Thursday, September 25, 2008

David Foster Wallace R.I.P.

I grew up in a relatively academically demanding home, son of immigrant professionals (one a doctor and the other a rocket-scientist (not a joke) turned lawyer) who did not come from all that much and worked embarrassingly hard (especially in light of my future prayers at the Temple of Taking-It-Easy) to make it in the big show. To ensure their efforts wouldn’t be wasted on a pair of snot-nosed Americans, my brother and I were placed in bumptious private schools that probably cost a bit more than my parents’ disposable income should have allowed at the time but whose admission reserved a seat at the haves’ table later on. Though there were never really any explicit directives or threats as such, it was understood that treating school with anything less than flagellant seriousness was not really an option. That said, and I have often wondered why and how this was the case given this backdrop, I did not grow up reading literature outside of those half-assedly enforced school requirements. This was the case from an early age all the way through high-school and onto college. I mean, I knew how to read, but the 11-year old me didn’t see much point in doing so unless an evaluation of some sort was forthcoming (regular devouring of the LA Times Sports section notwithstanding). Possible explanations I’ve toyed with are that my parents’ science-math bent was somehow passed along – either genetically or culturally – to the detriment of right-brain matter, or that their leniency with regards to how we spent our time resulted in mammoth TV-addictions, or perhaps more cynically that reading for the sake of reading offered more personal development than any tangible, institutional advantage and was consequently not particularly advocated. Or perhaps it was just the interminable slogging through of Ethan Frome and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie that turned me off to the written word for a finite period of time. In the end, it doesn’t really matter because I eventually realized that the twirly dance of words and commas and their playings was more my speed than the cold deciphering of numbers and symbols and their nap-time. Deciding, or more appropriately choosing not to make a decision, to go into a line of work in which reading and writing are foundational pillars only reinforced the idea that I best make up for lost time.

It wasn’t too long after I began to take up reading somewhat seriously that I befriended a colleague who shared with me some common interests and a similar landscape against which to view the arts and the world, but who unlike me had been historically rapacious in dealing with the printed word. A slow reading week for this guy would have been the most active month of my life (September 2005). In what was an appreciated yet unequal trade, he introduced me to such heights as Nabokov’s Pale Fire (from which this website’s byline originates) and received in turn the greater purse of my comedic charms and charismatic spillage, along with the presence of ladies (usually very attractive ones) that necessarily flowed. You’re welcome, dogg.

I soon noticed this fellow started carrying around a large book with him to work. This was not out of the ordinary in and of itself, neither was the tome’s textbook-like height or its Byzantine-sized print. When Bookwormy McReadsalot informed me that this was not the first time he was reading this boulder of a door stop, I thought, “strange but not too strange.” But when rather than accompany me on our usual “what are we doing in these jobs, pass the hot sauce” lunches that ease the pain of the work day, I was told that he preferred to eat alone and read his book, well, my cat-like curiosity, not to mention my crippling, dog-like insecurity, demanded to be sated.

The book turned out to be David Foster Wallace’s magnus opus Infinite Jest, a 1,079-page, multi-narrative behemoth delving into the worlds of drug addition, tennis prepatory-academy instruction, Québécois separatism, film, pharmacology, consumerism, and our insatiable quest for entertainment. It is, quite simply, the greatest feat of individual human creativity that I am aware of.

The above claim makes up in foolishness what it lacks in understatement by the fact that I’ve actually only got through its first 200-pages or so. This post had been evolving in my head for over six-months. I stopped reading because the book is so densely packed with subtle conveyances and a writing style and structure so demanding (and consequently giving) that it would take me minutes upon minutes and multiple readings just to get the feeling that I had adequately explored the various content of even a single sentence (the sentences can be around a page in length and often so twistingly complex that they are both "neat"to read and re-read and get lost in, yet at the same time maddeningly frustrating to have to do so). But more than that I stopped reading at a specific scene, a father drunkenly retelling his son the story of the abrupt end of his own tennis career at age 13, “shoes filling with blood” following a race to the net and subsequent stumble. No need to provide an abstract of my much contemplated post (and often argued over with our friend, Bookwormy), but leave it to say a 13-year old cannot achieve a speed, starting at standstill and sprinting for only 30-feet, that would be anywhere near sufficient enough to leave stains of flesh, tissue, and bone on the court, fill his shoes with blood, and end a promising tennis career (And yes, I understand it was a literary device told by an exaggerating, bitter, out of touch father, to convey a certain point, but still…c'mon!). Sadly, the events of about 10-days ago obviated the need for that niggling post and required the current one instead. David Foster Wallace hung himself in his home.

Quite frankly, I am nowhere near a good enough a writer to appropriately convey just how impressive this book is. Wallace, a voracious reader of dictionaries and grammatical treatises, manipulates words and sentence structure with both technical mastery and maniacal perfervidity, in the way Mozart would have likely composed if someone had slipped him some DMT. Wallace bends the rules of writing as only those deeply versed in, and obsessively fanatical of, those rules can. The substantive depths and attention to detail – in feats ranging from providing the complete filmography of an optics engineer turned avant-garde filmmaker, to describing the specific rituals of a16-year old tennis prodigy hiding his weed fix from friends and instructors, to, more broadly, creating a world where years are referred to by their corporate sponsors and disabled, terrorist groups (disabled modifying “groups” and not “terrorists,” as in the Wheelchair Assassins, or Les Assassins en Fauteuils Roulants) wreak havoc – is stunning.

Wallace was the smartest guy in the room no matter where he stood. To say he was possessed by genius is to misfire on both accounts: his ability to convey and comment on the complexity of our existence and how we perceive it, with sincerity and without pandering or pretention, made other standard-bearer geniuses wildly jealous; yet he was tormented by a deep and profound depression, one so entrenched and commandeering that, it would seem, makes the genetic possession of a fatal disease seem more like a passing cold. Always at odds with his own success, even more so than most who do find themselves in the suddenly unenviable position of being successful, Wallace seemed to obsess over the quality of his own work and his relationship to it, perhaps mimicking the hold his internal demons had over him. It seems medication and even electroshock therapy were not enough to wrestle away control from his brilliant yet unappeasable mind. Though not enough, luckily for us he spilled enough truth on his pages and their footnotes to last a while. And now it’s through with him.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Socializing cost, privatizing profit, screwing everybody

Apparently, there's been something going on with the nation's economy lately. The BBC gave Noam Chomsky very limited time or space to make some broad points, all of which he has written on extensively in the past. Some snippets:
Markets have inherent and well-known inefficiencies. One factor is failure to calculate the costs to those who do not participate in transactions. These "externalities" can be huge. That is particularly true for financial institutions.

Their task is to take risks, calculating potential costs for themselves. But they do not take into account the consequences of their losses for the economy as a whole.

Hence the financial market "underprices risk" and is "systematically inefficient," as John Eatwell and Lance Taylor wrote a decade ago, warning of the extreme dangers of financial liberalization and reviewing the substantial costs already incurred - and also proposing solutions, which have been ignored.
He also discusses the Clinton administration's repeal of the Glass-Steagall act of 1933,
thus freeing financial institutions "to innovate in the new economy," in Clinton's words -- and also "to self-destruct, taking down with them the general economy and international confidence in the US banking system," financial analyst Nomi Prins adds.
The more important point remains, however:
The unprecedented intervention of the Fed may be justified or not in narrow terms, but it reveals, once again, the profoundly undemocratic character of state capitalist institutions, designed in large measure to socialise cost and risk and privatize profit, without a public voice.

That is, of course, not limited to financial markets. The advanced economy as a whole relies heavily on the dynamic state sector, with much the same consequences with regard to risk, cost, profit, and decisions, crucial features of the economy and political system.
And just today Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have agreed to become bank-holding companies subject to tighter regulation, essentially bringing back Glass-Steagall.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


U.S. apologizes for Afghan civilian deaths

"I offer all Afghans my sincere condolences and personal regrets for the recent loss of innocent life as a result of coalition air strikes," Gates said at a news conference outside the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

"While no military has ever done more to prevent civilian casualties, it is clear that we have to work even harder."

The U.N. mission said it found "convincing evidence" that 60 children, 15 women and 15 men were killed in the strike.

An initial investigation by the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, released this month, found that 30 to 35 Taliban militants and five to seven civilians were killed.

But when cell phone pictures were later provided to the U.S. military showing dozens of bodies at the scene of the strike, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, asked U.S. Central Command to review the initial investigation.
Damn cell phones.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

photo 5

photo by I.C.

Guzman is off to Brazil this week. No more of these scenes for a while. Vaya con dios, player. Not looking forward to seeing you post-op.

Monday, September 15, 2008

“We can do this now or at camp.”

An excellent, excellent article by Hockey's Future writer, Guy Flaming. A story that's both heart-warming and tragic, it reveals something about how people find closure from tragedy, our sensitivity to public perception, and the productive use of violence in dispute resolution. And how dangerous a sport hockey is. Even if you don't care about hockey (what's wrong with you?) this is a good read.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Snow Leopards Maul Siberian Hawks: the KHL Descends Upon Us

This week saw the first regular reason action of the much anticipated Kontinental Hockey League. The KHL is essentially the old Russian Super League reconstituted with a few new teams from former Soviet republics and, more importantly, an infusion of cash from state sponsored oil giant Gazprom and other psuedo-national, mega-companies that are, apparently, swimming in money compared to just a few years ago. Consequently, the new league is throwing tons of cash at players in Europe and, gasp!, even the NHL, and has already succeeded in stealing star-in-the-making Alexander Radulov away from the Nashville Predators and into the waiting and ruble-filled arms of Salavat Yulayev Ufa. Radulov scored 26-goals as a 21-year old on a defensive team and with little quality power play time. That's wildly impressive. But of course, because he is no longer playing in the NHL, he is by definition a mediocre player. Much in the same way that governments the US supports are by definition "democracies" and those the US opposes are "terrorists." But I digress.

I've always been a fan of the Russian players because of their skills with the puck and offensive creativity: criss-crossing rushes, drop passes, the dipsy-doodles, etc. Much of this comes from the fact that the game, as in all of Europe, is played on a wider ice-surface, meaning there is less collisions with opposing players, more time and space with the puck, less play along the boards, less shots on net, etc. It's a bit of a different game, and I like watching the European game from time to time. The new KHL has accumulated by far the best talent outside of the NHL, including some very good non-Russian players, like Jaromir Jagr, Pavel Rosa, Ray Emrey, Niko Kapanen, Mattias Weinhandl, and Mark Hartigan, to name a few. It should be an interesting season and I plan on posting some recaps and thoughts from the KHL throughout the year.

Up first is the first game for two of my favorite teams, Avangard Omsk vs. Ak Bars Kazan. The grudge match between the always wily Hawks and the ever elegant Snow Leopards. Omsk lies in Siberia and was previously owned by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich before he sold to Gazprom. Ak Bars is run by Taftnet, the local oil company, and treasure of the state of Tartarstan. The Tartars are a particularly proud ethnic bunch, I hear. Omsk is led by Jagr who plays on an all Czech line, with former LA King Pavel Rosa (a nifty and highly skilled player, very under-appreciated in NA hockey fan circles) and former Washington Capital Jakub Klepis. Omsk also has NY Ranger draft pick Alexei Cherepanov, who is going to be one of the top scorers in the NHL one day, mark my words. Ak Bars is my team from the lockout year when they loaded up on talent to celebrate the city's 1,000th year anniversary (Russia is an old country) but which ended in failure and a first-round loss. They won the title the following year though (1,001 years is still pretty cool) on the strength of the best line in European hockey for three years now, Alexei Morozov (my former favorite player), Sergei Zinovjev, and Denis Zaripov.

I thought the game was very fast-paced and filled with intensity and obvious skill. Generally, games on the large ice are thought to be more tactical, more of a chess-mass, lots of possession, less "random crazy shit," as I would put it, happening than in an NHL game. But I didn't find that to be the case, for better or worse I'm not sure, in this game. The puck was changing possession constantly, and though there was some serious high end skill, there was also a fair amount of sloppy play. I thought the players were moving too fast for their hands and heads to catch up some of the time, creating turnovers in the neutral zone and at the blue lines. Of course, there were much less hits than an NHL game, but far more dump-ins than I was expecting. I guess when teams line up five defenders at the red line, what can you do?

Jagr looked alot like the Jagr from the beginning of last season on the Rangers. He was controlling the puck well down low, but struggling to create real scoring chances (though he did set up the game's first score). He was, however looking to shoot, like the Jagr of the end of last season, and fired numerous wristers either into the body of former Islanders back-up Wade Dubielewicz or off the back boards. You have to imagine at some point those are going to go in and Jagr should challenge, along with maybe Radulov and Morozov, for the point scoring title. Cherry looked good early but hardly played the second half of the game, with Jagr taking his shifts. Hopefully, it was a minor injury and not some silly head coaching move, but with those wacky Russian coaches, you really never know. As for Ak Bars, Morozov and Zaripov are beautiful together (Zinovjev is out injured it seems). Zaripov scored on an laser beam from the slot (2nd goal in the highlights), a top-level NHL wrist-shot for sure. With the game tied late in the 3rd, it was Morozov time; the captain scored two goals, the first on a slapper down the left wing (don't think I ever saw him do that in a Penguins uniform) and the second on a beautiful set-up from Zaripov which sent the water bottle flying (I highly recommend watching it multiple times). I don't think there's any doubt (and the good NHL GM's know this) that he could put up big points in the right situation in the NHL, but when you see how happy Alexei is after he scores each of the last two, it starts to make sense as to why he's not interested in the NHL anymore (it also makes sense when you consider how much happier his insanely hot wife probably is in Russia). Grigori Shafigulin (who I remember really liking from the 2005 World Junior team) scored on a pretty 3-on-4 shorthanded breakaway, a goal which turned the tide for Kazan. It was a good first effort from what I predict will be two of the top teams in the League. The game, especially the second half, was marred by an endless parade to the penalty box and almost constant and ineffective power plays, often from borderline penalty calls. Hey, maybe the KHL and NHL aren't so different after all?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

photo 4

a solitary laborer in the beautiful countryside outside vang vien, laos. the mountain peering out from the clouds at least arguably resembles a volcano, providing just the scintilla of excuse I need to quote from under the volcano.

And at the next moment, though not before there passed between himself and the doctor a barely perceptible exchange of signals, a tiny symbolic mouthward flick of the wrist on the Consul's side as he glanced up at his bungalow, and upon Vigil's a slight flapping movement of the arms extended apparently in the act of stretching, which meant (in the obscure language known only to major adepts in the Great Brotherhood of Alcohol), "Come up and have a spot when you've finished," "I shouldn't for if I do i shall be 'flying,' but on second thoughts perhaps I will" - it seemed he was back drinking from his bottle of tequila. And, the moment after, that he was drifting slowly and powerfully through the sunlight back toward the bungalow itself. Accompanied by Mr. Quincey's cat, who was following an insect of some sort along his path, the Consul floated in an amber glow. Beyond the house, where now the problems awaiting him seemed already on the point of energetic solution, the day before him stretched out like illimitable rolling wonderful desert in which one was going, though in a delightful way, to be lost: lost, but not so completely he would be unable to find the few necessary waterholes, or the scattered tequila oases where witty legionnaires of damnation who couldn't understand a word he said, would wave him on, replenished, into that glorious Parian wilderness where man never went thirsty, and where now he was drawn on beautifully by the dissolving mirages past the skeletons like frozen wire and the wandering dreaming lions towards ineluctable personal disaster, always in a delightful way of course; the disaster might even be found at the end to contain a certain element of triumph.