Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy Final Friday!

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

They Don't Make 'Em That Way Anymore

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Wild Yankees-Angels Trade Scenario

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

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

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

For my mild trade proposal, check out Pinstripe Alley.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Beaming Away Like Father Christmas

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

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

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

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Friday!

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

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

Thursday, December 22, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That should keep me busy!

Cookie Party Photo Gallery

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

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cookies and Cocktails

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

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

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

Friday, December 16, 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Thinking About A New Year's Resolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hum Bug Infestation

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

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

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

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Power of the Narrator

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

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

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

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

Happy Friday!

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

Happy Friday!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A New Project

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

An (Un)Organized Study of Words

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

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

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

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fitness, Memory and Me

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 2, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Friday!

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