Adam Reger | Pittsburgh Writer, Editor, and Teacher

Pittsburgh writer, editor, ghostwriter, and teacher.

Month: September, 2010

Shifting Loyalties; or, Imperfect Revenge Storylines in Eagles vs. Redskins

In various sports media this week, I’ve seen the suggestion a few times that when former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb returns to Philadelphia this Sunday, fans there will boo him. I suspect, and certainly I hope, that this will prove an absurdly pessimistic view of Philly sports fans (whose reputation for sourness is deserved, overstated, and in a perverse way a kind of badge of honor which they are constantly trying to justify by bad behavior). Few Philadelphians would really argue that McNabb helped usher in a decade of success for the Eagles, and is empirically the best quarterback the franchise has ever had. He rarely got them over the NFC Championship-game hump, true enough, and never won the big one, but the Eagles won far more games because of McNabb than he lost for them. Indeed, thinking about the offensive weapons the Eagles have now, versus their receiving corps during the 2002 and 2003 seasons, it’s a wonder McNabb got the team as far as he did with James Thrash, Todd Pinkston, and Freddie Mitchell catching balls. (Remember that before McNabb went south to D.C., Thrash did—and on a Redskins team that consistently finished behind the Eagles in the standings and, especially, in offensive statistics, he couldn’t hold on to a receiver spot and was relegated to the special teams.)

And yet, my loyalties on Sunday will be clear and firm. I will be thrilled to see Trent Cole and/or Brandon Graham (or the thrilling new addition Darryl Tapp) bury McNabb, or Asante Samuel step in front of a pass. (Or it would be swell if Nate Allen, whom the Eagles drafted with the second-round pick they got from Washington in the McNabb trade, intercepted McNabb.) I worry about what Washington tight end Chris Cooley might do, covered by the Eagles’ suspect linebacking unit (although Cooley is on my fantasy football team, so you might say my loyalties are divided in this area). But on the whole I am confident, and looking forward to the game for the reasons I usually do: I expect a decisive and satisfying Eagles win.

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Andy Reid is John Maynard Keynes

At least, so says Jim Cramer, according to this Philadelphia Eagles.com piece by Dave Spadaro. Cramer, the lunatic who has kept a fairly low profile (relatively low, anyway, since he is still doing the same show and performing the same ridiculous antics, with sound effects, screaming, push-ups, props, etc.) since being demolished by Jon Stewart some months back, is apparently a huge Eagles fan. Who knew? I didn’t.

Here’s the relevant selection of the article, quoting an e-mail Cramer wrote re: Reid’s decision to start back-up Michael Vick over future-of-the-franchise Kevin Kolb (who played poorly in one half of football before going out with a concussion):

“Cramer in an email to me: ‘Here’s the logic. All great investors follow the logic of Keynes. What happened is that Keynes, the greatest economist in history, had made a mistaken call and he changed his mind about it. He was being hectored about it and he said to the questioner, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

“‘It is the watchword of Mad Money. It must be the watchword of an NFL coach if he wants to win. IF he doesn’t, well, fine!'”

So there you have it. Just like the bailout, this Eagles season will serve as some kind of definitive test of Keynes’ economic theories (except that people will find reason to dispute the results, whichever way they may go; even in the case of the Eagles’ record, if the Washington Redskins do better, there’s that; short of winning the Super Bowl, there will be wiggle room for sports talking heads to second-guess all of Reid’s decisions).

As a bonus, here is a rap video in which Keynes and one of his ideological nemeses, Friedrich Hayek, square off. It is actually pretty informative.

Further Franzen

Making steady progress through Freedom, which thus far is impressive and engrossing. The novel should be, and is, of special interest to me given the navel-gazing I’ve done in the past (see here and here for starters) on the subject of the mainstream novel, meant to garner millions of readers; implied in those dispatches was the notion that the literary novel belonged elsewhere. Franzen’s novel, of course, is a “literary” book that also aspires to bestseller status; Franzen has talked about his task of making the work so compelling one turns away from television and video games.

As a preface to registering a minor complaint about Freedom, let me say as clearly as possible that I greatly dislike this guy, B. R. Myers (at whom I took an earlier swipe here). He seems not to derive any pleasure from reading, only smug satisfaction from knocking down popular and approved-of books and writers. He has an unreasonable fixation on prose, too, to the seeming exclusion of all the myriad other elements that make a work of fiction go. And that is from someone who occasionally feels he is unreasonably fixated on prose style, who has wrestled with some of the same writers Myers trashes in his A Reader’s Manifesto—Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy among others—and in some instances tossed their books across the room.

With all that said, I start to wonder if Myers isn’t onto something, regarding Franzen’s prose, when I read sentences like this:

“She was a very good and painfully earnest and strenuously mature young person whose exasperation with Patty and Joey—her feckless mom, her ruthless brother—was seldom so extreme as not to seem comical” (171).

I hate this sentence because it is really quite masterful for about 3/4ths of its duration. Franzen uses rhythm to get away with out-and-out telling; nothing concrete here, nothing to be seen, heard, or felt. He keeps a beat even as he interrupts himself: feckless mom, ruthless brother. And in terms of telling us this, it all is perfectly satisfying and appropriate within the context of the story: this is a section where the main character, Patty Berglund, is sharing her autobiography; Franzen is using the fairly sophisticated trick of having a character write about herself in the third person, and having the “character” in that text (now at an extra remove or two from Franzen’s  third-person creation of the Patty Berglund character) reflect on the character’s daughter, Jessica, and what she thinks of her mother and brother. The sentence falls, too, within an immediate context of a couple stitched-together scenes involving Patty and the novel’s most interesting character, Richard Katz, a sexy musician and an old Berglund family friend.

All of which makes it mildly infuriating to come to the far side of that second em dash and have to stop flat. Wait. Seldom so extreme . . . not to be comical. So she’s rarely extreme, and it’s not funny. Or no, she’s seldom so extreme that it’s actually funny? This clause reads like a Mobius strip, and though the following sentences and a feel for the novel and the character, Jessica, tell me the meaning—she is so extreme it is funny (see how clear things can be when you strip away double negatives?)—by the time I decided to let it go, I’d come to a dead stop.

It’s just one sentence, and I’m sure by the time I hit page 562 of Freedom it’ll be long forgotten. But these are the kinds of lapses that, accumulating over the length of a book, can make it less readable, less engrossing, less magical than a book otherwise could be.

Tom Scharpling Twitter Novel

Yes, those words do all go together. I’m late to the game on this, but apparently Tom Scharpling, host of the Best Show on WFMU, has been writing a novel called “Fuel Dump” on Twitter, 140 characters at a time. Some generous soul collected these “tweets” in one place, but apparently he or she (understandably) got sick of it at some point, because looking at the Fuel Dump Twitter feed, the story seems to have advanced way beyond that.

To the extent that I understand the plot, it so far involves Michael Richards (a.k.a. Kramer) showing up at someone’s door with a shotgun, a Cigar Aficionado freelancer pursuing an interview with Kid Rock, the freelancer’s elderly uncle divulging the whereabouts of a buried treasure to an unscrupulous nurse and her beau, and Senator Joe Lieberman appearing at an aide’s house covered in blood and enlisting her help in burying a body in the woods. Listening to Tom talking about it, it sounds like he’s met the considerable challenge of making each “tweet” advance the story without being completely boring.

A Movie Theater in Homestead, Pennsylvania

(After (and with apologies to) Allen Ginsberg)

What thoughts I have of you tonight, Al Jaffee, for

I walked past the storefronts under the trees with a headache

self-conscious looking at the neon displays.

In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went

into the neon movie theater, dreaming of your enumerations!

What thrillers and what rom-coms! Whole families dallying in line! Cashiers leaning on their counters! Ushers whisking popcorn into their butlers!

I eyed the box-office boy. Are you open, I asked of him. I am open if you are ready, said he.

Where are we going, Al Jaffee? The movie begins in six minutes. Which way does your beard point tonight?

One for Scott Pilgrim, I said.

Do you mean Scott Pilgrim versus the World, he asked of me.

Where are you tonight, Al Jaffee, with your snappy answers to stupid questions?

Yes, that’s the one, I murmured, and felt absurd.

Will we walk all night through solitary streets, Al Jaffee? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely and fail to produce timely zingers to inane questions.

Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past black SUVs in strip malls, home to our silent apartments?

Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Alfred E. Neuman quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?

I am minimally famous, Part II

A few weeks ago I was elated to have won the trivia contest of Slate‘s “Hang up and Listen” podcast. Well, everyone: I did it again.

What’s more, I got some pretty good props, again, from the panelists. My name got spelled out, albeit in support of the same incorrect pronunciation, and they called attention to the fact that I’d won a few weeks prior. (The really satisfying part was when the moderator, Slate editor Josh Levine, cited “HuaL”‘s reigning trivia champ, Carmen Tse, and said that he was probably hearing footsteps. It’s far too soon for me to say any such thing, but I appreciate the suggestion.)

Most gratifying, they gave me a shout-out by correcting the record: as I asserted at the time, I am not a furry. Mike Pesca said that I was beating up a furry in my Facebook photo, which is loosely true (I am ripping the detachable tail off a furry dressed as a gecko). But still. The vindication is sweet, so sweet.

Oh, and here was the trivia question: “During the first half of the 1980s, in major league baseball two players were in the top 10 repeatedly in a major offensive category. These two players have the same name (first and last), with only two letters being different.”

I’m paraphrasing; it was a somewhat confusingly worded question, and I got quite turned around in what it meant that two letters were different (e.g., “If I take all the letters in ‘Tony Armas,’ is that within two letters of ‘Mike Schmidt’?”). But after sifting through lots and lots of baseball stats for the years 1980–1985, what I came up with was this: in steals, Willie Wilson of the Kansas City Royals and William “Mookie” Wilson of the Chicago Cubs showed up on the same list at least once. (They may also have shown up on the triples list, but that seems less of a “major” offensive category.)

A friend asked, after the first trivia win, if I was going to try to be a repeat champ. I said I didn’t think so, that that Dustin Hoffman-themed question seemed like a one-off and, really, the only kind of trivia question I was likely to get. Winning this time has opened the possibility that I can compete when the questions are weird, and more conducive to someone getting obsessed with the question and pursuing it for an hour or two at a time than someone just having lots of sports knowledge. If there are any more of those, maybe I’ve got a chance at future wins.

Franzen Redux

1) I received Freedom in the mail yesterday. Quite excited to start it, though I am just getting into Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, which so far is fantastic.

2) I have a subscription to MOG, an online music site that’s a pleasant and necessary diversion at work. I was a big fan of Lala, until Apple bought it so they could demolish it (as it was an iTunes competitor). One cool thing about MOG is that there is a scale one can slide during a given song, selecting a notch on a spectrum from “Artist Only” to “Similar Artists.” So when I was listening to a ton of Ween, I could have slid the scale over to “Similar Artists” to listen to what MOG thought was in the same ballpark. And if I were listening to a compilation album, and Ween came up, I could then slide the scale all the way over to “Artist Only” and thereby jump into a Ween mix. And so on—you could jump in and out, deciding you like Ween but you’d like to see similar artists, and from that decide what you really wanted to hear was the Butthole Surfers or early Flaming Lips—and so forth. Here is an interesting New Yorker piece about the larger online-music scene, with some special attention paid to MOG.

Navigating MOG, though, has put me in mind of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and a program he describes one of the characters writing that uses (what sounds to me like) similar technology, and which the character sells off for nearly $20 million. I’d always thought it was called Eigenvector, but apparently it’s actually “Eigenmelody.”

It is, of course, deeply impressive that Franzen thought this up. I suppose similar things were around in the early 2000s, but I remember reading The Corrections a few years late and being impressed by the novelty of this idea. Invention isn’t considered the strength of Franzen’s writing, but this again calls to mind his friend, David Foster Wallace, and all the technological developments described in Infinite Jest.

Wikiperils

Sometimes you shouldn’t trust open-source information sources.

M. Night

For reasons relating to my being unsure of how various parts of this blog work, for an early post I ended up creating a Category called “M. Night Shyamalan.” Thus giving the casual reader the impression that I blog about that dude, like, all the time. (I blogged about him once, in the context of planning to go see The Last Airbender, which my brother had been a production assistant on. Astute readers will note that I never again mentioned that movie, and if those readers are really astute they’ll be able to guess why.)

Also because of my lack of technical skill at this whole blog thing, I’ve decided it would be easier to write more about M. Night than deleting that category. Which I’m sure would only mean that that earlier post would belong to one fewer category, but in my mind WordPress itself would somehow be structurally damaged by the removal of this crucial category tag.

Anyway, the AV Club posted this item about Shyamalan possibly doing an Unbreakable sequel. It is an interesting possibility mainly because Unbreakable led all the way up to the exact point where you would typically be interested in a superhero movie, and then stopped; it makes sense as part of a multi-part narrative, but as a third or fourth installment, or, better yet, a straight-to-DVD prequel-type thing that completists would go nuts for. It’s a pretty silly movie that, in my opinion, “worked” only in the warm glow of goodwill from Shyamalan’s success with The Sixth Sense. So a sequel that picked up on the promise of a superhero showdown might actually be interesting.

It’s not to be, the AV Club item reports. But what made me think I ought to post this (other than having that annoying M. Night category to populate; seriously, I wish I could just get rid of it) was this transitional line from Sean O’Neal (whose writing on that site is kind of a surprise pleasure; I’m such a fan of Keith Phipps, Nathan Rabin, and Scott Tobias, it’s a bonus to enjoy stuff from other contributors, the moreso when it’s material like this item that would seem to be mere toss-offs): “Showing his usual acumen for giving the public exactly what he wants . . .”

Yes. Exactly. Thank you, Sean O’Neal.

Nyjer Morgan and the unwritten rules of baseball

On Sports Illustrated‘s website there’s an interesting article about Nyjer Morgan, the Washington Nationals outfielder who’s gotten in a bunch of incidents in the last week or so. The facts of the case are interesting enough in themselves (and I’ve heard that the brawl Morgan incited is pretty lively, although I am too squeamish about that stuff to have clicked through yet; after replays of football players getting injured, watching athletes brawl is one of my least favorite elements of televised sports).

But what the author of the piece, Jason Turbow, focuses in on is Morgan’s repeated flaunting of baseball’s “Code”: the unwritten rules that governs how players comport themselves. This kind of stuff is, in general, fascinating to me, and I also find it interesting the way these sorts of insights are creeping more and more into public view. There is so much more information now, so many more media outlets, it seems increasingly difficult for there to be anything left “behind the scenes.” (I am thinking generally about reality shows where things are produced, “Behind the Music”-type programming, document and information leaks, etc.)

On its surface this seems like a negative development, that the joy of these illusions is vanishing. But maybe it’s more complicated. I’m wondering, for instance, whether anyone really keeps all these unwritten rules in his or her mind. It seems to be in the nature of unwritten rules—or, calling back my 10th grade social studies class, folkways and mores—that they’re embedded somewhere deeper than mere software, that we basically don’t think of them. And in any case, it’s an outside, authorial presence that is calling our attention to the rules; it’s not Morgan or any other player who is pointing to the nebulous framework of rules, and when they do so it’s situation-specific, not some calculated effort to pull back the curtain. As an example, see Dallas Braden calling out Alex Rodriguez, earlier this season, for jogging back across the pitcher’s mound after a foul ball.

As a sidenote, Morgan started his career as a Pittsburgh Pirate. I’m curious to see whether there’ll be a local media report about the Pirates shipping him out for just this kind of insanity; going from the Pirates to the also-dirt-cheap Nationals, it doesn’t make sense to assume he went the way of Freddy Sanchez, Jason Bay, etc., etc., and got bought up for more money.