The holes are like parachutes, only safer.” This response is often used as an example of Dali being Dali, purposefully obscure, self-absorbed, and downright snotty. The reader might interpret this comment as a nose thumbing, coupled with an “If you don’t know why the holes are there, you Philistine, I will never tell you.” The fact is, however, that Dali is simply stating the reason for the holes, which upon examination, becomes unmistakable, true to its Paranoiac Critical ancestry.
It's this examination which I found so gratifying that I had to post it.

The need for the holes stems from Dali’s fixation on the “intrauterine paradise.” This notion was prevalent in many of his paintings, writings, sculptures, etc. He claimed to be able to recall colors and images from his career in the womb and drew, from that prenatal, but apparently not pre-artistic, period, his famous “eggs without pan” images...
A fundamental desire in Man, according to Dali, is to return to the womb, with its safety and utter lack of affectation. When bellybound, the fetus has no choice but to experience completely. The path that the fetus takes to enter the world, an ignoble and abrupt descent through the birth canal, is responsible for a mass of human discomfort and unhappiness. How can one be expected to function with complete ease in any environment with which one is unfamiliar, and into which one is simply ejected?
What's amazing is that this is essentially an artistic intuition for Dali but it's been scientifically confirmed in the works of Stanislav Grof and his perinatal matrices. But that's a topic for another day.
Man, seeking to regain the composure of the intrauterine paradise, endeavors to recreate the experiences therein in a number of ways. Those germane to this discussion mimic the actual descent into the maelstrom. The most common is sleep. When dreaming, one may operate relatively free of the stresses imposed by the actual environment. Sleep is, in this way, an analog of the womb. This notion is not new, of course. It is treated visually by Dali in his painting “Mask of Sleep.” The figure in the picture is a woefully distorted and distended human face, attached to a vanishingly small body. The dozing head is held aloft by a series of crutches, another of Dali’s fetish objects. We recognize then, that the comfort of sleep is imperfect, for the danger of the fall is still present, and perhaps unavoidable.
Some mimic the fall more literally. Dali considered the popularity of skydiving, particularly the fascination with W.W.I paratroopers, a result of the desire to address the nature of falling. By falling from a high place, one might not only examine the fall, but face the consequences impact, generally resulting in the big sleep. (This is also a womb analog, albeit a more permanent and gruesome one.) These activities, however dangerous and confusing, were a means by which the individual could learn to cope with the world into which he had been cast. In the best of all possible worlds, the womb would be a more gracious host, allowing entry and exit at will, such that the child might return in times of confusion or trouble, until complete acclimation had been attained. The child, completely capable of interacting seamlessly with this new terrain would be spared the stress of the abrupt birth. The holes in the centaurs are these open wombs. Through them the young centaurs are able to learn about the world without having to live there full-time, and without the threat of impact—like parachutes, only safer.
And that's why they are marsupial.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

An Epitomical All-Encompassing Building Roam post

Ever since I started this blog it's had the subtitle of "one of those Sports/Music/Literature blogs" which is kind of a joke (I would hope most people realize that) since I assume there aren't many blogs out there that focus on three such completely different topics. As this site has progressed along it's mostly been about Baseball and James Joyce with a few ventures into reviewing underground hip hop music. While I have plans to write a very lengthy series of posts on Joyce in the future, I am also hoping to start incorporating music (mainly underground hip hop) into the mix a lot more as well.

What has perhaps prevented me from doing so as of yet is my conviction that music is one of, if not thee most subjective of all the arts. What might be the absolute greatest piece of music I've ever heard may not hit you at all. Your favorite musician may be boring to me. My favorites might be totally worthless drivel to you but can be the highest form of lyrical poetry to me. What I hope is that the people who choose to read what I have to say on the topic do so with an open mind because I certainly will try to clearly explain why this music is so special and one might learn something interesting about a genre of music or a musician that they never lent a thought to.

(One of the other big reasons I haven't posted much yet about music is that I'd like to smoothly embed some tracks for readers to listen to but I haven't quite figured out how best to do that yet. I've settled for embedding YouTube videos of particular tracks but the sound quality is not nearly as good nor is the YouTube selection in possession of some of the rare gems that I'd like to share sometimes.)

I'm a bit disappointed with myself for letting a week pass by without posting anything but, as often happens, I allowed myself to get deeply immersed in...well...everything but my blog. A big part of that is my job but I'm out of work at 3. Truthfully, what's kept me heavily occupied the last few weeks are the three things this blog is supposed to be all about.

So I would like to make a post that perfectly encompasses those three elements of which this blog is about. This approach can be called A Building Roam as I am roaming from one distinct topic to the next, building knowledge and whatever insight I can offer about each one. Let's take the three of them (Sports, Music, Literature) backwards.

Literature
Ever since the James Joyce Quarterly highlighted my post connecting James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Salvador Dali's The Temptation of St Anthony I've been studying and taking notes on the subject of a Dali-Joyce connection and getting extremely deep into it, mining some serious gems. For one, the main link between the two men is the eminent psychologist Jacques Lacan who was directly involved with Dali on many philosophical/psychological theories and also wrote some extremely fascinating stuff on Joyce (and even attended one of the first public readings of Ulysses in the 20s). Just in the past few days I've discovered some pretty amazing and mindblowing new insights into Dali-Joyce-Lacan but I must hold back on sharing it all right now. I am writing a paper on the subject that I will submit to the Joyce Quarterly for publication because what I've been finding is pretty special and, while I certainly won't make it a habit of withholding my own writings from this blog, I would rather not just let it spill out into the worldwide web without getting any credit for it. Heck, I don't even display my real name here.

What I will share with you though are a few interesting articles I've been reading to learn more about the topic I'll be writing about. The first one, entitled "Joyce: Through the Lacan Glass," requires close attention and plenty of Google-searching for terms (Lacan had his own enigmatic terms for most of his psychological theories) but if you can persevere through it there's some extremely interesting stuff on Joyce, his relationship to the psychoanalytical community, and what he reveals about his own psychological state in Finnegans Wake.

Next, to get a better understanding of just how colorful and important a figure this Jacques Lacan was, read this selection from the New York Times Book Review about a Lacan biography.

This last one is long and I'm only just beginning to read it myself but it's the contemporary philosopher Slavoj Zizek (whom I've only learned about today but apparently he's a great modern mind) discussing Lacan and Joyce and it's already got me hooked. [Edit: scratch that, this piece is way too academic and barely discusses Joyce at all after the first few paragraphs.]

Music
Probably because I've been on a heavy Madlib binge since late last year, I've pretty much neglected to mention the group (or "musical movement" would be more accurate) that holds the most prominent position in my musical life: the Wu-Tang Clan. With the monthly Madlib Medicine Show series coming to an unnerving temporary halt this past month (after 8 months of smoothly churning out at least one new album each month, Madlib apparently didn't finish up #9 in time) I've found myself drifting back towards the Wu-Tang universe that I've been so deeply immersed in for years but seemed to be drawn away from through my Madlib obsession. Well, yesterday and today I spent much of the day blasting Wu tunes through my speakers and vibing to it. This return to my musical source has sparked many ideas and I can assure you there will be much more Wu-Tang material (analysis, album reviews, even exclusive artist interviews) to come here at A Building Roam.


Today is the 41st birthday of the last member (the 10th) of the almighty Wu-Tang Clan, Cappadonna aka Cappuccino. Fittingly, in the system of Supreme Mathematics that so heavily features within the whole Wu-Tang mythology, the number 41 breaks down to Culture-Knowledge and thus on Cappa's birthday I'm using him as the focal point to start introducing the Knowledge of this unbelievably abundant and world-encompassing Culture.

The Staten Island-born emcee known as Cappadonna (real name Darryl Hill) has been a subject of argument among both the Wu fans and the group itself since he first appeared. The group originally consisted of 9 members (Rza, Gza, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, Method Man, U-God, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, and the final member Masta Killa) until Cappa started appearing more and more on the group's albums and even often times grabbing the spotlight on some of their best songs (his verses on the classic tracks Ice Cream and Winter Warz are a perfect example). He eventually seemed to become a regular feature in the group and essentially replaced ODB as the 9th member at times while ODB was in trouble, in prison, and then eventually in a casket. But after a falling out with group leader Rza over royalties, Cappa disappeared from Wu songs for a little while and was even airbrushed out of a photo for the Iron Flag album cover. Their problems having been settled, 'Donna has been back as a regular contributor to the Wu's releases these past few years although it's never been clearly stated by Rza (the "Abbott" of the Clan who seems to solely possess the power to bestow the official stamp) that he is a member of the group instead of just an affiliate. All of this may sound silly but the Wu-Tang Clan is perhaps the greatest musical group of all time (20 years, 9 artists that stayed together, dozens of albums, dozens of affiliate artist careers launched) and a quibble over whether or not one is officially a member of that group is of some importance.

Anyway...because of his status as unofficial extra member, his excellence has at times been a bit unheralded and overlooked. He has delivered some of the most famous Wu-Tang verses of all time and wrestled the spotlight from his brethren on some of their most popular tracks. Seemingly a protege of the extremely verbally creative duo of Raekwon and Ghostface, he's also developed a style of slang that's as colorful and diverse as his oft-referenced wardrobe ("one man catalogue, the London fog casual hog") and which sometimes pushes language to its very limits (if you're a Joycean reading this, you can perhaps see why I'm so heavily into these guys). His last album was entitled "Slang Prostitution" and he's been known to push lyrics to the point of near nonsense (as evident on a few tracks from his debut album). But when he's on, he's as good as anybody. I've chosen this freestyle of his (he's the second emcee) as a clear example.

"I meditate, coordination sparkle like a jew-el when I show articulation"

This one is one of my favorite Cappadonna songs of all time, off The Swarm compilation:



Here is his performance on the opening track of Ghostface's classic album Ironman (he steps in at the 3:10 mark and verbally dances on the beat with phenomenal grace)


Sports
While the Padres have turned the NL West race into baseball's most exciting stretch run, I've been sneaking away from my baseball obsessions a bit to catch myself up with the current state of the NFL. I'd been drifting away from caring about football over the last two years, sick of all the commercials, ESPN's gluttonous over-coverage, and bored with watching a sport which mostly features fat guys standing around and old guys talking into head sets. I've been dragged back in entirely because of a fantasy football league.

It's been fun to get reacquainted, though, because I really was a humongous football fan for many years, living and dying with my New York Jets each week and playing Madden pretty much every single day. A few weeks ago I went out and bought two NFL Season Preview magazines, devoured them, then purchased the awesome Football Outsiders Almanac 2010 which is much like the Baseball Prospectus annuals I've been so addicted to for almost a decade now.

Then, the other day, I actually went out and purchased a new game for my dusty archaic Playstation 2. I bought the final Playstation 2 installation of Madden Football. Compared to the stuff on the higher level game systems it's nothing spectacular but I care very little for video games these days and this PS2 version is just fine for me. I've jumped into it and felt the familiar addictive feeling as I neglected my readings, writings, and house chores to try and throw up another 50-yard bomb to Randy Moss (yes, I'm a Jets fan and I use the Patriots in video games---they're a fun video game team).

Instead of completely eschewing sports talk radio in San Diego with its incessant blabbering about the comings and goings of the Chargers, I've actually tuned in while driving around and kept up with this strange team of theirs. As described in the aforementioned Almanac, the Chargers had by far the best passing offense in football last year but the absolute worst running game and a very poor defense---yet they finished with 13 wins and 3 losses. Having lost their best wide receiver, a setback is expected but the Almanac speaks very highly of quarterback Philip Rivers (although emphasizing his extremely ugly throwing motion):
It's not just that there's no comparable player for Rivers at quarterback; really, there's not a similar player to Rivers in all of sports. There's no other player who performs so well while looking so ugly doing it, combining elite output with clearly suboptimal form.
Unfortunately, because of the NFL's blackout rules, we here in San Diego will not even be able to watch the Chargers' home opener tomorrow. The game is being played about 3 miles from my apartment and I won't even be able to see it. Luckily for me though, the Jets-Patriots game will be shown instead. Ah, memories.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

World Trade Center Memories

Yesterday I took part in my second (official) fantasy football draft in nine years. The first one had been back in September of 2001. I was 16 years old and my brother John had invited me to join a fantasy football league with his friends, the draft to take place at one of their apartments in lower Manhattan. On Saturday night, September 8th, we gathered in the living room of a relatively small but nice apartment and had our draft. I was by far the youngest person in the group. We put our names in a hat and chose randomly to determine the draft order. Somehow, I ended up with the #1 pick. I took Rams running back and all-around superstar Marshall Faulk. He would end up winning the league for me that year, bringing home a pot of almost a thousand dollars.

What I remember most about that evening was the drive home. As we curled around from the West Side Highway to the Battery Tunnel entrance, I stared upwards out the window at the enormous gold-lit glistening towers that hovered above.

*   *   *
My grandfather started his own business, a customs brokerage firm, at the old Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House back in 1968. The same building is now the National Museum of the American Indian. I remember it most for its role in Ghostbusters 2 where the ghostbusting crew defeated the terrible ghost Vigo the Carpathian. Vigo was a ghost from the 17th Century trapped inside of a menacing-looking painting. That movie came out when I was 4 years old and occupied a major role in my life for years to come. Every time I would pass by that old Custom House building I'd remember how my mom and my brother John used to tell me they'd seen the camera crews filming scenes there, especially the scene where they covered the entire building with pink slime---which was in reality one big plastic bag.
 *   *   *
When construction on the Twin Towers was completed in 1972, my grandfather moved his business into an office space on the 21st floor of the North Tower. The business remained there for the next twenty years. Both my mother and my brother John took jobs with his company and I have great memories, some of my earliest memories in fact, of spending time in that office, staring out the narrow windows in my mom's office at the people on the ground who looked like ants. I perfectly remember the lunch room which had chairs like movie director chairs. My grandfather's office was mostly dark green rug and leather seats. His desk was made of dark shiny wood and it was always covered with huge stacks of papers. And I'll always remember Phil. Phil Jackson. A smooth-talking, funny, tall lanky black man, Phil was the office messenger and he always wore a baseball hat and always entertained my siblings and me whenever my mom brought us to work.

*   *   *
When my grandfather died, he left the business to his greedy second wife and a rift split apart my family from the business. My mom and brother John (and a few other folks from the old company) started working with a new company located a bit further downtown, right on Battery Place, just a block or two away from the old U.S. Customs House building. With the new company, my mom (who held a pretty prominent managerial position) had maintained a working relationship with another business that was on the 89th floor of the North Tower. When I'd go in to work with her we would sometimes walk over to the World Trade Center and I'd get to see the amazing view from that 89th floor office. The guy in charge was Albert, a super nice man with a warm personality. Behind his desk was a large set of windows that overlooked the sprawl of Manhattan. It was absolutely stunning. Whenever I'd go up there and see that view I had chills and an experience of what I now realize was "sublime." Awe-inspiring. It was almost too much to behold. It felt as though you could reach out and touch the Empire State Building which was really about 3 miles north.

During the summer that I turned 14, my mom hired me for my first job ever: messenger. My old pal Phil Jackson, who was part of the crew that had moved to this new company, showed me the ropes for about a week. My job was to take documents from the office on Battery Place and walk around downtown Manhattan bringing the documents to their destinations. One of those destinations, a daily regular, was Albert's office on the 89th floor of the World Trade Center. You had to take two elevators to get up to the 89th floor and in between there was a sky lobby with a stunning view and I'd often stare out the window for a while. Since I'd usually bring their documents around lunch time, I would really milk the time (I was working for my mom after all) and explore, hang out, go to Borders bookstore, look for new Wu-Tang cds at the Sam Goody in the underground mall, and sometimes just roam amidst the buildings. I can remember days when I'd sit in that beautiful plaza in between the towers, I'd peoplewatch and write down stories in a marble notebook. I always ate pizza at Bari's Pizza on Greenwich Street, played chess in Zuccotti Park, bought comic books from the street vendors on Church Street. It was really a beautiful time in my life and I have great memories of it. Unfortunately (maybe because I was basically being paid to roam the streets everyday) I was never hired back after that summer.

But on my last day of work that summer (it was 1999), my dad came in to the city from Staten Island to meet my mom and me after work and we all went up to the observation deck atop the South Tower. Afterwards we ate pizza for dinner at Bari's.

*   *   *
My last job before moving to San Diego was an accounting position in Piscataway, New Jersey. The exit I got off at to go to work was the same as the one for Rutgers University. At the time, Rutgers had a superstar running back leading their football team back to respectability after over a decade of losing seasons. His name was Ray Rice and in April 2008, just two months before I would leave my Piscataway job, he was selected by the Ravens in the NFL Draft.

Now, Rice is one of the best running backs in the NFL and I was coveting him in my draft yesterday. I got him with my #1 pick.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ten Straight

I spent this beautiful Sunday afternoon doing domestic chores (dishes and laundry) while watching the Padres play the visiting Colorado Rockies. In a game that felt like an intense pennant race battle, the Padres seemed to succumb to the pressure of their mounting winless streak which is now at 10 games. 

Battling a Colorado team that they've had many tight and exciting lateseason battles against over the last five years, they got beaten and swept at home. The Rockies have now won 10 out of 15 games against the Padres this season and 7 out of 9 at Petco Park. The Rox look like they're mounting another one of their customary late season surges as they've now climbed to within 4.5 games of the division-leading Padres. Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez (whom the Rockies acquired from Oakland for Matt Holliday in 2008) is catching fire, currently leading the league in both batting average and slugging percentage. He had 3 hits and a run in the game against the Pads today and seemed to be in the right place every time a Padre smacked a liner or a flyball in his direction, always catching the ball with a nonchalance reminiscent of Andruw Jones' glory days. "I hate him, he's just so smug."

*   *   *
I read the Associated Press' postgame write-up and they described the Padres as "reeling" which invokes in my mind the image of the baseball season as a six-month long race up a mountain's spiral road. The mountain would look like Dante's vision of Mt Purgatory (to the right) and it's as if each team is a race car trying to race up to the top of that mountain. The Padres have been absolutely zooming along their upward path for the entire season but have hit a tiny little pebble that made them start to wobble off track a bit and now they're skidding along the very edges of the mountain. That's what I envision by the word "reeling" as a description for these pennant race Padres. The Rockies have been known to go on these late season streaks (last year they started September winning 10 out of their first eleven) and now they're zooming up towards the tightly matched Padres and Giants and will probably make it a three team race to the NL West finish line.

*   *   *
There was one guy on the Padres who came out to play today like he wanted to single-handedly end this miserable losing streak: Miguel Tejada. The 36-year-old fading superstar was on-point and energetic. Bud Black had moved him down to 5th in the order, demoting him from the #2 spot he'd been occupying and Tejada responded by smoking a single in his first at bat (before successfully stealing 2nd base) and then absolutely crushing a towering two-run homerun in the 6th to tie the game and create the only 2 runs the Padres would score in the game.

In the 9th inning when the Padres were down to their last chance to try and avoid their losing streak growing into double-digits, Tejada led off with a perfectly executed bunt (I usually hate the bunt, especially for a good hitter without great speed, but he placed it absolutely perfectly) for an infield single. The crowd and the Padres finally seemed like they had some life, some energy, some of that late inning intensity and enthusiasm they've regularly had for the whole season (and the last two months of the '09 season). Here was their chance to finally come up big, erase a 9th inning deficit, punch back at the slugging Rockies and here's what they did:

- Chase Headley: struck out swinging (on a pitch that looked right down the middle)

- Matt Stairs: struck out looking

- Will Venable: struck out swinging (on a pitch that was right down the middle)

Game over.

I felt throughout the entire game like I did while I was watching the Mets' final three games of the year in 2007 when Florida knocked them out of the playoff picture. Or 2008 when the Mets absolutely collapsed and fell from first place like the burning Lucifer being flung from heaven. He fell with such force that he smashed through to the middle of the earth, pushing up a mountain at the bottom of the earth that became Mt Purgatory.

Will the Padres win another game this season?

After another loss to the Colorado Rockies yesterday afternoon, the Padres have now gone 9 games without a win. It's the longest losing streak in seven years and the fans here in San Diego are starting to worry that maybe the clock has struck midnight very abruptly on this magical season and this Cinderella Pad squad is turning into a pumpkin.

They had been cruising along at an essentially perfect pace for 5 straight months to start the year. Their record and run differential was better than all but the best two teams in baseball. Counting last year they've actually been playing like the best team in the National League for 7 straight months (they finished the season going 32-21 in the last two months of '09). They had not even had a losing streak longer than 3 games throughout this year and had only experienced such a streak twice.

Now they seem to have ran into a wall and are having trouble getting back up. Well-executed fundamental baseball has been a constant for this crew but we've seen the defense coming apart at the seams in this sloppy 9-game slide. The other night Miguel Tejada, for no apparent reason, tried to catch a throw from the second basemen with his bare hand to start a double play. It was a ridiculous thing to try and he totally missed it, granting the D'backs two extra outs for the inning. Another defensive miscue followed and then Luke Gregerson allowed a monstrous grand slam. Today Everth Cabrera booted an easy grounder that would've started a doubleplay. This is not how the Padres have played all year.

The team's strategy throughout the year has been simple but impeccably executed: keep the games close with strong starting pitching and defense, scrap out a lead with timely hitting, and then hand things off to a virtually unhittable bullpen. During this streak their pitching has been atrocious, allowing almost 6 runs per game and the sputtering offense has only scored 2.3 per contest.

So, is what we've seen these past nine games the real talent level of the Padres? Were the first 5 months of pure excellence a total fluke?

I really don't think so. But the mounting losses are undoubtedly testing this team mentally and you can see guys starting to freak out and have tantrums like Jon Garland did in the Padre dugout during an ugly inning yesterday. Perhaps that's exactly what a discombobulated team needs to get back on track.

*   *   *
Searching for an excuse for this streak of struggles, we can at least grant that they've played against good teams. The Diamondbacks started out terribly but they have played much better baseball as of late, finishing August with a 16-13 record (the same as the Padres during that span). The losing streak began with a 11-5 pounding in Arizona before the Friars came home for a weekend series with the Phillies who always play great this time of year. With reinforcements like Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins having just returned to the lineup and Joe Blanton and Chase Utley throwing gems, the Phils swept their opponents at Petco. I was at the Saturday game (pic below) and the Padres looked lifeless, showing no indication of the determined, tough at-bats and late inning rallies that have been customary for this San Diego team for basically the last calendar year.
After that embarassing sweep in their home park they went back over to Arizona again and got walloped in a three game set (outscored 19-6) and now the last two games they've battled a Colorado team that is on fire (as they always are at this time of the year) and against whom they've had trouble all season, winning just 4 of 10 games against the Rox. Back in May I stated that the Rockies would probably make a surge eventually and the Padres might not be good enough to withstand it when it comes. Well, here is that surge as they've climbed to within 5.5 games for the first time since July, their best player is back in the lineup after a month on the DL, CarGo is heating up and one mustn't forget the resilient Giants who have continued to nip at the Padres' heels, now sitting only 2 games back. It really is looking like it'll be an exciting September in the NL West.

Last night I found myself up in Los Angeles and actually rooting for the Dodgers as they played the Giants. I'll hopefully make a post entirely devoted to that experience but the Dodgers managed to win and keep the Giants down, otherwise they'd only be 1 game back right now.

*   *   *
So...will the Padres win another game this season or anytime soon?

Of course they will. I think they'll either win today's tilt with Clayton Richard on the mound or, if they lose again and push it to double digits, Mat Latos will blow away the Dodgers on Monday and we'll all forget this ever happened.

But now since they've allowed the Giants to get close again the question remains: can this Padres team win the division?

The Padres have an extremely tough schedule to finish out the year. The worst team they'll face is the Cubs and they've got to face San Francisco seven more times, the Dodgers six, plus seven games against the Cardinals and Reds.

Once they shake off this embarrassing stumble, this is still a quality Padres team. Keep in mind Miguel Tejada is actually hitting pretty well with a 106 OPS+ thus far as a Padre, Chase Headley and Adrian Gonzalez were great in August, and the surprise explosion that is Chris Denorfia's 2010 season hasn't slowed down one bit (145 OPS+ in August). If Ryan Ludwick can shake off his slow San Diego start (.658 OPS) and hit at a rate closer to his established norm, I think the offense will not only be fine but it should be an improvement on what they've been winning with for much of the year. The rotation looks a little more troubling as Wade LeBlanc seems to have lost his touch (although he had great K/BB numbers last month, he's been giving up far too many homers), Jon Garland's luck is fading and Kevin Correia continues to struggle (5.52 ERA on the year, 7.20 in August).There are reinforcements available in-house though, especially long relief man Tim Stauffer who's been itching to get back in the rotation and I think Bud Black and Darren Balsey will sort things out with the starters. The pen is not to be worried about with this team, it's too deep and too talented to fuss over.

These next four weeks are going to be thriling and, no matter what happens, I'll be glad to be watching pennant race Padre baseball in September which is something I never thought possible. I just hope they don't emulate the recent fate of my ignominious Mets.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Script for Inception now available in book form

I've already written a few posts here gushing about the movie Inception and, depending on how well I hone my writing skills between now and next year, I'm planning on writing a little collection of essays exploring some of the themes, elements, and possible interpretations of the movie. Thanks to my brother John, who usually has his ear to the pulse of these types of things, I've found a new book that will undoubtedly help me in that endeavor.

The book is Inception: The Shooting Script and you can read all about it here. It has the full movie script as well as an interview between Christopher Nolan and his brother, Nolan's own notes which he jotted down in the script, and numerous diagrams, storyboards and concept art. I've ordered it on Amazon already but it says I may not receive it for a month or two. When I do get it, you can bet that I'll have plenty to say about it. I've already seen the film four times in theaters and was all ready to see it a fifth time last week with my girlfriend and her dad but the drive-in movie (yes, they do still exist and they're very cool) we went to wasn't showing it. We settled on The Other Guys, a title that in retrospect seems perfectly apt.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Splendor of Salvador Dali, the Catalonian Mindbender

My massive Portrait post, one part of it at least, was mentioned on the blog for the James Joyce Quarterly the other day and now I'm organizing that little Dali-Joyce section of it into a mini-essay to submit to their offices for possible publication. I am thrilled about that and also a little nervous.

I haven't had anything published before and it's something I've been striving to achieve for a while now. The possibility has clearly been made open. Just have to submit something that's good enough.

So I've been going through my books and some of my old writings trying to gather ideas or little things to possibly add in to the Joyce and Dali piece and I've realized that, while I am a huge fan of Salvador Dali (he is my favorite painter, although admittedly I've had relatively little exposure to the wide world of painters), that aforementioned Portrait post with its reference to Dali's Temptation of St. Anthony was the first time I've mentioned the great Surrealist Spaniard on this blog. And so I'd like to display some of my favorite work of his and talk some Dali at ya.

I was introduced to Dali's work during a visit to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill to see my longtime friend Raphe whose basement bedroom prominently displayed a poster of The Metamorphosis of Narcissus. I was blown away by it, completely absorbed in its splendor for the entire weekend, and have been a supremely fascinated Dali enthusiast ever since. Here is that painting:

And a few of my other favorites of his...

Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War)
He has the ability to paint a scene of immense size, like a scene in a major movie, and then fill it with the most unusual mutations and combinations that are always striking for their meanings and the chosen form of communicating of those meanings. We see a body completely broken apart and in an absolutely horrifically scrambled state, the feeling of someone at war with himself. The chest with cabinet and drawers is a common element in Dali's work representing the cupboards of thoughts in which we gather and sometimes hide or forget about things throughout our lifetime.

His most recognized painting is definitely The Persistence of Memory (1931) although it's not nearly his best.
I first saw this in a video of a Joseph Campbell lecture that used to be on YouTube a few years ago but now solely exists on the DVD set called Mythos (scratch that: I think I found it here), a collection of lectures which is definitely worthwhile if you're into that stuff. He brings up this painting in discussion of the timeless realm of dreams and the unconscious (I believe the lecture is on Jung and the psyche). "The unconscious doesn't know anything about this," he says, referring to the clocks melting. This landscape is what I call a dreamscape, a depiction of the background desert of the unconscious (or the 'subconscious' as it's more popularly called---Freud called it the "subconscious", Jung called it in the "unconscious" and the former has stuck in the popular lingo but either one makes sense: it's a consciousness that is essentially below and underlying your everyday waking consciousness and something you are consciously unaware of. You with me?).

The same landscape appears in another Dali painting Campbell comments on it that lecture (in which he fluidly recites its lengthy title):

Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bumblebee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening (1944)
It reminds me now of an exaggerated, highly creative and colorful version of the "kick" one experiences inside a dream in the film Inception. And we also see here another recurring Dali theme: that obelisk-carrying elephant on stilts. Here it even seems to be smiling. Those needlefooted elephants are most prominent in the Temptation of St. Anthony painting which I analyzed a few weeks ago.

He's also got a gift for the mind-benders. Those visual trick images that can be any of a few different things at once. Like this:

The Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire (1940)
The technique is called trompe l'oeil (French: 'deceive the eye') and Dali has a few great examples of it (another favorite artist of mine, M.C. Escher, also used it with awesome effect).

Swans Reflecting Elephants (1937)

The Three Ages (1940)

I've mostly shown works from the 1940s thus far but his archives are immense and span eight decades while his style grows and evolves through each one. Plenty of Freud and Jung stuff in the early part of his career and then, after the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945, Dali's perspective on things (and thus the depictions in his art) totally changed. Luckily for us, Dali was a writer (though a whimsically eccentric one) as well as a painter and he explained his conversion clearly:

"The explosion of the atomic bomb on 6 August 1945 sent a seismic shock through me. Since then, the atom has been central to my thinking. Many of the scenes I have painted in this period express the immense fear that took hold of me when I heard of the explosion of the bomb. I used my paranoiac-critical method to analyse the world. I want to perceive and understand the hidden powers and laws of things, in order to have them in my power. A brilliant inspiration shows me that I have an unusual weapon at my disposal to help me penetrate to the core of reality: mysticism---that is to say, the profound intuitive knowledge of what is, direct communication with the all, absolute vision by the grace of Truth, by the grace of God. More powerful than cyclotrons and cybernetic calculators, I can penetrate to the mysteries of the real in a moment...
"In this state of intense prophecy it became clear to me that means of pictorial expression achieved their greatest perfection and effectiveness in the Renaissance, and that the decadence of modern painting was a consequence of scepticism and lack of faith, the result of mechanistic materialism. By reviving Spanish mysticism I, Dali, shall use my work to demonstrate the unity of the universe, by showing the spirituality of all substance." from Dali by Robert Descharnes
So now we see his paintings start to change, much more religious symbolism involved but it's combined with a strong emphasis on the world seen through the eyes of modern physics (which is very similar to Joyce's major works).

The Madonna of Port Lligat (1950)

That one's a favorite of mine. Here's a few more...

Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) (1954)

Nuclear Cross (1952)

Raphaelesque Head Exploding (1951)

In the 60s he started taking things to a whole new level.

Portrait of My Dead Brother (1963)

I think I've shown and said more than enough for now and I really haven't even scratched the surface. He has just an absurdly huge amount of art out there, one could easily make a blog entirely about Dali and I'm sure many people have. I highly recommend checking his works out and you can look forward to seeing more of it here as I will continue to occasionally draw upon them in my writings for this blog.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Schopenhauer on The Illusion of Separation

(I would like to present this book excerpt because it's something I often find myself bringing up in conversation but don't always explain so clearly. This is from Joseph Campbell's superb book The Inner Reaches of Outer Space and it is a quotation from the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.)
[Schopenhauer asks] in his celebrated essay On the Foundation of Morality, "How is it possible that suffering that is neither my own nor of my concern should immediately affect me as though it were my own, and with such force that it moves me to action?...This is something really mysterious, something for which no basis can be found in practical experience. It is nevertheless of common occurrence, and everyone has had the experience. It is not unknown even to the most hard-hearted and self-interested. Examples appear every day before our eyes of instant responses of this kind, without reflection, one person helping another, coming to his aid, even setting his own life in clear danger for someone whom he has seen for the first time, having nothing more in mind than that the other is in need and in peril of his life..."

(My favorite recent example of this was the Subway Superman Wesley Autrey risking his life to save someone who had a seizure and fell onto the subway tracks.)

Schopenhauer's answer to this question is that this immediate reaction and response represents the breakthrough of a metaphysical realization---namely (as he states the idea in Sanskrit), "tat tvam asi, thou art that."

"This presupposes," he declares, "that I have to some extent identified myself with the other and therewith removed for the moment the barrier between the 'I' and the 'Not-I'. Only then can the other's situation, his want, his need, become mine. I then no longer see him in the way of an empirical perception, as one strange to me, indifferent to me, completely other than myself; but in him I suffer, in spite of the fact that his skin does not enfold my nerves."

"Individuation is but an appearance in a field of space and time, these being the conditioning forms through which my cognitive faculties apprehend their objects. Hence the multiplicity and differences that distinguish individuals are likewise but appearances. They exist, that is to say, only in my mental representation. My own true inner being actually exists in every living creature as truly and immediately as known to my consciousness only in myself. This realization, for which the standard formula is in Sanskrit is tat tvam asi, is the ground of that compassion upon which all true, that is to say unselfish, virtue rests and whose expression is in every good deed."
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