Thursday, July 30, 2009

The true secret of weight loss

It occurred to me this week that the start of my journey towards a healthier weight and lifestyle began the week I also decided that I would read DFW’s Infinite Jest.

While Wallace was a great writer, and his post-modern nod to James Joyce certainly exhibits qualities uncommon in most of what passes as popular, or even literary today, I doubt that it qualifies as a weight loss product. The book sure causes some people to whine like a three-year-old that doesn't get its own way however, mostly because it forces them to use their brains in a way that TV and video games never will.

The weight loss is probably mere coincidence, although one of the common threads running through the book is addiction, and Wallace goes to great detail outlining the steps towards recovery that the book’s characters go through at the fictional Ennet House, a drug and alcohol recovery house that figures prominently in the book. It also is a place where we meet Don Gately, one of the main characters (and possibly my favorite), a former thief and Demerol addict, and current counselor in residence at the house.

[Poorly reproduced graph of my own weight loss progress, sans NutriSystem and colon detox products]

Speaking of weight loss products, I’ve taken a great interest in the NutriSystem ad, where Dan Marino touts his 22 pound weight loss (only one more than my current 21 pounds lost) eating expensive, pre-packaged foods that keep you enslaved to the UPS man showing up at your door with more expensive, pre-packaged food. I also am enjoying those bizarre ads shouting and spouting that “the real reason reason you can't lose weight has nothing to do with will-power, over-eating, or the right diet! The reason you are fat and unhealthy is because you have disgusting plaque and a horrible little ‘critter’ living in your guts!”

They then show you these disgusting photos that will make you sick to your stomach and unable to ever eat again, unless maybe you have some pre-packaged NutriSystem food set before you.

The real reason that companies like NutriSystem, Jenny Craig, and bizarre detox products sell is because American are just plain stupid!

Meanwhile, I’m saving money, looking and feeling better, not to mention taking control of elements of my own life, which is empowering, in and of itself.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The importance of hitting goals

Life is way more than merely showing up, as in, "90 percent of life is...," or however the quote that's attributed to Woody Allen ultimately goes. Far too many people just show up, although in 2009, showing up could be a starting point.

At the risk of Words Matter turning into a self-help blog, I think there is something important about setting an attainable goal, one that you know might stretch you a bit, but ultimately, you think you can reach.

Take my weight. I know that according to a variety of body weight charts and my height (6'3"), five weeks ago, I was more than 50 pounds overweight. I have some issues with these charts and one's healthy weight, but I will allow that I was probably at least 35-40 pounds heavier than I should be. Instead of setting myself up for failure, I decided for an interim goal of shedding 20 pounds by August 1. I hit my goal yesterday. I am down 20 pounds, and feeling pretty damn good about my progress.

The same week I decided not to be fat, I also committed to reading David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. I'm happy to report I'm on page 648, which on the reading schedule would allow me to slack off until about August 21 and still be on task.

It feels good to follow through on simple tasks, not to mention there are some health and psychic benefits to doing so. I'm biking regularly, eating foods that are better for me, and committing to a book like Infinite Jest forces me to read, instead of watching TV, or mindlessly surfing the web.

Some ancillary benefits of all of this; I feel re-energized on the writing front. Not only am I feeling more engaged with my blogging, but I've been working on some essays that ultimately will find their way to some sort of compilation/book type thingy.

Well, time to heat up my hot water for my instant oatmeal, and get ready for work.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Whither my queue?

I’ve been a Netflix customer for several years. Like many aging boomers (actually, I’m a Gen Jones, but that was the subject of another post), it’s so much easier to stay in, tune out, and watch a movie, rather than drive to the local indie movie house.

Like so many other things in my life, I’m questioning former patterns of activity, and truly embracing re-invention. Now, when I give my Re-invention 101 talk to people looking to move their lives forward, it is going to be filled with real-life, not a bunch of theoretical poppycock like so many others out there, sharing ideas and awareness, but lacking in action.

Netflix pissed me off. I should have known when the strange Sci-Fi flick arrived in my postal box that something was amiss.

While I’m known to plug a bunch of random movies into my queue on a whim, or a brief reference from God knows where, this movie wasn’t anything I’d ever want to rent. When I logged on to my Netflix account, I discovered that my queue had been wiped out. Fuck! Months of random additions and effort to track down other movies by directors of movies I had previously enjoyed. Working from other recommendations by writers, musicians, friends, and various other film buffs—gone!!!

I know what you’re thinking—it must have been some technological glitch. That’s just it—I’m sick of technology letting me down once again, just like it always does. Netflix overpromises, and continually under-delivers.

Well Netflix, you’ll have to find someone else to be your bitch, because you just lost this one. I’m sick of being pushed towards downloading movies and I wonder if you didn’t clear my queue on purpose, because I don’t download.

From now on, it’s Videoport, or the public library for my movie rentals. And places like Frontier, where Mary and I saw the amazing documentary, The Way We Get By, about three seasoned Mainers, who have been greeting troops coming and going through Bangor International Airport for the past six years. Directed by a Mainer, Aron Gaudet, it’s a film worth seeking out and seeing.

Beyond having my queue wiped out, I don’t how often I had to employ my own tricks to have a Netflix DVD play that stopped mid-scene in my player. They also tend to be lacking indie films that tend to lack national distribution, so many strong independent movies by cutting-edge directors are impossible to score.

Indie stores, like Videoport, tend to care about things like customer service. They cultivate relationships with their customers, like not charging late fees if you happen to get a movie back Monday afternoon, if you can’t hit the drop box first thing in the morning because Mary’s sales appointments take her someplace other than downtown Portland. They also make recommendations for films based upon other rentals, and more times than not, it’s a winner.

I’d be interested in the video rental horror stories of others, whether with Netflix, or corporate chains like Blockbuster.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Green Day grows up

When I opened my WSJ last week and saw the three members of Green Day staring back at me, I was incredulous. How does a former punk band, with a penchant for juvenilia end up gracing the pages of the pinnacle of establishment journalism? Maybe their journey from 924 Gilman Street to gracing the business bible of men in expensive suits is in fact a meditation on the reality that the American dream is still alive and well.

Reflecting on where Green Day’s beginnings are rooted (see Jello Biafra incident), the band’s ascension is dripping with irony. The easy route with the boys from Berkeley would be to lob the label “sellout,” as so many have already done. To do so would be walking the well-worn path of many who have turned on bands and artists that have progressed from humble beginnings and the rigors of paying their dues, to eventually taking the rock world by storm.

So, how does a band with punk roots transition from having a fixation with scatalogical references for album names (Dookie and Kerplunk) and masturbation (the song “Longview”), end up being a band that critics laud, and mainstream audiences line up to buy their music and attend their shows? Further, it begs the question, as it does with any band that ascend from obscurity and a niche market to respectability and mass consumption, did Green Day betray their beginnings to reach their current popularity?

Rather than taking the clichéd route and label the band sellouts, it might be more instructive to recognize the natural development of a talented songwriter, like Billie Joe Armstrong, and the ongoing evolution of a band, as it hones its chops and artistic vision. While there will always be those that insist on keeping any band as their own personal secret, the nature of playing music for a living demands that you sell records, draw people to your shows, and have the ability to push swag. This is probably even more the reality now, than ever before, despite the ongoing falsity that claims that the internet makes it easier for bands to break out than ever before. The internet actually makes it much more likely that a talented band or artist gets screwed, as their music can be downloaded, passed around, and the artist receives little, or nothing in return. Having talent helps, but getting breaks, and ultimately, selling out major venues is what allows a musician to finally receive something back for their own artistic contribution.

Back in 1994, Dookie was in heavy rotation in the Baumer household. At the time, 11-year-old Mark had discovered the seduction that bands like Green Day offered pre-adolescents. Mark, who owned Dookie on cassette, frequently cajoled me into popping the tape into the cassette deck of the Camry wagon I owned at the time, as I drove Mark to yet another baseball game. While Green Day was tame by my own indie rock standards of the time, I could appreciate the melodic nature of the music. They were still a band that I typecast as lacking the sophistication necessary to warrant much more than my passing interest, however.

Fast forward a decade and when “American Idiot” burst forth on modern rock stations like WCYY, I noted that Billie Joe, Mike, and Tré Cool had grown up. In fact, the anthemic tune could have been America’s soundtrack in 2004, capturing the angst and frustration many felt post 9-11, considering four more years of theocratic rule, from a pseudo despot with a challenged intellect. The transition from singing about autoeroticism to commentary on the culture, Green Day had clearly come through a maturation process as individuals and as a band.

While American Idiot showed the band’s ongoing evolution, particularly the rock opera elements and what’s become a signature track, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” it also showed the band teetering on the precipice of remaining relevant, or becoming just another reminder of how far punk had fallen from its late 70s/early 80s perch, taking the temperature of suburban America.

With the latest record, 21st Century Breakdown, the band seems to have decided the rock opera format suits them just fine. Musically, they seem to be stuck in limbo between three-chord sensibilities and the DIY ethic they originally wore on their sleeves, and bombastic classic-rock. The ballads, frankly, are a bit too over the top for my tastes. Still, the band is capable of raging with the best of them.

Given that originally, Green Day appeared to be one or two album flash in the pan punk panderers, the fact that they’re still cranking out meaningful music long after all of their peers have faded away is a testament to the trio’s artistic fortitude.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fellow travelers

I recently blogged about my lifestyle change, and the consequent positive improvements (weight loss, increased physical activity, and increase in energy level) in my own health.

With any goal of weight loss, it's important to maintain an awareness of what you are eating, and particularly the nutritional content of the foods you are putting into your body. While trying to get calorie figures for a BLT sandwich, on wheat, I ran across the blog of a gentleman named Tyler, who is on his own personal health journey.

Back in January, 2009, Tyler weighed 344 pounds. Since then, he has lost 102+ pounds and his through his blog, he's been detailing his progress and dispensing with observations, tips, and advice that comes from his own experiences. One tip is that diet/exercise programs set you up for failure. Real change comes when you adopt a healthy lifestyle. He also lists his personal food log, with calorie counts. He's eating foods that are not abnormal, or living on bacon and cheese (ala Atkins), or even regulating his eating patterns by the cycles of the moon. I think this is important because once again, its about lifestyle, not dieting.

I've also come up with a bromide that I believe has multiple applications. Awareness, to be meaningful, must translate into action. Tyler is an example of awareness translating into action. Way to go, Tyler!

Is it easy to change direction and begin swimming upstream? I'm not sure "easy" is what any of us should be aiming for. Easy allowed my weight to balloon to the highest it's ever been. Easy was eating a large dinner, and then, two hours later, having a 500 calorie snack on top of a 3,500-4,000 calorie day. Easy is what made me dread seeing photos of myself, with my developing double chin, and protruding gut.

My new routine does require some effort. I track my calories, which means reading labels, compiling data at, which helps me with my efforts. It also means packing a healthy lunch every day (foregoing fast food, and convenience store sandwiches and other empty calories), limiting myself to one beer most evenings, no snacking, eating dinner at the table, not eating in front of the television, and getting out on my bike a minimum of four times per week (plus some treadmill work in the morning).

Here are some of the benefits from my minimal efforts. I'm down 16.5 pounds since June 23. One of the nice perks from this is that my dress shirts for work, as well as my slacks, and some of my other clothes fit much better, and aren't too snug. Even better, I feel better about myself and it enhances my self-confidence, and the way that I carry myself, which are attributes that translate into a better focus for me in my work, as well as my writing (not to mention my relationships).

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Movies and marriage

I’m writing much of this early Sunday morning, after getting in late, returning from the Maine Independent Film Festival (MIFF), in Waterville. Mary and I drove north (a trek I now make weekly, or more often in my job) to see two late day movies showing as part of this year’s festival, the 12th straight year that Waterville transforms from sleepy Mid-Maine community, into something much more common of larger, more urban locales.

Last year was our first time attending, when we saw the festival’s closing film, the wonderfully quirky, Skills Like These, which debuted in Waterville.

Saturday, we arrived a bit early for our 6:15 movie, with plans to walk around downtown. As has been common for much of the summer thus far, an alternate activity was required because of steady rain. Instead, we stopped by the Elm City Plaza and JC Penney, as I needed a few items for work, namely short-sleeve dress shirts.

The Elm City Plaza is typical of many of the strip malls/shopping centers erected during the economic development boom of the 1960s/70s. This was about the time that Maine’s downtowns were vacated, and shopping was dispensed from the pedestrian-friendly, densely packed city centers (in Portland, Bangor, Lewiston, and Waterville), sprawling outward to multi-lane ribbons of asphalt on the outskirts of town.

As strip malls go, at least Elm City has some interesting diversions beyond JC Penney and K-Mart (although, the Big K has become a “go to” place to find some reasonably-priced casual clothing for me), like the large and well-stocked Mr. Paperback, as well as Maine’s musical oasis for all things recorded, BullMooose. Unfortunately, both Waterville exits of I-95 could be included in any critique of sprawl development—gray, lacking in personality, and the antithesis of what Shannon Haines and the folks at Waterville Main Street are trying to promote—a vibrant downtown core of locally-owned businesses. Haines, by the way, also serves as MIFF’s director.

Movies have always been an important intersection in my relationship with Mary. This was actually our anniversary weekend, with MIFF being part of our celebration of 27 years together. While Friday night found us in the Old Port in downtown Portland, experiencing an incredible dinner at The Grill Room, late afternoon Waterville was an entirely different experience—kind of retro, replete with Camaros and clothing styles and hairstyles reminding us of the mid-1980s.

Our opening cinematic choice found us at the Railroad Square Cinema, a place we’ve seen some outstanding movies in the past. The first movie, a French film, 35 Shots of Rum, was directed by noted director, Clair Denis. Denis is considered by many to be one of the world’s top working directors. This film was focused on the story of a Paris family, a black single father (Lionel, played by Alex Descas), and his bi-racial daughter (Joséphine, played by Mati Diop).

[Mati Diop and Alex Descas in 35 Shots of Rum]

35 Shots of Rum is a movie about parents and their children, and the conflict that comes from relinquishing what you spend much of your early life putting in place. Lionel recognizes that the day is coming when his daughter must (and should) assert her independence, and the consequent tension this engenders.

Unlike most Hollywood films, this one intimates subtleties, rather than hitting you between the eyes with literalness.

One thing that struck me about Denis’ film was her depiction of working class people and minorities, which some critics have commented on, particularly in her positive depiction of blacks in French film, which apparently isn’t always the case.

The working class aspect of the film that interested me was the ordinariness of the lives of the characters. Work, and Lionel’s occupation as a train driver, is something often missing in American film, especially the realities of its everyday sameness. Regardless of the work that most of us in the middle or even working classes perform, there is ubiquitous daily dullness and an element that attempts to crush any creativity, or originality connected with work. As much as I strive to maintain a life devoted to intellectual pursuits, and my writing outside of working hours, the 8 to 5 part of my day intrudes on all other aspects. Furthermore, most of the people that I come into contact with in my daily work routine have no understanding of the movies I watch, the books I read, and almost never connect with my writing, whether its books I’ve written, or my regular blogging that I do for work, or personal edification.

For Mary and I, our time away from work allows us to reestablish some kind of personal connection, as so much of the Monday through Friday humdrum pushes us apart, even though work allows us to pay our bills, keep a roof over our head, and drive vehicles that don’t require regular visits to the garage to keep going.

Between movies, I was jonesing for a cup of coffee, so we walked the half mile into downtown, to grab a coffee at Jorgensen’s, a local coffee emporium. Unfortunately, the shop had closed at 6:00 pm, on a Saturday night. As much as I have been critical of big box stores, and chain establishments, this incident illustrates why people forego local shops, and hit up the large corporate outlets—they know they’ll have what they want, when they want it, and often at a price much lower than the local establishment. I don’t plan on visiting Wal-Mart anytime in the near future, but the pickings in downtown Waterville were slim to none for us. As a result, we walked back up the pedestrian-unfriendly Main Street, and hit up the local convenience mart across Main Street from Railroad Square for my cup of joe to fuel me for the 9:00 pm movie, Cloud 9 (Wolke Neun), a German film, directed by Andreas Dresen.

[Ursula Werner and Hosrt Westphal in Cloud 9]

This film was another one that was attractive when reading through the MIFF list of films. A rare movie that deals with aging, sex between people in their 60s and 70s, and the fallout that accompanies Inge (Ursula Weiner), a part-time seamstress when she meets and falls in love with an older man, 76-year-old Karl (Horst Westphal).

Another foreign film that cuts through so much of the mythology and inability to tackle the issues of real life that is characteristic of much of standard Hollywood fare.

Once more, MIFF provided two movie lovers with some provocative filmmaking, and a reason to leave the house and drive an hour to do so.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hyping Clay Buchholz

Clay Buchholz dazzled Boston baseball fans in 2007 when he pitched a no-hitter in only his second major league start. Since then, the Red Sox right-hander has been searching for the late season consistency he exhibited (3-1, 1.59 ERA in 3 starts), and with it, the opportunity to pitch again in the big leagues.

The pitcher Sox fans watched in 2008 (2-9, 6.75 ERA in 15 starts) looked lost on the mound. His command was gone, but more importantly, so was the confidence and swagger that made him look like a can't miss front of the rotation pitcher, in 2007.

Last night, Buchholz pitched decently when rewarded with a spot start, after an impressive first half at AAA Pawtucket (7-2, 2.36 ERA in 16 starts). I say "decent" because his 5 2/3 innings, 4 hits, one run, with 3 walks and 3 Ks doesn't even qualify as a quality start. Yet, reading the write ups in The Globe and at, this inconsistent big league pitcher is now "major league ready" on the basis of a start that showed flashes of the 2007 Buchholz, but also demonstrated to me that his command wasn't as sharp as I was looking for, as evidenced by 100+ pitches by the middle of the sixth. On that basis, color me unimpressed.

The stuff he had last night might make him tough against AAA hitters (which is basically what Toronto's lineup was after the five spot in the order), but put that same stuff up against a more patient club with tough outs 1-9 (think Yankees and TB Rays), and I'm not so sure the baseball scribes (hacks?) would be lauding last night's performance.

Unlike most of RSN this morning, I'm still not sold on Buchholz. I think that arm-wise, he's got real major league talent, like many pitchers with 90+ stuff. What concerns me about CB is what beats in his chest and the location of the gray matter north of that big league arm. What I saw again last night was a pitcher that, if given enough rope (a regular rotation spot), will end up hanging himself again.

Right now, Buchholz has value that could be packaged in a deal before the deadline that might bring in a veteran starter that's proven, and maybe a quality middle infielder. What might be even better is Epstein and Co. putting together something bigger and entering the Roy Halladay sweepstakes.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Finding a healthy weight

It’s common for the American male, particularly former athletes, to gain weight and “go to seed” when they hit 40.

At 47, I’m about a decade into my downhill deterioration. Actually, my real weight gain began when I was in my mid-30s, just after I stopped playing semi-pro baseball. My playing weight gradually began creeping upwards, first five pounds, then 10, and before I knew it, I was a good 25 pounds above my “fighting” weight.

One thing I’ve gotten pretty good at over the years is embracing some weird diet, which always produced rapid shedding pounds—kind of like instant dieting gratification. I’ve done time under the care of the good Dr. Atkins and other variations on the low-carb theme. I’d lose 25 and even 30 pounds over several months, only to see the scale creep upward again a year or 18 months later.

About a month ago, I climbed on the scale and saw my weight approaching my all time high for me and thought, “I’ve got to do something about this.” My clothes felt tight, and I could catch a look at myself in windows or mirrors and I didn’t think I looked that great. In fact, the last time I was interviewed on television for my job, I said to my wife when we watched the clip, “look at that fat load,” the fat load being me.

I decided to start by determining what my caloric intake should be just to maintain my weight, without gaining anymore poundage. I located a formula online. Afterwards, I determined what amount of calories I’d need to reduce that intake to begin losing weight. Losing weight isn’t rocket science, really. It’s simply burning more calories than you consume. In America, land of junk food, huge portions, and shoveling food into our faces while watching television, that’s often easier to recognize than it is to carry out.

During this period of inquiry three weeks ago, I happened upon a great website developed by FitDay™. Their free site lets me track my food intake, while keeping a journal, as well at tracking my fitness activities, and even my moods.

For me, coming to an awareness of just how much I was eating was the key. Even though I had been biking regularly since May, I was still consuming more calories most days than I was burning off. Once I recognized this important equation and began making adjustments, I’ve started taking weight off, to the tune of 15 pounds over the past three weeks.

While the number of pounds I’ve lost in a short period is more than most weight loss sites (including FitDay™) recommend, for me, I’m receiving a sufficient number of calories, even with the reduction I’ve factored into my daily allotment.

My goal is to get down about 20-25 pounds by the fall, and if my first three weeks are an indication, it will certainly be possible.

Given that my weight has see-sawed back and forth over the past decade, what feels different this time is that I’m not on some strange cheese, pepperoni, and egg diet, or eating foods to match the ebb and flow of the tides. I’m eating healthy foods, in moderation, with variety factored in, plus I’ve introduced regular periods of activities like biking and walking on the treadmill (on rainy days).

What feels remarkably different this time is that my energy level is high, as I’m biking at least four times per week, about an hour or more per ride. Additionally, I’m not hungry all the time.

Only time will tell if this new routine is sustainable. I’m encouraged three weeks in, however.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Random thoughts headed into ASB

All 30 major league teams head into their final series this weekend before most of the players get a welcome break from the daily grind of MLB.

The All-Star break, or “the break” in baseball vernacular, signifies a stoppage in activity in the summer’s 162-game drumbeat. For 66 players, supposedly the best in the game as certified by the fans (which right there makes it suspect), they’ll head to St. Louis and be part of what has become more media circus than game, with the actual All Star tilt becoming secondary to things like the Home Run Derby, media day, and many other activities brought to you by your favorite corporate sponsor.

The All-Star Break is often viewed by those not selected, as a chance to get away from the routine that consumes players’ lives for eight months of the year. It allows them to return home, particularly for players with families that may not live close to where they are stationed for the summer. Given that free agency has turned most players into well-compensated mercenaries with a glove and bat, it isn’t always the case that families move to this year’s city of choice, particularly if they have children in school.

It’s all part of the makeup of America’s pastime, in the early days of the 21st century.

Listening to last night’s Red Sox game, announcer Joe Castiglione mentioned between pitches that the Sox hurler on the hill, Brad Penny, “is headed home to Oklahoma during ‘The Break’ to visit family.”

The All-Star break provides a symbolic split in the 162-game campaign, if not an exactly even split between first and second halves of the season. A player, like a David Ortiz, who has struggled much of the first half (although he’s looked more like the “old” Ortiz of late inning fame, of late) can often redeem his season with a big second half. In fact, for those stat freaks out there, a group I’m happy to claim an affinity with, one can get a sense of what a players final stats will be. For instance, Albert Pujols, sitting on 31 homers with three more games before the All-Star game, has a legitimate chance to break the coveted 60-homer plateau.

Speaking of Ortiz, how about his recent rebirth at the plate? While I had some real concerns about one of the game’s good people, I wasn’t ready to kick him to the curb like so many fair weather fans that seem to make up a significant portion of the front runners that comprise RSN in 2009. Along with talk radio blowhards insisting that the Red Sox had to go out and get a left-handed bat, Ortiz had become a major topic on sports call-in shows, particularly when he had one home run at the end of May.

June saw him start to swat some big flies and after homering in back-to-back games the past two nights, his 11 home runs and 44 RBI (although his .224 BA is still well below his career average) are respectable enough and given a solid second half, will surpass Big Papi’s power numbers from last year (23, 89).

With his smallish frame, moppy hair, and boyish appearance, the Giants Tim Lincecum looks like he should be playing lead guitar in an emo band. Instead, he’s one of baseball’s top pitchers, and may qualify as having the “dirtiest” of stuff on the mound.

Last night, Lincecum toyed with a no-hitter, taking one into the seventh, before Tony Gwynne’s leadoff single ended the bid. Before the Padres were able to string together an offensive spurt knocking Lincecum from the game, the hard-throwing righty extended his scoreless streak to 29 innings, the third longest in the team’s history since moving to the west coast in 1958. Gaylord Perry owns the two longest streaks, 40 in 1967 and 39 in '70.

Lincecum, known as “the freak,” for his ability to throw in the high 90s, despite being a mere 5’11”, and weighing only 170 pounds, averages better than a strikeout an inning over his career, including 140 in his 129 innings thus far, in 2009.

I’m a late follower of Lincecum, partly due to his pitching primarily on the west coast. He caught my eye with a couple of double digit strikeout games back in April, and I’ve been following his starts on since.

Look for him to the NL starter on Tuesday night. Unfortunately, given the current one inning and out protocol (versus at least three innings in recent memory) for pitchers, including the starters, America will only get a glimpse of the “kid next door.”

Boston’s Tim Wakefield becomes the first knuckleballer to be selected for an All-Star game since the Texas Rangers’ Charlie Hough pitched in the 1986 contest. At 42, Wakefield is making his very first All-Star appearance, in his 17th season in the major leagues.

Anybody that follows the game and knows anything about Wakefield’s career can’t be anything but thrilled for him.

Back in 1994, on a trip to Niagara Falls, we stopped at Pilot Stadium in Buffalo, New York, to catch a AAA game between the Buffalo Bisons and the Nashville Sounds. Pitching that August night, with a record of 5-13, was a 27-year-old Tim Wakefield, in the minors, trying to regain his touch and find a way back to the bigs.

He would, as the Red Sox signed him in 1995, and he’s been as reliable as a favorite pair of shoes ever since. Whatever the Sox have asked him to do, Wakefield has delivered.

Continuing to defy the laws of physics, as well as stave off the ravages that come with age in a game for the younger set, Wakefield has set a career best of 11 wins at the All-Star break, warranting his selection by AL manager Joe Maddon.

But Maddon said Wakefield's selection was in part due to the career body of work from a pitcher who is his generation's master of the game's most vexing pitch.

"I just felt that getting him on the team was the right thing to do," Maddon said.

Only Hall of Famer Satchel Paige was older when he was named an All-Star for the first time — for the 1952 game held the day after his 46th birthday — but Paige wasn't eligible until he was 42, when he came to big leagues in 1948, the year after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

I’ve lost interest in the All-Star format the past few seasons, but I may just stay with this year’s game, if only to see Wakefield match his floater up against the NL’s best.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Interdependence Day

I was 14 when America celebrated its Bicentennial in 1976. That was 33 years ago and the country I live in has changed dramatically.

My first book (still available, here and here) tried to capture aspects of small town life, using baseball as the vehicle to represent community life as it existed for a period of three decades, between the close of WWII, and up until the Bicentennial. In the "culture of the immediate" that we live in, 30 years is ancient history, and I'm personally aware of how irrelevant history has become.

When I write about the changes that I see, I'm moving beyond the theoretical. It's also much more than just a nostalgic longing for the past. It represents a 60 year study that's significantly more involved than probably 95 percent of living Americans have ever undertaken. Basically, I know a little about what I'm talking about.

What concerns me is how 95 percent of the U.S. population is oblivious to clear warning signs and red flags that are much more complex than what right-wing talk radio reveals, as well as most of what passes for "liberal" opinion on the events of the day. To be quite blunt, who the fuck cares that a freak like Michael Jackson is dead? To answer my own crass rhetorical question, a good chunk of America, entranced by pop culture, that's who.

Despite the wealth of information, and the plethora of well-written articles available via the interwebs, most Americans are woefully deficient when it comes to possessing the sophistication necessary to process this information objectively.

Two cases in point that are worth reflecting on in lieu of the subject of true independence (interdependence) that is merely symbolic on this July 4.

Morris Berman, at his intellectually informative blog, Dark Ages America, has a recent post about tribal consciousness. What I found pertinent in this longish post is the part of how information, particularly the "accepted" kind is transmitted. Berman delves into meme theory, and also, Mannheim's paradox, and how information is transmitted. His somewhat depressing, but I think, realistic view is that society is not evolving in a rational manner, but in a tribal way. As always at Berman's site, don't neglect reading down through the comments as Berman engages personally with his readers, which is why I keep coming back.

Another writer that I continue to respect and have mentioned several times before, is Chris Hedges, who posts regularly at Truthdig.

He discusses that merely knowing truth isn't enough to change the outcome of the game, as it is currently rigged. He begins his June 29th piece with this opening paragraph:

The ability of the corporate state to pacify the country by extending credit and providing cheap manufactured goods to the masses is gone. The pernicious idea that democracy lies in the choice between competing brands and the freedom to accumulate vast sums of personal wealth at the expense of others has collapsed. The conflation of freedom with the free market has been exposed as a sham. The travails of the poor are rapidly becoming the travails of the middle class, especially as unemployment insurance runs out and people get a taste of Bill Clinton’s draconian welfare reform. And class warfare, once buried under the happy illusion that we were all going to enter an age of prosperity with unfettered capitalism, is returning with a vengeance.

Like Berman, Hedges recognizes that our current world is one where the "irrational has become the rational," as Kafka once pointed out.

That's a problem, and one that doesn't have a simple solution.

If this was a radio show, I'd close out today's broadcast with the Grateful Dead's "US Blues."

Friday, July 03, 2009

Summer Reading-Infinite Jest

So I’ve set out on a summer reading journey, tackling David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, all 981 pages, an additional 388 footnotes, which tacks on 96 more pages. Not the kind of reading assignment one tackles frivolously. Staying power is required.

One of the readers at Infinite Summer, the focal point of a community read highlighting Wallace’s most famous, and oft talked about work, described it as being "claustrophobic."

I'm 227 pages in and I think I've reached a point where I'm not turning back. Because of that, I'll be sparse here at Words Matter. I did post my first in what will probably be one of a few posts about the experience of reading a book like Infinite Jest, a rarity in today's digital world. You can find it over at Write in Maine.