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Don't get too close to my fantasy

The happiest day of the year has arrived, and if you don't believe me, then you obviously don't have a fantasy baseball team. For the next few months I'll be reveling in the joy of numbers and player news, with every piece of data being operable rather than inert -- every new fact, every new at bat or injury, leads to a series of reevaluations, a host of potential decisions, a cascade of consequences that one can nonetheless feel one has mastered. In all, fantasy baseball is like a simplified stock market, and I can play a being a daytrader, with all the intensity and obsession that implies, without having to venture my retirement savings to do it. I can have the high blood pressure without the profit. If I put half as much energy into research companies as I did into researching shortstops, I could probably make a mint.

The analytical tools used for investing and fantasy-baseball play are rapidly converging, especially with data available on the big administrative sites like CBS.Sportsline and ESPN and Yahoo on what is happening across fantasy leagues in the aggregate -- you get the rough equivelent of a stock's beta, as well as a speculatively determined sense of a player's value, and which players saw heavy volume. You can see in how many leagues a player is being used, at what position he was drated on average, and several different objective measures of his value on a daily, weekly, or season long basis. (And of course you get analyst's reports daily when there is news for a particular player -- just as Yahoo gives you company news for your portfolio, it provides player news for your fantasy squad, along with how should affect whether you buy, hold, or sell. The very notion of fantasy baseball is a kind of derivatives market, in which values are derived from another source and slightly distorted, magnified, laden with different incentives. My investment strategy? Get some steady value guys -- proven established players whose production won't surprise or disappoint -- and then take on some risk with players with growth potential, such as pitchers in their third full year or players coming off injury-plagued seasons. You need a few blue chippers, but often enough, the small caps outproduce that big-salary guys.

This kind of thinking is probably what's behind those who complain that fantasy sports "destroy" the fun of being a sports fan, or constitutes some phony kind of fandom, turning baseball into pseudo-business. In truth, it reflects perfectly the values of American culture: it stresses the individual over the team, and holds individuals accountable for things the larger team often controls (a pitcher's wins, a hitter's RBIs); it enshrines financial calculation and analysis as a primary mode of pleasure (tracking the value of your holdings is a value unto itself; possession itself is the most pleasurable form of spectatorship) and the most rational way of assessing who's winning (success must be measured in numbers). It reiterates the sense that there should be no emotional investment in something without a quantifiable stake, and no leisure that doesn't in some way mimic work.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

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