Thursday, April 29, 2010

Kentucky Oaks odds

Here's what I have for the Kentucky Oaks. Bold means I like the horse more than the morning odds are giving her credit for:

99-1: Beautician
51-1: Crisp
50-1: Age of Humor
45-1: Jody Slew
38-1: Bella Diamante, Champagne d'Oro
28-1: Joanie's Catch
22-1: Ailalea
18-1: It's Tea Time
15-1: Quiet Temper
12-1: Evening Jewel
6-1: Tidal Pool
9-2: Amen Hallelujah
5-2: Blind Luck

Blind Luck is the favorite for me, too, but not at the near even odds she should go off at. Tidal Pool and Amen Hallelujah look like good value bets.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Early Derby stuff

I mentioned how I'm in love with a horse again. Well, it's time to let the horse out of the stall. He's not as under the radar as I thought he might be, especially with Eskendereya being scratched and I don't think all my readers combined are going to move the odds that much if I am able to sway them. Besides, he's already the second favorite in the morning line so it's not like a win bet is going to be a huge payoff. The horse? Sidney's Candy.

photo courtesy

I'm completely jazzed about Sid. He'll be running from the far outside from the 20th position, the last spot on the track. Want to see what I think is going to happen?

Those are Sid's last three races. See how they're all alike? Sidney's Candy jumps to the lead, puts pressure on everybody and then kicks into some other gear to put distance between him and everyone else. You know the difference between the races? The distances. The videos are in order from most recent to least and longest to short. John Sadler has done a fantastic job preparing Sid for the Derby, getting him to maintain his style despite the races getting longer and Joe Talamo is getting better at rating Sid until it's time to kick into that next gear in the stretch.

But with 20 horses and Sid coming from the outside, isn't there a chance he won't get on the lead? Good question. That's just what happened when Sid broke his maiden:

Always an awful thing when you set track records in your first victory. But Sid showed he can stalk. And it looks like Sadler was thinking there might be a possibility as well. Check out Sid's workout from last week in the slop. SIX furlongs in second position. Love it.

My ONLY concern is the dirt. Sidney's Candy could be a California horse and be completely useless away from the synthetic turf of California. I'm not seeing it. It has been a looooonnnng time since I was dazzled by a horse this much. I am really, really excited about Saturday and seeing Sidney's Candy take the Kentucky Derby. If you don't have a rooting interest yet, here's the horse for you.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sixpence House

Here's how I found this book. I was reading something online recently that mentioned the works of Harry Stephen Keeler. Keeler was a mystery writer in the 1930's and 1940's who wrote a large number of books. His books seemed a bit odd and one of the things I discovered about him was that, in an effort to pad his books to meet minimum word counts mandated by his publisher, he would insert entire short stories written by his wife into his novels. The character in Keeler's book would be doing something and stumble across a book. The character would then sit down and read the story in the book, which Keeler printed in its entirety, and then when the story was over, he would continue on with the action. Keeler, perhaps not surprisingly, was placed in a psychiatric institution by his mother when he was in his twenties. Perhaps also not surprisingly, I found myself captivated and wanting to read his books.

Two problems. They are out of print and very expensive.

Lo and behold, though, Paul Collins took it upon himself to reprint one of the novels with the assistance of McSweeney's. Collins was also behind McSweeney's re-issue of Geoffrey Pyke's To Ruhleben and Back, a book that has forever been on my to read and to acquire list. Pyke's biography, Pyke, the Unknown Genius is an absolutely fascinating read. I started to explore Collins some more and found he wrote the book Sixpence House.

This book is about Collins' move with his family to a little town in England called Hay-on-Wye. The town is notable in that it has forty booksellers and 1500 residents. My kind of town. Most of the "action" that takes place concerning Collins and the town involves the hunt for a house in which to live. Collins, his wife and his toddler son move to England from San Francisco to leave city life and raise their child more in the country. Collins finds, though, that the older houses which intrigue him and his wife are too expensive and require too much work. There are also few people their age living there. The Sixpence House is a former bar that the couple are interested in buying to convert into a home. They find that the work necessary to make it livable is far too great and ultimately, they move back to the States. Collins is now a professor at Portland State.

Although the book tends to return to the whole move, it really is about a hundred different things. Collins goes off on tangents that aren't always connected to anything. My biggest problem with the book was that he never really delved too in-depth into any of them. He talks a lot about his explorations of books. Much more so than those of the booksellers that occupy the town. Collins is extremely well-read and I admire his ability to take on books that most people, including myself, would never think about picking up. I like to think my reading tastes are diverse but Collins puts me to shame.

Collins also writes about politics, he applies for a spot on the House of Lords, discusses differences in life in America and England, the trials and tribulations of being a first-time author, the publishing world, and many more topics.

I loved this book immensely. One of my co-workers is from England and when she saw that this book came in for me, she requested a copy, too. The book being disjointed and the immense number of typos (really shocking from a publisher like Bloomsbury) prevent it from being a two star book for me. As someone who loves books and esoteric stuff, I really admire Collins and will have to go about acquiring the books he has written and those he has reprinted for McSweeney's.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Song in the back of my head

I think I've mentioned before that I tend to have a running soundtrack going on in my head. I always seem to have a tune going on up there. Sometimes it's recognizable, sometimes not. Sometimes it's my own creation, usually not. Most of the time I can figure out why it's there, but mornings tend to be more difficult for that.

Yesterday morning I woke up with this song in my head:

Paula Abdul - Straight Up

That's cool. I've always liked this song. Songs from my youth I liked that reappear inexplicably are always welcomed. But the one in my head this morning:

Why, oh why, did this one show up? I would have been fine not hearing this ever again and yet my brain dug it up out of the archives.

By contrast, after watching Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Sunday, I had the musical stylings of Doogie Howser going on with me all day at work Monday:

Good stuff. I think I've just about got Paul Davis washed out of my brain.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Two-Eyed League

When I was in Arkansas for the Boiling Out Conference (I, II, III, IV), a bunch of us got talking before a day's presentations about the lack of great baseball writing. There's great baseball research and great baseball information, but well-written baseball tales are few and far between. I've commented before that writing about baseball isn't easy for a couple of reasons. First, baseball is very quantified and there is a tendency to want to write about the numbers which isn't very interesting from a literary perspective. Second, athletes, by and large, aren't always great subject matter. To see success in a field requires a single-mindedness that limits being well-rounded. That's not to say that these guys don't have hobbies or other interests or that all ballplayers are one-dimensional, I'm just saying that the devotion necessary for greatness can limit other aspects that might be more interesting about which to read.

Keep in mind that much of this discussion came from non- (but aspiring) writers. I've had stuff published but my goal is my name as the sole author on a book. To that end, I mentioned that the challenge of writing a minor league history that is interesting is immense and one that has not been met with success by many authors. Someone asked if I had read Ray Schmidt's Two-Eyed League. I said I had not but that it had been on my shelf for awhile. I was told to check it out which I finally did.

As an aside before the review. About two weeks after this exchange, I get an e-mail from Ray Schmidt. He had rejoined SABR after a decade away and wanted to join the Minor League Committee. We had a little exchange which ultimately moved his book up my "to read" list.

Well, the recommendation was correct. It's a good read. Schmidt self-published the book (not surprising since interest in a floundering minor league from the 19th century isn't going to make it worthwhile for publishers) and as such, it has a number of errors. He also likes to make sarcastic comments which are frequent enough to be annoying. A team winning by the "narrow margin" of 21-2, for instance. Outside of those two things, I really enjoyed it and had a hard time putting it down.

One of the surprising things was the lack of baseball reporting. Much of the book was about management aspects with the teams and the league. The league struggled constantly. As a matter of fact, despite being called the Illinois-Iowa League, the league had no teams in Iowa its final season. Sunday baseball was a huge point of dissension for the teams. Umpires were awful. Contract jumping was common. Embezzlement. Drinking. Good times.

Ultimately, good baseball was the final demise of the league. The Joliet Convicts were so dominant in the first half of the 1892 season, people stopped coming to games because there were was no pennant race. The league voted to break the season into two halves to try and revive interest but it was too late and many teams folded. Joliet was angered and disappointed (they finished the first half 32-4) which didn't help matters.

Good minor league history, good 19th century book (Schmidt takes quotes from the local papers which are always fun (even if they aren't cited properly)), fun read. Worth checking out for any baseball fan and wouldn't be a bad read for non-baseball fans looking for something different.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Sometimes my ignorance surprises me. It doesn't surprise me that I'm ignorant. There are many things about which I lack knowledge. Certain things, though, surprise me in that I should probably have known them but don't.

The fact that David Mamet is a playwright is the point of ignorance that spawns this post. I was at our library's book sale yesterday and was pleasantly surprised to see a play of Mamet's for sale. I've always enjoyed his movies, especially the dialogue, and so I scooped up this small play and read it rather quickly (it's only eighty pages).

The play is about a male college professor and one of his students. The play takes place in the professor's office. In the first act, the student is there, ostensibly, for help with the professor's class. While they discuss the issues at hand, the professor's phone rings and the professor interrupts the discussion as he takes calls from his wife and attorney about a house he is trying to purchase in celebration of his pending tenure.

In the second act, the pair meet again. The student has brought up issues of impropriety with the tenure granting commission based on what took place in act one. Once again there are phone calls interrupting the pair but the tone of the calls and the conversation are very different from the first act.

The final act has the professor summoning the student to his office. Legal charges have been brought against the professor for his actions in the second act. The phone interruptions are very brief as the importance of the dealings with the student has superseded the other aspects of his life.

Not surprisingly, with this being a Mamet work and all, the play is very much about the importance of words and, to a lesser extent, actions. It's also about power and how elusive it actually is. Yes, all in eighty pages.

This play was originally performed by William H. Macy and Rebecca Pidgeon, two stalwarts of Mamet movies. Pidgeon is Mamet's wife and I've seen her in Mamet's films The Heist, The Spanish Prisoner, State and Main and Redbelt. I've seen Macy in the Mamet flicks State and Main, Homicide and House of Games. As such, it wasn't too hard hearing their voices as I read the play. As a matter of fact, this play was made into a movie with Macy as the professor. I'll probably check it out if our library system has it (it doesn't. But it does have the two Mamet/Macy films Edmond and Spartan.

This was a nice quick read, a departure from my usual readings (although I did read Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead last year), and an educational experience in that I realized Mamet writes plays. A recommended book.

Next up will be a baseball book. I finally abandoned the 600+ page book The Worst Journey in the World. The rate I was going it would have taken me until June to finish it. I had it out for five weeks, got through the 80 page introduction and the first 100 pages or so and while it was interesting and good, it really needed longer stretches of reading than I could commit and there are so many other things I want to read I just could not continue to devote time to it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The joy of a completed base set

When I was over at the OTB over the weekend, I stopped by the KMart nearby to see if they had any cards. Lo and behold, they had a huge supply of 2008 Upper Deck X. Then I was out last night and was near another KMart and picked up some more. Included were this pair of cards:

Those were the last two base cards I needed to complete the 2008 Upper Deck X set. I'm going for the inserts, though, and have updated my want list accordingly.

I also picked up a box of 2009 Spectrum. And people think the 2008 Upper Deck X set is horrible? Spectrum is shiny purple. At least UDX has some variety in color.

If you need any 2008 Upper Deck X cards (either for the set or player/team collections) or 2009 Spectrum, let me know. And if you have anything I need, please let me know as well. Oh, and if you want packs for a buck and can't find, I might even make the trip for you. I won't be buying anymore since the base is done.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Need help with a cellphone provider

Well, I think I'm finally breaking down and moving into the 20th century. I feel the need to have a cellphone. Not looking for anything fancy. No need for internet. No need for texting. Just something to make the occasional phone call on.

Verizon has completely alienated me with an advertisement. This is saying something since I don't have a television and so my exposure is comparatively limited. But this ad sickens me so much:

That I cannot bear to give Verizon money. Why does it bother me so? First, the outright thievery of a commercial jingle from my youth. It's not like it has anything to do with chewing gum. Heck, Big Red still exists. Mostly, though, it's the way people who use Verizon-based cellphones are portrayed in the commercial.

It starts with a guy making a sculpture of a woman while she is browsing the internet on her phone. No big deal even though the sculpture does have her on the phone. Then we have kids updating Facebook on a camping trip while the father figure tells a ghost story. Disrespectful but the kids love their Facebook. Still not a huge deal. "Make your boring job much better" as the bellhop ignores his work. Now I'm irked. Maybe stop being an irresponsible ass and do what you're paid to do before you find yourself out of a job and figuring out how to pay your cellphone bill. I'll bet you none of Chip Conley's bellhops stand there on their cellphones ignoring the patrons.

Then we go back to the sculpture. The woman has been on the internet in the time it took for the guy to do the sculpture. She ignores his handicraft. How very rude.

"YOU'LL WATCH YOUTUBE ON A HORSE"?!?!?!?! If I am riding a horse on a beach with a woman's arms wrapped around me, I am not being an asshat and watching Youtube videos on my phone. Who needs scenery, romance and a fun experience when I can watch Autotune the News Volume 3,243? Seriously?

Then we wrap up with everyone oblivious to the world around them. Hate the commercial. Just hate it.

Which leaves me trying to find a good cell provider while avoiding the largest one. Anyone have any recommendations, either for or against?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Successful failed return to horse racing

So yeah, with all the things I'm trying to sort out in my life, now seemed like a good time to get back into horse racing. Of course. First, I am in love with a horse again. It's been a while and the list is short. Hunca Munca, Ghostzapper, Imperialism, Speightstown. And a one race fling with Manning's Hit. That's about it. Now there's a fifth. I've watched film of his last three races numerous times including his most recent race about twenty times. Just an amazing horse. I'm not mentioning his name yet because he's a Derby contender and I think he's going to be under the radar and I don't want all thirteen people reading this to lower the odds. So there's that.

Then Beulah Park in Ohio had a carryover on their Pick 6 and it seemed like a good shot at trying to make a chunk of change. To have any chance on a wager of this size, where you have to pick the winners of six races, you really need to take at least a couple of horses in each race. My budget is pretty limited still so I took 13 horses across the six races. 10 of the 13 horses ran in the money. Two winners, four places and four shows. Not bad for being rusty. My old friend Transfixed Ingress, assuming he is still alive, would be unimpressed since I won no money. I'm pretty happy, though. I picked ten of the horses with my models and three based on my general knowledge of horse racing. My three took a first and two seconds.

Man, I love horse racing. I need to decide if I want to take some of my income tax refund and give it a shot again. You know, with all my free time :)

Friday, April 9, 2010

The struggle to become a 39-year old, 280 pound endurance athlete

A 39-year old, 280 pound endurance athlete? What's the struggle? Can't be done, doesn't make sense. That would be the logical statement but since when am I logical when it comes to trying to do things?

I mentioned a little while ago that April is Concept2's Marathon challenge month and that I wanted to try and row a marathon. My age and weight are against me. I turn 39 at the end of the month and I'm a slightly shorter version of Adam Dunn (he has me by two inches). Can you imagine Adam Dunn doing a marathon (rowing is just as hard as running. Less impact but you have to use your whole body)? What makes me think I can do it?

To give you a sense of the supposed unreasonableness of the challenge, Concept2 considers any male who weighs over 165 pounds to be a heavyweight. If I lose one hundred pounds, I'm still a heavyweight. Lance Armstrong, depending on whether he ate a PowerBar or not before he stepped on the scale would be teetering on the line of heavyweight. Senseless.

But I think I can do it mostly because I have the physical strength to do it. I've mentioned numerous times that I'm overweight but I'm pretty strong, too. It's my stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid head that prevents me from being able to translate that strength over a long period of time.

Take today, for instance. I set out to row ten miles. My longest row this year was 7.5 miles on New Year's Day (and yes, the plan is to row 26.2 three weeks from now). Again, rationality is not my strong suit). So I'm plugging away on the rower. I'm tired. At least I'm telling myself I'm tired. I finally hit the 7.5 mile mark and I stop. That's it, I'm beat. No mas. It's a miracle I can take another stroke. Matched my long for the year. That's good, right?

Was I tired? I rowed two minutes faster than I did on New Year's. That would suggest I'm in better shape, anyway. But what about today's workout? I really must have been fading at the end, right? Oh, yeah. Check out my splits.

First two miles - 13:39.
Second two miles - 13:35.
Third two miles - 13:35.
Final mile and a half prorated to two miles - 13:35


Where in those numbers is the fatigue? I look at those numbers and I think how I was feeling and what I think happened was it was just beginning to get hard. I was moving at a nice clip and my body was beginning to feel it. Instead of pressing on, I quit. The 7.5 mark was probably a nice little subconscious barrier for myself.

So I don't know at this point. I think I might try and do a half marathon next week once the challenge begins and then try and do the full marathon at the end of the month. A smarter move would be to try and drop fifty pounds and do the marathon as a 40-year old. But my head is in the way there as well. Rational thought and food? Hahahahahaha. Good one.

I think my goal should be to make progress on my brain over the next few weeks. Maybe I won't get the full marathon in. But if I can at least make progress over telling myself I'm tired and defeated when I'm really just being challenged and need to work a little harder, at least there will be some positive from this.

Stupid head.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Not doing a good job reading what the masses read

Big surprise at that.

Publishers Weekly posted a list of top selling books in 2009. I've linked where I have my reviews.

I did not read a single hardcover fiction book that sold 100,000 copies or more and the only non-fiction I read was Superfreakonomics.

I have read some books that were successful in trade paperback form in 2009:
My second least favorite book ever, The Time Travelers' Wife.
Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and The Tipping Point.
David Sedaris' When You Are Engulfed in Flames and Me Talk Pretty One Day (the best Sedaris book).
Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love.
John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.
Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.
Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City.
Steve Lopez's The Soloist.
Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Albert Camus' The Stranger.
J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye.
Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses

More than I thought. And some good ones among them. Niffenegger was the only one I hated. Diaz was a zero-star review. All the rest were one-star or better.

16 out of 547 books. Less than three percent. Not the publishing markets target demographic to say the least.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Eating Animals

If this book had been written by Morgan Spurlock, I would have assumed it was ghostwritten but, more importantly, I wouldn't have picked it up in the first place. If it had Eric Schlosser's name on the cover, I might have opted to read it and would have been disappointed in the quality of research.

The only reason I read this book, however, is that it was written by Jonathan Safran Foer. His first venture into non-fiction after two amazing fictional works, the book is distinctly his. From the cover font to the multiple narrators to the use of fonts to invoke certain imagery, the book looks exactly like his novels.

I admire Foer for maintaining his style and to use his literary success to push his beliefs. Like Bono using the concert stage as his pulpit for preaching his causes or Clooney et al who use their celebrity to increase awareness of problems important to them, Foer is trying to invoke change through his audience.

In Foer's case, the change is to move people to a life of vegetarianism. Foer takes a different tact than most, though, by focusing on the horrific institution of the factory farm. There's no preaching of health benefits. Instead, this book is about how the animals we eat are largely genetically-altered, filthy creatures that bear no resemblance to what was eaten a century ago. It is also about the cruel and brutal practices that these corporation run farms use to transform these animals into the plentiful foodstuffs that we purchase and consume from grocery stores and restaurants. Without quite coming out and saying it directly, Foer seems to make the case that being an omnivore is immoral.

Maybe he has a point. Heaven knows corporations have a huge influence on this country and what we do. We allow this influence without much thought and in some cases, with a sense of helplessness. Fluctuating cable bills, an error in a banking statement, sweatshop conditions for workers, and on and on and on. We all have our issues with the faceless institutions that drive our economy. By allowing corporations to continue their shady practices, we are giving them our tacit consent to continue operating as they do.

Foer tries to argue that we can take a stand against factory-farms and the abuses of the animals and the environment that result from their practices by becoming vegetarian. It's a nice thought and probably a worthwhile cause. But I don't know that it differs from so many other nice thoughts and causes.

The biggest problem I see, at least from my own standpoint, is one Foer has in a sentence four pages from the end of the book. "the factory farm requires us to suppress conscience in favor of craving". Yes, it does, and we are good at suppressing. It's not news that the "farms" that provide us with meat are bastions of filth and disease. It's not hard to assume that animals are not cared for well at these places and that there are instances, possibly frequent, of sadistic treatment of these animals. We are also well aware that fast food is not good for us, we should not drink and drive, that smoking is hazardous to our health, we should not engage in drug use or unprotected sex, that SUV's waste fuel, etc. We are well aware that we engage in practices that are not in our best interests and we do it because we crave. Foer is asking us to forgo these cravings in the interests of anonymous animals. It's noble but I think futile. We've seen it with environmental causes as well. Give up our oil to protect endangered species? Who cares about the birds in Alaska? Preserve open space when a perfectly good community of identical 4000 square foot homes can fill it? Pshaw.

Of the list of things I mentioned above, I feel like two have been restricted in my lifetime. I think when gas prices rose and the economy worsened, that SUV owners felt the impact on their pocketbooks and changed their behaviors. With smoking, the government stepped in (I've always wondered what happened with the tobacco lobbyists and how they failed to prevent this) and imposed severe restrictions on the companies that created cigarettes. I think one or the other needs to happen for factory farms to vanish. Either something needs to happen to cause the price of meat to rise to the point where we need alternatives or government restrictions on how animals are cared for and processed need to occur. I don't see either happening.

As a matter of fact, I was about a quarter of the way through the book and I was telling Gaga, who is 15, about it. He listened to me and responded "I feel sorry for the factory farms". He went on to say that he felt like they produce a lot of food for a lot of people and have to do so quickly and economically. That is an issue. Foer talks about the inefficiency of factory farms in terms of the amount of calories of grains needed to create a lesser amount of calories of meat. But I don't know that a diet composed largely of grains would be suitable for humans. And if everyone went vegetarian, where would we get the food. Living in the Northeast all my life and being vegetarian for many, many years, it really sucked from November until March. Your options are frozen, canned, shipped long distances and spoiling, or insipid greenhouse grown crap. Is that a better diet than the freakish meat we're eating? I don't know. Trying to determine what is the "proper" way to eat nutrition-wise is a challenge unto itself.

This is a really long review because this is an important issue to me. I have fought with weight issues all my life. After gorging myself yesterday at Easter my three year old niece said that I "look like I have a baby in my tummy". I ate vegetarian for a long time because I felt better when I did. I ate meat again when I realized I had shifted to more grain than veggies. I ate more meat when I became interested in increased muscle strength and felt I needed meat protein for muscle growth. I don't know what or how much I should eat to adequately fuel my body and provide it with the nutrition I need. Beyond that, I'm a sucker to my cravings. My diet is a Gordian knot that will hopefully not come undone by my heart attack in five years.

Let me return to the book and not the issue before I wrap up. I mentioned the research in the opening paragraph. The book is footnoted well but Foer makes leaps and does calculations that don't always make sense. For example:

"The Freedom of Information Act request indicates that three million birds were scalded alive in 1993, when only seven billion birds were slaughtered. Adjusting for the fact that today nine billion birds are slaughtered, we can assume that at least 3.85 million birds are scalded alive today".

Uh, no we can't. That's like saying there were 50,000,000 black and white televisions in 1993 in a country with 250,000,000 people. Adjusting for the fact that today there are 309,000,000 people, we can assume that there are at least 60,000,000 black and white televisions today. Or replace televisions with computers for the other direction. In 1993, less than a quarter of U.S. households had a computer. Now, the majority have. You can't extrapolate over seventeen years and make the assumption that conditions have been constant. Maybe bird scaldings have been reduced. Maybe they've worsened. We can't predict based on a single number from 1993.

That leads to my biggest problem with the book. It's high on sensationalism. Foer repeats the same numbers multiple times. He describes awful conditions. He uses selected instances and selective interviews and extrapolates to generalizations. He tries to use interviews and documents from within the industry as damnation of the industry. It doesn't do to have a vegetarian criticize the meat industry but what about someone who works in the meat industry who is a vegetarian?!?!? Oooh. How do they cope with that? Why would someone who slaughters animals be a vegetarian? The conundrum! Likewise, taking data from industry publications to exemplify a problem and not noting that the data comes from an article specifically about that problem which the industry is aware of and trying to resolve and which is the reason for the article in the first place just seems misguided and even wrong.

Also, there's some selective non-citation going on. Foer repeatedly cites a farmer by the name of Frank Reese who he says exemplifies how animal farming should be done. Reese is the only USDA-approved "Heritage Turkey" farmer meaning that Reese is the only person who has turkeys from pre-Frankenstein genetic modification days. His treatment of the animals is very humane. If we're going to eat meat, Reese provides meat in a sustainable, moral way. Does Foer mention the name of Reese's farm? Does he give a website or address? No and no. My guess is that is because it takes away from the vegetarian message.

Despite my criticisms, I am giving it a one-star review. Foer makes you think. From the time I started reading the book, I didn't eat meat without thinking about it and relating what I had read to it. Still ate it but I was thinking about it. His writing is excellent as always. And I admire him for writing this. I expect that the malice he has received based on his early successes probably helped enable him to write this. "People hate me anyway, why not write something provocative that is important to me"? That's speculation as to the reason but he was willing to take a stance on a divisive issue and use his talents and fame to promote that stance and successfully did so, even with flaws.

Friday, April 2, 2010


It's been a long time since there was a really good baseball movie that came out. There's been some decent documentaries but I can't really think of any enjoyable baseball movies to hit the theatres since The Rookie eight years ago. Before that you have to go back to the baseball movie heydays between 1988 and 1992 when we had Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, A League of Their Own, Major League and Eight Men Out.

Now I know that some of you will want to argue that I'm forgetting about a couple of fantastic flicks like Battlefield Baseball and Ed. To you, people with no taste and Matt LeBlanc's Mom, I say no, I'm not.

I kept seeing good things about Sugar, though, throughout the baseball community and decided to check it out. Not a bad flick although I'm not necessarily sure I'd call it a baseball movie. The movie is about a kid from the Dominican Republic, nicknamed Sugar (either because he's sweet for the ladies or he eats too much dessert) and his attempts to become a major league pitcher to provide a better life for his family. He is enrolled at a baseball academy in the D.R. that is operated by the Kansas City Knights. The Knights invite him to spring training and he is fast-tracked to the Knights' Class A affiliate in Iowa. Sugar starts off well, gets injured, struggles when he comes back and quits the team with a couple weeks left in the season and moves to New York City.

For me, the most interesting aspects of the movie were the struggles that the D.R. ballplayers experienced adjusting to life in the United States, especially in small-town Iowa. Host families, coaches and instructors who don't speak anything other than English, unusual food (most of the players eat French toast because one of them learned the phrase and shared it), being far away from family at a rather young age. Add in the pressures of baseball where there's always someone ahead of you you need to supplant and always someone behind you you have to stave off and you can understand how many players would not cope well with it.

The end of the movie demonstrates that incredibly well and also shows that you can have a happy life, even when your dreams fail you.

From a baseball standpoint, the play was pretty good. Not as heavy on the "Baseball has two-plays, the strikeout and the home run" action shots that you see in many baseball flicks.

A very good movie. If I had paid to see it in a theatre, I would have been viewed it as money well spent. As a rental, I think it's a no-brainer if you like baseball movies. I'd give it 3.5-4 stars.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Deaf baseball and a brief meeting with Curtis Pride

Back in February I wrote Curtis Pride, formerly of the Expos and now baseball coach for the Gallaudet Bison to request an autograph and a future interview. Mr. Pride granted both and I informed him that I would try to catch the Bison's game against York College which was yesterday. I left work and headed west and was able to catch some of the game before I had to leave to pick up Gaga at practice.

Although I have lived up here for almost two years, I had not made it out to York before this game. Having done so, I don't really care if I never make it again. I didn't think York was that big but the roads are laid out as if it is a mighty city. Trying to get to York College was a definite chore. Of course, I might be spoiled living in my three traffic light town with all the Amish.

Got out to the game and spoke with Mr. Pride briefly while the team was warming up. Gallaudet has had a rough season. Going into the game they were 0-17 on the season. Morale has taken a nose dive and some players had left the team leaving the squad with just 13 players. Mr. Pride expressed that he was excited over the fact that he was to get two Division I transfers for next season (Gallaudet is D-III). York is a mid-level team in the Capital Athletic Conference but even still, I wasn't expecting a close game.

Gallaudet is a school for the deaf and I have to say my experiences with deaf folk are limited. My experience with the deaf playing baseball was non-existent. It definitely seemed like there were a lot of challenges and few benefits from having a deaf team. I was really surprised when the team came in from warming up and headed to the two girls who were the team assistants. They had seeds and gum and five of the players came at them with hands flying a hundred miles an hour signing. It'd be like five people talking to you at once. Whereas you can hear from multiple directions, though, your eyes can only see so many places at once. I just thought it would be hard.

Before the game the Star Spangled Banner was played. This struck me, too. How many times in their lives had those guys lined up for the national anthem, caps over their hearts, and not have any idea what it sounded like?

The game began and I got to experience something unique right off the bat. Gallaudet's pitcher, Zane Noschese, led off for the Bison. The designated hitter is typically used in D-III but with the limited roster, the Bison decided to forgo the DH and let Noschese bat. Never have seen a pitcher lead off a game before. He led off in fine form, lofting a fly to right-center which dropped for a single. This was incredibly encouraging. Gallaudet has been no-hit once this season and last game they were no-hit through the sixth inning. Leading off with a hit was very auspicious and made me think I might be good luck.

York's pitcher threw a pickoff attempt away which advanced Noschese to third. After a popup, Gallaudet took advantage of a very clear and windy day as the centerfielder misjudged a ball for a double. York's pitcher, making his first start of the season, had some troubles. He balked the runner to third then went to his mouth while on the rubber for a ball which resulted in a walk. The Bison pulled off a double steal to take a 2-0 lead.

Something I found really neat was that instead of clapping, the Bison players would applaud by removing their hats and waving them. Pretty cool.

Let me digress a moment. Either someone in York's Sport Information Department had his girlfriend in the pressbox or they had a contest before the game to find the least knowledgeable person on campus to be the PA announcer. When she announced the starting lineups there was a "secondfielder" and a "centerbaseman". Between innings she would try to provide summaries of the inning but would say things like "and Gallaudet leaves one runner on the baseman". It was brutal.

Back to the action. York homered in the bottom of the first to make it 2-1. Gallaudet went down 1-2-3 on grounders to short then York exploded for five runs to make it 6-2.

Now I was getting to see some of the difficulties. In the first, a Gallaudet player drew ball four on a wild pitch. He did not see the pitch get away and he trotted to first when he probably could have taken second if he had noticed. With his head down he couldn't see the coach signaling and of course could not hear if anyone had been yelling.

Likewise, in the second, York plated a run with a sac fly. Pride wanted an appeal but it took a while to get the pitcher's attention. Again, with the team screaming and yelling, the pitcher tends to notice pretty quick.

The pitcher and catcher had the advantage of being able to sign to one another throughout the game. It appeared like Noschese was trying to get a sense of how close his pitches were. Nice not having to have the catcher come out to the mound all the time.

Found it interesting that Gallaudet had two sets of brothers among the thirteen players. Kyle and Chester Kuschmider, from Olathe, Kansas, were the starting rightfielder and secondbaseman. Angelo and Peter Leccese, of North Bellmore, New York, both played leftfield during the game.

Speaking of hometowns, it never ceases to amaze me how even smaller athletic programs recruit from elsewhere. York had thirty guys on their squad. Guess how many came from York? One. I probably shouldn't be surprised, but I always am. I tend to think of schools like York as being places that local kids go to. I'm wrong.

I had to leave after the top of the fourth. The score was still 6-2. I'm sort of glad I did. York put up a ten spot in the fifth and went on to win 20-4. Thirteen different Spartans had base hits in the game.

It's sort of amazing to me to be able to have such a new and different experience watching baseball as this was. I'll definitely try and catch Gallaudet in action in the future. Hopefully Mr. Pride can get the team moving in a positive direction and get some victories before the end of the season. I look forward, too, to talking with him again.