Monday, December 28, 2009

The "Blog of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks

If you haven't seen it yet, this blog is hilarious.
(Grammar snobs out there should be thrilled with this concept.)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Album Review: Bob Dylan - "Christmas in the Heart"



I've been watching for the Bob Dylan Christmas album pretty much since I heard about it. That was several months ago and just last week I finally got to hear it.
"Christmas in the Heart" is a solid album.
It really couldn't have been anything else. The set-up was so good the execution hardly mattered. Dylan's grizzled voice is boosted by his expansive backing band. It's like the town drunk found the most expensive karaoke machine in existence and warbled your favorite holiday tunes.
Dylan has also safeguarded himself against calls of being some sort of sell-out (a subject I'm sure he'd rather avoid after the "goes electric" kerfuffle.) Watch and learn.

From Wikipedia
:
Feeding America will receive Dylan's royalties from sales in the USA, while two further charities, the United Nations' World Food Programme and Crisis in the UK, will receive royalties from overseas sales. Dylan said: "That the problem of hunger is ultimately solvable means we must each do what we can to help feed those who are suffering and support efforts to find long-term solutions. I'm honoured to partner with the World Food Programme and Crisis in their fight against hunger and homelessness."

A stroke of genius. It's almost as if it should come with a label that reads: "Sitting in judgment of this album is like sitting in judgment of starving people. Shame on you. (Let's listen to Mr. Zimmerman play his songs.)"
Speaking of which, for a Jewish man I certainly haven't heard any Hanukkah songs come out yet. He has previously done dabbled in Christianity before on the albums "Slow Training Coming" (1979), "Saved" (1980) and "Shot of Love" (1981).

Bob Dylan - "Gotta Serve Somebody"

Perhaps he hasn't completely given up on these concepts. If he at least got behind what we was singing about the whole concept would be boosted several times over.
In any event, two videos were released to promote the album. (Spoiler alert: "Must Be Santa" is far more fun than "Little Drummer Boy.")


Bob Dylan - "Must Be Santa"




Bob Dylan - "Little Drummer Boy"



There is no excuse for not hearing this album.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Juniper Creek Christmas



If you're in any way a fan of HBO's "Big Love" you should at least be aware of the existence of "A Juniper Creek Christmas."
From the A.V. Club Newswire:
In preparation for the fourth season of Big Love (premiering January 10th), the HBO website is offering a free download of "A Juniper Creek Christmas," an eight-song album in which Roman Grant and his disciples sings such classics as "We Three Wives," "Deck The Compound" and "I Saw Three Hummers."

Here's a small taste:

"Here We Come From Juniper Creek"


This is interesting and oddly fitting for several reasons:
- Music is often a large part of the Juniper Creek compound's storyline. Wives are seen recording songs in Roman Grant's office several times over the course of the series, for example.
- A Christmas album makes perfect sense for this (fake) fundamentalist Mormon sect because of the religious significance of the season in question.
- The tags on each song maintain that the characters from the show are the ones performing on the tracks and that...
- The actual actors appear to be in attendance and on board for this.
I personally found this entire thing hilarious. If I had to pick one of the eight tracks to be the single it doesn't get any better than "Silent Wife":
Silent wife, perfect wife
All is calm, all is right
House immaculate, dinner is warm
Another child is soon to be born
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

And so on.
If I didn't know this was a joke and had never heard the show before I'd probably think this was all too real...and frightening. Since it's not it's pretty awesome.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Joey Weiser in "Nickelodeon Magazine"



In another example of one of my friends being awesome, Artist Joey Weiser is on page freaking two of the very last issue of "Nickelodeon Magazine" (December/January 2010.) He conceived of the story for an incredibly inventive Spoungebob Squarepants comic.
The hero of this tale is Gary the Snail. I didn't know who he was before reading this but after some research I found that he not only shares several characteristics of a housecat, but he is also the rightful King of Bikini Bottom. Here's a chart I found that proves it:

The issue is slated be on stands until Jan. 5 so get it immediately. ($3.99...Cheap!)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Interesting BBC News piece

If you're interested in media issues check out this BBC News special piece on the state of the newspaper industry in relation to Google aggregation of content:



From BBC World Service:

The internet search giant Google has detailed plans to limit the number of online newspaper articles its users can read for free.

Previously Google would allow access to unlimited content.
News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch

Mr Murdoch has accused firms such as Google of profiting from journalism

But Rupert Murdoch in particular, the owner of News Corporation, has been a strong critic of the practice, claiming that Google and other companies are profiting from the work of others.

From now on, Google users will be limited to five news stories per day from some sources.

Emily Bell is the director of digital content for a competitor to News Corporation, the Guardian.


Let's see how this whole "monetizing" thing goes. Let me tell you, I just came back from the Black Friday sales last week and people are still in search of a deal. Trust me. They don't want to pay any more than they have to. It seems at this point that putting walls on previously gratis stories will only drive readers elsewhere.

Movie Review: "The Twilight Saga: New Moon"


[Team Edward (James Olmos) - Hat tip to PMD.]

There are certain movies that I've just kind of accepted that I'm going to have to see if I want to have friends. These films generally have a few common threads: They all:

* Were beloved as soon as they appeared several years ago in a printed format.
* Generally have some sort of science fiction twist to them.
* Have Lots of characters.
* Feature flying and magic.
* Guarantee beaucoup sequels.
* Require large budgets.
* Are loooooooooong.

These include, but are not limited to the movie series of:

* X-Men
* Lord of the Rings
* Harry Potter

...and most recently...



I knew I would have to see the annoyingly titled "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" (like they couldn't have just called it "Twilight II: Get Yer Wallets Out" and then called it a day.) And the thing is that I didn't even mind the first movie in retrospect. At least it had atmosphere and a few memorable scenes. I complained about it initially, but given a choice I would have just watched it twice and just skipped the follow-up.
Whereas the initial film appeared to be at least trying to extend a hand to those who hadn't read the books the second installment in the sure-to-be four part series "New Moon" instead leaves this contingent on the side of road on the way to bank. I haven't read any of the original series and being a book lover I respect that apparently the movies stick almost annoying close to the source material. Despite all that I still was completely baffled by this movie.
What I did understand I was completely annoyed by. The plot, such as it is, has vampire lover Edward leaving Bella who falls for mostly-shirtless werewolf Jacob. There is never any question that Edward is coming back and that Bella is going to be with him forever one way or another. Jacob is never a serious candidate. Any tension created in the first movie of Edward and Bella staring silently at each other for what felt like hours was completely absent here. At least the main love interest was there to be stared AT.
At one point I fell asleep for what I estimate to be 10 to 15 minutes and I didn't get the sense that I would have understood anymore if I had stayed awake, which was very little. Teens moped. Every once in a while a werewolf would fight with a vampire or another werewolf or whatever for the affections of said mopey teen.
If the theater employees had lined up along the exits as the credits rolled they could have actually made the arm pump and the cash register noise as we exited. At least that would have been a bit more honest.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Office needs to be an hour long


There is absolutely no reason why NBC's "The Office" couldn't be an hour long. I'm currently watching the first disc of the 4th Season right now and the last two episodes I watched were twice the normal length.
They were:
a) More enjoyable
because
b) they were longer.
Every DVD version of "The Office" has deleted scenes. I've watched most of them and I'd put them up there with any regular scene that made it to air. Sometimes they even get more crazy.
During one deleted scene we find out that Creed Bratton has been living in Canada on the weekends and sleeping under his desk four nights per week because "it's a welfare state."
This fact is never mentioned again.
Had this particular episode been longer than its allotted 22-minutes this would have been included. I love these little vignettes more than other parts of the show because they seem to take more of these types of chances.
It is for this reason that I consider them to be parts of the show's universal bylaws -- and there is no reason why they shouldn't be included.
But that begs the question: These longer episodes have deleted scenes too. I smell an hour-an-a-half-long show idea cooking and it smells delicious.

UPDATE: I was watching the episode "Launch Party" and as I was reading over the phrase "take a chance" above Andy Bernard started singing this song to Angela as he had all the other members of his accapella singing group backing him up on separate nearby speakerphones.

ABBA - Take a Chance

[Ignore the first 30 seconds and the Justin Timberlake dance break.]

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hangin' With Mr. Birkmeier



I am constantly amazed by my amazingly talented friends.
McSweeny's Internet Tendency, the online wing of the Dave Eggers-founded publishing house, recently held a contest to herald the release of Eggers' novelization of the classic children's book "Where the Wild Things Are." The book was meant to coincide with the now-in-theaters Spike Jonze film of same name. There was also a fur covered edition of the book, which was the subject of the contest described here.
(From McSweeny's):

AN EXPLANATION.
We didn't really know what to expect when the fur-covered Wild Things landed in our office. Sure, we had seen various swatches of fur sent as sample materials, but how it would all come together was still anyone's guess. But when we cracked open that first box, we were ecstatic. Like kids on Christmas, we each quietly retreated into corners of the office, and lovingly stylized our hirsute gifts with mohawks, comb-overs, and even outfits. What follows are some of our favorites.

A CHALLENGE.
We think you can do better. So we hereby issue a challenge: style your Wild Thing, title it, and send the under-2-MB effort to webmaster@mcsweeneys.net. We'll select a winner on November 16th, which we'll post on our website.


When the results were released today, my friend and former coworker Alan Birkmeier was listed as one of the winners (complete with picture featured above):

A special mention goes out to Alan Birkmeier's social studies class at St. David Middle School in Arizona, who submitted some hilarious photos. This one, made by Micheala Poole, was our favorite. Nice use of the table saw, Micheala!

Bully!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stephen Colbert: Winner of the Stephen T. Colbert Award for The Literary Excellence!


I am currently in the process of writing my first book proposal. This is especially difficult, not just because I haven't done it before, but also because there is no set format for it. Everyone seems to have a different idea of what a good example is supposed to be.
There is at least one area in which most of these guides seem to converge. They all want you to give some sort of author credentials that will allow to appear as some sort of authority on the subject at hand. This can range anywhere from a familiarity with the subject to a foreword to be written by someone famous. This can also include a list of awards your previous works have won.
This alone can push your book to the top of the pile (From Salon):

Literary awards are more than just ego boosts these days. As the critic James Wood observed a few years back, "prizes are the new reviews," the means by which many people now decide which books to buy, when they bother to buy books at all. There are some 400,000 titles published per year in the U.S. alone -- one new book every minute and a half -- according to Bowker, a company providing information services to the industry, and there are fewer people with the time and inclination to read them. If you only read, for example, about five novels per year (a near-heroic feat of literacy for the average American), you could limit yourself to just the winners of the NBA, the Pulitzer, the National Book Critics Circle, the Booker Prize and then, oh, a Hugo or Edgar winner -- or even a backlist title by that year's Nobel Prize winner. You'd never have to lower your sights to anything unlaureled by a major award.


It seems hard enough to break through the fog without having to show off my literary bonafides. I know I can write the book I want to, but I'm considering pulling a Stephen Colbert. When his book "I Am America (And So Can You)" came out in 2007 it featured a sticker on the front reading "The Stephen T. Colbert Award for Literary Excellence." (From Wikipedia):

A sheet of twelve similar stickers are provided inside, with which readers are provided to nominate other books for the award. A second sheet of stickers containing positive expressions such as "Hell Yeah!", "Nailed It!" and "It's Morning In Colbert-ica" is included for readers as bookmarks to remind themselves "when you agreed with me most."

According to the Salon article quoted above though, this could be a reality:
An e-mail press release for a book crossed my desk not long ago, prominently garnished with a large medallion proclaiming it a winner of "The National Best Books 2009 Awards." For a moment, I misread that as "National Book Award," and did a double take, which is surely what whoever came up with that name intended. Curiosity about the National Best Books 2009 Awards led me to the Web site for USA Book News, produced by an outfit called JPX Media, which claims offices in Los Angeles and New York.

But wait, there's more...
Why bother to set up a Web site regurgitating cover art and promo copy that anybody can find on Amazon.com? The answer, of course, lies in the National Best Books 2009 Awards, a contest that features no fewer than "150 active categories," including three subcategories of "Animals/Pets" and 13 subcategories of business books. There's a prize for the best children's book on the theme of "Mind/Body/Spirit" and for the best history of media and entertainment. By all indications (JPX Media did not respond to phone calls requesting information), everyone who enters in any category winds up listed as a "finalist," and some categories are so specific ("Mythology & Folklore") that they have only one entry.

Best of all, as USABN's Web site freely promises, "the National Best Books Awards are the ONLY Awards Program in the nation that offers direct coverage to the book buying public for every entry." Like the Special Olympics, this is a competition that everybody wins. If you enter the 2010 contest by the end of this year, they'll even throw in a "six-month full-color listing on USABookNews.com," which is "valued at $1500.00!" despite the fact that none of the publishers whose books are listed there now seem to have paid for this service or even to be aware that it's been provided.

Every winner and finalist -- i.e., everyone who enters -- can purchase gold medal-style stickers announcing the fact, which can then be slapped on the cover of the book, making it look deceptively similar to books that have won legitimate prizes like the Newbery Medal. The fee for all this is $69 (about what you'd pay to nominate your book for the National Book Awards or the Pulitzer), though you do have to pay it for each category you wish to enter; if, say, you want to send in your children's book about Mind/Body/Spirit issues in the history of the media, you'd have to pay $138 to enter it in both categories.

As we used to say at the camp I worked at when we were forced to play games that didn't have a clearly defined goal:
Everyone's a winner, except all the losers.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Where have you gone, Sammy Sosa?



I think the height of my caring about organized, professional sports was the year 1998, when I was 15. That was baseball season when Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa were embroiled in their famous home-run chase.

Since then I haven't thought all that much about Sosa. That was until just a few minutes ago when I stumbled across the picture you see above and the story you'll find below.

In this NPR Morning Edition piece from today
, Sosa had this to say for himself:

Former Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa showed up at the Latin Grammy awards last week, looking much paler than usual. Speculation flew that he had bleached his skin or was suffering from a medical condition.

But in an interview Wednesday, the Dominican Republic native blamed a night cream and the bright television lights for the way his skin appeared. Sosa, who celebrates his 41st birthday Thursday, said he is not suffering from any skin illness.

"It's a bleaching cream that I apply before going to bed and whitens my skin some," he said on Primer Impacto, a program on the Spanish-language network Univision.

Sosa, who also wears colored contacts, said he uses the cream as a moisturizer and is in discussions to market it.


I don't know much, but I do know that whatever has happened to this poor man was not caused by either an excess of artificial illumination or skin products.

It would be like trying to tell me that the reason for Bob Dylan's appearance during the recording of this live version of "Tangled Up in Blue" was caused by a full-body immersion in a tub of flour:


Bob Dylan - Tangled Up In Blue (Official Music Video) - The best bloopers are here

Obviously, given our past experience with Sosa we know he doesn't always keep it 100 percent organic for the people. From a New York Times article from June of this year:

Sammy Sosa, who joined with Mark McGwire in 1998 in a celebrated pursuit of baseball’s single-season home run record, is among the players who tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in 2003, according to lawyers with knowledge of the drug-testing results from that year.

Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa engaged in a home run race in 1998 in which both surpassed the single-season record of 61.

At a March 2005 hearing called by the House Government Reform Committee, Sammy Sosa denied using performance-enhancing drugs.

The disclosure that Sosa tested positive makes him the latest baseball star of the last two decades to be linked to performance enhancers, a group that now includes McGwire, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro.

Sosa, who is sixth on Major League Baseball’s career home run list and last played in 2007, had long been suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs, but until now had never been publicly linked to a positive test.

In a recent interview with ESPN Deportes, Sosa, 40, said he would “calmly wait” for his induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame, for which he will become eligible in 2013. But his 2003 positive test, when he played for the Chicago Cubs, may seriously damage his chances of gaining entry to the Hall, a fate encountered by McGwire, who has attracted relatively little support from voters in his first three years on the ballot.


But let's take a look at that shot one more 'gain:



Yikes.

Skin bleaching is apparently quite common in some corners of the black community. This, from Science in Africa Magazine:

As many studies have revealed, society has a significant impact on the misuse of skin lightening agents. It is known that during slavery years, light-skinned people were often given preferable treatment as compared to their dark-skinned peers. In modern times, studies have indicated that the majority of black men prefer light-skinned women as partners, girlfriends or wives.


There are one of two possibilities related to why this has happened to Sosa:
1. This was an unfortunate accident caused either by his actions, simple genetics or some horrible vitiligo and lupus combination, à la Michael Jackson.
2. He meant to do this.

Either way I feel bad for him as no one is pointing out how well this all worked for him. I just wish Sosa was honest about why this is happening. Self-hatred? Bad luck? Whatever the real cause is, we will always assume the worst if we don't know the truth. Here's some advice though, stop trying to market this product, Sammy. No one wants to look MORE like you do now (even if that's not the real reason.)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Vinyl record review: Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits

I found the record player that adorns my living room outside of a recycling center in Bloomington, Ind. I picked it up in the hopes that it would work and after attaching some free speakers I had gotten while helping a friend's step-father move I basked in the warmth of the music.
Being Sunday morning I had more time than I usually do to utilize my wonderful machine. I also have an extensive and eclectic record collection culled from many a thrift store, so the quality varies wildly. I decided to play it safe and listen to a classic: Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest Hits. Here's a blow-by-blow review of the entire proceedings:



Side 1

Mrs. Robinson


(Editor's Note: Ignore the Beatles pictures. I have no idea why they're there.)

How about that intro? What a way to begin. A classic to be sure. Listening to this song now it seems more condescending in message than I remember. It’s almost as if Paul Simon doesn’t really believe what he’s saying in the choruses to Mrs. Robinson, it’s just to make her feel better.
As far as I remember the lyrics aren’t otherwise connected to the film’s plot other than the name.
According to the Wikipedia article on the song:
Frank Sinatra covered a version of this song for his 1969 album My Way. This version changes a number of lines, including replacing "Jesus" with "Jilly" (Sinatra's close friend) and including a new verse directly referring to Mrs. Robinson's activities in The Graduate:
The PTA, Mrs. Robinson,
Won't okay the way you do your thing
Ding ding ding.
And you'll get yours, Mrs. Robinson,
Foolin' with that young stuff like you do
Boo hoo hoo, woo woo woo.

Lol OMG...Frank Sinatra…You rascal, you!

For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her


Before now I guess I also never realized how large a thread of the Coldplay musical cloth this music takes. I guess this pretty much changed the game for folk and rock music.

The Boxer

Another classic. My dad loves the shit out of this song. I can’t argue with it.
Just again proving that lyrics don’t matter, it’s all in how you say them: he gets a come from the whores on seventh avenue and the next minute he’s admitting to how he was so lonesome he took some comfort there. If this was in a rap song it’d be thumbs down from my dad, but because it’s in this context it’s alright. Just sayin’…

The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)


I mean this is a camp song for the ages so what bad could I possibly say about this. Feelin’ groovy…

Sound of Silence

I’m starting to get the idea these two had some good musical ideas. All kidding aside, I do love this song as well. I used to play this on the organ that lived in the upstairs bonus room of my parent’s house. We had the sheet music for it. It’s so elemental in it’s construction that it almost seems like it should be at least 100 years old.
Extra credit: Did this song start emo? A question to marinate on.

I Am a Rock

If you’ve ever been a dark little poet in the cold winter months this is your theme song, motherfucker. You have your books and poetry to protect you. You are shielded in your armor. Incidentally Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies do a slam bang job with this one.


Scarborough Fair/Canticle


I always thought this was a folksong since it was one of the public domain songs always included with those “Learn to Play Guitar Books” you buy that they always include because they don’t have to pay anyone for. I looked on the back of the record and it basically only credited Sim. & Gar.
From the Wikipedia article on the term:
The arrangement made famous by Simon & Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" originated in the mid-20th century. Paul Simon learned it in 1965 in London from Martin Carthy. Then Art Garfunkel set it in counterpoint with "Canticle", a reworking of Simon's 1963 song "The Side of a Hill" with new, anti-war lyrics. It was the lead track of the 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, and was released as a single after being featured on the soundtrack to The Graduate in 1968. The copyright credited only Simon and Garfunkel as the authors, causing ill-feeling on the part of Carthy, who felt the "traditional" source should have been credited. This rift remained until Simon invited Carthy to duet the song with him at a London concert in 2000.
Prior to Simon's learning the song, Bob Dylan had borrowed the melody and several lines from Carthy's arrangement in creating his song, "Girl from the North Country," which appeared on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963), Nashville Skyline (1969) (together with Johnny Cash), Real Live (1984) and The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration (1993).

A good version, but obviously they weren’t the originators of the funk in this instance.

Side 2

Homeward Bound


I hate when the audience claps as soon as they recogonize the song because it’s almost like when Kramer would enter the “Seinfeld” set in the later seasons. Acceptance through repetition and familiarity: distasteful.
The song is good. My dad loves this song too. Again I can’t blame him.

Bridge Over Troubled Water

I think the Elvis version of this song was so pappy that I can hardly listen to the original without hearing his southern warble instead.



America


Probably the first song I’ve heard on this record I don’t actually care for. Nothing wrong with it, but it’s kind of plain and disaffecting. All apologies if it were yr. fav.

Kathy’s Song


Yawn. I’m starting to get the idea that maybe Paul Simon is too good at making melodies. His lyrics sometime struggle for attention. His playing is always so strong that it’s hard to even pay any mind to what’s being said even if it’s important.

El Condor Pasa (If I Could)

Another re-purposed folk song. I know everyone did this back then, but it’s a little grating after hearing how fantastic some of their other material is.

Bookends

This sounds like a eulogy of the 1960’s spirit. That’s really my disappointment with the Baby Boomer generation. It’s their lack of follow-through with the promise of the 60’s ideals that disappoints me. If you want to trace my disappointment with humanity, the seed was planted right there.

Cecilia

Good song, but it feels a little forced as the final song here. It’s like they just bummed us out with the entire middle of this side and now they’re trying to make up for it.
But this is funkier than I’ve heard them get since about 20 minutes ago on “Homeward Bound.”

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Target of the target audience

Since asking my lovely fiancée Ash Leaf to marry me last Halloween I have learned and thought more about weddings than I ever had in my entire life. Whereas women seem to have already spent many an idle hour contemplating their nuptuals prior to being queried by a gentleman caller, most of this is hitting me for the first time.
One of the most interesting new developments has been reading the wedding magazines that Ash has both subscribed to and bought over the last year.



So when I opened to page 45 of the November-December issue of "Brides" yesterday this is what I saw:



When I was a student teacher in England one of my favorite lessons I taught was the day we analyzed a series of print advertisements for the hidden meanings. I'm guessing it wouldn't take even an English 12-year-old to figure out what this one is trying to say.
Since this is an advertisement I've seen before in other bridal-related publications I'm obviously not the one this is marketed towards. Quite to the contrary. In fact, I am a character in this advertisement.
First, look at the setting. We have two chess pieces, one white, one black. The pieces are also of two different types: one is a queen, who is standing, and the other is a king, who is tipped over on the ground. This is significant because even in the absence of a chess board, this is generally recognized as the stance the king takes when "checkmate" is called, meaning there is no other moves the king can make without being taken down.
Next, observe what the queen is wearing: Diamond rings. And not just one diamond ring, not even two, but THREE. Three diamond rings.
Finally, let's take a step back and observe what this advertisement is saying to the subscribers of "Brides"? It's obvious by now isn't it?: If you, the queen, knock down the king, put him in checkmate if you will, you will get three diamond rings.
In any event it's some of the most forceful advertising I've seen in quite some time.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wal-Mart: From the womb to the tomb



Maybe you've heard this and maybe you haven't but Wal-Mart, following in the footsteps of Costco, is now offering caskets for purchase on their Web site.
My first instinct was to scoff at this and shake my head at the downfall of society. The more I think about it, though, the more sense it makes. If you're willing to procure your final resting place from here, you're probably already a dedicated Wally World shopper anyway. What could be more fitting than buying your casket from them as well?
From the Associated Press article:

The caskets come from Star Legacy Funeral Network, Inc., a company based in McHenry, Ill., that sells the same caskets for about the same price — some less — on its site, along with many others.

Star Legacy CEO Rick Obadiah said the response in the first week has been better than the company or Wal-Mart expected, though he declined to give specifics. A spokesman for Walmart.com also declined to release sales figures and downplayed the venture.

"Several online retailers offer this category on their sites," spokesman Ravi Jariwala wrote in an e-mail. "We are simply conducting a limited beta test to understand customer response."

But Obadiah said it is not simply a test. He said more than 200 Star Legacy products, including pet urns and memorial jewelry, and eventually about two dozen caskets, will be sold at walmart.com. The company also supplies similar types of products to online retailer Overstock.com and urns to CostCo's Web site.

This reminded me of a bit comedian David Cross does on his "It's Not Funny" CD about segregated graveyards in the deep south:

There's a kind of racism in the south that is really so steadfast and true that I almost kind of begrudgingly, you know, admire it in a way, and that is that there are segregated graveyards. That just to me defies all logic...but it's also, like, "Well, hats off...you're going to stick to your guns on that one, and take that shit to the grave? All right!" There's enough people to go, "Naw, man..ugh, I don't even wanna think about it. My dead, lifeless, rotting, maggot-infested corpse...next to some black man's? Ewww!!! That's gross!" But that does pose an interesting scenario, because, what's going to happen when the zombies rise out of their graves? ... "We must take over the human race-- wait, what were you?" "I'm black." "Fuck you, nigger, you can't come." "What? No! But I'm a skeleton, you can't tell!" "Fuck youuu..."

That's what I love about these two death-related ideas: even if I think they're insane and stupid you have to give to the people that participate in them for their commitment to the idea.
It really does give a new twist to Wal-Mart's motto:


Always, indeed.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

twentysomething watching thirtysomething



On September 29, 1987 I was 4.5 years old and my brother Chris had been on the planet for four months. That was the day the television show thirtysomething premiered the pilot episode of its run. October 27, 2009 was the day I watched it for the first time.
It is about as terrible as I expected.
All these yuppies can cry me a river of synthesizer tears. I get the premise. The baby boomers are upset that the revelation has been bought and sold. But in the present tense, with unemployment poised to crack 10 percent, they can sing the young urban professional blues to someone else.
The 80s were a weird time for fashion, especially for those older than 20 the time. At least the kids had an interesting take on it. The sons and daughters of the Greatest Generation, though, were thoroughly confused. Overalls, jean shawls and puffy, flowery blouses for the women and tucked in, knitted, square-bottomed ties for the menfolk.
Mostly I don't like this show becuase in many ways it's like a made-for-TV version of the baby boomer experience of the Greed Decade. Ba humbug.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Enter the Mario Kart



One of the main reasons I don't play our Wii as much I'd like to has a lot do with movement. This is to say, anything that involves getting off the couch after I've come home from work. I've waved my arms and jumped around enough just getting through the day without having a computer simulation that causes me just as much pain as walking to lunch.
But then Ash got me Mario Kart for the Wii with wheel remote and that all changed.
I just finished a record-setting winning streak in which I aced at the very least 15 races in a row. It's now official: I am a pro at the beginner level. Hold your applause.
I have never played any incarnation of Mario Kart before this one, but like "The Godfather" I just heard about it from so many people that I just assumed it was good. (Kind of like "Goldeneye" for the N64 also.)
Mario Kart is so fun for many reasons, but I think it mainly has to do with two things:
1) The innate hand-eye coordination that comes complete with associated muscle memory.
2) The universe it creates is out of control fun to look at.
The entire Mario empire is so steeped its own mythology that at this point it's like seeing an old friend. Even the fire levels with pyramids and the ball and chain monsters seems like a homecoming. ("Oh level two of Super Mario Brothers 3 how I've always despised you.")
Now we just need to get another circular control port for the other controller and it's going down.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

This American Life: "Devil on My Shoulder"



I'm listening to this week's This American Life episode and it is awesome. It's a repeat of an episode I've heard before, but it's one of my favorites. It's Episode 213 "Devil on My Shoulder" and if you haven't heard before, but do possess an hour of free time and a high speed internet connection should listen to it immediately.

Here's an overview of the program notes:

213: Devil on My Shoulder

Stories of people who are trying to convince you that the Devil is there, whispering in your ear...and stories of people who try to deny he's there, against some very heavy evidence.

Prologue.

How does the Devil work? We hear stories from five different people who say they found themselves inexplicably doing something random and bad, something which made no sense to them at all. Host Ira Glass explains why this might be, cadging a bit from C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters. (11 minutes)


Hilarious. I laughed so hard at this. We all have strong random emotions from time to time and this explains this perfectly.

Act One. It's Fun to Make Hell on Earth.

Trinity Church in Texas puts on something called Hell House every Halloween. It's like a haunted house, but each scene shows teenage church members acting out scenes of things the church considers sins. There's a homosexual dying of AIDS; a girl in an abortion clinic (on a doctor's table with fake blood splashed between her legs); a mom who leaves her family for someone she meets on the Internet. George Ratliff made a documentary about all this called Hell House. He plays some of his footage and talks about how effective it is, and how much of a thrill it is for the pious teenagers to act like sinners. (14 minutes)

Song: "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," Charlie Daniels Band


I actually saw an entire documentary about this phenomenon. Fascinating.
Sample line of dialouge:
"This is the rave slash suicide scene."

Act Two. Sixteen Candles Can Lead to a Lot of Fire.

Faron Yoder lives in Amish country in Indiana. When he was a teenager, like every Amish sixteen-year-old, Faron was allowed to abandon the restrictions of Amish life and live as a regular American teenager. It's part of an Amish tradition called rumspringa, which lets Amish kids drive cars and drink and party for a few years, before they decide whether or not to be baptised into the Amish church and live an Amish life. Now 21, Faron explains to Ira why most Amish kids decide to stay Amish after rumspringa, and why, at 21, he hasn't. He's featured in a documentary called Devil's Playground, by filmmaker Lucy Walker. (9 minutes)


Are you not entertained?

Act Three. Devil in Angel's Clothing, or Is It the Other Way Around?

The story of a man who committed a murder when he was a teenager. He got away with it, and didn't tell the police for twenty years. But then one day, for reasons that aren't entirely clear to him, he did. Reporter Sarah Koenig talked with him in prison, about what it's like to come clean after twenty years, but not even remember how or why. (21 minutes)

Song: "Devil or Angel, The Clovers; and Running with the Devil," Van Halen


Que!?

Friday, October 16, 2009

"Book of Daniel"



The canceled 2006 TV show "Book of Daniel" grabbed my attention because:
- It featured an Episcopalian priest as the main character. (I was raised in the faith.)
- It also featured a hallucination by said main character where he imagines he's talking to a not-very-good-looking version of Jesus.
We watched the better part (I think) of the pilot episode tonight. It was not good.
In fact, when I went to research the movie online I was shocked to find that most of the criticism of the show was from the conservative Christians. From the Wikipedia article:
A spokesman for the evangelical organization Focus on the Family compared the show's depiction of Jesus to a "namby-pamby frat boy", saying that "Having previewed the pilot and an additional episode, I find NBC’s new television show, The Book of Daniel, extremely repulsive in its portrayal of Jesus Christ and intentionally offensive in its flippant attitude toward behaviors almost universally agreed upon as unhealthy to society."

I will agree that the actor they picked to play the Son of God wasn't as cut as some other film Jesusi I've seen (I'm looking at you Jeremy Sisto.) But the real crime here is that it is just not a very good show.
I can just hear the log line now:
It's "7th Heaven" meets "Six Feet Under" meets "Joan of Arcadia."
How disappointing it is that people get all worked up over the wrong things. Their biggest concern is a frat boy Jesus giving a thumbs up to the gays when what they should be worried about is the fact this show is one big forced conflict. Gay son! Adopted son! Asian son! Marijuana-selling daughter! Pill addictions! Death! Affairs! Embezzlement! Hallucination! Jehova!
Real Episcopal days are hardly this action packed. Say what you want about us, but we know how to keep things in order in the end.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Crank II: High Voltage" is the best sequel ever.



Most sequels seek to take what was successful about the original and turn it up a notch. This often results in a copy-of-a-copy feeling that proves the rule of diminishing returns. The most successful of these feel as if they were saving all their best the second installment.
When I rented “Crank” and “Crank II” in succession I thought the first would prepare me for the second.
This was very, very wrong.
“Crank” is based on the premise that that professional hitman Chev Chelios can’t stop moving or else the synthetic Chinese poison that has been injected into his blood stream will kill him.
“Crank II” takes this about 100 steps further by having his heart replaced by a mechanical organ that needs to be juiced to continue working.
Watching “Crank II” you almost get the sense that the first installment was just an excuse for the second’s existence. The introduction of high levels of electricity was a stroke of genius. The first film was an open-ended canvas for which every way of raising Chelios’ heart rate were splashed on screen. This goes many times more for the second film. In “Crank II” Chelios tasers himself, grabs a power pole and attaches jumper cables to his nipples.
My words would only do a disservice to this whirlwind and after only one viewing I’m not sure I caught everything. I vaguely remember a flashback in which Chelios’ mother, played by Geri Halliwell (formerly Ginger/Sexy Spice,) takes him on a talk show because of his bad behavior. There are a hundred other fantastical, disconnected images in my memory that I can’t quite piece together.
No matter the viewer’s sensibilities, boredom is not an emotion I would imagine many dealt with.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Every bad movie should watch "Crank" and take notes.



"Crank" is the definition of a must-see movie.
I'm not sure I mean for everyone. There are certain sensibilities that won't take to it's XTREME nature. I wouldn't want to waste anyone's time.
What I want is to make this required viewing for every director who realizes they are in the midst of making a film that doesn't work. I fully understand that no one sets out to make a shitty movie. Things happen. I get it.
What I can't stand more than anything is a piece of art that's strictly middle-of-the-road. The worst thing a movie can be is forgettable. I know I've seen "S.W.A.T." and "The Leauge of Extraordinary Gentlemen." I have the ticket stubs to prove it. The problem is, I can't remember anything about them. Not one single, solitary scene. That's probably five hours and several dollars out of my life. I'll never see that again.


"You there! Director boy! Make with that paycheck I was promised!"

"Tromeo and Juliet" was a horridly bad movie, but the image of Tromeo eating popped popcorn out of Juliet's cleanly exploded stomach will live with me until the day I die.
"Crank" is a bad movie. Now when the directors looked at the fork in the road they went straight. They took their concept to the max. The movie has a built-in driver that the rest of the plot is speared on and super-charged by: Hired killer Chev Chelios (Jason Statham) is injected with a synthetic Chinese poison that will kill him if he stands still.
But still...
Subtitles that only cover random phrases embedded in sentences. Overt, surely paid, corporate shoutouts to Google maps. The inclusion of every racial stereotype for every hue except white, who are always the heroes. These do not normally a great movie make.
But still...
The chutzpah to have your main character standing atop a stolen motorcycle rolling down the street in a hospital gown; all while sporting an implied erection, now that's entertainment.
This above all, to thine own self be true. If you're going off the rails anyway, why NOT step on the gas?

UPDATE: Just looked on the special features and apparently you can listen to the family-friendly audio version of the movie that plays on cable television and on airplanes. Genius.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Watching The Informers



As I type this Ash and I are around 40 minutes into the movie "The Informers," the film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' short story collection set in the 1980s.
For some reason Kim Basinger and Billy Bob Thornton are here, but feel totally out of place. Now Ash tells me this gaunt woman on screen is Winona Ryder. The late Brad Renfro is looking awful in what is clearly his final role. Mikey Rourke is cool, calm and collected and seems oddly at home as a human traffiker. Chris Issak shows up as the same character he always plays: Chris Issak.
I will say that this piece does have an excellent sense of time and place. I can feel the 80's culture burning my retinas. We are never unsure of the popularity of things like Men Without Hats or Flock of Seagulls; and that's a good thing, I guess. The problem is that it doesn't go anywhere. The table setting is beautiful but the portions served are less than satisfying.
I've seen two of the other three Ellis stories committed to celluloid, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. This is to say "yes" to "Rules of Attraction" and "American Psycho" but "no" to "Less Than Zero." The book versions of all of these are set in the 80's, only "Less Than Zero" was actually MADE in the 80's and, until "Informers" anyway, was the most poorly reviewed of any of them.
But objects in the rear view mirror, they appear closer than they are, don't they, Meatloaf? Everything looks better in hindsight. I even get nostalgic for this time period and I was probably a very lucky embryo when this was meant to be going on.
All in all this feels like a missed opportunity. Cliche doesn't begin to describe the action on screen. A pool boy is eye raped by a bored, rich housewife. Impassioned speeches that begin with, "you think I don't know how much it hurts, man?", are delivered. Around we go.
In an age when most people wouldn't mind living the freewheeling synthesizer era where everything, good and bad, was abundant like never before, feeling pity for these supremely over-privileged subjects is far more difficult.
In retrospect, it is no coincidence that the pivotal first scene of "Rules of Attraction" was filmed on Sept. 11, 2001. While making back its $4 million budget, it's paltry $6.5 million showing at the box office made a resounding flop financially. I say this even as it remains one of my top three favorite movies.
9/11 made everyone move past the point which Ellis' over-everythinged character studies could be appreciated. "The Informers" is the proof.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A couple Al Green songs to make your day brighter

Most everything is better with Al Green.

Here's a couple gems I discovered on YouTube that I didn't know existed before:

"For the Good Times"



"You Ought to Be With Me"

Monday, July 6, 2009

Hello Goodbye

Here it is, two hours until the end of the day and I still haven’t gotten any writing done. Not a thing.
It’s really embarrassing too because I keep telling people I’m doing all this good work and just nothing. The spirit to do creative work is usually crushed by this point in the day. I need a new way to make myself get up in the morning.
I’ve come to conclusion that early rising will probably be the only way I’ll ever stick with my daily writing program. By this point in the day there’s almost no point. All my energy has been spent just getting through the day.
And at night? Well, all I want to do is sleep, or something akin to that. I watched three episodes of Boston Legal tonight. I don’t know why. It’s not even my favorite show. It was just something to do.
I feel like I earn my free time because everything always ends up being more difficult than I intend it to. This is probably also part of my problem. I budget in my day for a certain amount of distraction and work and by the end of it the quotas for both have been raised so high my gas tank ends up on “E.”
But enough about that. I’m working on getting excited about things. Here’s a rundown of the my writing projects:
- This blog. I used to keep a daily journal that I would show absolutely no one. I still have it saved somewhere in my files and I’ll still probably never show anyone. I’ve determined the problem with much of my writing is just that; I’ll never show it to anyone. This blog is an opportunity for me to have the same single-paged assignment, you know, for others to actually read.
- My zombie story I’m writing with Sean. I’m having a lot of fun with this. The idea sprung from our constant weekend chats about the zombie apocalypse. It’s a fun subject to think about and it’s even more fun that I have someone to bounce ideas off of.
- My book proposal. I haven’t really decided what this is going to be on yet, but I’m making it my goal to finish work on this by June 24. This goes along with my overriding goal of doing something big with my writing.
- A movie script. Same as before, but in a different format. This is more something I want to do after I put my book proposal together.
- Freelance articles. This is something I’ve been working towards for quite some time now with no success to speak of. This is part of the reason I’ve been freaked out about if I can make it as a writer or not. It seems like everyone has turned to freelancing nowadays. Coupled with the fact that all I’ve received so far are the incredibly tiny rejection slips in my extra-large self-addressed and stamped business letters and my fire has been somewhat dimmed. I now set to bash my head even harder against a wall that seems to have only become more firm every day.

I’m really only working on the first two of those goals daily, but I’m adding another tomorrow morning. Morning. Morning. Morning. Writing will take place in the morning. One way or another I will be a morning person. Coffee makes me nauseous. Getting up early makes me sad in my bones.
Some way this will work though.
Keep me in your thoughts. I have a lot of work to do. I now recognize that this will require massive amounts of fortitude.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Work is hard

The second half of this year is going to mean hard work.
I’m trying to change everything about how I go about doing things. What has been comfortable hasn’t worked. I’m looking to rise above what I’ve done before.
Mostly what I’m looking for is freedom. My ultimate goal is to become independent in every way.
This will mean a change in work ethic.
It’s not that I don’t like work, it’s really that I just don’t like to be pushed very hard. I only really like to do the pushing myself. I’m the kind of person who shuts down when pushed too hard. However, if I get on a tangent myself it’s hard to turn me off.
Getting excited about something is really the main piece I’m missing.
It has mostly been the freaking out I’ve done over the future of the printed word that has stopped me from producing anything. It seems like when people see a problem that big, they often just power down. Why confront a conundrum so immense that it won’t matter what you do anyway?
I’ve heard of plenty of fine writers being a left behind or abused by their cash-strapped parent organizations:
- I read that some of the winners of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for journalism had been laid off in between the publication of the entries and the announcement of the selections.
- A journalist who had been shot at a city council meeting and survived was laid off by his newspaper.
- Even the guy who wrote the successful blog “The Recession Diaries” for the Chicago Tribune got laid off? I mean if that guy can’t keep a job when he’s writing about the most important issue facing most people today I don’t know what to do.
The answer, I think, is to double my efforts.
The fact that everything the industry has known before is crashing around us means those who want to survive to the next round of play have to work twice as hard and force their game into a new level.
One of the smartest things I’ve heard said recently was a Wayne Gretzky quote by way of writer/director Kevin Smith: “Be where the puck is going to be, not where it is.”
I really like that. It’s what I’m striving for coming up. I was just reading in the New York Times today about these two guys who started a textbook rental company called chegg.com. It works like Netflix but for college texts.
It’s so obvious I can’t believe someone, even me, hadn't thought of this before. Everyone complains about how much textbooks cost for school. It’s just that one idea no one else has, but perfectly fills a void everyone on some level knew was there.
I have to start viewing doing work for myself as a second full time job. I have to give myself the attention I deserve to actually do the things I have to do to be successful. I have to treat this writing thing like it’s another thing on my list for the day. It’s not a burden to try to create unless you think of it that way.
Like AC/DC say, "it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll."
Even the most successful writers making it look like they lay back and do nothing all day, are obviously working hard. You wouldn’t hear anything about them if they weren’t.

Independence (from thought) Day

The Fourth of July was truly a harrowing experience for me.
I generally don’t care for crowds. I’ve been around too many mad mobs to know you never turn your back on one. There’s no accountability. It’s a big stupid animal with no morals or personal regrets.
So not only is everyone crowded together on this most special of holidays they’re all infected with the Independence Day spirit. It’s a second cousin to Senioritis. The air is sparkling with it. Much like Halloween, it’s one of those public holidays that come with a lampshade squarely on their head.
In short, everyone has an excuse to cut loose.
Oh, and did I mention there were no fireworks in town this year? Apparently no one stepped up to collect funds.
The general consensus of the populace was less than favorable.
I think if people don’t get to see things blow up for long enough they start loosing their minds.
Yesterday was one of those times.
It started at the Safeway at around 10 a.m. I should have figured this would be the exact same time at least one representative from each gathering in town would think to pick up a few quick items at exactly this time.
People were frantic. I used the shopping cart in front of me for protection. We were nearly crushed several times and not even in the middle of the aisle. There was no escape. Nowhere of was safe. People were everywhere. Upon further reflection I thought of it in terms of the Maxis computer game SimAnt that I played in junior high.
The ant tunnels were out of control.
The last straw was the gigantic woman pushing one of those cart/toy car combinations which people with more than, say, two children at the supermarket at once often take advantage of.
As we were checking out she got in line behind us and without taking her eyes off the tabloid magazine she had snatched off the rack, she pushed the contraption forward, almost running us over.
This happened at least two more times, each time the end result getting closer to contact. We couldn’t leave quickly enough.
Later on that night we had stopped by our friend’s birthday party. We made our way back across town and not two minutes after leaving the party a gigantic truck with its high beams on started tailing us hard. In front of us were two slow moving cars, so I couldn’t go any faster and the line in the middle of the two-lane road was double yellow. Then the truck started honking and weaving. I quickly turned right on the first side street I could find. As I looked over my shoulder I could see the truck illegally passing both cars, honking all the way. This so freaked the driver in front of us out that it ran him on the small shoulder for a few seconds before zooming away.
We caught our breaths and decided to drive as carefully as possible the way back since there were obviously more than a few inebriated drivers out. We turned off at the first road we could when we got back to town. Just then an explosion of sparks and noise went off not 15 feet in front of the car. I looked over and saw a party of gigantic celebrants, many of which were small children. They had been throwing fireworks into the middle of the road. I rolled my window down and yelled at them. I didn’t wait around to hear their response for their foolishness.
So in short, Happy Birthday, America…I’m hiding from you for the rest of the weekend.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Roll up and shine

I really hate waking up early in the morning.
By that I mean that if I had my druthers I wouldn’t step foot outside my bedroom before 10 a.m. Alas, the world was not made with people like me in mind.
I think back to college one early Sunday morning. I was returning from a party at a friend’s house. It had to be 4:30 a.m. or so on a summer day because the first lights of dawn had begun filtering into the otherwise pitch black night. I was driving through the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. and I stopped at a red light. The street was mostly empty as was the sidewalk, but as I looked to my left I saw someone making their way towards me going the opposite direction.
On the sidewalk was a middle-aged woman in a blue spandex top and tight black running shorts. She flung her arms wildly from side to side. I seem to remember her wearing a baseball hat and sunglasses, but being so early in the morning I highly doubt this detail. In any case, she had on earbud headphones and was powerwalking her way towards downtown.
Her day had just begun as mine was ending.
It was at that moment that realized that she and everyone else like her were the people that ran the world. While I was to be curled up in bed until at least the early afternoon those people had already started making money.
I want to get better at waking up early, but I’m having a hard time figuring out just how. I hate going to bed early because as soon as you give in for the night you just wake up and it’s tomorrow, and honestly, what fun is that when you have to work?
I also have a strong dislike for coffee. I don’t hate it, but I try avoiding it whenever I can. I had some this morning because I had an early appointment. It did the trick, but an hour or so later I could feel my heart rate climbing and the first pangs of chest and left arm pains.
I concluded this was my body’s way of saying I needed a new strategy.
I want to be better at waking up because I have so much writing I’d like to get done. I want to start forcing myself to be productive on a daily basis. When I get home from work though, I don’t even want to look at my own pursuits because I’m so drained from chasing everything I’m assigned to during the work day. Also since I work in a creative job I feel like I’ve already spent whatever juice I have left in my right brain.
When I worked at Eastern Greene Elementary School as a teacher’s assistant I would hide my writing in my folders like it was illegal. It was my own special thing that no one could take away from me while I toiled at a job I didn’t like very much. Now that I have a job I like I have to figure out a way to balance both the work I have to do with the work I want to do.
I’m going to try an experiment tomorrow and wake up early as possible so I work on my writing. This blog is one of those assignments and I’ve committed to doing a page on Microsoft Word every day so it can be dropped into this feed. With this post I’m two for two so far in July so I feel good about that. I also want to keep working on a zombie novel I’m writing with my friend Sean that will require one page of my attention per day as well. In addition to that I’ve got book proposals, short stories, query letters to magazines, essays and articles I’d like to get under my belt.
Me and this keyboard have some work to do and I want to have a life and a job at the same time while I do it. The cruelly early alarms my phone will be set to will be the call of a new day of possibilities, not an excuse to push the “snooze” button so I can feel vaguely bad about myself for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Crisis=Opportunity

Yesterday was my last day as a reporter for the Ukiah Daily Journal.
It feels weird to say that because since March 2007 I have self identified as a full-time reporter of some kind for a daily newspaper. Starting out with no experience or credentials to speak of and after almost a year of freelancing for both print and radio news I obtained a position at the Reporter-Times in Martinsville, Ind. and four months later, in August of 2007, I started as a reporter for the Ukiah Daily Journal in Ukiah, Calif.
It’s also weird to be leaving this field I worked so hard to get into because I also happen to be the fourth generation in my family to work in the newspaper business. Both my mom’s grandfather and father owned and wrote for a slew of newspapers and she herself began as a columnist and eventually rose to the position of Lifestyle Editor for the Times-Mail in Bedford, Ind. I have pitch black newspaper ink that never dries coursing through my veins.
It would be a sore understatement to declare that I have a certain affinity for the format.
Like a lot of people with eyes, ears and a brain though I can tell that times they are ‘a changing. I don’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows or any additional Bob Dylan references to know that there has been a seismic shift in the way people receive information even from when I started in this field.
Over the course of the last few months I’ve spent countless hours at work freaking myself out by Googling some combination of the words “future” and “newspapers.” As you might have guessed, none of the links I was directed towards were anything but frightening.
Surely you know the score so I won’t spend any more time rehashing the gory details. In short though, the whole thing seems to be going down in flames. There’s a million reasons from drops in advertising revenue to declining readership, but suffice it to say the future looks less than bright for print media.
The feeling I get most often from a review of these facts is first sadness and then overwhelming anger about how unfair this all is. The way it looks now I’ll never be able to write for a San Francisco Chronicle or New York Times because it seems even I keep chugging away at climbing this mountain there may not be a mountain left by the time I get to the top of it. I feel history has cheated me. I want a fair shot. I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and dog gone it, people like me.
As far as feeling as if I’ve been cursed with being born in the wrong time, it seems like I ought to take a number and shut up about it from looking at everyone else’s take on their own situations. This portion of history has not been kind to anyone and any industry that was already teetering on the brink might have failed anyway. This crisis has just sped up what might have otherwise been a 10 year smooth decline we’d all have time to adjust to into a mere months-long frenzy akin to a Black Friday sale at Wal-Mart.
So what do I do with these feelings? I tried to turn them into action.
That’s why today I started my first day as a full time Head Writer at the local news site ukiahvalley.tv.
In short, it’s a digital newspaper that uses video instead of words to tell stories. After working my first full day there today I’m really excited about what I can do with this new format opportunity I’ve been presented with. I can already tell we’re going to do some great things.
The future is wide open for anyone who is brave enough to take it. I’m viewing this crisis of faith as an opportunity to stretch myself into new areas I never would have otherwise thought possible.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Don's Guns: "Where the Second Amendment is alive and well."

I always thought the best part of the only-in-Indiana Don's Guns commercials, besides everything, was the fact that Don somehow claimed to not even be interested in turning a profit. To hear him tell it, you were doing HIM a favor." He He He He He," he finishes, laughing maniacally while stroking a handgun you can apparently rent, yes rent, for only $10:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

There Will Be Blood



A great movie with an equally great title. Ash and I watched it last night after avoiding it for quite some time. Like "Hotel Rwanda" and "Crash" for others, this was just one of those movies you order from Netflix that you know is going to be good, but that is just too heavy to pop in the old DVD player after a long day at work.
Director Paul Thomas Anderson will pretty much get a lifetime coolness pass from me for making "Boogie Nights", but "There Will Be Blood" solidifies my theory about PTA's work. He either makes easy-to-follow fare like "Boogie Nights" and "Hard Eight" or head-scratching works of high-minded storytelling like "Magnolia." "There Will Be Blood" falls squarely in the second category.
In this solid review by Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post she distills his genius thus:
Paul Thomas Anderson becomes California's certified cinematic poet laureate with "There Will Be Blood," his masterful account of the state's oil boom at the turn of the century.
On the heels of Anderson's previous films "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia," both of which chronicled the recent history and culture of Los Angeles and its environs, Anderson has now joined the ranks of such definitive California writers as Nathanael West and Joan Didion in crafting his own personal and potent version of the state's creation myth. If "There Will Be Blood" represents a reach back into time for a filmmaker whose canvas has always been contemporary, it is also unquestionably an ambitious leap forward, proving that Anderson is an artist of virtually unlimited range and confidence.

(Also as a bonus I learned the words "sanguinary", "febrile" and "mendacity" by reading this review.)
As it was released at nearly the same time with a very similar tone and style, I expected to compare "There Will Be Blood" with the Coen Brothers' masterpiece "No Country For Old Men." Luckily, they stand on their own as separate visions.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Three songs to chill to

MGMT - Electric Feel
I have to thank my friend Zack Sampsel for introducing me to this song. Since I downloaded it, I've never gotten tired of it no matter how many times I played it...which believe me was a lot. There's just something intoxicating about the beat that just doesn't quit.



The Stranglers - Golden Brown

This is an old favorite, but I've been happy to rediscover it lately. Like "Electric Feel" it has a very hypnotic beat that draws you in the whole time. I sometimes catching myself thinking about listening to this song when I'm not listening to this song.

Jamie Foxx (feat. T-Pain) - Blame It
If I've a JAM lately it's been this one. This one had me at "hello." I don't listen to this song when I'm doing any kind of work. It would feel wrong to me. This song is like someone set the definition of the word "weekend" to music. (Also, Ron Howard is in the video for this for no apparent reason...party bonus!)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The new dark ages in 140 characters or less.

Due in part to the recent ascent of Twitter I've been developing a new theory about the trajectory of mankind.
Disclaimer:
I love technology. Love it. I could not imagine doing without such wonderful creations as (just to name a few): cars, indoor plumbing, washing machines (both clothes and dishes), preservatives, et. al.
I even love computers. I really do. I'm no Luddite on the new internet phenomenons either. I've been down with most everything I've been able to get on board with (facebook, blogging sites, etc.).

Having said that, I feel as if Twitter is one of the horses of the apocalypse that will usher in the new dark ages.
The continuum is not a line. It's not reactionary, knee-jerkery with spirits and miasma and witches and kettles on one end and books and glasses and classical music and Terry Gross on the other.
I believe once you have too much information, once you're so overloaded there's no telling what you'll see next that you never asked for, that it can come back around the other side.
Nothing sticks out any more. Nothing is elevated above the chatter. Mix making the means of media production free to all with our ever-shrinking attention spans, everything becomes fun-sized and empty because there's less to go around. (It's never fun to get the fun-sized, right?)
It also makes everything relevant so nothing is. There's no reason for a story any more. We're all making headlines.
We don't want verses so we all just shout choruses at each other.
It takes too long to write well about something important so we break everything up into little pieces and tweet about it.
I run a once-per-week podcast about short writing. One of my favorite collections is entitled "The World's Shortest Stories" that features nothing but 55-word stories. Short writing can be beautiful. I appreciate well-used brevity.
But there is a world of difference between a carefully-crafted spat of word play and the need to know or express every single action a human being goes through in the course of a day.
There is not more information just because we have more ways to receive and broadcast it.
I have no faith in the faceless mob mentality and once everything ends up in the steaming pile of random emotions and feelings all this is rapidly is becoming, what sticks out?
What does an exclamation mark mean if every single sentence ends with them?