Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Moneyball: The Movie

This is not a book review, and it's not really even a movie review. I don't see enough movies to even know where to begin or to trust my judgement. I've even been accused (falsely) of not liking movies. They just aren't my thing. But of course I had to go see Moneyball, and it was semi-mandatory to see it on opening night. I am also the sister of a minor star in the movie: my sister was one of the (few thousand) people who served as audience members for the movie, so I felt it imperative to get out there and support her. I actually felt all immediate family members should have received free passes, but apparently Brad Pitt and Sony Pictures had different feelings.

The movie was disappointing. I searched the entire time for my sister and couldn't find her, so I am tempted to give the movie the score of "career minor-leaguer", but this would be biased. Instead, I will set aside my personal relationships and give a more appropriate and better score of "4.50 ERA." My boyfriend, a movie connoisseur (and aforementioned accuser), loved Moneyball, and couldn't understand why my main concern: Moneyball, the movie, was lacking in baseball. I think our main difference in understanding were the following: a) he's not a Student of the Game, and b) he had a more realistic expectation of the movie because baseball is not Life for him. (Also, I think he likes almost every movie he's ever seen. Possibly including "Waterworld.")

Without spoiling the movie for you, though there is nothing really to spoil since Moneyball is based on a) a book almost everybody has read and b) a baseball season we've lived through, the following would be my movie review, if I did that sort of thing.

Walking in, I was expecting either the story of BeaneBall/Moneyball or an A's movie, which, thinking back, was too much to hope for. The movie was actually The Billy Beane Story, also known as A Brad Pitt Vehicle (which I understood much more clearly when I saw that the movie was produced by Brad Pitt.) (Incidentally, google accepts "Pitt" as a real word, which suggests that google agrees with my assessment: Moneyball and life revolves around Brad Pitt.) The fat guy, Jonah something-or-other, as Beane's assistant, was awesome- and the closest thing to making the Story of Moneyball. The best part in terms of a baseball movie, and the I appreciated most, was that Art Howe was absolutely skewered and presented as a royal ass. I don't know how he'll take that now, but Art Howe- the man(ager)- is a royal ass, and he was done to absolute perfection in the movie. (Note: Art Howe hated the movie. Link via the sister/star.) It's easy to see how the post-Howe managerial hiring decisions have been made: A's managers are managers who are gonna listen to Billy Beane, even on things that are left up to managers on Every Other Club. The best part in terms of watching as an A's fan were the two or three clips of Bill King announcing on radio. i seriously almost cried. I think one of the calls was during the 20 game streak, and he was announcing (Korach was in there, too) the A's joining history. It was an amazing flashback. Bill King was The Man.

Towards the end of the movie, and this is spoiler-ish but nothing that's not obvious current events, Billy Beane is portrayed as a hero for turning down an amazing sum of money from the Red Sox to be their GM and sticking with the low-budge A's. As movies go, this is a sweet touch. As reality goes, it's still true, but hard for a 2011 A's fan to swallow with the current ownership and Beane appearing to have given up on the A's (and possibly BeaneBall) altogether. In the meantime, the Red Sox have clearly stuck with it (or a version of BeaneBall+money) and made it work. The Red Sox have a vastly larger budge, of course, but it seems like BeaneBall either has failed- the A's don't win- or the A's aren't using it anymore. For a much more sophisticated analysis, read the (as always) incisive write-up at the Todd Van Poppel Rookie Card Retirement Plan. The movie ends sweetly, but almost a decade later, the adoption of BeaneBall doesn't feel so sweet in Oakland.

Here's the short version:

Brad Pitt is the Hideki Matsui of the 2011 A's. Gets a select number of audience members to the theatre who otherwise wouldn't come to see a movie about baseball economics. They will be happy because he's in Every Single Scene and disappointed because the movie is boring. He works out a lot and his muscles are shown a lot so they might be cheered up.

Baseball fans will go see the movie will be bored because there's not enough baseball. Bill James and BeaneBall fans who go to see the movie will be disappointed because there's not enough math, and the A's don't win the pennant. (They shoulda known this ahead of time.)

A's fans will go see the movie, but only two of them will wear their shirts in the theatre, if they go outside of Oakand, and one of them will be named themacinator. They will be so excited to see their favorite stars portrayed by actors they've never heard of, and to see Mt Davis full. Then they will remember it is a movie.

Recommendation: see it, because you can't not. But don't get your hopes up.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Alexandra Styron: Reading My Father

If you haven't read a book by William Styron, you are missing out. If you have only seen "Sophie's Choice" the movie, and not read the book, you're selling yourself short. (I confess, I haven't seen the movie, but the book is one of the books that I would call "a classic," therefore, even if the movie is The Best Movie Ever, you need to read the book.) And, if you've ever dealt with depression, either personally or with someone close to you, "Darkness Visible: a Memoir of Madness" is a must-read. When it came out, in 1990, it was also a breakthrough: a famous, wealthy, white man eloquently describing what crippling sorrow feels like, before Prozac, before advocates attempted to lift the stigma through "depression is a disease like any other disease, like diabetes" cliches and campaigns. I suppose I have a dead-white-man crush on William Styron, along with Wallace Stevens, Wallace Stegner and John Steinbeck. It doesn't hurt that, with the exception of John Steinbeck, these men are all quite handsome. They just don't make dead white men like that anymore.

It's easy for me to have this kind of long-distance love affair with William Styron, though: he's not my dad. Alexandra Styron has done an amazing job parsing William Styron as a dad, as a writer, as a man, as a man who suffered from life-long, paralyzing depression. She writes with sure-footedness over a subject that is laced with treachery, and with a wit and humor that recalls her father's: the way Alexandra and William bonded was through their dark wit. It shows on the beautifully written page. While "Reading My Father" is not the only biography of William Styron, Alexandra, as a family member, clearly has the most access to potentially revealing information. She also has the most at stake, and "Reading My Father" could be a gloss over of the story of a Great Writer. The book is neither: Styron writes a memoir/biography that honors her father in its honesty by presenting the man as both the ogre that he could be, the demons he suffered from, and the greatness he was capable of. William Styron's story is a tragic one: a man unable to free himself from depression to enjoy his charmed life. His four children seem to have survived the brutal force of his anger and sorrow, at least in Alexandra Styron's telling- but again, she has a lot to lose in an honest telling. On the other hand, Alexandra Styron doesn't leave readers feeling sorry for Styron, or his wife (who bears much of the burden of William's tragedy) and children, but with a better understanding of the madness that eventually, she posits, was his cause of death. A moving book, Styron fans will not be disappointed.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Barbara Ehrenreich: Bright-Sided

I was discussing my issues with Pink with a friend and she recommend I read Barbara Ehrenreich's 2009 book, "Bright Sided." I was reading "Reality is Broken" at the time, and struggling with the concept of positive psychology, so I was stoked to see that the library actually had this book. Not only did they have the book, they had more copies than I think anyone will ever read. Some day I will understand which books libraries buy and which ones they don't. I wish libraries still stamped due dates on the backs of books: then I could make my own informal, anecdotal study, about who reads what books. Or at least who reads the books that I read.

Barbara Ehrenreich thinks positive psychology and positive thinking is a whole lot of crap, and dangerous crap to boot. Although the first section about breast cancer, and the menace of the Pink movement, is the best section, Ehrenreich argues that societies' emphasis on positivity is even more dangerous than cancer: it caused the foreclosure crisis and the current economic tailspin. If McGonical's description on using positive thinking to make life what you wanted it to be was a hard happy pill to swallow, Ehrenreich turned it into a bitter pill that made me choke. I've been left thinking that McGonigal may have bought too much into the "studies" of popular psychologists (Ehrenreich shows that even the psychologists aren't so sure about their studies) and bought into them with such gusto that I'm now not even sure how much of her arguments about the importance and potential of gaming to believe. I was trying to convince myself that my time spent gaming is productive, "good" work, but after reading "Bright-Sided," I have a feeling that McGonical is acting out positive thinking: "if you expect things to get better, they will." If people in 2011 spend way too much time in front of their TVs or computers playing games and nothing good is coming from it, if we think that it will start to be something good, it will. What a relief for everyone using up their spare hours gaming! This is a perfect example of what Eherenreich writes about so perfectly in "Bright-Sided." And I feel like a fool for falling for it.

Growing up, one of my favorite stories was "The Little Engine That Could." The book is a variation on a story that originated in 1906 and was published in the above form in 1920. If you didn't grow up on tales of positive thinking, a small train carrying toys for children stalls before the peak of a hill and is shunned by tougher trains. Another small train who has never chugged over the hill decides that she can make it over the hill, and tells herself "I think I can- I think I can" and lo and behold, makes it over the hill and saves the day for all the small children waiting for the toys. The book makes sense in its context, and in its longevity. In the mid- and late- 19th century, "New Thought" developed as a response to or backlash against the depressing, self-loathing ways of Calvinism. "In New Thought," Ehrenreich explains, illness was a disturbance in an an otherwise perfect Mind and could be cured through Mind alone." Maybe the Mind couldn't cure contagious things like the scary infectious diseases that were all over at the time, but like the Little Engine in the story, the Mind was the key to fixing the general malaise that afflicted the middle class in the form of "invalidism." Medicine wasn't doing anything about the epidemic, so a man named Phineas Parkhurst Quimby stepped in, convincing his "patients that the universe was fundamentally benevolent, that they were one with the 'Mind' out of which it was constituted and that they could leverage their own powers of mind to cure or 'correct' their ills." And with that, positive thinking as a mindset/religion/American way of being was off. Mary Baker Eddy was an influential believer- she founded Christian Science, as was William James, who Ehrenreich calls "the first American psychologist." As this new happy methodology gained in popularity, it also came full-circle back to Calvinism: both the Calvinist and the positive thinker must constantly be on the lookout for mistakes made by the self. "The self becomes an antagonist with which one wrestles endlessly, the Calvinist attacking it for sinful inclinations, the positive thinker for 'negativity.'" Basically, even positive thinking is an anxiety-producing endeavor stemming from the depressing Calvinist doctrine of eternal damnation.

And here we are back at Pink and breast cancer, where the positive thinking brand has taken over so fully that women are told that they must think positively in order for their cancer to be cured. The alternative? Damnation in the form of the return of the cancer. Although there is no scientific evidence for this (nor was there any in the instance of New Thought and invalidism), optimism was recently cited as a "Breast Cancer Prevention Tip." As Ehrenreich writes, this is particularly alarming since "since there is no known means of prevention." Women (and men, who are also at risk of breast cancer) are not only being sold that thinking good thoughts will help them get through cancer, but help them avoid cancer. (In other chapters, positive thinking helps people lose weight, get rich, and find husbands.) Again, this is a dangerous subtext of something that, at face value seems innocuous: how could thinking good thoughts be bad? First, hearing things like "thinking positively makes you healthier" so often that they become "general knowledge" means that we are accepting incorrect information about our health: "it glides by without a moment's thought about what the immune system is, how it might be affected by emotions, and what, if anything, it could do to fight cancer." As in the example I cited in McGonigal's book, SuperBetter, it's hard to argue that if you do something that might make you feel better, and it makes you feel better, that it doesn't work. But Ehrenreich eloquently (and using many many backup studies) convinces the reader that it's bad science. Further, "rather than providing emotional sustenance, the sugarcoating of cancer can extract a dreadful emotional cost." Women are supposed to think positively, because it will help. But if it doesn't help, or more likely, it can't help, and they get sicker, the women then feel doubly bad: physically and emotionally, because they have failed to do the work on their selves, just as the Calvinist who feels he is destined for damnation for a petty sin. What if McGonigal's game had not worked? What if she had continued to suffer symptoms of her concussion, or if her family had not played along, and told her to buck up and think positively, as the fans of Pink are essentially telling women with breast cancer? How would she feel in this case? More depressed, likely.

Ehrenreich has a distinctive style that alternately engages me and bores me. "Bright-Sided" has some extremely powerful sections, especially the chapters on breast cancer and the historical trajectory of Positive Thinking. She lingers on financial issues too long before bringing her story back around to the main point, but finishes strongly- fortunately the book is only 200 pages, so the lingering is short-lived. Her take-home point, that skepticism, realism, and questioning everything, is valuable, but not expanded fully. Finally, I do think there's a place for optimism, and crucially, the benefit of the doubt. While the Positive Thinking that Ehrenreich writes about disallows all agency- if you think it will be so, it will be so- I believe there is room for a middle ground out there. There is room for visualizing this positive scenario, and working to make it happen. Rather than working on the self to visualize the positive scenario, working externally, cooperatively, to make it happen. This doesn't involve merely the skepticism and realism that Ehrenreich advocates, but also positivity and optimism. Throwing out positivity with the Christian Scientists or the Pink people seems excessive.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Glitch Reset, Oakland Style

Glitch will be reset before the next test, and beta will end soon. All of our possessions will be lost, and we will start over.

Since I will lose my house, I decided to move out in true Oakland style and leave my house as is traditionally done in Oakland. First you see my yard. It is a weedy mess. I kindly left one parsnip standing. I also left behind my animals, because that's how we do. Then I left broken tools, some dirt, and some toxic waste out front of my house. My trashcans were overflowing. I'm sure the city can afford to pick that up. And finally, I'm sure my neighbors don't notice that I left the rest of my crap including chunks of rocks and spoiling food on the corner, under a tree. Someone will take care of it.

Reality is broken. Art imitates life- does gaming imitate life or life imitate gaming? In Glitch, my trash is valuable, even broken. Dropped items get scooped up so quickly that it sometimes feels like theft. In Oakland, even sofafrees are blight. Perhaps Jane McGonigal could come up with a game to prevent trashing Oakland, or to get rid of the trash once it was there. In the meantime, Glitch trash is way prettier and shorter-lived.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Year of the Bug: #Buginarug Clean Bedding Edition

Week 36: #Buginarug Clean Bedding Edition

Mandatory 9/11 Tenth Anniversary Post

If you have read this blog, you will probably are expecting the typical lament of nationalism, and perhaps cynicism about patriotism I've written about before. This post is no exception, historic moment or not.

First, I'd like to encourage you to read this "Open Letter to New Yorkers on the 10th Anniversary of 911" from McSweeny's. The author is younger than me, and even more distanced from the event than I am/was, but sums up some of the feelings that I wrote about a couple years ago. The author was in high school in California and had never heard of Afghanistan. His high school treated the attacks like another upsetting day-in-the-life, and honestly, I understand how this could be done in a life of privileged California where the rest of the world is just that: the rest of the world. If it's not Europe or a founding country of civilization like Egypt, it's not relevant. Current events are United States-centric, and until 9/11, Afghanistan wasn't any of these things. The Taliban were relevant because of their atrocious treatment of women, but I imagine only certain segments of high schoolers cared about this. 9/11 hit home for the author when he moved to New York and realized just how hard the episode hit the city and her residents.

My response was not *as* detached, but the article made me realize that my emotional response, while strong, was not personal. The anger I have felt for the last 10 years is not personal. It is sincere, and deep, but it's anger not because I know anyone that was affected in New York, but because of what has happened, both to this country and to the world since then. My anger is not even mostly at the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden, as horrible at that sounds. Osama won, certainly, and possibly in the way he intended: not just by killing people in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania, but by the US government's reaction since then. The government has engaged in torture and justified circumventing the justice system, and the public has expressed minimal outrage and slowly come to accept this as necessary. The government has rescinded many civil rights and the public has expressed minimal outrage and slowly come to accept this as necessary. The government has coerced the international community to fight multiple unwinnable wars and then lost much of the country's moral standing in doing so. The public stood behind these wars in the name of terrorism, then expressed some minute outrage, and has now become so used to them that I'm not convinced much of the public even remembers how many wars and where we are fighting. The government has gone from a surplus budge to a fiscal crisis while spending vast portions of this money on these wars, and the public and public officials continue to argue about cutting spending in places like health care and social services as if this money is anything more than a drop in the bucket of government spending.

There are flags everywhere again this week. Certainly the flags are not as ubiquitous as they were in 2001, when I returned from Mexico and shocked at how my liberal California turned to a giant symbol of nationalist pride. But for me, the flag has become a symbol that I am embarrassed to be represented by. I am proud to be an American. I am horrified that America is the target of such hatred that attacks like 9/11/01 happen. And I'm even more horrified that 9/11/01 has been used to justify the deaths of even more Americans: soldiers and contractors. I'm horrified that 9/11/01 has been used to justify the deaths of Iraqis, Afghanis, and who knows who else. I'm horrified that George Bush is gone and we're still at war. I'm horrified that President Obama has not decisively ended the Patriot Act or ended indefinite detention, or ended the wars. I'm horrified that I can't look at the flag without being angry.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Jane McGonigal: Reality is Broken

This is going to be another post that is about baseball without being about baseball- it's a book review about a book that doesn't mention baseball once. "Reality is Broken" is an attempt to pitch games as The Future. Jane McGonigal believes that games have immense potential for changing the world, and that writing off games and gamers as time wasters is no longer possible as generations are raised playing games. I have no idea how she feels about baseball, but I know how I feel about baseball, and I know how little I know about any other games. McGonigal is not referring to baseball players or baseball fans, or even football, basketball or chess players or fans. She's referring to players of games like Glitch and other (mostly online) MMOs.

But I'm going to start with baseball because I can. And because as the season winds down, it's also winding up. I mean, the A's are out of it, sure, but my backup team, the Phils are playing better all the time and breaking records daily. The intensity picks up as we get closer to the post-season, and while I'm preparing for hibernation, it's hard not to get excited when each game starts. I coordinate my day to listen to both the A's and Phillies games if possible, and I've written about this baseball addiction before. I posted a video of the A's playing their typical shoddy-ass style baseball as evidence of how devoted/addicted I am. McGonigal has a name for this self-torture that comes along with an addiction to games, and she's a fan of it. If I were forced to watch that video as work, or worked and saw something equivalent to that video, it would be "negative stress." But because it's a game, and because I'm choosing to participate (as a fan), it's positive stress, or eustress. When we're in this state, she writes, "we're confident and optimistic... this optimistic invigoration is way more mood-boosting than relaxing." McGonigal is really referring to gamers, not game-watchers (fans) like me, but there is something about the intimate experience of listening to a season every single day that suits the definition.

The comparison goes a step further. George Will's "Men at Work" opens with a quote from Warren Spahn, one of the best lefties of all time: "Baseball is a game of failure. Even the best batters fail about 65 percent of the time." Calling it an outside chance that the A's will finish winning half of their games this year is a stretch. The fact that the Phillies have won almost twice as many games as they have lost is phenomenal. This is not unique to baseball. If games aren't hard, they aren't rewarding: they don't provide the eustress. Gamers, according to McGonigal, spend 80 percent of the time failing. This obviously doesn't stop them from doing what they're doing (she quotes immense amounts of time worldwide spent gaming), and a recent study found that according to psychophysiological measurements, gamers had "positive emotion peaks" when they made a mistake. What happened, the researchers found, was that the players were failing "spectacularly, and entertainingly." I can relate to this as a baseball fan: when my team screws up, although I express outrage, indignation, disbelief and ironic belief, there is a sort of surge of adrenaline or excitement that makes the game more fun and interesting. I don't think that the players feel this way, though.

And here is where games part from sports, and from being a sports fan. When the gamers made mistakes in the study, and had fun, it was something about "the combination of positive feeling and a stronger sense of agency [that] made the players eager to try again." I have no agency when I watch or listen to a baseball game. The players have a sense of agency when they go to the plate and strike out or hit into a double play, and I'm sure they want to try again. But I'm not sure they find it fun or interesting to fail. Frustrating, embarrassing, etc. While this part of McGonigal's argument applies: "The more we fail, the more eager we are to do better;" the next part is unique to gaming: "The right kind of failure feedback is a reward. It makes us more engaged and more optimistic about our odds of success."

So I'm going to leave baseball behind now, and talk about the book, and how McGonigal believes that gaming is the future of social change. (This is either very good news for you, or very bad news for you, depending on whether you loved or hated the previous discussion of baseball.) First, McGonigal defines games as having the following four traits, and what these traits lead to that is missing in (first world) life:

1. A goal, which leads to a sense of purpose for players.
2. Rules which unleash creativity and foster strategic thinking through placing limitations on the way to achieve the goal.
3. A feedback system that provides motivation to keep playing, as well as promise that the goal is achievable.
4. Voluntary participation, which establishes common ground, and makes the hard work safe and pleasurable.

If we go back to baseball for just a second, we see that it fits well into this definition of a game, and can see how the definition works to make baseball so fun (and awful, and addicting, and such a relief from the "real world.")

After defining games, McGonigal asks readers to do their best to withhold judgement on games and gamers. She knows that even gamers judge themselves for "wasting time" playing MMOs online in attempts to achieve virtual goals, or instead of doing other things. I was able to suspend disbelief with this part of her argument, mostly. But I had a harder time when she moved into a discussion about "positive psychology" which is crucial to understanding why we should accept games and gaming as a reasonable use of time and potential world-changers. According to McGonigal, positive psychologists believe that "we are the one and only source of our own happiness:"
When we set out to make our own happiness, we're focused on activity that generates intrinsic rewards- the positive emotions, personal strengths, and social connections that we build by engaging intensely with the world around us. We're not looking for praise or payouts. The very act of what we're doing, the enjoyment of being fully engaged, is enough.
And games like MMOs give us this kind of fulfillment, whether we're succeeding at them or failing and falling off cliffs. Good games provide enough feedback and enough room for creativity that we feel successful. "Good games," she writes, "are productive. They're producing a higher quality of life."

If this sounds hokey to you, you're not alone. Millions and millions of people are spending millions and millions of hours not to decompress, not to avoid the "real" world, not because they like shooting things or because their parents don't want to educate them (I'm not saying any of these things are "the" reason), but because they've found the way to happiness: intrinsic self-reward. McGonigal says she expects disbelief- positive psychology is new, gaming is new, who's going to believe this? And maybe she's right, maybe I'm being a skeptic. She certainly convinced me with some of her examples (coming soon). On the other hand, I feel better when I'm reading than when I'm on the computer, and I feel much better when I'm outside. Her response to this would be that the way to get people outside would be to create a game. My response would be "why do we need a game to get outside? I should just GO outside! Back in my day..." Her response to this would be "If games make people happy and get people outside, why not use them?" This is hard to argue.

Some of McGonigal's examples of "good games" are really excellent. A few years ago McGonigal fell sick after a concussion. She just could not get well, which is not uncommon with victims of concussions. After a few months of not improving, she designed a game where she was the superhero and friends and family members had roles as supporting characters. There were achievements and levels that she had to achieve, and she improved rapidly as she "leveled up." There is no scientific proof that the game caused her to improve, but as she explains, she felt better after starting to play "SuperBetter," so it doesn't really matter whether the game helped her heal or not- feeling better helped her heal, and the game clearly had an effect on this. Another extraordinary example she cites was in England when there was a scandal over MPs putting their personal expenses on the government tab. In response to public outrage, the government did what governments do: they released information in a way that was meant to discourage public understanding: millions of scanned documents. A UK newspaper, the Guardian, decided to crowdsource the investigation into the illegible documents, and turned the project into what McGonigal calls "the world's first massively multiplayer investigative journalism project." People came and played in amazing numbers for the "emotional rewards of a good game," as the project was designed to give rewards in real-time as well as making the game feel social. In the first three days, 20,000 players analyzed 170,000 electronic documents. This amazing project had political results: 28 MPs resigned, and 4 MPs were charged criminally. MPs had to repay over a million pounds, and the expense codes are being rewritten.

Clearly, gamers have something to offer: political reform came quickly and swiftly- much more swiftly than if paid people sitting in offices had had to read through all of the documents. McGonigal goes on to propose other games that address climate change, oil usage, etc, but they seem exceedingly hypothetical. She repeatedly brings up the idea of the whole world coming together to play the same game for one day, which seems ludicrous: if we could all play for one day, couldn't we all get along for something slightly larger? On the other hand, everyone plays games. It's possible we *could* all start with tic-tac-toe or something tiny, and then realize the power that was harnessed from everyone, regardless of place, politics, resources, etc playing together and then move towards bigger things. Games clearly have a larger place in life than we've given them, as does play. We've ruled out play as something for children, something that we grow out of. But as more and more people spend more and more time gaming, McGonigal is right: the potential needs to be harnessed for something more than shooting virtual monsters.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Mac Moves

Sometimes long distance friends are the best kind of friends. V made this from shots she took of Mac long ago at Fort Ord. It made my day. Probably it will make my week.


Monday, September 05, 2011

When Pink and Baseball Collide

This isn't really a post about baseball, but I'm gonna start there. On Sunday I went to the baseball game, and I think it was maybe the bajillionth time I've run into Breast cancer Awareness day at the game.


Six hundred plus breast cancer survivors put on neon pink jerseys and form a pink ribbon on the field and release pink balloons and doves and more people wear pink in the stands and there are pink give-aways and pink between-inning speeches it's all very pink and emotional and inspiring. (Way better than the game I went to on Saturday that turned out to be Christian day at the games, though unannounced, and really bugged me. See my previous encounter with religion at the ballpark.) I'm not upset that it was cancer day- I mean surviving cancer is a wonderful thing. My grandmother had breast cancer and lived for about 30 more years and died of something entirely unrelated (though it may or may not have been cancer), and as cynical as I am, I'm certainly not going to begrudge celebrating life. (OK, I'm cynical when it comes to the yearly baseball Michael Milken campaign about prostate cancer, but dude's a thief. I can't help it.)

Well, actually the Milken story is rather relevant here, but this is where the story veers from baseball. One of Milken's lines, apparently, was "Greed is Good." And this is the problem with the prostate campaign, and why I get so frustrated that I'm cynical about a cause that fights a deadly disease: The fight against prostate cancer is run by the man who said "greed as good." And though Milken isn't running the breast cancer campaign, the line might as well apply to the campaign against breast cancer. There is a Problem with Pink. Here are some stats for you, as broken down by The Cancer Culture Chronicles: Komen, the "charity" behind much of the pink stuff out there, contributed less than 19% of their resources to breast cancer resources in 2010. So I'm at this game Sunday watching all of these women proudly standing on the field in solidarity and sisterhood with other survivors, wearing pink jerseys that were funded with money that could have gone to actually making a difference for them and other women. And fuming, of course.

So we've got problem number 1: The main foundation funding ("funding") breast cancer research is actually quite lame about distributing their abundant wealth. But there's more, of course. The Pink message encourages us to miss the target: breast cancer doesn't just happen, and the causes of breast cancer are Big Picture- not just genetic and not just solved with self breast-exams or mammograms. This blog from one of my favorite online action sites, Think Before You Pink, reminds us that though breast cancer affects individuals, it's a social and environmental issue as well, and must be "cured" as such. The decidedly non-pink Breast Cancer Fund website has clear sections on the kinds of environmental things that can increase the likelihood of developing breast cancer, including population markers such as genetics, race/ethnicity, where you live, and where you work. The research is being done, but sadly, the annual report is only in its sixth year. Contrast this with the Very Pink and glitzy shiny Susan Komen site. It's easy to see how much more research could be done, and how much more could be done with research at the Breast Cancer Fund site. Instead, we've got Pink.

And back to one of my favorite websites, Sociological Images, a recent study found that pink was self-defeating. Women exposed to all this Pink crap felt a personal threat- pink is so overdetermined as feminine that women take the Pink=Women's Disease to heart, and try to ignore it as a defense mechanism. This leads women to be less likely to donate money to anything breast cancer related and less likely to take the idea of breast cancer affecting them seriously. On the one hand, Pink makes the disease a personal, not global threat, and on the other, when the threat becomes personalized, natural defense mechanisms cause women to shy away from taking it seriously.

I don't have answers for this one, but as usual, when something is sending a very strong traditional cultural message, there's usually more to the story, and probably a better solution. In the meantime, I encourage you to follow along with Think Before You Pink, both the blog and the action campaigns, check out the research at The Breast Cancer Fund, and The Cancer Culture Chronicles, which can be a very difficult read, which is honest, not Pink. Pink is not difficult. It's traditional and trite and cheerful, and so not-cancer-like. I mean no disrespect for the strong women on the baseball field. I just hope we can change the marketing in time that the 600 survivors are the last 600 survivors, because there's no more cancer. I don't think Pink will do this.

Year of the Bug: Dying for Dinner

(or #firstworldproblems, dog edition)

This is posted late here, but made it in time for the 52 weeks group.

Week 35: Dying For Dinner

Sunday, September 04, 2011

I Am Too Old (and a lot of other things) To Play Baseball

My dad gave me a copy of the New York Times magazine a couple months ago with a picture of Derek Jeter on the cover. I kept flipping through the magazine thinking that there must be an article that wasn't about the Yankees that he wanted me to read. But no, the cover story, the one with the Giant Jeter Bobble Head on the front, was actually the point. I sucked it up and read it- and learned that there are good lessons to be learned, even from the enemy Yankees. You can and should read the whole article here. Basically, Jeter just turned 37 in the biggest baseball market there is, and no one can stop counting the seconds until he retires. Or dies. Because he's just that old. On the flipside, he has also just reached an amazing baseball milestone, 3,000 hits, and is the revered captain of a team that has flourished since he joined 15 years ago. (They've only missed the post-season once since then. Can you see why I hate Jeter AND the Yankees?)

But baseball lifespans, Michael Sokolove explains, are "foreshortened versions of a human lifespan." Baseball players (not just Jeter) are exciting to watch because they're exaggerated versions of what we wish our physical selves could be: how many times have we told ourselves we could hit that pitch that the lame pitcher threw and the lamer pitcher missed, and been awed when the awesome hitter took the awesome pitcher deep? Baseball players (and all athletes) just like us, try to compensate when their bodies start to fail them- they eat better, maybe they exercise more or differently. But baseball players' bodies aren't failing them at 75 and getting arthritic. They're failing them at catching up with that awesome pitch, and they can only hit weak grounders instead of awesome liners or homeruns. Sokolove knows: there's just no compensating that even the best athlete can do. Even Jeter. It's just that the best ones were so good to begin with, they can play longer. So Jeter is not quite dead yet. Me? I'm already too old to play.

The reason I'm too old, and you better sit down for this, is that the prime of a baseball players' life is 26-30 years old. My dad, when talking about upside of a recent call-up or trade, used to say "Well, he's an old rookie," and I'd think 23 or 26 isn't old! And we're both right. In the real world, 26 isn't old at all. But the changes that start happening in the body around 30 coincide with the skills most needed to make baseball players successful. It's depressing, but Jeter is dying. He's in the old folks home of baseball. He probably is in assisted living. Part of me, the Yankees hater in me, is gloating. The young person in me is having a heart attack and joining him there. Physically, the things that you need to hit a ball just start to deteriorate: "fast-twitch" muscle reactions, eyesight, and visual processing. The time of pitch-leaving-pitchers hand to decision-about-swing is so miniscule that these things are key to success, and you just can't make them last, even if you work out every second like Roger Clemens. (Read the article to understand what they are and how they actually work.) Roger Clemens is famous for his workout routine (and possibly also his performance enhancing drug use), but according to Sokolove, you just can't work yourself into a younger person.

Getting old is touchy. Sokolove got himself banned from the Yankees clubhouse for proposing this article, which was being written for the New York Times- quite something. In baseball, the take-home message is, if you start out great, you can stretch your career till you're 40, or maybe a little longer. You'll still be good, but people will think you're washed up, and heckle you mercilessly and wonder why you didn't retire sooner. If you're good, you better get to the Majors when you're young- like real young- like by 25, and better get out before you're 35 to salvage any dignity. And if you're mediocre (by baseball standards, which is, of course, tremendous), you better STILL get up early, and get out early, before you're the laughing stock of people like me. The other way to think about this is that if you're a fan, taking age into account is vital when evaluating new additions to a team or judging a players' performance. Hideki Matsui isn't just bad, he's old: he's past his prime, and his body is hurting his chances. The A's younger players should be playing at the top of their physical abilities- if they're not, they're not going to get any better. And me? I guess it's not bad enough that I'm a girl. I'm too damn old.