Thursday, October 26, 2017

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction - J.D. Salinger (1959)

It's hard for me to write about J.D. Salinger without coming off a certain way, so I'd like to open this review by mentioning my friend Libby.  Libby and I met our freshman year at NYU.  One day, she started talking to me about Salinger, I forget why.  Like a lot of people, my primary exposure to Salinger was Catcher in the Rye.   I don't think I had read any of his three other books.  But Libby laid down the line and went through a brief synopsis of each, in particular mentioning how she had written a paper about religion in "Teddy," which was the last in Nine Stories, and extremely beautiful.  She explained that the majority of his work, outside of Catcher, concerned the Glass Family: Seymour, Buddy, Boo Boo, Walter, Waker, Zooey, Franny, Bessie and Les.  Seven children of vaudeville performers, several of them gaining notoriety on a children's quiz show radio program, and others entering careers in show business, the military, the clergy, prose and poetry (sort of).  At least one out of Nine Stories is specifically about Seymour--"A Perfect Day for Bananafish," which is a masterpiece.  Franny and Zooey rightly earns its place on the Best Books List (and Catcher in the Rye, I predict, will make it when it is reviewed--I read Catcher like 6 times over the course of 6 years, but I haven't read it in the last 9).  I had been meaning to read these for the first time in any case, but after Libby's mini-lecture, I made it a priority and read them my freshman year.  I remember having a particular soft spot for Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction and thinking they were as good as any of his other published writings.  I loved him so much at this point, that I tracked down the old issue of The New Yorker that had published his story "Hapworth 16, 1924," and photocopied it and put it in a nice binder and gave it to my mother for her birthday, as she was a massive Salinger fan. I thought this was one of the better gifts I had ever gotten her, but then I actually read it.  Do not read it.  Read it only if you want a reading list.

So I looked forward to revisiting these two novellas, similar in length to Franny and Zooey.  And I found that I felt exactly the same way about Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters.  It is a masterpiece on the level of his other three books (to be clear, I do not think I would consider Nine Stories to be in Best Books league, though parts of it certainly are--at least "Bananafish" would make a Best Short Stories list, which isn't a bad idea for a project).  It is hilarious, socially observant, brilliantly detailed, breezily delivered, intriguing, and inviting.  Seymour: an Introduction, however, had aged badly in my mind.  This may come into play in the upcoming series planned for Flying Houses, the Kurt Vonnegut Project, for which I am reading Slaughterhouse Five presently, and for which I have this to say: these books may be influential to young would-be writers because they see the authors having fun with the medium.  You get a sense of the possibilities of literature.  At the time, when I was 19, going through the most artistically fecund period in my life, I thought the conceit of a story like Seymour was tremendously encouraging and successfully experimental.  I don't feel the same about it now.  Basically, I would put Carpenters in Best Books territory, and Seymour in Egregiously Frustrating territory.  I guess I can't actually do that because they're together here.  Anybody that reads Carpenters will go onto Seymour and maybe some people will slog their way through it out of a sense of loyalty to the author and the characters, but they might be better off putting it away after about 30 pages.  I will get more deeply into the details of the plots of each in a moment, but I wanted to put this down for now, to give an overview of my general feelings on Salinger's oeuvre and distinguish my opinions on this, his final published volume.
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters is 89 pages long.  It is about Seymour's wedding day.  Buddy is the main character.  The time is May 1942.  Buddy is in Georgia and wrangles a three-day-leave from a stay in the military hospital to take a train to New York to attend the wedding.  He has no time to go to his apartment so he leaves his luggage in a locker at Penn Station.  He gets in a cab and goes to an old house where the wedding is to occur.  After an hour and twenty minutes, the bride, Muriel, leaves.  The guests are told to "use the cars" and Buddy ends up getting into one with Muriel's aunt (Helen Silsburn), the Matron of Honor, the Matron's husband (Lieutenant), and a little old elderly mute man (Muriel's great uncle).  The Matron of Honor is furious with Seymour.  Nobody knows that Buddy is Seymour's brother.  The tension in the early part of the scene is fantastic.

[I have to break in here and make a note.  I'm finding this review hard to complete because of the great deal of time that has passed.  I read Carpenters in early June.  Then I read This Fight is Our Fight, Days of Abandonment, Meet Me in the Bathroom, and Giant of the Senate.  Then I read Seymour: an Introduction.  So while Seymour is relatively fresh in my mind, Carpenters is not.  I can only attribute the gap to library deadlines and procrastination.]

Really, the cab ride reads like a play.
Again, another long break has occurred.  You know what I'm going to say.  Carpenters is great, Seymour is not, so I will attempt to illustrate that with 2 (only 2) excerpts, one from each.  It is a tall task to pick out a representative sample but I think for Carpenters the choice is clear.

"The Matron of Honor seemed to reflect for a moment.  'Well, nothing very much, really,' she said.  'I mean nothing small or really derogatory or anything like that.  All she said, really, was that this Seymour, in her opinion, was a latent homosexual and that he was basically afraid of marriage.  I mean she didn't say it nasty or anything.  She just said it--you know--intelligently.  I mean she was psychoanalyzed for years and years.'  The Matron of Honor looked at Mrs. Silsburn.  'That's no secret or anything.  I mean Mrs. Fedder'll tell you that herself, so I'm not giving away any secret or anything.'"
"'About the only other thing she said was that this Seymour was a really schizoid personality and that, if you really looked at things the right way, it was really better for Muriel that things turned out the way they did.  Which makes sense to me, but I'm not so sure it does to Muriel.  He's got her so buffaloed that she doesn't know whether she's coming or going.  That's what makes me so--'"
She was interrupted at that point.  By me.  As I remember, my voice was unsteady, as it invariably is when I'm vastly upset.
'What brought Mrs. Fedder to the conclusion that Seymour is a latent homosexual and a schizoid personality?'
All eyes--all searchlights, it seemed--the Matron of Honor's, Mrs. Silsburn's, even the Lieutenant's, were abruptly trained on me.  'What?' the Matron of Honor said to me, sharply, faintly hostilely.  And again I had a passing, abrasive notion that she knew I was Seymour's brother." (36...38)

This is the climax of the first "act" of the story, and probably the whole story.  I believe it is representative of the qualities that make for an excellent piece of writing.  I have not seen many other writers italicize portions of words to denote accents on certain words.

I also believed Salinger was something of a pioneer in his use of a footnote or two in Seymour, but recall that Nabokov published Pale Fire in 1962.  Seymour is an intriguing premise.  It is an artistic biography of Seymour by Buddy.  The opening sentence (after two excerpts by Kafka and Kierkegaard) gives a fair indication of how bumpy things are about to get:

"At times, frankly, I find it pretty slim pickings, but at the age of forty I look on my old fair-weather friend the general reader as my last deeply contemporary confidant, and I was rather strenuously requested, long before I was out of my teens, by at once the most exciting and the least fundamentally bumptious public craftsman I've ever personally known, to try to keep a steady and sober regard for the amenities of such a relationship, be it ever so peculiar or terrible; in my case, he saw it coming on from the first." (96)

This is a difficult piece of writing.  It can be very charming at times.  The trope of Buddy writing in a stream-of-conscious style--commenting upon his drinking or the late hour or a recent illness--is one of its more amusing qualities.  One will not deepen their understanding of Seymour by reading it.  It is more about Seymour's effect on Buddy than Seymour himself.  He is every bit as inscrutable a character as he appears in any other place. 

Seymour is mostly notable as Salinger's comment on celebrity.  If one reads the story in this context, it becomes much more interesting.  Buddy is pretty much a stand-in for Salinger.  He lives alone in the woods isolated from society.  He wrote a bunch of the stories that Salinger published.  There are a few moments that definitely break down the fourth wall. 

Salinger has such a small oeuvre, and it is of such a high quality that anyone who wants to read beyond the first exposure (Catcher) will likely go through them all.  This is the weakest piece, but it's still Salinger, and it's not a bad story.  It's just difficult.  It's very frustrating. 

Because then I see the parts I underlined some fifteen years ago and am reminded that to a particular sort of young person, the story is a treasure:

"I'm so sure you'll get asked only two questions [when you die].  Were most of your stars out?  Were you busy writing your heart out?  If only you knew how easy it would be for you to say yes to both questions.  If only you'd remember before ever you sit down to write that you've been a reader long before you were ever a writer.  You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart's choice.  The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe as I write it.  You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself.  I won't even underline that.  It's too important to be underlined." (160-161)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Chicago Cubs 2017 Report Card

There is a lot I could say about the Cubs this year, but I don't want to spend too much time on this post.  It's always extremely time-consuming, particularly the part where I find new pictures of all the players, and analyze their stats to give a proper grade (so I'll avoid that).  There are two big takeaways: (1) they were not the first team since the 1998-2000 Yankees to win back-to-back championships; (2) their performance was incredibly admirable for how bad they actually were.  Statistically, this was not a great team.  Their statistics in the playoffs were just ridiculously bad.  Yet they fought all the way to Game 5 of the NLCS.  They were a completely mediocre team up until the All Star break, then somehow, magically, turned it on.  They had one All-Star: Wade Davis.  We ended last year on Aroldis Chapman, so let's start this year on Wade Davis.

Wade Davis: A

Chapman got an A, so Davis deserves an A.  He's not as electrifying as Chapman.  But he was the Cubs lone All-Star and he converted every save opportunity he was given except one.  Most importantly, he was on the mound during the two best moments in the playoffs: NLDS Game 5, and NLCS Game 4.  He was pushed to his limits in both performances (as Chapman had been in the World Series last year).  It was not always pretty, but he got it done.  He "does not have a heartbeat."  He is a free agent now.  Who knows what the Cubs will do.  Nobody was disappointed in Davis.  There was plenty of room for disappointment elsewhere.

Mike Montgomery: B

Montgomery actually did relatively well this year during the regular season, but he is getting dinged down to a B because he was not reliable in the postseason.  The same could be said of all their relievers.  He started more games this year, and he filled in those gaps relatively well.  He pitched poorly in both series that mattered, however.  There are many, many players to blame for the failure in the postseason, but the relievers were a primary target, Montgomery as their ringleader of sorts, their long man.  Regardless, he helped to get them there in the first place.  He's not totally damaged goods because his offensive counterparts didn't give him much to work with, so maybe give him the benefit of the doubt and give him another chance in 2018.  His versatility still has value.

Carl Edwards, Jr.: B

Same story here, except Edwards seemed to have a better regular season.  In fact, he had a much better regular season.  His regular season was excellent.  He should get an A-, and Montgomery should get a B+, but they both get dinged for the postseason.  Perhaps this is a quandary in future contract negotiations.  Your team might forget about extremely significant contributions during the regular season due to a disappointing postseason performance.  Like Montgomery, Edwards Jr. had a terrible postseason.  Correction: he was terrible against the Nationals, and almost perfect against the Dodgers.  So I'll boost him up to a B+.  You tend to remember the bad things.  He wasn't perfect against the Dodgers either.  Now I remember that awful Yu Darvish bases loaded walk.  Back down to a B.  During the regular season, though, he was much better than in 2016.  He was an excellent reliever.  He's still young.  Even though he performed much better in the last postseason, there was a different kind of pressure going on.  He's not worth giving up on yet.

Brian Duensing: A-

This is a bit inflated of a grade, but it's to underscore the fact that he didn't screw up too badly in the postseason, like his colleagues.  His numbers looked good overall, but it seems like he wasn't put into as many high pressure situations as CJEJ or MM.  I think most people feel that he should be kept on the team.

Pedro Strop: B+

His numbers were nearly identical in 2016 and 2017, and his postseason performance in 2017 should be considered slightly better.  He's under contract through next season, so he'll be with us, and we should be reasonably happy with that.  Here is a sad sentence from last year:  If there was anything that gave Cubs fans pause during the last two series of the postseason, it was the way that the team managed their bullpen.

Hector Rondon: C

During the regular season, he wasn't that bad.  He had a different role in 2016 and 2017.  He was the closer in the first half of 2016, and he performed relatively well in that role.  But the Cubs wanted a lights out closer like Chapman, which is a really nice thing to have if you want to win the World Series (for this reason, I think the Dodgers have the edge this week).  In 2017, they had Wade Davis, so Rondon was more of a set up man.  He had a better win-loss percentage this year, but a higher ERA.  And the postseason was absolutely terrible.  Somehow his numbers don't look that atrocious, and some people say that numbers don't lie, but in the pitching context, sometimes they do.  Somehow his ERA is only 6.00 for the NLCS (he was not on the NLDS roster) but it felt more like 27.00.  He probably deserves a C+ but the C is a reflection of the way the Chicago media took things out on him during the NLCS, giving up a home run on his second pitch, and a grand slam a game or two later.  He's arbitration eligible next year and a free agent in 2019, and I'm still not sure if that means he's staying with us or not (barring a trade).

Justin Grimm: C+

Much need not be said about Grimm.  He had an injury, and he had some problems, and went down to the minors for a bit, and he wasn't on the postseason roster.  His numbers were consequently a bit worse than last year.  Again, arbitration eligible next year, and a free agent in 2020, and I have no idea what that means.

Tommy La Stella: B+

Just to get the back up players out of the way, I didn't even grade La Stella last year, though he famously pulled his retirement shtick then, and I never wrote about it.  My brother[-in-law] once said, when he came up, "Tommy-no-I'm-not-going-down-to-the-minors-La-Stella"  (Actually I think he put on more of a routine, like, 'You're going down to the minors, Tommy,' 'No I'm not.') Even though he basically went MIA, the Cubs gave him another chance, and he put in a more-or-less decent performance.  Same this year, but no drama.  There was drama with Miguel Montero but I'm not going to write about it.  I thought their move getting rid of Montero after comments that it was Jake's fault that he couldn't throw out baserunners was a bit harsh, and there must have been something else going on.  It says something about a guy's personality when he won't admit his imperfections.  Tommy never did that, to be fair--he just considered retiring, like maybe he wasn't meant to play.  It was a bit of a prima donna move, but never claimed to be flawless when the numbers told a different story.  Maybe that's why he got another chance, and he had a much better year offensively (relatively speaking) than last year--he drove in twice as many runs in 23 less at bats.

Albert Almora Jr.: A-

Is it inflated to give Almora an A-?  I don't think so.  This guy showed flashes of brilliance, like Javy Baez and Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras and Addison Russell before him.  He's another one of "those guys" that have developed into a legitimate threat on several different fronts (okay, Schwarber is mostly just an offensive threat--but didn't he get a bunt single in the playoffs?).  Almora was excellent in the field, strong on the basepaths, could hit for occasional power, and tended to come up with big hits in clutch situations.  He strung together a few monster games near the end of the regular season.  Okay, he only got one stolen base (the Cubs are not great about base stealing--I think Rizzo led the team and most people thought it was ridiculous when he batted lead-off (though I thought it was hilarious and great)).  His numbers don't look amazingly impressive, but they're strong, and I have every reason to believe that he (still only 23) will improve over the next few seasons.  I found this article on the Cubs off-season plans and maybe you will find it interesting.  While we are on the subject of breakout seasons...

Ian Happ: B+

Happ came out of the gates in spring training like Kris Bryant a couple years earlier--no more time in the minors for this guy, even though he's young, throw him into the fire.  And he did relatively well.  He did better than Kyle Schwarber this year, let's put it that way.  He was no Cody Bellinger or Aaron Judge, but he popped 24 home runs with a respectable .253 batting average.  He's only 22.  Unfortunately with the Cubs, it's always, "But is there a place for him?" I think he was utilized relatively well this year, and it will be interesting to see whether he expects to be an everyday player or a platoon situation utility man.  Not a bad option to have on your team.

Jon Jay: B+

Jon Jay essentially replaced Dexter Fowler.  He did not impact the team's performance as markedly as Fowler, but he was relatively good.  He hit .298.  He was a strong defensive player.  He was their lead off hitter, sometimes, and while he had good speed, only stole 6 bases.  It's most interesting to compare him to Fowler--now and then.  Fowler then scored 84 runs.  Fowler now scored 68 runs, and Jay score 65.  Not a huge difference.  Fowler does have a lot more pop in his bat and had 64 RBI this year (compared to last year's 48), and Jay's 34.  Jay had one more base hit than Fowler this year, and 14 less than him last year. [Note: I realize it is ridiculous to assume that Fowler would not have performed better as a Cub--I believe his play was elevated by the team, which was the sort of magical thing about the team last year.] Jon Jay doesn't feel like as a big a player as Fowler, but he's done a serviceable job of replacing him.

Kris Bryant: B+

I just dinged Kris Bryant for his performance in the playoffs, which will happen to Rizzo as well.  His actual grade is A-.  Last year he was A+.  He was voted NL MVP.  If you're voted MVP everybody pretty much has to give you an A+.  And this year, I think, is an A- year for any player.  He had 29 less RBI than in 2016, but 73 is a respectable number for a #2 hitter.  He had 10 less home runs than last year, but 29 is respectable.  He scored 111 runs (10 less than 121, which led the league in 2016).  He was basically, Kris Bryant, not having a monster season.  Then the playoffs came and he performed anemically, batting .200, striking out 14 times, and drawing one walk.  He did hit one home run, in the last game against the Dodgers, where they lost 11-1.  It wasn't all his fault, but he wasn't a difference maker in any of those games.  He's still Kris Bryant and I fully expect an MVP, or MVP-lite season from in 2018.   

Anthony Rizzo: A-

Rizzo had an A season and gets dinged for similar reasons to Kris Bryant.  For whatever reason, none of these guys were All Stars this year.  They all had mediocre first halves, except for Wade Davis (and he was probably only picked because it's required to have one representative).  He had exactly as many home runs and RBI as in 2016.  It's an All-Star season.  He had 14 less hits, but he drew 17 more walks.  He led the team in stolen bases (tied Javier Baez).  He struck out 18 less times this year, too.  Then came the postseason, where he batted .135 (he could probably live with his NLDS performance, but his NLCS performance was very bad).  He struck out 14 times and got walked twice and hit by a pitch once.  But again, same with Kris Bryant, nobody has lost confidence in Rizzo and he is not 100% to blame, he just didn't lift them up like he (and Bryant) often did during the regular season (though I heard about that pop-up base hit go ahead RBI against Washington the day after the marathon in the car on the way back from getting my medal engraved).

Willson Contreras: A

Willson totally stepped it up this year after a promising 2016 and put in an incredible performance, cementing himself as one of the premiere catchers in the game.  He became the team's de facto cleanup hitter and provided a lot of big hits in crucial situations.  There's basically very few flaws in his game.  He didn't do very well in the postseason either (nobody did--I'm looking for the few exceptions as I do this), but I feel like at least one of his home runs gave a crucial lift.  And let's not forget that pickoff play in Game 5 of the NLDS.  He had big shoes to fill after David Ross's retirement and Miguel Montero's exit, but he proved himself to be an All-Star caliber everyday catcher.  Alex Avila came in near the end of the season, performed admirably, and will probably provide a strong backup option.  The Cubs don't need a catcher.

Ben Zobrist: B

There is no mistaking that Ben Zobrist's 2017 was much weaker than 2016.  I think he was injured for a little while this year.  His batting average was .232.  I almost shouldn't give him a B, he probably deserves a B-, but he was still Ben Zobrist.  He was versatile, and he wasn't that bad in the NLDS (though he did approximately nothing in the NLCS).  Last year I expected him to have "2 more really good years in him."  That was not this year, but I do believe he can still bounce back in 2018 and put in a more respectable performance than he did this year.  Do not forget that he was an All-Star in 2016 (like many others).  I doubt he will be like Barry Bonds and become more powerful as he approaches 40 and beyond, but he could have two more decent years in him...

Jason Heyward: B

I was about to ding Jason Heyward down to a B- because he carries the highest salary of the position players, and I think he was comparable to Ben Zobrist offensively.  Defensively, he was as good as ever, and I expect he will win the Gold Glove again.  He was better than he was last year, and he played slightly less (I think he was injured briefly).  He was pretty much their de facto right fielder, and he moved around in the batting order, but seemed to settle near the bottom of it.  He hit four more home runs and drove in ten more runs than last year, and raised his batting average 29 points.  But the numbers are still nowhere near where everyone expected them to be.  J-Hey is our guy though.  He had a pathetic postseason, like everyone else.   

Addison Russell: B+

Here we have to get into DV again, as discussed in last year's post with re: Aroldis Chapman.  Addison did NOT serve a suspension, but was accused of DV, and got divorced.  He then became injured and played in 41 less games this season.  His numbers really weren't that great, and he doesn't deserve a B+, but he's still Addison Russell, and he still is a great clutch hitter.  I gotta think the DV affected his game--but actually, his batting average was a weak .238 last year (he was just one point better this year).  He did have that 95 RBI stat though, down to 43 this year (but again, 41 less games played).  He was actually terrible in the NLCS (really, everyone was), but respectable in the NLDS.  Still you keep Russell and Baez together, just like you keep Rizzo and Bryant together.  You have a pretty good thing going with that infield.

Javy Baez: A-

I'm really just boosting Javy Baez from a B+ last year to an A- this year because he had 9 more home runs and 16 more RBI.  He also had 13 more hits, and the exact same batting average.  He struck out a lot more this year than last year, though.  He is fantastic in the field and should be considered a Gold Glove candidate.  He wasn't an All-Star last year, but he should be next year.  He really sucked in the playoffs, too, but those 2 home runs in Game 4 of the NLCS prevent him from getting dinged for it.  He was a difference maker in that game, at least.

Kyle Schwarber: C+

Now it might have been a bit inflated to give Kyle Schwarber an A+ last year, but for his sample size and the intangible effect of his World Series entrance, it made sense.  Schwarber is still a big power guy, and he hit 30 home runs this year.  But his batting average stayed below .200 most of the year and he barely got it up to .211 by the end.  He also didn't fare very well in the field (whatever happened to him being a catcher?).  I guess it's too late to switch back.  In any case, he would be a fantastic DH.  I would imagine that's going to be a subject of speculation, as I've only seen brief notes, suggesting the Cubs may be willing to deal a few of their formerly untouchable players--one of whom was Schwarber.  People will still love Kyle Schwarber, and his postseason was not great by any stretch, but semi-respectable.  Take him or leave him, he is still a legend here, and he should not be dispatched unceremoniously. 

Kyle Hendricks: A

The other Kyle, the one that has rose from obscurity into Cy Young runner-up status in 2016, had a respectable 2016, though the numbers don't look quite as appealing. He got better as the year went on, and he was still the guy that people wanted to hold the ball in big games.  He didn't have it the same way he did last year, and nobody really did.  He wasn't an All-Star in 2016, either.  Hendricks is still my favorite pitcher on the team.  He should never be let go unless he starts seeking Jon Lester money.  He seems to be under team control for the next few seasons.  He was still paid under $1 million this season.  He didn't set the world on fire quite like last year, but fans of the team know that he still inspired more confidence than any of the alternatives.

Jake Arrieta: A-

Jake wasn't the same as he was in 2016 (and certainly not like he was in 2015), and he suffered that famous hamstring injury, but he turned in a respectable performance this season, getting a very memorable win in Game 4 of the NLCS.  Famously (Jake was clearly the most famous Cub this year--not (Bryzzo)--I digress), that game may have been the last one pitched in a Cubs uniform.  It's weird.  From like everything I have read, approximately zero people expect Jake to remain on the team next year.  He is going to look for Jon Lester money.  Whether or not the Cubs pay it may depend upon the alternatives available in the marketplace, but it really doesn't feel like that will happen.  If so, I will miss Jake, but not his politics (he posted a really awful tweet on Election Day).  I still have his jersey t-shirt, and I'll still admire him as a competitor, and I don't doubt that he will remain one of the fiercest in the league over the next several years.  Just watch the walks, sometimes.

Jon Lester: B

When you look at Jon Lester's career with the Red Sox, it's not surprising that he got a contract like he did.  He had approximately one bad year there.  He passed 200 IP every season but one, and that was 191.  He passed 200 in 2015 and 2016, too.  He was absolutely phenomenal last year (really--people wonder about the difference between these two teams, and why it seem fated for the Cubs to win--just look at the numbers of their top 3 guys).  He truly had an A+ season along with Kyle Hendricks, and Arrieta not far behind. Actually he did much worse than in 2015, which was viewed as a slight disappointment (again, by the numbers).  Really, I think they are inflated due to a couple very poor outings, where he was shelled for 8 runs in the first inning or two.  I remember turning on the game about thirty or forty minutes after it started, and seeing that it was still in the first inning, that the opponent (I forget who) had 8 runs, and he was walking off the mound in the most dejected manner imaginable.  There were flashes of the Jon Lester of the recent past.  2016 was his best year yet.  He had some trouble, but when it got time for the playoffs, he was ready to go, and he pitched very, very well.  He will battle with Hendricks for the top of the rotation, and they provide a solid 1-2 punch at the top, with this next guy rounding out the top 3.  Some people seem to think that Lester is "aging" and while yes, I have felt a difference in my own body between 32 and 34, I have every reason to believe and that Lester could be back in 2016 (or at least 2015) form next year.
Jose Quintana: B+

He probably deserves an A-, but he gets dinged for the NLCS.  He pitched very well in 14 regular season starts, and if he can replicate that performance, the Cubs are going to pretty set with their pitching.  I really only saw him pitch a few times and I have to say I was disappointed in the playoffs.  But it was tough to be perfect against a team of hitters like the Dodgers.  In short, picking up Jose Quintana was the biggest move the Cubs made all year, and it wasn't just done with one season in mind (unlike Aroldis).  Next year will be crucial for Quintana, an absolutely solid #3 starter.

John Lackey: B-

John Lackey didn't come here for a haircut, and he'll leave with another World Series ring, and a solid end to a storied career.  Lester is to the Red Sox as Lackey is to the Angels.  He will likely retire, people seem to be saying.  But who knows?  Would they bring him back on a one year contract?  He gave up a ton of home runs.  He was something of a liability on the mound.  Maybe as a #5 starter.  In any case, they need a #4 starter.

Joe Maddon: A-

Joe Maddon will be back to manage next year, and the vast majority of Cubs fans are happy with that.  People are expressing shock that Chris Bosio was just fired as pitching coach, supposedly to make way for Jim Hickey.  I'm not sure how much Bosio or Maddon are to blame for some of the pitching decisions, but a new pitching coach can't hurt.  You can't say Bosio was a bad coach in 2016 with the way the staff performed.  My brother[-in-law] intensely dislikes Maddon.  He is in the minority.  Sometimes I understand why he feels that way.  He is too wacky (note that I, and many others I am sure, adore him for said wackiness--"I like crazy").  Look no further than the 2 ejections in the NLCS.  He was vindicated by the umpire that made the call the next day, but he almost seems to relish opportunities to grandstand like that.  I am definitely a Joe Maddon fan.

Nevertheless, he piloted a team that is best described as "Zombie Cubs."  Zombie Cubs somehow stumbled their way into game 5 of the NLCS.  They were absolutely terrible, but they kept going and going, eking out victories here and there.  As mentioned earlier, NLDS Game 5 should rightfully go down as one of the greatest playoff games in baseball history.  It had all the drama of World Series Game 7 last year.  It was a fun (and painful) game to watch.  As was NLCS Game 4.  It wasn't quite as dramatic, and it was a lot more fun to watch, because we had all basically already given up anyways.  Nobody is giving up on them next year.  I think the main problem they have to deal with is cynicism.  Cynicism with their brand and their relentless commercialism.  Raising ticket prices, probably making beers $1 more next year.  I try to ignore that stuff when I watch the team.  I just appreciate what they've been able to put together.  It has been a lot of fun to get so deeply involved in the playoffs with your own team.  I was in Paris in 2003, and 2007 and 2008 were over before they started, which I think was the case in 1998, too.  These last 3 years have been an amazing time to be a Cubs fan.  I expect next year should be as well.               

Monday, October 16, 2017

Chicago Marathon - October 8, 2017

I ran the Chicago Marathon again because of my sister. This time, instead of teaming up with my younger brother to challenge me, she picked her wife, my sister-in-law.  My brother had no interest in doing it again.  The lottery drawing seemed like it was much earlier this year.  They both got in; I didn't. And I wrestled for about two months with whether or not to do it, coupled with a job change that dramatically impacted the decision.  I don't want to get into that here.  Suffice to say, I made training more of a priority than my boss thought it should be.

And yet I trained far less this year.  My total mileage was down overall.  Perhaps I thought I was "over-training" in 2015, but I have to believe that losing weight plays a factor.  I lost about 20 pounds during the course of training in 2015, got down to about 140.  This year, I lost about 10-15 pounds, and doubt I even got down to 150, more like 155.  So carrying 10-15 extra pounds of weight has to be a factor.

And the other factor was the night before the race.  I couldn't sleep.  I took the natural sleep aid included as part of the swag bag from the Expo, and even after I had trouble passing out, I didn't take an Ambien.  I don't think I took Ambien in 2015.  I've been trying to wean myself off it, but certain times I just know I will have trouble sleeping and I take it, and this should have been one of those times.  I slept about an hour, maybe 90 minutes, from 1:30 to 3:00.  Then I couldn't fall back asleep after going to the bathroom and laid awake, anxiously hoping up to the very end to get just 15 minutes of semi-consciousness.  But the alarm went off at 5 AM, and I cursed myself mercilessly and began to get ready.  

I also wanted to make a total side-note here and talk about how I make excuses.  And how it's bullshit when people say, "Excuses, excuses," or "stop making excuses."  No, fuck you.  I will make my fucking excuses on my blog and you can take them or leave them.  There are perfectly valid reasons for everything I have done, and yet the result of them all is complete shit.  My intentions have always been pure.  I can't truly say, "but I did everything right!"  But I've dramatically lowered my expectations about the sort of future I wish to have.  Side-note over. 

So I couldn't sleep, I didn't lose as much weight, and I didn't put in as much mileage.  Also, I was on a 13-days-straight doc review project from September 18-30 in which I put in 125 hours sitting at a desk, and about 6-7 running the 606 and Lake Shore Path.  I really only tapered a week before the race in 2015.  This time it was more like three. 

These four excuses are necessary for me to maintain the illusion that I did not just run a 4:06:18 marathon rather than a 3:57:46 because I was two years older, and experiencing signs of the inevitable decay of my body in a numerically ascertainable form.

That's the first story.
The second story is that I ran for charity.  Because I didn't get in through the lottery, and because I can't run a 3:15 marathon (or 3:45 for women), I would have to run for charity.  I looked at the available options, decided that homelessness would be my pet issue, and selected La Casa Norte.  LCN is, in the words of our team leader (who graciously assisted in the editing of the sole e-mail blast, titled "This is a Marathon, Not a Sprint"), "an organization whose mission is to serve youth and families confronting homelessness by providing access to stable housing and delivering comprehensive support services."

I don't want to to get too deeply into the details of the fundraising experience--I want to get to the race--but suffice to say I could write a lot about it and will be happy to talk to anyone that would like more information on what it is like to run for a charity, and what my team experience was like.

The one thing that came out of the fundraising were the results of the aforementioned e-mail.  I sent out that e-mail September 27, a little less than two weeks before the race.  I had raised $500, and I needed $1,500.  I started to get worried that I wouldn't make it, and that I'd be liable for the shortfall.  But I sent it out and within 12 hours, I had close to $1,000.  I sent a targeted message to about 140 people that I had known over the years and singled them out as special in some way to me.  Only one of them wrote to ask to kindly be removed.

And several complimented me on the e-mail itself.  For me, it felt like a trademark piece, a flash of the panache with which I used to write.  One friend told me that I had a future in fundraising, and it got me thinking a little bit about starting a 501(c)(3).  We'll see how that goes.

At the moment, my fundraising total sits at $1,434.  I have until Halloween to get that last $66.  I have no problem paying it myself as I have not made a donation in my own name to LCN.  I would have to pay $195 to register.  However, I do think I should be entitled to compensation for my efforts, in whatever form that may take. 

The experience of writing thank you letters to each donor was quite special as well.  Sometimes I think I went over the line and wrote ridiculous notes, such as the one to my friend Annie, which was the latest to come.  It actually gives me a bit of anxiety, like, okay, now I've got to convince them that their donation was worth it.  It was a challenging and educational endeavor, and though I would prefer to run without the additional stress of fundraising anxiety, it has inspired me to think more broadly about charitable work.  To everyone that is reading this, and donated, thank you again for being part of this beautiful collaboration.
The last story is the race.  To continue from the first story, I woke at 5:00 AM.  I hit snooze and probably didn't get up until 5:20 or 5:30, and this put me into a stressful situation all morning, worrying that I would be late to my corral (F).  If I wasn't there by 7:45, I'd have to start at the back.  I ate an everything bagel with cream cheese, maybe a tiny bit of cereal, a Clif bar, and some orange juice or apple juice.  I showered and changed and grabbed my really heavy gear check bag (I put way too much in it this year) and headed to the El around 6:15 or 6:30.  As usual, the train ride had a special energy to it, with most of the other riders also running.  I got off at Jackson, and got to Grant Park, and tried to make my way to the blue gear check.  This took forever.  There were a particular hold-up (that I didn't recall in 2015) at the top of the stairs near the Art Institute.  This was standard procedure, and not necessarily an enhanced measure in light of the recent tragic events in Las Vegas, but memories of the Boston tragedy, and reports that the Vegas shooter had booked a room overlooking Grant Park during Lollapalooza in August, loomed at a distance.

Once I passed security, I walked, quickly, to my the blue gear check, which was very far from the start corral.  I put it in (and I didn't do my tag properly, but I trusted the attendant to fix it right for me), but not before I took a swig from my Nalgene to swallow an Adderrall.  I had mentioned this to my roommate the night before, and in an apparent moment of clarity, he cautioned strongly against it.  I knew it was wrong then, and I know it is now, but when the option is there for me, and I think it might make things easier for me, it is hard for me to resist.  Perhaps that can be excuse #5 and abstinence from that medication which I take most days anyways will improve future performance.  I also had a 5 hour energy drink, which I had gotten from the Expo as a free sample--I swigged that after I got to the corral.  I vaguely wanted to go to the bathroom, but the lines were too long, and it was getting late.  I got a pack of Gatorade energy gummies at a kiosk for free (which I kept in my pocket, along with a few pieces of gum).  I also got, and took, an energy gel there.  (I had also eaten an energy bar on the El ride).   

I was worried about getting to the start corral in time, but I arrived there somewhere in the 7:20's.  It felt like a long wait.  Our wave would go off at 8.  I moved around, trying to find an interesting group to be around for the actual start, sitting down at moments, stretching a little bit (I never stretch because I am too lazy, but it definitely feels good and seems to help--at least stretching the night after the marathon dramatically helped me get into work the next day).  I ended up near a team representing Brazil, because sometimes I feel more comfortable around foreigners than Americans.

The start of the race was announced, and we began moving, and I put on the start of my playlist as I crossed the starting line at roughly 8:02.  I used the same playlist I used in 2015--with a few modifications.  I could write out all the songs again and discuss the slight changes, but I'll leave that to your imagination this time.  Suffice to say, 2015's had 72 songs, and this one had 64, and it ended when I had about a mile left to go.  I had to skip ahead to hit the ending songs as I finished in 2015.  Still I think this is an improved playlist and will be happy to share with anyone that is interested.

As for the actual race, the opening minutes held the same sort of excitement and exuberance that I felt in 2015.  Truly, the opening of the Chicago Marathon is one of its greatest moments.  The mile or so spent traversing the downtown area is easily the most exhilarating part of the race.  From there, the race continues north, and even passes right by the Goethe statue!

Now I love Goethe, and I love his statue at Diversey and Canon Dr.  I would often run past it as I made my way down Diversey en route to the Lake Shore Path.  I noticed that very few people were standing there and I reflected that in the future, I would ask any friends to wait there for me to say hi, and then proceed to the finishing area, stopping perhaps somewhere else along the way.  Instead, I saw my family a little bit later.

Now because I was running for charity, my shirt said JACK.  Maybe you can see it in the horrible cell phone camera shot of a computer screen photo below of me at the finish line.

So a lot of people were shouting, "Go Jack!"  Which was nice, it was, but then when my sister shouted it, it didn't register, and somehow she got my attention.  She got two pictures of me--one where I was oblivious, and one where I realized it was her and turned back and waved:

I like the second one better.

Later, I saw my friend Chuck and his wife Anne, and their two twin boys.  I didn't know he would be there and he didn't know I would be there.  I noticed them and noticed he didn't see me and I shouted "Chuck!" and got his attention and it was kind of a hilarious and surreal moment.

Later I saw my friend Juan across from the UIC Blue Line stop.  I knew he would be somewhere, but not there, and it was immediately apparent where he was and I stopped to hug him and told him to have a good day and continued on my way.

I felt good the whole way, no real problems, up through mile 18.  And things didn't necessarily get bad there, but it was a turning point of sorts.  I would say around mile 20 and 21 is where things got bad.  You always know it's going to get bad, and I'd tell people if I could get to mile 22 before that hit, I could probably do it.

But man, was it ever bad.  Pilsen is the last great moment of the course.  The neighborhood gets into it.  It's still fun there.  But then you get to Chinatown and die.  And the rest of the course after Chinatown is just brutal.  It's right out in the sun, there is no kind of shade at all.  And this day got hot.  It got up to about 82 degrees by the time I finished around 12:08.

As for the race, I will just say that the last mile was significantly harder for me than the last mile in 2015.  When I saw the last 1000 M sign, it felt like it was going to be a piece of cake.  Then I went forever, and I was like, okay, that sign up there must be like, the last 500 M sign.  Nope. 800 M sign.  It was a very difficult ending.  I became angry at the race, like they were making me feel like I was closer to the end than I really was, that they were purposefully torturing me.

I crossed the finish line and immediately said to myself that I would never do it again.  I staggered around, drinking the first free beer, and several volunteers offered me assistance, which I declined.  I staggered over to a photo area and got this picture taken:
The next guy to get his picture taken was telling the camerawoman about how he had just gotten the exact same time as he had gotten 16 years earlier.

This is the final picture I will post.  It was taken in Chinatown.  It is my favorite picture because it looks like I am blowing kisses to the crowd.  If I ever do the Chicago Marathon again, I will promise many more kisses for the crowd:

I don't think I have much more to say about it except to say that it was a wild ride, and even though I told myself it was just stupid to run marathons and I would never willingly put myself through that specific, sharp pain upon completion again, found myself looking at the registration dates for 2018 (October 24).

One final note: I availed myself of the free medal engraving services at the Fleet Feet in Lincoln Square, and I would like to call attention to the quality of the engraving from this year, alongside the engraving in 2015:

To this I have to say, Fleet Feet, step up your medal engraving game, and Bank of America, leave three lines on the back again.

Also: Go Cubs!


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Al Franken: Giant of the Senate - Al Franken (2017)

This is the second post about politics in as many months.  Perhaps it being 2017 has something to do with that.  People have their ways to speak out about various issues through social media, and this is mine.  I do not engage in prolonged persuasive argument, nor condemnations via Facebook status updates against the scores of politicians and other bad actors that commit atrocious acts every other week, or day.  While I do find many of their actions hilariously terrible, I write about them by writing about books by Democratic Senators.

I am referring, of course, to Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Ted Cruz.  I do not need to say that Trump is the worst president in history.  He is just hilariously terrible.  Hopefully no major damage will be done by his administration.  Many will say, "C'mon man, how can you say that?  What do you call the travel ban?"  And sure there's that, and probably a number of other things that have already been actively changed for the worse.  My point is, he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and he can't seem to get the votes, so we can hope that his term will be mired in the same gridlock that compromised so many of the bills passed by the Obama administration.

Franken tells that story in a very effective way.  The obvious thing to do here is compare it to This Fight is Our Fight.  Giant of the Senate is a better book.  Warren specializes in financial policy, so it makes sense that she needs to make a little extra effort with the reader.  Franken supports Warren on the vast majority of issues (I would be interested to see if they voted the same way on every bill).  He does not, however, purport to be any kind of expert on financial regulation.  Like Warren, he writes about how his previous career informed, and continues to inform, his political career.  He writes saliently about many of his pet issues (minute details of the ACA, especially) and outdoes Warren in the departments of readability and creativity.  And we always have to go here too--everyone wants Elizabeth Warren to run for President, and she's made it clear she doesn't want that, but what about Franken?  No one ever talks about him running for President.  He says nothing whatsoever to suggest that he would like to run.  Nor does he say why he wouldn't.  

Considering the book on its own, it's quite good and highly recommend it.  Like the recently-reviewed NYC 200's oral history, I did not want it to end.  Okay, it wasn't quite the same--I didn't enjoy it quite as much.  However, it was much more consistent.  They're completely different books.  I don't know what I am doing.  I wanted to excerpt one thing about the ACA, because Franken explained something about the Supreme Court decision in 2012 that I never really knew or understood (how Justice Roberts struck down certain provisions of the law) even though I wrote an extensive feature on the various opinions issued by the Court for my school newspaper.  Franken's tone is less of a teacher and more of a regular guy acerbic comedian that went to Harvard who just tells you how things worked:

"But Chief Justice John Roberts, custodian of the Court's reputation, knew that killing health care reform with a third highly partisan, legally dubious, and immediately impactful 5-4 decision on the heels of Bush v. Gore and Citizens United might undermine any remaining confidence in the Court's integrity once and for all.  So Roberts voted with the liberals, agreeing that the mandate was constitutional.  But he picked a different rationale, concluding that the mandate was allowable because the penalty it imposed on people who didn't buy insurance was really a tax, which Congress is empowered by the Constitution to implement.
Roberts's reasoning was so weird that Supreme Court reporters from both CNN and Fox News initially reported the ruling wrong.
Also, critically, Roberts's decision included a drive-by shooting: It eliminated the requirement that states use federal dollars to expand their Medicaid programs, which would have helped cover millions more low-income Americans.
An expert marksman, Roberts had aimed directly at the ACA's foot, weakening the law before it could go into effect.  Republicans hadn't succeeded in getting the Court to block Obamacare, but they could take solace in the fact that Chief Justice Roberts had made it less good." (258)

On the subject of health care, there is another example early on that underscores why the Affordable Care Act makes sense.  Here I will pause briefly to say that, I do not like the ACA because I consider the premium for my exchange plan very high ($366), having known what it's like to have excellent employer-provided coverage ($30, pre-tax).  Franken describes how the U.S. health care system is analogous to the Cambodian system (for those without a job that gives them insurance), and he does it so well as to be nearly immune to criticism:

"The day after the announcement, I visited a health clinic in Minnesota where my friend Dr. Margie Hogan worked.  I spent time meeting with health care providers and patients and listening to some of the horror stories that were commonplace before the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
One of the stories Margie told me became a mainstay of my stump speech.  It involved an incredibly promising seventeen-year-old girl from a Hmong* family who was doing college-level work as a junior in high school.  But she had lupus.  And her family earned just enough money to no longer qualify for MinnesotaCare, a program that covered low-income families in the state.  The girl lost her health insurance.
Lupus is a chronic disease, and the medication that controls it is extremely expensive.  The girl told her parents to stop buying it so they could afford to take care of the other kids in the family.  It broke their hearts, but she was right: They couldn't afford the medicine, not with everything else weighing on the family budget.  So they stopped buying it.
The next time Margie saw the girl was six weeks later, back in the hospital.  But this time, she was in the emergency room, suffering from renal failure.  She had to be put on dialysis, and doctors thought she might have to be on dialysis for the rest of her life.
'Now, that's wrong,' I would tell crowds that had invariably gone quiet by this point in the story.  'But it's not just wrong--it's stupid!  How much is it going to cost our system to give her dialysis throughout her life?  And how much is this going to cost her, in terms of her potential and her quality of life?'" (80-81)

That asterisk goes on to describe the Hmong people (random aside: isn't the kid's family in Gran Torino Hmong?) and is also the major point of my criticism: the asterisks are too small!  Clearly, I can see when each page has footnotes, but I would always miss the asterisk in the body of the text itself and search for sometimes like 30 seconds to see which part Franken was joking about or explaining further.

There are a ton of jokes in this book and that is one of the ways it is most refreshing.  Because Franken writes a lot about how he has not taken most of the opportunities he has gotten as a Senator to be funny, and he seems to have been holding his breath for the past 8 years, and finally this is like a big vomit pool of jokes.  I was kind of excited when Franken got elected because I thought he would bring more humor to various political events, but he hasn't done that very much.  He does in this book, however, and he also mentions every time he tried to be funny and how it backfired.

Those above quotes about health care also make me want to mention Mitt Romney. Because part of what makes this book good is Franken's willingness to point out the few redeeming qualities his Republican colleagues possess.   I have never heard anybody complain about Romneycare, and regardless of how much credit he is due for that piece of legislation, it appears to be the gold standard in the American health care system:

"What would a conservative solution to the 'Cambodian system' problem look like?  Well, actually, a lot like Obamacare.  The three-legged stool model, in fact, had originated with the very conservative Heritage Foundation, and had been enacted in Massachusetts under a Republican governor with the improbable name of Mitt.  Where, by the way, it worked extremely well: Romneycare now covers 97 percent of Bay Staters, and both Democrats and Republicans there intend to keep it intact, no matter what Trump and my Republican colleagues do to Obamacare between the time I finish this book and the time you read it." (250-251)

This is the beginning of the change I hope to see develop in this country over the next few years.  Democrats never give Republicans credit for anything, and Republicans never give Democrats credit for anything, but Franken recognizes that we need to focus on our commonalities rather than our differences.  This is most effectively established in his "64 Percent Rule" chapter.  Most of this is spent discussing No Child Left Behind and amendments thereto.  It comes across more generally throughout the rest of the book as well.  Franken is very good at "reaching across the aisle."  Even though he humiliates several Republican members of Congress, he generally has something nice to say about them to offset the opprobrium.  This is not the case for Ted Cruz.  Notwithstanding that, he still refers to Cruz as "extremely smart," a "gifted speaker" and a brilliant advocate at oral argument in the Supreme Court.  The chapter "Sophistry" details many of their encounters and is one of the true highlights of the book.  In particular, the whole joke about the Carnival cruise line incident is very memorable.


Okay, big mistake.  This is the worst mistake I have made on this blog in years.  I had written a whole other long section of this review, and I think it may have been the best part.  It touched on how this book was also notable because it could be classed in the same category as books like Bossypants.  It touched on the fact that I saw Ted Cruz on CNN yesterday, doing an interview segment from Houston, and expressing that Texas did not have enough disaster relief funding, and how that is one issue that is non-partisan.  Still, NPR could not help bringing up climate change and asking if the storm was caused by it.  Their scientist said it couldn't be directly attributed to it, but more moisture will generally form as the air gets warmer.  I compared it to Katrina and basically forgot about the more recent underfunded disaster Sandy, maybe because I was in a part of Brooklyn largely shielded from it.  I think we can all agree that Katrina was more devastating.  Yet the point was made that Sandy was more devastating, and many Texas congressmen (35 out of 36) voted against additional funding for Sandy relief effort.  So yes, we could think that disaster relief will become a partisan issue too, depending on the state that is being affected.

And I excerpted the second half of a section about a joke Franken made about the Supreme Leader of Iran.  During a hearing, when his turn came, he said something like, "I'd like to question the Supreme Leader, whom I like to refer to as Supreme Being, a few questions..." Everybody thought this was hilarious, and it is funny, but the story of how Chuck Schumer botched the joke with President Obama is funnier.  I regret that the book was due at the library today and I finished up yesterday, thinking it was close to complete--or at least complete with excerpts, because I needed to include one that was actually funny.  On the subjects of botched jokes and Ted Cruz again, the line where he suggests changing "difficult" to "challenging" (as an adjective for "cruise") was probably the funniest moment of the book for me.

I didn't hit "save" last night, maybe because I was interrupted by a door-to-door canvasser for an alternative energy supplier (Constellation) that led me down a 30 minute rabbit hole and no small bit of consternation.  I am not going to write about that but it was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life.  So that is my excuse.

I ended on a very "book review ending" note.  I assessed the work as a whole, and I mentioned that Franken was unique because he was the one politician that was actually funny.  Somehow, I linked to reviews of both of Warren's books for some proposition that I forget.  I believe I mentioned that he did not have as specific ideas as Warren when it came to re-allocating government funds.  For the life of me I cannot recall what idea led to that statement.  Like, I wasn't saying Warren wasn't funny, but acknowledging that her career as a law professor did not prepare her as well as Franken's for writing funny books.  There is a little bit of Kurt Vonnegut in Franken's literary style, and it is refreshing to witness a lawmaker write about serious issues and still maintain a certain ironic distance to capture the absurdity of the situation.  This quality makes Franken an effective writer, speaker, inquisitor, leader, and whatever other nouns might be relevant.  Most importantly though, he hates lying politicians.  People hate politics because they hate all the lying.  Franken calls out a ton of it in this book, and it's always infuriating and ridiculous.  So that's ultimately why Franken is such a likable political figure.  It never feels like he's feeding you any B-S line.  If he did, he would self-consciously admit that it was a B-S line.

Except the line about Mitch McConnell snorting milk out of his nose from laughing so hard with him.  I think I only know he meant that satirically by hearing him mention that on a podcast.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Days of Abandonment - Elena Ferrante (2002) (Transl. Ann Goldstein)

About a year ago, after seeing Suicide Squad, my longest-time friend started talking about this Italian author who wrote under a pseudonym, raving in particular about her novel concerning a woman being left by her husband.  I forgot the name of the writer--but there were enough details to remember (female, Italian, pseudonym) that I could piece together who she was.

I finally got around to picking up The Days of Abandonment in late June, and took it with me on a recent trip to New York.  Just as we were landing in New York, my seat neighbor inquired if the book was good, and I recited the above regarding the recommendation.  He told me he had read My Brilliant Friend and the other trilogy.  I told him I was surprised it was published in 2002, but that I hadn't heard of it until now.  He said he thought it was because Hollywood had come knocking.

The Days of Abandonment is a first-person narrative from the perspective of Olga, a 38-year-old mother of two (Gianni and Illaria), recently left by her husband, Mario.  To get more detailed, Mario leaves her for a younger woman, the identity of whom is unexpected, and sort of obvious at the same time.  Olga basically falls apart, and the novel is about her going crazy.  It culminates in a sort of nightmare day from the hell, after which she gains some form of clarity on her situation.

Ultimately, it is a very satisfying novel, and sprinkled with that sort of European attention to detail and simplicity of style that feels effortless.  The opening line is a perfect example, immediately reminiscent of another European master (Camus):

"One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me." (9)

Okay, that is not nearly as simple as the opening of The Stranger, but that same sense of the immediate impact of sorrow is struck.  The novel takes the shape of 47 relatively short chapters of varying length, which feel more like sketches of scenes.  It seems to take place over the course of six months, but the primary action in the novel is the day that comes right around month four (Saturday, August 4th), chapter 18 - 34, pp. 88-151.  A great deal of this section has to do with the locks on the front door.  She manages to lock herself and her family inside of their apartment because she cannot undo the locks.  She has a special set installed, with two keyholes that have to be turned just right.  As a person that has had to call a locksmith to get into his apartment after his key broke off in the door, at least once, maybe twice, I could identify highly with this section.  However, it goes a little bit too far!  Here is one example I randomly flipped to:

"But I knew immediately, even before trying, that the door wouldn't open.  And when I held the key and tried to turn it, the thing that I had predicted a minute before happened.  The key wouldn't turn.
I was gripped by anxiety, precisely the wrong reaction.  I applied more pressure, chaotically.  I tried to turn the key first to the left, then to the right.  No luck.  Then I tried to take it out of the lock, but it wouldn't come out, it remained in the keyhole as if metal had fused to metal.  I beat my fists against the panels, I pushed with my shoulder, I tried the key again, suddenly my body woke up, I was consumed by desperation.  When I stopped, I discovered that I was covered with sweat.  My nightgown was stuck to me, but my teeth were chattering.  I felt cold, in spite of the heat of the day."  (117)

She has a new set of locks installed after a set of earrings from Mario's grandmother go missing.  She has a vaguely unpleasant, vaguely sexual experience with the two men installing the locks, particularly the older of the two.  The book is filled with such vignettes.  Her complicated feelings about herself as a sexual being culminate in an encounter which ends up becoming an unlikely, ambivalent romance.

Her relationship with the family dog, Otto, is also worth comment.  Otto is arguably a bigger character than either of the children, because she feels more saddled with him than the children.  It seems as if Mario was the one to get him, but does not take him with him, and she resents the additional responsibility.  But as always tends to happen, she develops a bond with the animal--however, not before a somewhat shocking incident in the park following another woman's reproach after he scares her and her baby:

"When he didn't stop I raised the branch that I had in my hand menacingly, but even then he wouldn't be silent.  This enraged me, and I hit him hard.  I heard the whistling in the air and saw his look of astonishment when the blow struck his ear.  Stupid dog, stupid dog, whom Mario had given as a puppy to Gianni and Ilaria, who had grown up in our house, had become an affectionate creature--but really he was a gift from my husband to himself, who had dreamed of a dog like that since he was a child, not something wished for by Gianni and Ilaria, spoiled dog, dog that always got its own way.  Now I was shouting at him, beast, bad dog, and I heard myself clearly, I was lashing and lashing and lashing, as he huddled, yelping, his body hugging the ground, ears low, sad and motionless under that incomprehensible hail of blows.
'What are you doing?' the woman murmured.
When I didn't answer but continued to hit Otto, she hurried away, pushing the carriage with one hand, frightened now not by the dog but by me." (54)

There could be many more things to say about this novel, but I don't believe in spoiling several of the smaller details.  For example I found this feature in the New Yorker by James Wood which covers much of the same ground of this review, but divulges a few more details.  It is also probably much better written because it was composed and edited as part of a day job, rather than a hobby masquerading as an entryway into the limited commercial landscape of art.  Suffice to say, sometimes spoilers are necessary to explain my estimation of a novel's worth, but I think the halfway point of a story is (generally) a fair boundary.  It spoils nothing to say however, that anybody who has ever been dumped or left to their own devices--especially those left in Olga's unfortunate position--will find some measure of solace in this work.  Regardless of one's perspective, there is great humanity and truth within it, and a likely catharsis for the reader.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011 - Lizzy Goodman (2017)

Meet Me in the Bathroom is an oral history of the NYC rock scene in the early 2000's.  It is about the Strokes, Interpol, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and DFA Records/The Rapture/LCD Soundsystem.  To a lesser extent, it is about the White Stripes, Kings of Leon, TV on the Radio, Vampire Weekend, Fischerspooner, Franz Ferdinand, the Killers, Ryan Adams, the National, Conor Oberst, the Vines and the Moldy Peaches.  And there are even more incidental references to other bands of the era.  It starts off with Jonathan Fire*Eater, as a precursor to the Strokes.  I had never heard of them before and I thought the Walkmen (which 1/2 of the band eventually became) were a bigger deal.

Jonathan Fire*Eater is positioned in the kind of Velvet Underground role in Please Kill Me, the first band to get mentioned out of the gate, the primary influence from which the scene sprouts.  Everybody that listened to the Velvet Underground started their own band.  Admittedly, it is a tall task to match up to VU, but JF*E do not directly influence the sound of many of the bands that are later written about, in quite the same way.  Regardless, it is an interesting way to the start the book, because it is really more about the scene in the late 1990's.  It goes right into the Strokes from there and never lets go.  This is really the Strokes book, at least in terms of myth-making and cementing their status as icons.

I am really conflicted about this but I cannot quite put it on the Best Books list.  It is really, really good, but it would basically equate it to Please Kill Me and Lexicon Devil.  And obviously, Please Kill Me is a classic, and Lexicon Devil was just a blistering experience for me.  This book was extremely entertaining though and I loved it.  I was sad when it was over, and that to me is one of the signs of a great book.  Whatever, I change my mind.  It belongs on the list with that qualification.

It is perhaps worth noting that I went to NYU in 2001 and so was the target at which so much of the buzz of these bands was aimed.  My friend Danielle burnt me a copy of Is This It.  Interpol was a band of NYU graduates (Paul Banks met Daniel Kessler at NYU in Paris, where I would be 4-5 years later).  Also in Paris, I went to see the Rapture at some festival type thing at a club in the Bois de Bologne.  We would sometimes go out dancing at Favela Chic and I remember my friend Tommy talking about them.  One night the DJ played "House of Jealous Lovers" and he was like, that's them!  It was pretty awesome, so we went to the show, and afterwards we saw the band and walked up to them with our third friend, Sarah.  We were like, "We're from New York too!"  And they were like, "Um, cool."  They weren't very interested in talking to us, so I always had kind of a weird feeling about them after, but I still got Echoes.

A fair number of the bands featured in here played $5 NYU shows, and I went to almost all of them.  I also miraculously got a press pass to the CMJ Music Marathon in the Fall of 2002, and saw many there as well.  I was there as the scene shifted from Manhattan to Brooklyn.  I read Our Band Could Be Your Life and gave it to my friends.  I  recruited about twenty of them to join a potential band, with which we had two very tentative practices.  I took guitar lessons and wanted to learn the drums.  Finally I convinced my friends to let me manage their band, and got them their first gig.  Even though I had no musical talent and could not (and still cannot) play any instruments, I wanted to be around people that did, and I wanted to get involved any way I could.  My point is, it wasn't just the Strokes, but the whole scene, that made people want to start their own bands.  That kind of situation lends itself well to an oral history.

The atmosphere of New York circa 9/11 also influenced us all.  One of the things about this book that elevates it into Best Books territory is chapter 30.  I would say that it is the finest piece of writing I have read, to date, on the subject of 9/11.  Nothing else had ever so perfectly encapsulated my experience:

Andrew VanWyngarden [MGMT]: "I was a week into my freshman year at college and that's such an impressionable stage.  I was a virgin and I was meeting all these new people and was just bright eyed and wow.  Then September 11 came and I got so deeply freaked out, paranoid, and just knocked off of my foundation of what reality was that it just totally fucked me up." (203)

There are also a ton of journalists that supply the oral history.  The book is dedicated to Marc Spitz, a voluble presence, who recently passed away.  Marc Maron is also a contributor and I have been listening to the WTF podcast a lot recently.  One of them was with Ryan Adams and my friend actually asked me to go to a Ryan Adams concert in Milwaukee right around when he dissed the Strokes on Twitter.  So this is really still topical.  Apparently Marc Maron is also putting out a book in October that follows a similar format to this, so I'll probably check that out.  Perhaps he was influenced by his experience participating in this, and realized that it is a pretty interesting way to construct a book.

David Cross also hangs out with the Strokes and there are a couple embarrassing stories that I won't recite here.  But the stuff about Ryan Adams is too funny to pass up:

Ryan Adams: "One night I was hanging with the Strokes guys and Ryan[Gentles].  We were really stoned because we were basically always smoking pot.  It was very late.  Fab would always play me a song that he had written, some beautiful romantic song.  So one night, jokingly, I'm also certain Fabby said, 'Dude, what if John Mayer was playing that guitar right now?'  And I said, 'I can make that happen.'  And they all said, 'You're full of shit.'  I said, 'Give me three fucking beers'--because there were only so many beers left at that late hour--'and I'll make it happen.  I'm a goddamn genie in a bottle.'  And we died laughing.  Now, I lived down the block from John Mayer and he'd been talking to me about his new song for a while.  So I texted him, because he was always up late back then.  I said, 'Come to this apartment.  Bring an acoustic guitar.  I really want to hear your new song.'  I didn't tell them that I'd done it.  So everyone is sitting there and I was like, 'Let's all take bong hits.'  I really wanted it to get crazy.  We smoked some bong hits; I probably did some blow.  I started to drink my three beers.  The doorbell buzzer rings and I open the door and John Mayer walks in with his fucking acoustic guitar and they were all slack jawed.  John sat down and played the fucking acoustic guitar--three or four songs that probably have gone on to be huge--while those guys just sat there staring at me like ,'Oh my god, you're a witch.'  The next day John was like, 'Hey man, next time maybe less cigarette smoke?  That really hurt my throat.'  That apartment was like an airport smoking lounge." (379)

In short, I could understand why Ryan Adams might not like the way he comes off in this story, but I finished the book more interested in him.  He's basically one of the greatest characters in the story.  He comes up in his own way, as he arguably peaked in his popularity with the video for "New York, New York," which was released at almost the exact same time as Is This It, basically on 9/11, or maybe a week or two later.  But he mostly comes up as a friend to, and a potential "bad influence" on, the Strokes.  Most others are candid about their drug use, and also use the excuse that 9/11 bestowed upon the city a kind of desperate party-because-we're-going-to-die atmosphere.  One reads a book like Meet Me in the Bathroom because it has the kind of gossip that you don't usually read about except in really unguarded stories in Spin or Rolling Stone or on Pitchfork.  It is also good for correcting inaccuracies that are awkward to kind of mention out of the blue, but fit perfectly with the subject matter.  One of the most striking is about the LCD Soundsystem song "Someone Great."  Now, many people really love this song, and I think most consider it the second best song off Sound of Silver after "All My Friends."  It also supplies a sizable piece of "45:33" (which I actually bought).  Everybody says that this song is about mourning a lost lover.  But I found the truth even more touching:

Tyler Brodie: "Do you know about the therapist?  I never met him, I don't even know his name, but I do know LCD's "Someone Great" was later written about him."

Tim Goldsworthy: "That's not about a love affair.  That was written the day that James's therapist died." (265)

James Murphy apparently did therapy three times a week.  The book also touches on "Beat Connection," which gave me occasion to play it just now, and I have to say it is a really great song.  I think Murphy sounds more like Mark E. Smith on it than on "Losing My Edge," though he is more on rant mode in that song.

The book is just filled with interesting stories and I think it would appeal to a general audience even if the reader doesn't know very much about the bands themselves.  There are also little tidbits about the realities of life as a musician that is yet to "make it" that are particularly amusing.  Take, for example, this nugget of truth that I appreciated as the purveyor of MEP:

Chris Taylor: "When I first moved to Brooklyn, Chris Bear, who plays drums in our band, moved into the same loft as me; we built it together.  We were in this band, and at that age when you really have the energy and ambition to do all of this.  There's just things that you don't care about that allow you to be free and experimental and take big risks and live in a dirty place and you don't give a shit.  Rent was really cheap, $600 a month.  Chris and I were vegetarians because it was cheaper--we cooked rice and beans so many nights.  We priced it out.  We knew the cost of the beans and the cost of the rice and we bought the onions and we're like, 'Okay, cool, this whole food element of life is under five bucks.'  We can buy a Yuengling, which was like a dollar fifty, which was definitely a choice beer at that time, and that was enough.  You find a cheap bike, so you don't even have to take the subway.  That and some money for weed, that was your budget.  That was all you needed."

Dave Sitek: "It was so cheap that you could afford to take risks and fail.  If you failed at what you were doing it didn't matter because you were in Williamsburg.  If you failed in Manhattan, it was different."

Eleanor Friedberger: I rode my bike everywhere.  I got all of these amazing jobs that were so easy and stupid.  I would work these office jobs, then go out every night, and I could afford to pay my rent" (310-311)

Speaking of Eleanor Friedberger, she really only has one revealing story, which involves the period when she was dating Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand.  I don't know if there will be a "deluxe edition" of Meet Me in the Bathroom that comes out in 20 years (the way Please Kill Me was later supplemented), but I would read it if there were chapters on the Fiery Furnaces, and other bands like Liars and !!!.  That is one of the primary criticisms I have of the book.  It could have been even bigger and better.  Actually there is a brief mention of the Fiery Furnaces record deal.  And this classic bomb she casually drops:

Eleanor Friedberger: "It only seemed weird that bands like the Strokes and Interpol were around at the same time as us when they started doing so well and I thought they were so bad.  I just didn't give a shit about that stuff." (315)

Oh snap, Eleanor lays it down!  Of course no one is obligated to like everything, but she is pretty much the only one in the book that says she didn't like those bands.  It would be nice if Julian Casablancas tweeted, "Sad @eleanorfriedberger, I love your music :(," and if she replied, "Okay I guess Room on Fire is pretty okay :)."  But I doubt that will happen. 

Vampire Weekend signals the beginning of the end of the book.  There is a special place in my heart for them, as the subject of one of the earliest posts on Flying Houses.  I think that review is a little bit harsh, and I partially disavow it.  And actually I think they have gotten better with each album and believe that they delivered on their early promise.  Nevertheless, I am not the only one who cannot resist poking fun:

Laura Young: "I was there [at the Strokes' Madison Square Garden show in 2011].  I had seats but I traded with somebody so I could be in the pit.  I thought, 'I know I'm a little bit too old for this but I'm going anyway.'  I remember seeing these kids that were fifteen years old.  I was either talking to them or overhearing them and they were saying, 'This is the first time I'm seeing the Strokes.  I listened to them all through elementary school and middle school.'  It was so cool to see them there and so excited.  I don't know, maybe somewhere, somehow, years from now Vampire Weekend will do some kind of reunion show, but I can't imagine young kids being there saying, 'I love Vampire Weekend so much.  I'm so excited about them.  I've been listening to them since elementary school.'  And if they are, they should be punched in the face." (589-590)

The story of their band is one of the most boring in the book, primarily because they all seem to have their lives together.  The reason why I think I hated them so much before is because everything just seemed sort of effortless and easy for them.  I doubt that was true, and the story of how Ezra Koenig lived with Dave Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors and all these other people in this quasi-bohemian house-studio is pretty interesting.

I haven't really talked about Interpol and they are a major part of the book as well.  Paul Banks is quite entertaining in almost everything he says.  Even though he sounds like he's really serious and kind of weird from his lyrics and singing, he is extremely self-effacing and claims to have no talent.

Paul Banks: "...'Like now to college kids, we're old people?!  How the fuck did that happen?'  I don't feel like I look that different but apparently I'm an old guy now.  You know, I'm the guy trying to pick up eighteen-year-olds.  'Hey, kids, want some reefer?'  Just kidding." (575)

The gaping hole in this book is Carlos D.  He is often talked about--many myths are made about him--so his absence as a contributor feels all the more striking.  He maintains an air of mystery.

In almost every other dimension, however, Meet Me in the Bathroom feels very complete and authoritative.  On third thought I don't think I'm going to add it to the Best Books list--but it was definitely the best book I read in the past year.  I'm not sure I'll read it again, but I think everyone should at least read it once.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America's Middle Class - Elizabeth Warren (2017)

I've written a fair amount about Elizabeth Warren already in the review for A Fighting Chance.  So I will direct you there for background.  Here, all I will add is that, I got this book from the library when a friend was visiting, and after briefly discussing more serious literature (Elena Ferrante), I revealed that I had gotten this book out at the same time as The Days of Abandonment, and laughed, and he laughed.  I then explained that something about the book seemed a bit disappointing.  But that was only in the first 20 pages or so, and my opinion evolved.  I explained not to get me wrong, I love EW, but the message just seemed to be more of the same.  Is it a sequel to A Fighting Chance?  And does she always have to use "fight" in the title, and be so combative about things?  I agree with pretty much everything she says, but there didn't seem to be much that was "new" about it.

Now as I said my opinion evolved, and I actually ended up enjoying this book very much.  But as a pure reading experience, it is not as essential as A Fighting Chance.  In general, that book was much more entertaining.  This is not to say that This Fight is Our Fight is boring, but it does tend to focus on Washington DC and its relationship to big business.  There are still a few personal stories sprinkled throughout, but A Fighting Chance feels more like an autobiography and This Fight is Our Fight feels more like a position statement.  

Still, just three years later, life is radically different in 2017 than it was 2014, or at least seems to be that way.  So, much of this is an update on the situations that Warren explored in her previous book.  But yes, a great deal of this is directed at Donald Trump (which now I guess will have to be added to my tags/labels--the floodgates have opened).  Trump is one of the main threads in This Fight is Our Fight, along with the Republican party, and big business executives (and overt disdain for each of them) and the struggles of the middle (now "working poor?") class.  

If I have any criticisms of Elizabeth Warren, it is that sometimes her prose reads as if she has commissioned someone to adopt her artistic license and write in her voice.  There are moments of rhetorical flourishes that would likely go over quite well in a speech, or at one of the many readings Ms. Warren must have given on her book tour.  But on the page they seem somewhat unnecessary, and sometimes make it seem like she is talking down to the reader.  I mean, I really can't call it a condescending tone at all, just a tad geared towards the lowest common denominator.  And perhaps I only feel this way because I've read an Elizabeth Warren casebook and I know she can write in a more academic tone.  Perhaps Ms. Warren has intuited that she is popular with many young people and so she is aiming even towards super idealistic high school debate club team members.  It's worth noting that she doesn't spell out bull**** in this book, but did in A Fighting Chance, and apologized.  So that is one way it feels a little censored, or safe.  I don't disagree with it from a professional perspective, only in an artistic one.  She doesn't need to resort to objectionable language to get her point across but I wonder how much she swears in her life.  

Income inequality is one of the first topics addressed in the first chapter.  She goes after a company I had never heard of and its CEO and it is hilarious:

"It's gotten so good that even lavish Wall Street parties have ratcheted up.  Citadel, a major hedge fund, had a good 2015.  It celebrated with a party featuring Katy Perry (for a rumored $500,000) and another party starring Maroon 5 (also $500,000 or so) along with--my favorite touch--violinists suspended from the ceiling by cables.  Maroon 5 and Katy Perry are hugely talented, and both have fought hard for progressive causes.  If a billionaire wants to pay them and an army of violinists a fortune, they should all take the money.  But good grief, a party where just the entertainment costs as much as it would take to feed a family of four for half a century?  The next year, according to news reports, Citadel's CEO was buying a new condo spanning three floors of a high-rise overlooking Central Park, a pad priced at a cool $200 million.  This condo in the sky has about the same square footage as twelve typical american homes.  And why shouldn't he go for it?  He had already set the records for the most expensive home purchases in Chicago and Miami, so obviously it was time to upgrade his New York digs.
Pop the champagne corks!" (18)

She then tells the story of Gina, 50, who had raised two sons with her husband, and had done reasonably well as a middle class family--buying a home, combined income of $70,000--to dropping down to $36,000 combined, and working at Wal-Mart.  She tells a similar story about Michael Smith, in his 50's, worked at DHL and had a pretty solid middle class lifestyle, moving around the south side of Chicago from Woodlawn to Hazel Crest to Homewood--until the crash of 2008 hits and his job gets eliminated and his mortgage payments balloon.  Finally, she tells the story of Kai, 27, who decided to go to school with the Art Institutes and earned a 3.9 GPA, and had loans of $45,000 after 2 years there.  They go up to $55,000 before the school begins to implode after a DOJ investigation and she leaves to go to another art school in Florida for $30,000, then finally the University of Colorado.  Then finds out that her credits from Art Institutes would not transfer due to accreditation standards, and she would need to complete another 2 years.  Her loans hit about $100,000 and she never finished her degree.  Of course, I identified most with Kai's story:

"The loans can also chop off big parts of a former student's future.  In Kai's case, they kill her opportunity to take out a mortgage to buy a home.  They kill her chances to borrow more money to go to school and finish her degree.  Without that degree, those loans kill her dream of getting an entry-level job in a business that employs people with a degree in visual arts.  And she can just plain forget about building up a little savings, buying health insurance, or stashing away some cash for retirement." (50-51)

It does appear that Kai has actually paid down enough to get the debt down to $90,000.  As a person whose debt has grown $15,000 higher over the past several years, effectively rendering my life a Sisyphean struggle, there is also this reality to address.  Warren does work on a bill to reduce student loan interest rates and allow them to be refinanced, but it gets killed.  Still, I feel like a good portion of Kai's debt should have been dischargeable because Art Institutes seemed to close while she was still in it.  I feel like that's one of the few exceptions.

After the broad overview of the first chapter, Warren delves into the economic history of the United States, with a particular focus on FDR and the wave of prosperity that persisted until the election of Ronald Reagan and the institution of trickle-down economics.  She bemoans the repeal of the Glass-Steagall act, as she did in A Fighting Chance, and advocates for a 21st century version of it, with this incredible factoid:

"This doesn't have to be partisan.  My first cosponsor for a twenty-first-century Glass-Steagall bill was the Republicans' 2008 presidential nominee, Senator John McCain.  In 2016, Donald Trump campaigned on this idea, and, at his insistence, adopting Glass-Steagall was added to the Republican platform." (93)

Of course that was undone in short order, and is now "headed in the opposite direction."  But it's still incredible to think that Warren and Trump shared any common ground, particularly after what comes later in this book, which is basically a blow-by-blow retelling of their Twitter wars, calling each other "Loser" and "Goofy" and "Pocahontas."

There is a great deal of rancor reserved for Wells Fargo, which is one of the most righteous sections of the book, and while I earlier called this a "position statement," I would revise that to say 3/4 position statement and 1/4 narrative of the 2016 campaign.  She details her hesitation to endorse Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders until the primary was decided, because she "didn't want to undermine either of our candidates or to short-circuit any part of that debate." (221) She concludes the book with a reflection on the Women's March in Boston on January 21, 2017, remarking, "We are an army--an army filled with optimism and hope and fierce determination." (270)

 With this book, Warren establishes herself as one of the leaders of the Democratic party.  When A Fighting Chance came out, people considered it a potential prelude to a presidential campaign.  She comments upon that here, briefly, and also tries to put to rest any speculation that she might run in 2020.  I am sure there were still be people that want her to do it, but it is clear that she loves her job as a Senator.  I highly doubt she will change her mind, but it will be interesting to see who emerges as the next Democratic candidate.  Anyone considering that run will hopefully adopt many of the policies spelled out in this volume.