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

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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.

An American Bistro

Well, as yet another week descends in my tour of Rocket City, I am reminded again of the beauty that America has to offer. For instance, I checked out a local bistro recently after a meeting with whatever it is I do down here. The sign seemed garish for a “Country Store”, but given my knowledge of the South, a country store seemed like the right place to have some of the more indigenous grub. I have to tell you, visiting an authentic Southern store was striking. The wicker rocking chairs in the front, and the picturesque general store on the inside are enough to charm the pants off of a newbie like myself. When I discovered they also had a kitchen and restaurant, I was beside myself. So when the chance to sit down for some fried chicken and sides came up, I certainly was not going to be denied.

Sitting there after putting in my order, I treated myself to a locally designed “IQ Test”. I thought these tests were more ornate in design, but no, the Country Store highlighted a traditional method of intelligence that was withstood time and more supposedly modern methods. A picture is below:

A Southern IQ Exam
A Southern IQ Exam

After a couple of tries, apparently I was described as “purty smart”. What that meant in terms of the classic scale, I am not sure. As for the dinner, the local chicken recipe with traditional Alabama sides such as Macaroni and Cheese and Corn added to the flavor. I cannot precisely recommend it for losing weight, but if you find yourself in Huntsville, Alabama, this local bistro is a good choice.