October 2010


As we know, the Mets fired GM Omar Minaya and Manager Jerry Manuel after the disappointing season that recently ended.  Well, tomorrow they’ll announce the hiring of Sandy Alderson, who built the terrific A’s teams of the 80s and 90s. According to most of the writers, Alderson was the leading candidate from the  moment he agreed to be interviewed.

Mets fans are fatalistic by nature, but I’m actually quite pleased about this hiring.  He sounds like a control freak, but as long as he brings me playoff appearances and (hopefully!) a championship or two I’ll be happy delirious. I’ll admit that it’s more than a tad worrisome that Alderson was responsible for hiring Art Howe and Ken Macha as managers because both were failures once they left Oakland, so we have to hope that perhaps the success those teams enjoyed was due to Alderson rather than Messrs. Howe and Macha.

According to Mike Lupica, Larry Lucchino (President/CEO of the Boston Red Sox) describes Alderson as being:

[o]ne of the brightest, most innovative, and most experienced baseball executives in the game. He is respected, connected, and well-liked. And his franchises have a track record of winning.

Mets Nation is antsy, and with good reason.  The team has been beyond pathetic since Beltran stood at the plate and watched that Adam Wainright curveball go by in October of 2006.  We have to hope that Sandy Alderson is the man who will help us forget all about it.  After re-signing Takahashi (who must be re-signed by Sunday, otherwise he’s lost to us until May), Step 1 is hiring a field manager.  Lupica’s column says that Alderson is not likely to promote Wally Backman or Ken Oberkfell since they have no major-league experience. So, who does have major league experience?  Torre, Gaston, Piniella and Cox are retired.  Or are they?  There have been rumors that Torre might come out of retirement to manage the Mets. Despite the fact that having Torre in orange-and-blue would tweak the Yankees, I can’t think of any reason to want him back on the Mets.  What about John Russell (recently fired by the Pirates)?  Or Bob Brenly (he led the 2001 Diamondbacks to the WS and is now back in the announcer’s booth, but rumor has it that he’ll be with the Brewers next year)? We’ll just have to wait and see.

This is a new television series currently airing in the UK on the commercial ITV channel.  There are 7 episodes, and number 5 aired this past Sunday evening.  I’ve been watching online, and it’s just wonderful.  The cast is stellar, and includes Hugh Bonneville, Dame Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, Penelope Wilton, Dan Stevens and Brendan Coyle.

The series was written by Julian Fellowes, of Gosford Park fame, and is similar to Upstairs, Downstairs in that both “the family” and their servants have plot lines. Hugh Bonneville is Robert, Earl of Grantham, and Elizabeth McGovern is his wife, Cora.  Dame Maggie plays the Dowager Countess (Violet).  Matthew Crawley, the heir, is Dan Stevens, and Penelope Wilton is his mother, Isobel.  Downstairs is run by Carson, the butler and Mrs. Hughes, the housekeeper, and there is enough intrigue both above and below the stairs to keep me hooked. Yes, it’s soap-opera-ish, but I don’t care.

The series will be on Masterpiece Theatre in the new year, but I would bet that they’ll cut it the way they do everything else, so if you are not in the UK you should definitely try to watch it online.

ITV released a press pack (here) which is chock-full of good tidbits about the characters and the plot, and it’s been announced that another series is in the pipeline.  Hoorah!

A week or so ago, I thought I had a job.  But, at the very last minute, they backed off with what can only be described as a very cryptic excuse.  I left a voicemail and sent an e-mail asking them to elaborate, and was told that I’d hear back “tomorrow”.  “Tomorrow” was last Thursday.  I didn’t hear from them on Thursday and I didn’t hear from them on Friday.   I’ve decided to volunteer at one of the local non-profit legal aid groups, so the community will get free help and I’ll get experience and, hopefully, references for future employment.   I’m also sending in an application at one of the local department stores to see if I can be Christmas help.  Keep your fingers crossed!

This whole thing has got me to thinking about how common courtesy is no longer common.  Job-seekers are expected to dress well, to write thank-you notes, to follow-up after an interview, etc.  But the potential employers certainly don’t have to be polite or thoughtful. I’ve sent out dozens and dozens of resumes and cover letters in the 2+ months I’ve been job-hunting (not including the countless letters and resumes I sent out when I was out of work for the first 10 months I lived here), and the overwhelming majority were completely ignored. No form e-mails thanking me for applying, no “thanks, but no thanks” after an interview.  Nothing.  No feedback whatsoever.  And people wonder why job-seekers feel so hopeless.

but the sun is shining, the birds are singing and all is right with the world. Why? Because the Yankees lost the ALCS, 4 games to 2. It was especially nice to see A-roid take a called third strike to end the game — call it poetic justice. Watching Jeter go 0-for-4 was also pretty sweet.

I am a Mets fan first, a Red Sox fan second, and a “Whoever’s playing the Yankees” fan third.  So, since the Rangers were the “Whoever” this year, I became a Rangers fan.  I went to WFAN.com to hear Steve Somers gloat, and Yankee fans are already calling to whine.  It’s a beautiful thing.

For the time being, life is pretty darned good. God bless Texas.

Part IV: Emma, cont’d.

I can’t figure why it took me so long to finish reading Emma. Part of it may be that I listened to the book instead of reading it, but who knows.  As I said in my previous post on Emma, I like the character of Emma less than I have in the past.  I find her meddling to be even more egregious than I have during previous re-reads.  But, on the other hand, I am more impressed with the novel itself than ever before.

Emma has been called a “mystery novel without a murder,” and that is the aspect of the novel that I tried to focus on during this re-read.  I paid careful attention to all of the clues Austen gives us about what is really going on in Highbury, as opposed to what Emma thinks is going on.  I noticed that, while Emma really is “clueless,” the Knightley brothers are most decidedly not.  George Knightley understands fully that Harriet Smith is not someone whom Mr. Elton would ever marry.  He also figures out pretty quickly that the Westons want Frank to marry Emma, and is also the only person in the story who sees that Frank and Jane have “formed an attachment.”  John Knightley is the one who sees that Mr. Elton is interested in Emma herself.

I was 12 or 13 years old when I first read the book and, while I don’t remember my reaction to the news that Frank and Jane were secretly engaged, I do know that I never noticed any of the clues that Austen gives us.  This time, however, I noticed so many of them.  Jane’s solo trips to the post office and the way she tells Mrs. Elton that she plans to continue these trips; Frank’s prolonged visits to the Bates household; Jane’s pianoforte arriving from London just after Frank goes there for his “haircut”; when Frank is leaving Randalls and tells Emma “I think you can hardly be quite without suspicion…”; Frank’s use of the alphabet game to tease and then apologize to Jane; Frank’s surliness upon his arrival at Donwell for the strawberry picking; etc., etc., etc.  There are so many clues sprinkled throughout the book that I’m almost sorry I read it when I was so young because there is no way I could put them all together at that age.

Emma does get her comeuppance, and is a far better person at the end of the novel than she is at the beginning.  When we first meet her, she is very pleased with herself and, starting with her insult of Miss Bates at Box Hill, is forced to see herself as others do and it’s not always pretty.  Mr. Knightley is the catalyst for Emma’s metamorphosis.  He is the only person in the area who does not praise her constantly; he scolds her when necessary and lets her know when her behavior is not appropriate.  She lets him talk, but puts very little stock in what he tells her…until the picnic at Box Hill when she insults Miss Bates.  At that point, Knightley really loses his temper and tells her exactly what he thinks of her behavior.  And this time, she listens and understands exactly what she did and why it was wrong.  For the first time, she feels truly contrite about something and tries to make amends.  There are other instances when she has some regrets about things she’s said and done but she always manages to rationalize her actions and generally has a very selective memory when it comes to her own behavior.  But after Box Hill, she makes an effort to make amends to Miss Bates and Jane without making any excuses.

Mrs. Elton has a lot in common with Emma (more than Emma would like), but Emma at least sees where she’s been wrong and is ashamed of her actions. The Fair Augusta, on the other hand, will likely never see how awful she’s capable of being.  Just as Emma and Mr. Knightley are perfect for each other, so are Augusta and Philip Elton.

I am always impressed at the genius that is Jane Austen, and Emma is yet another example of why.

I’ve just finished reading The Big Short, by Michael Lewis.  This is the fourth book I’ve read by Lewis and, as per usual, it’s an outstanding read.

The three other Lewis books I’ve read are Liar’s Poker, Moneyball and The Blind Side. Liar’s Poker was his first book, and it tells the story of his years with Salomon Brothers, a now-defunct Wall Street firm that was a major player in the bond market back in the 1980s.  I also spent a lot of time on Wall Street, and knew the people Lewis talks about either personally or by reputation. It is easily one of the funniest books I have ever read, but I can understand how people who never worked on Wall Street might not have appreciated it. The Big Short is considered a sequel to Liar’s Poker.  In it, Lewis talks about the reason for the market collapse in 2007/2008.  It’s most definitely not funny.

Moneyball is, I think, the book that put Lewis on the map for the general public.  It is a book about the business of baseball, focusing primarily on the small-budget Oakland A’s and their general manager, Billy Beane.  Beane is the GM credited with being the first to focus on a player’s on-base percentage rather than his batting average or his “intangibles.”  Kevin Youkilis is introduced to us as Beane’s “object of desire.”  Beane coveted Youkilis so much that he referred to him as “the Greek god of walks.”  Youk ends up with the Red Sox, another “Moneyball”-type team (even though the Red Sox have a much larger budget than do the A’s, GM Theo Epstein has a similar modus operandi to Beane’s) instead.  It’s a terrific book that is well-worth reading.

The Blind Side is, as I mentioned before, mostly the story of Michael Oher, who is currently a professional football player with the Baltimore Ravens, and his adoptive family, the Tuohys of Memphis, Tennessee.  Sandra Bullock won an Oscar for playing Leigh Anne Tuohy, the woman who rescues Michael from his truly awful life as the child of a crack addict in the Memphis projects.  The movie, which I just saw last week, is quite faithful to the book and I really enjoyed both.

Michael Lewis is an incredible writer.  He has a real talent when it comes to breaking down very difficult concepts into their most basic elements and helping the reader understand them, all without talking down to his readers.  I spent 12 years buying and selling bonds on Wall Street, but the whole subject of credit default swaps and related products is definitely over my head.  But I have a much better understanding of the subject now, after reading The Big Short, than I did before.

Once I finished The Big Short, I started PJ O’Rourke’s latest, Don’t Vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards.  As is the case with every O’Rourke book or essay I have ever read, it is laugh-out-loud funny.

Today is the 70th anniversary of his birth, and it still upsets me that he was taken from his family and us way too early.   He never got to see his younger son grow up.  He never got to be middle-aged.  He never got to write all the music he had in his soul.  But the music he did give us, both with the Beatles and on his own, will live on.

I was a child in the 1960s, but I do have some hazy memories of watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in February of 1964. I was hooked.

As I’ve posted before, my mother bought me their records and took me to see their movies. The Beatles were a huge part of my childhood and I was devastated when they broke up.  I’ll admit that John was not my favorite Beatle (after all these years, I’m still torn between George and Paul), but I’ve always felt that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts, meaning that the Beatles would not have existed without him.  Yes, Paul is the most successful ex-Beatle, but his post-Beatles music doesn’t move me the same way.  The Beatles were special, and John is the main reason why.

John may be gone, but his memory lives on.  Happy birthday John.  We still miss you.

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