Thursday, October 31, 2013

2013 World Series Champions!

Here's to the World Champion Red Sox! Thanks for a hell of a ride!
AP Photo/David J. Philip

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Book Review: Kurt Vonnegut's "Bluebeard: The Autobiography of Rabo Karabekian (1916-1988)"

What an interesting book. Vonnegut's 1987 novel is about many things, but it's essentially the diary of Rabo Karabekian, a one-eyed failed Abstract Expressionist painter and how he learns to accept his weaknesses and creativity towards the end of his life. The story skips back and forth between the present narration and the past – his growing up with his Armenian immigrant parents, struggling through an art apprenticeship, his rise and fall in the serious art world. Vonnegut, as always, entertains while pulling off something deep – his glib prose belies the depth behind the thoughts and experience it details. What I found most interesting about the book was the conflict between its generally cynical tone and, in the end, its generally positive message. In this respect, it’s an old persons novel. I'm not really sure how to express it, so let me include some examples. The cynicism:
“A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily communication with nothing but world’s champions.
The entire planet can get along nicely now with maybe a dozen champion performers in each area of human giftedness. A moderately gifted person has to keep his or her gifts all bottled up until, in a manner of speaking, he or she gets drunk at a wedding and tap-dances on the coffee table like Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers. We have a name or him or her. We call him or her an “exhibitionist.”
How do we reward such an exhibitionist? We say to him or her the next morning, “Wow! Were you ever drunk last night!”
And the humanity:
"I think--it is somehow very useful, and maybe even essential, for a fine artist to have to somehow make his peace on the canvas with all the things he cannot do. That is what attracts us to serious paintings, I think: that shortfall, which we might call "personality," or maybe even "pain." "
(More quotes here.) 
Other than Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut’s other books haven’t always spoken to me. But this little gem of a novel blew me away.

Cross-posted on Thought Ambience

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Jon Lester, World Series Hero

Jon Lester has come a long way. After performing rather averagely last year and for part of this season, Jon Lester finished up the year strongly. And in the playoffs, he's been the Ace pitcher we all knew he had in him. In the World Series alone, he's pitched brilliantly, reminiscent of how fellow Texan Josh Beckett performed in 2007:
Jon Lester backed up 7 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 1 with 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball. He was incredibly efficient, needing only 89 pitches to record the 23 outs. He struck out seven, allowed four hits and recovered one paper airplane.
He's been so good that if not for Ortiz's incredible performance (hitting .733 with a .750 on-base percentage and 1.267 slugging percentage), he could quite possibly be named the MVP should (when!) the Sox go on to win. Fun to watch!

Related Posts:
Jon Lester, Settling In
What's Wrong with Lester?
Lester's No Longer an Ace?

Sunday, October 27, 2013


The Boston Globe calls game 3 of the 2013 World Series a game that "will go down in history for its controversy."

Even though I'm a Red Sox fan, I don't see why there should be any controversy.  The only thing that made the obstruction call unusual is that it happened at third base instead of second.  But regardless of where he is on the diamond, baserunner has the right to advance along the basepaths without anything (other than a defensive player who has the ball) getting in the way.

Will Middlebrooks was lying in the basepath in front of Allen Craig.  It doesn't matter that he didn't intend to be there.  It was his responsibility to be out of the basepath, or to face the consequences.  That's a risk he took when he dived across the basepath to try to field Saltalamacchia's bad throw.

One wonders what Saltalamacchia was even doing in the game.  Reliever Brandon Workman entered the game in the eighth inning, and then came to the plate to hit at the top of the ninth with the game tied.  But Workman didn't need to be batting at that key moment.  If Farrell had pulled a double switch, he could have put Workman in for Saltalamacchia in the 7-spot, and inserted Mike Napoli into the 9-spot.  Then, the Sox would have had Napoli batting in the top of the ninth instead, after which David Ross could be switched in as catcher.  That would have been the right move offensively and in hindsight, defensively as well.

Instead, we got a play the likes of which nobody has ever seen.

Although the umpiring was right-on, last night was another night of not-very-good baseball.  The Sox have now committed five errors in the world series, and the Cardinals have contributed four more.  Of the 24 combined runs that have been scored, only 18 of them were earned.

But even bad baseball can still entertain, thrill, and break hearts. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Race Report: TARC Fall Classic

thx to GoMotion and Topham Photography
It’s funny how things evolve. A few years ago, not only was I not running on a regular basis, but the idea of running on trails was something I had relegated to the closet with my high school XC mementos. Fast forward a few years and now I’m addicted to running as much as I can – and running in my first trail race since my senior year of high school. The event? The TARC Fall Classic – a loop through Great Brook Farm State Park in Carlisle MA on an absolutely fantastic fall day – a clear, chilly morning fading into unseasonably warm temps by late morning. I did the half-marathon (two loops) but runners could also do a 10K, marathon or a 50K. Most of the course was relatively smooth trails with some rolling, rooty hills, alternating with a few miles of fields and a highly technical 1.5 mile stretch towards the end (the Woodchuck Trail).

I had run the course a week before with Eric and Adam, so I knew what to expect. However, the race was structured so that the ultrarunners would go directly onto the trails while the half and full marathoners needed to do an extra field loop or two before hitting the trails. This meant that for good positioning, I needed to haul ass in order to get ahead of as many ultras as I could before hitting the single-track. As evidenced by my pace the first two miles, I did my best, but an unfortunately-timed loose shoelace meant that I lost valuable time and was stuck behind a fair number of runners by the time I started up Indian Hill.

I’m not entirely sure what the etiquette is for passing runners on trails. In my high school days, I would have just bushwacked into the woods to pass someone, but now I don’t want to thrash up the wilderness and am much more aware of the risk of turning an ankle. So when I found myself behind someone on the single-tracks, I typically hung behind them, only passing when a suitable place presented itself. I’m sure I annoyed some foax but it I felt like I essentially stayed on pace.

A clear majority of the race was comfortable, striding up the hills and hammering the downhills. However, the extremely challenging Woodchuck Trail and its immediate aftermath was windy, extremely rocky , and with a lot of quick ups and downs. I traversed it the best I could, trying to keep my feet up, but you can see by the slow pace times how different it was from the rest of the course (miles 6 and 12).

At the end of the day, I scored a 5th place finish with a time of 1:42:25. I didn’t really know what to expect, given that I felt my training was just adequate—I wasn't doing a lot of speed work and certainly not as much technical trail work as (in hindsight) the course demanded--so I was pleasantly surprised by my performance. (Full results here.)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the DIY food tables – easily the best I’ve ever seen at a race. Kudos to the TARC folks for throwing a great event – a challenging race with an atmosphere a perfect blend of friendly competition and campfire party. Perfect weather, good friends, solid run: you can’t ask for more than that!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Book Review: Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend"

I finally picked up Richard Matheson’s famous 1954 novel I Am Legend because I kept hearing how all three movie adaptations (The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971), and I Am Legend (2007)) were good but not only missed the point of the book but fucked up the ending. Thousands of geeks can’t be wrong, so I set off to investigate.

What I found is a book that reads like a fast-paced thriller, but in which not much really happens. Robert Neville is the last survivor in a world filled with vampires. His house is a fortress in which he (impatiently) waits out his nights before staking as many vampires as possible during daylight. While this situation doesn't feel new (especially the detailed biological research on the cause of vampirism) that’s only because of how many books and movies have built upon Matheson’s creation. In other words, this is the original post-apocalyptic zombie text (the vampires might as well be zombies—to the point where Night of the Living Dead was inspired by it). Despite a (now) over familiar subject, IAL holds up well. It’s an emotionally honest work that depicts Neville’s struggles with apathy, anger, alcoholism and many other emotions resulting from his life of isolation and horror.

The ending is a twist that is so cynically powerful that I can see why movie execs are scared of it. (Spoilers!) By showing how Neville’s quest for “good” turns him into “evil” from other points of view, RM taps into an uncomfortable truth of human nature: that we’re all capable of the darkest deeds—while telling ourselves that we’re behaving altruistically.  And in a world ruled by vampires, Neville is guilty of the most heinous genocide. Now picture Will Smith or Charlton Heston committing these acts and becoming the poster boy of evil! The movies can’t (or don’t have the guts), and so entirely miss the point of Neville’s unwinnable scenario. After all, who among us could have handled Neville’s situation any differently? Few – if any – of us, I suspect, and so we’re forced to rethink all of Neville’s actions from the lens of the ending – not a comfortable experience.

I’m happy I read this book, although I have to admit to being bored at times; parts of Neville’s investigation take too long, and Neville and Ruth’s discussions are extremely dated.  But overall the book is a powerful touchstone for a lot of current popular culture – and it’s always good to go to the source rather than relying on the pale imitations. And you gotta love that ending!

Cross Posted on Thought Ambience.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fearless World Series Predictions

  1. The Red Sox will get to Michael Wacha.  The rookie righthander has been phenomenal, allowing only 1 run over his first three post-season starts.  Even more scary than his ERA is the fact that he's thrown 22 strikeouts and allowed only 4 walks over the same stretch.  But the Sox will solve him, if not in Game 2, then in Game 6.
  2. Big Papi will not be the MVP.  Sure, he's the favorite in Vegas (15/2), followed closely by Dustin Pedroia (8/1).  But I'm looking for a hungry Mike Napoli to come up huge, narrowly edging out Koji Uehara, who will be automatic, as always.
  3. Jake Peavy will knock in a key run.  Speaking of hungry players -- there is nothing that Jake Peavy wants more than this.  He's not the Cy Young pitcher he once was, so he'll find a way to get it done with his bat instead.  If Sox fans are lucky, maybe he'll even return to his 2006 form and let fly a home run...
  4. Red Sox in 6.  Just saying.

That's all there really is

"Look, runners deal in discomfort. After you get past a certain point, thats all there really is".

-  John L. Parker, Jr. in  Once a Runner

Marukami's "Samsa in Love"

I stumbled on this short story from Marukami.  Interestingly enough, the tagline says "October 28, 2013".  Hmmm...

At any rate, you can find the story here, if you're interested:

Let us know your thoughts if you read it!!

Monday, October 21, 2013

I Knew Someone Would

There hasn't been a lot of Red Sox talk around here lately because, quite honestly, we're all just enjoying the ride! I'm still having a hard time believing how good the Red Sox look, and in awe of how fun - and tense! - the series against Detroit was. This team is something special and i'm really looking to see how they perform against what sounds like a very solid Cardinals team.

And not to take away from anything, but I am curious about some of the decisions that Farrell has made recently. Admitably, most of them have worked, but here's what i've been wondering:

  • What horrible thing did Daniel Nava do to Farrell's dog to deserve being benched for a steady diet of Gomes in the playoffs? What happened to their effective regular season platoon? Please tell me it's not because Nava's beard pales in comparison...
  • He seems to have learned his lesson, but why did he stick with WMB so long when he had the remarkably patient Xander Bogaerts available? Bogaerts performance this postseason reminds me a bit of Ellsbury in '07 - he seems mature beyond his years. (And did you know he's from Aruba?)
  • Why is he pitching anyone other than Breslow, Koji, and occasionally Tazawa in relief? Watching Morales the other night was painful in the extreme. Again, I shouldn't criticize because he had the stones to pitch Tazawa's heat against Cabrera in game three - when the dominant Koji was sitting there! - and it worked beautifully.
Regardless of those quibbles, that Tigers series was unlike anything I've watched. These games were tense from start to finish, and filled with dominant pitching. I believe both teams set team records for playoff strikeouts, and other than the amazing, series-turning Grand Slam, Senior Octobre Ortiz did not actually hit well. But somehow despite it all I truly never got horribly nervous once Ortiz hit his huge HR. The team just seems to pull things out in the end, as their incredible 11 walkoff wins attest. Chad Finn, in his excellent post on Game 6 of the ACLS, encapsulated it well by quoting "...Brandon Workman's perfect postgame summation of how this team sees each other: "I didn't know who was going to step up. But I knew someone would." Looking forward to seeing who's going to step up in the World Series.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Book Reviews: Quick Hits

There hasn't been a lot of time for blog posts these days...  but I can assure you I've been reading, running and following the red sox.  I've read a few books of late and I'll provide a couple of notes on them below:

  1. The Blind Man's Garden (Nadeem Aslam):  A post-9/11 book focusing on the viewpoint of a family (and associates) in Pakistan.  Riveting to the point of being painful to read in spots.  It seems to have been written with the purpose of telling "the other" side of the story, maybe to Westerners.  The writing is impeccable.  The plot might be too brute-force at times.  I didn't like the ending.  I think it's a worthy read.
  2. How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia (Moshin Hamid):  Picked this up on the merits of The Reluctant Fundamentalist.  Written in the voice of a self-help book, but you easily forget about that.  It follows the life of a boy (unnamed, in an unnamed city, in an unnamed country) from youth to old age, his life, his loves, his successes and his failures.  It's not a (Love in the Time of Cholera) love story, way too light-hearted despite covering some very heavy events.  It's somehow the voice that keeps it as such, and for that reason, the book breezes by, pulling you in but never too far, making you like, but certainly not love, the characters.  That's real...  and the story is fantastical for sure, but it feels so real, even without all the minor details.  I really enjoyed it, but likely won't always remember it (and I'm fine with that and happy to have read it).
  3. Pilgrim's Wilderness (Tom Kizzia):  Wow, I was not ready for this one!  I picked it up after hearing briefly about it...  thinking it was going to be a book about a big, religious family trying to live in the "old style" in the wilderness of Alaska.  And, sure thing, there is that...  but WOW, this story is twisted.  It's a true account, gripping, cold and brutal.  I did not enjoy it, but I read it to the end.  Papa Pilgrim is certainly one of those characters that will be hard to forget.

Next up on the nightstand are Colum Mccann's TransAtlantic and Russell Banks' The Darling.  And soon enough, Dave Eggers is back with The Circle.