Tuesday, December 6, 2011

800 Words: 35 Favorite 'Cultural Stuffs' in 2011. #'s 30, 29 & 28

30. Actually Reading The Bible, er....The Book of Genesis

What the f(*& am I going to say that’s new about The Bible? I know it, you know it, we all know The Bible. God makes the earth, tells Abraham to go to Israel, tells Moses to get the Jews out of Egypt. Then David kills Goliath, and God’s son dies for saying that we should all get along, and eventually God destroys the earth. Booyah.
Apparently, religious people actually read this thing all the time. But I find it hard to believe that anybody except for some particularly autistic Rabbinical students actually get through Leviticus. When people say that they read The Bible ‘cover-to-cover’, my first reaction is ‘No you didn’t,’ my second is ‘Why?’ I suppose the inevitable answer is some variation of ‘because it’s the truth.’
I’d estimate the actual times in my life where religion seemed compelling adds up to a combined three weeks. But after actually reading Genesis, I can understand why others find it much moreso than I do. I’d have been much more malleable if I went to a religious school that doesn’t skimp on the stuff we never hear about in Parochial/Day/Sunday/Hebrew School. There’s something bizarrely comforting about knowing that the wrath of God might deign to destroy us in ways that we would find really cool if we weren’t the ones being destroyed. Religion brings out our inner sadist, and we all have one. How else can anyone explain an auto da fe? Or religious sacrifice? Or responsive readings? There is always comfort in knowing that they’re the problem, not you.
There are reams of The Bible as dry as any academic paper. There are also passages of prose and poetry, images, thoughts, epigrams in Genesis alone that resound so powerfully as to compare to anything in Shakespeare, Chaucer, Chekhov, Kafka, Auden etc. (make your own list).
So if so much of The Bible stands up to critical valuation, why does it need to be true? Ah yes, people are dumb.

29. The Google Reader Utopia (RIP)

Google giveth, Google taketh away. God rest thy soul Google Reader. From dust (bytes?) thou art and to dust thou hast returned.
Google has reformed GR so destructively that it is now like a friend had a stroke and lost everything that once made him interesting and fun to be around. Going on there is now as sad as it is unfair. Google Reader was what Facebook should be - a place that encouraged people to be smarter, better informed, and to engage with one another.
The premise was simple - whoever went on GR could share whatever articles, blogposts, and images they particularly liked and disliked with friends, often with their own commentary provided above, and if the friends wished to they could then comment below. And whatever was stirred up in our thoughts of the moment could turn into a discussion about permanent things - a protected online space where we could share our deeply held ideas, beliefs, feelings, and occasionally even secrets.
It might be true that the only paradise is a paradise lost, and certainly there are arguments for Google Reader as something far less than an Elysian social network. Over and over again, heated, personal disagreements could break out among friends that threatened to break up friendships. But the people who shared on GR (at least my people) resembled a family like any other, and families will always fight about many things.
And now this little family of ours is like intellectual refugees, displaced without a home, without roots, and only the wistful nostalgia that lets us remember better days.

28. Fall Baseball

It began with the most important Oriole game since 1997. On September 28th, 2011, the Baltimore Orioles put the Boston Red Sox out of contention. For fourteen years, 2,267 games, there was not a single game of consequence for the Orioles. My team had finished below .500 every year. The Orioles had two types of seasons: seasons when all our high hopes for quality in the season’s first half were proven utterly futile, and seasons when hope for quality was futile from the first game onward.
Here, finally, was a game worth watching. But the truth remains that even this game looked to be yet another mediocre abortion of an O’s game until two were out in the ninth inning. We were behind in a low scoring pitchers game that we were as always going to lose. When the seventh inning saw a rain delay, I left the TV and went back to my room. Two hours later, Jordan yelled at me from across the house to come back. Chris Davis had just doubled with two out in the bottom of the ninth and Reimold was up. I got back just in time to see Nolan Reimold hit another double which for a split-second looked as though it would go out of the park. Finally, Robert Andino hit a bloop single to left which not even Carl Crawford could catch on a slide, and the game was over.
We won, we may have lost 93 games this year, we may have lost Oriole legend Mike Flanagan to suicide, but we stopped the hated Red Sox from going to the Post-Season - the hated Red Sox, whose fans would occupy our stadiums for two weeks of every year and berate whatever few Orioles fans were still loyal enough to go to Oriole Park. The invincible Red Sox, who until then were 77-0 this year in games they were winning after eight innings. And even that shouldn’t have mattered, because the only way that the Red Sox were not going to the playoffs was if the Tampa Bay Rays beat the New York Yankees. The Rays - an expansion team which still hasn’t won a World Series and was 9 games behind the Wild Card race on September 1st. And in the last game of the year, the Yankees were leading the Rays 7-0 in the eighth inning! The Rays scored 6 in the eighth, and tied the game on what otherwise would have been the very last pitch: a two out, two strike solo homer from a player so bad that his last hit in the major leagues was on April 27th.
And that was just one of the amazing stories of September 28th, 2011 - a day they’re now calling the greatest day in the history of baseball: A two-hit complete game shutout against the Reds from the Dodgers’ Miguel Batista. The underachievng Chris Carpenter threw a similar two hit complete game shutout for the Cardinals against the Astros, catapulting the Cardinals over the Braves for the Wild Card berth. The Braves, who in late August were 101/2 games above the Cardinals, lost in the thirteenth inning because Rookie of the Year Craig Kimbrel couldn’t close a game for virtually the only time the whole season.
The Pennant Chase is often an unpredictable, wildly exciting part of baseball. But there haven’t been two simultaneous pennant chases with results this improbable since 1973. And that was only the beginning.
When the dust had cleared on the Postseason, it had 13 one-run games. The two perennial favorites to win (the Yankees and Phillies) were knocked out in the first round in the last games of their respective series, both losing in their home parks by only one run. In the second round, the Rangers’ Nelson Cruz hit the first ever game winning grand slam in MLB history, and did it in the eleventh inning. Two games later, Cruz hit a game-winning three-run homer, it was also in the 11th. And then came the World Series...
Let’s forget that it went to seven games. Let’s forget that Albert Pujols tied virtually every single-game hitting record in existence in Game 3. Let’s just focus on the inevitable, Game 6 - already being spoken of as the greatest individual baseball game ever played..The only world series game in which a team came down to its final strike before losing the entire series twice and still won. The only World Series game in which one team trailed five times and still won. The only World Series game in which a team found itself losing in the ninth inning and in extra innings yet still won. The only World Series game in which two players hit go-ahead runs in extra innings. The only World Series game in which players scored in the eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh innings.
When it comes to sports-music analogies, baseball is as much classical music as basketball is jazz and football is rock. Yes, sometimes the boredom label synonymous with baseball is quite deserved. But anyone with the patience to not demand instant gratification every moment will see a level of suspense and intensity which even the most exciting football and basketball games would be hard-pressed to match. I’m reminded of my old high school teacher Mr. Lord’s comment on baseball: only boring people can think baseball is boring.
It was a postseason so fantastic, even the Orioles got to contribute to it. 2011 will go down in baseball lore as the most exciting postseason baseball has ever experienced. But this is baseball, records are made to be broken.

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