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.