12/31/2011

For Auld Lang Syne

"A long December, and there's reason to believe, maybe this year will be better than the last."

-- Counting Crows

12/30/2011

One of the many problems with FB



One of the problems with Facebook and that family of website, perhaps even with the consumer internet itself, is that much of it is not actively interesting, it's just barely not boring.

When I'm at work, but not particularly busy, or when I'm sitting at a coffee shop putting off doing any sizable bit of writing, I keep flipping back to Facebook, to Google News or to Cracked.com, not because I'm at all interested in what's going on there but because I can't think of anything better to do. I could simply check FB once at the end of the day and see all of the messages, all of the comments, all of the tags that were sent to me and be no more the worse for it. Unless some truly major event occurs in the middle of the day, I've heard all the news I need on NPR while driving to the office. And, Cracked, I don't ever really need to read that, do I?

Checking these sites, and others, I'm never invested in the article, in the tweet or the status. It's just something to do for thirty seconds until I need to find something else to do for thirty seconds. Like a crack addict can pass days and waste thousands of dollars with a chain of ten dollar, ten minute hits, so can we flush away whole afternoons waiting for that little red flag to pop up on our main page.

Once upon the days before ubiquitous internet access, one went looking for an activity on the presumption that one could invest an hour, two hours or even an entire day in that activity. Now, we just need something to tide us over until the server refreshes. This is a bad thing. It causes us to lose focus and it keeps us from contemplation, innovation and self-discovery.

And I can't really think of anything else to say on the subject, so I guess I just proved my own point.

12/29/2011

Cry in Your Coffee but Don't Come Bitchin' to Me



I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Los Angeles, a tidy, minimalist, artsy spot that caters to locals. I quite like the place, despite being more expensive than I am used to by virtue of being in the City of Angels.

A woman just entered, ordered a beverage in Starbucks-Speak* with "double whip."

The woman behind the counter informed this displaced mall shopper that, "We don't have whipped cream."

"Why not?"

"We just don't have it. We don't carry it." Which I point out is much nicer than anything that I would have said about it's comparative health value and what it does to the flavor of a properly made coffee.

The patron shuffled her feet and hoo'd and haw'd before asking for her latte extra sweet and with extra foam. (Is that still a latte?) She commented in an uncalled-for tone that they really should have whipped cream because people expect it, that this place would do better if they kept some around.

But, why should they? Why should people expect whipped cream. This isn't a Starbucks or a Caribou or a Seattle's Best. This simply isn't a chain coffee bar and why would anyone expect it to be? The entire point of such places as this, and the very reason that the good ones thrive, is because they are not the cookie-cutter, ergonomically designed bastions of corporate S.O.P. that germinate unbidden from the urban and suburban landscape. Yes, this place serves coffee, but this place is also somewhere else. That is the point.

The painfully conventional wisdom from such people is that success is the product of imitation of what else is successful. This wisdom propagates much too widely, from the Mom&Pop stores that add piddling bric-a-brak to their inventories based on larger establishments' sales numbers to the myriad of second-rate sports bars that seem to be rightly orphaned Applebees to the triple-digit satellite channels that constantly offer low-budget versions of network reality programming.

This lady, with her whipped cream just, didn't get it. She didn't get that most of the people in here came to this spot expressly to get something other than what's offered by Ahab's first mate's namesake. Might this place eek out a few extra nickels each day if they offered blended, sweetened, milk-shake-esque espresso concoctions? They might, but they'd probably also loose their soul and they'd certainly lose the faith of all the people who come here for the coffee and not the whipped cream.



*I've never mastered the language of Starbucks, the vente, skinny, grande, frappe talk. There was a time, though, when I spoke fluent Waffle House and that's good enough for me.

12/25/2011

Brightest Blessings, Everyone

"The boys of the NYPD choir
Still singin' 'Galway Bay.'
And the bells are ringin' out
for Christmas Day."

-- The Pogues

12/22/2011

Yule Blessings

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around.

-- Richard Curtis

12/19/2011

Lift me up from this Illusion, Lord

Somewhere, there are monkeys playing accordions before the throne of a deposed sausage king who craves waffles because he can't make up his mind about something and there's some symmetry there. In this place the air is heavy but there's not a cloud in the ceiling. The eldest sun of the slug & rugby captain has gone out to water Uncle Satan's testicle garden while the champagne went flat because Barry Manilow gets sick from carbonation. Four dwarves, two blue, one orange and one who's regular flesh colored despite having no regular flesh are looking for their lost innocence in the lye vats they use to clean the stains from the bed sheets of chain smoking turnips, who aren't good for much except that the word turnip is funny to say. In this place gravity is slick with ice, tomorrow tastes purple and hope is a dish best served with nail clippings and broken glass. The world's last honest lawyer lost his toolbox at the carnival because he drove too hard a bargain at the kissing booth. One man in the movie said to the other "You see, Bob," to fill a plot hole rather than just eat someone, blow something up or throw penguins through the air. Neil Armstrong gave a lecture on the benefits of formica in one's diet while twiddling his thumbs out of time with the pulse of the beavers in his brain. The day after yesterday came before tomorrow because one of the monkeys got himself ahead of the beat and the King of Sausage decided now would be a good time to discorporate. A man in a finely tailored blue suit who looks curiously like J. Sigmund Tumlin impersonating a Baptist preacher escorts me to the ebony revolving door and tells me I can come back after the reptilian hegemony is over but, until then, I'll just have to wait, or learn to play the accordion

12/18/2011

I Know, I Know

I've been really quiet these past few months.

There was a show that took up most of my time and I've a large piece of writing in the works as well to which I've been devoting most of my pen-time.

I'll have something shortly, I promise. In the meantime here's an oldie but goodie:



You@17
Look at you. I mean, Christ, just look at you, those clothes, that hair, that demeanor. You’re helpless. Do you want people to see you like this? Do you even care what they would think? Nothing good, I can tell you that. Look at what you’ve done with your life. What happened to your goals, you dreams, your plans?

What would you do if you ran into yourself tomorrow, not another of yourself as you are but yourself when you were seventeen. What would the seventeen year old you say? Would they be disappointed? I imagine they would be. Things haven’t turned out as they imagined and they’re probably pretty angry. Would they think that you got lazy or that you lost your focus? Would they think you squandered your best chances or that you simply fucked up? Worst, would they think you sold out?

No matter what they thought they would be when they got to be you, you’re not it. If you are then you’re either lying to yourself or you had dreams too mundane for any self respecting seventeen year old to have. That or you’ve been given more than you’ve earned in life and it doesn’t count for bollocks anyway. Somewhere along the line you did, even if for a moment, get lazy, lost your focus or squandered a good opportunity. Somewhere along the line, some tiny part of you sold out. Somewhere between seventeen and now you stepped in your own shit and didn’t have the wherewithal to wipe it off and the reek is still clinging to you. You@17 , the you that was eager and feisty, proud and invincible, the you that was ready and capable and jaded in the way that only a seventeen year old can be, that you is really pissed off.

Y’know what? Fuck You@17. You@17 didn’t know shit. Nobody had told them what the real world was going to be like. Nobody had explained to them anything about adulthood. They didn’t know a thing about sleepless nights. They didn’t know a thing about paying bills. They didn’t understand being broke or having to perform on someone else’s terms. They didn’t know about sacrifice, about bruised pride, about long hours or about how the world likes to beat good people down. You@17 didn’t know about lost jobs or heartless lovers. They didn’t know what it feels like to fail, even when you were at your best. They didn’t’ know what it’s like to have more expected of them than they were able to give. You@17 had never been defeated. You@17 had a lot of lessons to learn.

And so do you.

Don’t you dare feel bad. Don’t you dare feel sorry for yourself. Don’t even think about apologizing to You@17. You@17 couldn’t have done what you’ve done, couldn’t cope with what you undertake every single day. You@17 kept fucking up until they became you now and never thought to revaluate the surroundings. You@17 needs to be put in their place.

Now, straighten up, dust yourself off and put yourself in order. There are things to be done, things You@17 would never understand or appreciate. There’s still a world to conquer and legions of left over seventeen year olds’ asses to kick.

9/25/2011

This Magic Moment



I've to be to work in a few hours. The night has ground down and all but the off schedule service industry lifers and the most highly functioning alcoholics have gone to ground but I'm not yet towards the door. Today's been too plainly perfect, too simply, subtly sensational for me to be willing to walk away from it just yet.

I've done nothing exceptional today. In fact, today will probably fade from memory in a few weeks time, so devoid of actual events it was. T'was nothing, really: just Sunday brunch, a favorite movie, an hour at the range, dinner and a bit of live blues and every minute in the company of dear, dear friends.

These are the days, the stacked moments that define contentment and that embody joy. We trick ourselves into thinking we have miserable lives because these occasions seem so banal on the remembering. They reflect in the mind's eye as any other day.

They're not any other day, though, and I can feel that now despite the knowledge that I will forget it in a fistful of tomorrows. So, I linger as long as I can because today was a good day, indeed.

Tomorrow, and the forgetfulness of today's perfection, looms, bloated with expectations, desperate for my worthiest attention. And so, I pay my tab, embrace my dearests and turn my feet towards home.

May there be so many more such days.

9/10/2011

The Geeks Have Won Tonight



We've been hearing for some time now about how the twenty-first century is the age of the Geek, about how the stigma of bookishness, the scarlet letters of intelligence and imagination were finally coming into their own, about how fanfic authors, table-top gamers and comic book collectors were finally going to earn some cultural currency rather than ridicule.

I never really did believe it. For all the popularity of super hero movies, for all the MMORG subscribers, for all the traction that major video games have gotten, it always seemed that any fascination that mundane world had with us was strangely academic and always accompanied by an un-annunciated snicker. To the fashionistas, to the taste-makers, to the arbiters of tomorrow's values, Geeks were, at best, a market to be exploited, at worst, a social garment to be tried on, examined and then discarded before leaving the house. We were a curiosity, not a culture.

Though, when I saw this, I realized that we might have that moment in the sun after all.



Kate Moss, on the cover of Vogue Magazine, in a tavern-wench dress. The world's top supermodel is on her way to the RenFaire.

It's not the first time I've been wrong.

8/30/2011

The Gathering of the Ranks



It's that time of year. Geeks like me are counting the minutes. If anticipatory tension were a currency, we'd be seeing hyper-inflation the likes of 1920's Germany. I've always been a nail-biter but now I've practically gnawed my fingertips, lucky not to leave bloody fingerprints wherever I lay my palms. Eight year olds on Christmas Eve have got it so good by comparison.

It's only two days away.

For us this is like The Super Bowl, New Years and a class by your favorite college professor all bundled together into one four-day package. I like to think of it as "Nerdi-Gras."

Costumes, shows, seminars, book signings, parties, demos, premiers, concerts, a parade, old friends, new friends and and six months worth of profoundly irresponsible behavior all distilled into a clock-never-stops labor day weekend. Sixty-thousand hard-core nerds, geeks, dweebs, techies, trekkers, dorks, freaks, phreakers, hackers, gamers and, sadly gawkers, crowded into five Atlanta hotels for four days. It's really kind of amazing to behold.

My costume is prepared. My room is booked. My booze is bought. My schedule is made. My heart is all atwitter. Not that my posting is at all regular, but I won't be online for a few days, in case you were expecting something of me.

Everyone sing together now, "It's the most wonderful time ... of the year."

8/28/2011

Why I Don't Go to Art Shows



I get them all the time, twenty a week perhaps, maybe more. I get them through facebook, by email, by text and even, once in a great while, on a printed bit of card stock. I get invitations to indie-scale cultural events. It's not always art shows, as I mentioned above. It's just art shows more often than anything else. It's also local bands, photography openings in coffee shops, scene studies and short film screenings. Usually by people I know and actively like.

And I almost never go.

First of all, and I hate to say this lest it come back to haunt but nobody reads this blog so I'm not over-worried, most of the work I see is just plain bad. I might be reaching by claiming to be an objective arbiter of culture but, at the very least, I see very little that I find meaningfully evocative. Most of it is self indulgent wanking making the pretenses of art. The truth is that most of the would-be musicians, directors, painters and the like that I know don't really want to make art. They want to be someone who is lauded for making art.

No one is asking me to these events because I'm important; I'm not. No one is asking me to these events because I'm someone's friend or because someone legitimately wants me to be interested their work, even if I am and they do. Someone is asking me because they're hocking wares and need warm bodies to create a false sense of popularity and urgency to prop up a sales pitch to would-be patrons, so that they can play the celebrity.

Screaming from the rooftops, or it's modern equivalent, papering the world with fliers and pestering people on facebook, is not the way to get your work noticed. Spending the bulk of your time and energy planning your showing rather than perfecting your art is not the way go get your work noticed. Playing the salon éclat is not the way to get your work noticed.

Producing immaculately well crafted, emotionally daring, intellectually innovative art, that is the way to get your work noticed. Excellence is very hard to ignore. If you don't have that, there's not much I can do to help you acquire it. If you do have that, then you don't need my sorry ass showing up at your viewing to pimp your pieces.

Moreover, I have my own half-assed hack work to pursue.

8/21/2011

I Feel Safest of All



Inspired by my friend Kimberly, who I've only actually seen once since high school but whatever, I have elected to relate the following.

I tend to name my more important possessions, specifically vehicles and computers. My first car was named Peter. My first computer was named Tex. My bichin' Camaro that I drove back when Kimberly and I were still in school I christened Majje. The laptop I'm typing this on is named Obie2, after it's predecessor Obie, which was in turn named after the hyper-intelligent reality-altering supercomputer from Jack Chalker's Well of Souls novels.

Some people think this an odd habit but I feel that, if we're going to give names to boats, spaceships and B.B. King's guitar, then we should be open to naming just about anything.

The thing is, one can't just name a car the way one names a child. No, a car already has a name when it comes to you and you have to wait for the car to enlighten you as to how it would like to be addressed. It's a little like what T.S. Elliot had to say about cats, only without the help of Andrew Lloyd Webber. You have to take time to get to know the car and for it to acclimate to you. Only then will the car's name occur to you. It will simply pop into your head and you'll know that this is what the vehicle is meant to be called. This is the way it works for me, at least.

I purchased my current car from a friend. I went to see it for the first time in a garage with no lights so I only saw it in shadow. When I returned to test drive it, it was dusk. A few days later, when I committed to purchasing it and showed up with the money, the sun was already down. Having not owned a car for several years, I didn't have a parking space at my apartment and had to park in the side-lot, which was heavily shaded. Point being, I had already owned the car for a week before I saw it in full daylight and realized what color it was. I had thought it was navy blue but it is, in fact, a deep shade of purple, almost violet.

This realization led to the following train of thought. "My car is purple. Lou Reed was the lead singer of the band Deep Purple. My car's name is Reed!" And, I felt that little click in my head that told me I was correct. My car, indeed, wanted to be called "Reed."

I know what you're thinking. I can practically feel your disdain, familiar and comfortable as that is. "Thomas, Lou Reed was not the lead singer of Deep Purple. Lou Reed was the frontman for the Velvet Underground. You're a moron."

I am not, in point of fact, a moron. I know that Lou Reed was not in Deep Purple. I know that those two ensembles didn't produce even vaguely similar music. Simply put, I had a brain fart. An entirely incorrect thought passed through my head and I didn't notice. It happens to the best of us.

Unfortunately, Reed had declared his intentions to me and it was now too late to change up. I could have manufactured some line of reasoning about how purple is the best color for velvet or somesuch but what would that accomplish? And so, my car is Reed and Reed he ever shall be because I had a moment of cranial flatulence.

Such is serendipity.

8/19/2011

And Some Days...



You find yourself in a familiar place, with a familiar feeling doing familiar things. You realize that, at some point in the past few years, you lost your only super power but you're only a bit concerned about how to get it back. You read in the paper that a terrible injustice has been righted. You can smell the approaching autumn and your only real concern is whether you can help HBO save the world.

And that's just fine.

8/15/2011

Green is Willpower; Yellow is Fear


My boss has this tendency of asking idle questions at which I can take a competent swing at the answer. These are usually minor inquiries about the details of modern life that most people shrug over and quickly forget. Unfortunately for me, I have a habit of remembering curious little details and, when I manifest any understanding of these trifling questions, the boss wants to know more. This generally lands me back at my desk, investing an hour in researching some, otherwise ignorable, detail of the modern world. I've now got a stack of these one-page summaries of useless knowledge and I figure I might as well make use of them beyond entertaining my colleagues. So, here we go



WHY DO HOUSEHOLD BATTERIES COME IN DIFFERENT SIZES?


Dry cell batteries, the kind that you load in most household electronics, from remote controls to children's toys, come in two general varieties. There are 1.5 volt batteries, which are the cylindrical ones denoted by letters, D, AA, etc and there are 6/9 volt batteries that are usually square.

With 1.5 volt batteries, the cylindrical ones, the size indicates the lifetime of the battery. Larger batteries last longer so for maximum performance, a manufacturer of a device shoots for the largest battery that is convenient for their machine. Also important is “plate area,” the size of the battery's contacts. Larger plate area allows for greater amperage at the same voltage so wider batteries are needed to power higher amp devices.



Square batteries have similar concerns regarding size vs battery-life but are designed differently. 1.5 volt batteries have only one cell. 9 volt style batteries have higher voltages because they have multiple cells sandwiched together. They are shaped differently in part because it's easier to stack square cells together than round ones, in part to differentiate them from their lower voltage counterparts and in part to make them less susceptible to damage as they are more potentially dangerous than their cylindrical counterparts.

As for why one device would require six AAA batteries as opposed to two AA batteries, it's a matter of how batteries are wired. Batteries wired in series: positive to negative to positive etc, create a multi-cell battery with the same voltage, but a longer life, functionally the same as a larger battery. Batteries wired in parallel, positive to positive to positive then negative to negative to negative, create a higher voltage battery, with the same lifetime as one of the constituent batteries. A device may use a larger number of smaller batteries rather than a small number of larger batteries to take best advantage of amperage / voltage / lifetime wiring combinations.

Other, exotic types, of batteries like hearing aid batteries and those weird 6 volt cylindrical batteries used in light meters, are usually designed to conform to the needs of a specific device, hence why there are so many types of them. Because they are manufactured in such small quantities for very specific machines, there is little incentive to standardize them.



You are thus enlightened.

8/13/2011

Swimming Through Sick Lullabies



"How are you?" she asked. I was a bit surprised to see her and even more surprised that she would speak to me. We've been avoiding one another for a long time. "Are you doing okay?"

"That depends," I answer. "Are you about to realize that you're still in love with me, come rushing home to my waiting arms and promise never to leave me again?"

"No, I'm not."

"Then I'm alright, but not as good as I could be."

And isn't that the truth of it.



8/08/2011

Happy Idiot, Struggle for the Legal Tender



I'm not a conspiracy theorist but one must concede that our government, on all levels, has been getting more and more business-friendly over the last decade or more. While there are those that will assert that there is a vast and sinister cabal attempting to subvert global progressivism and concentrate wealth in the hands of the wealthiest elite, I understand that the ebb and flow of politics and culture lead to times of great progress and to times of regression. I'm not willing to put motives where none need to be.

Think on this, though. The recent debt squabbles resulted in a deal, however poor a deal it was, to raise the US debt ceiling. While the squabbles did make for an interesting vignette in political brinksmanship, in practical terms, the federal government came nowhere near to either a technical nor a practical default. In its two hundred and thirty-five year history, the US has never defaulted on a public debt. We remain the gold standard (metaphorically speaking) of public securities. No major investor or financial entity believes that US debt is a fundamentally less secure or less reliable financial instrument than it was a month ago. Nothing has functionally changed, except for the letters that S&P ascribe to federal bonds.

The practical results of this, mostly arbitrary, downgrade have been well explained. Any variable debt-instrument that is tied to federal bonds will see its interest rate increase. Your mortgage, car loan, student loans etc, all will end up costing you more because the loan your bank gave you is tied to a loan the bank received from the government which is tied to a loan the government took out from someone else. We all lose.

Or do we?

Who stands to benefit from this? Well, who stands to benefit from any hike in interest rates, the creditor. Secretly, Visa loves it when you miss a payment because they get to charge you more; they make more money and they didn't have to do anything for it.

Hyperbolic talk of market apocalypse aside, the nation's creditors are licking their chops. They're going to pocket as much as one hundred billion dollars a year for doing absolutely nothing. Who's going to pay them those billions? You and I, the working Americans, are going to surrender our tax dollars to the banks, the funds, the foreign governments, the corporations and the affluent individuals that hold the bulk of federal debt. Moreover, those of us who hold personal debt will, through no actions of our own, now be obligated to pay larger sums to the financial institutions that own the deeds to hour homes and the notes on our cars.

We're in the tank for billions of dollars to these institutions and they did absolutely nothing to earn it.

Nothing, unless of course, you count contributing millions of dollars in campaign and soft-money contributions to the very politicians that just engaged in four months of bad faith dog-&-pony show that they knew would tank our credit rating.

Like I said, I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I'm starting to be more forgiving of those who are.

7/30/2011

Color Coding for Scripts and Film Documentation



A recent visitor to my house snuck a peek at my collection of callsheets, production reports and scripts that goes back the better part of a decade. She was struck, not by how data-dense, nor how specific they were, but by the fact that, like folders full of 8 1/2 x 14 Skittles, they came in assorted colors.

Almost all production documents are color-coded by edition. Callsheets, Production Reports, Travel Movements, Memos, Shooting Schedules, One-Line Schedules, DooD Schedules, Exhibit G's, Cast Lists, Crew Lists, Vendors' Lists and even the pages of the script, will go through several versions in the course of production. Some of them will change dozens of times as the studio makes changes, as new rolls are cast, as new crew are hired, as weather plays havoc with scheduling, as re-writes are ordered and on and on.

Even though a movie work day starts at thirteen hours, there are still not enough of them to accomplish every last task or to read every piece of paper that passes through one's hands. To streamline the transfer of information across departments and to make sure everyone is operating from the same assumptions, every set of changes leads a document to be printed on a new color of paper. This way, a person can tell at a glance if they have the newest edition of a document.

The editions generally go as follows:

1st Ed White
2nd Ed Blue
3rd Ed Pink
4th Ed Yellow (Sometimes called "Canary")
5th Ed Green
6th Ed Goldenrod
7th Ed Salmon
8th Ed Buff
9th Ed Cherry

And then it starts over with "Double White," "Double Blue" etc.

The system is nearly standardized, but not quite so. Some studios and some production entities abbreviate or modify the list and, once you get past the Goldenrod version, you should probably double check the studio handbook.

What struck my friend most were the scripts. It would be truly wasteful to reprint a hundred or more copies of a hundred page script to indicate a re-write of only one scene, so the color-coded edition changes affect only one page at a time. The new pages are printed on the appropriate color, the old page is removed, replaced with the new one and the script is re-bound. By the end of a show, copies of the script are piles of colored layers, an edge-on pastel rainbow, the edition of which is indicated by the cover page.

I wish the IRS, the DMV, my bank and the other institutions with which I'm forced to deal would adopt a similar policy. It would make the world a whole lot more colorful.

7/24/2011

And Some Days...



After a precarious landing and a trip to the ER, you find yourself sipping coffee with with a sloppy grin on your face and a bass drumming ache in your shoulder. Your arm is in a sling and you can't do much but marvel at how such great and terrible things can happen in the same day. You consider whether it's appropriate to smoke that celebratory cigar you've been saving for months, lament that strangers won't ask how you hurt yourself and ponder how long the ligaments will take to heal so that you can do it all again.

Here's to Blue Skies and the Skin of our Teeth.

7/13/2011

Hate is a Strong Word



Rawksta'hr got me started on this one. When I started thinking about this, I didn't realize that there was this much to contemplate. Just goes to show, I suppose. I had set the whole thing aside but now the advent of Google+ makes it seem newly relevant.



It's is oft lamented by Facebook users that there is no "Dislike" button. Users of the social media giant can express their approval of everything from sports scores to vacation plans to articles in the New York Times with a single mouse click. There is no similarly easy way to express one's disapproval and a vocal plurality of users have been clamoring for team Zuckerburg to add one for years now.

They shouldn't and I'll tell you why.

As the web goes, Facebook is a pretty polite place. I'm not saying that Facebook is a land of courtly manners but, by the standards of the internet at large, it's fairly civil. Adding a "Dislike" button will only encourage trolling by codifying a method of psychological bullying. 13 year-olds with ego problems should not get a 30 billion dollar company's help in ostracizing their fellows by giving them a one-click method of voicing their disapproval.


Pictured - A Troll Ass

Advocates of the "Dislike" button hugely underestimate the veracity of internet trolling culture. A "Dislike" Facebook is one on which emotionally stunted individuals will constantly post racist, misogynist, violent or inflammatory material just to see how many "Dislikes" they can accrue. Some will point out that such statements would already violate the FB ToS and could be removed by administrators. Given, however that the turnaround time for such things can be weeks or months and given the increase in such statements that a "Dislike" button would foster, chocking it up to the ToS doesn't seem all that practical.

In the culture at large, positive thoughts can be taken at face value. When viewing someone's photographs, eating their food or touring their home, it's quite enough to say, "This is good; I like this." Obversely, when one manifests disdain, one is usually expected to explain why. "I don't like this; it's too spicy," for instance. The "Dislike" would upend that social norm,* giving any asshole in your circle of friends the ability to censure without reason, to express their disapproval without having to articulate it. Nobody with a functioning vocabulary is at all impaired by not having a "Dislike" button. There's a comment box. If you dislike something, you can express that in words.



Proponents of the "Dislike" function will point out that one can "Like" that my grandmother died. That would be an asshole thing to do but, since most people don't post "My grandmother died," they post something like, "My grandmother died after eighty-seven long happy years. Please keep my family in your prayers," if someone were to "Like" that, one would presume that it was a show of support. A simple solution to this, by the way is to allow users to disable the "Like" button.

As I've mentioned in the past, there are still a lot of opportunities for communication and a lot of methods of communication on the internet that are still coming to fruition and I'd be a fool to simply dismiss a new angle for expressing one's self. The problem with a "Dislike" button is that it would not be a method of expression. Instead, it would be a method to dodge expression, a way to simply belch a half-formed, and quite rude, non-thought out into the public sphere and I don't see that doing anyone any good. To sum up, kids and assholes will abuse it. Adults don't need it. Let's not bother.


*I'm usually all for the upending of social norms. On the other hand, I'm also a fan of civility. I don't see a contradiction here. Social norms should only be discarded if they are, in fact bad, and I don't see that being the case here.

7/11/2011

Prestige Matters



"You get paid, right?" She asks. I have to confess that I do but I don't know how to explain to her that that isn't really the point. Sure, one doesn't wait tables pro-bono, but if I was doing it just for the paycheck, then I'd be better off doing something else.

This was some time ago, of course. I haven't waited a table in years but the revelation of that conversation has stuck with me. I understand that, for many people, the compensation is all that matters but for me it's not that way, going all the way back to my years in restaurants, it wasn't ever just about the money.

This whole realization happened when I discovered that a friend, who worked third shift at a Waffle House, took home nearly as much as I did despite the fact that I worked at a three-star bistro full of high-dollar clientèle and classically trained chefs. To be clear, my tips were better but she didn't have to tip out a half-dozen other staff and she made her tips in cash while I made mine on credit cards so she could dodge some tax obligation. Finally, I had to outlay a portion of my money to stay up to par with the establishment, getting my uniforms and aprons professionally laundered and starched, haircuts twice as often as I would have had otherwise, my subscriptions to two industry publications that I read religiously lest one of my diners ask how they're doing it at Les Halles this season. This is not even counting the uncompensated time I spent outside of work studying culinary concepts and brushing up my Japanese and my French.

She suggested that I say "Fuck it," and go to work with her. The standards I kept to appalled her. While she strolled in approximately when her shift began, cut lemons and made tea as it pleased her, dried her apron in the microwave, and was never expected to know whether the vegetables were organic. I, by comparison, was constantly faced with white-glove inspections, expected to know every answer, to pronounce every foreign term correctly, to anticipate my guests' every need, to stay as late as my diners cared to stay and to always be no more than one point shy of flawless. Despite the money, comparative ease and shorter hours, I would still never have traded places.

Why, because prestige matters, perhaps not to everyone, but it matters to me.

I kept the fine dining job because, even though I was part of an oft-denigrated profession, I wanted to be high in the waiters' pecking order. Now, making movies, I work very hard to stay attached to large-budget studio shows even when local indies have the same pay scale because it matters to me that my projects are recognizable. When I'm off, I skydive because bowling doesn't quite capture others' imaginations.

Perhaps I'm shallow, but I want to know that the things I do are considered important when compared against similar endeavors. Despite everything my elementary guidance counselor told me, it is not enough to simply know my own worth. Now, I don't define my entire self based on this. I'm not going to collapse into tears and cease to function because I have to take a gig that widens no eyes, but, given the choice I'll take the harder, less lucrative work that carries a modicum of eminence.

Is that wrong? I don't know, but it's what's informed the arc of my career and it's worked out pretty well for me so far. If I'm overworked or less wealthy than I would have been otherwise, I'm comfortable with that.

7/05/2011

By a Crystal Blue Italian Stream



A long weekend is never quite enough. It leaves one hanging. The extra day is more a distraction than an opportunity to recharge. That unassigned Monday is always taken up with other obligations, family gatherings, public observances and that accumulating list of things that stay undone during the work week. We all find ourselves on the clock come Tuesday but just a bit out of place, shifted just far enough in time that the minutes don't add up the way we feel they should.

The better part of it is the four day week that follows, though that does as much to break the rhythm and make the following week seem disproportionately longer.

I'm lucky, in a sense. Though my workdays are half again longer than those of my friends in cubicle-farms, the freelance lifestyle means that I usually end up with several weeks off work each year. Granted, they're unpaid weeks, but they're weeks off nonetheless. That's when the batteries get recharged. That's when I get to be lazy and also when I get to take care of all those wouldn't-it-be-nice-if-I-could-only-find-the-time things. I realize that most people don't get that.

Two weeks' annual vacation isn't enough either. Bereft of free time, we try and legislate every moment of these clots of free days with cruises, road-trips, family outings or projects better left to professionals.

I think we should scrap the holidays, at least that collection of bank holidays that have been divorced from their intent, the holidays that most of America observes only through beer and bratwurst: Columbus Day, Presidents' Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day. Let's take all four of those and any others that I've forgotten, combine them all together, tack them onto the back side of Thanksgiving and let the whole country take a week and a half off at the end of November. Let's just shut it all down for seven business days, and I mean everything, all non-essential businesses and institutions, because retail workers, call center techs and bartenders deserve some time off as well. Without mandating a single additional bank holiday, lets just take a week away from the business of business. Let's take a week and all say, "Hey, we all get a little time to ourselves."

I think it would be much better for us than a stray barbecue Monday every few months.

6/30/2011

Job vs Calling



I just got a resume that highlights the PA applicant's "flexible schedule."

Talk about just not getting it.

If there's one thing that knocks people out of this industry, it's the hours. Your schedule is from when-we-tell-you-to-be-there until sometime after when-we're-done. There is no wiggle room on this. Once you've been around for a while and you're part of an established team, you can work it out where you get to attend family events like weddings. We're not so big a bunch of assholes as to tell you that you can't attend your mom's funeral but taking the evening off to go to a concert or to celebrate an anniversary just isn't in the cards if you're a rank and file filmmaker. You just have to learn to make life accommodate work because the reciprocal won't happen.

It would be nice to go do the things that everyone else gets to do, like have drinks on a Thursday evening, arrive at or leave work while the sun is up or know what my nieces and nephews look like. But, that's just not how this works because the culture of shooting-unit film makers is much more akin to that of presidential campaign staff, deployed Marines or lifetime missionaries than it is like that of the modern office professional. We do this, all day, every day and, as long as there's still days until picture wrap, everything else is secondary. Frankly, that's the way we prefer it. Life is just simpler this way.

The very notion of a "flexible schedule" gets snickers of derision because it smacks of someone unprepared for the lifestyle and you have to be prepared for the lifestyle if you're going to be any good or at all happy doing this.

6/13/2011

In Which I Pick Some Nits



Not to be an elitist asshole, but there are certain twists of phrase that absolutely give you away as an on-set first-timer. It's not that there's anything innately wrong with being new at a job, it's just that, in this business at least, a distressing plurality of the greenwoods are cocky and entitled well beyond what their level of experience would justify. If you're going to be that guy, fine, but try to remember these things:

Length of a script or of a scene is articulated in eighths of a page and not by some common denominator. We say that a scene is one and six-eighths long, not one and three-quarters.

The vacuum tube and filament in a light fixture that actually produces the illumination, it's called the "lamp" not the "bulb."

Those products that we use up in the course of shooting a film: tape, sash cord, recordable media, canned air, office supplies, razor blades, p'touch tape, cleaning supplies, batteries etc. are collectively referred to as Expendables, like the 80's action homage. They're not 'consumables,' 'disposables' or 'supplies.'

PR means "Production Report" -- Not Public Relations

Time, especially for the purposes of payroll, is articulated on a decimal clock, the minimum unit of which is a "tenth" of six minutes. So, if I get to work at seven in the morning and leave work at seven thirty in the evening, my time card will read 7.0 - 19.5. Also, the clock does not reset at midnight so if I come in at noon but don't leave until ten after two in the morning, it will read 12.0 - 26.2 .

NDB stands for "Non Deductible Breakfast." What that actually means is a discussion for another time.


These are just a few little bits of jargon but they're a few of the ones that seem to be misunderstood the most often and they're the ones that I've noticed today. Learn the lingo is all that I'm saying.

6/09/2011

Corp-Speak



Going Forward

On the Same Page

Goal Oriented

Synergy

Prioritizing

Team Player

Metrics

Productively Actualized

On Deck

Outside the Box

Core Principles

Action Items

Critical Mass

Dovetail



Go. Fuck Yourself.

6/06/2011

Pretty Little Soldiers



Dash and I went to junior high together but we went to separate high schools. We flew in similar circles, went to all the same parties and had lots of friends in common but we weren't all that close. Fifteen years on, though, he's one of only two childhood pals that ended up in the movie industry and our two lives, while superficially similar, could hardly be more different.

First, I planned for this to be my life since my earliest days. Once I got over those half dozen when-I-grow-ups that all little boys have: astronaut, fireman, paleontologist, president, I knew that I wanted to make movies. Dash, on the other hand, wanted to be a stage actor, to be a Broadway triple threat.

We spent fifteen years wandering our respective early adulthoods. He did a spate as part of a roaming troupe that did educational theater all across the country. He was a stage hand and then a PA. I did the rounds as a bartender, customer service rep and then a boom operator. Ultimately, I landed in the production department and he found himself an East Coast AD.

Owing to the different roads we've taken, we have huge differences of opinion as to the nature of each other's careers. He works in indie world, helming small shows destined for the festival circuit and second-tier DVD release. He manages edgy, original, artistically daring films made by aspiring auteurs and small crews that are lauded by critics, coo'd over by kinophiles and ignored by the world at large.

I'm at the other end of the spectrum. I work on mult-million dollar studio pictures. Behemoth movies created largely by committee that are often forced to side-step grit and gumption in favor of spectacle and profit. But, the food is always good, the accommodations always comfortable and the checks always clear.

The cultures of these two worlds are different. His colleagues are mostly young and eager idealists, people who are looking to do what has not been done before. One perpetuates a career through enthusiasm and willingness to suffer, in the form of long days and low pay, for the artistry of the endeavor. My compatriots are slightly older, deeply jaded, fantastically ambitious, mercenaries who covet the number one slot at the box office. One keeps working in the studio world through one part luck, one part schmooze, one part grit and three parts professional flawlessness.

We've never worked together and we probably never will. On the rare occasion that we see one another, there's always a bit of tension, a complex tension built of posture, opposing experience and perhaps just a touch of envy. He ranks higher than I do but I make more money. I get to rub elbows with celebrities but he's integral to his productions in a way that I am not. On some level, he thinks that I'm a sell-out and, on that same level, I think that he swims in the shallow end.

In a way, though, we sometimes look at each other with eyes for what is greener. Dash's work will never have the prestige or recognition that mine has and mine will never have the legitimacy of his. I wonder what it would be like to make a movie without having to kiss above-the-line ass and I bet he wonders what it would be like to know that you're going to get paid on time and that the catering isn't going to suck.

It's of no consequence, though. We've each carved out our niche and, despite some puffing of chests to one another, we're making the careers that we want and we're both doing better than most at it. It's just funny how careers turn out, how our intentions brush with and sometimes push against reality, how our opinions of our work evolve as we learn and mature in our fields. It's strange how we end up in places we never thought we'd be and places we always knew we belonged and it's even stranger that sometimes they're the same place.

6/02/2011

I'll Won't Hug Your Elephant and I Won't Kiss Your Ass



I try to be above it; I try to be aloof. I try and watch politics with the same casual disinterest that I read industry trades or financial reports, keeping a conscious distance and knowing that my ability to influence events, while not null, is negligible. It doesn't work, though. I can't muster the detachment and the more I pay attention, the more angry I get.

Like I said before, I'm a registered Independent and have been for my entire voting life. I used to think that there was a happy middle. I used to think that Conservatives and Progressives, each a group of fundamentally good people working towards what they thought was best, each holding a kernel of truth on a variety of issues, each acting in good faith and each willing to work with the other would move the country forward by inches. But, I stopped believing that a long time ago.

For a while I believed that Conservatives, especially religious conservatives, were actually bad people. I thought they were greedy, power-grubbing bastards who cared much more about money and victory than about the welfare of the nation. At this same time, I thought that Liberals, probably in the form of Democrats, were poised to rediscover their principles and make the nation great again. I don't believe either of these things anymore.

I've realized that we're left with a one party of idiots and one party of assholes and frankly, I'm sick of it. I don't want legislative progress. I don't want new party initiatives. I don't want process stories and horse races. I don't want hand-holding and I don't much care if the two sides find common ground. I just want them to quit being a bunch of fuckups with their heads so far up their asses they can probably lick their own tonsils.

I don't want bipartisanship; I want politicians to do the right thing.

I want Republicans to realize that 'the free market' is not a panacea for economic and social ills and I want Democrats to realize that not all social and economic problems can be solved by state intervention.

I want Conservatives to quit fetishizing Personal Responsibility [TM] and admit that far too many people are victims of circumstance. I also want Liberals to quit facilitating a culture of victim-hood that insists no one is at fault for their own station in life.

I want the Right to stop quietly blaming minorities for the country's problems. I want the left to stop loudly proclaiming that middle class White men created all the worlds evils.

I want the Republican Party to have a sense of moral justice & I want the Democratic Party to have a spine.

I want both parties to kick the religious right to the curb and tell them that this is a secular nation and that these false debates about evolution, abortion and public faith are over, the way they should have been thirty years ago.

I want both parties to realize that you can't enrich a society by impoverishing art and science.

I want everyone in public office to realize that flag burning, gay marriage and gun control aren't even close to being our biggest problems right now and I would really like it if they would stop calling each other Socialists and Nazis.

I want the leadership from both columns to look at the financial crisis, the housing crisis, the debt crisis and all the financial woes of the last several years and realize that, Democrat and Republican, this is your fault. And, I want voters all over the country to realize that it's our fault as well for putting these power mad, bread and circus, cocksuckers in office in the first place.

Fuck Everybody.

5/30/2011

What Does Pagan Mean?



Nearly every book on the subject, nearly ever person asked, has a different idea of what defines "Pagan." Of course the word is derivative of "pāgānus," old Latin for "Country Dweller" and Church Latin for non-Christian. We need, though, an agreed upon definition that is suited to the modern nomenclature, to the current cultural phenomenon and to the family of faiths that have been gaining momentum in the Western world for more than a half century.

Through the decades, a number of individuals and organizations have, in mission statements, in charters, in workshops and in craft publications offered a myriad of definitions of the word "Pagan." Though I confess these explanations are so prolific that I cannot have read them all, most that I have read seem inelegant or incomplete. Many are phrased in opaque language, full of empty signifiers. Many are addressed to those already familiar with the Pagan community, family of faiths and way of thinking. Many are lists of grievances against more populous religions. Many are constructed expressly to separate one Pagan sect from another rather than to define the community as a whole.

While I understand that we are a spiritually amorphous lot, often seeming to defy definition entirely, and that not every single practitioner's beliefs will fall perfectly within, I propose the following.


A Pagan faith will generally have four characteristics:

1. Polytheism.

There must be a plurality of deity or spirit. This can take many forms, as a literal cadre of Gods, as multiple but distinct aspects to a single being, as an ephemeral essence that manifests in many ways.


2. Pantheism &/or Animism

Those plural deities must be deities of something. Again, this can take many forms, literal Gods of fire, war and harvest, in deification of the life cycle, spirits that dwell within object and creatures.


3. Attention to the Earth or to a natural cycle.

We are embedded in the world, part of it, made of it, rather than masters of it. Again, this belief has many incarnations but the moral and philosophical ramifications of this truth are never far from mind.


4. Self-Identification

I understand that this final tenet is debatable, but it seems important that a faith define itself as Pagan in order to be thus. This is first because we cherish self-determination and second because it delineates us from some other world faiths that would generally not be regarded as Pagan in this sense, Hinduism and Shinto as examples.



I confess that I have some issues with the language. Abrahamian monotheism is so ingrained in Western culture that it can be difficult to talk about modern Paganism without resorting to oppositional terminology, without explaining ourselves based on what we are not rather than what we are. I ask my fellow Pagans to help me make the verbiage more precise.

While I would never suggest any sort of canonicity, the above is, to my mind, the simplest definition that addresses the largest segment of the community while being easily explainable to non-Pagans.

I invite criticism, suggestion and discussion.

5/28/2011

A Bit of Brilliance for a Saturday Afternoon

I've been told that I don't update the blog often enough and I can't argue with that. In a vain and probably foolish attempt to keep my handful of readers happy by offering some meager pitch at content, I'm now going to fall back on some of my least favorite blogger tropes, just to keep the posts coming despite my seventy-hour work weeks. I'm posting a link.



It's content and it's good.

What else do you want.

5/26/2011

I Went to School with 27 Jennifers





Dear Everybody,


Years ago, my sister had a friend named "Thunder." I was in a theatre troupe for some time with a guy named "Sundance," and I had a friend in college named "Seven." These were not nicknames; these were the words on their birth certificates. Of course, we all know of someone who has christened their child with some invented combination of phonemes that isn't a recognized word at all. Such cases not withstanding, almost all common names have some legacy meaning that is no longer in popular use.

For instance, my name, Thomas, is derivative of the Aramaic word for "Twin," and it is from this that the Biblical character gets his name. It's foreshortening "Tom" means "honest" in old Hebrew. I'm also told that, in the Latin of the early Catholic Church, "Toma" was occasionally a synonym for "Infidel."

My recent breakup from a five year relationship and subsequent re-admission to the dating world has made me realize how difficult it is to really get to know a stranger. (This connects, I promise). One can simply not trust their first-blush assumptions about another person. We are such protean creatures, easily tailoring our behavior and choosing or words to create the desired impression in eager and unsuspecting strangers. Who hasn't met someone in a bar or at a party, someone full of charm and disarm who, down the line turns out to be a complete jack hole. Who hasn't had a devoted friend who, even after years, exposes a personality defect so egregious that, long after abandoning the friendship, leaves us wondering how we ever missed it in them. Wouldn't have been great if we could have known these things all along?

Psychologists tell us that we make assumptions based on others' names but I consistently find that the nominative stereotype is rarely correct. Ryan is probably not rugged or daring. Pheobe is probably not bookish. Gabriel is probably not sensitive or artistic. Jackie is probably not carefree and Edgar is probably not keeping a gimp-slave in his basement.

I think we need a new system both for getting to know people and for identifying them.

As such, I suggest doing away with names altogether. At least, I suggest doing away with the Biblically or historically inspired words that we tend to use simply to identify individuals and not for any other purpose, words like William, Olivia, Sara, Michael, Ben, Miriam and, yes, Thomas. I think we should return to descriptive, tribal-style names that identify us by some meaningful aspect of ourselves.

I don't mean that we should go back to having names like "Little Tiger," "Fleet as the Wind," or "Sits in Silence." And, I don't mean that we should somehow update such a system for a modern and industrialized world. We could hardly take each other seriously with names like, "Drives Real Fast" or "Immaculate Hairdo."

I think that one's name should be one's single worst quality. That thing, that one overriding personality trait that invariably leads a person to be palatable to certain folks but not to most others, that should be the way we identify ourselves to one another. That way, when you meet someone for the first time, you already know the worst and, if you can accept that, everything else about them is, by contrast, a pleasant surprise. Contrawise, you know from the first introduction whether this person has some deal-breaking part of themself that you would otherwise discovered only after devoting emotional energy in the befriending.

This cold be tremendously illuminating:

"Hey, do you know what Can't Keep it in His Pants and Never Shuts Up are doing tonight?"

"Yeah, those two, Thinks He's Elvis, Mild Bigot and Drowns Kittens for Fun are all going to a Fellated a Record Executive concert."


It would make the interactions between persons that are somehow so opaque much easier to understand:

"Did you hear that Always Compensating, Condescendingly Erudite and Never Been Wrong got in a big fight at the bar last night?"

Or perhaps:

"Smells Funny, and Always Flirting broke up because he caught her talking to Date Rapist. On the other hand, I think Beats His Kids is going to pop the question to Daddy Issues."

This system is not perfect, of course. One can always just lie about their name. I suspect we would all learn to be suspicious of those strangers with innocuous-sounding signifiers like, "Doesn't Use His Blinker," "Coffee Snob" or "Hugs too Hard." There are also some insidious and life-destroying character faults that large numbers of people have so there would be a lot of people named "Alcoholic," "Compulsive Materialist" and "Desperate to be Loved." We'd also have to get pretty creative or a third of everyone would be named "Ugly," "Asshole," "Dickhead" or "Bitch." Finally, it's likely that individuals' names would changes several times through their lives so I'm not sure what this would to do to tax collection but none of these things are insurmountable in the face of the benefits to our psychic wellbeing.

All that said, I've got to go. Speaks in Movie Quotes, Always Asks if She's Fat and No Tact at All asked me to go to see Can't Keep a Job's band. Be good to yourselves.



Love,

Legend in His Own Mind

5/22/2011

Things I Hate - Redundancy

Repetition. Repetitiveness. Duplication. Reiteration. Tautology.

Hate it. Despise it. Disgusted by it.

4/30/2011

The Wallflower at the Orgy



There is no such thing as objectivity in news, especially not in televised news.

I don't say this because I am a cynic or because I have some bone to pick with journalists but because I recognize that the very nature of news is anti-objective. By simply pointing a camera at something or committing words to paper, objectivity has been discarded and significance conferred. This is not to say that fairness in reporting should not be the greatest goal of the profession; it should be. Objectivity, like any other form of perfection, is impossible but nonetheless worthy of being pursued, no matter how asymptotic the path. Because this latent bias is often so subtle that even the journalists, themselves are not fully conscious of it, the public must be attuned to the many ways that media, through design or accident, subtly alters the perception of its subjects.

This whole tirade was inspired as I watched a rerun of Christiane Amanpour's recent documentary series God's Warriors, a trio of works that I found both inspiring and terrifying and that I highly recommend. It is also a terrific example of what I'm trying to explain.

Amanpour interviews a number of Iranians in the course of the series and she states openly at one point that she is originally Iranian. According to her Wikipedia Profile she lived in Iran until her adolescence. The reasonable assumption is that she speaks Farsi and can probably communicate clearly with the people she is interviewing. Despite this, she is never seen or heard speaking Farsi. All of her questions to interviewees are delivered in English and responses are delivered in the speaker's own language, which we presume to be Farsi. The answer is then translated in voiceover by someone other than Amanpour.

This raises some obvious questions about how the interviews are framed. Since the interviewees begin responding immediately after the question is asked in English without waiting for a translation, they have obviously been primed on the question in advance. With whom did they speak? Did Amanpour ask the questions herself? Did a translator? Was there even a translator present? If there was, why? Is Amanpour idiomatically fluent in Farsi or did her day to day use of the language end when she left Iran as a child? Did CNN or any of the interviewees request an additional translator to be double sure of correct communication?

I'm not suggesting any malfeasance on CNN or Christiane Amanpour's part. In fact I hold Ms. Amanpour in the highest of respect. This could have been a basic production decision made based on the fact that the primary audience for this program is American. It could be a time issue. CNN might simply have wanted viewers to identify with the reporter. It is also possible that Amanpour is not comfortable enough in her Farsi to conduct such interviews. In the minds of the production team, this was probably an innocuous decision. For the most part it was and likely, few other people even noticed. This does not change the fact that what we saw on the show cannot simply be taken at face value.

The television programs we see on the twenty four hour cable cycle or on our local affiliates are the result of some very complex interplay between public welfare, professional ambition, cultural relevance, pleasing sponsors, attracting viewers and trying to get a hold on that ever elusive beast, the truth. But we, the viewing public, must be careful to watch closely the subtleties of reporting and of television production and always wonder if they conceal some deception. Television is the greatest tool of public opinion and the greatest weapon of ideology ever created. We must be skeptical lest that weapon be turned on us.

4/23/2011

Play Jesus to the Lepers in Your Head



What do we do when our own values fail to match up with one another, when one holds two sets of prescriptive ideas that collide?

São Paulo, Brazil, recently banned all outdoor advertising: billboards, placards on buses, corporate murals, neon beer signs and sponsorship-fetishist artwork, all gone. The UK, where I spent much of my childhood, has never allowed highway billboards. I approve of these measures. Advertising has crept into every crevice of our lives such that we cannot consume media of any kind or move about public space without drowning in a putrid bog of Madison Avenue barking.

There are a number of people in the US who want to criminalize the burning of the national flag. There is another group, though containing many of the same people, who want to mandate English-only signage in public places and declare English the official language of the US. While I understand the desire to preserve an established cultural identity, I disagree with such measures.

There is a cadre of information anarchists who, because of the changes that the last twenty years of digital technology have wrought on the media landscape, basically want to do away with intellectual property. On the other hand, there is another cadre of entrenched content producers who, because of that same technology, want to enact laws that will further tighten copyright controls and even introduce intellectual property law into niches where it previously did not apply. I agree with both camps on certain aspects of that debate while simultaneously disagreeing with both camps on other aspects.

The issue in question in all of these cases, is Freedom of Speech and herein lies my conundrum; I believe in Freedom of Speech. Enshrined in the Constitution, it is arguably the most precious and sacred freedom my country offers. Any attempt to curtail it, any move to abbreviate it, I find viscerally offensive from both a considered, intellectual angle and from a raw, emotional perspective. I want, very much, to believe that Freedom of Speech should be simple and absolute.

Though, like all profound freedoms, like all actions of first-principle, it is not nearly as simple as it would seem. Speech can cause real harm to individuals and to the world at large. The actions people take in response to speech can do likewise. Now, in the age of ambient computing, information, in the form of programming code, can be action. The Supreme Court has held, rightly so, that there are certain limitations on expression. Though I abhor even the suggestion that speech should be regulated, I am forced to concede that many such restrictions are just and necessary.

I'm not intending to start, or even further the centuries-old debate about the nature of the First Amendment. I am simply pointing out that one can hold to contradictory ideas and be correct about any and all of them at once. It is in realizing the contradictory nature of the principles to which we all keep, it is in finding the ways that our principles work for or against one another for the good of the world at large, it is discovering those times when principle should give way to practicality that should form the backbone of our discourse.

Virtually no concept governing human endeavor is as simple as we would like it to be.

4/21/2011

Half Thoughts



It was there, just now. I had it. It was mine and I lost it.

The other night I began a new section of a large writing project at which I've been picking for a long time. It had been vexing me for a while. Starting as a bursting, eager, aggressive idea more than a year ago, the first forty pages fell out of my head and onto the page practically unbidden.

Since then, I've had to work at it. Not forcing it, per se, but making a conscious effort to put each new addendum and amendment down on paper. I have to coax it forward from the back of my mind rather than feeling it rush to the front as if it were running from obscurity.

This morning it flashed in my head again, like a crack of gas escaping from a burning log or a slow-fused firecracker finally meeting it's ember. I shot out of bed like I'd been bitten and ran to the bag where I keep my computer and my notebooks. Furiously, I plugged up, turned on and went digging for pens.*

Perhaps ninety seconds had gone by before I planted my ass in my desk chair, and it was gone, just gone. Had I not found myself in my chair, still in my pajamas, with pen in hand, it might never have been there at all. It evaporated like a fart in a high wind.

I'm sure it was a brilliant idea that was powerful, evocative, that flowed from behind my eyes. I'm sure it would have been a revelation. I'm sure it was the best thing I've ever thought of and I cannot even begin to remember what it was.

Couldn't have been that good, could it?


*You can never find one when you need one, a fact complicated by my habit of color-coding my writing.

4/17/2011

Be Mine, Sister Salvation



I was eighteen. She was twenty-two and we both waited tables at the same high-volume theme restaurant in downtown Atlanta. Her name was Carla Mazer and, sweet Jesus, I was in love with that girl. I don't mean that I had a passing crush or a case of puppy love. No, I mean I was obsessed in the way only a hopelessly romantic, fresh into the grownup world, college freshman can be.

She was slender but powerfully built with flashing eyes and a raven hair that she would sculpt like plasticine. She had a unique combination of quick wit, sharp tongue, lazerbeam glare and martial artist's posture that made many people viscerally afraid of her. Though hugely articulate, she rarely made public conversation, such was her distaste for explaining herself to people she considered her intellectual lessers. Though normally carrying a Vulcan-like reserve, on the rare occasion that she did smile, the lights in the room would dim in comparison to her glow.

She was, or perhaps has become in the remembering, the gold standard against which I measure all other women.

Most importantly to me, she was the first Woman, with the capital W, who ever paid attention to me. We were never romantic and, as badly as I wanted it at the time, it would have been strange for us to have been. She was, however, the first adult woman of romanceable age to treat me as an equal, to be interested in me as a person, to acknowledge me as a fellow adult. She recognized in me a kindred spirit, worth knowing and worthy of knowing her.

She took me to my first goth/fetish club. She appeared in one of the first play-scenes I ever witnessed. I did my first whiskey shot with her. She was the one who bullied me into overcoming my reservations and hitting on a stranger for the first time.* She turned me on to much of the music that now defines my taste. I can say without reservation that I would not be who I am now had I not known her then.

I'd not seen her, nor spoken to her since the twentieth century.

Last night I went to a reunion event for the denizens of that long-defunct club to which she introduced me. She was there and she didn't recognize me at all. This is not so strange as I look nothing like I did a decade past and old acquaintances often have to look twice before realizing who I am. When I said her name and looked in her eyes, though, there wasn't even the tiniest flash of familiarity.

I was never, not even back then, under the misapprehension that our relationship was anywhere near as significant to her as it was to me. There was no presumption of reciprocity. To her, I was a casual work friend that liked industrial music and could be counted on not to be a dick in mixed company. To me, she was a earthbound demigoddess who held the keys to everything alluring about adulthood. It's no surprise I have distinct memories of her while she remembers me not at all.

It's for the best, I suppose. She's not the person she was. She weighs at least half-again what than she once did. She seems to stay quiet, not because she's bored by her company but because she has nothing to say. Her eyes have lost that flash. That sense of quiet aggression that captivated me and terrified everyone else is simply gone. She didn't just get older; that's unavoidable. No, she let herself get old and she let the woman I adore fade away in the intervening years.**

As wonderful it is to have a reminder of those times, of those days when one of my very favorite people helped me learn who I wanted to become, I think I would have preferred not to have re-encountered her as all. I suppose it's for the best that she didn't recognize me. I didn't really recognize her either.

How disappointing.




* Said stranger rejected me but that's not the point.


** Strangely, though, the stranger Carla once badgered me into approaching was also at the event last night. She has aged much more gracefully and is still patently uninterested in me.

4/10/2011

I'm Still Talking & You're Not Listening



I hear a lot of talk about how discourse in this country is crumbling but I'm not that convinced. Sure, the sound-bite, short attention span, hyper-kinetic transmission of ideas seems to dominate popular media but, for those that are interested, a much more substantial conveyance of ideas is still available.

One thing is pretty much indisputable, though. Each successive generation of social networking lends itself to utterances that are less substantiative than those of the generation prior.


People who study such things will argue at great length about which online service constituted the first Social Networking site, at least as we have come to understand the term, but the first that I was aware of was Live Journal. Though it was clunky and offered virtually no services by today's standards, I think of LJ kind of fondly. Being almost entirely text based, having very few formatting options, offering no games and having no character limit, Live Journal was great for lengthy diatribes. In-fact, long windedness was a desirable trait in those days. Though posts could be as short as you liked them, the formatting of the page lent itself to texts of some length as if implicitly saying, "If you can't fill the space, what you think can't be that important." The idea was not so much to get responses, as to see how long one could hold readers' attention.

Live Journal was supplanted by Myspace, which was much more rapid-fire. It did still have a blog option though, allowing for longer, more detailed, posts. Myspace offered much more functionality and thus could take up much more of a user's time on things other than composing text. The most convenient means of communicating information was on a front page, where ideas were kept pretty short.

Of course Facebook is the Social Network De Jure and it promotes even greater brevity than it's progenitors. With no option whatsoever for lengthy treatise, Facebook puts a limit on the number of characters in a post and the limit isn't all that high by the standards of informed discourse. Posts are limited to a few hundred words at best.

And most recently, Twitter limits you to a text message, to a scant one hundred and forty characters, no exposition, no elucidation and no extemporization. This is near to the minimum length for a syntactically correct English language utterance.


What does this do to the expansion of discourse that the internet initially promised us? Certainly, there are plenty of doom-sayers that point to the sound-bite nature of modern media and that assert that discourse, as a mode of human activity, is on it's way out. They may be right and this constant foreshortening of utterance is the first plague in an information apocalypse.

On the other hand, I don't know that this is necessarily a bad thing. We were told from the time the internet first entered our homes that the future would involve more and more information, more and more access to that information and that more and more of our lives would be taken up with interacting with that information. We accepted these premises at the time but didn't stop to think that, with that much more information, we'd have to find new ways of consuming it.

Obviously, I'm a fan of the elucidated statement and I presume you are as well, since you've read most of a seven-hundred word blog post on the subject. I'm simply saying that the method I've used here is not and should not be the only valid means of information conveyance. Perhaps this push towards brevity is an opportunity. Perhaps this is a chance to distill our ideas and prune our statements. Perhaps these communication tools will force our expressions to be denser and more impactful even as they force them to be shorter.

We can hope, can't we?

...And Women, And Song

This bottle. Oh, this bottle; how you've haunted me.

I've had this bottle for at least five years. I don't remember the date that I got it but I do remember the event. As the head server at a long-defunct semi-fine dining establishment, I was dragooned into working the Executive Chef's wedding reception rather than being invited to it, such is how French chefs view their floor staff.

My payment for the evening was fifty dollars, a box of gourmet leftovers and two bottles of the wine the chef had ordered from his home town. When I got home that night, I cracked one bottle and drank it in small sips with my then-roomate as she listened to me complain about how much I hated working for French chefs.

The other bottle I tucked aside. I was saving it for a special occasion, something important, some life milestone. I'm not sure I knew what I had in mind, my engagement, a graduation of some kind perhaps? I've glanced at it a number of times, snug in it's corner of the cabinet where I'm not likely to see or think on it. On nights I've made dinner for lovers, I've wondered what it would taste like and whether tonight was the night to find out. I've done plenty of celebrating and looked at it furtively in mornings and said, 'If only I thought of you last night."

Well, I'm at that age when life milestones rarely announce themselves in advance and tonight is a night for goodbyes and remembrance. So, tonight, I will open this bottle that I've been sitting on for a third of my adult life and I will take a sip of what I've been anticipating the-anticipation-of for all this time. I will do this because we spend too much time and effort on plans and regret. I will drink this bottle because it's Sunday in Georgia and I want another glass of wine. I will drink this long-awaited bottle, not because I'm commemorating some occasion, but because, any time you go to something that is so long-awaited, it is an occasion unto itself.

We don't get or acknowledge nearly enough such days I won't dare feel bad about it.

Here's to the next however many years, to the next however many milestones and to the next however many tokens of things done and undone.

As I've written this, it's had just enough time to breathe. A votre Sante!

4/08/2011

I Know, I've Been Slacking

I'll get back to it soon. In the meantime, I'm reposting one of my favorites; enjoy.

Why Do You Want To Do This?

She keeps asking me, my Aunt. She is a deeply loving but deeply disappointed person. She spent as long in art school as I did in film school and, poised to retire, she has never gotten to be the artist she wanted to be. Because she loves me, she keeps asking, “Why do you want to make movies?”

The answer is simple, “I don’t.”

What I want is to be a spy. I want to save the world through guile and guts. I want to be a gangster, a Mafioso, a keeper of a criminal code and underworld ideology as seductive as sin, itself. I want to be a vigilante and dispense justice on my own terms. I want to die and talk to the living. I want to travel in space, to see things that others have scarcely imagined. I want to overcome a disability so debilitating that others had always assumed I could never be anything but a burden to society. I want to lead a revolution. I want to be a Kung Fu master. I want to be arrested for a crime I didn’t commit and lead a jailbreak so daring it will never be forgotten. I want to be a cop that was sold out by his own people and go outside the system to avenge the death of my partner. I want to be the most inspiring English teacher in the world. I want to be a war hero, a sports hero and an antihero. I want to hunt zombies. I want to rescue the princess. I want to die slowly of a degenerative illness and change everyone else’s outlook on the world in the doing of it. I want to dodge bullets with grace and ease. I want to get the girl. I want to win the game or diffuse the bomb with one second to spare. I want to have subtitles.

At one time or another I have said to myself that I want to do each of these things, and many others and I want to do them because I saw each in a movie. When I was a lonely little boy in suburban Milwaukee I would waste my Saturdays hopping theatres in the Marcus Cinemas at the end of my block. It was there that my dreams were born, on a yellowing screen, at the rate of twenty-four frames per second, in the twilight of Plato’s cave reborn. I will never get to be a spy and I will never get to be a Kung Fu master. I will never go into space and I will never get to hunt zombies but I can help make dreams for some other lonely little boy.

3/05/2011

The Last Temptation of Pop



In an earlier post I mentioned the Super Bowl commercial for which I will one day win universal acclaim from the people that aren't threatening to kill me. Were I to be allowed to make said Super Bowl commercial, this is the follow-up commercial that I would then want to air during the Oscars.



Picture this; You're in the Desert of Bethsaida. Jesus, surrounded by his flock of five-thousand, turns the bread into Dorito's and the water into Pepsi. All of his followers bow down before him, chanting, "Lamb of our Lord, bread to Dorito's, water to Pepsi."

From over the next rise in the desert we hear the distinct "CRACK!" of a soda can opening.

The flock all rise and turn, their eyes brimming with curiosity. The shamble with trepidation up and over the rise and there, in all his glory, riding boots shining, hair coiffed, black guitar slung over his back, is a young Elvis Presley ... and he's drinking a Coke.

He drinks the can of Coke in huge, thirsty gulps. Lowers the can and glares at the recently assembled flock. They stare slack-jawed at him and then, a few at first, followed by the rest, they bow down in awe.

Title, in a bold font: "CHOOSE YOUR KING"



Following the winning of my second Cleo, I will spend the rest of my natural life taking travel hints from Julian Assange.

3/01/2011

Why Did You Leave the Swamp in the First Place?



The film, more than any other, that made me want to one day work in the movie business was the original "The Muppet Movie."

I can even remember the scene, right at the very beginning, just after Kermit is done singing "The Rainbow Connection." Dom DeLuise, lost in the swamp and beset by alligators, says to Kermit as he sits on a log in the middle of nowhere, "Singing, Telling jokes, playing the banjo, who knows, if you get your tongue fixed, you could make millions of people happy."

As Arnie, the agent, paddles away in his rowboat, Kermit muses for a moment and says aloud, "Millions of people happy?" And, the scene cuts to Kermit, riding his bicycle and on his way to the dream factory.

Kermit left the swamp, traveled across the US, gathering a band of dreamers, dodging the machinations of a murderous fast food entrepreneur and having all sorts of misadventures with the express intention of "Making millions of people happy."

It's been more than twenty-five years since I first saw that movie. Since then, I've seen it at least fifty more times. I even wrote a paper about it my senior year in film school. More than any lust for fame; which I'm not likely to get, more than any greed for riches: a losing proposition in today's media market, that one statement did more to inform and inspire my younger self to this career than any other, "To make millions of people happy."

I don't much acknowledge that ideal anymore. In the interim decades and through two different movie careers, I've become much more of a mercenary. I don't pick my shows based on their message, their artistry or what awards they might win. I pick my shows based on the rate of pay, the length of the engagement, the places I might get to travel and how much I like the UPM. Owing to the fact that my work is administrative and virtually none of my contribution actually ends up in the screen, whether or not anyone who watches or likes the movie doesn't much figure into my professional calculus.

This morning, though, I remembered what that old desire was like. I got a hint of why I got into this in the first place combined with a token to my own adult vanity, a touch of mercenary pride and the chance to "Make millions of people happy."

Weekend of February 26th, 2011, we're number one at the box office.

2/21/2011

Starve on Crumbs from Long Ago



The place is different, but I can't say quite how. Certainly, there are details to be noticed: this business that closed and the new one that opened in its place, a road that's been widened or stoplight added, things that were once shiny now showing their age, old things refurbished or replaced. The absence of familiar faces. It's different in spirit now as well. I was once a stitch in the fabric of this place. I knew its rhythms; I could sense its intentions. I knew all the shortcuts and shorthands. The sense of the place, its vernacular, its expectations were simple, obvious, pleasing in their familiarity.

That's not the case any longer. Now I despise this place and every aspect of it. I experience no reverie, no pang of nostalgia for my youth. I feel only my guts turning over with disgust. What was so redeeming about this place that I spent so many years here? I must have appreciated it for something, mustn't I? Perhaps I hated it all along and never noticed? Had the tawdry-ness of it, the duplicity of the environment, the ignorant self-satisfaction of the denizens somehow escaped me or has the place changed in my absence?

I would be perfectly happy never to come here again, to let the place to its own fate and to let my memories to whither until I am an aged pickaroon, unsure if it had ever been real at all or just an idle imagining.

The truth is that we do not have memories. We have memories of memories, half-faded impressions, recollections of feeling, lingering disappointments and dismissed expectations, known as well from meditation and retelling as much as from the experiences themselves. The tragedy of time is not that things pass away but that they remain, changing by degrees each day until they become something else, something reminiscent of what we once knew but still only an echo.

Obligation and idle habit brings me back here from time to time. I will, for now, choke back my own bile and hope for the day that the degrees of shifting turn this place into something less hateful or until the day I need never return.

2/17/2011

A Writing Starter Someone Sent Me



Your good friends at Merriam-Webster called and you've been asked to create five new words for inclusion in next year's dictionary. What are your five words? (Don't forget to include each word's definition.)

Flurritize: v (Flur it iz), 1. To cause needless fear in another based upon their perception of their own inabilities. Orig: Drivers in Georgia cannot intellectually separate snow flurries from once-in-a-century blizzards.

Flustrated: adj (Fluh stra ted), 1. To be simultaneously in an awkward and unsettling situation whilst feeling discomfort at being unable to rectify that situation. 2. A combination of Flustered and Frustrated.


Jamammered: adj (jah Mam erd), 1. To be put upon so heavily or so quickly as to become incapable of action. 2. Helplessness in the face of odds that seem impossible but are, in fact, easy to overcome. 3. A state of intoxication in which one can no longer accomplish basic tasks such as signing one's name or counting money but that can be explained as some other ailment such as exhaustion or hunger.


Retcamp: v (Ret Kahmp), 1. To sit in a a restaurant beyond the period which the staff of the establishment considers reasonable.

Unlegal: adj (uhn Lee gal), 1. To be technically within the law while deliberately trying to skirt the law's intent. 2. Being within the letter but outside the spirit of the law. 3. (business) Having been altered in a meager fashion in order to meet legal requirements while undergoing no fundamental change Ex: the relabeling of sexual aids as "novelty items" to skirt decency statutes, selling an incidental item and including some non-salable item as a "bonus."

2/13/2011

One Year to the Day

Of my friend, I can only say this:

Of all the souls I have encountered on my travels, his was the most human.

2/11/2011

What the Fuck are you Talking About?



Do not read this if you are with the press.

"What the fuck are you talking about?" is probably the question I hear most often. While it comes in response to approximately a third of everything I say, it comes most often in regards to a particular far reaching topic that I am going to take a few lines to explain for the sake of the vulgar masses.

My friend Kitten, who shall remain nameless, and I once hatched a plot to conquer the world. As everyone knows, global domination is impossible without a stranglehold on the international vanilla trade. Madagascar, the large autonomous island off the East coast of Africa, is the world's largest supplier of organic vanilla. Naturally, my nameless friend Kitten and I stole Madagascar. It is currently folded up on his desk and thus the fate of our future world oligarchy is secure and I can feel comfortable explaining all this to you.

We were also able to secure the glass skull from Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which makes us nearly invincible. As you can see, all that leaves is to secure the cooperation of the Semite Eating Gorillas of South Congo[TM] and the world will be ours.

It is important to note that none of this would have been possible without the gospel stylings of John Kerry's campaign staff, the insight of Brian from Vancouver/Boston/London/Tokyo/Lhasa/Melbourne, the nano-football that created walled city and lots and lots of coffee.

Please be advised that once the domination has been completed, the following will be required of all people of Earth:

1. All men must get haircuts akin to a young John Travolta or have their scalps implanted with microfilaments that will all stand directly vertical. All women must adopt hairstyles equivalent to Lita Ford c. 1986 or shave their heads.

2. The word "Cyberpunk" will replace all curse words and most common adjectives and irregular verbs much in the manner of the word "Smurf" in its respective fictional setting.

3. Drum Corps exhibitions will replace Monday Night Football and DCI championships will replace the super bowl. Additionally, a distinction between 'games,' competitions which do not require a significant degree of athleticism: bowling, baseball, shuffleboard, golf, Statego, poker, racecar driving etc and 'sports' which do: gymnastics, football (erroneously called soccer in the US), synchronized swimming, Iron Man etc. Anyone who plays a 'game' for a living, barring chess or go, will be limited to an annual salary of $15 and a case of Charmin.

4. The owning of stock in a corporation by which you have never been employed will be outlawed as it is patently immoral and has gone on way to long.

5. The annual compensation of any government or corporate employee not employed in education will never exceed that of a first grade teacher. Moreover, thirteen compulsory years of education will be used to actually educate the youth of the world in a critical and meaningful way.

6. All male nurses will be required to find other gainful employment as the only thing a man should nurse is a bottle of scotch.

7. At designated weekly sessions, everyone will boogie.

This will all wait, of course, until Kitten comes to acknowledge that my Wife is not, in fact, a figment of my imagination.

I hope this clarifies the situation for everyone. Please make a note of these things and remember that no one is to talk to the press.