thoughts on “lost”

May 24, 2010

these will be brief.
on the internet, that magical, mysterious vortex, someone paraphrased this stephen king quote quite skillfully:
“if being a kid is about learning how to live, then being a grown-up is about learning how to die.” repurposed it thusly:
“If reading Harry Potter was about learning how to live, then watching LOST was about learning how to die.”

now, i am not going to gush, nor will i enter into a spoiler-filled rant (though if you do not want to be spoiled, you should not even be on the internet, honestly).
all i want to say is this:

learning how to die was the entire point of the show. fuck all the science fiction. fuck all the mythology.
the theme of the show was about learning how to die.
sometimes it’s random. sometimes it’s heroic. it’s always final. whatever happens happens.
dying alone is something no one should endure. live together, die alone is now re-understood.

i think this theme was the entire reason so many characters had the names of enlightenment philosophers, to nudge us towards the righteous theme of de montaigne’s essay, “to philosophize is to learn how to die.”

in that regard, the finale was unspeakably on the mark, unspeakably touching.

while it is true that threads remain unraveled, and certain questions tug at the corners of my brain, i appreciate the experience overall, as well as the courage to confront and welcome death.

die together.

We rarely talk about baseball here at the Salad. This is largely because our particular brand of deconstruction doesn’t seem to advance the cause of sabrmetrics. (There is the notable exception of my piece on Kyle Drabek, where I argued that the residue of the signifier was enough to make him a good draft pick. Leider, I left out the jargon so it doesn’t count.) No, until such time as we’re able to do away with the ball-strike and out-safe binaries, Yesterday’s Salad will mostly sit out commenting on our national pastime.

But we will comment on Ryan Howard’s contract since lost in the kerfuffle over whether Ryan Howard’s extension is a good deal or a bad one are the discrete pieces of knowledge it gives us about Ruben Amaro, the Phillies GM.

1. Amaro is not afraid of old position players. We already knew this from the Raul Ibanez signing, but the Howard extension confirms that Amaro suspects that so called “old player skills” can now translate into production by old players. It doesn’t hurt that Ryan Howard’s conditioning has improved considerably in recent years and he looks less and less like Mo Vaughn and Cecil Fielder every day.

2. The Hometown penalty is real. Credit goes to Will Leitch for this one. It used to be said that  players would offer “hometown discounts” to continue playing with their current teams. If anything, the opposite is now true. Certain players are more valuable to their current teams than they are to other teams because they already play there and are identified as being singular causes of winning. Consider the outrage over the Phillies’ trade of Cliff Lee. Lee wanted more money than the Phillies were willing to offer, and a large portion of his demands clearly resulted from the Lee mythology that had developed in Philadelphia during last year’s postseason.

3. Conversely, being a winning team is/enables/exposes a market inefficiency. Roy Halladay took a below market deal to come to Philadelphia since he determined that being a Philly was a good way of getting to the postseason. There are players of a certain caliber who value winning as much or more than money itself. These players want to be on winning teams and will take less money to be on the winning team, lowering their acquisition cost. Yet this efficiency is only available to teams with the demonstrated ability to win (some matrix of actual won-lost record, perceived strength of franchise, and payroll).

Consider a hypothetical from the independent film world where actors will often work for scale to make a prestige picture with a high-chance of winning Academy Awards. John Travolta might normally want 10 million plus to star in “Pulp Fiction 2: Where Vincent Vega Never Goes to the Bathroom,” but he’d be willing to sign for much less if Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ke$ha (in a “heart-rending dramatic turn” that “could only come from the mind of Quentin Tarantino”) all took reduced salaries to make the film a-go.

Could investing in Howard and locking in those wins actual lower the cost of the next win? In other words, there might be an additional value to sunk costs.

4. Baseball economics vs. Real Economics. Finally, what will the global market be in a few years? Obviously the baseball market is influenced by the real economy but we don’t quite know in what way. Is it a lagging indicator or reasonably recession proof? Certainly inflation will help balance out Ryan Howard’s contract but will it really balance it out? Rob Neyer suspects not, though there’s always the possibility that it could.

For example, what if we were to experience another financial panic (let’s bring back this term once and for all)? Ryan Howard’s contract might end up looking pretty good compared to the cost of a win in the miserable “Oops! I did it again Depression of 2013” free agent market (a result of president Palin dismantling derivatives controls coupled with a strict no-bailout policy that leads us into a hyper-inflationary mess [shudder]). Or, more reasonably, what if the US economy resembled that of the late 1970s and we were suddenly in an era of double-digit inflation? Again, Howard’s contract might look a lot better.

Teams certainly consider all sorts of baseball and financial factors when offering a contract. What this clause presupposes is, maybe they also consider macroeconomic factors? Unfortunately that’s an area where no one really knows what’s going on, and Glenn Beck style gold purchasing might be a real loser in a deflationary economy. So to with Ryan Howard.

theological musings

April 26, 2010

i suppose before i start, i should qualify the following remarks with a bit of autobiographical framing:

i am religious, yes.  jewish to be exact.  however, my type of jewish is an odd duck to hunt and then mount.  it’s rigorous, but it’s leftist.  it prefers the ecstatic fervor of the hasidim, but (and!) it is radically egalitarian.  it is clearly un-orthodox.  you might even call it heterodox.

so, this brings me to my musings.

the one thing that bugs me the most about the theological debate as it stands is the pathological obsession with biblical inerrancy.  first of all, the idea of the bible as lynchpin of faith is a distinctly protestant notion.   it is clear to anyone with the barest understandings of interpretive history that there is not really any such thing as “biblical literalism.”

even the debate surrounding this principle has ceded ground from the outset to this ridiculous position.  to be forced to represent yourself as “not believing in a literal interpretation of the bible” already positions you as a weak-tea version of the true religionist who has enough strength in his convictions to override modern lily-livered qualms and put the whole world in G?d’s hands.


the jewish (and catholic and muslim and even protestant) traditions have a long and rich history of biblical interpretation.  but not only that.  there are whole scores of religious literatures which make reference to the bible and are grounded in it, but serve their own function as well.  in fact, the study of the bible in the world of the yeshiva (advanced jewish study academy) has relegated the bible to a distant fourth behind the talmud, jewish law, and ethical texts.  the bible is present, of course, but it functions more as the ground whence texts bloom than the dominant focus.

now, all that being said, i want to acknowledge the feeling of needing perfection.  the books of psalms tells us, “the Torah of the Lord is perfect.” (Ps 19:7).   i want to propose a radically difference understanding of perfection.  from plato on down, we have felt compelled to understand perfection as implying stasis, wholeness.  i want to suggest a more fluid understanding of perfection.  it is an organic perfection, one emerging from the amazing adaptations happening around us all the time.  michael jordan was perfect in that game, because he was able to provide what was needed at the time.  the clash was perfect because they were able to create the most wonderful friction.

the Torah is perfect because it is able to provide us with what we need in every time.  the bible is perfect because it will never stop being an incredible textual resource and framework.

we must loose ourselves of this silly notion of “biblical faith.”  all faith is “biblical” in some way.  we are always conditioned by the externalities that help form us into the people we become.  our bible hums around us at all times.


Price of Beatuy

I’ve now seen two episodes of the Jessica Simpson “Price of Beauty” show, and I have to say that I don’t quite know what to make of it. (Make what you will of my watching it.) It’s generally lighthearted, though every episode features a segment with a woman permanently scarred by pursuing beauty at all costs. These bits come comfortably in the middle of each episode, before and after various revelry. I also don’t know what to make of her friend “Cacee” (pronounced Casey, she seems to be testing the bounds of signifiers), while Jessica herself comes across as likable if bland. This is better than likable and stupid, although traces of idiocracy abound.

But mostly I like the show as an experiment in accidental anthropology. Jessica sets out to see how the rest of the world views beauty, documenting her experiences. She’s refreshingly unburdened by the critique of Western definitions set out in Said’s Orientalism: Jessica documents her others without worrying about her own complicity in the enterprise of representation. Nor does she worry about the Spivakian critique that her representation obscures cultural diversity. Instead, she happily recognizes that beauty is culturally constructed–and that even she isn’t beautiful in all parts of the world (She’s too short and curvy to make it as a full-time Parisian fashion model!)–and sets out to document difference. It’s not a grand statement in the cause of cultural determinism, though it is a return to an earlier type of ethnography, and a great start for Cable TV.

I can’t help but thinking, though, that the best part of the show is that success could lead to other celebrities accidentally taking on the roll of academicians. Maybe a show with David Cross as an accidental sociologist, deliberately sending out comical surveys to document responses; or Larry David as an accidental deconstructor, challenging the clear meanings of literary texts? Hey it could happen!

We’re really still waiting for someone to propose a unified field theory of the internet. I remember the New York Observer had an article saying that Virginia Heffernan, a Times reporter, was shopping a book proposal promising just that. Haverstam tells us that Yesterday’s Salad is really a miscellany, to which he turns to discover what’s going on in the world of intellectual discourse.

Without setting out to do it, I think we’ve become an accidental aggregator. We don’t just post links, but all of our discourse relies on them. We hope someone will find us by linking to other pages, or share our tangents via link. Our original pieces become aggregations of our intellectual process.

Of course, the same could be said of footnotes, but links are rather different. 1) Footnotes require effort to follow; with links, you just click. 2) Links are the metric for determining page rank across the internet. Only with links do you exist in this global economic space.

This is overly reductivist, but it’s still something to consider and keep in mind when next I post about the year in film that was 1979.

Jonesin’ For Reality

March 16, 2010

I’m very excited for David Shield’s new Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, a quest to define our obsession with the appearance of the real, truth, and authority. You know, truthiness. Half of the book is made up of unsourced-until-the-end quotes. You’ll never know what belongs to Shields, and what he lifted from other authors unless you constantly flip through the index. Some might find this fun, and others might just enjoy the ride. The mash-up culture orwhathaveyou.

Everyone invokes Walter Benjamin’s desire to write a whole piece consisting of nothing but quotes, so I won’t do that here. Nor will I address the scandal over James Frey and the general proliferation of memoirs in recent years. I will mention Andrew Sullivan’s running list of “The Odd Lies of Sarah Palin,” (because it’s great) many of which stem from her own memoir, since it led Stanley Fish to revisit his argument in the Times that a memoirist is incapable of lying since the lie serves their project of constructing the narrative of their life. This is interesting. Perhaps the conflict here owes to the fact that we (at least some of us) expect our politicians to be honest. How else could we know if they’re representing us? Either way, Fish is far from the (more accepted) idea of the “autobiographical pact,” the compact said to exist btw readers and autobiographer that everything about to be described is the truth.

My own thought on the matter is that all autobiography is like Roth’s The Facts: A Novelist’s Autobiography, in that all autobiography is a draft waiting for someone to smack it down, but one impression of a life. Truth and reality is only ever provisional.