MLB Preview – NL Central

Other divisions here, here, here and here:

1. Chicago Cubs

The billy goat curse

Is fake but is fun to discuss

This team is league best

2. Cincinnati Reds

Votto could be a star

Volquez is on his way there

Will Dusty stink

3. Saint Louis Cardinals

Pujols NLs best

Ludwick fluky Ankiel not

But need Carpenter

4. Milwaukee Brewers

Rickie Weeks its time

To live up to the promise

Gallardo step up too

5. Houston Astros

Ed Wade is moron

Hunter Pence and Roy Oswalt

Only source of hope

6. Pittsburgh Pirates

Always last it so seems

Have a few good players there

They will be traded

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MLB Preview – NL East

Check here, here and here for the American League haikus:

1. New York Mets

So much talent

A fantasy owner’s friend

Bullpen rises up

2. Philadelphia Phillies

Hamels hurt again

Howard waves at curveballs again

Phillies no win again

3. Atlanta Braves

Jair Jurrjens fun name

Young talent tradition big name

Not the right year yet

4. Florida Marlins

Young young Florida

Hanley amazing center field

But he plays shortstop

5. Washington Nationals

Jim Bowden is fired

Source of humor is no more

But they will stink still

MLB Preview – AL West

More haiku. See the AL Central and AL East previews:

1. Anaheim Angels

Anaheim O.C.

It is not Los Angeles

Angels will win some

2. Texas Rangers

Mucho offense dude

Super prospects on the way

But no pitchers now

3. Oakland Athletics

Holliday is good

Young pitchers could lead the way

But nothing certain

4. Seattle Mariners

Ken Griffey is back

But Morrow is not starting

Old people no win

MLB Preview – AL Central

Once again, haiku:

1. Cleveland Indians

Past up and comer

Had much bad luck befall them

Grady seizes the day

2. Minnesota Twins

Forever small payroll

Makes the best of scant assets

Will win more than seems

3. Chicago White Sox

Swing Alexei swing

Do not walk like Ozzies team

Runs are limited

4. Detroit Tigers

Talent on paper

Even with fat first baseman

But wins will not come

5. Kansas City Royals

JoePos is hero

Zack Greinke is good pitcher

Long way to go still

The World Baseball Classic Tribute/MLB Preview – American League East

With the previews all over espn.com and the invaluable preview by my hometown basketball legend Adam Bomb, no time like the present to preview the American League East. However, to those paying attention, this year was another year of the World Baseball Classic, it is only right to salute the winner by doing out previews in Haiku.

American League East

1. Tampa Bay Rays

Young, growing team

Came from nowhere year before

Stil getting better

2. Boston Red Sox

Top baseball franchise

Has no weakness one can see

Are enough strengths present?

3. New York Yankees

Bought many top pros

With many many zeroes

But still just too old

4. Toronto Blue Jays

In wrong division

Could win 88 in the west

Can Toronto move?

5. Baltimore Orioles

Enjoy Matt Wieters gang

Team will grow, not far away

But no win this year

A Thousand Splendid Suns

I remember my mother effusively praising The Kite Runner when it came out a couple of years ago. Picking up the book, I was spellbound by a thriller in a new location, with prose that was poetic but highly readable. It was a superior page turner, but I could not give it the effusive praise that reviewers from around the web like Keith Law or Caribou’s Mom had.  The plot twists got a bit too unwieldy, and Hosseini had a habit of foreshadowing at the end of every chapter that had the subtlety of a brick through a window.  However, the book was very well done, and certainly showed potential for greatness.  I wanted to see what Hosseini would do next.

Put simply, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a masterpiece.  It is better in every way than The Kite Runner, while not losing Hosseini’s masterful storytelling ability.  The plot is more assured and less melodramatic, its villains more plausible, and it’s heros journey more heart-tugging, and given the tribulations of Amir and Hassan in the earlier novel, that is saying something.   The story begins with the marriage of Maryam, born illegitimately to a Herat businessman and his maid.  Ostracized due to this status, she is eventually married off to the much senior Rasheed.  The marriage, as one can imagine, was based on subjugation — women’s rights were not precisely celebrated.  As the story continues, we are introduced to Laila, a girl in Kabul whose life is shattered by the rise of the Taliban, and she and Maryam end up in each others orbit.  The book is about their friendship and time together, and that is all the plot that I will describe.

What is left to praise is how much information and commentary Hosseini weaves about Afghanistan, the Soviet era, and the Taliban.  Really with his two novels, Hosseini is taking not-especially-innovative stories – this story is really a genre story in many ways – but using them as frames to erect a very specific story about a very specific society – and paradoxically creating a universal story as a result.  One of the questons I always hear when discussing this part of the world is “what must it be like for women?”, and this book provides at least some interesting thoughts.  Hosseini does not portray the situation – at least under Soviet rule – as entirely bad, and tradition is valued.  It is not as cut and dried as an outsider might see it.  Even Rasheed – who is one of the great villains I have ever encountered in a novel – is not impossibly evil, but he acts in a way that fits into what men were taught to expect at the time.  One learns through him much of how men could be steered in a society set up so patariarchically.

At the end of the day, the story contains a lot of simple themes that any reader can relate to.  It is a classic, old fashioned narrative, but wrapped in a new package and told by an author with an amazingly gripping voice.

Gran Torino

“But me I finish things. That’s what I do.”

Of course this line was uttered in the trailer, and is probably the part of the trailer we remember the most. In a lot of ways, Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) seems like Dirty Harry in retirement. The classic Dirty Harry, which was frankly no less than a call to arms for fascism and vigilante justice, established an iconic silent, angry at the system cop for Eastwood to embody (indeed, it is a testament to his longevity that he is iconic for multiple characters). When I saw this scene with Eastwood, it started to occur to me that Eastwood does not really have to act anymore. He just embodies his characters with a particular Clint-ness which is unmistakable. Sure he is not a rangy actor … but let’s face it, with his history and the history we have with his Man with No Name or Dirty Harry, isn’t Eastwood sort of trapped in our imaginations as the strong silent iconic sort? As a director of himself, he has used this reality and continues to comment and critique it in his work. No director has known an actor better.

Gran Torino, like much of Eastwood’s directorial canon, is fairly conventional. But like much of his more recent work, it uses a fairly conventional story to say something interesting about human nature. What stays in the mind are his cantankerous comments and the racial epithets. Walt Kowalski, Korean War Vet, Ford line worker – is a very bitter, racist man. As the movie opens you look into his wife’s funeral and the true tension and lovelessness of his life are made very clear, by the distant (to be kind) relationship he has with his children. He lives inside a very eclectic neighborhood where the blacks, latinos, and asians live uneasily together, including the Munh family next door. When one of the kids attempts to steal his beloved car, he finds himself embroiled against his will into their lives.

Rehashing the plot further does not have much utility. Really if one has seen enough movies, the story arc is fairly basic. What is not basic is how sharply seen the next door family is, and how it is not racism that is specifically the problem. What is also not basic is that Eastwood does not let Kowalski suffer some sort of “message picture” revelation. It is done much more subtly and realistically. It goes to the point that racism is a hard thing to perpetrate when the racists live next door. Eastwood avoids easy answers to the predicament, and then while the ending is abrupt and a little ham handed symbolically, it works. It is not a great Eastwood movie, but a perceptive, good spare one.