Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Red Sox

We won.

Today I read that some seats were going for thousands of dollars.  Pictures of the fans show that many if not most are delirious.  Today President Obama was in the city to give a talk. As inspiring as he may have been, the crowd did not react as they are now near Fenway Park.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


We were supposed to go away this weekend.  My birthday fell in the middle of the week this year and we usually go away on a weekend near it.  Last weekend we couldn't go.  So today we set off for Salem where we had a "Groupon" for a sail.

Never got there.  The boat left at 2 or 4.  We chose the 2 and left at 1 giving us plenty of time to make it there.  As we approached the exit for Salem, we saw a traffic jam the likes of which I'd last seen in 1976 when I attempted to drive to Yankee Stadium from Manhattan.  Then, we arrived in the 4th inning.

Today we were moving along on the road that takes a motorist three quarters around the circumference of the city.  To the north of the city, sits Salem and we approached it in plenty of time to make the ride. There we saw that cars were backed up for more than a mile before our exit.  I have a disdain for GPS systems but Donna does not. She plugged in her gizmo and we were told to take another exit.  We travelled to it and there again was a Yankee Stadium like traffic jam.  We decided to drive beyond it and noticed that the road that would take us to the pier was similarly jammed.

Salem is not Yankee Stadium nor Manhattan or Boston or LA. It is a sleepy suburban town.  Why is an army traveling to Salem.

Then it occurred to me.  This Thursday is Halloween. Salem is the city where the witch trials took place.  I looked it up when we got home and those trials took place in the late 1600s.  When I was in junior high school my dad took me to see the play "The Crucible" which was put on by the local amateur theatre group in town.  I didn't quite get it then, but later read the play.  Sometime in the early 80s I had travelled to Salem--in the summer--to visit the site.  Not much traffic then.

The thing that you will remember if you recall the play or studying this in high school is that the witch trials were, as any clear thinking person could predict, a "witch hunt."  There are no witches.  Of course we know people who we think could qualify for that label.  But there are no witches who can cast a spell.

Tell that to the army of drivers who felt that this pre Halloween weekend was time to see the place where witches reside.  Never mind that the museum in Salem--let alone all the history books--show that there was absolutely no legitimacy to the accusations.  You want to believe in witches? You want to believe in your supernatural powers to cast a spell? Well, drive yourself to Salem this weekend and mingle with similar fruitcakes who want to exchange information about potions and/or a hex you can use to slap on your ex boyfriend.

Level headed as I am, I did not suspect that this weekend would be a particularly hectic one for Salem. Can people really believe in witches?  (Certainly I would have liked to jinx the thousand or so cars that stood in the way of our boat trip). Can people really believe they are conjurers?

We drove past the jammed exits and found a park to walk around.  On the way back from the park about an hour later we saw that the traffic to Salem had not abated.  Nobody who left anytime less than two hours before the boat was to sail could have gotten to the pier.

You want to believe in the supernatural to explain phenomena, you apparently have good company.  Me, I will stick with the idea that behavior explains phenomena.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Identical: Book Review

I wonder what it is like to have written a perfect book, and then sit down to write another.  My guess is that it is very difficult.

Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent is as good as courtroom dramas can be.  The movie does not do it justice and changes the ending subtly but significantly--and for the worse.  The book keeps you guessing with characters who are real and multifaceted. It is just a great book which not only tells a tale but makes you look at yourself and our own professed innocence.  Turow has written several novels since his first.  One, The Laws of our Fathers, is excellent as well.

Identical, Scott Turow's most recent book, is not in the same league as his best novels. It is a page turner--the kind of book I lug wherever I go in case I have a moment or two.  (I turned the sound down in the ball games and read between football plays, so that is a sign of something positive).  But my sense as of right now is that it is missing more than something.

The book is about twins, and a murder.  One of the twins at the start of the book proper is coming out of jail after having served a twenty plus year sentence for killing his girlfriend.  The brother of the victim however believes there is more to the story and thinks the other twin was involved. The novel is centered on the victim's brother's attempt to discover what really took place on the night his sister was killed.

I am not very good at sleuthing out "whodunnit" but I got this right away. That, in and of itself, is not such a negative.  But there is more. As the reader sees how the puzzle "fits" one is likely to acknowledge that the puzzle couldn't really fit that way.  There were too many impossibilities. That is, too many times one would say that it was impossible that the events could have happened the way the author suggests.

I don't know if the author intended this, but one thing that popped into my head yesterday was that perhaps the author wanted the end to be as predictable as it was.  The twins are Greeks. Nearly all the characters in the story are Greek. Turow refers to Greek tragedies in a number of ways.  The Greek tragedies are often very predictable.

The nature of we humans is such that people behave in ways that reflect that we are flawed. The behavior that follows from these flaws is painful and destructive, but--because we are human and love-- it is inevitable that we will do things that result in tragedy. This is what happens in the book.  Nearly all the Greek characters behave in ways that reflect that they are human and the result is pain and death.

My recommendation: I was looking for a fast read when I picked the book up. If you like Scott Turow, you will find this fast and enjoyable.  It does not rank with his best. I think you will find yourself saying, this could not have happened this way when you finish the novel.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Last Friday, our college had a function welcoming parents of students to the campus. There was a reception, an introduction to an art exhibit, and informal communications between parents, faculty, and the students who had enrolled.

For quite a while I was conversing with a student who is studying Game Design in our college.  The extent of his knowledge was remarkable at least to me--a nubie if even that-- to the world of games and gaming.

The student explained what he was studying and also his involvement in games.  One of the games was particularly interesting to me. In it, an alternate universe had been created that had rules which governed the activities and capabilities of participants. He was, essentially, someone else in this game represented by an avatar.  He/the avatar was a member of a virtual corporation.  He had an assignment, much like I or anyone else has an assignment as a member of our organizations.  He also had associates from around the world, members of this corporation who wanted to know how he was doing on his projects. There was this complete alternate universe with friends, superiors, staffers--with a goal to do whatever it was that was the objective of the game.

I asked a million questions and he supplied answers patiently and, more often than not, eagerly. Eventually, I asked the question that was hanging around in my head the whole time.  Did he ever confuse sight of his real world as he participated in this other one?  Could people become so immersed in the game that they confused the avatar with their real selves.

I wonder about this now and again, and not just as it relates to electronic games.  Can we become so adjusted to an alternate being we've conceived that we cease to be in touch with who we are?  Actors run into this now and again.  I was in a play once during my avocational acting days, when the lead playing a maniacal delinquent, started behaving maniacally when the curtain came down as well. How long can you play Marcus Welby before you think you can write prescriptions?  And in a more general sense, how many times can you put on your game face to be someone you are not, before you become the person you are not. And how long can you be the person you are not, before your body rejects or becomes infected by the impostor.

Not all my blogs relate to sports, but I think this one does. Tonight is game 1 of the World Series. The hometown team that plays within a short walk from where I sit, will host the St. Louis Cardinals in a few hours.  (I don't envy the people who paid a couple hundred bucks to go to the game because it will be nasty out there, chilly with a forecast of the kind of rain that wont stop the game, but will soak your bones if you are sitting in it for nine innings). The application of my question about avatars to the World Series is this: successful athletes who play for the Cardinals and Red Sox are players who could not have been successful if they had traded who they were for an avatar.  They would be exposed. If you pretend to play second base well, and then can't catch a grounder, you will have to return to who you really are.  Not so much the case in other walks of life.  You can pretend to be someone you are not for a long time, and maybe even convince yourself.

I think the fellow I spoke with at the reception has a healthy sense of who he is and when he is playing and when he is not.  That, I think, is key for all of us.  Starting my next lap around the sun today.  I'll work to keep this in mind.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ivan Skavinsky Skivar

So maybe I am eleven. My brother nine.  I have a vague recollection of where this took place and I had to be nearly eleven at least.

My dad was kidding around with us.  This was a regular joy. He would tell us stories, jokes, read poems and we would giggle. The thing is he often did it from memory--which is what happened in this case.  Appropos of I don't know what--my guess is that we were begging for another story--he started to recite a poem about two characters Abdul Abul-Bul Amir and Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

The names were so outlandish that we were giggling every time he uttered their names.  I remembered the gist of the poem when it somehow made its way into my consciousness a few days ago.  I could not remember the details. So, in this new media 21st century, I went to the internet and after a couple of spelling attempts found the lyrics to the poem (which is listed as a song--maybe Dad sang it to us).

It has nineteen stanzas.  It is almost impossible to believe that he had committed it to memory, but apparently he had.  And this was not a regular poem in his arsenal, just one he plucked from his consciousness because it's likely that we were asking for some sort of encore.

So, the poem is about these two tough guys from different tribes, Abdul Abul-Bul Amir and Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

 "The sons of the prophet were hardy and bold
And quite unaccustomed to fear
But the bravest of these was a man, I am told 
Named Abdul Abul-Bul Amir...

There are heroes a plenty and men known to fame
In the troops that were led by the Czar
But the bravest of these was a man by the name
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

Well, my brother and I are giggling after each verse when one or the others of these guys are mentioned.  What fun.  And until it was over I was convinced that he was making it up as he was going along. Except--even with the due reverence that I had for my Dad--I knew he couldn't make up so many verses with such a tight ending on the spot.

My father's ability to sing songs to us, tell us jokes, play ball with us, make up games to play was something that we were nourished by.  And I attributed much of this joy to his nature and prowess.

And a lot of this credit is due.  When was the last time you memorized 19 versus that had to rhyme with either Ivan Skavinsky Skivar or Abdul Abul-Bul Amir?  And then could spew it out on demand.  Lot of credit due.

But the thing is, now that my mother has passed, I realize how much of his ability to retrieve lines, joke with we kids, play ball was founded on the equanimity he enjoyed because he was loved and gave love.  The credit for being able and willing to sing Ivan Skavinsky Skivar to your kids comes not only from your knowledge, but because you feel and have the love.  Yank that plank from your constitution and you might not have the same urge to play with your kids and regale them with tales of Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

My parents had an unusual relationship. Their union was a good example of how two is more than twice one.  And it is good now and again to consider attributing credit to those who may not be the most obvious person worthy of praise.

"The ladies all loved him, his rivals were few;
He could drink them all under the bar.
As gallant or tank, there was no one to rank
With Ivan Skavinsky Skivar."

Well, maybe give some credit to Ivan's mother.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

New Media Limitations

I am not happy with the way the House Republicans have acted in what is currently being called the "shutdown."  I have read a number of comments from others on the net that liken what the GOP is doing to some behavior we would never tolerate in our offices and clubs.  The most on target analogy came from a friend who posted the following. Assume you had a vote in your office about whether you could put a candy vending machine in your office.  The vote came out in support of the machine. Some people in the office were offended by this decision citing the deleterious effects of eating candy. However, thirty votes were taken to ensure that the majority did indeed want the machine. And each time the vote was Go Candy.  But some particularly annoyed office mates were adamant that there should be no candy and one of these people was the lead accountant. He decided he would stop signing checks until the candy machine was removed, the vote be damned.

Recently, I decided to voice my concerns and wrote to the GOP national committee.  My message was succinct. I wrote that I thought the House Republicans' behavior was shameful and that I could not see myself voting for the GOP in the future.

So, here is what happened.  Each day since the one when I e-mailed the committee, I receive an e-mail from a Republican who writes assuming that I am a comrade. He or she asks me, since I am--according to them, a supporter--if I would donate money to the Republican party.  So instead of getting my message, they get the exact opposite message, and put me on their mailing list as a Republican.

This does not bother me. I find it amusing. Each time I receive a note from the GOP, I respond to the author telling her or him that I find the behavior shameful and that I cannot see myself voting for a Republican in the future.  This has not seemed to stop the e-mails coming my way.  Just received another one about an hour ago.

New media is a wonderful thing. I can almost instantly send my messages to any place on the globe. The new media does not, however, guarantee that communication is necessarily improving.  In order for a rapidly sent message to be accurately received someone has to take the time to read it.

Maybe my experience is a microcosm of what is taking place in the United States. The majority of citizens do not want a shutdown but our representatives are not interested in listening to the protesting voices. Rather they use whatever noise they hear as a justification for their positions.  A myopic approach that.  In November of 2014 someone will count the votes.  The listeners are likely to stay in office.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bottom line is not the bottom line

I was watching the Detroit/Oakland game last night when it came time to play my Tuesday night tennis match. My partner came by to get me off the elliptical. "One more pitch" I said. It was, if you were watching, when the Tigers were one strike away of getting out of a bases loaded nobody out jam in their win or go home fourth game.  I saw the pitch (a foul) and went out to the courts.

I asked my Tuesday night tennis crony if he liked baseball. He said he has two reactions to baseball. "Either it is mind numbing boring or too exciting to sit and watch." He recalled the fourth game of the 2004 Yankees/Red Sox playoff game.  I remembered it easily. If you are a fan, you know the game and how the extra inning tilt was hold your breath stuff if you cheered for either team.  He told me he could barely take watching the game.

Earlier this year I wrote about how sudden death hockey in the NHL playoffs is about as exciting as sports can get.  A close second, I think, is playoff baseball in a deciding game.  When I finished playing last night, I checked out of the gym in a hurry and went home to watch the final innings of the Red Sox game. It was one of those nights when I was afraid to get up from my chair when I thought a particular reclining spot was bringing the Red Sox good luck.  When we (note the pronoun) scored two in the seventh and then held on to win, I was so wound up that it took me a spell to get to sleep even though it was after midnight.  And I know I am not alone. This morning in my drive to work, two local talk show hosts were discussing the wisdom of starting player x over player y in a game that will not be played UNTIL NEXT WEEK. Skipping the upcoming series, these pundits were analyzing the possible match-ups in the World Series and agonizing over the lefty-righty decisions.

I'll remember, probably (who knows what we will remember for sure until we actually are in a position to remember it), how I was sitting last night when I think about the game.  But something to write about now is what took place after the game.  The millionaires who were playing the game were spraying each other with champagne and acting like 10 year olds in the locker room. Just whooping it up and knocking back the booze and dumping cold water on the manager and behaving like, well, they had just accomplished something important.  When you think about life--and I've written about this before--you notice the strange relationship between the pursuit of money and the bliss associated with successes not based on money, but human relationships and cooperative success.  The dancing baseball players are all loaded. The poorly paid players earn more in one year than the average reader of this blog will make in ten years.  Winning the game last night means not a whole lot in terms of their financial bottom line.  Living with teammates for six months and achieving a collective success is what makes them dance.  Think of the last time you were thrilled enough to want to dance in the streets.  Maybe you got a great job, but the durable desire to dance in the street was probably based on some emotional excitement and connection.  The bottom line in terms of our sense of success is unlikely to be the bottom line.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Therapeutic Balm

This is one of those times during the year that a sports zealot feels as if the stars are all aligned. Yesterday, a fan could have watched the major league baseball playoffs, college football, professional soccer-- all in preparation for a smorgasbord of professional football games today.

During a span of a few hours a remote flipping viewer in New England might have seen David Ortiz hit a colossal home run, two goals scored during stoppage time in the New England Revolution soccer match, the Oakland Athletics pushing across the lone run of a playoff game in the bottom of the ninth, and Ohio State coming back to beat Northwestern in the fourth quarter.

There are bigger issues in the world.  The shutdown in government is sad in and of itself since so many are out of work because of it, and sadder because of how irresponsible individuals can be so selfish and inconsiderate.  I see a buddy on Friday and we commiserated on recent losses in our lives.  I find out through the internet that the mother of a childhood friend has passed.  There is truckload of sadness in the world.  So, I know that issues like Ohio State beating Northwestern and whether the Red Sox prevail are of relatively minor consequence. Still, sports are important.  For fans, the joy sports brings into our lives can be and often is a genuinely therapeutic balm.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Cleveland will play Boston

Most people are expecting the Tampa Bay Rays to play the Boston Red Sox tomorrow.  This may not occur. Using conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives as their models, the 43000 fans who attended the Cleveland Indians--Tampa Bay game last night and saw, sadly, that the Indians were defeated, have decided on a plan.

Upset that they lost, the Indian fans will descend on Fenway Park tomorrow and refuse to let the scheduled game commence unless they can play the Rays in a best 2 out of 3 to determine who advances.

"The one and done wild card game is not fair "  Said one fan.  "And we are not going to sit here idly and watch the abomination of a one and done winner-take-all take effect.  We have to be responsible to what is right, and what would be right is a best 2 out of 3. Until that goes into effect we will close down the playoffs."

"But" says an observer "How can you do that? You knew the rules before the season began."

"We didn't like the rules then and we don't like them now."

"But there was a vote, and you lost".

"Right. But we did not like the vote."


"So, we're shutting down all of baseball until we get our way."

"What if you had won the game against Tampa.  Would it be alright for Tampa to shut down your series with the Red Sox."

"Hell no. "

"This is like the Republicans shutting down the government because they don't like the Affordable Health Care Act."

"It is indeed."

"I heard a senator the other day ask how Republicans would feel if Democrats said that if you did not change the gun laws, they would shut down the government. Would that be right for the Democrats to do that?"

"Hell no."


"Obamacare no. Guns yes. Tampa Bay no. Indians yes."