Review: The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game

The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game
The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A friend gave me a big stack of books a while ago and Moneyball was one of them. I eventually got around to reading it and my one regret was not reading it a lot sooner. I immediately went to my local library’s website and said “Gimme everything you got by this Michael Lewis guy.” They finally gave me The Blind Side a few days ago.

I think it’s fair, but a bit shallow, to say that The Blind Side is a football version of Moneyball. This time around, Lewis uses “new football” (my phrase) to contextualize a short biography of Michael Oher; in Moneyball, Billy Beane’s story was just one part of a new way to look at baseball. But there are plenty of other parallels. There’s another Bay Area guy named Bill finding ways to win with meager resources. There’s an underlying tone of an established old-boys network resistant to the new way of doing things. There’s even an unsung hero who gets things going with a well-researched newsletter.

And through it all, of course, there’s that Lewis story-telling style, part journalism, part fairy-tale. It’s a compelling style, very readable, as likely to drop an F-bomb as to quote Friedrich Engels. And not given, in my opinion, to too much proselytizing or judgement.

That said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer my my own opinions. So let’s say the “review” part of this post is over, and now I’m going to editorialize a bit.

I’ve always been of the notion that modern American athletics can be likened to slavery, whether it’s unpaid college athletes and the billions of dollars their universities earn, or, even worse, a “farm” system that keeps kids poor so that opportunities in athletics come to be their only hope for success. Michael Lewis writes, “The inner city of Memphis alone teemed with kids whose athletic ability had market value.” As soon as I read that, my notion was reinforced.

“The Blind Side” is a nickname for where the right tackle comes at a passing quarterback, and a metaphor from where Michael Oher himself came before earning his well-deserved reputation as a gifted athlete. But don’t we sports fan stay willfully blind, protected by rationalization (“These athletes make more money than I do!”) and are thus able to ignore the truly terrible lives led by those who DON’T become professionals? Why do we give a few men billions of dollars when we could be giving thousands of poor children something decent to live off of?

I don’t doubt that the real hero of this story, Oher’s adoptive mother Leigh Anne Tuohy, had only pure intentions when she took Michael in. More people like that in the world, and we’ll all be better for it. But until we do have more people like that, there’s always going be a part of me that feels guilty when I watch sports.

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A Word, and an Opposite Word, Film Title

In [movie title] filmmaker [director] serves up [colloquial adjective phrase] [something good, but in a tone that damns with faint praise] and [another adjective phrase but opposite of the first one] [some vague qualities that movies should have]. That’s certainly [vague or better yet oblique pun on film’s subject] for a [genre] movie set in the world of [film’s subject or setting].

[Director’s last name] ([previous film by director]) is a [remark about visual approach] first and foremost, and s/he never lets the audience forget it. [One word from film’s title] is a monument to h/er/is [phrase about ego], with [some minor non-plot oriented detail from one moment in the movie]. It’s [pithy one-word label]. And the hallmarks of the [label] are [go to visceral description of visuals] that [verb] the eye at first, but then before long [opposite verb] it. It’s a case of [that first adjective you damned with] [adjective suggesting too much or too little].

[Slightly sarcastic compliment for] the work of [cinematographer, photographer, production designer, even second director] [h/er/is or their name(s)] {if said crewperson has wikipedia entry, crib from it}. They’re the true stars of [one word from film’s title], far more than lead actors [catalog of actors].

The stars, playing [some archetype] are there to [box office or public consumption reference] [verb-ing] [something about their faces and/or bodies].

The story: A [stack up adjective] [character identified by trope], [something that either started the film or appears in flashbacks] [something they then do]. Throw in some symbolism [pick something and mansplain it], [some recurring visual] ([pithy one-word reaction], and some [another recurring motiff] ([another pithy one-word reaction]) and you’ve got [this is the only part of the review that will be entirely unique and actually informative].

[David Barry-esque closer. Or just three sardonic words in a row]. Number of stars out of 3.
Italics: Film Title, with list of actors. Directed by director, written by Writer. Xyz minutes. Rated N for things its rated that for. Theater distribution, opening date if still currently limited.

Review: Ex-Patriots

Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I forgot I had read Ex-Heroes, the first novel in the Ex- series, until I was informed that someone had “liked” my review of it. So I went back and re-read what I had written, and thought to myself “I should read the next book if I liked it so much.” I was waiting for the library to send my several reserves anyway, so why not: did the on-line thing, and started in.

Not much in the way of praise, I know, but that’s what you get with books that are sequels and genre fiction to boot. The truth is, we can only ask if the second book in a series carries the momentum of the first. Because, of course, no one is going to like, or even read, a second book if they didn’t like the first one. Ex-Patriots, I am happy to report, sufficiently continues the Ex-Heroes story.

More or less, Ex-Patriots is paint-by-the-numbers, but it’s a template Cline invented himself in the first novel. I mean, have you ever liked a book enough that you wanted to read it again? If you liked Ex-Heroes, you can read it again in this sequel.

(And if you liked my review, just apply it to this second novel as well.)

Some people disparage genre fiction, so to them I offer that Cline is a better writer than your average genre fiction author. Other people see genre fiction for what it is: built in tropes that provide materials for new stories. To those people I report that Cline does more than just take advantage of the available tropes; he develops them into something new.

But let’s be honest; people who don’t like genre fiction aren’t going to come anywhere near the Ex-Heroes series. Good. Who needs those judgmental jerks. The rest of us who just want to sink our teeth into a goodread will enjoy the Ex- stories.

I mean, so far. I’ll let you know when I’m done with the third one.

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Do These Pants Make Me Personality Look Fat?

A friend posted some pictures on Facebook and she looked like she had lost some weight.

At first I wanted to make a comment. “Have you lost weight? You look great!”

Then it occurred to me that this friend looked pretty great before, too. Most of my friends look pretty great. Most people look pretty great. Sometimes people get sick, or are going through something, and don’t look so great, but at those times, looks don’t matter.

Then I realized, for the most part, looks never matter. This friend, in a particular, has a heart of gold and is one of my favorite people.

But then I thought, well, all you’re trying to do is make her feel good. You just want to compliment her so she knows you noticed the hard work she (maybe) put into staying healthy.

nice-personality-weight-scaleBecause physical appearance is a socially acceptable topic for comment. Sending someone a comment that says “Hey, just wanted to mention that I saw your swimming-suit pictures and was reminded what a truly wonderful personality you have,” is not only borderline creepy, it has connotations of saying a person is unattractive, ironically!

Then, of course, I decided to say nothing, because who cares if a 44-year-old man thinks someone lost a few pounds?

And after that I got sort of mad that we live in a world where this much thought and anxiety goes into a stupid picture on some stupid social media site.

Then I had a beer and watched you-tube videos of babies playing with puppies, and felt lots better.

What I learned from all of this is that while may I have been socialized to evaluate people by their looks, I still have the choice to articulate that evaluation or not. And that’s where my power lies, that choice. Next time I see that friend, instead of mentioning her weight, I’ll ask her what she’s been up to. I’ll lead the conversation towards exercise or food choices or whatever. I’ll let her say as much or as little as she wants. I’ll tell her I am inspired by her dedication and hard work.

Then we’ll have some beers and I’ll show her those you-tube videos.

The Gun Industry Rubs Another One Out

A long time ago I read a book about a guy who could stop time (The Fermata by Nicholson Baker). Everyone and everything would freeze, including clocks, and he could walk around and do whatever he wanted. Mostly what he did was grope women and masturbate.

I think the book was supposed to be an extended metaphor about fantasizing. Basically, if someone fantasizes about you, sexually, do you have a problem with that? If a man stops time, grabs your boob, then starts time and never says a thing to you, did he do anything wrong?

Of course he did, some of you say. It depends on if I find out, others say. And the idea is, telling people they’ve been violated is a kind of violation, isn’t it. In the real world, someone could send you a text message, explaining all of the things they think about doing to you. That could be a terrible message to receive.

And while you can make an attempt to block such messages, you can’t block a person from having thoughts. Your only defense against that is to not think about it yourself.

gunder2Here’s my point: I think the vast majority of gun-loving Americans don’t want to think about all of the very rich people getting very much richer from gun sales. They’d rather think about patriotism and rights and freedom instead of imagining a man in a lounge chair in Acapulco masturbating with a fist full of hundred dollar bills.

The trillion-dollar arms business doesn’t care even a little bit if Joe Smalldick in Buttcrack, Idaho is able to exercise his rights, defend his family, or get drunk and kill a couple of brown people.
All it cares about it how profitable mass-shootings are.

And it’s using these gun-lovers to make that money. Money that gun-nuts might otherwise spend on improving their communities, getting educations, paying for healthcare. Can you imagine what life would be like in Buttcrack if, instead of spending millions of dollars on guns, they instead spent millions of dollars on their grade schools?

My point is: if I found out an industry was metaphorically rubbing up against me on a subway and getting off, I’d be mad. Someone needs to tell this people they’re being used.

Then again, the only people they listen to, at Fox, are sporting some turgid members themselves.

Father’s Day—Ok

me-n-the-kid,-footI’ve never been one much for holidays. It’s not like I hate them, as such, I’m just usually not all that enthused about whatever is being celebrated. I know other people get excited, though, and I’ll join in; I’m a cynic, not a curmudgeon. But for me, by myself, holidays are usually a take-em-or-leave-em kinda thing

This is my first Father’s day as a father. It kind of snuck on me, and true to form, all things considered, it’s really no big deal. I mean, I love my son to pieces. He’s almost nine months old, and he’s wonderful. He’s hilarious and demanding and beautiful and exhausting. All those cliché’s about having kids that make you roll your eyes? Yes, apply them to me. I like being a dad. My boy pushes me to my limits, and those limits have even been exceeded at times, but I’m a dad and that’s a permanent part of my identity now, a title I wear with pride.

I don’t think the title is worthy of a whole heck of a lot of celebration, is all. I mean, every day is a celebration, right? Something like that. As I write this, I’m watching the kid, via baby monitor, roll around in his crib as he decides to wake up. When he does we’ll have some breakfast, play for a bit, take a nap. Then we’ll eat again, maybe run to the store for a few errands, sleep one more time. Another feeding, make dinner, give mommy a hug when she comes home from work. Take another nap, etc.

It’s the etc, you see. Being a father, to me, is the etc. I don’t see the point of celebrating et ceteras. I breathe, and when I go for a run a breathe harder, and when I go to sleep I breathe deeper, but do I celebrate the wonder and joy and pleasure of all that breathing? Nah.

For what it’s worth, along with this being my first father’s day as a father, it’s also my 45th father’s day as a son. I love my dad to pieces, too. He’s my best friend, and like my kid, he’s hilarious. More cliché’s: if my son is going to turn out like anyone, and he turns out to be like his grandad—intelligent, thoughtful, creative, hard-working—well then, I’d say I was an exceptionally successful father.

I totally respect everyone else who wants to celebrate fatherhood today. Whether it’s a companion holiday to mother’s day, or because, let’s face it, not all dads are awesome and the ones who are deserve recognition. I get it and I will click like on all of the Facebook posts. But for me, it’s just another holiday. Just another day. I guess I’m saying I’d rather be happy every day, and when I look at ym son, and think about my own dad, I realize that I am.

Review: The Loo Sanction

The Loo Sanction
The Loo Sanction by Trevanian
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have just finished reading, literally seconds ago, The Loo Sanction.

I thought I had read this once before. But I didn’t remember any of it. Then again, my reading of it must have been nearly twenty years ago. Let’s call it a kind of pseudo-Alzheimer’s. And the joke is that it would be great to get Alzheimer’s and go reread all of one’s favorite books for the first time. I’m living the dream, here in my foggy head.

I read somewhere that The Eiger Sanction was supposed to be a spoof, but nobody got it. So this novel, it’s sequel, is supposed to up the ante.

In my review of The Eiger Sanction, I pointed out that Trevanian had used the word “insouciance.” Twice. However, in the Loo Sanction, he only uses the word once. So don’t know how we’re expected to feel the bash of the brick with which he’s allegedly hitting us on the head. Then again, he does go to great pains, when describing a nude woman’s woman parts, to use the word “ecu” repeatedly. I’m assuming it’s French.

No other word would do in this, a “thriller” that written as if the writer knows he should write literature but he’s deigning to entertain us for a few hundred pages instead. Not unlike the main character, who deigns to give lectures on art in between moments of daring-do, escapades, shenanigans. And in Britain no less. One wonder what escapades Travanian himself got up to when he wasn’t bearing the odious burden of using his amazing intellect to write pulp fiction.

In another twenty years I may read this book again. I may have for real Alzheimer’s. I may think I am reading my own biography. Not because I ever killed for the government, co-mingled with art thieves, or made vigorous love to acrobatic women. No, it will my recall of all the big words I like to throw around on account of how smart I am. You’ll see.

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Review: The Eiger Sanction

The Eiger Sanction
The Eiger Sanction by Trevanian
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Third time I’ve read The Eiger Sanction, first time reviewing. And both times I reread the novel, I’d forgotten the “twist” endings. Most likely because it’s a bit anti-climactic. Or because I’ve never written a review for it before, and I tend to forget things easily. I’d make a lousy spy.

Actually, Jonathan Hemlock isn’t a spy, he’s an assassin. An assassin who likes fine art, his solitude, hates people, his job. You know, every assassin trope you can think of. Or cliché, if you want to be mean. (The difference between a “trope” and a “cliché” is whether you like what you see or not). We’ll forgive Trevanian for this, though, since the book was written back in the early 70s.

You remember the 70s, don’t you? When racism and sexism where just part of the picture. When a man could sit in a chair gazing at a mountain, and a woman he’d never met before would simply bend over in front of him to signal she was eager to have sex. You know, the good old days.

Trope, cliché: more like male fantasy. But again, we let it go, for just as Herman Melville had to hide his essay about the whaling industry inside a revenge novel, so too does Trevanian wrap his love of mountain climbing in, well, a kind of revenge novel.

Yes, I compared Trevanian to Melville. And why not. The novel uses the word “insouciance” twice. It describes an un-climbed mountain as retaining its “hymen.” Trevanian himself once said, “I read Proust, but not much else written in the 20th century.” For crying out loud, he uses a one-name name, like Cher or Madonna. Or Voltaire. Or Ludacris.

Rodney Whitaker (Trevanian’s real name) claimed that The Eiger Sanction was a spoof. I’m not sure how a man who doesn’t read books written before 1901 knows enough about man-fantasy assassination-thriller-revenge novels to spoof then, but, benefit of the doubt and all that. If you want a decent little vacation novel, and have access to a dictionary, The Eiger Sanction is a goodread.

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