Friday, June 25, 2010

Is this also an example of Synchronicity?

Earlier today I posted about tonight's extremely rare lunar eclipse featuring a large (illusively large) moon because of its proximity to the horizon. Funky, weird things are thought to happen during full moons. I think weird full moon occurrences represent a perfect example of what Jung means when he's describing how the concept of synchronicity conflicts with the entire premise of our inherent cause-and-effect perspective on things. The full moon does not cause people to act crazy or weird events to happen, it is instead a coincidental and noticeable pattern in time.

Anyway, I find it very interesting, astounding perhaps, that on a night when we have a full moon and a rare lunar eclipse, we've also had some rare and strange occurrences in the evening's baseball games. I've already mentioned Edwin Jackson's 8-walk 148-pitch no hitter (against a strong offensive team, albeit one that's now been held hitless thrice in the last calendar year) but by far the weirdest thing that happened tonight was the Blue Jays-Phillies game. Nothing particularly strange from the action on the field but the game itself was strange: it was a home game for the Toronto Blue Jays and a road game for the Phillies...but was played at Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia. This rarity happened because major league baseball changed the location of the game due to security concerns in Toronto with the G20 summit on global economy taking place.

The Phillies won the game 9-0 led by their ace pitcher Roy Halladay, acquired from (guess who?) the visiting home team Toronto Blue Jays over the winter. Halladay also threw the last (official) no-hitter prior to Edwin Jackson's tonight. Weird.

(And here's the info behind that awesome picture.)

**Edit: One more thing that was crazy (but not exactly unusual) from today's baseball action: Carlos Zambrano's tirade after pitching a miserable one inning and exiting the game versus the White Sox in Chicago.

***Edit Part 2: Looking back at my post from last month, Roy Halladay's no-hitter (and the other wild baseball events that night) occurred with a full moon in the sky.

Here's an Example of Synchronicity

I had the Padres-Marlins game on my television, muted, this afternoon/evening while I did the dishes, ate cake, listened to music. At one point, while wiping off the kitchen counter, I watched as my screen silently displayed the highlights of an old baseball game. I saw AJ Burnett in a gray Marlins uniform celebrating and hugging catcher Charles Johnson and said mockingly to myself "We did it! A no-hitter!...with 8 walks..." He'd actually walked 9 in that game (against the Padres).

I just found out that Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Edwin Jackson threw a no-hitter (another no-hitter! the fourth [fifth counting Armando Galarraga] of the season) against his former team, the Tampa Bay Rays today. He walked 8 batters.

It's a very subjective experience, of course, but that's exactly what synchronicity is.

*   *   *

Something else interesting about it: Jackson had the same exact pitching line for the game (9 innings, 0 hits, 8 walks, 6 strikeouts) as Dock Ellis in his famous no-hitter that he pitched against the San Diego Padres in a stadium that's barely a mile away from my current location back in 1970. He later admitted that he'd pitched that game while on LSD. It's one of the coolest events in baseball history. Here's a funny animated video that was made about it last year:

The Lunar Eclipse and the Large Moon

Something rare and extremely cool is happening tonight/early tomorrow morning: a partial lunar eclipse. For about three hours, beginning around 3:15 AM Pacific Time, the earth's shadow will cover part of the Full Moon. A sunset-colored shadow will overtake approximately 54% of the moon during one point. It should certainly be an amazing sight.

But what makes it all the more amazing is that the moon will appear abnormally large to observers. As this excellent piece explains, the reasons for it aren't understood by scientists, but when the moon is close to the horizon it appears much larger than it actually is. It's completely an illusion, a weird natural trick of the mind, because what we're seeing is exactly the same size glowing disc that we usually see in the sky.

The first time I witnessed and heard about this effect was an evening in October of 2006, sitting in the second to last row of Shea Stadium with my brother John. We were behind (or, rather, far above) home plate watching Game Two of the NLCS between the Mets and the Cardinals.* So Taguchi had smacked a home run to win the game for the Cardinals, the game was over, Mets fans had departed through the cold autumn air. John and I sat there at the very top of Shea Stadium letting the masses below us clear out. Directly behind us, through the chainlink fence that held top row observers from jumping out of the stadium, we could see the glittering New York City skyline. In front of us, past the left field fence and above the Whitestone Bridge we saw a huge yellow moon, partially shadowed (it was a waxing moon, no lunar eclipse) and tilted. John explained to me the phenomenon and its mystery and we chatted for another fifteen minutes or so about the earth's angle being visible in the slanted moon, Stephen King's post-apocalyptic novel The Stand, and the Mets. Then we went home.

*You can read one of my earliest, albeit sloppy, pieces entitled "Say it Ain't So...Taguchi" --- a guest column I wrote for Jay Jaffe's Futility Infielder blog about that Mets-Cardinals game back in 2006.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Preparatory to Anything Else...Synchronicity

Synchronicity. I've mentioned the term here a few times now, most recently in light of the recent coincidence that occurred to me a few weeks ago, but I haven't taken the time to discuss the topic or its importance. Since it will probably recur pretty often on this blog and especially because it's a main theme of Ulysses (although Joyce wrote about these "epiphanies," as he called them, years before Jung coined the term) which I'll be exploring soon, I would like to orchestrate a brief introduction to synchronicity here. Instead of my own ramblings, I've assembled a collection of quotes from my personal library and my notebooks, presented in a format similar to that of DJ Fly Agaric. Enjoy.

"Most of us in the course of life have observed coincidences in which two or more independent events having no apparent causal connection nevertheless seem to form a meaningful pattern. On occasion, this patterning can strike one as so extraordinary that it is difficult to believe the coincidence has been produced by chance alone. The events give the distinct impression of having been precisely arranged, invisibly orchestrated.
Jung first described the remarkable phenomenon he named synchronicity in a seminar as early as 1928. He continued his investigations for more than twenty years before at last attempting a full formulation in the early 1950s."
---Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, pg 50

"...a concept that formulates a point of view diametrically opposed to that of causality. Since the latter is a merely statistical truth and not absolute, it is a sort of working hypothesis of how events evolve one out of another, whereas synchronicity takes the coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance, namely, a peculiar interdependence of objective events among themselves as well as with the subjective (psychic) states of the observer or observers."
---from Carl Jung's "Foreword to the I-Ching or Book Changes" translated by Richard Wilhelm

"...the meaningful coincidence or equivalence (a) of a psychic and a physical state or event which have no causal relationship to another. Such synchronistic phenomena occur, for instance, when an inwardly perceived event (dream, vision, premonition, etc.) is seen to have a correspondence in external reality: the inner image of premonition has 'come true'; (b) of similar or identical thoughts, dreams, etc. occurring at the same time in different places. Neither the one nor the other coincidence can be explained by causality, but seems to be connected primarily with activated archetypal processes in the unconscious."
--from the Glossary on pg 400 of Jung's autobiography entitled Memories, Dreams, Reflections

"It seems, indeed, as though time, far from being an abstraction, is a concrete continuum which contains qualities or fundamentals which can manifest themselves in relative simultaneousness in different places and in a parallelism which cannot be explained, as in cases of simultaneous appearance of identical thoughts, symbols, or psychic conditions...Whatever is born or done at this particular moment of time has the quality of this moment of time."
---Carl Jung, Collected Works, vol. 15,  pg 56

"Struggling with this phenomenon, Jung became very interested in the developments in quantum-relativistic physics and in the radically new worldview to which they were pointing. He had many intellectual exchanges with Wolfgang Pauli, one of the founders of quantum physics, who was his client and personal friend. Under Pauli's guidance, Jung became familiar with the revolutionary concepts in modern physics, including the challenges to deterministic thinking and linear causality it had introduced into science. Jung was aware of the fact that his own observations appeared much more plausible and acceptable in the context of the new emerging image of reality. Additional support for Jung's ideas came from no less than Albert Einstein who, during a personal visit, encouraged Jung to pursue his idea of synchronicity because it was fully compatible with the new discoveries in physics. Toward the end of his life, Jung became so convinced about the important role that synchronicity played in the natural order of things that he used it as a guiding principle in his everyday life."
---Stanislav Grof, When the Impossible Happens, pg 5

"Jung believed that synchronicities generally seemed to serve the same role as dreams, psychological symptoms, and other manifestations of the unconscious, namely, to compensate the conscious attitude and move the psyche from a problematic one-sidedness toward greater wholeness and individuation. Not only did the unexpectedly externalized pattern of meaning seem to represent more than mere chance coincidence; it also appeared to serve a definite purpose, impelling the psyche toward a more complete psychological and spiritual realization of the individual personality. This self-realization was achieved through a deeper integration of conscious and unconscious, which ultimately required of the individual a discerning surrender of the usual conscious attitude of knowing superiority."
---Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, pg 53

"Synchronicity is no more baffling or mysterious than the discontinuities of physics. It is only the ingrained belief in the sovereign power of causality that creates intellectual difficulties and makes it appear unthinkable that causeless events exist or could ever occur. But if they do, then we must regard them as creative acts, as the continuous creation of a pattern that exists from all eternity, repeats itself sporadically, and is not derivable from any known antecedents."
---Carl Jung, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle, pg 102

"...I think Joyce has a feeling that you live this way if you are open enough inside. Somehow you have premonitions of what's to come, and events unfold in mysteriously appropriate ways, with what Jung called 'synchronicity.'"
---Joseph Campbell, Mythic Worlds, Modern Words, pg 69

"It appears to have been Jung's growing recognition of the magnitude of these implications for the modern world view that impelled him to labor so strenuously, even courageously, to bring critical awareness of the phenomenon of synchronicity into the intellectual discourse of the twentieth century."
---Richard Tarnas, Cosmos and Psyche, pg 60

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Solstice in Circe (Ulysses)

Today is the Summer solstice, the first day of summer, the longest day of the year. The Sun is at its highest point and from now until December it descends lower and lower on the horizon. As I'm now starting my 2nd reading of the longest day in literature, Ulysses, the solstice has me pondering a scene from the Circe episode, the wild, weird, witches' brew of the book.

It's June 16th, days away from the Summer solstice and, as I've discussed here before, young Stephen has gone about as far as his egotistical, self-centered, cynical attitude (keep in mind he's 22 years old) can take him. Ran away from home to go live in Paris, lived like a bohemian there for a little while and now he's back in Dublin after his mother, whose deathbed he refused to kneel down and pray at, has recently died. He's drunk and fooling around in a brothel in the heart of Dublin's red light district. Unbeknownst to him, a rather concerned Leopold Bloom has been following him to make sure he stays out of serious trouble and I draw attention here to a line from the scene in the brothel when Bloom first walks into the room where Stephen, his friend Lynch, and three prostitutes are hanging out (pg 502-503 in my 1961 Random House edition).
  (...Stephen stands at the pianola on which sprawl his hat and ashplant. With two fingers he repeats once more the series of empty fifths...) 
For this scene, I prefer Joseph Campbell's decyphering of Joyce's symbols from his book Mythic Worlds, Modern Words (pg 148):
The fifth is the furthest one can get from the tonic without being on the way back: Do re me fa sol la ti do, then do begins to close again. At this point in Ulysses, Stephen knows that he is at the extreme of his departure from the base, of his separation from the father. The tonic is the father or the ground or the base or the drone, and he has separated himself as far as he can. The sun will cross the Tropic of Cancer on the June 22 summer solstice, and will then start on its journey south, to set. Stephen realizes that this episode is the end of his old life, the moment of crucifixion, the moment when the sun reaches the apogee of its climb in the heavens and begins its descent: "I have gone as far as I can in this egoistic single way of mine, and I am about to embark on my way home."
Stephen, the heavily intoxicated young poet and scholar, tries to put this feeling into words but his friend's cap (yes: his cap, the chapter is filled with weird hallucinations) argues with him.
Stephen: ...The reason is because the fundamental and the dominant are separated by the greatest possible interval which...
The Cap: Which? Finish. You can't.
Stephen: (with an effort) Interval which. Is the greatest possible ellipse. Consistent with. The ultimate return. The octave. Which...
Before he can finish, a gramophone outside suddenly begins blaring the song "Jerusalem, The Holy City," a perfect Joycean synchronicity as this is the meeting of the two characters whom the whole book is about (also an interesting coincidence because the song begins with that same Do re mi fa, etc). Stephen, trying to finish his explanation, is annoyed, "Damn that fellow's noise in the street" (bringing to mind his earlier refutation to his lecturing boss that God is simply "a noise in the street"). His friend Lynch makes fun of him ("What a learned speech, eh?") but one of the prostitutes pretends to know what the hell he's talking about:
(With obese stupidity Florry Talbot regards Stephen.)
Florry: They say the last day is coming this summer.
This thought conjures up a variety of ridiculous hallucinatory phenomena in Stephen's drunken brain and onto the scene enters a characterization of The End of the World, dancing and talking with a Scotch accent. Elijah also enters, speaking with an American accent and going on a perfect Billy Sunday-like preaching tirade. This character produces one of my favorite quotes in the book for, as Campbell explains, "very frequently, Joyce brings out key thoughts in a totally contrary kind of language and situation" and emphasizes this as one of Joyce's essential messages. Here's the hallucination of Elijah (looking and sounding like Billy Sunday) preaching to Stephen, Lynch, Bloom and three prostitutes:
Elijah: ...Are you a god or a doggone clod? If the second advent came to Coney Island are we ready? Florry Christ, Stephen Christ, Zoe Christ, Bloom Christ, Kitty Christ, Lynch Christ, it's up to you to sense that cosmic force. Have we cold feet about the cosmos? No. Be on the side of the angels. Be a prism. You have that something within, the higher self. You can rub shoulders with a Jesus, a Gautama, an Ingersoll. Are you all in this vibration? I say you are... 

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Thoughts and Observations from Padres-Orioles game

I attended the Padres-Orioles game last night at Petco Park with my brothers Billy and John and John's wife Kristina (a shrewd baseball fan herself, she accurately maintained my scorecard while I roamed the concourse for an inning or so). It was a fun game to watch as the Padres rallied in the bottom of the 9th to overcome a flimsy one-run Oriole advantage finishing with Adrian Gonzalez's game-winning RBI single with 2 outs and the bases loaded to win the game. Coming into the game, the Orioles were the worst team in the major leagues and we witnessed some glaring displays of their ineptitude.

The O's Plight Summed Up in One Night
- Bad lineup configuration: Admittedly, he doesn't have much to choose from with pretty much every hitter not producing so far this season, but interim manager Juan Samuel's choice of Corey Patterson (career .291 on-base percentage) as his leadoff man is just plain foolish. The guy is an out machine (and he went 0 for 4 last night).

- Adam Jones' ugly fielding: prior to last night's game I watched the highlights from the Orioles' previous game, a 6-3 loss in San Francisco, and saw the usually stalwart young centerfielder Adam Jones totally botch a fly ball that he definitely should've had. Last night in the 5th inning, Adrian Gonzalez laced a ball to center, Jones sprinted back to the wall and then flailed his glove up over his head in an awkward and pathetic last attempt before falling. He'd misjudged the direction of the ball and looked silly because of it. It was an extremely hard hit ball and Jones is a converted shortstop but I think he could have caught the ball if he ran in the right direction. The resultant RBI double scored the Padres' first run to tie the game. Jones is one of the centerpieces of the Orioles' future but he showed last night why he is one of the centerpieces of their current state of suckitude.

- "Score that play: Interference" Orioles shortstop Cesar Izturis, a terrible hitter as is (.297 career OBP), somehow managed to get himself out on a 3-0 count without even swinging. In the top of the 5th inning, Julio Lugo (another sad Oriole failure) led off with a single and then stole second. He then attempted to steal third, the catcher's throw bounced past third baseman Chase Headley and went into the outfield, and Lugo scampered home for a run. But wait! Sitting in the stands, we didn't have the luxury of announcers to explain the events but we saw Izturis and Lugo immediately get into an argument with the homeplate umpire. Over what? The announcement came over the loud speaker: "Score that play: Interference." Something I've seen watching games on TV but never witnessed in person. Izturis had gotten in the way of Padres catcher Yorvit Torrealba when the latter was trying to uncork a throw to third. Izturis was automatically out and Lugo had to go back to second base. A strange ruling perhaps but here's the official explanation:
Rule 6.06
A batter is out for illegal action when --(c) He interferes with the catcher’s fielding or throwing by stepping out of the batter’s box or making any other movement that hinders the catcher’s play at home base. EXCEPTION: Batter is not out if any runner attempting to advance is put out, or if runner trying to score is called out for batter’s interference.
Rule 6.06(c) Comment: If the batter interferes with the catcher, the plate umpire shall call “interference.” The batter is out and the ball dead. No player may advance on such interference (offensive interference) and all runners must return to the last base that was, in the judgment of the umpire, legally touched at the time of the interference.
In the 9th inning, Izturis struck out looking for the third out while Lugo was attempting a steal of second. This time, Torrealba spiked the ball on the ground in front of home plate (he'd remembered halfway through his throw that the inning was actually over), a strange sight which led to some confusion in the stands...and in the scorebox too: the scoreboard displayed once again "Score that play: Interference."

- College Night: Last night was College Night at the ballpark, all college students got into the game for only $8.50. It was thus a little more rowdy than usual and there were plenty of stereotypical college "bros" especially a group of about six dudes that sat a few rows in front of us, chanting "Peanut Boy" throughout the game (I have no idea why), gyrating, hugging, high-fiving, yelling, and just being idiots for the entire game. But, I guess that's what college boys do. More importantly though, former University of San Diego star Brian Matusz was the starter for the Orioles and I was eager to watch the highly-regarded (#18 overall prospect as per Baseball Prospectus) rookie lefty pitch. He threw a pretty good game with 6 innings, 1 run, 4 Ks and 1 walk. Not very efficient though as it took him 114 pitches to make it through those 6 innings. Still, he looks like a nice piece to stick in the Baltimore rotation for years to come.

- Pathetic pen: By most metrics (I like the advanced ones) the Orioles' bullpen is among the very worst in baseball. They did manage to hold the Padres scoreless in the 7th and 8th innings but when David Hernandez, a righty with good stuff but terrible control, came in to protect a one-run lead in the 9th I knew they were doomed and the Pads would rally. A leadoff walk to Chase Headley set things in motion and I watched as Hernandez loaded the bases and the Orioles frantically tried to get people warming up in the bullpen (one of them was the forever hittable Mark Hendrickson), desperate for a pitcher who could just get a few of outs! Didn't happen. Hernandez allowed a walk and four hits before getting to three outs and the Pads walked off with a victory.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Book Review: "Cardboard Gods" by Josh Wilker

I've been reading Josh Wilker's Cardboard Gods blog and its awesome essays for about three years now and when I heard he was writing a book, I had very high expectations. The book turned out to be better than I'd hoped it would be. Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards is a colorful, extremely well-written and entertaining book about baseball, the 70s, and the author's unusual upbringing. It is also sort of a bildungsroman, taking us through the story of the author's growth and giving us a history of how the book itself came into existence. And it's all done through the summoning power of funky 1970s baseball cards.

The book itself, physically, is beautiful---one of the nicest-looking books I've ever come across. The dust jacket resembles the thin, wax-paper-like wrapper from old baseball cards and inside the front and back covers are smatterings of colorful cards with their front faces (grainy images of sunlit fields, old tightly-worn jerseys, stirrups, Rollie Fingers' mustache) at the beginning of the book and the back of the cards (the rows of stats, little cartoons printed on cardboard) splattered in between the final page and back cover.

The story consists of 4 parts or "packs," each opening with an old photo from Wilker's life superimposed seamlessly into a baseball card. In each part, Wilker weaves the stories from his life into essays which always begin with a baseball card from his old collection that seems to summon and somehow tie the story, the 70s era, and the cards together. It becomes clear that the world of his old baseball cards represents a sort of mythology for Wilker, the way he describes the process of opening a new pack it's as if the slab of chewing gum he consumes was his transubstantiating sacrament which injected a "blast of sugar" into his veins "so that the arrival of my newest gods coincided exactly with the sweet, fleeting bliss I'd come to need." Early on, he discusses a 1974 Cleon Jones card that was the first one in his collection, "There has to be a beginning in any cosmology, and I have subconsciously and consciously come to believe that Cleon Jones is mine, the central figure in my flimsy personal religion." The card shows the Mets outfielder after just having struck a line drive and from its image Wilker presents a brilliant opening and introduction to his story:
A loud crack had just occurred, setting everything in motion. In the very next second, Cleon Jones is going to start running as fast as he can, and from the looks of it he is going to run for a while before having to stop. It's that moment when everything has just begun, and you don't know how it'll turn out, and you can't help assuming it'll be great.
The next three chapters are wonderful: Mike Kekich, a pitcher who swapped families with another player only to decide it wasn't working and get denied by his old wife, is the god who highlights Wilker's weird home situation featuring a mom, a dad, and a Tom (mom meets Tom on a bus to Washington, D.C. for a peace march); Herb Washington, the only "pinch runner" in major league history, a crazy experiment, coalesces with Wilker's defense of mom and Tom's eventual decision to leave civilization and live off the land; Wilbur Wood, a throwback name with a throwback record pitching in the 70s, throws a young Josh's understanding of "clean, well-defined" systems amuck similar to his parent's experimentation. This is all just in Part 1 of the book, which gives us a hilarious portrait of a family while at the same time painting a portrait of the times. His mother's hippie boyfriend (who is described as always wearing jeans and a yellow Superman t-shirt), in an attempt to become more self-sufficient, learns how to be a blacksmith and tries to make a living as such with a forge built into the back of a VW van with a chimney coming out of the roof.

Even while they're the focal point of the hippie lifestyle their parents (well, their mother and Tom) try to adapt, Josh and older brother Ian---"they wanted us to grow up wild and free, bounding barefoot through meadows, uncorrupted"---pay almost no attention to it and instead devote all their attention to baseball. Especially the Red Sox. And especially Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski ("Come on, Yaz!" is a sort of leitmotif recurring all throughout the book). They occasionally get to head over to Fenway Park from their rural house in the woods of Vermont and see the gods in person; in the first game Josh attends he witnesses the spectacle of Reggie Jackson, the central character of 1970s baseball, and lists the numerous reasons why Reggie "the iconoclast who shattered baseball's implicit ban on facial hair" was truly the epitome of baseball in the 1970s. (Wilker later describes his dad's temporary mustache from that decade: "I have sometimes thought of the mustache he wore during the 1970s as hair shrapnel, a fragment of the general hairiness of the culture of the time that seemed to have landed randomly on my dad's face.) Then we see the awesome 1976 card of Johnny Bench whose "gunslinger pose revealed him as a hero from an earlier, simpler time" and the card is a favorite of young Wilker who "had to cling to the last few shreds of that simple path wherever he found them while besieged on all sides by uncertainty." His parents had sent him to a special hippie school where there were no desks, just beanbag chairs and no fixed curriculum, just the freedom to create.

During this time, his father stayed back in New York to work as a sociologist. A dedicated, hard-working, and simple man, his father doesn't like baseball and doesn't seem to have any sort of social life but he'd go up to Vermont to visit his sons and bring huge, movie theater-sized boxes of candy. The two boys would go down to New York and their father took them to Mets games once a year. For Josh's twelfth birthday his father gives him a diary and tells him he must write in it everyday, bestowing the wisdom that "the creative life is the most worthwhile existence available" but young Josh brushes it aside "as if I were agreeing to brush my teeth after eating a box of M&Ms." He's a weird kid who doesn't listen, doesn't do anything normally, and annoys the shit out of his conservative dad culminating one morning when, seeing Josh eat his normal bowl of milkless cereal, his dad flips out on him ("You don't do anything right!") before begging forgiveness but the author fully concedes his own strangeness as a youth and lists the ways he wasn't quite right, including:
  • "I daydreamed too much" 
  • "I didn't know which way to look when we crossed streets while walking around in the city"
  • "I'd wet the foam mattress I slept on in my dad's apartment"
  • "The only thing I knew about was baseball, which was silly and devoid of worth" 
There's some embarrassing teenager stories conveyed as the adolescent Wilker becomes assimilated into the world of puberty, refusing to "go with" (kiss) giggly girls pining for him and later becoming an expert onanist. His older brother, an idol and initiator for most of Josh's life, starts to drift away from his dorky younger bro a little bit and so Josh, a loner, becomes even more immersed in the baseball world. The chapter on the lanky Pittsburgh Pirates' fireman Kent Tekulve is one of my favorite in the book as Wilker relates to the loner with his "thick glasses and bulging Adam's apple and mathematician wrists and ungainly, unmanly submarine delivery" who, playing on the roster for the "We Are Family" 1979 Pirates is like "a gray crayon in the box of multicolored Crayolas" lurking in the bullpen while the players in the dugout "laughed and strutted and slapped five like they'd just come offstage from a sweaty, glittering ass-shaking gig with George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars."

He attends a boarding school in Massachusetts (as a classmate of Uma Thurman, although that isn't mentioned in the book) and gets kicked out for smoking pot in his dorm room. While waiting outside the office of a committee that would decide whether or not he'd be expelled, Josh runs into a heavily-accented Middle Eastern classmate who suggests that he go into the committee and tell them "To suck! Your fucking! Dick!" but instead he receives a verbal lashing and gets kicked out of highschool. He goes on to receive a GED, attend a small state college and receive a degree in creative writing which, when he got out of school, "was as useful, professionally speaking, as a degree in pointing at clouds and saying what they resembled." A gloomy, seemingly pathetic period of balking at the entrance of Life, wasting time, going away for a nondescript trip to Europe, working at a UPS loading dock and in a liquor store ensues. There's a great line where a random passerby says to Josh, "Damn, you look like you getting your ass kicked by life." His childhood idol brother also spends time working for UPS (I certainly don't mean to associate UPS with pathetic dead-end jobs, mind you) and things briefly seem gloomy and languid as they've grown up. One afternoon on the way home from a court date for stealing a poster out of a movie theater lobby, the brothers (and pal Pete) pass Yankee Stadium ("Fuck you, Yankee Stadium" the Sox fans yell) and then crash into a car on the Macombs Dam Bridge, leading to a scene where Wilker watches his brother age before his eyes when a "battalion of muscular young Bronx residents from the other car commenced screaming at him" and his brother, with his totaled car, no insurance, barely getting by, resembles "a pitcher with nothing left and no help on the way, a mop-up man who has to stay in the box and take a beating as the boos rain down."

Things brighten up in the end, though. The most beautiful card in the entire book is that of Rickey Henderson in 1980 and, fittingly, it opens the chapter where Wilker meets his eventual wife. By this time, he'd begun occasionally pulling out cards from his childhood collection and summoning memories from that time, jotting them down in a notebook. In the final chapter, Wilker has moved to Chicago with his girlfriend and begun taking his writing endeavor more seriously. He flies back to attend a family therapy session with his mom and brother who've had a bit of a bumpy ride back to reality after their failed attempt at a different lifestyle in the 70s. When it's Josh's turn to speak, he blabbers a bit before realizing that, throughout that whole stressful time (living in a rundown old rural house, trying to grow their own food, going to an unorthodox hippie school with beanbag chairs and getting ridiculed by his peers, having three parents for a little while, one of which tried to make a living as a blacksmith) his life was nevertheless happy. It's a beautiful affirmation of the whole crazy story.

I know this has been an extremely long book review but, while my own writing certainly isn't that strong and convincing at this point, I hoped to try to convey the high quality of this book and the author's terrific writing. I remember the first time I came across a Cardboard Gods post and it was so entertaining and easy to relate with that I went back that afternoon and read every other post he'd written up until that time. This new book is a condensed and (with its beautiful cover, colors, and texture) enhanced version of what we get on the blog and I know I will be carrying this around and reading it periodically, savoring it for the rest of my own baseball-saturated life.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Two Years Later...

It's been an exciting, event-filled, eventful last couple days. It began on Friday morning when it was brought to my attention that Rob Neyer, one of my all time favorite baseball writers, had mentioned A Building Roam in a little blurb on his ESPN Sweet Spot blog. He drew readers' attention to my post last week about the Jim Joyce incident and the number of views for this blog went through the roof which is exciting considering that I haven't even reached 50 posts yet. I've been a Rob Neyer fan for many years and for a while I even paid for an ESPN Insider monthly subscription for the sole purpose of reading Mr. Neyer's blog (which is no longer behind the subscription wall) so it was an absolute thrill to be mentioned on there.

Later that afternoon, my girlfriend returned home after 3 weeks of traveling and we had a nice dinner with my brother, his wife, and my 5-month-old nephew.

Yesterday, June 12th marked the two year anniversary of my arrival here in San Diego after a 10-day, 15-state migration across the country from Staten Island, New York. It wasn't until the end of an eventful Saturday, sitting up in the rightfield stands at Petco Park watching the Padres and Mariners, that I realized "holy crap, I've been here for two years." In the morning we had gone over to a nice little bookstore in Seaport Village to meet Josh Wilker, one of my other favorite current writers and author of the highly-regarded new book Cardboard Gods which he was promoting and signing. I've been reading his blog for many years and even briefly corresponded with him through e-mail before, but when I met him in person I froze up awkwardly and barely managed to say anything. I'm still working on what will probably be a lengthy review of his book and will have it up soon.

After my embarrassing moment of shyness, we spent the rest of the afternoon killing time before the 5:30 pm Padres-Mariners game. Lunch at a randomly chosen but nevertheless delicious Italian restaurant, a cheap but extremely satisfying one-hour massage, and a stroll around downtown San Diego before we made it to the ballpark for what was a fun ballgame. I expected a low-scoring pitcher's duel between the two lefty starters, Cliff Lee and Wade LeBlanc, but Lee got tagged for a two-run bomb from Adrian Gonzalez early and LeBlanc only surrendered one run but allowed 10 baserunners in his six innings. It was still a close ballgame (3-1) in the 8th when the Padres blew it open with 4 runs including three on a line-drive homer from pinch-hitter Oscar Salazar. I was questioning why the Padres would use Salazar to pinch hit instead of pinch-hitter extraordinaire Matt Stairs, but Salazar made manager Bud Black look good and sent the ballpark into a frenzy.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra (video documentary)

I read The Tao of Physics on a recommendation from a great professor I had in my final semester of college in the spring of 2007. It remains one of the most influential and important books in my life and it's one of the first books I'd give as a recommendation for others to read. The author is Fritjof Capra who was a theoretical physicist for many years and discovered striking parallels between what modern physics was discovering and what the mystical eastern traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism have been saying for centuries.

Lately, I've been thumbing through one of Capra's later books called Uncommon Wisdom  (specifically the chapter where he interviews Stanislav Grof and R.D. Laing) and so, since he was on my mind, I decided to check out what there was on YouTube for Dr. Capra and found a pretty cool late-70s/early 80s-era documentary exploring Mr. Fritjof Capra, his awesome book, and his theories. I highly recommend checking it out, here is the full doc.

(There's lots of physics talk, don't let it deter you---it's all explained pretty clearly and it's rewarding to pay attention. Understanding the principles of modern physics will change the way you look at life. It's also a little slow to develop but it picks up in the third video.)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Links: More on Jim/James Joyce plus Bronze Nazareth and Madlib

I'm a bit late with this little follow-up to the Jim Joyce-Armando Galarraga situation but I'd like to briefly bring attention to a few links. Alex Belth, Joe Posnanski, and Peter Gammons all had very similar reactions to mine, especially Posnanski:
And in that moment when he had a perfect game so unfairly taken away from him, he smiled. In the interview after the game, he simply said that he wasn’t sure about the call but he was proud of his game. When told afterward that Joyce felt terrible about the missed call, Galarraga said that he wanted to go tell Joyce not to worry about it, that people make mistakes.
Galarraga pitched a perfect game on Wednesday night in Detroit. I’ll always believe that. I think most baseball fans will always believe that. But, more than anything, it seems that Galarraga will always believe it. The way he handled himself after the game, well, that was something better than perfection. Dallas Braden’s perfect game was thrilling. Roy Halladay’s perfect game was art. But Armando’s Galarraga’s perfect game was a lesson in grace.
And when my young daughters ask, “Why didn’t he get mad and scream about how he was robbed?” I think I will tell them this: I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s because Armando Galarraga understands something that is very hard to understand, something we all struggle with, something I hope you will learn as you grow older: In the end, nobody’s perfect. We just do the best we can.
I swear I hadn't yet read his article when I wrote my blog post. I guess Galarraga's handling of the mistake just had that kind of a strong impact on people.

Besides praising how the participants handled the whole mess, the big discussion in the aftermath of that blown call has been whether to implement more usage of instant replay into baseball. One of my favorite current writers, Josh Wilker, wrote a piece about this very topic and the quality of the writing is absolutely superb. He gets creative at the beginning, letting the content dictate the style of writing almost to a point of absurdity (and of course some of the commenters didn't catch what he was trying to do). Check it out:
But you can't stop time and you can't even really digress much these days, because who wants to sit around reading long, looping, allusive sentences that suddenly veer off target to reach for things that are lost for good, like one of the mushy baseballs my brother and I used to buy at the general store down the road and then knock into the tall baseball-eating grass where our sheep grazed (Virginia was her name, and she was in some ways the symbolic center of my family's 1970s back-to-the-land dream, which eventually failed [symbolically ending the day Virginia came home in little white packages that everyone was too sad to ever eat] and in failing became eligible to be deemed, in retrospect, a mistake, perhaps even something to have been avoided, had there been some technological, time-stopping means of doing so), the loss of one of the mushy balls always seeming like the product of some mistake that disabled our flimsy two-boy game and opened us back up to the fading of the light from the sky, the end of the day, the march of time, the inevitable -- I mean who wants to get involved in that kind of melancholy textual aimlessness these days what with all the other quick-hitting entertainment opportunities available? 
Once he gets to the point he's trying to make, although it may not be all that persuasive, it's as well written as anything I've read on the subject.
Something about the profoundly boring and predictable nature of the uproar over the event, and the uproar-fueling media-led mob-march toward legislating in rules to make everything smooth as an android's skin, has me wanting to argue in defense of mistakes.
Yes, I'm excerpting alot but I'm that impressed with the writing. Here's one more, my favorite paragraph and then I'm done with it:
Maybe mistakes are our only divergence from the inevitable. I mean, in the vastness of barren space, this tiny blue globe of vibrant life stands out as a brief, inexplicable mistake. And everywhere on this earth, mistakes key strange, unexpected growth. Jazz singer Jon Hendricks once said, "It wouldn't be jazz without the mistakes." Christopher Columbus found this continent by mistake. Judging from my mother and father's separation from one another in the 1970s, a separation that suggested the original coupling was a bad call, my very existence was the product of a mistake. My parents' attempt during that mistake-filled decade to establish a utopian life in the country, in which we would grow all our own food, also proved to be untenable, another mistake, though I trace the deepest loves and joys and hopes of my life to the love and joy and hope embedded in that mistake.
The personal stuff he touches on at the end of the paragraph is a main focus of his recent book, Cardboard Gods, which is amazing. I received it back in April and read it pretty quickly but have not been able to direct my focus towards writing a review as of yet. But the review is coming soon enough.

*   *   *
With Bloomsday coming up soon there's been a slight bubbling up of James Joyce material in the blogosphere lately. The blog had a nice piece about the music in Ulysses (as you can tell from a brief scan of the post, Ulysses is filled with music) including brief audio clips of some of the songs featured in the novel and also the two existent audio recordings of Joyce reading aloud from his books (I'll have a post about those recordings soon).

It's very lengthy but I highly recommend reading the Dublin Book Review's take on Declan Kiberd's new book, Ulysses and Us. I haven't read Kiberd's book yet but I intend to and the review speaks very highly of it. Kiberd attempts to rescue "the damned monster novel" (Joyce's own words) from the tight grips of academic institutions and bring it back to the common man. Although it is certainly a challenging read, Kiberd explains that "Ulysses was designed to produce readers capable of reading Ulysses … it offers not only a text but a training in how to decode it." It's that cool.

I also like Kiberd's assertion that the corporate university, which essentially "took over the work of interpretation" of the great book, "praised Joyce as the supreme technician and ignored Ulysses as a modern example of wisdom literature. However, modernism, like any other great movement of art, is full of lessons." This, to me, is one of the main reasons why so many people avoid trying to read it. Not only because it's difficult reading at times but because the "supreme technicality" seems daunting and hard to understand, yet Ulysses is as much an occult wisdom book as a supremely-architectured labyrinth.

Moving on...

Go here to hear Stephen Colbert reading the "Calypso" episode.

*   *   *
I'll be incorporating music into this blog more as I move forward with it and lyricist/producer extraordinaire and Wu-Tang affiliate, Bronze Nazareth, will undoubtedly feature prominently so his recent interview with is a good start. Here's a snippet where he's discussing his new album entitled School for the Blindman:
I bang my head on the walls trying to make sure every word is visual, not too complex but still clever. I really truly stress myself out, sometimes I get to a point where I don't like anything I'm writing, so what actually makes it on a track lyrically on my album has gone through a heavy filter. 
Aside from the quality of his music (the lyrics make my brain tingle, the instrumentals strike my emotions heavily) it's this type of approach which I find most appealing about Bronze (here explaining the title for his upcoming album):
"School for the Blindman" is me just saying I'm giving my thoughts words, experience, and knowledge to listeners, through music. You could be physically blind, listen to it and take something from it as well as you can be blind mentally and learn through it. So this is my experiences and schooling for those who can and will listen.
His first album, The Great Migration, came out back in 2006 and played a major role in my life over the next few years. It even helped inspire my own Great Migration from New York to San Diego.

*   *   *
Speaking of music...Madlib and his one-album-per-month Medicine Show this year will also feature heavily here in my music discussions so I'll let this serve as a little taste of things to come (I suggest you fast-forward to about the 1:58 mark for my favorite part):

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Lesson of Grace from Galarraga to Joyce

"Mistakes are the portals of discovery"--James Joyce

In the aftermath of the Jim Joyce botched-perfect-game incident there's been an uproar about whether or not to further implement the usage of video instant replay into baseball games but, more dangerously, there's also been alot of venom spewed in the direction of Mr. Joyce, including death threats and even threats to the poor man's family (an emotional Joyce said "I wish they would just direct it all to me...They don't deserve this. I’ll take it. I’ll take it. I’ll take whatever you can give me. And I’ll handle it like a man. And I’ll do the best I can"). I loved Rob Neyer's words on the venom-spewing dirtbags:

So, enough with the death threats and the Wikipedia vandalism and everything in between. If, in the clear light of the next day, you're actively demonizing Jim Joyce, you've got far bigger problems than being deprived of a perfect game. Find a free clinic. Get some help.
Upon reflection, my feelings on the matter can be summed up in the quote at the very top of this post, taken from a letter James Joyce once wrote. Listening to sports radio all day today and reading the many articles about this incident, there are many people who've made the point that Armando Galarraga's almost perfect game will be more famous and well-remembered because of the blown call than it would have been if it were just another (yes, another, the third this season) perfect game. And I think the most important message to take out of this is the grace, sympathy and compassion shown by Galarraga, the sole "victim" of Joyce's terrible mistake. After all, a perfect game is never praised as a team accomplishment. It's Galarraga that got screwed over, no one else.

At the exact moment Joyce made the call of "safe," ending Galarraga's string of perfection (on the final play, no less) the pitcher did not scream with his eyes bulging like George Brett, he didn't even display any sign of incredulity. Instead: he smiled. That's life. That's humanity. We're imperfect.

I had goosebumps today when I saw the video of a teary-eyed Jim Joyce, a big burly guy with a handlebar mustache, suffering a frown and weeping uncontrollably in public because of a mistake he'd made (and admitted to), and Galarraga came up and shook his hand in front of everyone.

Galarraga never vilified Joyce. He felt his pain: "He felt so bad. He didn't even shower," Galarraga said.

"He's human. He made a mistake. He feels terrible. I gave him a hug."

*   *   *
Well, you know I'm going to tie in Ulysses here. I have to.

When I look at Jim Joyce (above) and I see the video of the tough handlebar-mustache man crying I'm reminded not of James Joyce but of the author's father, John Joyce (right). John Joyce, the alcoholic, money-wasting failure of a father, is a character both in Ulysses and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. An extremely emotionally volatile and hilarious character, there are a few times where we see the fictionalized John Joyce (as Simon Dedalus) weeping, most notably in the "Hades" chapter when he looks at his deceased wife's grave:
-- Her grave is over there, Jack, Mr Dedalus said. I'll soon be stretched beside her. Let Him take me whenever He likes.

Breaking down, he began to weep to himself quietly, stumbling a little in his walk.
In Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus (a fictionalized version of young James Joyce) has sort of runaway from home and his crazy father. As a (highly intellectual, in fact, brilliant) kid in his early 20s he's become pretty self-centered and has rejected much of the world and society, becoming lonely and confused in the process. His mom recently died and he's severed ties with his physical father. He's brooding about this throughout the first three chapters of the book. It is not until his chance encounter with Leopold Bloom, a father-figure in spirit, that he has a transformation of character and is able to open up and actually have sympathy and compassion for someone.* It happens first in the "Oxen of the Sun" chapter where Bloom reassures and comforts Stephen who is scared shitless by an extremely loud crack of thunder (he, just like James Joyce, has a terrible fear of thunder) and then in the "Circe" chapter Stephen, in an act of reciprocal compassion, steps in when the whores are all taunting and mocking Bloom because his wife is cheating on him. The coming together of Bloom and Stephen is, in fact, the main point of the book.
"There are critics who have written that Ulysses isn't a novel because there is no transformation of character. The transformation of character is right here: sympathy breaks the self-containment of Stephen and Bloom. In fact, this theme, this problem, is the main theme and concern of the work." --Joseph Campbell in Mythic Worlds, Modern Words pg 128
This union of "father" and "son" is not enacted as some sort of overly dramatic tearful hug or anything, though. It's just a symbolic simple act of compassion and sympathy for another human being.

And that is the great lesson to be learned from the grace of the forgiving and understanding Armando Galarraga. Jim Joyce made a big mistake and cost Galarraga a shot at baseball history. He won't go into the record books for throwing a perfect game, but he should be remembered for his heroic display of how human beings should behave towards one another. Especially when someone screws up.

*I'd like to note the funny little coincidence I realized about this incident: the moment when Stephen is moved to sympathy and compassion for Bloom, he realizes a connection they share and notes a correspondence they both have between the number 22. It's been mentioned often that the umpire Jim Joyce has been umpiring for 22 years before this historic mistake. Also Ulysses was first published in 1922.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

I control the Universe

"Coming events cast their shadows before."
--Ulysses, pg 165

On Sunday I attempted to unite this blog's two most common themes so far, baseball and James Joyce, in my discussion of Billy Sunday. Then last night I told a little story of how I witnessed the Padres beat the Mets with a walk-off grand slam last year. Well, I think the baseball gods were reading.

Today, the angry eyes of the baseball world are all on umpire Jim Joyce whose botched call ruined a perfect game this afternoon. The botched call came on what should have been the final out of a perfect game for Detroit's Armando Galarraga. Jim Joyce's name will forever be remembered in the baseball world for the gaffe.

And, in a game I watched in person before begrudgingly having to leave in the 8th inning for a prior engagement, the Padres beat the Mets...on a walk-off grand slam. Their second walk-off grand slam in the history of Petco Park, both against the Mets, both games I attended.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Quick Padres vs Mets flashback

 The Mets are in town to play at Petco Park for the only time this season and, watching the game right now with the clearly-past-his-prime closer Francisco Rodriguez (or K-Rod, as he's known) trying to close out the game with his team up by 3 runs, I'm reminded of the Mets-Padres game I attended last summer. It was a birthday present from my brother Billy and his (five months pregnant) wife: perfect seats just above home plate for a Friday night match between my lovable ol' Mets and the local San Diego nine.

I was in the midst of a two month sojourn working at a terrible, extremely stressful administrative office where I spent each day working with 4 unpleasant and unfriendly ladies. It was the middle-aged, possibly bipolar, zany, wealthy owner and her three young, catty, goal-driven ladies. The Witches of Eastwick. Or, more accurately (since they nearly drove me insane), Bella Cohen's whores. And I'd actually been hired to work at the place on Bloomsday.

After four weeks at a highly demanding job where the three young women I had to work with clearly didn't want me there, I was drained and heavily infected with stress. Sitting in Petco Park that night watching Oliver Perez pitch a very good game against the home team (2 hits, 2 walks, 7 Ks and only 1 run in 6.1 innings) I started to feel a very sharp pain in the back of my head where the spine meets the skull. It persisted throughout the game and any movement made it hurt. I had a constant look of strain on my face. It felt like that scene in "The Matrix" where they first plug that needle into the back of Neo's head.

K-Rod entered the game in the 9th with his team protecting a one run lead. Watching him warm up, with his limbs herky-jerkily flying everywhere, I thought of when the Mets had signed him and he how he was considered the last big piece in the Mets' championship puzzle. Now he was languishing for a 4th place team in August, trying to pitch the last inning of a meaningless win.

I had left my fun, interesting, family-atmosphere, 9-to-3 job for one that paid much much more but brought much more stress and bullshit with it. They pushed meticulousness to a degree bordering on brown-M&M insanity and, if I did anything wrong (even while in training), Bella Cohen made sure to embarrass and spank me in front of everyone. I sympathized with K-Rod, who'd left his Angels to make the big bucks and pitch for the New York Metropolitans and their demanding city.

The pain in my head persisted for the entire month of August while my health rapidly deteriorated, first with a bad cold then pneumonia before I finally quit the job on unfriendly terms. I lost weight and couldn't knock the pneumonia for weeks as I sat home unemployed and bitter, my nose raw from having to blow snot from it all day for practically two whole months.

K-Rod wasted no time in making the opposition's ballpark explode with excitement. He walked Kyle Blanks to start the inning and the next batter roped a double to score Blanks and tie the game. Now he was no longer trying to close out a win for the Mets but trying to save his team from defeat. He went to a full count on the next batter before walking him. Mets manager Jerry Manuel, in a decision that some baseballers might hyperbolically equate to public castration, made his closer issue an intentional walk to the next batter to load the bases. Still no outs and now the winning run was at third.

Next batter Everth Cabrera quickly fell behind: no balls, two strikes. He then battled all the way back, fouled off pitches and worked a full count. Bases loaded, full count, bottom of the ninth: baseball's densest moment of potentiality. The entire crowd was standing, cheering, gasping, anticipating. I was too. And my head was ringing and the sharp pain stinging. Cabrera executed a perfect upper cut swing and launched the ball high and deep to right field, just barely clearing the wall of the little "jewelry box" that juts into the field. A walk-off grand slam.