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Monthly Archives: April 2013

The A’s will finish in the top three in the AL for stolen bases.

The A’s currently lead the major leagues in stolen bases. What! Gone are the days of Jeremy Giambi plodding around the diamond with a Krispy Kreme 12 pack stuffed in his back pocket. It’s not quite back to Rickey Time, but this year’s A’s feature base-stealing threats at… basically every position. Derek Norris will take one if you’re not looking. Moss has a positive BsR, which is not usual for a first baseman. Josh Reddick seems like he’s stolen a base more often than he’s gotten a hit this year. And Coco Crisp is defying Father Time by stealing more bags than anyone else thus far.

Are they likely to continue this? I think so, particularly since everyone in the outfield is capable of stealing 20 bags. I don’t think they’ll finish as the league leader–the Brewers had 150+ last year!–but top 3 in the AL is definitely possible, and I like this strategy so far. I’ll take it.

 

Who will finish the season as the A’s second baseman?

If I had to bet on this, I would say, “Can I please not bet on this?” Because there is very little evidence that the second-base situation has stabilized, even with the unfortunate exit of Scott Sizemore from the depth chart. Sizemore actually had been my favorite thanks to his offensive potential, and we’re left to choose between Andy Parrino (just sent down), Adam Rosales (just called up), Eric Sogard (still fly), Jemile Weeks (still in AAA), and Jed Lowrie (still playing SS with Nakajima on the DL).

So far the job has basically been split between Parrino and Sogard, with Sogard getting more starts. Parrino was just sent down, mostly because of struggles at the plate. In an ideal situation the A’s don’t need a ton out of their second baseman, who will likely hit in the 9 hole whoever they are. To my eye, Sogard has shown good range, though he’s had a couple of errors as well. I think Melvin will try Rosales, who was off to a very hot Spring Training before a minor injury. Rosales has also posted the lowest season wRC+ I’ve ever seen– -4 in 68 PAs in 2011 — so really it’s a question of who won’t be terrible with the bat and can field the position. I’m betting on Rosales, even if I feel more attached to Sogie, who almost hit a game-tying HR at Fenway in Game 1 last week.

Who will end the season as the A’s closer: Cook, Balfour, or someone else?

I am betting Balfour keeps the job, but I bet Cook will end the season with a higher WPA. Yes, Balfour’s FIP (5.62) is terrifying and indicates his ERA (2.25) isn’t sustainable. I think he’ll definitely stabilize in between those numbers, and hopefully closer to the ERA. However, it seems to me–I’m not checking the numbers–but it seems like maybe what is going on is that BoMel realizes Balfour does best when he’s insanely pumped up, which happens best in the 9th. He also realizes that Cook might actually have better stuff (although his fastball is a little straight sometimes), and that Doolittle might be better than either one–so we’re seeing him deploy Cook and Doolittle in the highest-leverage situations, which often seem to come up in the 7th or 8th rather than 9th.

Which starting pitcher will end the season with the most wins on the staff?

I am predicting a Frank Thomas ’06 season for Bartolo Colon. Colon is off to an excellent start to the year, thanks to two things: 1) crazy good control. Colon threw 38 innings without a walk to start the year. As we’ve seen from Jarrod Parker’s early struggles, it doesn’t matter how good your stuff is if you are walking batters. If you’re not walking anyone, even if you give up a tater, it’s likely to be a solo shot and not the Jack Cust 3-Run Special. 2) Colon’s velocity is up. He’s touched 95 on occasion, and his velocity chart shows no recent downward trend. I for one was worried that his velocity would fall off the table after (presumably) ceasing steroid use after last season’s suspension. That doesn’t seem to be the case so far. I think Colon wins 16 or 17.

While the best case would be for Jarrod Parker or Brett Anderson to take a leap towards elite status, it looks like that would be asking a bit much of that duo given their early-season returns.

Over/Under: Hiro Nakajima, 60 GS

We don’t have a picture of him, because he hasn’t played yet!

Under. The projection systems remain kind to Hiro, but the fact that he was supposed to be out for only a few games–which has now turned into 20+–is not a good sign. It’s unclear whether he’s being kept on the DL for precautionary reasons or if he really is presently injured, but none of the vibes from Spring Training seemed positive. He struggled to hit and there were whispers of range problems at SS. At the time I wondered whether the range problems could mean a move to 2B, where the A’s (still) have a void. Maybe he’ll take America by storm and be the second coming of Ichiro, but right now I’ll be surprised if he’s a contributor. Obviously I would like to be wrong on this one!

Over/Under: Josh Reddick, .300 OBP

Over! Over! Please let it be over!

One thing is clear: Josh Reddick is not done evolving as a hitter. He had almost identical wRC+ numbers–107, 108–in his 2011 and 2012 seasons, but he got to those numbers in very different ways. His ISO spiked from a fairly average .177 to .221 last year, while his average and OBP both took ~30 point dips. Which path will Josh take? Is it possible for him to have the best of both worlds? Reddick is Chili Davis’ biggest–and most important–project.

Over/Under: # of pitchers who start a game for the A’s this year, 9

We’re at 6 so far. If any one of the starting five goes down, Straily (the #6) is going to be the first one to fill in. He might be better than half the rotation right now anyway. But last year’s club had 10 different players start a game. Will this year be the same?

I don’t think so. Last year there were a number of rookies who came into the rotation late in the game, such as AJ Griffin. Because there was a lot of uncertainty the coaches didn’t necessarily know what was on their hands and spread starts around to learn more. This year they hopefully know more about each starter than before. Godfrey, Ross, Blackley and McCarthy are all gone. I think we’ll see 8 starters this year–the starting five, Straily (who we’ll see a lot of), Weiland, and maybe another. Milone strikes me as the probably IP leader, just because I don’t see him getting hurt or falling off so badly that he’s sent down.

 

I want to learn a language using Duolingo.

I already know Spanish and English. My options are French, Italian, Portuguese, and German. I am leaning towards French or German. Thoughts? Feel free to comment away!

Click for Upstream Color movie trailer on YouTube

(Mild spoilers ahead, but it would be hard for me to really ruin anything since much of it is in trailers)

(Note: 12 June 2013 I watched the film for a second time, confirming my initial opinion that it is one of my favorite movies of all time. There are some brief comments on things I missed the first time through added at the end of this post.)

On Tuesday, April 23rd, one of my students cancelled her tutoring appointment in Walnut Creek. I leaped with joy.

It might seem funny, the idea of going from Danville to San Francisco just to watch a movie. True, the movie was only showing in San Francisco. True, I didn’t have anything better to do. But I could have stayed home–saved the BART fare–and so on. But like a homing missile there I was, 10:30pm at the Roxie near 16th & Mission. I ran, actually, from a bar five blocks away, just as I would run to BART when the film was over, not ready for the exhilaration to peter out.

As for the film itself… I’m not sure I could write a straightforward review. What follows is part narrative, part review, part evaluation. And it’s going to be in question form, because that’s all you’ll have when this movie is over.

Wait, you ran to BART? Nerd.

Yes, I ran to BART. I had it calculated exactly. The film was 96 minutes and started at 10:34. The last BART to the East Bay was at 12:19pm. Not a train you want to miss.

Why did you want to see this thing so badly?

First, I loved Shane Carruth’s first film, Primer. I’m a strong believer in the auteur-centric vision of cinema, which places directors (rather than producers or actors) as the most important determinants of a film. Since his first film was great, I expected an equally unconventional, challenging, hauntingly beautiful second feature.

Second, the trailer is unbelievable. As I’ve said before, I love movie trailers, and this one is a masterpiece, particularly in terms of sound design. The theme song captures the mood perfectly–a sort of sinister synchronicity giving way to wonder at the workings of an unfolding process. It made me so stoked to see this movie.

Check out the soundtrack here. “As If It Would Have A Sudden and Memorable Ending” is the one from the trailer.

Wait, this is the Primer guy? So is there time travel?

Well. No. I don’t think so. I don’t think it would be totally out of scope to call it a science fiction movie. But where Primer lived exclusively in your head, with all its endless Godel/Escher/Bach self-referencing temporal loops, Upstream Color is much more of a full-body experience. There’s a bit of body horror that is actually easily the most conventional part of the entire movie, so it’s visceral in a physical way. But it’s also visceral emotionally, and an appeal to an understanding of the world that, unlike Primer, isn’t totally based on explaining it in perfect formulae.

Body horror? You mean, like Cronenberg stuff?

Just some run-of-the-mill man shoves maggot pills into your throat and you grow giant worms and try to stab them out but then some farmer guy transfers them into a pig. And then clips the pig with a name tag bearing… your name.

What skill is Upstream Color most likely to make me want to learn?

Probably not farming, because you’ll be really worried that your animals are actually people.

Probably not gardening, either. Don’t ask.

Kung fu is a good answer. There’s an awesome scene where these two kids do some sort of ceremonial kung fu. I have no idea why but it looks cool. More practically, kung fu might have helped Kris not get drugged.

Best answer: sound recording. The Farmer (henceforth capitalized) operates Quinoa Valley Records, and does meticulous field recordings of all kinds of stuff: a knife scraping against rocks, stones sliding down pipes, babbling brooks, grunting pigs. It seems awesome. Music of the spheres.

Field recording! The new UC-inspired fad.

If Upstream Color were a Bible verse, which would it be?

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)

Upstream Color definitely makes it seem as if the supernatural, or at least the preternatural, is everywhere. Truth lives everywhere in Upstream Color, from the acoustics of a sliding rock to the behavior of porcine pets. As the film goes on every little thing seems to take on enormous significance: an ominous stereo, a home pregnant with hymnlike sounds, a subway car to Heaven.

What book will Upstream Color make me want to read?

Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Warning: Upstream Color may actually make you want to memorize Walden. Double Warning: Memorizing Walden may also be a sign that you are actually a pig. Or something like that. Do you see the pattern emerging?

Okay, stop messing around. What the heck is this movie about?

I suspect that Shane Carruth would be disappointed in us for asking such a pedestrian question. He may think his movie transcends such concerns. Whatever. We’re just mortals, and what is this movie about is the only question we can think to ask. Let’s see what we can come up with.

The movie is really very fragmentary, but I think we can cobble together some motifs (recurring images) and themes (social or philosophical questions or concepts the work seems to concern itself with).

Did I mention this film is beautiful?

Motifs:

Walden, the flower–>worm–>person–>pig cycle, immersion in water (the bath, the stream, the pool), sound, gardening, farming

Themes

marriage and relationships, human-nature interaction (gardening, farming, Jeff chopping down trees, Walden), voyeurism or oversight, interconnection

Interpretation

(Big spoilers alert)

Upstream Color doesn’t need to be about anything. It’s a pretty transcendent cinematic experience that is worth watching just to watch–the images are keenly beautiful and when you leave you’ll find yourself looking at the details in your life with new appreciation. Moreover, the film is a prime illustration of how important sound is in creating and supporting the mood of a film. If the film has any precedent, (at least given my limited film-viewing experience) the best comparison is to Terence Malick’s epic Tree of Life. That film is on a much larger scale, and is certainly more domestic than the sci-fi inflected UC. But the viewer’s attitude is the same: it’s a film to immerse yourself in, to let wash over you, more than anything else–if it were a concert, it would be the kind where you don’t sing along or dance, you just close your eyes and let the soundscape shape your mind’s reaction.

With that being said, I think Upstream Color is–kind-of–about the death of God.

Now you have my attention

Even though Carruth plays Jeff, he’s actually fairly extraneous to the story. Fragmentary though the film is, there is a story, and a linear one at that. (Okay, it might be cyclical, but we’ll get to that.) That linear story follows Kris, the female lead, as she is kidnapped, hypnotized, and operated on before returning to her life bewildered and confused. Ultimately she instinctually finds the Farmer–who previously operated on her–and murders him.

Who is this Farmer? The Farmer is also obsessed with the sounds of Creation, endlessly trying to record or recreate them. He is also the only supernatural character in the film: he is able to see the lives of others many miles away. We are able to infer that the people whose lives he can see are ones whose worms he has removed and implanted into his pet pigs, because Carruth occasionally alternates footage of two pigs (including the “Kris” pig) behaving in a certain way or shot in a certain way with similarly framed or themed shots of Kris and Jeff. Kris also believes she is pregnant right at the time that the Kris pig becomes pregnant. Somehow, the Farmer’s pigs mirror the behavior of their human correlates.

Lest we believe that the Farmer is merely an unknowing bystander in the worm cycle, it is clear that he knows his pigs are somehow special. He refuses to sell the piglets the “Kris” pig has, instead drowning them. Moreover, the overseers of the cycle do seem to benefit from a process that is less than beneficial for the human hosts. While the human hosts suffer–we see Kris writhe in pain, stab herself, and generally remain very freaked out for the rest of the movie–the overseers of the process all benefit. The gardener (who is also the kidnapper) extorts money from Kris while she is hypnotized. The Farmer’s voyeurism doesn’t seem malicious, but then again, he doesn’t seem to help anyone, and his farm helps perpetuate the cycle.

What evidence do we have that the Farmer might occupy a God-like position within the film?

  • His co-conspirator, the Gardener, tells a hypnotized Kris that “You cannot look directly at me.” This echoes a common theme in religious art and thought, the idea that God’s glory is too great to be directly confronted in conventional human terms, appearing everywhere from Dante’s ineffable Paradiso to Islamic proscription of images of the deity.
  • The Farmer is omniscient, or close to it. He is able to see others’ lives. That’s pretty godlike!
  • The Farm is an analogue for the real world. If the Farmer takes care of the Farm, and each pig on the Farm has a human counterpart in the World, then the Farmer takes care of the World. (It’s true that the pig-human correlation might not have the degree of causal relation that I am giving it here–it’s unclear whether killing a pig, for example, kills the human correlate, or vice versa, or neither.)
  • In many traditions the Deity sings the Earth into Creation or is otherwise concerned with music in a spiritual sense. The Farmer is obsessed with the sounds of Creation, refining and recording them.

(Biggest spoiler alert)

At the end of the film, Kris shoots the Farmer. The worm cycle falls apart. She and Jeff send files to every person the Farmer has every operated on, and they all come together to operate the Farm, signifying a powerful transition from the hierarchically-inflected worm cycle to a more nourishing, closer relationship where human-Creation relations are no longer mediated by the meddling of an overseeing Farmer/God. I believe the Farm really does represent Creation in a sense, so the fact that the humans (Kris, Jeff) overthrow the Deity (Farmer) and then take the Farm into their care really suggests that they are taking their place as masters of their own world.

One of the most powerful supports for this theory is the choice of book. Carruth could have chosen any number of books, and maybe if he had chosen another one we’d be talking about some totally different crackpot theory. But he chose Walden, so we’re going to talk about self-reliance. This is, after all, a book about a guy who decided to be self-reliant–to live in the woods, by himself. It is the story of a man who eschews oversight for the opportunity to be master of his own fate and caretaker of his own world. In that sense Thoreau’s journey mirrors Kris’ as one of liberation through the process of taking life into one’s own hands.

It’s possible, I’ll note, that this is actually a cyclical process–that Kris or Jeff will become the new Farmer, and that the cycle will continue until they are murdered in turn. I’ll also note that I don’t necessarily mean God as literally God, but maybe more like authority figures in general. I also think there is a lot to be said about the memory confusion phenomena that happens to Kris and Jeff as their relationship goes on, but I’m not sure what, except that it’s something a lot of close friends will be familiar with and which goes to show how deeply the film is concerned with human interconnection.

I wouldn’t put too much weight into this theory, or try to bend the film to fit the confines of this oft-repeated frame. It would be an insult to ignore the nuance and particular beauty of the film in favor of a single interpretation, when a plurality of personal reactions lends a much better impression of the film’s attitude of wonder at a complicated, often incomprehensible world.

 

JUNE 13, 2013:

I just watched the film for the second time last night, and it was just as good as I remembered. There were several things I noticed this second time around that I didn’t quite piece together the first time I saw the movie, so I’ll mention them here.

  • I didn’t realize the first time I saw the film how much time had elapsed while Kris was being brainwashed. It appears to have been at least a week, since her employer fires her.
  • rape subtext–remembering nothing from the time she is tazed to the time she wakes up in the highway, I somehow did not notice that she suspects she was raped; because time is portrayed in such a discontinuous way, it’s hard to say whether, when she briefly believes she if pregnant, she believes that the rapist could have been the father
  • I also didn’t realize that Jeff’s embezzlement of his employer was almost certainly not done consciously–it probably occurred while he was being brainwashed, just as Kris signed away all the money from the equity on her house
  • I still don’t quite understand how Kris and Jeff meet. They are shown meeting on the subway–it appears Kris is ignoring Jeff at first. We see them on the subway, but two scenes are interspersed, one that shows them meeting at night and another that is during the day. (They are also wearing different clothes.) It’s unclear whether perhaps Kris and Jeff met before they were brainwashed, and this scene shows their unharmonious first interactions, or if it is all after the brainwashing and just shows the two of them sharing daily rides home on the train, which lead to Jeff eventually asking Kris out?
  • Jeff and Kris both seem to become more attuned to the true nature of their situation when they are engaged in meditative activities. Kris becomes aware of the assault on the piglets while she is measuring out paper in the graphics shop she works in after being fired from her previous position. Jeff does the same while doing a rote task at work. Later on, Kris is only able to recover her memories of reciting Walden when she is in the pool alone.

Does he have a good reason to be smiling?

Billy Beane is rightfully considered one of the best general managers currently working in baseball. His notoriety as an early-adopter of sabermetric principles is well-documented, perhaps overly so. Frugal ownership means he has guided the A’s to success in spite of a payroll that consistently ranks in the bottom third of baseball. This year’s A’s–widely considered playoff contenders–rank 26th of 30, far behind the teams they have to compete with (LA Angels and Texas Rangers both have payrolls twice as costly as the A’s).

How the A’s maintain success in the face of such a difficult competitive disadvantage is, at times, hard to fathom. In general the consensus is that the A’s are somehow a “smarter” team than others. This advantage could take many forms. Maybe they are better at developing players. Maybe they are the best at picking out talent to scout and draft. Maybe they identify and exploit market inefficiencies. They are most famous for this last strategy. In the early 00s, the A’s seemed to realize that the market overvalued context-dependent counting stats like runs-batted-in while underestimating the value of on-base percentage. Toward the end of the decade, the A’s and Rays seemed to realize the market was not treating defense as importantly as it should have. Last year the A’s found great success via the age-old platoon advantage, finding complementary players who could each mash from one side of the plate (Smith/Gomes, Carter/Moss, even Norris/Kottaras).

These advantages are hard to quantify or verify. However, another area in which one would expect a “smart” organization to excel would be the one area in which they compete directly with another organization: trades. A trade is, in some sense, a confrontation, which sometimes has a direct winner or loser. This can be a little fuzzy–after all, one team may be looking to dump payroll, or the two teams could have vastly different needs. I’ll be careful to acknowledge these “fuzzy” situations as I proceed through an examination of some of the major trades Beane has made over the last 10 years. The idea is that I can grade each trade as a win, loss, or tie; the “smart” organization would theoretically have a higher degree of success in trades.

This sort of analysis is inherently biased towards results rather than process, which is in a lot of ways a bad idea. However, we don’t know anything about the A’s process; we do know about their results.

(Note: Many of the trades here were ultimately made because Beane did not think he could re-sign a player. While perhaps Beane got the best he could for a player in these cases, I don’t think that’s excuse for not getting a fair return. This will be the biggest criticism of my method, so I’ll acknowledge it here.)

Let’s get to it.

1. December 13, 2005: Andre Ethier traded by the Oakland Athletics to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez.

We had Bradley for one season, the 2006 playoff team. He was undoubtedly a key contributor. However, Ethier has 17 career bWAR and a career 124 OPS+. Bradley was ultimately traded for Andrew Brown, who was released after two unproductive seasons. This is a loss.

2. December 28, 2011: Josh Reddick, Miles Head (minors) and Raul Alcantara (minors) traded by the Boston Red Sox to the Oakland Athletics for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney.

This is a more recent trade, and all recent trades have to be taken with a grain of salt because the full ramifications of the trade may not have developed yet. However, this one looks like a clear win for the A’s. Not only did Reddick put up a breakout season last year, but Bailey–the All-Star closer who was the catch of the trade for the Red Sox–was hurt and missed the season. However, the thing that tips this one is the acquisition of Miles Head, who is a mashing 1B/3B who looks to be a part of the future for the A’s.

3. January 16, 2013: John Jaso traded as part of a 3-team trade by the Seattle Mariners to the Oakland Athletics. The Oakland Athletics sent a player to be named later, A.J. Cole (minors) and Blake Treinen (minors) to the Washington Nationals. The Washington Nationals sent Mike Morse to the Seattle Mariners. The Oakland Athletics sent Ian Krol (minors) (March 20, 2013) to the Washington Nationals to complete the trade.

This is a three-team trade, but we’re just going to look at what the A’s sent out and brought in when evaluating it. In that sense, you can just think of it as we get John Jaso; we give up AJ Cole, Blake Treinen, and Ian Krol. Of the three, Cole is the big mystery. He could turn out to be good enough for this result to change, but right now this looks like a slight win, or at least a tie.

4. December 14, 2007: Carlos Gonzalez traded by the Arizona Diamondbacks with Brett Anderson, Chris Carter, Aaron Cunningham, Dana Eveland and Greg Smith to the Oakland Athletics for Dan Haren and Connor Robertson.

The haul the A’s pulled in for Haren is impressive. Every one of the prospects we received spent time with Oakland’s major league club, quite a feat (yes, even Cunningham). Carlos Gonzalez and Brett Anderson highlight the pack, as both have blossomed into premier talents. Carter became the centerpiece of a trade to be discussed. Even Eveland put up a dcent season with the A’s, posting 2.4 fWAR during the rebuilding 2008 season (Sean Gallagher had 11 starts that year!)

However, we shouldn’t be too quick to judge this, because what Dan Haren did for the next five years was truly terrific, putting up 20 bWAR in the 2007-2011 period. In some sense the jury is out, because we still haven’t seen whether Brett Anderson can be a consistent front-line starter. I know a lot of us think he can and will be, but we don’t know yet. But Anderson and Gonzalez is too much. This is a win.

5. December 9, 2011: Trevor Cahill traded by the Oakland Athletics with Craig Breslow and cash to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Ryan Cook, Collin Cowgill and Jarrod Parker.

Most would say this is a slight win, but only because Cook tips the balance. I think we traded a no. 2-3 for a no. 2-3, basically, plus Cook. Trevor Cahill is one of the better pitchers in the league, and with his sinker, should provide above-average innings for years–and there are even some who think he could contend for a Cy.

6. November 10, 2008: Carlos Gonzalez Traded by the Oakland Athletics with Greg Smith and Huston Street to the Colorado Rockies for Matt Holliday

This one is a killer. Again, we only had Holliday for a year, and that year turned out to be one of his worst. Street has actually turned out to be one of the best relief pitchers in baseball for  the last two years or so, and we all know about CarGo, who has blossomed in Colorado into the five-tool player we all knew he could be. A loss for sure.

7. February 4, 2013: Chris Carter traded by the Oakland Athletics with Max Stassi (minors) and Brad Peacock to the Houston Astros for Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez.

It is tempting to take the small sample size results of the last two weeks, declare that Jed Lowrie is the Second Coming of Rogers Hornsby, and move on. Unfortunately, I think the results are a lot more ambiguous than that. Brad Peacock and Chris Carter may play for the Astros, but I think both will prove to have what it takes to stick around in Houston as the rebuilding project continues. Carter may strike out far too often, but he has enormous power–4 homers already this season, and he would have hit about 40 last year if his pace extended over 700 PAs. So while Lowrie absolutely filled a void for the A’s, I am going to say this one is a tie until we know what Carter and Peacock are worth. (I know there are others who don’t see Carter the way I do, so if you want to grade it out as a win, go ahead.)

8. January 3, 2008: Gio Gonzalez traded by the Chicago White Sox with Fautino De Los Santos and Ryan Sweeney to the Oakland Athletics for Nick Swisher.

Since being traded from the A’s, Swisher has put up almost 15 WAR. Obviously this was a contract-avoidance type thing, but just pointing it out. If we are looking at this purely from the standpoint of this trade and this trade only, this grades out as a win, because it’s fair to suspect that Gio will surpass that 15 WAR mark; since becoming a regular starter in 2010, he has posted 4.0, 4.3, and 4.9 bWAR on his way to becoming a contender for the Cy Young.  That means this is a win. Unfortunately, he became a contender for the Cy Young with a team other than the A’s. Cue next trade…
9. December 23, 2011: Gio Gonzalez traded by the Oakland Athletics with Robert Gilliam (minors) to the Washington Nationals for A.J. Cole (minors), Tommy Milone, Derek Norris and Brad Peacock.

HMMM. I am going to say this looks like a loss. Milone is great, and he will stick. Derek Norris has looked a lot better this year. Obviously Peacock and Cole became parts to other trades, both trades I’ve graded as wins, so it’s hard to say what their value was–could the trades (for Jaso and Lowrie, two starters on this year’s team) have been completed otherwise? I don’t know. But we traded a dollar for four quarters, or something like that. Milone may end up being about 3/4 of a Gio, though, so it’s not as terrible a loss as it might look at first.

10. December 16, 2004: Tim Hudson Traded by the Oakland Athletics to the Atlanta Braves for Juan Cruz, Dan Meyer and Charles Thomas.

This is probably the biggest loss on here. Why does no one talk about how terrible this trade was?!?!?! It’s true that this is one of the instances where Beane was just trying to get value for a guy who he believed he wouldn’t be able to keep. Hudson has made something like $90million since then, all with the Braves. But still. That trade was absolutely worthless. We got nothing for Meyer, Thomas was traded for JD Closser, and Juan Cruz we got Brad Halsey for, whom we released. In the meantime, Timmy just kept on going… and going… and going. Now 37, he’s accumulated 55 bWAR, good for 76th place all-time. He’s 92nd in career strikeouts. Adjusted numbers are even better to him–he’s 42nd all-time in adjusted pitching wins, and 28th in win probability added. He’s been an ace for almost 15 years now. (Can you tell I have a soft spot for old Huddy?) And we got nothing for him.

11. December 18, 2004: Mark Mulder traded by the Oakland Athletics to the St. Louis Cardinals for Daric Barton, Kiko Calero and Dan Haren.

I was shocked when I checked Mulder’s stats page to see that he is only 35 today, though he retired almost five years ago. When he was traded after the 2004 season, Mulder had already racked up 81 career wins in five seasons; he would only win 23 more as injuries sadly decimated his ability to stay on the field. If you want to grade based on the results, it’s clear that this was a win for the Athletics, as they got rid of Mulder when he was at the peak of his value. Even if Mulder had continued at the same level, that productivity would have been matched by Haren–and Barton and Calero played plenty for the A’s, too.

12. July 30, 2002: Ricardo Rincon traded by the Cleveland Indians to the Oakland Athletics for Marshall McDougall.

Slightly past 10 years ago, but whatever. This one was definitely a win. Marshall McDougall hardly played in the majors and Baseball Reference literally lists his primary position as pinch runner. Couldn’t make it up.

13. December 16, 2004: Keith Ginter traded by the Milwaukee Brewers to the Oakland Athletics for Nelson Cruz and Justin Lehr.

If you want to talk about players I had completely forgotten about, Keith Ginter would be a good place to start. Wow! This one is a pretty bad loss. Why is there a Ranger up there? I thought this was about the A’s! Well… I’ve learned to hate Nelson Cruz as he’s punished the A’s a good deal over the years as a Texas Ranger. But he could have been an Athletic. It’s actually possible to see why this seemed like a good idea at the time; Ginter was just one year removed from a .257/.352/.427 slash line, totally great for a second baseman. However, he was terrible in 2005 and never played again.

14. July 24, 2009: Matt Holliday traded by the Oakland Athletics to the St. Louis Cardinals for Shane Peterson (minors), Clayton Mortensen and Brett Wallace.

Matt Holliday played 93 games for the 2009 Oakland A’s. He was pretty good for those 93 games, but the 2009 team didn’t produce the way the management thought and Holliday–who was the first superstar to come to town since Miggy and Zito left–was quickly sent packing. Including the 2009 season, here are his bWAR totals: 5.2, 5.9, 4.0, 4.0. In St Louis he was a key contributor to the 2011 World Champion Cardinals. Brett Wallace is the only major leaguer we got in return, and we traded him in turn for Michael Taylor. Michael Taylor played left field–Matt Holliday’s position–tonight for the A’s. We turned Matt Holliday into Michael Taylor. Loss.

It’s true that you can think of this another way–since we had Holliday for barely any time, you could think of it as what we gave away for him versus what we got for him. The transitive property, kind of. It doesn’t really look any rosier that way: then it’s Carlos Gonzalez versus Michael Taylor. We had a 2/3 chance of getting a superstar outfielder (Holliday, CarGo, Taylor).

15. December 16, 2009: Brett Wallace traded by the Oakland Athletics to the Toronto Blue Jays for Michael Taylor.

Brett Wallace has negative bWAR over parts of 4 seasons with the Astros. He has -.6 bWAR in 7 games for the Astros this year. That said, Michael Taylor has not really become a contributor to the major league ball club in Oakland yet. Both players seem like the proverbial AAAA player–a star at AAA but scrub in the majors. Tie, at least until Taylor busts loose (one can only hope).

16. November 27, 2004: Jason Kendall traded by the Pittsburgh Pirates with cash to the Oakland Athletics for Mark Redman, Arthur Rhodes and cash.

The notoriously power-averse Jason Kendall came to the A’s in 2004 as a 3-time All-Star whose value stemmed from a career OBP above .380. He would never again be so productive, though he did give the A’s 3.7 bWAR in their playoff season of 2006. Mark Redman was abysmal after this trade, so I have to call it a win. Rhodes of course continued his epic journey through the big leagues as a LOOGY, seemingly appearing with every team on each circuit, but I can’t say he would have been worth what the A’s got from Kendall, and anyway, they in turn parlayed Kendall into a younger left-handed reliever…

17. July 16, 2007: Jason Kendall traded by the Oakland Athletics with cash to the Chicago Cubs for Jerry Blevins and Rob Bowen.

After this trade, Kendall had one more good season and then was kaputt, posting negative values in two of his last three seasons and becoming a bit of a joke within the sabermetric community once so fond of his on-base skills. Jerry Blevins, on the other hand, is now a key member of the A’s bullpen. Rob Bowen was a backup catcher. Because Blevins has stuck, this is a win.

18. November 18, 2007: Marco Scutaro traded by the Oakland Athletics to the Toronto Blue Jays for Kristian Bell (minors) and Graham Godfrey.

Marco became a fan favorite in his Oakland years, as he seemed to have a clutch hit up his sleeve anytime he came up during a difficult situation–despite his 87 OPS+, he seemed like a slugger when the going got tough. It was sad, then, to see him to depart–and even sadder when he succeeded far beyond anyone’s expectations in his first two seasons away from the Coliseum, going for 9.8 WAR as a Blue Jay in 2008 and 2009. His disastrous stint as a Rockie notwithstanding, he’s been productive as a Red Sock and is again a Bay favorite today as a Giant. Graham Godfrey was once a pitching prospect of some promise, but he lost some luster after being cut to pieces in every start last year, and was traded to the Red Sox in a trade of little consequence. Loss.

19. November 26, 2003: Mark Kotsay traded by the San Diego Padres to the Oakland Athletics for Ramon Hernandez and Terrence Long.

T-Long was another fan favorite during his time ranging the outfield at the Coliseum, but the problem was that he wasn’t really that good. Mark Kotsay had his best season as soon as he got to the A’s, topping .800 OPS on his way to 4.6 bWAR and a couple of MVP votes (okay, enough for 14th place, but still!) He was good again the next season, but in 2005 and 2006 he faltered badly. So we got two quality seasons–one very good–in exchange for T-Long and Ramon Hernandez. The real question is whether Ramon Hernandez should have been someone we held on to. For the latter half of the decade Hernandez proved to be a slightly above-average offensive catcher. He kept his average above .250 and his OBP above .330 for the most part. In his next three seasons, Hernandez had 3.0, 2.5, and 4.2 bWAR. Hernandez was actually an All-Star in 2003. I think it’s clear that the A’s got what they wanted from Kotsay, but losing Hernandez was a bigger price than many might suspect. I call it a tie.

20. January 14, 2008: Mark Kotsay traded by the Oakland Athletics to the Atlanta Braves for Jamie Richmond (minors) and Joey Devine.

This is basically Kotsay v. Devine. I have to admit that I laughed when I saw Kotsay batting third a year or two ago for the hapless Padres. He has not been a major league player since about 2008 but has hung on through sheer veteran wiles, apparently. Joey Devine is a sad story. In 2008 Devine debuted as a flamethrowing righty reliever and somehow posted 1.9 bWAR in only 42 appearances. That is Kimbrel-esque. 2008 Joey Devine holds the MLB record for lowest ERA (min 45 innings): 0.59. That’s how good this guy was. Then came news of a Tommy John surgery… then another one. I’m not sure if Devine is still in baseball. However, for his amazing 2008 season, we’ll call this a tie/win.

I was about to write about a minor league trade in which we received Chris Denorfia years ago, but that is just crazy. Let’s stop at this round number of 20.

(Jack Cust would be included on here but sources differ as to whether he was signed as a free agent or received in a trade from the Padres for a player-to-be-named-later. If he was a trade, he was a win.)

Success Rate: 9.5 Wins, 7 Losses, 3.5 Ties

Hey, that’s pretty good! Especially when you consider that ties usually result from the two teams just having different needs, and you could be totally happy with what I’ve called a “tie.” However, some of the losses really hurt (Hudson, Holliday, CarGo).

What do you all think? Have I missed any important ones?

You are forced to give up one of your five senses (smell, sight, taste, touch, or hearing). However, you may choose to compensate for the loss by means of synesthesia–for example, if you give up your sense of sight, you can choose to smell colors instead, or if you give up taste, you could replace this sensation by feeling flavors. Basically, whichever sense you reject you would be able to sense, but through a different medium.

Which of your senses would you surrender, and how would you replace it?

MAKE IT STOPPPP

Unlike a lot of the phenomena discussed in Klosterman’s hypotheticals, synesthesia is a real thing.

That’s right. There are people who can taste purple, feel chocolate, and see your farts. The conditions can be congenital (from birth) or adventitious (coming on later in life). They come with fancy names like ordinal linguistic personification, grapheme –> color synesthesia, and ideasthesia.

Among the most famous synesthetes:

  • Duke Ellington, who literally played the blues–seriously, when he heard that certain note, it would appear blue to him
  • Vladimir Nabokov, who describes the discovery of his synesthesia in Speak, Memory
  • Wassily Kandinsky, a pioneer of abstraction in visual art

Whoa. Kandinsky.


In any case, we must move forward. Mr. Klosterman has presented us with options. If we were to lose one of our several methods of accessing the world, but be able to access what the lost method accessed through one of our remaining senses, how would we proceed?

Shall I lose taste? Smell? Sight? Touch? Hearing?

It seems very impractical to have to lose hearing or sight; our daily communication relies upon these. I do not think that a sight –> taste/smell/touch/hearing synesthesia would be very practical; a white wall might elicit a B flat, but what about the depth of field? How am I to know when I am approaching the wall–will the B flat get louder? And what about when I see a rainbow–will that now be some disharmonious chord as all the different colors clash as sound?

The obvious cop-out to me seems to be a smell –> taste synesthesia. Taste and smell are already so closely bound up as to be sometimes inextricable. It is hard to say what red wine tastes like without thinking also of its smell. I have known individuals who have lost their senses of smell, and truly grieved for the loss of that sense; but we must remember that we will not lose the sense, it will only be converted. I think that I could live with that.

However, there are other interesting options. I would love to be able to see sound, but would that interfere with normal vision? When I hear a symphony, would a Fantasia of colors overlay my vision? What about touch–>sound? Touching a cool steel beam could trigger taut synths, sandpaper might sound like a musical saw, and water–what would water sound like? But would I lose my sense of proprioception , which seems related to touch?

It is hard to know how any of these scenarios would actually work out. I think I would immediately take the smell –> taste option. However, if it was only texture that was affected, I might be interested in touch –> sound as well. Think about it–every surface would become an instrument for you to play!

I recently posted a Facebook status expressing excitement about a protest I was excited to attend in San Francisco’s ritzy Pacific Heights neighborhood, where more than 1,000 people gathered to chant, stomp, sing, and march against the Keystone XL pipeline outside of a Democratic Party fundraiser being attended by President Obama.
I received the following comment on the status.
(Name Redacted): Protest Keystone XL? Keystone has the potential to create 30,000 jobs for people who don’t have them, increase our oil supply thus lowering the high gas prices we’ve been experiencing, and can overall be extremely profitable for investors. The only people in America opposed are extreme environmentalists and liberal activists. This is a very mainstream, common-sense proposal that has a definite net positive effect.
Now, I didn’t want to get into a flame war on Facebook, but I do feel like it’s important to engage with opinions like this. My friend deserves an answer. Moreover, this is an opportunity to explain my position on an issue I find very important. Here goes.

0. What Are Tar Sands and Why Are They So Good or Bad?

The Keystone XL pipeline would make it profitable to extract, refine, and burn oil from the Alberta tar sands. These tar sands are an unconventional petroleum source–unconventional mainly because they are very bituminous. That means you’ve basically got mud, clay, or dirt mixed with a very sticky (bituminous) form of oil. Getting the oil out of this muddy mixture is water-intensive and has only become economically viable with the worldwide rise in the price of oil. Tar sands oil must also be heated in order to be viscous enough to flow. It’s not low-hanging fruit as far as fossil fuels go. Due to its unconventional qualities, tar sands oil is generally considered to generate between 10 and 20% more greenhouse gases in terms of lifetime cost.

This alone is cause for environmentalists worried about carbon pollution to oppose the use of tar sands oil. Many in the oil and politics sectors say that this 12% number is nothing to worry about, as it is comparable with California heavy oil, which is already being extracted. THIS IS TERRIBLE LOGIC! What on earth suggests that because you’re already doing one thing that’s bad, it’s okay to do a second? (Hat tip to Dave Roberts’ excellent article “Debunking Nature’s Argument for Keystone“, a key source material for me).

Ultimately the concern for tar sands’ greenhouse-gas-intensiveness is probably the worst thing about Keystone. Before looping back to that, however, I want to touch on a number of other reasons why KXL (as I’ll call it from now on) is a bad idea.

1. Spills Happen

In the past three years there have been two major spills and numerous smaller ones, including incidents this year in Arkansas and Utah, killing a total of 76 people. The Arkansas spill was much larger, but the Utah one bears examining, because it illustrates a core problem with the way pipelines are regulated in America. Chevron’s Utah pipeline has leaked three times in the past three years, demonstrating a chilling pattern of negligence. Because pipelines are so long and large, the federal government relies upon corporations to self-examine and self-report to a large degree. The most recent Chevron leak is believed to be due to a pipe cracked at the seam–a problem, since Chevron had reported to the government that the pipe was a safer seamless version.

The lesson is, spills happen, and more than we would be led to believe (access to the Arkansas spill is being tightly controlled by Exxon, which obviously doesn’t want word to get out that they caused 22 homes to be evacuated). The possibility of a Keystone spill cannot be ignored. Examining the potential ramifications of such a spill yields dire results. KXL directly traverses the invaluable Ogallala aquifer, which provides freshwater to much of the heartlands of America (supporting 2 million people’s drinking water and $20billion in agriculture).

Why does anyone think this is safe? Cardno Entrix, the Houston energy consulting organization tasked with providing an environmental review for the project, says so; but there’s a bit of a conflict of interest there, since a) building the pipeline would be a boon to Houston’s energy economy, and therefore to Cardno Entrix, and b) the company has a cozy relationship with TransCanada, having completed favorable reviews for many of their previous projects.

A spill could damage the aquifer for centuries to come. Based on the precautionary principle, we shouldn’t be willing to risk such a catastrophe.

See Slide 2 for more on recent pipeline leaks in America.

2. Native Sovereignty

“The only people in America opposed are extreme environmentalists and liberal activists,” wrote my friend.

We all know that indigenous people aren’t real Americans… oh wait.

Breaking news. The indigenous people of the Americas have been here for something like 11000 years.

I doubt the person who posted this meant to so blatantly marginalize the voices of the thousands of Native Americans opposed to Keystone XL–it is possible he simply did not know that the vice president of the Oglala Lakota tribe has called Keystone a “snake spitting black venom into our water,” it is probable he hadn’t heard that Canadian aboriginal groups have blockaded roads leading to pipeline construction sites, and he certainly wasn’t there at the February protest in San Francisco where I heard Native leaders lead thousands in anti-KXL chants and peace songs. Many of the proposed pipelines–not just KXL, but also the Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain pipelines to the Pacific–violate numerous treaties made between the US/Canadian governments and tribal governments. Native American leaders are among the greatest heroes of the Fossil Fuel Resistance.

It’s not like this is anything new, but that’s doesn’t make it any less terrible. The treatment of Native Americans is one of the blackest marks upon the history of the United States. Past evil on our part does not excuse present evil. If they don’t want to pipeline through their land, shouldn’t we respect that at least?

(The problem isn’t limited to Native Americans, either–at least 60 eminent domain cases have been filed to take land away from Americans to lay down the pipeline.)

4. “30,000 Jobs”

This is basically a joke. The original study was paid for by TransCanada, not an impartial third party. That study suggested we could expect job creation on the order of 20,000–13,500 from construction jobs and 6,500 from supply chain jobs. One problem with that: TransCanada’s president admitted to the Washington Post that the 13,500 number actually wasn’t jobs but job-years, meaning you have to divide that number by two (for number of years of expected construction). The supply chain jobs number is also too high, as many of the jobs would be created outside of America ($1.7bn of steel has already been purchased from a Russian-owned mill in Canada), and TransCanada now admits that only 65% of the steel will be purchased from American sources. The only full impartial study, conducted by Cornell’s Global Labor Initiative, said that any job creation would likely be more than offset by economic costs of environmental destruction–in other words, they called bullshit.

5. Will Keystone Reduce Dependence on Foreign Oil?

The claim that Keystone will reduce dependence on foreign oil appeals to individuals on both sides of the partisan divide. Conservatives traditionally believe in self-reliance (not really a characteristic of late capitalism, but hey), and liberals recall the bitter taste of the Iraq War, which many see as a symptom of reliance on foreign oil. So it’s an appealing claim. Too bad it’s not so wonderful in reality.

First, the Keystone pipeline is being built so that tar sands can be exported around the world. The entire point of the pipeline is to get the oil to a port so that it can be shipped elsewhere. If the pipeline was just for fueling America, it wouldn’t need to go to Houston. The refineries that will connect to Keystone are already exporting 60% of their product; when KXL is finished, that number will only increase. Keystone is an export pipeline–and it could cause higher prices in the Midwest, counter to rosy predictions from politicians.

Secondly, and more importantly, American dependence on foreign oil is rapidly decreasing anyway. Rapidly increasing production combined with decreased demand–mainly from increased fuel standards and flagging economic growth–means America is importing less and less every year, with no signs the trend won’t close the gap entirely within the next decade or two. In fact, America became a net fuel exporter last year for the first time since 1949, thanks largely to the efforts of the EPA. (We are still net oil importers, but this is predicted to change by 2025, by none other than Exxon.) We don’t need the KXL pipeline in order to become less dependent on foreign oil. In fact, the International Energy Agency predicts US oil output will surpass Saudi Arabia’s by 2020, putting us well on our way to energy independence. Finally, by far the the best way to become less dependent on foreign oil is to become less dependent on oil, period.

6. “Extremely Profitable for Investors”

Elsewhere I’ve hewn to a strictly factual refutation of the KXL pipeline. I can’t refute this statement: in fact, I agree one hundred percent. I just fail to see why on earth this counts as validation. “It will make rich people richer.” There are more complicated arguments to be made here, but I’ll pass over them; they aren’t the ultimate reason why we should oppose KXL.

7. “…and Really Terrible For Everyone Else”

I hope my friend has considered these arguments as I have: carefully and with an open mind. If they have not swayed him, I’ll close the loop by returning to my first and ultimate appeal.

The reason why we must oppose KXL is the same reason we must oppose fracking, mountaintop removal, and all forms of coal: fossil fuel has got to go. The science on climate change is solid, and yet here we are, fiddling while Rome–and the rest of Earth–burns. Global weirding will have unforeseen consequences–hence “weirding.” There are good things that might happen–vast tracts of Siberia could become arable. But there are also bad things that could happen–the jet stream that keeps England warm could be cut off, severely altering its hospitable climate–and extremely terrible things that could happen, like systemic drought and famine across Africa resulting in centuries of struggle and resource conflict. Then there are the things we know will happen. 80% of Arctic ice has already melted. We are already in the middle of an epochal mass extinction event, all of it precipitated by human activity, resulting in catastrophic loss of biological capital. Lexi told me that in a recent conversation with a climate scientist left her with the impression a ten degree Celsius change is more likely than two (which everyone already agreed would be pretty bad).

If you’re put off by climate change, consider the “other CO2 problem,” ocean acidification. Rising carbon levels in our water have disrupted vital chemical processes at the base of marine food chains, with dire ecosystem implications. Consider this: at the rate we’re going it’s unlikely there will be coral reefs–the rainforests of the sea–by the time you have grandchildren. The transition to a new energy economy offers a number of benefits–energy independence, innovation, pollution reduction, jobs–but it’s the specter of what will happen if we don’t change that should be driving us forward far, far, far faster than we are currently moving. Civilizational collapse is a thing people are talking about.

It’s bizarre to me how often individuals suggest that climate change is a hoax or inside job: for that to make any sense, there has to be an interested party. The climate scientists who have been speaking out about climate change since the 1980s don’t have a dog in this fight. What do they have to gain from perpetrating such a hoax? You could suppose that maybe they will invent a solar cell and get rich by converting everyone to believe solar cells are “good”–but that makes no sense, because climate scientists aren’t electrical engineers or chemists or materials scientists or any of the other professions necessary to invent a solar cell, and they’re most likely not rich enough to be big investors who could get wealthier by investing in a solar cell company. It just doesn’t add up–if it’s a conspiracy, who’s winning?

It’s precisely the opposite when you look at climate change skepticism. The number one instigators of climate skepticism are fossil fuel companies, who have everything to lose. The present set-up gives them billion-dollar profits year after year. Why would they want to change that arrangement?

More importantly–why would we want to let them keep that arrangement, given how much we have to lose?

 

 

Hayden S. Higgins

ANT371

Dr Ruhlen

8 May 2011

 

Local Expressions of Displaced Identities: Navigating Identity at the Hindu Center of Charlotte

 

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Individuals of varying South Asian descent come together at the Hindu Center of Charlotte to worship and hold cultural events. At a place between two nations yet concretely engaged in both, the members navigate complex fields of identity including nationality, religiosity, and ethnicity. These individuals use the Center as a site of resistance to dominant American views of identity which shunt aside various differentiations that enrich the lives of members. These differentiations are mutually supported through a pluralistic attitude towards nationality and

recognition of shared experiences.

 

 

When I decided I wanted to study Indian diasporic experience after spending time in India, it was impossible for me not to stumble upon the Hindu Center of Charlotte as a field site. Charlotte is a religiously diverse city for its region, but Hindus are decidedly in the minority, occupying some small portion of the 37% of Charlotteans whose religion is categorized as “other” amidst a visible Christian, Protestant hegemony. The Center occupies a central place for this small minority in a network of sites of diasporic expression, stretching from educational programs to restaurants and grocers that serve the Indian-American community. Given the relatively modest size of the Indian-American community in Charlotte, these sites are limited in their scope and specialization, and the Center itself serves a rather general role.

Growing up with Indian-American friends who tapped into these specialized networks of Punjabi or Gujarati immigrants, I knew that differentiation existed; but after visiting India I was amazed there was not more differentiation. I was fascinated by the youth culture I witnessed and participated in and its ethnographic description in Desi Land (Shankar 2008). This culture was one in which youth shared a common experience of difference as a minority, of being “brown” which became brotherhood through the label “desi.”

On some level, there is an expectation for a diasporic meeting place like the Hindu Center to recreate what has been lost in being displaced from the homeland. In this the Hindu Center might be a microcosm of India; might one then expect the messiness of Indian identity, with its confusing mix of ancient civilizations, colonial legacy, regional rivalry, and religious diversity? The field site brings up several fertile theoretical topics: religion, diaspora, and nationality may be the most prominent.  At the intersection of these is the amorphous but indisputably central concept of identity, writ large. My research focuses on the dialogues that shape individual and communal understandings of identity, dialogues between places, narratives, and people. Identities as self-constructed and imposed are often in conflict, resulting in dynamic understandings of the self (or community). I have undertaken examination of structure and discourse at the Hindu Center, through participant-observation of events, interviews, and historical research, with the goal of understanding what role the Center plays as Indian-Americans negotiate various fields of identity. How does this identity change with relocation to America and intermixture not only with the dominant American culture but also with that of other Indian-Americans at the Center? In a sentence, how does one be Indian-American at the Hindu Center?


PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

The Hindu Center of Charlotte is located in South Charlotte off of Independence Boulevard. It is located at the end of a small residential street, City View. The neighborhood around it seems to be predominantly African-American, but an examination of the nearby area does reveal some Indian presence, in the form of an Indian restaurant just down Independence.

The Center itself consists of three main buildings. The Vedanta Hall is the oldest (1982). Vedanta (referring to the Vedas, the foundational scriptures of Hinduism) Hall is a temple, housing murtis (shrines) of several of the most important gods of Hinduism, with room behind them to circumambulate. It has an office for the Brahmins (priests) to work from, and the main hall is large enough to accommodate more than a hundred people. Adjacent to the Vedanta Hall is the Vihar Hall, a multipurpose room large enough for several hundred people (1990, renovated 1999). It is built in a style that can only be described as educational, reminding one of nothing so much as a high school gymnasium with a stage. It is, however, very nice, and, while unadorned, perfectly flexible, accommodating any number of different setups for different events. These two adjacent buildings are surrounded by a parking lot, basketball court, and playground. Across the road is the most recent acquisition (2004) of the Center, the Gandhi Bhavan. This is an old church that was purchased by the Center. It now holds educational programs in its basement, and the steeple still rises over the repurposed congregational space, where pews face not towards a cross but a statue of the late Gandhi, national hero of India. These spaces begin to tell the story of the Center: Vedanta Hall attests to the importance of religion; Vihar Hall, to that of cultural events; Gandhi Bhavan, to that of nationality (Gandhi being representative of inclusive Indianness); and the playground to the fact that the Center is a place for social reproduction, especially for children.

THE PLANS TO RENOVATE

            Plans to expand are central to the vision of the Hindu Center, literally and metaphorically. Land is being cleared now in between the Vedanta Hall parking lot and the Gandhi Bhavan parking lot to house a new building, and stylish architectural sketches are available online for viewing (Figure 1). A very ambitious remodel is planned for the Vedanta Hall, and indeed the entire complex. The master plan includes a walking trail, residential complex for seniors and priests, sports facility, and more. The renovation plans embody several of the Center’s core principles, most notably that it is not only a place of worship. In some sense the plans encompass an attempt to create a microcosmic India. It is closer to a community center than a church in its operation, with the capacity to address the fullness of Indian diasporic identity through education and sport as well as religion.

Expansion is a pervasive part of the rhetoric of the Hindu Center, where members frequently talk about the recent increase in their numbers. While proselytization is not part of the Hindu discourse, expansion was still central to the rhetoric of identity at the Hindu Center. Money is constantly being raised to fund these projects (see section on fundraising). Longtime members always couched their narratives of expansion in terms of physical changes to the Center rather than changes in its membership. One might say, “Back then, we were very small; we had only the Vedanta Hall. Now, we have bought the building from the church across the street, and you can just look outside to see how much more we have planned.” When viewed from beginning to end, the organizational history Powerpoint on the Center website is the story of physical expansion, from one communally built hall in 1982 to the grand projects of tomorrow.

SPONSORSHIP, FUNDRAISING, AND PRIMARY ACTORS

This expansion does not happen in a vacuum. The plans to renovate obviously require a significant amount of capital to go forward. When one sees the immense plans for the Hindu Center going forward, it is clear that a lot of money will be needed. To that end, sponsorship is a highly visible and public affair at the Hindu Center. Because access to programming is very open, membership (and therefore dues-paying) seems to mostly be a motion of voluntary support for the organization, rather than a contractual give-and-take.

Sponsorship is engraved on the geography of the site. On the bulletin board, a sheet lists the amount required to sponsor certain events (especially Mahaprasad, an offering to a deity), with names next to the events that have been sponsored. The names of very major sponsors grace the streets inside the Center. A large poster is present on the entrance to the Vedanta Hall, proclaiming the need for donations and showing a chart with sponsorship intervals of $1001, $5001, and $10001 (fortuitous numbers in India). These intervals correspond with commemorative bricks or plaques increasing in size with the size of the donation. The poster implores the members to “leave your legacy by leaving a marker for the generations.” This poster embodies several principles of social life at the Hindu Center: firstly, sponsorship is important; the poster occupies the most prominent possible location. Secondly, sponsorship is public; everyone knows who the sponsor is. Thirdly, sponsorship is scaled; there are those who can give more than others.

At the top of this scale are a few primary actors—those whose support can make or break a project or program. Mr. Maheshwari is one such primary actor giving his support today. Mr Maheshwari had a street named after him outside the Vedanta Hall. At the Cheti Chand ceremony, one man pointed him out to me, saying, “This man is the one you should talk to. He sponsors this whole thing. He has lots of real estate, he is a millionaire.” Though I never had a chance to talk to him, I could see from the way he interacted with others that he was a central node in the Sindh community.

The organizational history given on the Hindu Center website makes clear the importance of individual sponsorship through its format. The Powerpoint presentation begins with a slide saying “SOME WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE,” followed by a slide with three individuals. Most of the rest of the history is framed by pictures from each year not of activities at the Center but of the chairman and president in office for that year. This attitude is encapsulated by the phrase “It is not the masses which can change the world, only one is enough to make the difference” (ibid), shown in the Powerpoint history.

RELIGIOUS PRACTICE

“Hindu” is most obviously a religious category, but not a monolithic one. There is no central authority to Hinduism other than a philosophical foundation in the Vedas; there is no institution occupying a role similar to that of the Vatican in the Roman Catholic religion. Hinduism is a polytheistic religion, its many adherents worshipping an overlapping pantheon of gods in ways both complementary and contradictory. There are numberless schools and styles within Hinduism. The religious symbol uniting these diverse perspectives is om, which auspiciously graces the center of the Vedanta Hall.

Hinduism is not a congregational religion in the way that Christianity is, but the central location of the Vedanta Hall allows for a certain diversity of religious experiences. It is staffed by Brahmin priests who conduct ceremonies, paid for by dues and sponsorship. It also allows for devotional (bhakti) worship of the gods housed in shrines (murti). This is done through gaze (darsan) which can only be achieved in physical proximity to the shrine. Pooja (offerings) is also a common method of worship. The front of the Vedanta Hall displays the following gods, from right to left:

  • ·A scene with Rama, Laxmana, Sita, and Hanuman, primary characters in the Hindu epic Ramayana (Rama is an avatar of Vishnu[1])
    • Mahavira (the final Jain tirthankar)
    • Durga
    • Krishna and Radha (Krishna is an avatar of Vishnu)
    • Shiva
    • Ganesha
    • Balaji (Balaji is an avatar of Vishnu)

 

These gods are the object of devotional practice. Worshippers stand in front of the murti in a reverential position, the style and vigor of which is entirely up to the worshipper. They also circumambulate behind the shrines, always clockwise. In my experience worship was followed by meals in the large Vihar Hall, with food serving as a focal point to bring people together for socialization. The meals are times for socialization, for conversation that could not happen during worship, and through the kind of cuisine served serve to mark the event as sponsored by a particular group within the Center.

Different Indian ethnic groups have commonly coalesced when removed to America as a result of their relative invisibility within American culture, as a way of consolidating power rather than remaining fragmented (Kurien 2004). This is evident upon examination of the deities housed at Vedanta Hall. Mahavira, one of the deities, is a Jain deity. Jainism is an advaidika belief system, advaidika meaning that it rejects the authority of the Vedas, the books that give their name to the Vedanta Hall. This seeming contradiction is mitigated by a number of factors, including historical precedent (Jains and Hindus share many holy sites in India, such as the Ellora Caves), practicality (Kurien 2004), and an attitude at the Hindu Center of pluralism, discussed below.

PLURALISM WITHIN THE HINDU CENTER

 

Pluralism is here taken to mean an attitude that values identity on several different levels as not mutually exclusive. The Hindu Center is internally pluralistic. It is a site of celebration and mutual reinforcement of preexisting cultural patterns, usually embodied in some combination of ethnic, linguistic, and religious identities whose significance is lost to the macro-American world. In this way the Hindu Center functions as a site of resistance to the hegemonic American discourse which would describe every members as little more than “Indian,” perhaps “Hindu,” with no comprehension for the complexity embedded in that term. In American rhetorics of identity, race and nationality are foregrounded, but there is little opportunity for expression of (as an example) Gujarati identity. The Hindu Center is a place for differentiation because, as the gathering place for Indians of all stripes in the area, it is the only public outlet for performance of certain kinds of identities.

At the Hindu Center these signifiers (Tamil language, for example, or origin in the state of Tamil Nadu) coalesce into what I term “sub-communities” in that they have some recognition through specific events but exist within the Center. These may be centered around religious beliefs (Jainism) or regional identity (Sindhi). Some sub-communities have in the past become large enough to break off and form their own Centers. For example, in the vicinity of Charlotte there is a Swami Narayan temple and a Sikh gurudwara who might have joined the Hindu Center if they weren’t large enough to exist autonomously. Nonetheless, American temples tend to be very ecumenical, in part due to the prohibitive cost that operating their own temple would pose to individual sub-communities (Williams 1992:238-240). While this is adequate motivation to form temples that may enshrine deities from different and perhaps conflicting traditions, once that temple is constructed these different traditions serve as audiences for the performance of one another’s unique identity, which would otherwise go unnoticed in the outside world. In this way the Hindu Center functions as a place to transplant historical cultural traditions, the language of which does not exist in the macrocosm of America; the Center is, at times, a microcosm of India. Sub-communities at the Center are permanently tied to the memory of their identity as it existed before immigration.

The coexistence of multiple sub-communities is not without dynamism. As evinced by the example of the Swami Narayan temple, it is possible to become a large enough group to garner one’s own temple. At the level of the Center, this is illustrated by gaining a priest hired specifically to cater to a specific religious style. One informant told me that the “Gujaratis have their own priest now, and the South Indians will be wanting one,” attesting to the presence of competition. Differentiation also comes through organizing cultural events, such as dances for children or religious holidays, or language classes, as the Gujaratis did.

The fact of dynamic pluralism is reflected in the center of Center life, the shrines of the Vedanta Hall. There, the Jains occupy their own niche, their deity Mahavira revered alongside the Hindu gods. I witnessed one path of negotiation between the Center and the Jains during Mahavira Jayanti. The Center President took the microphone to say a few words towards the end of the service, saying that the Jains had been good members and had raised lots of money for the Center in the past. He implored those assembled to “keep giving, and then we can have a good Mahavira in the new Vedanta Hall. And we will also have the Jain symbol on the new flag [of the Hindu Center].” Demonstration of devotion to the whole Center through donation enables differentiation at the sub-community level; agency via sponsorship.

The entire Hindu Center is supportive of differentiation at the sub-community level. Though all the people of the Center are somehow related to the places referenced in Hindu epics like the Ramayana, the experience of the Sindhi people is quintessentially diasporic in its unfolding. As a story that involves Indianness as much as Sindhiness, it is a narrative especially likely to resonate with the sub-communities of the Hindu Center. The story begins with the Sindhi people, a Hindu group living in the Sindh province of what became Pakistan. During the Partition—the violent birth of free India—Sindhs fled Pakistan as fast as they could in fear. Though there was both Hindu and Muslim blood shed on both sides of the border, the Sindhi retelling is one of escape: one Sindhi told me “not all Muslims left India, because it is tolerant. Look at Gandhi. But all the Hindus had to leave Pakistan. They had no chance.” Another told me how his family had rebuilt its wealth after leaving behind much real estate in Sindh, for fear of losing their lives.

This narrative was reflected in a series of posters that adorned the luncheon following Cheti Chand (Sindhi New Year). These posters painted a picture of a Sindhi people who were first victims, then became cosmopolitan, peaceful, and successful. They had become successful people all around the globe, all coming from the five million who escaped, went the narrative, all “without a millimeter of their own land.” A proud people, despite that: “The 2nd most common language in Spain is Sindhi not English” read one poster[2]. The Sindhis, as they presented themselves, are a paragon of the diasporic experience: displaced but successful, victimized then vindicated. One poster read, “They paid supreme price for the FREEDOM OF INDIA,” linking Sindhi identity to national Indian identity.

When I arrived at the Cheti Chand pooja, I spoke to several individuals who were not Sindhi but who were there for themselves. Some were Center administrators; others were just there doing their own devotional pooja. But all expressed support for the Sindhis. One man from Mumbai expressed admiration for their dedication and perseverance. One Sindhi man himself expressed, “Just like there are Jews, Christians, and Hindus, there are different kinds of Hindus. But in a foreign country all the different sects come together.”

The successful framing of the Sindhis as the paradigmatic Indian diaspora community whose sub-communal identity was intertwined with flight and Indian national identity highlights the power which a shared national identity holds within the Center. The story of the Sindhis traces an arc that is international, successfully touching on national identity while retaining regional integrity. If some interactions between sub-communities demonstrate subtle tensions, or at least competition for attention, this tension is more than counterbalanced by solidarity. This solidarity is the result not only of a shared need for a site of differentiation but also of actually shared bonds of displacement from India. Events that were not associated with any particular sub-community but rather were organized at the level of the Center itself were especially associated with this sense of solidarity.

Holi is the second most important festival of the year for many Hindus, not just those of a particular sect. Holi is noted for its liminal qualities and ability to bring people of all kinds together. Everyone wears old clothing and carries colored paint and water, smearing or throwing it on one another with much abandon. It allows people of all kinds to rub together intimately, interacting without antagonism; in India, the festival is noteworthy because it allows lower caste individuals to throw paint on upper caste individuals without fear of retribution.

At the Center, the festival is celebrated in the parking lot. Loud Indian music blares through the speakers. Children carried water guns—a Western addition to the old tradition. I frightfully put my notebook down and entered the fray after being invited by a woman who wiped her paint on my face and wished me a happy Holi. The scene would have been chaotic if not for the convivial mood enjoyed by all. Children—especially the teenage boys—were to be watched for, as they often carried buckets of cold water and traveled in packs. I conversed as much as possible in between the splashes of colored water, learning that the event was attended by members and non-members alike. There were probably two hundred people there in all. Three things were commonly related to me when I asked about Holi: that it brought family together, everyone was equal, and that it reminded individuals of India.

As I have pointed out before, the Center at times functions as a microcosm of India, recreating in the fullest way certain experiences not offered by other institutions in American life. It is firmly rooted in adaptation that serves needs which are tied to place (America), and removal from place (India). Holi is emblematic of processes at the Center that bring all members and even nonmembers together, acting as it does in India as redressive machinery that solidifies group unity through normative communitas (Turner 1982:11).

NATIONALITY AND PLURALISM IN THE DIASPORA

Celebrations of Republic Day, celebrated January 26th, encompassed sub-community differentiation alongside Center solidarity, which was expressed in the language of compatible American and Indian nationalities. This was a very well-attended event, with more than 200 people present throughout. For Republic Day, various groups organized presentations of their sub-community identity, expressed through youth dance and musical activities, which as Beeman (1998:509) notes exist as “social texts that embed long and complex histories of intergroup relations” and which serve at the Hindu Center as a primary vehicle for expressing sub-community autonomy (if you have a cultural dance, you must be a legitimate group, it seemed).

These dances were opened by the singing of both the American and Indian national anthems, marking the day as one in which Center would function as a field for negotiating identity at the national level. The dances which followed testified that sub-communal identity was part and parcel of that national identity and were not extricable from it. Religious identity was invoked through the singing of “God Bless America” and a similar, parallel song in Hindi. Symmetry was signified onstage by Indian and American flags. The pluralistic mood was cemented by a commentary on Gandhi’s effect on Obama and a singing of the civil rights standard “We Shall Overcome.”[3] A speaker talked about the commonalities of India and America, the world’s two largest democracies. Rather than presenting dual national identity as conflictive, the speakers at Republic Day (including Center administrators) presented national identity as interdependent, completely and simultaneously Indian and American. Moreover, the arrangement of the celebration incorporated important religious and regional symbols to similarly reconcile sub-community and national identity. The entire event took place in Gandhi Bhavan, Gandhi’s statue presiding over the repurposed church, symbolizing the community’s ability to appropriate cultural symbols from both sides to create a site of new identity.

Center members on Republic Day and at other times demonstrated commitment to all facets of identity, suggesting that members fall outside anthropological categories of cosmopolitanism (Hannerz 1990:239) because they treat identity, while multifaceted, as cohesive rather than fragmentary. This resulted in novel presentations of identity that, while unorthodox, presented cogent understandings of what it means to be an Indian-American. I ate lunch with Christians who had just finished a non-Christian worship in the Vedanta Hall and heard from a Hindu that Hinduism was compatible with Christianity and that Jesus appeared as “Isaid” in Hindu mythology. Instead of seeing these categories as conflictive, the Hindu Center served as a place to reconcile them. In this the Hindu Center qualifies as further evidence for criticisms of diaspora studies assuming that diaspora communities are primarily oriented towards the homeland rather than the needs of the community in the present (Tambiah 2000:170, Mukadam 2006:108).

DISCUSSION

It is important to remember that the word Hindu has its roots not in religion but geography, with the same root as Indus; those east of the Indus were called Hindus by Turkic invaders. This helps make sense of the cacophonous diversity of voices coming from the “Hinduism,” which may only exist as a coherent whole in the imagination. It also accounts for why religious minorities like the Jain people are included in the Hindu Center umbrella, suggesting a meaning of ‘Hindu’ in this context that is more cultural or national than it is religious, more tied to common Indian-ness than worship of a particular deity. This is confirmed by the language of the Center’s mission, “to nurture rich Indian spiritual and cultural heritage.” This is done in ways that extend laterally (referring back to India through maintenance of sub-community values) and vertically (in terms of consolidation of place within America). Lateral identity is usually expressed through events held by sub-communities, which seek to differentiate themselves even while mutually supporting one another. Vertical identity is communicated in national terms, both Indian and American.

The Hindu Center then is an arena for performance of identity. Believing, with Clifford Geertz, that culture is public because meaning is, public interaction constantly reshapes and recreates identity (Geertz 1973:12-13). At the Hindu Center, interaction happens through education, religious worship, events, commensality, sponsorship, and celebrations, occurring both at the sub-community level and at the level of the Center itself. Markers of traditional identity, which may have been “set adrift” when translocated to America, are measured, reevaluated, and articulated anew (Palmer 2006:97).

The Charlotte temple exists situated amidst a history of interplay between internal and external forces. The British came to India and made it a colony, but the Indians took agency and became a nation-state. Now, as immigrants in America, Indian-Americans at the Center take the dominant discourses about their identity (which are centered around foggy notions of race and, too often, fear [Kurien 2006:731]) and act upon them. Within the Center, they defy these discourses by organizing as sub-communities to articulate identities alien to America. They also work actively to express a national identity whose power at the Center derives from the fact that it is among the only things shared by almost all members, whose diversity is actively celebrated by the Center.

In my fieldwork I asked a youth about these “different sects” coming together, and he replied: “they are all desis… it means fellow, friend.” At the Hindu Center, Indian-Americans navigate many layers of identity, some of which can only be articulated at the Center. Though these layers are different for different individuals, the Hindu Center is a place to share the difficulty of the passage. When it acts as a microcosm of India, it does so firmly rooted in the lifeways of Indian-Americans, not only hearkening back but looking forward.

Figure 1

 

 

 

Works Consulted

 

Geertz, Clifford

1973. Emphasizing Interpretation. In The Interpretation of Cultures. Clifford             Geertz, ed. Basic Books.

Hannerz, Ulf

1990. Cosmopolitans and Locals in World Culture. Theory, Culture and Society             7:237-251.

Kurien, Prema A.

2004. Multiculturalism, Immigrant Religion, and Diasporic Nationalism: The             Development of an American Hinduism.” Social Problems 51:362-85.

Kurien, Prema A.

2006. Multiculturalism and “American” Religion: The Case of Hindu Indian Americans. Social Forces 85(2):723-741.

Mukadam, Anjoon and Mawani, Sharmina

2006. Post-Diasporic Indian Communities. In Locating the Field: Space, Place,             and Context in Anthropology. Simon Coleman and Peter Collins, eds. Pp. 105-            128. Oxford: Berg.

Palmer, Norris W.

2006. Negotiating Hindu Identity in an American Landscape. Nova Religio             10(1):96-108.

Reed, Susan A.

1998. The Politics and Poetics of Dance. Annual Review of Anthropology.             27:503-532.

Shankar, Shalini

2008. Desi Land: Teen Culture, Class, and Success in Silicon Valley. Durham: Duke University Press Books.

Tambiah, Stanley J.

2000. Transnational Movements, Diaspora, and Multiple Modernities. Daedelus             129(1):163-194.

Turner, Victor

1982. From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play. New York:             Performing Arts Journal Publication.

Williams, Raymond B.

1992. Sacred Threats of Several Textures. Pp. 228-257. A Sacred Thread: Modern             Transmission of Hindu Traditions in India and Abroad. Raymond Williams, ed.             Anima Press.

Wolpert, Stanley

2005. India. Berkeley: University of California Press.

 


[1] I was never able to confirm this, but I believe the Brahmins at the Hindu Center were Vaishnava, that is, emphasized an understanding of Vishnu and his avatars as the supreme God. This is based on my observation of the way that the priests decorate their forehead, in a V-shape, which is how Vaishnava priests in India decorate their foreheads.

[2] This is completely false. Another poster claimed Sindhi was the 3rd most common language in the US and UK, which is similarly and puzzlingly not even close to true. I suspect this is related to inter-sub-community competition that would never be spoken aloud.

[3] Interestingly enough, this may have had significance that I was never able to investigate. The song has an extensive history of use in Indian contexts, having been employed to great success at different points by Keralan communist students, Bengali activists, and, most recently, in the very popular film My Name Is Khan, about the difficulties faced by Muslims in America.

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