SirTheory’s Treatise on Life

(opinions on just about anything)

The Phillies Are Phinally In The Post Season

I remember during the first 1/3 of the season telling my co-working that it would be horribly ironic if the Phillies actually made the playoffs this year. They had gotten of to an abysmal 4-11 start, good for the worst record in the major leagues. People were calling for Charlie Manuel’s head. Manual had taken their star starter, Brett Myers, and made him a closer. Players were falling like flies due to injury. The reigning MVP winner Ryan Howard was barely hitting .200. The bullpen was taking fantastic starting efforts and blowing them. It was bleak.

Yet there were bright points. Both Jimmy Rollins and, more surprisingly, Aaron Rowand were in the process of cranking out career years. Cole Hamels was the only bright point in a starting rotation hobbled by inconsistency and injuries. Yet the loses were mounting, albeit at a less heart-attack inducing rate as before.

It is hard to pinpoint when the turnaround really started, although there are several ways to look at it. The first thing that had to happen was a righting of the ship. Start winning series consistently. Eliminate the constant petty errors. Believe. Yet specific events can help catapult a team to another level.

The first event was something that didn’t even appear in the box score. They were playing in Colorado, facing the Rockies. It was the beginning of July and the rains came in the middle of the game. They delayed the game and the grounds crew went to work. The winds became violent and caught the tarps, whipping the grounds crew around like rag dolls. Without a seconds hesitation the entire Phillies team ran onto the field and helped out. The video (a poorly recorded version is on youtube if you wish to see it) is spectacular. It is possible to look at this event as a catalyst: the team felt more like a team, not to mention karma favored Philadelphia in a way the team hasn’t seen in years (or at all.)

The other huge turning point was the four game series at the end of August with the New York Mets. Going into the series you felt that you had to win three of those. The sweep would be impossible, but three games? That would mean gaining two games on the Mets, which would be quite good. Well, not only did the Phillies win three games, but they decided to go ahead and win the 4th one, as well. But not only were all four games won, but each win was crazier and more insane than the last. You had a game end on an interference call… and then some how the following game went and topped that. It was a whirlwind series that left the Mets reeling. (The Phillies ended up sweeping three series with the Mets during the year and beat them 12 out of 18 meetings.)

Yet individual contributions from smaller players were huge, too. When the Phillies starting rotation was ripped to shreds with injuries and inconsistency, Kyle Kendrick was called up from Double-A to fill in a start. The kid, who wasn’t really on anybody’s radar, proceeded to dominate his spot start. He never went back down to the minor leagues and became the Phillies second most consistent starter after Cole Hamels.

The team was put on life support when Chase Utley suffered a broken hand after getting hit by a pitch. In Pat Gillicks’s greatest move of the season he quickly dealt a nobody pitcher from the system for Tadahito Iguchi, a major league level second baseman. Iguchi, while not quite playing up to Chase Utley’s high level of play, did a fantastic job both defensively and offensively. He got clutch hits and raised his off-season value. The Phillies had a winning record during Utley’s injury due in no small part to what Iguchi did for the team.

The Phillies outfield was a big strength, getting a ton of outfield assists. In the same game both Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn got injured. Both were big speed demons, and, although Bourn was just the backup, had been hitting well and playing a great outfield when called upon to backup. When Victorino went down I was sad, but figured Bourn would do a capable job of filling in. Yet when Bourn went down I was despondent. Who would fill in and give us any kind of production? The answer came in Jason Werth, who had acquired the not too endearing nickname “Werthless” by some Phillies blog commenters. He became clutch offensively, getting all kinds of huge hits. He didn’t have the speed of Victorino or Bourn, but demonstrated better plate discipline. Werth just totally stepped it up. And with the likely departure of Rowand in the off-season, could very well become a starter next year.

Perhaps the thing that benefited the Phillies the most is how every win seemed to feature a new hero. It wasn’t up to Howard or Utley to get the big, clutch hit every single game. In one game you have Greg Dobbs piling on his gaudy Major League-leading pinch-hit RBI total. In another you have Chris Coste hitting a pinch hit home run. Turn around and Abraham Nunez flashed serious leather at third base to save several runs. J.C. Romero was an absolute God-send for the battered bullpen. Kyle Lohse was a trade deadline acquisition and gave the Phillies quality starts.

Also worth mentioning is the Phillies major league-leading 48 come-from-behind wins. They never quit on a game, just like they never quit in the race for the post season. Not only did they reach the post season, but they overtook the NY Mets, something everyone thought was impossible at the end of August.

Congratulations, Phillies. You have made the season exciting.
But don’t get too complacent. We have a myriad of great teams to weave through yet to reach the World Series and, hopefully, win.

September 30, 2007 Posted by | Sports | Leave a comment

I don’t really have anything to say right now…

Nothing has really been catching my attention so much that writing about it is interesting. I have two saved beginnings of music reviews that I lost interest in in the middle of writing (Silage and Queens of the Stone Age if anyone is interested enough to make a request to force me into completing one or both), but nothing has really been hitting my creative buttons right now. Since I don’t get anything out of writing this blog, I’m not going to force the issue.

However, I will make brief note of several things:

1) The Phillies are currently 1.5 games behind a scuffling Mets with a week and a half to go. Of course, as a Phillies fan there are two definite truths to gleam from this. A) I really, really want them to overtake the Mets. B) I have lived and died with every pitch since 2002 so know that such a simple thing is generally impossible in the city of Philadelphia.

2) I’m really enjoying Edgar Allan Poe. I had to read some of him for my short story class and never really realized just how crucial the man was to the short story genre. We tend to view the novel as being more serious and in demand of more talent than the short story, but that is simply not the case. Poe even goes as far as to say that any story that can’t be read it one sitting is too long because it will loose some of its punch.

3) While I hesitate to mention this because it isn’t really media or artistically focused (the two major points of this blog) and I would hate to see this blog deteriorate into just another “life” blog (today I got my hair cut and OMG I totally hate it!) I feel that it is worth mentioning that I’ve been blessed to have a number of Really Good Friend Interactions lately.

-These RGFIs started last week when I met one of my roommate’s friends and we just sort of instantly meshed.

-Then yesterday I went to a video game store that I had not been to before. I hadn’t really been aware of its existence until I was at the mall and a clerk at the video game store there mentioned it to another customer. Since I was in the area, I figured I’d check it out. I walked in and saw that one of the clerks looked like a friend I hadn’t seen all summer. I knew it wasn’t him, though, because he goes to college in Philadelphia. So I did my shopping and was about to check out when I hear “Jacob!” I instantly was pretty sure that it MUST have been my friend, but turned around slowly and, still unbelieving his current existence, made a scene of checking his name tag. It was definitely him (apparently his school starts uber-late) and we had a good conversation.

Then yesterday evening my roommate decided that we all needed to go out to a bar for drinks. So I agreed to go since I knew almost everyone she was inviting, several of whom were quiet awesome (the above mentioned insta-mesh friend, as well as one of the funniest guys I have ever met). As it turned out, it was only us roommates plus the one friend whom I had never really met before. Yet it was good. We went to The Brickyard and hated it, so hopped our way over to Annie Baileys, one of the nicest bars in town. There Insta-Mesh drifted in after we’d been there half an hour or so and so grand times were had. Unfortunately Uber Funny never called back… but life goes on, yeah?

(The result of the evening ended up being four hours of sleep for myself, considering I had an 10am class… though I really should have skipped because we’ve had a fill-in professor the past two classes and he’s really quite boring and seems to forget he’s lecturing to a 100 level class instead of actual physics majors. I got very little from it and the time would have been better spent sleeping.)

Hopefully in the next few days I’ll actually get inspired to write something of substance rather than this frilly, free-of-content filler. My apologies to my regular readers.

September 21, 2007 Posted by | General, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Mr. Bean’s Holiday

In the United States of America, Mr. Bean has really only been a trivial curiosity. The Mr. Bean television show was hot stuff in England, where the all-powerful BBC aired it. Yet in America it has never gotten more than a cult following. It’s hard to blame America, considering our general suspicion of British humor, not to mention everything British humor tends to get compared to Monty Python, which makes shows like Mr. Bean pale considerably.

Mr. Bean, who was created and played by Rowan Atkinson, is a completely different brand of humor from Monty Python. The television show has elements of sketch to it, but deviates largely by keeping the same main character throughout the entire show and series. Really, it could be considered a cross between Napoleon Dynamite (despite predating Napoleon by a couple of decades) and Monty Python. However, there is a lot of slapstick involved with Mr. Bean. Visual humor is huge due to the fact that Mr. Bean doesn’t really speak beyond some simple words like, “Yes.” He is portrayed as being “special” without being considered stupid. The entire success of any Mr. Bean project, be it the TV series or any of the movies, lies entirely with Atkinson and his ability to not get repetitive. Sometimes, as with the first Bean movie, it does get repetitive.

Thankfully Mr. Bean’s Holiday, an unconnected follow-up to Bean, feels like a breath of fresh air for the Bean franchise. Unlike the Bean movie, Holiday doesn’t try to do too much. Bean felt like the producers were adding a lot of stupid stuff to try and appeal to American audiences. Holiday lacks that baggage. It is more linear while retaining the heart and sly wink of the television series. None of the characters, other than Bean himself, feels over the top.

Helping Holiday and Atkinson is Emma de Caunes and Max Baldry. Baldry is a kid whom, due to Bean’s desire to get a photo of himself outside a train, loses his father. The kid becomes a frequent companion for Bean on his travels: they try to locate the father using a cryptic clue and Bean wants to find the beach. They hit bumps in the road and it feels hopeless when Emma de Caunes gets pulled into their crew. de Caunes portrays an actress hoping to get her big break. Bean meets her when he unknowingly stumbles upon a movie set and, mistaking her action sequence for a real life event, tries to save her. It sounds so tediously cheesy, yet Emma de Caunes’ warmth brings a great spark to the film at just the right place.

In the end, Mr. Bean’s Holiday ends up being a warmer and more sympathetic Bean than we’ve known before. Atkinson manages this without sacrificing the humor. In the end, Mr. Bean’s Holiday, like any Bean product, won’t be for everyone. However, a wider audience should be able to appreciate this offering over the television series or Bean.

September 17, 2007 Posted by | Movies | Leave a comment

I bought an xbox.

So I was bored last week and started searching for used xbox systems on ebay. I like my Gamecube, but rather felt like every time I went to the game store to check out used Gamecube titles there was never anything there… or if there was, it was costing $25 and up used. I had just sold my Gameboy Advance SP, with games, on ebay so had some paypal money to use up. (Paypal money is kind of like play money if you don’t have your bank account hooked up to it.) So it was either buy another CD I would listen to a few times, place on my obligatory top10 list and then forget about, or try something new. Like an xbox system, why not?

So I bid on some over the span of about two days. It was wildly frustrating business, as some were sold as lots, complete with a truckload of games. I would think I was sure to win a great one, only to get sniped at the last second. Eventually I stopped aiming for a system that came with a number of good games. Or any games. I figured that game lots without the system were going for pretty good prices, so I’d just snag one of those and it would all equal out to be about the same.

Well, I won one… I paid for it… and after a week of waiting, it arrived yesterday. The seller, despite not listing any games in the description, was very kind and threw a couple in for me.  However, that didn’t stop me from speeding out to the mall and stopping by the video game stores to pick some titles up.

I am blown away at how much cheaper good, used xbox games  are compared to used games on Gamecube. For the Gamecube it isn’t uncommon to spend $15 on a used game. They can be found for less, but they’re usually not as good. Whereas for the xbox I went in and found 6 decent-to-great games and the total bill was $21. Two of them are games that frequently make Best-of-the-xbox lists (Project Gotham Racing 2 and Jet Set Radio Future). Two were games I simply wanted to try because they were games I wanted to play years ago (Enter the Matrix and Max Payne). I also got XIII (as in the Roman numerals for 13), which kind of reminded me of Killer7 for the Gamecube, so I picked it up hoping it had better controls (which totally killed Killer7).

One of the best games I had for our Macintosh computer was the original Unreal Tournament. It was awesome. Nothing beats the sheer awesomeness of being dumped on a map while battling other people in an every-man-for-himself  free-for-all. The amount of weapons was awesome, and they felt and looked right. It was like Halo, only before Halo’s time and without the online ability. So when I saw Unreal Championship and read that it was the xbox spin off of the Tournament, I had to pick it up.

Unfortunately, and probably unsurprisingly, Unreal Championship, while in many ways being very similar to Unreal Tournament, lacks the key features that made the Tournament ace. The maps are bland and weapons aren’t as varied or as satisfying to use. Still, since I don’t have a way to play Unreal Tournament I’ll probably log a number of hours on the Championship. Unless I end up deciding to dump $20+ on Halo or Halo 2.

Then again, considering how I can get quite a few quality xbox games for under $5 I might just say screw Halo. Hear that capitalist America? SCREW HALO.

September 14, 2007 Posted by | Video Games | 2 Comments

Anti-Story: An Anthology of Experimental Fiction

Experimental fiction can be really hit-or-miss. However, the short story is the perfect way to showcase such a thing. If you succeed it is short yet sweet without overstaying its welcome. If it is really terrible it won’t last too long. It is inevitable that in a collection like this there will be some really terrible stuff.

Anti-Story, which was edited by Philip Stevick, is split into eight section: Fiction About Fiction, The Uses of Fantasy, The Primacy of Voice, Fiction In Search of Something to Be About, New Forms of Extremity, The Phenomenal World, Forms of the Absurd, and The Minimal Story. If you could feel your pulse quicken when reading those section headings, go and pick this collection up immediately.

There are quite a few really good stories, insane though they may seem to the logical mind, in this anthology. From “Life-Story” by John Barth, a story about writing a story which switches point of view, to “Rhinoceros”  by Eugene Ionesco, which is about people turning into rhinos. Perhaps the best of the lot is Tommaso Landolfi’s story, “Gogol’s Wife.” It is a tale of a man who loved a blow-up sex doll. It is imaginative, crazy, and has a warm heart that really brings the story alive.

Some of the stories are completely incomprehensible due to being so experimental that they’ve lost all meaning, becoming just words on a page that don’t connect to each other. The worst in the anthology can be followed, however, is excruciatingly long and lacks any plot or characters. It is called “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country” by William Gass. At 28 pages long it is no simple walk in the park. Gass splits the writing into multiple sections with a header to describe what that section is talking about. It all centers on a specific yet nameless town. But rather than telling a linear story (or any story) it just gives details about the area. Without any plot to keep track of it is hard to keep turning the pages. Yet you have to turn through 28 of them.

Thankfully, even with the worst of the worst, the nature of this anthology means that every story expands your idea of what fiction can be. Which is nothing but a plus, especially if you are writer. If you are just a reader, looking for an easy time, then this anthology is probably something to skip. You’d be better off getting a John Grisham trade paperback.

September 10, 2007 Posted by | Literature | Leave a comment

R.I.P. Madeleine L’Engle

To call Madeleine L’Engle my favorite author might be overstating things a bit. But not so much as to consider the statement untrue. It was only last year that I truly grasped the grandeur of her writing. Yet in that year I read almost every novel the woman wrote, I gave a speech about her in my speech class, and I wrote a paper on her poetry. Other authors have probably had a great influence on me, yet few have engaged me the way L’Engle has.

She is best known for her novel, A Wrinkle In Time, which is usually considered a children’s science fiction novel despite her protests. Yet she has written so much more than that. My personal favorites are The Small Rain and A Severed Wasp, the first dealing with the main character as a child, the other as an elderly woman. Camilla is another one I highly treasure.

Even though she hasn’t released a novel for a while, I kept holding on to hope that we would get a follow up to Charles from The Time Quartet. His tale demanded a follow up. But it was, apparently, not meant to be.

My thoughts and prayers go out to her family, friends, and fellow fans. Thank you, Madeleine, for the great stories that transported us into your world, making us feel like we were getting to know you through your characters.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/08/books/07cnd-lengle.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&ref=books&adxnnlx=1189191828-26XbKyxB9vwAhW8ooxQy+Q

September 8, 2007 Posted by | Literature | 1 Comment

Royal – My Dear

Tooth and Nail Records is often unjustly categorized as just a Christian label releasing bland music like Thousand Foot Krutch and Hawk Nelson. Yet in the mid-to-late-90s Tooth and Nail was releasing a whole slew of interesting indie rock (what was, at that time, considered “alternative rock”). I mean, Tooth and Nail was the launching pad of The Danielson Famile for crying out loud. The Danielson Famile was directly related to the rise of Sufjan Stevens. Yes, that Sufjan Stevens. While The Danielson Famile has become Pitchfork Media indie darlings, there were many other deserving artists released through Tooth and Nail who never got the slightest attention from the mainstream media or the Christian media.

Royal was a band from Norway who released only one album. While they were never really signed to Tooth and Nail, it was Tooth and Nail who released the album to the United States. The album released without any real fanfare, other than a couple of good album reviews in the edgier Christian music magazines (Tidal Wave, 7 Ball). Their one claim to fame was that the one guitar player had been Extol’s guitar player before Extol was signed.

The core of Royal is the brother-sister duo Emil (the ex-Extol guy) and Elvira Nikolaisen, although the band is five members deep. Emil went on to form the noisy shoegaze band, Serena Maneesh (which, interestingly, did make one of Pitchfork’s yearly top-50 lists) and Elvira is now a Norwegian pop singer. Yet neither of them has managed to eclipse the grandeur that is Royal.

Elvira handles most of the lead vocals, a laid back croon that you might expect to hear with Over The Rhine. The music Emil backs her with is certainly a far cry from the folk pop of Over The Rhine. A cacophony composed of loud, roaring guitars and a crash symbol used so frequently that it could ring in the apocalypse.

Yet it will turn on a dime so suddenly that your head is left in a swirl. The roar drops completely and they craft silence. Not a pure silence as Elvira continues to croon and the drums tap out a bare bones beat, accompanied by a slowly plucked guitar. Time might be lost track of as things slowly build. All of a sudden three or four minutes have passed with this growing quietness before, just as suddenly, the roar returns.

My Dear can’t be listened to quietly. The stereo has to be cranked in order to prevent the quiet parts from fading completely away. I can’t think of any other album which has two completely distinct personalities and such a difference in volume. This makes comparisons difficult to come by, however, it is hard to imagine that Sonic Youth wasn’t a huge influence on what Royal accomplished. I would like to see someone slip Thurston Moore a copy with a request to re-release it. My Dear would be right at home on his record label while being different enough from Sonic Youth to be more than just a repetitive blip.

September 5, 2007 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

Struck Last May – 16 Flowers

You might not be able to call Michael Knott successful, after all even in the Christian market which he was an alternative rock groundbreaker his name is more likely to be met with blank stares than not. Yet this has not prevented him from being remarkably prolific, especially in the 90s, when multiple albums in a year were not uncommon. However, new material from Knott has been pretty hard to come by the past two or three years. The drought finally ended at the end of ’06 with the All Indie E.P.. Now we have a new full length with a new band name.

Band names for Knott have tended to feel tacked on like an afterthought. The Russian roulette wheel spun to determine what album gets what moniker. Because whether Knott is electric or acoustic, L.S.U. or solo, it still tends to sound like Michael Knott. So it is understandable that even with a new and different band name on the cover of a Knott album we expect that to have simply been a new addition to the Russian roulette wheel. That assumption is a mistake and is probably at the root of many people’s backlash against the album.

Struck Last May is without a doubt the most experimental thing that Knott has been musically involved with. While there are portions of his back catalog which hint at experimentalism, not a single one of his albums really highlights that tendancy. 16 Flowers highlights it and revels in it, portraying a more textured vision than we’re used to. This is likely thanks to Knott’s partner in crime, Rick McDonough, who’s own solo projects are quite experimental and textured.

The tracks on 16 Flowers range from more typical acoustic Knott to more typical McDonough. Most songs find a middle ground that evoke both artists work. The mixture works really well most of the time, such as on “You Are Me” where McDonough provies ambiance to the standard Knott songwriting. Where it fails to work is when poorly pitched vocals and hollow-sounding drums (I’m looking at you, “Fraidy Cat”) are mistaken for being experimental. That isn’t being experimental, it is being too lazy to do things right.

Thankfully tracks like that are the exception rather than the rule. However, Knott and McDonough set themselves up for failure by making that one of the early tracks on the album, making the one that will stick in peoples minds as they listen for the first time. “Bundled Up” follows “Fraidy Cat” and, despite taking a step in the right direction, meanders on too long and still has some shadily performed vocals. Thus the stereotype for the album is set. If “Bundled Up” is listened to independently from “Fraidy Cat” it works a whole lot better. Unfortunately, the “Fraidy Cat” formula is repeated on the following track, “Pollen.” It isn’t really until track six of this 14 track album that the album settles into a groove and really shows off what the two do well. In fact, if tracks two through 5 were eliminated 16 Flowers would not only have a chance to really impress Knott fans, but be considered one of his better albums.

The other tracks also have experimental aspects, but they retain a pop sensibility and good songwriting. Experimentalism for experimentalism’s sake isn’t always a bad thing, but it needs to be more than the proverbial farts in a can. Because no one wants to hear that and the fact that you think that people do is quite masturbatory.

To really hear this album for what it should have been eliminate tracks two and four, and possibly five, from your listening experience. This will allow the other 2/3s of the album to stand out and show what it is that Knott and McDonough bring to the table together.

September 2, 2007 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

Michael Jackson Dies.

More people claim the name Michael Jackson than the popular pop singer. Indeed, considering the relatively common occurrence of Michael as a first name and Jackson as a last name, it is surprising there aren’t more famous Michael Jacksons. Maybe they prefer to go by Mike?

In beer worlds the name Michael Jackson refers to the iconic beer critic. He has written books on beer and filmed televisions on beer. Late night talk shows have had him as a guest. Jackson spent his life traveling the world, tasting obscure beers.

When I first started <I>really</I> getting into beer I would go to Barnes & Noble and stand next to the cooking section where the beer books were located and flipping through the various books. Jacksons always seemed like the authoritative tome on the subject. Then I saw him on Jay Leno. He seemed totally wrapped up in his own beer world. Leno didn’t seem to quite know what to do with him, but tried some of the beers Jackson brought along to sample.

When asked what the worst beer out there was, he responded “Corona.”

I disagree, finding Corona more tolerable than the Bud Lights and Miller Lights of the world. Still not a beer I would buy, however.

Anyway, the world minus one Michael Jackson. Pop music lives on. Beer lives on. Yet we will miss a beer legend.

September 1, 2007 Posted by | Beer, General | Leave a comment