Saturday, June 24, 2017

David Ortiz's Book, Papi, Is A Huge Strikeout


Photo: from the book's Goodreads page, here.

Very disappointing book, more notable for the stuff he leaves out than for what he puts in. This is mostly a gripe session, with a surprising number of motherf---er bombs, considering his younger fanbase. If you want to read about what a motherf---er former Sox GM Theo Epstein was while they talked contracts, and about how much of a motherf---er Twins manager Tom Kelly was all the time, and about how much confidence he has in himself, which is necessary because everyone will disrespect you and you have to defend yourself and tell them who you really are, then this book is for you. He even takes a few stabs at Terry Francona, who he never respected again after Tito pinch-hit for him in Toronto three or four years ago. Yet wasn't he hitting about .220 at the time?

But I'd been hoping instead for a bit more about 2004, about the postseason. Those were covered in a few short pages. Or about 2007, and Curt Schilling's bloody sock, or something about J.D. Drew or Josh Beckett or, hell, anything at all about any of the more important games that year? Maybe something about Youkilis, who nobody remembers anymore. How about how Colorado finished the season 22-1 and then got swept in the World Series? Nope. Maybe 2013? How about some stories about Jonny Gomes, or Napoli, or anyone else? What about that ALCS against the Tigers, when Ortiz hit the season's most important homerun, before Napoli hit his against Verlander in that 1-0 game? How about how the Sox hit maybe the Mendoza line combined for the series, yet won it in 6 games? How about anything at all about Uehara? Maybe the World Series, which had a game that ended with a runner picked off third and was followed by a game that ended with a runner picked off first. Nope. Maybe a paragraph apiece, and nothing at all about any of the specific ALCS or World Series games. Not even anything about his World Series game-winning hits, except that he hit them, and who he hit them off. No commentary; no in-depth analysis, nothing. He proves he had a helluva memory for who threw what to him months ago, which he'd then look for months later, but that's it.

You get a really short chapter about what a butthole Bobby Valentine was, which I already knew, and I detested him then and now and for that whole year. Valentine was a baseball version of Trump, and it's no surprise to me at all that they're actually friends--if either guy can be said to have a friend, as opposed to a mutual, leech-like attraction. But there's nothing new here at all. The few things that may be news to some, like how his marriage almost fell apart, is never given specifics. I'm not expecting The Inquirer here, but give me something. Didn't get it.

I'm telling you, this book is at least 75% about how he was disrespected by contracts and PED accusations. He never mentions HGH, of course, and he never gave honest accolades to people he trashed, like Francona and Epstein. It all comes across as very bitter grapes from someone you might think doesn't have much to be bitter about. He has a few decent points that non-Sox fans may not know, like how the Sox underpays its stars (Pedroia notoriously got a home-discount contract that this book never mentions; Pedroia is more underpaid now than Ortiz ever was, dollar for dollar) and yet overpays its free agent signings--like Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. And Carl Crawford. And Julio Lugo. And Edgar Renteria. And Rusney Castillo. You knew this already as a fan, but the sheer number of examples is staggering. Yet even this is harped on again and again, its repetition taking up space you wanted reserved for funny or interesting anecdotes about some players. Hell, how about Orsillo, or Remy, or Castig? How about how he was able to have the single-best last season of any hitter in history? How about any stories at all about fans he's spoken to over the years, especially in 2013? How about something besides how much of goofball and great hitter Manny Ramirez was? Or something about Pedro besides how smart and great a pitcher he was?

Nope. You get a chapter about his charity, but nothing about other players' charities. Very disappointing. Ortiz was one of my favorite players, and still is, but as a baseball memoirist, he swings and misses. This book is truly a money-making grab off his retirement. Even non-Sox fans won't learn anything new here, which is a mystery because it's clearly written for a common Sox fan. And believe me, I'm no baseball prude, but the loud volume of motherf---ers and other punches and jibes is shocking, considering he has to know that kids and pre-teens will want to read this. But, Dads out there, beware: They probably shouldn't. Also shocking because it's otherwise such a light read, you'd think it was meant for a light (ie--young and/or new) fan. The diatribes and whining don't make it any less light, so it's essentially a fluff piece with a lot of whining, swears and overall negativity.

Shockingly disappointing.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Quest for Mary Magdalene by Michael Haag -- Book Review and Brief Comments


Photo: from books.google.com at this link

Extremely readable history of Mary Magdalene, from the Bible to Dan Brown, that will teach you some things even if, like me, you've read a lot about her already, from the likes of Vermes, Ehrman, etc. For example, you probably know that nobody in the Middle East of this time had first and last names. Jesus of Nazareth was the Nazarene. John the Baptist, was, well...You get the idea. No one had last names. So it's also been known for awhile that Mary Magdalene was called that like Jesus was called Jesus the Nazarene. As he was a Nazarene, from Nazareth, she was the Magdalene, from Magdala. Well, not so fast there. Michael Haag, author of this book, posits that there was no Magdala at the time we're talking about, from 1 to 33 A.D. (or CE, if you will). (Except in Matthew 15:39, where after feeding the multitudes Jesus took ship to Magdala. But a Codex much older than the copy we have in use in our present Bibles [You know the Bible is thousands of years old and has been copied, and miscopied, millions of times, yes?] known as the Codex Vaticanus has the same village in that passage as Magadan, not Magdala. So why the last name? Haag says she was known as "the Magdala" (like John was "the Baptist") and that the word comes from the Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke) magdal and the Hebrew migdal--and that these words mean "tower." Like, how shepherds had a tower that they could use to see the miles of fields where the sheep grazed. Sound familiar? As Jesus said he was the shepherd who watched over his sheep, or flock, meaning his disciples and believers today, so too did somebody watch over Him. That, apparently, is the nickname (and Jesus did give a lot of nicknames, as he did to most of the disciples) Jesus gave to Mary Magdalene. She was the Tower. She watched over him.


Photo: St. Peter, from Catholic.org.

No wonder Peter didn't like her. Peter wasn't Peter's real name. His real name was Simon. Peter is a nickname Jesus gave to him because it means Rock. And he was the first Pope, essentially, as he was "the rock" that the Church was founded upon. But now that you understand the thing about nicknames, which Jesus gave out like he gave out parables, well, now, it makes you think, right? No wonder Peter complained about Mary Magdalene all the time.

[The book lags a little in the last few chapters as Haag embarks on a quick trip through present day renditions of Mary Magdalene. Feel free to skip those. It's a little better when it describes Mary Magdalene in paintings from the Renaissance and the Middle Ages, though I think it worked for me more because I'm interested in those times, and not so much because of what Haag had to say about Mary Magdalene in those times. It's at its best when it covers the Bible and the gnostics--ironic, because Haag describes himself as more of a historian on the Templars and Crusades, and not so much as a biblical scholar. But that's where he's at his best here.]

Haag's research is exhaustive and he deals a lot in common sense--things you would think go hand in hand with historians, but that hasn't been my reading experience. Often they're either too much one or the other, but they need to be combined to make sense of something that happened thousands of years ago. Haag does that well with the Bible. For example, after I thought I'd read everything there is to read about Mary, the mother of Jesus, I see this:

"There are indeed hints in the gospels that stories were going round in the lifetimes of Jesus and of Mary his mother saying that he was a bastard and she was an adultress. 'Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? [A]nd are not his sisters here with us?' says Mark 6:3. In Judaism a son would be identified by naming his father even if Joseph had been dead for a long while, but Mark, who mentions every other member of the family, leaves Jesus' father unknown. Nor does Mark mention Joseph in any other part of his gospel. And in John 8:41 during a confrontation at the Temple[,] the Pharisees say to Jesus, 'We be not born of fornication', insinuating that he was."


Photo: from Pantera's Wikipedia page at this link. "Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera (c. 22 BC – AD 40) was a Roman soldier whose tombstone was found in BingerbrückGermany, in 1859."

I just looked those passages up again in my New Testament. Mine replaces Joses with Joseph, and Juda with Jude, but all the rest is the same. And you can't disagree with the logic Haag uses. I've known all the stories before: I don't believe there was a census, because at no other time in the history of the world has a leader told his people that, for a census, everybody had to pack up and move back where their original ancestors came from. Can you imagine that happening in America today? What a nightmare! And the story of the slaughtering of the firstborn? No other writers writing at the time--and even in antiquity, there were many--mention anything like that. You would think it would make headlines, that everyone would have a comment to say about it, even someone in a court, in his private diary, never mind actual historians (apparently there have always been historians translating history, even in ancient history). But nobody did, outside of that one biblical passage, Matthew 2:1-16. So, yeah, I'd already known and thought about that, [and just click here in my blog so you can read about my thoughts of Mary and Pantera], but this was the first time my attention was drawn to that one passage, of Jesus, "the son of Mary." Of course Haag is right. From ancient times, in the Middle East, in the Nordic stories, in Beowulf, in the Odyssey, possibly all over, a man is defined as being the son of his father, not the son of his mother. Beowulf and Odysseus were referred to like that long after their fathers had died. But when the father is unknown? Or the man had been born out of wedlock, for whatever reason?


Photo: from Pantera's Wikipedia page at this link.

Haag shows some good research and some good common sense, in equal measure. (And I have to add that, for a very long time, I've been put off by Jesus's only biblical conversation with his mother, at the wedding at Cana, in John 2:1-5.  Yes, she seems to have been nagging him, but he is still rather curt and annoyed with her. No other writer has mentioned the same slight surprise at this that I have always felt. Until now. So thanks, Mr. Haag. Just a little thing, but it bothered me. And how do we feel about that conversation being the only one between Jesus and his mother? Doesn't it seem like she's been rather scissored out? Mary, His mother, is venerated now, but she got short shrift then.

And the author proves rather conclusively, I think, that Jesus and his disciples were financially supported by Mary of Bethany, Mary Magdalene (if they're different; many scholars think they're the same, as Haag seems to), Joanna (possibly a former wife of someone relevant in the royal court, a man named Chuza), Mary, Jesus's mother, and a few other loyal women. I've considered this, but not for too long. But, yes, there seems to have been money flowing in, and it wasn't from Jesus himself, right? And his followers were fishermen (who were not necessarily poor at that time, but the Bible says these were) and others said to be destitute, so who had the money? Could the women be hiking all over the Middle East unless they had some money? And the women who were not from money, or who were not married to it, where did they get enough money, in that time, to be financially independent? (Get my, and Haag's, drift here?) But where do the robes come from? The food? The water? The sandals? Over the few years of the biblical stories? The Bible stays rather close-lipped about this, but it makes sense. These things cost money, and the guys didn't have any. Why else would these men, as worried about women as they were (Peter, for example, was apoplectic about them, especially Mary Magdalene; you can look that up), have these women along all the time, but that they were the bank?


Photo: from La Pieta's Wikipedia page at this link

So, yeah, makes you think. And that's why I read books like this. To think very seriously about a book that essentially controls my government right now, and yet none of those guys (and I emphasize the guys) seem to have actually read all of it. (Trump, especially, I assure you, has not. But a caveat: He's never said that he has. In fact, he's not very religious. But the southern gentlemen controlling him are. [The Russians controlling him may be as well.] Or, at least, that's what these fine conservative white men will tell you as they push their agendas along. Believe me, when Trump's impeached, these fine men will cut their strings with him very fast, and then say they never really liked him in the first place, that they had their doubts about him all along.)

Well, anyway, because I believe you have to know and study the weapon of choice of your adversary, I have read every single word of the Bible, Old Testament and New. Yes, every word. Twice. And countless times in close readings while reading books about it. Which is right, by the way, to read books like Haag's and not to just take the author's word for everything. That's part of the whole problem, right? To just take someone's word for something very important without reading it yourself? So I do that--I read the Bible, and I read about the Bible, and then I read the Bible again to better think about the things that I have read in books about the Bible.

Because, for God's sake, someone's got to. See what I did there?

So if you're interested in this kind of thing--and if you're being unfairly controlled by conservative social laws in the U.S., you should be--then you should read this. It says a lot of right, and righteous, things about how women have historically had their importance stripped from them since antiquity. If it can happen to Mary Magdalene, and Mary, mother of God, then it can happen to you, right? Right?

Saturday, June 10, 2017

High Lonesome: 40 Years of Stories from Joyce Carol Oates


Photo: from books.google.com at this link

Better known for her Gothic stories, especially the heavily anthologized "Where Is Here?" and a few others, this is still an extremely readable and often striking collection of short stories spanning 40 years, from 1966 to 2006. As with all collections of this length, and shorter, you may find some swings and misses here, but there are far more hits than misses. At worst, a few stories were okay, unimpressive, but not bad, exactly. Some are stunning. Some are memorable, sometimes for the writing, sometimes for the things that happen. (In one, an unhappy woman in her early 20s allows herself to have a messy, unstopped period while she and her family spoke with a priest at a seminary, where her brother would've been kicked out but for that spectacle.) Other stories are memorable for what they don't show, or say. (In one, a young man kills himself in his car. In the glove compartment is found an object that may insinuate he also would've killed someone else, but for some reason didn't. The story ends with a character asking the other what that object had been for--and the story ends right there.) Anyway, there are 11 new stories here (as of 2006), one of them the title story. This one is also perhaps the best of the bunch--a nice comment to be able to make, considering Joyce Carol Oates has been writing now for over 50 years, and apparently hasn't lost a thing. If anything, she may be getting better. So these are all good, and highly recommended, though I prefer her Gothic stories, none of which are here.

A short bulleted commentary:

--"Spider Boy" is very good. Chilling and short, as usual about the unknown side of someone's personality.

--"The Cousins" is an award-winning story.

--"The Gathering Squall" has a nice metaphor, tying a painting in with the story's theme. I tried Googling the painting, couldn't find it. Possibly invented for the story.

--"The Lost Brother" is a good story about the hopelessness of having hope for a lost soul in your family. And perhaps why you shouldn't.

--"High Lonesome" motivated me to start my own story. The best part of the story--the old, desperate, lonely man getting pinched while only wanting conversation from a hooker who's not a hooker--isn't even the main part.

--"Upon the Sweeping Flood" is good and memorable, and has a recurring image of children suffering at the hands of insane adults.

--"At the Seminary" was referred to above. Not to be missed, if only for the scene I described.

--"Where Are You Going...?" is perhaps the most anthologized story here, one the author says she regrets having to include in this volume because it's so prevalent elsewhere. I have it in the tons of other sweeping anthologies downstairs. However, it continues to impress, even after a great many readings. Sly, slow, charming, disturbing, seductive (not in a sensual sense) evil has perhaps never been captured so well, not even by Hawthorne.

--The collection is broken down into the decades. Stories from "The 1970s" are all good, though representative (except for "Manslaughter") of John Updike. Maybe Cheever, too.

--"The Hair" was a very good, very John Cheever, expose of suburban couples and the illusion of social and marital perfection that one couple holds over the other, until the ending. Reminiscent of reality; been there, done that. Got away just in time.

--"Life After High School" was referred to above. Interesting. The woman in the story reminds me of someone I know.

--"Mark of Satan" was a story I was highly critical of on my blog, a long time ago, for reasons that now escape me. I'd read just the last few stories of the whole collection at the time, and responded in anger about this one. I think I mentioned I thought it was a rip-off, but it's not, and I can't even begin to tell you what the hell my problem was. Anyway, it's okay, not great and not bad.

The title, by the way, is a phrase that means "drunk" or "bender," but which sounds depressive to me as well. This all makes sense, because there's plenty of all three here. Most of the characters and stories inhabit upstate New York, Richard Russo's (Nobody's Fool and Empire) stomping grounds, or New York City, when the stories sound a bit like Updike and Cheever.

And I would love to know her writing schedule. She's so prolific, she makes Stephen King seem like J.D. Salinger or Harper Lee. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Wonder Woman -- A Rant within A Movie Review



Yes, I am a grown man who went to see Wonder Woman Sunday night with my better half. I'm okay with this, for a lot of reasons. I liked it a lot, and I'm going to buy it when I can. Loved, loved, loved this movie. Here's a rant within a review (and here's another, quieter one from Time Magazine, at time.com) to explain why: 

I was a little concerned about the hoopla about the movie being shown first to a female-only audience. Notice I'm saying I was concerned about the negative reaction given to the female-only showing, not about the movie itself, nor about the female-only showing. One: the moviemakers can do whatever they want with their own movie. Two: It sort of makes sense that a movie based on a television show (and comic) geared towards the theme of female empowerment should be shown to an audience of females. Three: I'm a little concerned, and tired, of men acting the victim. This is insulting and offensive not only to women, but to common sense and common decency. Men, of course, have been victimizing women since time immemorial, physically, emotionally, psychologically, culturally, and financially, in America and elsewhere; in the workplace, in the paychecks at the workplace, at home, at a debate while literally stalking them on a political stage, and, lately, on a tape with Billy Bush that was heard all around the world before the man speaking on the tape became President because he appealed to hate groups, hateful people, and powerful and computer-savvy Russians. I'm sorry, did I say all that out loud? I did. But enough of that shit, waddaya say? He gropes women, he's obviously assaulted women, he brags on tape about groping women and assaulting women, and occasionally he procreates with women, while insinuating that he'd like to do so with his own daughter, but let's not pretend for a second that he actually likes and respects women, okay? Had enough of that. He wants blatant truth and not political correctness? Well, there it is. Wonder Woman sort of gives an innocent little finger to all that, and it's about time.


Photo: Wonder Woman is not complacent, she's not weak, and she's not French. (Sorry.)

Women have gotten the short end of the political stick lately, so how about we all just shut up as they watch a damn movie, huh? And, funny how even a movie review becomes a sign of these political times, but that's how screwed up and Alice in An Effed-Up Misogynistic Wonderland these times are. 

Wonder Woman is a good action movie that, despite itself, says a lot of things, all of them well. And one of the things it says well is that women can be themselves without any shame. (Wonder Woman, unlike all of the other women from her enchanted isle, is not exactly a fish without a bicycle, per se, but she understands that she could be, that loving a man is a choice, not a mandate. [And shame on you if you don't get the reference.]) One of the things I noticed in this action movie--very different from the thousands of action movies I've seen--is that no man in the movie grabs the woman's hand as they run away from something. (Remember how Daisy Ridley correctly griped about this in the latest Star Wars franchise film?) Wonder Woman doesn't have to withdraw her hand from the guy who grabbed it, because no guy keeps up with her and grabs it. She kicks ass (apparently with a hairstylist on immediate standby) and the men have to follow her. She doesn't stop for them. She doesn't wait for them to act. She doesn't wait for them to save her. She doesn't wait for them to save others. She doesn't wait for them to solve ills or even to stop the war. She takes the lead. That they are willing to follow her, literally and figuratively, without any sexist misgivings (these are all incredibly good, well-behaved guys), is a victory in its own right. Yes, she looks better than Kate Beckinsale and Milla Jovovich and Angelina Jolie and Pamela Anderson (showing my age with that last reference) as they're kicking ass in their painfully tight black leather outfits, but that's not why the guys follow her into battle. You'll have to watch the movie to see why, but trust me on this. They follow because of who she is, not because of what she looks like. She is not a What. Perhaps that's a lesson there.



Photo: The picture referenced below, from Wonder Woman and another movie, best not referred to.

Having said all that, Wonder Woman is not a political movie. It doesn't try very hard (it does maybe a little tiny bit) to teach this lesson, or any lesson at all. It's actually a very good action movie. It's directed very, very well. The production design is very good. The script is reasonably intelligent (there's a tiny bit of emotional lovey-dovey crap at the end, which threatened to connect to my one or two feelings, but it gets a pass with me) and it even has a frame story technique. In fact, that involves the one thing--the only one thing--I liked about the last Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman movie monstrosity mess: the picture of her in WWI that Bruce Wayne finds. That picture was the best part of that movie, and I was looking forward to knowing the story behind it. This is it. I wish I could prove this, but I actually said that to my better half, that the picture was the best part of that movie. It's the starting point, and the finishing point, here, and that works very, very well. As I've said to people before: good writing is a frame story, a book-ending, a wrap-around. Good technique. Simple, but effective.

So, anyway, this movie doesn't try to be political. That it is, anyway, is yet another indicator of these incredibly, jaw-droppingly, Can't Believe People Voted for A Guy who Mocked A Handicapped Reporter on Worldwide Television and then Tweets more than a 12-year old black hole we're in.

This movie says we can be ourselves, anyway, even when our immediate environment is going to hell. Be yourself, fight against wrongs, and be strong, and don't wait for someone else to do it. This was an effective, stirring, moving, meaningful action film that looked and sounded great, that guys can enjoy, that, by God, may actually be saying something beyond itself that is true and worthwhile.

Wonder Woman, and Gal Gadot, who plays her, are immigrants, by the way. See what I did there?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Lana the Dog and Alien: Covenant

Thanks for coming back! I've been gone a long time, because of a stubborn chest cold and work overload.

So a few quick things:


--Lana has been saved! Thanks to those of you who told me you went to the shelter's Facebook page!

--Looks to be like the Trump administration--and I do mean all of them--have been to brunch with Russia, if you catch my drift. We can impeach a guy who slept with an intern, but not a guy who for years has been in bed with the Russians? It'll get uglier before it gets better, and I'm not sure I want Mike Pence at the con, either. Maybe if it's proved the entire election was rigged, they all go, and we do it all over again. The proof is there. Someone just has to type it up. Where's Woodward and Bernstein when we need them?

--And Jared Kushner is yet another thug in an expensive suit. He and all of his brothers-in-law.

--Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant, which I just saw today, is a visually stunning film of bleh! I'm really upset about how he chose to deviate from Prometheus's sense of ideological wonder and instead delve into monomaniacal domination, which we've seen plenty of times before. I'm also angry about what he did with Noomi Rapace's Elizabeth Shaw character, an awesome, riveting, strong women who deserved a helluva lot better than this. Like her, I also wanted to know about the Engineers, and about why they created, and then wanted to destroy, us. You'll see why we're now never going to know. Why would a very talented director waste so much time making a visual but morose film? And the captain...I swear, he must be the dumbest character this side of Friday the 13th movies. After seeing lots of death and destruction and aliens, he actually peers inside a hatching alien cocoon for several long moments. Deserved what he got, though Ridley Scott made him suffer for way too long, after he asked David, the Synthetic, philosophically, about what he believed in. Odd last question. Watch Prometheus again and skip this one.