Friday, November 23, 2007

"Nobody understands the wreck of the soul the way you do." -The New Pornographers

Rob from Six Sentences has been kind enough to accept another submission from me, and I understand there will be one more coming up in December. WOOT!

I am, as ever, a big fan of the work at Six Sentences. The things I like about it are that there is a healthy mix of professionals and amateurs. Avant garde and pedestrian alike can find something there. I remember my first post which was a little over a year ago at this point. It was about a guy who has a shitty day at work and then finds out that his significant other has left him. It was funny, but rough.

I feel as though my writing ability has changed over the last year; mostly because I am doing more of it. I am taking classes through Writers Digest Online Workshops and it is helping and I am becoming a much more confident writer. I have not trouble starting these days but I am still at a loss for when to transition and how to complete the story that I want to tell. Sometimes I find myself stuck where the character is sitting someplace and I can't get them out of that place. I started a story a year ago about a guy whose father kills himself and the character was taking a cross country train trip. But I couldn't figure out how to get him off of the train in the place he was going, because I couldn't figure out what was going to happen to him once he got there. It was really sort of sad and this poor bastard has been sitting on the train ever since. Now I go back and I read it and I don't like it or anything about it. So I have closed that and might at some point go back to it. We will see.

In the meantime, I chug away here and at my seldom updated--but often thought about--story about Marlowe. Occasionally I submit something to Rob, who posts them up on his fantastic site.

Today I am going to see Beowulf in 3D. Expect a post about it tonight or tomorrow sometime.

I hope everybody has a truly wonderful Holiday Season, which ever holiday it is you practice.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

"When not being stupid, is not enough" - Built to Spill

Saddest Day of My Career

For those of you who don't know me I think it is fair to establish one very important point about me. I am a nut for English Football. Most of the time if you hear me talk about football games I am talking about something that is happening five time zones away.

I don't know that I necessarily root for any team in particular, of course I want to see the United States do well; but I also root for Australia, and I root for England and Scotland and Wales... I am a footballing whore. (The advantages of my heritage I suppose.)

Wednesday night England was playing a game to determine their qualification for Euro 2008, which is arguably the second or third largest sports event in the world, and they lost. In a game where all they needed to do was to draw the game to go to the next round, they got creative, gambled and came up short. And the result is that the manager lost his job.

Normally I have sympathy when managers get sacked: not this time. Steve McClaren earned his sacking, by continuing a disastrous policy of team selection that his predecessor embarked upon and everybody that watches football knew. That the teams he was selecting was inadequate to win a clutch game.

I can't stress this enough. For McClaren to deviate in the most important position (goalkeeper) and give the start to someone who was largely untested at the international level is irresponsible. The fact that David Beckham had a resurgence at the international level and was replaced for another player lacking in big game experience is a grotesque lapse but not unforgivable. Wright-Phillips offered speed down the right side, which is something that McClaren must of have thought was necessary.

But the biggest gaffe on his part was the selection of both Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the midfield role.

Gerrard and Lampard play the same role for their clubs, both are offensively minded, both dictate the flow of the game to the forwards and both are equally talented. Both of them have no business being on the field at the same time.

Arguably England's best displays in qualifying came while Lampard was injured. Gareth Barry was paired with Steven Gerrard and their partnership was reminiscent of some of the greatest pairings recently. The games they played together had hints of Keane and Scholes, Viera and Ljungberg, Makelele and Zidane.

I have to say that I am borderline relieved that England didn't qualify because it will give the FA two full years to think about what they are trying to accomplish with their national team. And I am hoping that the new manager will learn from his predecessors mistakes.

And now on to something else entirely...

Monday, November 19, 2007

"Oh look at the view, look at the people running, they've so much to do..." - Emma Pollock

I guess Christmas time is upon us. Black Friday is a mere day away, and I can't help feeling a little jaded about the spirit/meaning of Christmas.

For me Christmas started mid November, which is too damn early . I don't think that Christmas should be allowed to be pumped up until at least December first. But what the hell do I know, right?

I am sitting and watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and I had a couple of quick hit thoughts here:

  1. NBC sucks. The commentary on the parade is trite, meaningless, and gratuitous; which is probably to be expected I guess, but still, I can't help but not give a shit about this thing.
  2. I am woefully out of touch with what is going in the world musically. Who in the hell is Kate Hanley? Why is she singing on a float with the Care Bears? And can't NBC, or the parade organizers, do something about the piss poor lip syncing. Seriously folks.
  3. Menudo. Shouldn't they be forty-five. I remember being eight or nine and seeing Ricky Martin in Menudo. I think I understand the idea of Menudo. But I still get confused.
  4. "High School Musical" is a disease.
  5. The high school marching bands are awesome. I saw my high school on the parade a couple of years ago and I don't think I ever felt more pride as an alumnus.
  6. Thank you to Wynonna Judd for not pretending. She came out with no "microphone". I think she probably just said to the guy, "Eff you. I am not talking out this foam covered Lummi Stick. I'm Wynonna Judd."
  7. There was a silver rabbit balloon that went by a little bit ago. It is part of a program (although I use the term loosely) where famous artists are designing balloons.
  8. With the writer's strike going on right now, I wonder who wrote this drivel. I imagine Jimmy the intern being given a pen and a mylar bag of coffee last night as the producers were standing over his shoulders cracking their knuckles.
  9. Thank goodness the parade is almost over. Santa is about to come down the road and he looks great. This year's Santa is a jolly looking dude. It is the best part of the whole show.

I hope everybody had or has a great Thanksgiving. Thanks for reading, thanks for leaving your comments.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

"time f'r turning over and over" -Sonic Youth

You know sometimes I sit and look at the time between posts and I honestly can't remember where the hell my life is going. It is a surreal feeling when time passes as quickly as it has lately.

So I guess I will just give a quick update on the things that are going on in my life and one of the recent joys of downtown living that I got exposed to.

First, music, music, music. I have been on a freaking tear lately. I am not a person who typically makes playlists; but for some reason I have been doing that a lot lately. It is a fun way to rediscover your old music. I didn't realize, for instance, that I had as much Magnetic Fields as I do. Probably the result of my friend Dr. Josh, who is musical pimp most of the time.

Book Books Books, I am reading a book that spawned at least two movies (and I heard a third is in the works). But it reminds how much more fun reading is then watching movies or TV. The book, which is called Night Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko is pretty fascinating. My favorite part is underlying theme of duality and also about the fine line between good and evil. The story of the book is principally about two equally powerful forces of Others, a group described as magically empowered people, but not human. The forces of Light and Dark (similar to Susan Cooper for those of you regular readers) have maintained a balance of power designed to not destroy the world. But the downside is that it creates this moral vacuum where neither good or evil is quite what it seems. I am a little over half-way through and can't recommend it enough.

The last thing I suppose I have to mention is that I just signed up for a Facebook account. I feel like I sold a little piece of myself to do it, but in the long run it is probably not the end of the world. The benefits of it are that I just found two people that lived up the street from me when I was a kid. So reconnecting with old friends is wonderful... Yea that.

There is a lot more to come, down the pipe. Christmas Carol starts at work soon and that always provides for funny anecdotes.

Last thing. Living down town is freaking awesome (and I don't use the term freaking lightly). Providence is having a homelessness awareness week. Homelessness is horrible and we are too rich as a country to allow it to happen. It makes me hate people that have three and four homes and complain about mortgages. Anyway, I don't know if this was a crazy perf art thing, or if this was a legitimately wacky lady, but I was waiting for Dr. Josh and Dr. Bad to come and pick me and Lovely Wife up for a double date (Dr. Bad is a girl and she is truly bad-ass). As we were standing on the street a woman went by in a house dress. On rollerskates. No Shit. She was yelling about her homelessness how the shelter up the road wouldn't take her in, and how despite all of that, she was still getting around, "ON SKATES NO LESS" (her words, not mine). The best part though was that one point she started singing "War" by Edwin Starr. You know the one:

"War, huh, what is it good for? Absolutely Nothing."

Yeah that one. It was awesome. I love living downtown.

Friday, November 09, 2007

"Let my love open the door to your heart" -Pete Townshend

I think that if I was ever going to make a list of the 100 favorite songs of all time, that Pete Townsend ode to love would be on the list, and it would be one of about fifteen or twenty that are guaranteed spaces. Tonight I saw Dan In Real Life a movie featuring Steve Carrell, Juliette Binoche and cast of others.

I think the scene that sums up the movie is one where Carrell is playing the guitar with his brother serenading a girl to a song he doesn't really know that well. It is this incredibly endearing scene and it features Let My Love Open The Door and it just makes sense.

There are a couple of other things that this movie does well.

First, it seems to capture big family life well. I don't come from a big family but it is big enough that I know what it feels like when everybody starts to really get close, and not emotionally, but physically. The movie takes place in a house that is pretty obviously filled to the brim with people and then all the hilarity ensues. But that isn't the real treat.

The real treat is watching Steve Carrell. Finally there is someone to take the mantle of humanitarian comedian from Steve Martin. Steve Martin was at his absolute comedic best when the moments were steeped in sadness and Carrell has the same ability to sink himself so far into the hearts of the audience that when the tragedy strikes you can see the pain and the hope that he has and you can't help but laugh along.

The film is expertly directed and I think my favorite part were the scenes that were shot around Providence. There was a coffee shop that was converted into a place called Yumm's for the movie and seeing it in the film was really sweet, because you know I have been there.

I am a total sucker for the romantic comedy and this one is a great. The tension between Juliette Binoche and Carrell and later Dane Cook--who does a much better job than I would have given him credit for--is incredibly real. They have this ability throughout the movie to shoot these wicked furtive glances back and forth it is really about as amazing a movie as you could hope for.

Here is the best part: the soundtrack, by Sondre Lerche, is about as good as they come.

If you have nothing better to do in the three days find a theater playing this movie and go see it. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, November 02, 2007

"Look at them Yo-Yos, that's the way you do it..." - Dire Straits

I came across this article today PFA chief backs players' salaries. The article is the PFA (Professional Footballer's Association) Union chief responding to criticism from the new English Minister of Sport.

So the first thing that comes to mind is that we, in the United States, need a Secretary of Sport, a no-joke cabinet position that is dedicated to overseeing the integrity of sports in the US.

The second thing that came up is that the Minister, a man named Gerry Sutcliffe, is spot on, but his scope is off.

The problem isn't limited to the UK; we have it in the US as well. Look at the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees and Mets, nearly every NBA team and just about every team in the NFL (although NFL salaries don't seem too astronomical vis a vis the Jeters, Ramirezes and A-rods in the world).

The PFA chief says in the article, "There's so much money coming into the game, surely it's only fair that they get their share of that?" And he has a point, to a point.

The problem of sports entertainment is a systemic problem that stems from, and this is going to blow your mind, our laziness.

Think about the number of sports events you attend versus the number of sports events you watch. Is the ratio 1:10?, 1:20?, 1:100? I know that I am usually good for attending about five live sports events a year, I wish it was more, but it isn't and I deal with it. Whereas, I think I must watch close to 125 or so on TV (that includes Sunday football, March Madness, English Premiership when I can, and NBA and MLB finals.)

The people that run television stations recognize that sports is one of the top five draws of viewers (I made that stat up but it has to be in the top five) to their networks. Plus they attract covetted demographics: Males 18 to 34. All of that means that advertising space during and NFL game is prime real estate. Which is why the networks can afford to pay the licensing fees to the NFL, NBA, MLB, etc,.

The TV companies are making astronomical amounts of money on the selling of advertising space. The owners are making money on the licensing agreements. But here is the rub. Once the players get involved it raises the overhead of the business. Which means the owners have to make more money somewhere else.

Typically most service businesses plan on net payroll to be a little over 60% of their revenues. Sometimes it is more sometimes it is less, but on average that is about the right range. When you start dealing with numbers in the hundreds of millions of dollars the difference between 53% and 54% is pretty large, could be four or five million dollars.

When the owners of teams sit down and plan out there organizations budgets for a year, they have little formulas that they plug numbers and it spits out other numbers. The TV companies and the overarching sport are so in bed with each other that they can't separate at this point. Not even a little bit. Look at what happened to NBC when they stopped carrying the NFL, their sports branding took a real hit and they lost a lot of their talent to other networks. By comparison if the NFL started asking silly figures and all of the networks stopped paying them then the sport would fail, payrolls couldn't be met, profits would collapse and nobody would want to get in the business.

I don't think that the sports industry makes a ton of profit but I think that profit margins of 5% to 15% probably generate millions to the partnerships that run the business, notice you don't see a lot of public sports teams in the United States. So when you raise payroll by 10% you have to come up with that money somewhere else.

Enter my conspiracy theory: I think that TV and the Sports Organizations are in cahoots to make unfriendly stadiums. Here is why:

Guys that run TV production are amazing at what they do, look at shitty sitcoms, they have these ridiculous laugh tracks that are supposed to cue you in on when to laugh. They can stimulate a response from you. Why can't they simulate noise?

Stadiums are very rarely sold out, the exception might be the NFL although there was a Monday night game in Jacksonville where whole sections were tarped off and not being used, New Orleans and Atlanta have trouble filling their stadiums consistently; only teams with entrenched fan bases or teams that are competing for a championship seem to sell out their stadiums all the time. But the fan base isn't suffering.

Look to the sales of HDTV sets. I have had ten or twenty conversations recently that went like this:

X: I don't go to see live sports.
Me: Why not?
X: I have High Def. My house is warm; and soda, beer and popcorn runs me eight dollars for all, not each.
Me: Good point. But what about the experience of being in the stadium.
X: Surround Sound

I think, and this is the gut reaction here. That every viewer that stays captive on their couch increases the revenue stream for the TV companies. Which increases revenues for the League.

Now this whole thing started out with an article about players wages... wo here is how I bring it around. Do you know who I think is paying the players wages? The fans through gate entries. I think the ticket prices (which the last time I looked for Gilette Stadium were so expensive that I close my web browser) are financing the million dollar salaries of the players. I have heard the argument that players have short career spans than say a real estate agent or a teacher, and I think that is a fair statement so here is my solution.

Let's say that the average upper middle class American makes $55,000 a year on average over 40 years. That means that they make $2,200,000 in their lifetime.

My proposal is to cap a players salary at $3,000,000 a career. That means that they still make a horrific sum of money. But it isn't an egregious amount of money. I mean, Jesus Christ, Manny Ramirez makes what $19,000,000 A YEAR? You can't tell that his entertainment value is worth 9 middle class lifetimes PER YEAR!

If we could get the Players unions, global, to accept a series of contracts that would limit their players to a lifetime earnings of X amount (where X is some reasonable lifetime mean) then we could lower gate prices back to levels where a teacher with two sons could afford to take his sons and their friends to watch a baseball game. And isn't that what sports event should be about?