Interview with the Umpire

    Having put off reading Michael Wolraich's "Unreasonable Men" on the Roosevelt/La Follette saga for almost 3 years, the following exchange sprung from my wish to snapshot my reactions before I forgot, as well as take advantage of having the author in our midst. Being historical but somewhat akin to our times, the book provides the opportunity to look at a more crystallized version of today's issues, institutions and personalities. Rather than trying to keep the cross-hairs on a confusing, ever-moving target, we can evaluate these events more leisurely, with the luxury of hindsight and room to contemplate, without getting mired down in too much "he said, she said", thus avoiding the trap of “having a dog in that fight”. Sometimes our emotional attachment to events seems to be our biggest hindrance to grasping them.

    This "Entrevista" took place over email on Michael's return from Mexico ("don't destroy Dagblog while I'm gone!") largely as a single block of questions focused on the book's events and a couple followups. Many thanks to Michael for playing along and giving us a chance to play hookie from the exhausting current political chaos. A followup installment is expected to dig more into contemporary parallels.

    For readability, my questions and comments are in bold or brackets, Michael's in normal type.

     – Peracles Please

    Play Ball (Better Luck Next Year)

    1) Focus on things that make a difference - ignore the chatter and buzz, the click-bait and easy gotchas - they just chip away at time. Baseball announcers have to fill a lot of dead air, so can talk about anything from root canals and outboard motors and somehow connect it to the game. My mother called it "diarrhea of the mouth", but in baseball circles they call it "a good living" or "Harry Carey", depending.

    2) Time is money, money is time, and we don't have enough of either. Stop the class warfare over money - money largely wins elections and ball games. Everyone says the players are overpaid, but they still buy tickets and fill the stadium. Care about values, cultivate rich ethical friends, fast track the road to wins.

    (Jesus corollary: as the poor will be with us always, so will the rich and glamorous and obnoxious. Deal with it).

    3) Watch Moneyball, take away key points: a) adapt or die, b) you're not out to replace a player - you're out to buy scores and wins, c) the competition will copy your successful techniques if allowed, d) don't trust the polls - do your own analytics.

    PS - argue about candidate values and flaws and street-cred *after* you win the pennant - until then, make lemonade: get up earlier, hustle after grounders, and don't confuse being a player with being a commentator.

    Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Your Public Domain Update for 2017

    Happy New Year all! As every year, I'm writing a blog post for Public Domain Day, listing all of the old books, movies, pieces of music, and works of art that are leaving copyright to join the public domain today. And, as every year in the United States, that list contains nothing at all. Public Domain Day is for people in other countries.

    Doctor Cleveland's picture

    In Defense of Ebeneezer Scrooge

    Oh, joy. The War on the War on Christmas is back. People are hollering that now that Trump has been elected, everyone is going to have to say "Merry Christmas" all the time and have "Merry Christmas" said to them all the time, whether they like it or not, and they don't like it, screw them anyway. What better way to express the meaning of Christmas? It's so very far from the spirit of Christian humility and love that I find myself, against all odds, ready to mount a defense of Ebeneezer Scrooge.

    Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Dylan's Nobel and the State of American Literature

    I was very pleased when Bob Dylan got the Nobel Prize today. But I understand a number of people were not. Almost immediately upon the announcement my social media stream was full of disgruntled poets complaining that Dylan should not be eligible for the prize. (The silver lining was that one of the talented poets I know was immediately pushing back on this.) And by mid-afternoon the websites of major periodicals were full of think pieces, ready for tomorrow's print editions, about why Dylan should not have won.

    Michael Maiello's picture

    A Great Day In Dag History

    On September 17th of 1981 the greatest of all time, the Nature Boy Ric Flair, put hard times on rival Dusty Rhodes, to win his first world heavyweight wrestling championships.  He is now (sadly) retired but his 16 world championship reigns remain a record, destined to be matched or exceeded by (shudder) John Cena.

    Well, here it was, his first belt:

    Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Why Art?

    Why study the arts? Some politicians ask the question as a joke, mocking this or that discipline as impractical. Those who defend the arts and humanities answer in economic terms, arguing for the rich and versatile skills one learns in the humanities classroom. I have made that economic case myself. As far as it goes, it is true. But it is not the only argument, and it does not go far enough.

    We need the humanities because we are human. We need the arts because we are mortal. We need art and poetry because everyone we love will some day die.

    Michael Maiello's picture

    Another Celebrity Death Worth Noting

    So, the day we found out Prince died, we also lost Joanie Laurer, who wrestled in the WWE during the "attitude era" as Chyna, where she used the nickname "The Ninth Wonder of the World."  If you're not a wrestling fan, you know that there are seven wonders of the world.  If you are a wrestling fan, you know that Andre the Giant is the world's eighth wonder and that Chyna was the 9th.

    Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Shakespeare 400

    Tomorrow marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death (and Miguel Cervantes's death, too). There are celebrations worldwide, and there will be ongoing Shakespeare events and celebrations throughout 2016. (If you don't believe me, believe twitter, and search the #SHX400 hashtag.)

    Michael Maiello's picture

    So Far, 2016 Is Far Less Glamorous Than It Should Be

    First we lose Bowie, now Prince?  Friends, this is no way to run an economy and it's definitely a damned poor way to run a culture. I want a word with whoever is making these decisions.  They need to be removed from office, at the very least, if not put on trial for out and out incompetence.

    Michael Maiello's picture

    Infinite Winter: Journey's End

    Infinite Jest is back on the shelf, a little more than two months after I had decided to re-introduce myself to the complex opus.  I think I remarked in my first post how impressive it was that in the fledgling days of the internet and the height of MTV that David Foster Wallace decided that he could succeed by releasing an entertainment both long and difficult and requiring work from the reader.

    But Wallace always found pleasure in work and must have bet that others would, too.

    Michael Maiello's picture

    Infinite Winter: The Monsters We Carry

    I have just reached a scene in Infinite Jest where 17-year-old Hal Incandenza reflects, in conversation with his deformed brother Mario, about the monsters he once feared and what he fears now:

    'Boo, I think I no longer believe in monsters as faces in the floor or feral infants or vampires or whatever. I think at seventeen now I believe the only real monsters might be the type of liar where there's simply no well to tell. The ones who give nothing away.'

    'But then how do you know they're monsters then, then?'

    Michael Maiello's picture

    Infinite Winter: The Causes and Effects of Terrorism

    Infinite Jest is a terrorism novel. This is, in a lot of ways, no surprise.  David Foster Wallace counted Thomas Pynchon and Don Delillo as influences and both of them were interested in the topic of terrorism.  Also, it's an interesting topic for fiction and though we tend to talk about it in terms of a post-9/11 vocabulary, terrorism has always been a way that a few people have tried to influence masses and it hasn't changed all that much.

    Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Political Advice from the Past

    I'm at a rare books library this week, with politics happily tuned down to a lower volume. That's true even though the library is around the corner from the Capitol Building, and almost across the street from the Supreme Court. So I was in town for Mitch McConnell's continued resistance to the eminent Merrick Garland, but I am busy doing other things.

    Michael Maiello's picture

    Infinite Winter: President John Gentle and the Rise of Donald Trump

    As recapped in the excellent biography by D.T. Max David Foster Wallace loved television and could binge-watch with the best of them in the years before streaming Netflix. Netflix is, by the way, something that Wallace seems to have seen coming. In Infinite Jest, Netflix is an entertainment company called Interlace that sells both streaming videos and entertainment cartridges. Interlace basically destroys the advertising industry and the big television networks, by offering people the entertainment they want, when they want it.

    Doctor Cleveland's picture

    Trump vs Hamilton

    A brash loudmouth from New York City has been taking America by storm lately, to the consternation of the traditional political elite. I'm talking, of course, about Alexander Hamilton, and about Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda's monstrous, Grammy-winning Broadway hit.

    Michael Maiello's picture

    Infinite Winter: The Stages of Grief

    Within the first third of Infinite Jest we learn what happened when Hal Incandenza, a brilliant tennis player on the rise and son of filmmaker James Incandenza and brother of professional football kicker Orin Incandenza, found James after his suicide by microwave.

    James is the auteur behind the movie "Infinite Jest."  His suicide, perhaps on impulse after relapsing into alcoholism, was extremely gruesome.  He rigged a microwave so that he could put his head inside, effectively turning his cranium into a pressure-activated flesh bomb.

    Michael Maiello's picture

    Infinite Winter: Umberto Eco Is Dead

    I’ve never seen David Foster Wallace connected to Umberto Eco.  That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. But sometimes it is too tempting to compare writers just because they happen to write long books that are intellectually driven.  There are many ways to conquer the beast of the novel of ideas and these two writers may not have shared many tactics.

    Michael Maiello's picture

    Infinite Winter: Hamlet as Baseline

    One of David Foster Wallace’s goals (he said, sometimes) as a fiction writer was to help people combat loneliness.  Writing fiction allows the writer to reach out to an audience of strangers.  Reading it allows the audience to reach out to an author they will likely never meet.  Reading texts in common, like with Infinite Winter, gives us a chance to have a shared experience. I think a shared intellectual experience is why a lot of us have nostalgia for school (both high school and college).

    Pages

    Latest Comments