Thursday, December 29, 2011

Album Review: MF DOOM - "Born Like This"

Art by Shaun Edwards - www.edwords.net

"Can it be I stayed away too long? Did you miss these rhymes while I was gone?"
- DOOM

After pretty much disappearing off the scene for a few years, DOOM (who dropped the "MF" from his name) released this short but densely rich little album in early 2009. With a total running time of just 40 minutes, four tracks where he doesn't even appear, and plenty of short solo tracks, it's a minimalist approach but then again his previous solo record MM..Food played less than 50 minutes long and was stuffed with lengthy skits and interludes. This is just his style. Madvillainy and DangerDoom were short records too, each one was also eminently replayable.

Return to Reality

Once again, despite many hours devoted to writing, I've managed to go without any blogposts for over three weeks. Been working on a few large pieces that will be posted once completed. 

I'm currently back home in New York's forgotten borough, Staten Island, and haven't had much free time in the midst of excessive relaxation, couch-slothing, and catching up with family and friends, but before the great year of 2011 is suddenly washed away I would like to share a few things.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mo(o)nday


As I've mentioned a few times recently, this fascinating interview with the late Robert Anton Wilson has sparked a fresh focus for me on the days of the week and the meanings behind them. He was illustrating the applicability of the oft-mentioned 8-circuit model of consciousness and the levels of neuro-evolution. While he didn't really try to tie it with the chakra system, I'm sure it matches up pretty closely with that as well.

Briefly, the week looks like this (with the Spanish words for them to illustrate another point RAW made, that all the European languages denote the same type of gods):

Monday - lunes - day of the Moon, Mother goddess
Circuit I: oral bio-survival (nursing experience, attachment to the mother, earliest stage of human physical development and interaction with the world)

Tuesday - martes - Mars the god of war
Circuit II: emotional territorial (political strategies, emotional power tactics, the toddler stage of human development)

Wednesday - miércoles - Mercury the god of communication
Circuit III: semantic conceptual (organizing symbol systems, communicating, calculating, learning to speak the local tongue, "when we first begin to realize all the noises the adults are making are a code and we decypher it")

Thursday - jueves - Thor the god of thunder
Circuit IV: socio-sexual (domestication, the tribe determines moral and immorality with regards to sexual activity, the introduction of sexual guilt, social relations)

The other four circuits are still not completely understood for me, which makes perfect sense because most human beings operate on the four lower (terrestrial) circuits. But the higher ones are:

Friday - viernes - Venus the goddess of love, sexual ecstasy
Circuit V: neurosomatic circuit (blocking out the first four circuits via yoga, meditation, mantra, etc, the mystic level, Freud's oceanic experience, rapture, able to perceive one's own narrow reality tunnel and freedom from the bottom four circuits, the opening of compassion and deep sensitivity)

Saturday - sabado - Saturn the god of agriculture and harvest (time)
Circuit VI: neurogenetic circuit (Jung's collective unconscious, holistic body/mind/soul balance, realization of timeless self, the feeling of timelessness, achieved through advanced yoga)

Sunday - domingo - The Sun 
Circuit VII: metaprogramming circuit (ability to change and program lower circuits, planetary or evolutionary consciousness, perception of the relativity of reality)


[just as the 8th chakra is above and outside of the body, the 8th circuit transcends the days of the week]
Circuit VIII: quantum nonlocal circuit (8th chakra, above the body, transcendence of time and space, out of body experiences, extrasensory perception)

As RAW says, the seventh and eighth circuit "can be better described in art and music" so just take a good listen to this and you'll understand (and come back to Moonday):



"His live performances at their best are regarded as transcendental" - wiki

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Near to the heart of will and striving


Violin string-strummed spirals
Miles in the millions, solar system sphere music.
Improvement of my temperament through diametric spear movements
Near to the heart of will and striving
omnipresent in kinetics while still aligning
spiderweb linked grid thread jingling
sphere-headed being dreaming sun-drenched wave glistenings.

Listening for the next vibecrest to carry me beyond
Along for the ride headphones and sonar sonic bombs.
Hominids travel above abyss and listen to bright psalms
Near to the heart of will and striving
alone and still in the midst of moving mobs.
Wirestrung wig connects, check the line for a break
Four-sided square surrounding, asleep and dreaming of awake.

Break the bond of past mistakes,
whirlwind spin the compass
Make up new creations
and aim again for the wonders.

- PQ 12/3/11 11:23 PM

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Listen to this Right Now

Stop right there. You're already here on my blog now relax, take your shoes off, sit down and enjoy this genius at work. I promise you've never heard or seen anything quite like it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wednesday Supper

"Do I dare
Disturb the Universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse."
- T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

I'm determined to jot down a fun little synchronicity I experienced today before Wednesday fades away.

Life here in Austin remains busy but exciting and fun. When I finally got a chance to do a little bit of writing today I found myself deeply considering Wednesday and the meaning behind it. An extremely interesting (though lengthy) interview with Robert Anton Wilson I heard recently put my mind on this path of considering the archetypal meanings behind our days of the week. In his discussion, which I will summarize more completely in a future post, he attempts to connect the 8-circuit model of consciousness to the days of the week. Wednesday represents the 3rd circuit, the level of communication, which is usually referred  to as the semantic circuit. It is by semantics, the organization of our vast symbols and data of language, that I am able to communicate with, for instance, Lao Tzu who wrote the Tao Te Ching 2,500 years ago.

Wednesday is the day of communication, in Latin languages this is more obvious. Wednesday in Spanish is miércoles, in French it's Mercredi, Italian mercoledi---all named after Mercury, the messenger with winged sandals.

On another note, I've been engaged in reading an essay by Joyce scholar Eric Rosenbloom (a perfectly Joycean surname) breaking down the incredible array of meanings contained within the little story of the prankquean in Finnegans Wake (p. 21-23). He abbreviates prankquean with "PQ" throughout the essay and, among the many layers of meaning in that part of the story, is the prankquean as the Egyptian goddess Nut or Nuit whose "body arched over the earth" forming the sky. This is a well-known image and in fact it's on the cover of a book I just completed (and will review soon), The Illuminati Papers by Robert Anton Wilson.

The sky goddess swallows the sun each night and after it travels through her body it is released in the morning (pooped out? I'm not sure) where it then floats along her body back to her mouth to be swallowed again. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which figures deeply into Finnegans Wake, "the deceased soul was to join the sun on its journey." Rosenbloom notes that later Egyptians conceived the sky as a vast ocean, with the journey of the deceased taking place inside of a boat. (This perfectly reminds me of the cover image on Stanislav Grof's excellent book, The Ultimate Journey: Consciousness and the Mystery of Death.)

This is going somewhere. I promise.

In the Wake story of which Rosenbloom speaks, the prankquean kidnaps a set of twins ("jiminies" or gemini, also the twins Isis and Osiris) from the castle of Jarl van Hoother (a dream-distorted version of the Earl of Howth), and runs off with them. Joyce then gives us this image:
"The prankquean was to hold her dummyship and the jiminies was to keep the peacewave and van Hoother was to git the wind up." (FW, p. 23)
Rosenbloom presents the picture thusly:
"The boat of the soul floats on the waters of PQ, a jiminy at the tiller and a jiminy at the prow, its sail filled by the breath of Jarl van Hoother."
In a footnote, he points out that this same image appears in a book by 16th-century philosopher Giordano Bruno (an Oriental-minded heretic burned at the stake by the church and later revered by Joyce):

The gemini twins are here represented by the flames on the either side of the ship's mast. The name of the book in which this appears? The Ash Wednesday Supper.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Look Around (Wonder)



"Time is only floating in your mind" - Stevie Wonder

"Everything we see is inside our own heads" - Buckminster Fuller

"The 4th dimension is time,
it goes inside the mind
when the chakras energize
up through the back of your spine"
- The Rza

"there is a future in every past that is present" - James Joyce (Finnegans Wake p. 496)

Unfortunately, I do not have much TIME to write but I do want to mention a few things. I enjoyed a nice, delicious Thanksgiving Day last Thursday (featuring two separate vegan feasts, actually), during which time it struck me that in the last 5 years I've eaten a Thanksgiving meal in 4 different cities (New York, London, San Diego, Austin in that order).

Yesterday I unloaded a stack of about 10 unwanted books at a used bookstore to begin the process of down-sizing to prepare for an upcoming move to a different apartment. This will mark the 5th time I've moved in the last 4 years. Prior to that I spent the first 22 years of my life living in the same bedroom, let alone the same address.

At the bookstore I almost bought a couple of really cool-looking books that intrigued me, but decided at the last minute it didn't make sense to bring more books home when I'm trying to purge belongings. On the topic of TIME, though, the books bear mentioning. They were both part of the excellent Introducing... series published by Totem Books, a collection of paperbacks with illustrations and basic introductory overviews for a whole variety of topics. I can highly recommend the James Joyce, Friedrich Nietzsche, and The Universe editions and if there's anyone else you're interested in learning about (famous minds, but also concepts or historical periods are covered), this series of books is perhaps the best thing to look for. Anyway, the books were Introducing Relativity and Introducing Quantum Theory (for a total of $12), I will hopefully grab them at some point in the future when I get to settle down in a new place.

In between our two Thanksgiving feasts last week, my girlfriend and I sort of randomly made our way over to the movies to see whatever was playing at that time. The film we saw was Martin Scorsese's new 3-D excursion Hugo. The young protagonist Hugo works as a clockmaker (or timekeeper) in the Montparnasse train station in 1920s Paris. Honestly, we had to leave the film early because of time constraints but it was an okay film. Visually beautiful but a bit slow-moving. The reason I bring it up is because of a brief but very noticeable cameo by none other than JAMES JOYCE himself. And, of course, after all the work I did on my big essay this year comparing Joyce and Salvador Dali (noting that there is no record of them ever having met), the scene shows James Joyce and Salvador Dali sharing a table at a café in the train station. It's one of the first scenes in the film.

This morning I received word from the editors of the James Joyce Quarterly that they will have an answer for me within the next two weeks about whether or not they will accept my Joyce-Dali paper to be published in their journal. Very hopeful, very excited.

And now, to tie a knot on this synchronistic little post, here is a famous picture of a train crash at the aforementioned Montparnasse train station in Paris in 1895:

And here is a famous Surrealist painting called Time Transfixed by René Magritte.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Gza/Genius Harvard Lecture

The Gza aka The Genius, one of the core members of the Wu-Tang Clan (he, Rza, and ODB are all cousins and had been running around as the All In Together Now crew prior to the Wu birth) will be delivering a lecture at Harvard University next Thursday December 1st. It's open to the public, I wish I could go up there and witness it.


Gza is getting up there in age these days and I've rashly complained about his sleepy flow and delivery on his last disappointing (for me) album but he still remains one of the premier intellectual lyric crafters on the planet. His Liquid Swords and Beneath the Surface albums are personal classics and he was always one of my top 3 favorite emcees in the 9-member Wu-Tang Clan.

He's always good for giving forth fascinating thoughts on the universe, chess, poetry, water, etc in interviews and discussions so I imagine this Harvard lecture will be something pretty monumental. A few years back, an art magazine in Germany did a full issue on The Gza/Genius called "Weapons of Math Destruction" that was superb and I ended up purchasing this magazine straight from Berlin and still have it (in my Staten Island bookshelf, actually). When I go back up to New York for Christmas this year I'll be sure to retrieve that little booklet and inscribe some quotes from it here.

For now, here are a few exemplary Gza tracks beyond the commonplace favorites on Liquid Swords (an album that Rolling Stone magazine listed as one of the "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die").




"I fashion the first tool
from the elements the earth use
and built it to a complex
network of communications"

Many people forget or just don't even know the profundity of this man's mind and the minds he molded. The Rza (one of the greatest teachers in my life) was mentally civilized and enlightened originally by his older cousin Gza (real name Gary Grice). Gza also mentored and brought into the globe's musical atmosphere two other of my favorite artists/lyricists/thinkers in Killah Priest and Masta Killa. (It's worth noting that the frequency of the word Killah in Wu-Tang names is, as Killah Priest has explained in the past, not simply a different or creative way to spell "killer" but a reference to killing the negative thoughts in one's own and in listeners' minds, the "-ah" suffix combining Allah with the slang Killa; the point is to rebuild oneself into a knowledge of one's own godliness, the Arm-Leg-Leg-Arm-Head so beautifully captured by Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man.)




"Form metaphorical parables that fertilize the Earth
wicked niggas come trying to burglarize the turf!"

"Uncompleted missions/ throw in ya best known compositions
you couldn't add it up/ if you mastered addition
Where I come from/ gettin' visual's habitual"



Gza sparsely appeared on the Clan's third album, The W but he delivered a few incredible verses. Observe:





To top it all off, here is a film clip with Rza, Gza and their good friend Bill Murray:

Watch Delirium - Gza, Rza & Bill Murray in Comedy  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful


Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.


This 5-minute clip pretty summarily presents what I am thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day.

Watch the video first but also here is the list of what is shown, in order of appearance:

1. Aurora Borealis Pass over the United States at Night
2. Aurora Borealis and eastern United States at Night
3. Aurora Australis from Madagascar to southwest of Australia
4. Aurora Australis south of Australia
5. Northwest coast of United States to Central South America at Night
6. Aurora Australis from the Southern to the Northern Pacific Ocean
7. Halfway around the World
8. Night Pass over Central Africa and the Middle East
9. Evening Pass over the Sahara Desert and the Middle East
10. Pass over Canada and Central United States at Night
11. Pass over Southern California to Hudson Bay
12. Islands in the Philippine Sea at Night
13. Pass over Eastern Asia to Philippine Sea and Guam
14. Views of the Mideast at Night
15. Night Pass over Mediterranean Sea
16. Aurora Borealis and the United States at Night
17. Aurora Australis over Indian Ocean
18. Eastern Europe to Southeastern Asia at Night

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Grab Your Gas Masks



A group of college students were holding a peaceful protest at the University of California Davis to rally against recent tuition hikes as well as the acts of police brutality that had occurred at other University of California campuses earlier in the week. Apparently, they had linked arms and set up a blockade to protect tents that they had set up for the protest.

What isn't shown in the video is that after the line of students was sprayed in the face with pepper spray, officers tried to separate them using batons, and when students attempted to cover their face with clothing, "police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood." That quote is from a powerful open letter written by one of the school's professors to the school chancellor demanding her resignation.

Earlier in the week in New York, after police raided the encampment at Zuccotti Park, they disposed of some 5,000 books from the library that had been set up. There is no greater sign of the dire situation we're in than when authorities confiscate and destroy BOOKS, documents of knowledge. There are, in fact, few things that could rile me up more than that. Police forcing pepper spray down the throats of peaceful college students is one of those things.

An 84-year-old woman was pepper-sprayed in the face during a protest in Seattle this week. A priest was pepper-sprayed as well. A couple weeks ago, an Iraq War veteran nearly died when a tear gas canister was fired directly at his face. (By contrast, take a quick listen to this speech from President Obama earlier this year demanding that the Egyptian authorities "refrain from violence against any peaceful protesters." If you find the absurdity of his hypocrisy completely unbelievable, then you might need to take a look at all the Goldman Sachs employees currently in the Obama Administration. This is not a new phenomenon. )

If it hasn't sunk in yet, consider also that among the protesters on Thursday in New York City was a large group of children carrying signs and singing. There was also a retired Philadelphia police captain among the protesters and he was arrested in full police uniform.


I'm not sure there is an another image quite as striking as that. Perhaps only this one sums things up better:

If somehow, someway you still do not understand the magnitude of what is going on or why it is happening, take a look at this New York Times article about the 100 million Americans that are now in poverty or on the brink of it.

As scary as things may seem, it is certainly an exciting time to be alive.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Four Books Reviewed

"The critic...tells of his mind's adventures among masterpieces"
- Anatole France

A tetrad of loosely interrelated books has been occupying my moments of free time the last couple of months and now that I'm just about finished reading all of them, I'd like to share my thoughts on all four.
 
Prometheus Rising 
by Robert Anton Wilson

The legend known among fans and followers as RAW first began to interest me a couple of years ago when I discovered the Maybe Logic blog and the all the rich brain food that's been roasting over there. I was led to the site through messing around with Google, searching for combos of names like Joseph Campbell and James Joyce until eventually I stumbled upon this incredible audio interview in which Robert Anton Wilson discusses Finnegans Wake and Campbell's Skeleton Key. The raspy voice and thick Brooklyn accent pouring out infinite multifaceted knowledge was very appealing (I grew up listening to mostly Brooklyn/Staten Island accents) but it wasn't until this summer that I finally started looking into Wilson's body of work. The first book I picked up was his collection of essays entitled Coincidance which features a good chunk of Joyce analysis unlike anything you'll find elsewhere, along with some humorously written conspiracy pieces and brain exercises.

I found his writing style so engaging and captivating that I put some of his other books on my future reading list and eventually picked up the highly-regarded Prometheus Rising. The book has been such a great read that RAW has rapidly shot up into my list of favorites and lately I can't get enough of his writings, interviews, and YouTube lectures. The book is primarily a study of the evolution of human consciousness and how most human beings advance only to a certain level (barely half way up the ladder) and remain there all their lives, condemned to view the universe through a narrow "reality tunnel." Using psychology, biology, neurology, mythology, history, and plenty of other elements, Wilson weaves an engaging and entertaining analysis of Timothy Leary's eight-circuit model of consciousness in an attempt to shake the reader's perspective of reality and allow us to elevate to higher levels of consciousness. Each chapter includes exercises at the end to help break out of our imprinted "circuits" or systems of receiving and reacting to the world.

His main goal is to make us think, to shake us free from the shackles of preconceived notions that are constructed during our upbringing and experiences. The end-of-the-chapter exercises often consist of things like "if you're liberal, subscribe to a conservative magazine for a few months" or "if you're straight, pretend you're gay for a week" and so on; the point, of course, is not to turn liberals into conservatives and make straight folks gay but to allow us to understand that we (and everyone else) sees the world through their own conditioned reality tunnel. It is not all about seeing things the way others do, though, a main point made in the book is also the fact that we convince ourselves that we can't change, can't excel, can't elevate. My favorite exercise thus far is "convince yourself that you can exceed all your previous hopes and ambitions."

It's an extremely eye-opening book and really changes the way I look at humanity (and I'm still not even finished reading it). I can't recommend the book highly enough and I will definitely be devoting another blog post to expanding on its material in the near future. For now, if you're interested in getting a taste of what the book is all about, go check out this roughly one-hour lecture in which he summarizes virtually the entire thing. Wilson's work is quickly sucking me in like a blackhole so you can expect plenty more posts about it in the future.


War and Peace in the Global Village
by Marshall McLuhan

Along with Robert Anton Wilson, McLuhan has become someone whose work I can't get enough of lately. After reading a couple of books summarizing his life and philosophies, I finally decided to pick up a few original books by the man himself. I've got The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media waiting on the shelf and I devoured War and Peace in the Global Village over the last few weeks. It looked to be the most appealing of the three books I received, with illustrations and photos on every page, plus Finnegans Wake quotes on just about every page (he provides a fascinating little breakdown of the ten one-hundred-lettered thunder claps that appear in the Wake), and a small stature, small enough to squeeze in one's back pocket. I got an original 1968 edition but it looks barely touched.

The first thing that struck me about it is that I could easily see why McLuhan was often a hated figure among his contemporaries in the 60s and 70s. His style of writing is strange, meandering and very difficult to follow (he calls this style "probing"). Rarely does he write two paragraphs without resorting to quoting some other author, often at absurd lengths (two or three pages). He also doesn't ever explain his ideas in clear terms, usually making opaque assertions and trying to back them up with big quotes or seemingly unrelated allusions. It's obvious he had a very unusual mental structure.

A few flashes of bright insight show that he was also quite clearly a genius. The book is broken up into about 5 sections, some very long and some very short. He opens by circulating around his famous vision of the modern technological world as a Global Village. This was in the late 60s, long before the rise of the internet and smartphones but he was so on point, it's unbelievable. McLuhan speaks of all technology as extensions of the human body. So the telescope is an extension of the eye, the wheel an extension of the foot, etc and this leads to computers and digital devices as an extension of the human nervous system. The entire planet is now covered in an invisible nervous system that connects everybody together so that an event that occurs in New York City is instantly felt in Hawaii, Japan, and the remote reaches of the Russian Tundra.

He goes on for far too long in this first section, starting out by detailing how the advances of technology over the last 2,500 years specialized military and warfare while facilitating the growth of empires (he gets things a bit twisted in the process) and moving to a discussion of the proliferation of psychedelic drugs among young people in the 60s, arguing that it was a response to the rise of technology, comparing the effect of TV and computers to a "high" state that must be replicated or dilated through the use of drugs. He also makes a much more salient point on this last subject (and this starts to bring in what I see as McLuhan's main theme) which is that as humanity moves from the fragmented industrial age to the revival of the tribal atmosphere in a digital global village, the ritual becomes much more important and prevalent among the new generations, and here he quotes drug users lauding the ritual aspect of communal drug use.

It is in the next sections that the book finally gets engaging and truly fascinating as he first talks about "War as Education" and then "Education as War." The former has to do with the rapid advances in knowledge and technology during times of war, the latter with our culture's way of imprinting old and out-dated ideas onto our youth. This discussion of education actually perfectly aligned with what Robert Anton Wilson was saying in Prometheus Rising. As McLuhan writes:
"In the information age it is obviously possible to decimate populations by the dissemination of information and gimmickry...It is simple information technology being used by one community to reshape another. It is this type of aggression that we exert on our own youngsters in what we call 'education.' We simply impose upon them patterns that we find convenient to ourselves and consistent with available technologies. Such customs and usages, of course, are always past-oriented and the new technologies are necessarily excluded from the educational establishments until the elders have relinquished power."
Wilson talked about this exact same thing in his elaboration of the so-called "semantic" circuit or level of consciousness:
"Cynics, satirists, and 'mystics' [McLuhan can be considered something of a satirical mystic, actually] have told us over and over that 'reason is a whore,' i.e. that the semantic circuit is notoriously vulnerable to manipulation by the older, more primitive circuits."
Further exploration of the similarities between RAW and McLuhan will be forthcoming in a separate blogpost, but for now I will stick to the script. Overall, War and Peace in the Global Village is a fascinating and often frustrating book; it's visually pleasing and there are plenty of great insights but for a tiny book it can get boring quickly.

The first two books reviewed here are ones that I've been reading as part of the preliminary process of preparing for the big study of Ulysses I am hoping to begin soon. Both Wilson and McLuhan are obsessed with Joyce and offer interpretations of his work unlike anything you'll find in regular Joyce critiques and analyses so I want to soak up whatever I can from them right now (while also familiarizing myself with their work). The two reviews below are of books that I'm reading more for fun and personal development.


Integral Life Practice
by multiple authors

This book is a kind of instruction manual or school textbook written by a bunch of people. It is a very clear and simple-to-understand exposition of Ken Wilber's Integral Theory and how to apply it to all aspects of life. Back in 2008, while visiting a graduate school in San Francisco I had gotten into a nice discussion with the clerk at the school bookstore. We were discussing Carl Jung, Stanislav Grof, Joseph Campbell and some of my other favorites when he brought up Ken Wilber and started gushing about how he's the best philosopher/writer/psychologist there is right now and his books are the greatest shit ever. Despite his proselytizing, I decided to push off reading Wilber's stuff for the future and picked up Richard Tarnas' latest book instead.

Four years later, I came across this Integral Life Practice book in a used bookstore and finally decided to give it a chance. It's not really written by Wilber; he wrote the introduction and oversaw the book's production but other than that, a group of devotees took his ideas and expanded on them in terms that a layman could understand.

The subtitle for the book is "A 21st-Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Awakening" and that just about sums it up. It's more vanilla consciousness-expanding tutorial than New Age, esoteric tome. The whole Integral theory is built from a simple foundation: a quadrant. In the upper left is the individual interior (feelings, emotions, consciousness), the upper right is the individual exterior (physical body and its actions), bottom left is the collective interior (culture, society, morals), and the bottom right is the collective exterior (the planet, the state, community). 

From the base of this very useful quadrant, the reader is taught how to achieve their highest potentiality in four fields: the shadow, the mind, the body, and the spirit. The inclusion of the shadow within the normal "mind, body, spirit" bunch seemed strange at first but the authors stress that it is important for us to confront and assimilate our psychological shadows first before progressing through advancement in other states. Each of the four fields (shadow, mind, body, spirit) include very simple tutorials and directions for practice, the so-called "shadow work" was actually very beneficial in my experience and I'm thankful to have come across such a thing. The other practices were also very rewarding.

It's easy to see what is so special about Wilber and his integral theory; it is a pretty damn admirable attempt at integrating the greatest wisdom and knowledge of all possible fields, presented in a relatively simple manner. The highest advances in psychology, nutrition, exercise, yoga, physics, spirituality, sociology and more are combined to formulate the elevation of humans to their highest potential. It's not too far off from Prometheus Rising in that sense, though with RAW the writing is much more entertaining and often daring. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone trying to elevate their consciousness, mind, body, etc. A consistent approach to carrying out its methods will undoubtedly reap huge benefits.

Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings
by Rob Brezsny

In a way, this book combines all three of the other ones. What a whacky and spectacular book this is...

This book sort of found me, I was at the house of one my girlfriend's co-workers and it was sitting innocently on the couch, unnoticed by anyone. It's a large book (thick but also tall) and the huge glowing mandala on the cover caught my eye. I flipped it open and found a mention of Joseph Campbell and thought "okay, it's got my attention." Wondering what else it might have to offer, I flipped through it a bit more and came across a mention of Finnegans Wake and then Robert Anton Wilson and I was officially hooked in. Bought it a few days later.

The message of the book is quite perfectly summed up in its title---the author argues that the entire universe is designed to shower you with blessings (if you can learn to see it that way). It sounds silly and, of course, it is kind of silly but through all kinds of whacky humor and stunning intelligence in this unusual book, the point is made quite strongly. The more I read RAW's work, the more I see this book as a descendant of it, but nevertheless it is still a special achievement. Once again, here is a book attempting to shake you out of your rigid bounds, to burst you free of your shackles.

It looks sort of like a big coloring book or the type of workbooks kids use in elementary school. There are mandalas and every other conceivable spiritual symbol flooding each page while Brezsny jots a handful of personal stories of creative awakening and spiritual liberation in a wonderfully humorous and intelligent manner. He's got a gift for writing and coming up with the funniest-yet-profoundest phrases, very often it seems like he's poking fun at himself and the book itself but he's delivering powerful messages at the same time. A perfect example is in the book's outlined objective on page 7: "To explore the secrets of becoming a wildly disciplined, fiercely tender, ironically sincere, scrupulously curious, aggressively sensitive, blasphemously reverent, lyrically logical, lustfully compassionate Master of Rowdy Bliss."

As funny as it can be sometimes, it's also a book that continually shocks me with how much intellect it contains. As I mentioned, there's discussion of Joyce, Campbell, and RAW but also Jung, Freud, Shakespeare, Dante, and pretty much everything else I've ever been even remotely interested in and then some. Besides the handful of personal stories that are shared, there are 15 chapters featuring great quotes on particular subjects (dreams, the shadow, the universe, etc), thought-provoking collections of (positive) world news & events, and so-called "Pronoia Therapy" which consists of exercises (888 of them altogether) in a similar sense to those presented in RAW's books, except much whackier. Similar to how Joyce's greatest books contain a sort of alchemy or black magic ritual under the surface, Brezsny loads this book up with all kinds of masonic, occult, religious, mythological symbols and twists their axioms to promote the pronoiac, positive aura in the reader. It's been a very nice panacea for me after all the deep study I did on the subject of paranoia for my Dali-Joyce paper, plus it really is a perfect antidote to the cynical, world-renouncing feeling one gets when reading or thinking about the numerous atrocities and abuses of power destroying the planet. It's perfect for those who desperately need to balance their minds from too much conspiracy (Illuminati, world government, evil oligarchy) material.

This is a book that I can't seem to ever stop reading, I imagine it will be in my pile of books for at least another 5 years. It's not quite inexhaustible but flipping it open to a random page any time always yields some bright light and sends me off on some rewarding path. Mounds and mounds of ponderous, positive, and productive stuff in here. To close, here's a selection from the book that quite perfectly ties all 4 of these reviewed books together while also aptly applying to the turmoil of our times.
As much as we might be dismayed at the actions of our political leaders, pronoia says that toppling any particular junta, clique or elite is irrelevant unless we overthrow the sour, puckered mass hallucination that is mistakenly called "reality"---including the part of that hallucination we foster in ourselves.

The revolution begins at home. If you overthrow yourself again and again and again, you might earn the right to help overthrow the rest of us.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Envisioning the Wake

"No other human being in the history of the world, including Beethoven, has ever given every single piece of emotion and thought and feeling the way Joyce did. He dredged up every ounce of his soul, every cell, every gene."
                    - John Gardner on Finnegans Wake 

"We may come, touch and go, from atoms and ifs but we're presurely destined to be odd's without ends."
                    - Finnegans Wake, pg 455
Artist Stephen Crowe has been carrying out the ambitious and impressive task of illustrating James Joyce's Finnegans Wake one page at a time for almost two years now over at his blog Wake in Progress. I've drawn attention to his excellent work before and it's nice to see that he's getting more and more recognition for it. On Bloomsday earlier this year, his art was displayed at the Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris and recently some of his work was prominently featured in an art magazine called Her Royal Majesty. (The magazine's got a cool cover, too, shown on the right.)

Their website published a brief but interesting interview with Crowe, delving into the reasons behind the project and what his goals are with it. I highly recommend checking it out and there's a nice sampling of his art pieces there, too. Considering the quote at the very top of this post, it's amazing to contemplate the fact that, as Crowe declared in the interview, "Finnegans Wake might be the single most neglected book in history by a major writer." It's admirable that Crowe is undertaking this project to try and bring light to this classic book of the dark and the work he's been creating in the process has been extremely impressive. I look forward to whenever he might complete this enterprise so that perhaps a new edition of the Wake can be put together with Stephen's illustrations on each page. It's a book of nearly 700 pages, though, so it's gonna be a while.


If you've got any interest in Joyce, you must explore Stephen Crowe's blog devoted to arguably the greatest and most neglected artistic achievement in human history. He makes it about as understandable as that crazy book can be and provides not just illustrations but occasional essays, including this one on why Finnegans Wake is better than Ulysses (though I offered my own response to this assertion in the comments). He's also selling framed prints now, hopefully I'll grab one of those this holiday season.

Abandoned Library

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween and God Bless The Dead


"Every one of those unfortunates
during the process of existence
should constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his own death as well as of the death of everyone upon whom his eyes or attention rests."

- George Gurdjieff 


That picture came from a random blogpost I came across by a writer from Argentina who wrote a very nice little analysis of James Joyce's story "The Dead." The final scene in that story is what makes it so famous, in fact, I met at least one Joyce scholar who thinks it's the greatest piece he ever wrote. Long before the enormous epic novels.

"The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached the region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out in a gray impalpable world: The solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.

"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight."

It starts to snow, interrupting his transportive trance while staring out a hotel window at night.

Over the weekend, my home city of Staten Island saw its worst October snowstorm in recorded history. The whole northeast was absolutely blasted by snow worse than ever before. Millions of people lost power, Connecticut had its worst power outage in history.

"Snowfall like blankets of death..."
is a line heard in the album that I published a review for today.

Today I learned that an old friend, a man who worked for my father for as long as I was alive, passed away at age 91. He had been sick with pneumonia for a little while. Tony Bassolino was a big man, tall and sturdy with a gruff Brooklyn accent. He'd been a Marine in World War II and then worked for many years as a New York City Sanitation worker; a lifelong garbage man. He was in his 70s and 80s when I got to know him best. Even at that age he was something like a giant bear who didn't even know he had clothes on---roughing it up with heavy, enormous, gooey bags of garbage he would get nasty slop all over himself with no regard. Often he'd be wearing some old football sweatshirt or something.

I spent a few summers working alongside him, picking up garbage all around my neighborhood and loading it into a truck to be personally delivered to a dump in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He was afraid of nothing, and shocked if I was afraid of anything, even a maggot-infested half-opened bag of old garbage. Or enormous pieces of wood or old trees covered in old rusty nails or spiders and ants. We always bonded on the trips to the garbage dump. His attention was curt and he didn't really prefer to listen to me all that much, just a few questions here and there ("heh?" he'd bark loudly when he couldn't hear me) to get him started on talking about something and I was ready to listen.

On one of those trips he let me hold the steering wheel for the truck, first time I can ever remember controlling a car in any way. On another of those trips he let me drive the truck, at age 16, for a little while on a service road. It was the first time I ever controlled a vehicle on my own. I remember being amazed at how loose the steering wheel seemed, so easy and soft to move it.

On just about every one of those trips, he'd always stop at the Burger King on Route 1 & 9 in New Jersey so I could eat breakfast (we always worked in the morning and I could never wake up early enough to eat breakfast at home). He was always very obliging, he'd just sit in the car and wait as I went and picked up french toast sticks, always the same meal. On one occasion he came in with me and ordered the same thing as me, we sat there sharing a breakfast of french toast sticks with syrup, me at 16 years old and Tony in his early 80s. It must've looked to people like I was having breakfast with my grandfather but instead he was my co-worker (and superior), he was also old enough to be my dad's father and since my dad was old enough to be my grandfather (I was conceived in his late 40s), I could've been sitting there sharing breakfast with my great grandfather.

But he was my co-worker and friend. And we were about to go down the road to an indoor dump, where I would don a little mouth-mask to guard my senses from the foul and oxygen-smothering stench of a garbage dump the size of a football field. Tony never wore a mask. And when we'd get out and quickly try to empty a truck full of garbage in under 5 minutes, he'd fling heavy pieces of scrap and garbage with a ballsy voracity and zeal unlike anything I'd ever witnessed. Towards the end of the load were always the biggest things; huge blocks of wood or brick, whatever it was he would attack it like battling a dragon or a huge whale. I remember the sight of him overtaken by an object's enormous weight one time, he looked like a sea captain hanging by the very end of his ship's mast in a vicious storm. It was so beautiful I burst out in uncontrollable joy and laughter. "Get back in the truck!" he screamed; I was in danger and not offering much help. 


When we were done he'd drive us back home, his brown-spotted bare hands bloody or dirt-strewn, his face sweaty, the radio blaring WFAN 20-20 sports. Back at home, my workday was done before 11 AM most days and I'd relax and do whatever the hell it is teenagers do on lazy summer afternoons.

I will never forget those mornings. I hope big Tony rests in peace now, the winds of time having finally eroded that sturdy temple of his.



Here are those final words of "The Dead":



His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Album Review: Who Got the Camera? by Kevlaar 7

Note: this review was actually written in August, about a month before the Occupy Wall Street protests started springing up everywhere. Obviously, that stuff is extremely relevant to the album but I'd rather leave the review as it is and let it stand as a time capsule to show the building pressure and anger mounting right before things started blowing up into mass protests in this country. Also, please see my condensed version of this review, published in Slant Magazine back in March. 



I write this now six months after the album was released and its message is as relevant now as it was the moment it dropped. This EP, a musical outcry for "revision of the whole system," was released while mass street movements erupted in Egypt and throughout the Middle East, and now London is experiencing a violent uprising of the deprived on its city streets. The London uprising was reportedly sparked as a reaction to the police murdering an innocent man, Mark Duggan, similar to the slaying of Oscar Grant and the many other innocent victims mentioned throughout this album.

This is Kevlaar 7 asserting himself as one of the best hip hop emcees on the planet right now (or at the very least, "the illest nigga in the mitten [Detroit]"), by tapping into and broadcasting the present revolutionary aura of the earth, this zeitgeist of dissent and uprising, truth vs. power, speaking on it loud and clear for all the listeners who may not have been hearing the loudly churning wheels of history since most rappers don't acknowledge it (instead, they blindly exacerbate the plight of their own people). The miserable state of the art (hip hop) is just another symptom of the nefariously corrupted system in place, begging for a destroying/rebuilding flip from the conveyors of real(ity).

Hip hop, which in its truest essence is a form of revolt, is here returned to its impassioned glory, the rebel army fighting back with violently pulsating waves of knowledge and wisdom.

Giving Insight to the Blindman

Please check out my new review of Bronze Nazareth's School for the Blindman album that's just been published in Slant Magazine. For five years that record was the most anticipated thing on my whole radar and now that it's finally here, it doesn't disappoint. For those interested, the Slant review is basically a preview for a much more thorough song-by-song review that will be coming soon. I've had a hectic but very fun and exciting last couple of weeks and I'm still trying to get through a bunch of writing projects.

Many more things will be appearing on the blog now that I've got some time as well. Look for a couple more new hip hop album reviews in that song-by-song, enormous breakdown style, should have them up here by the end of today.



Bronze's brother and fellow member of the Wisemen, Kevlaar 7, also just released a new mixtape that's free. It is entitled Redux on the Boards and features 10 tracks from artists like Jay-Z, Nas, Outkast, Ghostface, and others, all remixed over Kevlaar 7 beats. Plenty of heavy bass drums and creative sample chops, as is K7's specialty. If you enjoy quality hip hop music at all, definitely go check that out. You can preview and download it here.

Last Tuesday, I actually go to attend a Snoop Dogg concert here in Austin. Although I was a fan of his (and Dr. Dre's) music years ago, I haven't really listened to their material in a long time and really didn't know what to expect as over the years I had begun to associate Snoop in my mind with movies and parodies instead of actual rap music. Walking into the venue, the outdoors atmosphere and college student-populated crowd kept bringing to mind the hilarity of Snoop's house party appearance in the movie Old School (when he was interrupted by a naked Will Ferrell bursting onto the stage).

The show was outstanding, though. Tracks from The Chronic 2001 brought back memories of when that classic was first released and the whole venue bounced in unison to the smashing drums and booming bass. Snoop is a helluva master of ceremony, he kept the crowd into it for a set that lasted almost 2 hours, bringing tons of wit and humor into the mix in between songs. It was a really great time overall, one of the more memorable concert experiences I'll ever have, I'm sure. Even got to go backstage and meet some of the artists, including Kurupt prior to the show when he'd just awoken from a long nap on the tour bus, and ended the night consuming late-night grub with the opening acts at a pizzeria across the street. Much thanks due to Matt "M-Eighty" Markoff for bringing me along and introducing me to everybody.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

World Serious


The story of this blog over the past few months has been that its author can't find the time to write on it. One of the reasons for this has been the exhilarating and absorbing finish to the baseball season, so with the World Series starting tonight I figure I must say a few things about it while I sit here in a coffeeshop/restaurant eating lunch.

Despite the negative feelings for the Cardinals I've expressed a few times on this blog, I will be rooting for them to win what should be an exciting series against the Texas Rangers. Why? Because the unprecedented run this team has been on since the beginning of September and on into the playoffs has swept me up into their bandwagon. And I really don't like the Texas Rangers.

The story for both teams is remarkably similar: high-scoring offense and deep bullpens. Both teams received minimal contributions from their starting pitchers throughout the playoffs, finding themselves calling upon relievers early on then mixing-and-matching throughout the games. Of course, as unpredictable as baseball always is, you can expect the starting pitchers to play the biggest role in this World Series.

Texas boasts an incredibly deep and potent offensive attack, with five straight excellent hitters bunched up in the middle of the lineup. Really, it'd be hard to put together a better lineup than theirs, perhaps the only weakness is that there are so many right-handed hitters (Josh Hamilton and David Murphy being the only lefties) and you can expect Tony LaRussa to exploit that with his slew of hard-throwing righty relievers. The Cardinals also have a terrific offense; they led the National League in runs, on-base percentage, OPS, and tied for the lead in slugging percentage. They are led by the best hitter on the planet, Albert Pujols, and as Rany Jazayerli pointed out in his World Series preview, Pujols traditionally plays even better in the playoffs. I'm really looking forward to seeing the Rangers' late game flame-throwers having to face off against Pujols.

On the run-prevention side, the Texas defensive attack (baseball is the only sport where the defense has the ball so "attack" is apt) combines to be much better than the Cardinals. The lineups are so good that they kind of cancel each other out, but it's the run prevention part that separates these two teams so let's look at that real quick:

Rotation
The Rangers possess an extremely rare combination of three southpaw starters who are all capable of throwing in the mid-90s. The other guy, Colby Lewis, is right-handed and doesn't throw very hard but he's still a pretty damn good pitcher. The Cardinals counter with the righty/lefty combo of Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia atop their rotation, both of them succeed by keeping the ball low and generating ground balls. Their third starter Edwin Jackson is a very good pitcher (he has nearly identical strikeout-to-walk numbers compared to Carpenter and Garcia) but he really hasn't shown it lately, and fourth-starter Kyle Lohse isn't anything special at all but if he can keep the game close into the 5th inning, he'll have done his job. The Rangers have the clear advantage here.

Bullpen
General Manager Jon Daniels has assembled an absolutely fearsome bullpen here and they are a major part of why the Rangers are here in the World Series. As I already mentioned, it will be really exciting to watch closer Neftali Feliz pitch against the middle of this St. Louis lineup. The Cardinals also relied heavily on their bullpen on their way here, in fact, their funky bullpen is one of the reasons I've come to like these Cardinals. They've got some characters in there and they can all pitch. Jason Motte is the closer and he's one of the meanest looking guys in baseball with beady eyes and a lumberjack beard, his short-armed, explosive throwing motion and 100-mph heat amplifies his menacing aura. I think the pundits and analysts give the Rangers the advantage here but with LaRussa pushing the buttons and showing a clear willingness to break from conventional bullpen usage (the team's saves leader Fernando Salas pitched in the 3rd inning already in this postseason), the Cardinals have the edge.

Fielding
Not only is Albert Pujols the best hitter on the planet, he's also the best defensive first baseman in baseball and probably one of the best defensive players in all of baseball at any position. Yes, he is that good. The Cardinal catcher Yadier Molina is also one of the best players at his position but the rest of the St. Louis defense is very poor. Nick Punto is a punch-line in sabermetric circles for his poor hitting, but he's a great fielder and if he gets any starts for the Cards he'll certainly improve their D. The Rangers have a clear advantage here as they've got a great defense. The keystone combo of Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler will certainly make some highlight reel double plays in this series and third baseman Adrian Beltre is one of my favorite players to watch in the field.

We saw what happened to the Brewers and their crappy defense in the NLCS, so it's certainly possible that the Cardinals might lose some games by not catching the ball. The Rangers as a team struck out fewer than anyone else in their league and the Cardinal pitchers usually don't strike out too many hitters anyway so there should be plenty of balls in play and plenty of opportunities for Lance Berkman to make a mess of things out in right field.

With the Cardinals having home field advantage (due to the National League winning the All-Star Game, if that makes any sense), a tactically superior manager, and the Albert Pujols factor, I think they make up for their shortcomings against an extremely well-rounded Texas team. The Rangers are favored to win and they look like a superior team on paper, but there's something about these Cardinals that reminds me of the 2004 Red Sox, a team that just looked like you could put them out on the field against anybody in any atmosphere and they would tough it out and find a way to win. Those Red Sox actually beat the Cardinals in the World Series that year in another matchup of powerhouse (the Cards won 105 games that year) versus Wild Card underdog, and the Red Sox steamrolled the birds in a sweep.

I think this shapes up to be one of the best World Series matchups we've seen in a long time and I would put my money on the Cardinals to win in a long series with many tough battles. My pick: Cardinals in 7.

(One last note: the title of this post comes from my old boss in San Diego. He had a very heavy Croatian accent despite three decades living here in the U.S. and he always pronounced World Series "World Serious." Also, it's common for people to think that American Major League Baseball is being conceited by calling its championship round the "world series" but the way I see it, the MLB teams feature the greatest players from all around the world competing against each other. That's why players from Japan and everywhere else come here to play in the major leagues. Just wanted to point that out.)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pennant Picks

Baseball events often serve as a time marker for me. I can look back at past exciting or historic events happening in baseball games and recall where I was at the time, what was going on in my life or in the world at large.

I watched the first game of the Yankees-Mets Subway Series in 2000 on a little portable television in the back of a car while my dad drove me and some friends home from a Saturday evening hockey game in Long Island. When the Yanks and Red Sox started their marathon Game 7 in 2003 (eventually won by Aaron Boone's walkoff homer) I was playing a roller hockey game for my college team at an outdoor rink in Chelsea Piers. I saw the White Sox win the World Series in 2005 at Mickey Mantle's restaurant near Central Park while on a date with a girl from Italy. 

The last two Octobers I watched from the living room of my San Diego apartment and now I've witnessed the excitement of this year's pennant chase here in Austin. The classic deciding game Friday night between the Phillies and Cardinals will forever be etched in my memory as I watched it unfold in amazement while eating baked ziti and sipping beer at an overpriced bar/restaurant down the road. (I attempted to watch the first game of that series at another restaurant last week but once the Texas Longhorns game started, every television in the bar was switched to that crappy meaningless game against Iowa State and I was screwed. Will certainly always remember that, too.)

I wasn't alive in the late 1960s but from watching Ken Burns' baseball documentary over and over again, I've come to associate the baseball events going at that time with the social upheavals and global events going on at the same time. In that documentary series, each decade gets its own lengthy treatment and the 60s is by far my favorite. The Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, the assassination of JFK (and RFK, Malcolm X, and MLK) aren't ignored, in fact they are perfectly weaved in to the baseball events in that decade as Bob Gibson's Cardinals dominated the era, Carl Yastrzemski carried the Sox in '67, the Orioles built a powerhouse and Washington DC nearly burnt to the ground after rioting in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Protesters burned their draft cards and choppers flew over the jungles of Saigon.

As incredible as the crescendo of this baseball season has been, it will always be associated in my mind with the movement springing up in downtown Manhattan (my former stomping grounds) and spreading across the nation, the peaceful uprising and dissent against oppressive oligarchy and austerity measures. I confess to being a severe baseball addict, but as exciting and engaging as it has all been this year, the Occupy Wall Street news has been competing for my attention since it began in mid-September. The baseball games have often absorbed me in transfixion but at the same time my thoughts are constantly with the people out sleeping on the cement in the cold New York autumn.

Now, on to the baseball...

It seemed like nothing could touch the melodrama and excitement of the regular season's conclusion, but then we witnessed a Divison Series that featured four tightly fought matchups, three of which went down to the final game, and two of which saw huge upsets. The Rays series only lasted four games but the last three of those were all nail-biters. Now the smoke has cleared and we're left with just four teams in matchups that look to be just as competitive and entertaining as anything we've seen all year. Here are some thoughts on the two series we will watch over the next week.

National League Championship Series
Cardinals (90-72) vs. Brewers (96-66)

The Brewers were a popular World Series pick but I don't think anybody imagined they would be in this position, facing their sworn enemies for the NL pennant. The Cardinals don't belong here. They lost their best pitcher before the season began, were written off as a contender in Spring Training, and were trailing the final playoff spot by 9 games in early September. When they managed to climb all the way back into it and win on the final day, that only guaranteed them a match against the best team in the major leagues, the 102-win Phillies. Well, they've slayed yet another dragon and here they are.

This looks to be an extremely close and exciting series. These two teams genuinely don't like each other, they had some bean ball incidents this summer, lots of trash talk, and they represent two different poles on the spectrum---the Cards are the gritty, scrappy veterans and the Brewers are young, loud-mouthed and here for the first time. The Cardinals have been doing this for a good 12 years now, this is their 6th appearance in an LCS during that span while the Brewers organization had not won a playoff series since 1982. At that time they were still in the American League, led by manager Harvey Keunn, they were known as "Harvey's Wallbangers" and they went all the way to the World Series where they lost to... the Cardinals! (Dan Okrent's great book 9 Innings covers those Brewers at length.)

On the field, the teams are closely matched in the rotation, bullpen, defense, and lineup. While the Brewers boast a superb top-three starting pitchers in Yovani Gallardo, Zack Grienke, and Shaun Marcum, the Cardinals' top-three are no slouches and perfectly capable of matching up against the much more heralded Milwaukee trio. Chris Carpenter leads the St. Louis bunch with his alliterative appellation and strike zone carving repertoire, young lefty Jaime Garcia put up basically the same numbers as Carpenter in fewer innings, and Edwin Jackson is capable of matching zeroes with anybody the Brewers have. Both teams run deep in the bullpen, too.

Both teams pack high-octane offenses mostly led, again, by superior trios. For Milwaukee it's Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, and Rickie Weeks in the heart of the lineup while St. Louis relies on Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman. Combined, those trios match up pretty well although maybe the Cards have a very slight edge. Outside of those, the role players seem to tilt in the Cardinals' favor. Third baseman David Freese would be a household name by now if he could ever stay healthy because the boy can hit. Yadier Molina emerged as one of the better hitting catchers in baseball this year, shortstop Rafael Furcal has looked like his old self in this postseason, and the Cardinals even boast a pretty strong bench (that micromanager Tony LaRussa loves to employ).

In comparison, the Brewers have a few more liabilities on offense. Guys like Casey McGehee, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Jonathan Lucroy can pop out a homerun every now and then but they had poor seasons overall. Neither team is any good defensively, although I think analysts are sometimes a bit too overzealous in dismissing the Brewers in that respect.

Really, the teams are so closely matched that there's no way to pinpoint a particular weakness that will decide the series. It should be one for the ages, perhaps the best LCS since the Red Sox and Yankees in 2004. I prefer to see the Brewers win and they are my pick because they have homefield advantage but I think it will go all 7 games and feature plenty of fireworks.

American League Championship Series
Tigers (95-67) vs. Rangers (96-66)

This matchup, to me, looks closer than it really is. The Rangers are a far superior team, in fact, they were probably the best team in all of baseball this year (Baseball Prospectus has a rather complicated extraction that bears this out). Jon Daniels deserves a lot of credit, he was the youngest general manager in baseball history when he stepped into the role for the Rangers in 2005 at the age of 28, and he has built this team into a well-rounded, deep powerhouse.

Let me get this out of the way: I live in Texas right now and the team Daniels has assembled is an admirable one, but I'm not a fan of this team at all. Eric over at Pitchers & Poets recently wrote a nice piece about why he's pulling for the Rangers despite their shady associations (George W. Bush being the most prominent one) but I'm not falling for it. I'd certainly like to root for this team because of a guy like Jon Daniels and what he's done here, but I've been to the ballpark, I've watched this team for years as an Oakland A's fan and I just don't like them.

As I wrote earlier this year, the Detroit Tigers are a team that I can root for. They represent a decrepit, broken down and demoralized city that has hosted baseball since the beginning of the American League. Detroit is a rich sports town with a great baseball history. Texas? I couldn't watch a Texas Rangers playoff game at a bar because a fucking Texas-Iowa State college football game was on. I can't root for that kind of stupidity. Anywho...

The Rangers are an all-around powerhouse that can beat up any team and their dad. Adrian Beltre blasted three homeruns in one game the other day and he's probably the third-best hitter on this team (behind Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton). The lineup is absolutely scary. If there's one thing that might be in the Tigers' favor here, it's that there are so many right-handed hitters in the lineup and Detroit has an all-righty pitching staff but the Rangers don't seem to care what hand the pitcher throws with. They'll blast off against anybody. The Detroit offense can put up runs too, most of them will come from Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Jhonny Peralta is an interesting player not just because of the misplaced "h" in his name but because he seemingly resurrected his career in the Motor City and renewed his status as an offensive threat. Alex Avila, the rookie catcher, had a spectacular season at the plate but so far in the playoffs he hasn't shown up (just 1 hit in 16 at-bats).

Like every other part of this team, the Texas pitching staff runs deep. If five starters were needed in a playoff series, they could throw out five great ones, but they only need four so Alexi Ogando was put into the bullpen and we all saw what he's capable of last night (97 mph fastballs at the corners). This very interesting rotation boasts three tough lefties and a righty who remade himself after a stint in Japan. The Japanese league guy seems to be the only liability here as Colby Lewis followed up his superb 2010 campaign with an up-and-down season this year (he pitched fine, just gave up way too many homers). Detroit depends on their workhorse Justin Verlander, the easy Cy Young choice this season, but he seems to be losing steam this past month or so. They'll need him to pick it up and possibly pitch 3 times in this series if they hope to win. I predicted Max Scherzer would have a huge year for Detroit before the season, but he didn't. He pitched well with plenty of strikeouts but, like Colby Lewis, he surrendered a bunch of homeruns. I worried about that coming into the playoffs but Scherzer pitched great against the Yankees in two appearances so look for him to be a big part of this series.

Joaquin Benoit basically became a national hero with his heroic relief effort for Detroit against the Yankees to seal their demise in the previous round, and the Tigers do have a nice bullpen. But nothing comes close to this Rangers relief group. As I mentioned, they brought Alexi Ogando out of the pen in Game 1 yesterday and he was nearly untouchable. They also have two of the best relievers in baseball over the last few years, Mike Adams and Koeji Uehara, at their disposal and then flame-throwing Neftali Feliz as the final piece. Even their middle-relief or platoon pitching options are solid. It's gonna be really tough to score against the group late in the game.

I really don't like the Rangers but there's no denying how strong they are as a team. While I will be rooting hard for the underdog Detroit to knock them out, I don't realistically see it happening. My pick: Rangers in six.

What It's All About

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Potent Quotables: Cosmic Contemplation


"Ancient stars in their death throes spat out atoms like iron which this universe had never known. The novel tidbits of debris were sucked up by infant suns which, in turn, created yet more atoms when their race was run. Now the iron of old nova coughings vivifies the redness of our blood.

"If stars step constantly upward, why should the global interlace of humans, microbes, plants, and animals not move upward steadily as well? The horizons toward which we must soar are within us, anxious to break free, to emerge from our imaginings, then to beckon us forward into fresh realities.

"We have a mission to create, for we are evolution incarnate. We are her self-awareness, her frontal lobes and fingertips. We are second-generation star stuff come alive. We are parts of something 3.5 billion years old, but pubertal in cosmic time. We are neurons of this planet's interspecies mind."
--Howard Bloom, Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century

"Physicist Roger Penrose, who helped develop theories about black holes, has said that the chance of an ordered universe happening at random is nil: one in 10 to the 10th to the 30th, a number so large that if you programmed a computer to write a million zeros per second, it would take a million times the age of the universe just to write the number down."
--from Rob Brezsny's book Pronoia (in fact, both quotes came from this excellent book)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Occupation

For a few days now I've been hoping to compose a lengthy post about Occupy Wall Street and the global uprising but haven't had the chance. I will hopefully get to put my thoughts together soon, after all I spent years down in that area of Manhattan and particularly Zuccotti Park (mentioned here a while ago), went to school right next to Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge, my experiences down there are even one of the meanings behind the title "A Building Roam." It's highly significant to me that this communal flowering of awakening and dissent has blossomed from a spot on the map that has played such a huge role in my life and growth.

I spoke to my sister on the phone today, she's living about as glamorous a life as any 23-year-old could right now, staying in her friend's brownstone on the Upper West Side, commuting to work by way of strolling through Central Park. I asked her about Occupy Wall Street and she said "you mean that protest thing?" She had heard of it, seen it on the news but rather aggressively told me "I don't care."

Well, I am thankful that there are so many people who do care.

Right Here All Over (Occupy Wall St.) from Alex Mallis on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Day After


Mere words cannot convey what occurred last night.

My spine and my skull have been tingling all day and I've been devouring all the recaps, reflections, and write-ups I could find but nobody has accurately described what went down last night. The eminent baseball penman these days, Joe Posnanski, wrote a fine piece and yet it disappointed me until I realized that all of the articles I was reading were disappointing. The shockwaves of sublime joy and amazement shook up the best baseball scribes so much that they were rendered speechless. Twitter was fun:

"Holy fuckity fuck fuck. That's all I got"
- Kevin Goldstein(@kevin_goldstein)

"Khhoihdfslj sjfslkjf fjsfs;ljsdf chjkabdskjfh boop de doop. #mlb"
"The night has reduced me to gibberish"
- Dayn Perry (@daynperry)

The Tampa Bay Rays completed the biggest comeback in baseball history with perhaps the most exciting and unbelievable single game in baseball history. And it all occurred while three other meaningful games intertwined with it to create arguably the most amazing evening in baseball history.

I've actually been keeping a notebook of baseball thoughts for the past couple months and during the action last night I jotted that there was a stunning symmetry to it all. The four games we were all focusing on seemed eerily similar (featuring 2 first place beasts, 2 last place spoilers, 2 desperate failures, and 2 history chasers) and around the 6th inning in each game the scores were: 7-0, 7-0, 3-2, 3-2. The symmetry didn't last, though; in fact, the very bounds of rational existence came undone. In so many of the pieces I've read today the authors have cited the mind-boggling mathematical odds against any of this happening: the odds that the Rays would ever come back from a 9-game deficit in September, odds that the Red Sox would lose with 2 outs in the 9th, odds that the Rays would win when down 7-0 in the 8th inning or when they were down to their final strike in the bottom of the 9th.

The odds of all of that happening were essentially zero or something like 0.00000014 meaning "hell no it'll never happen." And then it happened. And it all seemed to happen at once. All of it unfolded in a mesmerizing sequence that left the global baseball community in breathless rapture.

A miracle happened last night.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Baseball's Insufflation

Two weeks without any posts. Not a nice way to treat a perfectly good blog.

As I've indicated a few times recently, my life is pretty hectic right now, at least relative to my past periods of prosperous blog posting. In the slivers of free time that I do have, my writing has been confined to notebook scribbles so as to keep my writing game sharp. I had hoped to start a monumental study and breakdown of Ulysses here at this blog by now but I've got a few things I'd like to get out of the way first and they're moving along very slowly.

Three straight weeks of family visitors certainly threw me off too, though it was nice to see familiar faces. As great as Austin has been to me thus far, I haven't made any real friends because I haven't really socialized all that much. Although, in an incredible example of synchronicity, a good friend of mine from San Diego who I had drifted away from in the months before moving to Austin actually relocated at the exact same time and now lives about 10 minutes up the road from me.

The baseball season's progressively dramatic developments have kept me occupied as well. Weeks ago I had drafted a blogpost about the complete lack of drama and close pennant races in baseball at the time and my conclusion was to be that, no matter how bad things look, somebody would inevitably make things interesting for us. Parallel epic collapses by the Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves (whose franchise, incidentally, originated in Boston) plus resiliency on the part of the Tampa Bay Rays and St. Louis Cardinals have created as exciting a final day of the season that we could have ever possibly hoped for.

As I type this, the Wild Card races in both leagues look like this:

AL Wild Card
Red Sox 90-71
Tampa Bay 90-71

NL Wild Card
Braves 89-72
Cardinals 89-72

All four teams play tonight in four separate games and if the results don't yield a clear winner in both instances, we would see an extra one-game playoff tomorrow to decide the winner. Needless to say, it doesn't get any better than this.

For me, the NL race features two teams I don't like at all. The Braves are mortal enemies of the Mets but that doesn't bother as much as the stupidity of their manager, Fredi Gonzalez. One could write a lengthy piece detailing his numerous managerial transgressions throughout the year but it's enough to mention that he blatantly fails to put his best team on the field often and perpetuates the most idiotic bullpen strategies this side of... Tony LaRussa, the Cardinals manager. The Cardinals are no friends to the Mets either but, again, it's the manager that ticks me off the most. Since the Braves are a beaten down, limping team right now I'll prefer to see the Cardinals surpass them so at least they can be a viable contender in the playoffs.

As for the American League, I was sucked into rooting for the Red Sox during their incredible run in 2004 and had been rooting for them in all of their gargantuan battles with the Yankees over the years. That they employ Bill James and generally follow an intelligent, sabermetric approach to building their team has always appealed to me. Ever since reading Moneyball way back in 2003 (if I ever get to see the movie, I'll certainly share my thoughts on it here) I've had a strong fascination with the A's and other teams that employ statistical measures to team-building and the Red Sox certainly brought all that stuff to its highest peaks with their two championships in four years. But lately they've too closely resembled the Yankees and their distasteful tactic of throwing bags of cash at the best players on the open market.


On the other hand, the Rays, with their minuscule budget, have become a Moneyball East type of operation. Except their task is much more daunting having to play in a division with two deep-pocketed powerhouses and even the perpetually competitive Toronto Blue Jays. The Rays have a number of exciting young players (I'm starting to realize Evan Longoria might be my favorite player in the league) and even an eclectic manager.

I would love to see the Rays win, in fact, I'd love to see them win and then carry on to a World Series victory (perhaps a rematch of the 2008 Fall Classic against the Phillies?) but the scenario I most prefer to see would be both the Rays and Red Sox winning today and then playing an epic one-game playoff on Thursday. Same with the Cards and Braves. To nobody's surprise, all four teams have their best pitcher on the mound for today's game. I'll be watching intently and hoping the season drags the excitement out for as long as possible.
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