Thursday, April 28, 2005

Building my ark

It's been raining steady now for about 24 hours. I think that it's time that I begin building my ark, as the water in my little stream bordering my property is now over its banks. I guess into every life, a little rain must fall--this however is getting ridiculous.

The house in the country (has a nice bourgeous ring to it, don't you think?) where I live has always been afflicted by rain storms. Being that my wife and I were never home-ownership material, but bought into the whole "you must have a house because there are tax advantages" mentality, we built the one and only domicile that wasn't a rental unit for us. When I say built, we actually had a contractor who allowed us to do alot of the work, such as the interior and exterior painting, landscaping, finish work outside, etc.

Because the house was built on the cheap, some of the materials used were probably not first-quality--you know, the types of things that the "beautiful people" all have in their homes. Take for instance the windows in our daylight basement. One of them always leaks when the rain blows from the north, which during most torrential rains (like this one), alway necessitates buckets and drop cloths to soak up the water that drips continually until the rain stops. In addition to the leaky window, I now have sprung a leak around my chimney, as the seal around it obviously is compromised, so during wind-driven rain storms, I now have water dripping through the ceiling around my chimney, necessitating another bucket. I'm thinking it won't be long before I have buckets littering my house during each and every rainstorm.

To make matters worse, when we have rain of the magnitude of the current storm, my septic system floods and I'm unable to flush my toilets until the water level goes down, usually 8-10 hours after the deluge ends. On particularly heavy rains (like this one and one or two other times per year), the toilets begin to gurgle and "pop" in a creepy sort of way, which freaks out my dog and he starts barking at them. All of this is starting to remind me of the movie, The Money Pit, with Tom Hanks.

Adding to salt to the wound of all the minor headaches of home ownership and the little things that need repair, are the increasingly frequent power outages caused the many minor windstorms. I feel like I spend much of my life resetting digital clocks.

Frankly, I'm sick of home ownership! I think I'd like to move south in a couple of years and just live in a condo. No lawn to mow, no house to paint, no snow to shovel--just pay my monthly/yearly maintenance fee and kick back and enjoy life.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Celebrity blogging

So Arianna Huffington is starting a new blog and inviting all the biggest names to blog with her? Funny; I didn't receive my invitation.

What I feared would happen to blogging--that it would become co-opted by those who don't really get it--has begun in earnest.

From the NYTimes:

"She has lined up more than 250 of what she calls "the most creative minds" in the country to write a group blog that will range over topics from politics and entertainment to sports and religion. It is essentially a nonstop virtual talk show that will be part of a Web site that will also serve up breaking news around the clock. It is to be introduced May 9."

Here are "the most creative minds" she line up thus far:

Walter Cronkite, David Mamet, Nora Ephron, Warren Beatty, James Fallows, Vernon E. Jordan Jr., Maggie Gyllenhaal, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Diane Keaton, Norman Mailer and Mortimer B. Zuckerman.

Seems like a celebrity c-jerk to me; Just because someone says he/she is a blogger, doesn't mean they are operating in the spirit that makes the blogosphere the place to be for information and content not run through the corporate blender.

According to the Times, Jay Rosen from Pressthink doubts that celebrities would be driven by the same passion that drives many regular bloggers. As Rosen deftly indicated,

"These aren't exactly people who lack voice or visibility in our culture," he said in an e-mail message. "Gwyneth Paltrow has no incentive to speak candidly and alienate future ticket buyers. Barry Diller doesn't have time to hunt down juicy links for his readers. And where does Jon Corzine fit into any conversation those two might be having?"


I blog because in many instances, I don't have a voice in many of the traditional outlets available to Huffington and her well-heeled celebrity friends. When I am allowed to speak, I must carefully follow "the rules" of politeness and tip-toe carefully, so as not to offend. Here, I can try things, work on articles or op eds that might never make it to the mainstream, but certainly should be given an airing. As I am learning firsthand, much of what is rejected by newspaper and magazine editors has little to do with quality and much more to do with acceptability. The parameters of publishing are extremely narrow. Furthermore, in the same way that Gutenberg revolutionized the 15th Century with his printing press, the blogosphere gives a platform to those who lack a voice. Many of those maintaining blogs, would have been the pamphleteers of Gutenberg's day.

Some decry the lack of quality and the randomness of the phenomenom. I personally find that many of the same rules apply here that apply in stand-up comedy, musical performances, or even print media and television. If you don't have anything worth saying, it won't take long before you are found to be a fraud and ultimately, someone's going to heckle you, walk out, or ultimately, turn the page or the channel. Basically, it's the old "put up, or shut up" at work.

Whether or not Huffington, Bill O'Reilly, or even George Bush have a blog (there's a truly scary visual), I'm still going to do what I do because of why I do it. My goals aren't to brighten my star of fame, make money, or induce others to join my undertaking. Make sense?

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Fever Pitch

I finally made it out to see the movie, Fever Pitch. For those who live outside of Red Sox Nation, the film is a romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon. Directed by New England's own (They grew up in Rhode Island), the Farrelly Brothers, (There's Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber) the film manages to capture the spirit of fanatacism and dare I say, insanity that inhabits New England every summer, courtesy of the Red Sox.

Fallon plays an obsessive Red Sox follower who inherits season tickets from his deceased Uncle Carl, who began taking the youngster to games when he was seven years old. Fallon's character, Ben Wrightman, is being raised by a single mother, and the uncle, a died-in-the-wool Red Sox fan initiates young Wrightman to the dysfunction that is Red Sox Nation, at an early and formative age. The youngster is hooked and joins the countless thousands of others who hang on every pitch over the six or seven months it takes before the Red Sox rollercoaster ride comes to its regular September screaching halt.

While I'm not a huge fan of the romantic comedy genre, I thought the Farrellys did a credible job of capturing the long-suffering nature of Red Sox fans. Anyone who has ever spent any time rooting for the Sox, knows perfectly well how prior to last season, they were prone to rip your heart out in their own unique way.

A couple of things struck me in the film. When the young Wrightman walks into Fenway Park for his first game and is in awe by the experience of the sights, sounds and smells of the ancient ballpark, it reminded me of my first trip to Fenway when I was nine. At the time, the grass seemed greener than I ever imagined and the smells of the park were something I've never forgotten.

The group of hard-core fans who inhabit the box seats where Wrightman's tickets are, just behind the Sox dugout are all very Boston working-class. Wrightman, an inner-city teacher at a local Boston High School is not who you're likely to find in the seats he and his other blue-collar mates inhabited during the film. At one time, this was who attended Sox games at Fenway. However, like all professional sports, these same fans are steadily being priced out of these seats, as well as the sport altogether. I honestly can't imagine this assortment of working stiffs sitting in these seats today. Possibly the bleachers, but not the primest of Fenway's spectator real estate.

Obviously, the Farrelly's were over-the-top in some areas. When Barrymore's character, Lindsey Meeks breaks up with Wrightman, the heartsick school teacher decides to sell his box seats to a yuppie asshole. When Meeks finds out, she comes to Fenway in the 8th inning of game four of the ALCS game against the Yankees. Meeks manages to jump on the field in center and eludes security while running across the playing surface to the third base box seats in order to foil Wrightman's bid to sell his tickets.

I recommend seeing it, particularly if you've ever invested more than a passing interest in the Sox. I often wonder what will happen to The Nation with the Sox now occupying the uncharacteristic role of champions, rather than loveable losers? Will it change what it means to be a Sox fan?

When the movie ended, I stayed in the darkened theater to watch the credits roll in order to hear my friend Jose Ayerve's contribution to the movie. Ayerve co-wrote "Moonshot Manny" with Joe Pernice (Pernice Brothers) and the song is the third song that plays during the credits. Ayerve can be heard singing in Spanish, "iPega Luna Manny".

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Shuffle play

All Catholic, All-the-time:

CNN, the official Catholic News Network, is now reporting on apparitions of the Virgin Mary. An apparent salt stain on a Chicago underpass has been hailed as an image of the Virgin Mary. As the ability of Americans to process basic information continues to fall to new levels of absurdity, we descend backwards into the swamp of superstition and hocus-pocus.

When I hear religious conservatives decry America's lack of faith and religious observance, I just scratch my head and wonder what rock they just crawled from under. I want a vacation from the Pope, the Church, and religion in general and I can't get away from it. At every turn, my TV, newspaper, radio news and and even sports talk station is blathering on about the Pope!

Speaking of superstition and lack of knowledge, most Catholics know little about the theology that undergirds their institution, the Church. The new pope, Benedict XVI, holds an uncompromising view concerning the primacy of Catholicism in relation to the world's other religions.

What the Catholic-in-the-pew knows little about, but should, is that their Church's teachings proclaim Catholicism to be the living embodiment of Christ on Earth and that it is "the instrument for the salvation of all humanity." In a nutshell--you 'ain't going to heaven unless you pass through Rome! That's not very 21st century and inclusive, but it's the official position of the Church, which hasn't wavered over the past 2,000 years. I bet not too many of the blathering empty suits at the networks and cable outlets even know that.

The current Pope holds to the following doctrine; better yet, for the past 24 years, he has been the prefect (president) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. His role has been to uphold and affirm the sanctity and the truth of official Church teaching.

However, for those who knowingly and deliberately (that is, not out of innocent ignorance) commit the sins of heresy (rejecting divinely revealed doctrine) or schism (separating from the Catholic Church and/or joining a schismatic church), no salvation would be possible until they repented and returned to live in Catholic unity.

The above has a certain 15th century ring to it, doesn't it? So very narrow and exclusive. Oh well, I guess I'm on the road to perdition.

Speaking of perdition;

Those ethical folks over at Wal-Mart:

You 'gotta love old Sam Walton and his Wal-Mart empire. How did this simple man from Arkansas manage to dupe the American public so well and thoroughly? He's managed to single-handedly do more to kill small town America than any other human in recent memory. He couldn't have done it any better than if he had planted a bomb in the center of Main Street in every little town and village in the U.S.

While the corporation has been on a recent crusade to rehab an image slightly tarnished by a string of stories showing Wal-Mart in all its local economy-killing, union-busting, low-wage worker exploitation glory, the truth keeps popping up at the most inopportune times.

Just recently, former Vice Chairman Tom Coughlan was found to be using his reimbursement account to run an anti-union sting operation. Apparently Coughlan was using company spending accounts to payoff union workers to "rat out" fellow union organizers at various Wal-Mart locations.

With all those low, low Wal-Mart prices, come some pretty low morals and even lower business ethics.

A new voice added to life's soundtrack:

I love community radio. For the uninitiated, there still exists those low-power, community-supported, freeform outlets on the radio dial. Portland, Maine's contribution to this potpourri of non-corporate musical offerings is WMPG. Every Friday, Winn hosts his "Aching Spirals of Black Vinyl" from 3-5pm and week-after-week, I'm clued into some new artist or band I've never heard of before.

This week, it was singer-songwriter Todd Snider, of East Nashville, Tennessee. Snider sings about personal demons and offers us personally uplifting songs about jail, death, suicide, addiction and love; all those groovy things that make up life-as-we-know it for those of us who wouldn't be classified as being part of "the beautiful people" crowd.

Snider, who hails from East Nashville, which is the "wrong side of the tracks" section of the home of all that's schmaltzy about today's country music. Snider's music is more in the John Prine, Billy Joe Shaver, Joe Ely vein, if you catch my drift.

Thanks to stations like WMPG, I've discovered another gem of an artist, whose been flying just below my radar screen.

What's not to like about a guy who puts up the hand-drawn symbols of a heart (love), a peace sign and the symbol for anarchism. Now there's a guy after my own heart!

Friday, April 22, 2005

Agenda-based journalism

I’ve decided to inject some of my thoughts concerning a recent interview done in our local business paper, Mainebiz.

There is a writer, of whom I’m not particularly enamored with, who writes a regular column highlighting Maine businesses, particularly those of the micro-variety. Her overly cute prose reminds me of the type of writing done by high school yearbook staffs and college newspapers. With her far more prestigious pedigree of publications behind her name than mine, one could accuse me of revealing my sour grapes. While I won’t deny some frustration at the seemingly random selection of freelancers for publication by many editors, the issue is much bigger than simply my own issues with editors, however.

When a writer flaunts her skills and calls herself the “Marketing Angel”, then she invites critique when she betrays journalistic integrity by “grinding axes” and portraying an honest and hardworking entrepreneur unfairly. To come out of left field with her leading question painting Susan Price of ChezSuz in an unfavorable light seems rather snarky and smacks of agenda-based journalism. While I’m not opposed to it and practice my own version of the craft here and occasionally elsewhere, the difference is that people know what they’re in for when they come to my blogs. In her column in Mainebiz, the writer, Kimberly McCall leaves her readers with a portrait of ChezSuz that has no balance. A minimum amount of research by McCall would have revealed that Price uses American Apparel as her supplier because she wanted an American-made product, not one produced by sweatshop labor. She also donates part her proceeds to the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Since McCall was keen on drawing attention to the supposed “trashy” quality of Price’s slogans, then she could have at least balanced her journalism with Price’s commitments to the cause of social justice and ethical business practices.

I’ve blogged about it over at JBIWFY, as this is an issue that pertains to Maine and the business scene in our state. Feel free to read the interview and come to your own conclusions.

In closing, I want to say I’m not a fan of Mainebiz for a variety of reasons, not the least of these being the current editor’s lack of commitment to hard-hitting, investigative articles on a number of subjects. Maine lacks a statewide publication addressing many issues that affect our state, particularly the business community and their role in many of the changes that are negatively impacting Maine and its quality of life. It would be nice if Mainebiz would step forward and tackle a few of these issues head on, rather than continuing to play into the PR machines of many of Maine’s larger employers and industries.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Seeing smoke

Yesterday, the mainstream media once more revealed just how low journalistic standards have sunk in this hour of 24/7 spin and obfuscation.

While driving to Boston and MIT to watch my son and his Wheaton College mates do battle on the baseball diamond with the Engineers, I decided to disengage my brain and listen to sports talk radio. In all fairness, I shouldn't be so dismissive of the format, as some of the analysis is quite detailed. For me, I am so tired of the daily drumbeat of half-truths and political grandstanding coming from both the right and the left. In my book, Al Franken isn't much better than Rush Limbaugh; oh, and have I mentioned that Air America now has Jerry Springer hosting a show?

While listening to Boston's WEEI, the quintessential sports talk station, detailing all things Red Sox, I couldn't escape the intrigue of the Pope's election, as even Dale Arnold (a former Mainuh) mentioned that he was watching Fox News (Dale, say it 'ain't so!) and the smoke coming out of the Vatican stovepipe appeared to be white. Well, that was all I needed to desert the sports talk to seek my scan button and get some "hard news" about the goings on in Rome.

From NPR, to talk stations like WBZ in Boston, the commentators were engaging in their best imitation of news caricature. From the rampant speculation about the color of the smoke (is it white; it looks white Tom, but it's a cloudy day here in Rome and its hard to tell), the fact that if it's white, then the bells hadn't chimed, etc., etc. God forbid that these supposed journalists would just let the story unfold at its own pace. For Christ's sake, the Vatican sends up smoke signals, like they have for 800 (?) years! Why do these condescending media whores think that the news has to cater to their own sense of soundbite reality?

Salon's Heather Havrilesky writes about the coverage (you can view it by signing up for a free site pass) that is quite accurate. As Havrilesky writes, "From the second the white smoke started to rise above the Sistine Chapel, the network talking heads were working themselves into a lather over the announcement of a new pope. But even after spending several minutes analyzing the color of the smoke wafting out of the chimney at the Vatican, NBC announcers were still skeptical. "Vatican radio has pronounced this smoke black," one commentator said, "but the crowd is cheering as if the smoke is white." But if the smoke was really white, weren't they all promised that there would be bells, too? Why were there no bells?"

The commentators were all pretty miffed that the smoke was white, but the necessary bells were slow on the toll. ABC's Charles Gibson, a media empty-suit if there ever was one, got visibly agitated because the damn uncertainty stretched beyond 10 minutes. Showing his absolute lack of journalistic credibility, Gibson was heard saying, "I must say, they're going to have to work on this." Yes, Charles, we all must work on making your high-paying, pseudo-journalistic gig easier than it already is. Why must Gibson and his lot of poseurs insist that every news story to be turned into another media event the equivalent of the O.J. Bronco chase!

With most mainstream journalists (I hate to even use this term in their vicinity) and their Columbia Journalism School pedigrees behaving so poorly, it makes me proud to be an outsider, with my lack of credentials, irreverent attitude and much better understanding on what investigative reporting used to be, and still is in some quarters.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The blogging bandwagon continues to grow

When I first started blogging, I viewed it as an opportunity to write regularly on a variety of topics, many that might lack an outlet via more traditional options, namely the print media. For much of the first few months, I found that I had alot to say and felt like I was writing an op ed per day via my blog(s).

While many Americans still don't know what a blog is, much of the media has latched onto blogging and there are countless articles on the subject. While there has been some credible writing on the blogosphere (Pressthink comes to mind) and whether it deserves to be considered journalism, much of it has been typical of the usual handwringing that accompanies most attempts at creating new vehicles for communication. With much of the old media (print and television) jumping on the blogging bandwagon (MSNBC's Keith Olbermann for instance) to try to ride the newest wave onto the beach, most don't offer much that's new or terribly groundbreaking. Actually, I'm being unfair to Olbermann, as I have found some decent writing at his blog.

For instance, there are a growing number of stories carried via mainstream outlets talking about books about bloggers, bloggers and the media, and the meanness of bloggers. What does it all mean? I don't know and I personally haven't found the analysis terribly penetrating.

I'll continue to blog, although it's not as important to me as it once was. Various bloggers will continue to attain some measure of celebrity, less for their writing ability it seems, and more often for the same shallow reasons that much of our popular culture is lacking in much, if any substance.

I read fewer blogs now than I ever have. What excites me about blogging is less the usual "cut and paste" of many of the more popular blogs, and more often, hearing a writer's voice coming through telling me something new; a new book, movie, band, or providing analysis that's not part of the same old dog and pony show.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Thawing out

When you live in the northeast part of the country, that first warm day of the spring is magical. Being able to go out without a sweatshirt or jacket and feel the warmth of the sun on exposed skin is something you wait for during the interminable bleakness of winter. Like the apology that melts the firmest of resolves, the first warm day makes all the snow, arctic blasts and trips to the woodpile rapidly fade to memory.

If you live in a southern climate, I don't know what would be tantamount to this slow exit of winter from a northerner's bones?

While the temptation was there to engage in the bountiful cleanup that accompanies the slow retreat of winter in my neck of the woods, I decided to just enjoy the day without clouding it with work. I spent a good portion of the afternoon engaged in the guilty pleasure of a good book, massaged by the sun's welcome rays.

It's only April and today is but one tease of many, but it's an indication of the coming temperate days of May and then, Maine's all-too-short summer.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Blogging goes literary

While the concept of the co-op has been around in various incarnations, a group of bloggers have embraced the idea in hopes of ramping up promotion for books. With the world of literature an incestuous world of parochial protectionism, anything that gets the word out about small presses and writers outside of the mainstream is a good thing, in my book (no pun intended).

A group of 20 bloggers hope that through their weblog, the litblog co-op, they can draw attention to the best of contemporary fiction, the writers producing it, as well as the presses who publish this genre.

This group has instituted a quarterly selection they call Read This!, which will consist of five works which they will promote via their blog. LBC member Dan Green hopes that their cooperative venture will have the effect of “influencing readers.”

Said Green, “I think that all of the participants believe that litblogs have reached an untapped, or at least under tapped, source of readers for both contemporary fiction and (in my case, at least) the critical discussion of literature more broadly. I also think that most of us hope that our quarterly selection and, if it catches on, the popularity of same, will serve notice to publishers and to the editors of book reviews and magazines that this audience exists. I myself don’t have any illusions that serious fiction of the sort we’re promoting will suddenly become very popular, or that the litblog co-op will begin to wield enormous influence, but I would hope that our selections would bring additional attention to worthy books from smaller or less well-endowed presses. Probably everyone would agree that that is the main goal.”

The idea has generated enough of a “buzz” to get a mention from the Associated Press, which ran an article about the co-op.

While this won’t make a huge splash in the world of publishing, it might cause a few ripples and bring attention to writers who otherwise would be overlooked, and the small presses who labor to put out books that don’t pander to the lowest common denominator, presses like Soft Skull and others.

Mark Sarvas, a Los Angeles blogger, who runs The Elegant Variation site and conceived the idea for Read This!, remains disappointed by the "pack mentality" of mainstream media outlets, which tend to give much of their attention to the same titles. There has also been criticism about the "sameness" of National Book Award nominees.

Here’s hoping that online communities like this one can begin to make a difference and bring some welcome variety to the stodgy world of publishing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Students!! Opt Out!!

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, if you attend a public high school, your school system is required to turn over your private information to the US military unless you opt out.

By printing out the form, having it signed by a parent or guardian and taking it to your school principal or administrator, you will make sure that military recruiters are not given your private information that they have no right to receive.

Find out more about Anti-Flag's campaign to stop military recruiters from being allowed open season on high school campuses across the U.S.

Deciding what we read, what we see, and what we hear

Censorship in America is nothing new. With parents groups and other media watchdog groups decrying profanity in rock and rap lyrics, to right-wingers protesting the reading of Harry Potter novels, there are new windmills to tilt at all the time.

Back in the 1970’s, Judy Blume published her first novel, Forever, and with it, became the scourge of many parents not wanting their young daughters exposed to her frank portrayals of young girls coming to terms with their burgeoning teen sexuality.

Every generation has its own crusade to limit and remove any vestiges of reality from the lives of their children and teens. And since time immemorial, young people have done their darned-well-best to get their hands on whatever they weren’t supposed to touch.

Last year, when Blume was awarded the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, she became the first Young Adult author to receive the prestigious award. With over 30 novels in print and 75 million copies sold worldwide, the award was certainly an overdue recognition of one writer’s contribution to an important genre of literature, that being the niche category of Young Adult fiction.

Still, censorship is an issue that won’t go away. All over America, parents, religious groups and others routinely harass, harangue and lobby for the removal of books from school reading lists. Blume herself routinely makes the American Library Association’s Most Frequently Challenged Books List.

Just this past December, a group of parents in Georgetown, S.C., successfully lobbied to have Chris Crutcher's Whale Talk--about a male 17-year-old who confronts his multicultural heritage--banned from high school suggested-reading lists approved by schools and the state's school board. The author's other books that concern homosexuality and parental sexual abuse continue to be struck from reading lists.

Now I’m one of those “liberal” folks, open-minded enough to be happy that kids are reading, period! I also have a great deal of faith that with the right guidance from parents and other sensible adults, young people will be able to make their own decisions about what to read (as well as what to listen to). Part of becoming an adult is learning to discern right from wrong and develop the critical faculties to make wise choices. Heck, most adults haven’t done real well in that area, so who the hell are we to tell our kids what’s right and wrong.

Provide the guidance, model the behavior, and trust young people to figure it out. Some pretty good advice and it sure beats censorship with a stick!

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The need for labels

Labels apparently are important. I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that I’ve placed my own share of importance on learning what label others were currently wearing.

Take for instance the conservative vs. liberal debate. It seems as though both sides are content to use the other’s label in a pejorative way. Who hasn’t heard someone say, “oh, you’re just a liberal do-gooder”, or someone try to marginalize the views of conservatives by representing them in a particularly narrow way.

It doesn’t help that the traditional meaning of "conservative" and "liberal" have been hijacked for partisan and political purposes. In tracing its roots back to the humanism of the Renaissance and even the Revolution of 1688 in Great Britain, liberalism in its development, stood in opposition to absolute monarchy, orthodoxy, and other forms of control or power.

Conservatism on the other hand, in its traditional, non-ideological definition, stood for the importance of maintaining tradition and maintaining continuity with that tradition. This could be in government, religion, or other social constructs. Traditional conservatism would be opposed to rapid changes on either the left or the right.

Recently, I’ve really come to hate having to wear a label, or even resort to explanations of my position by retreating to the tired right/left means of definition. When others accuse me of being a liberal (most often hurled in a pejorative sense), I try to explain that much of what passes as liberalism in our current form is something I’d be opposed to. There are those who claim to be liberals who are every bit as censorious and opposed to honest debate as anyone on the right-wing fringes of any of our modern-day movements.

I find so much of the political debate to be tiresome and not particularly relevant to where I see the problems in society originating. I find many of the outlets of left-wing discourse—magazines, radio, the blogosphere—to be as narrow and lacking in solutions as any of the arrogant bloviations originating from the right-wing noise machine.

When two sides have retreated to their corners and all they do is hurl rocks back and forth, its easy to end up getting bonked in the head if you dare to venture out into the middle area of debate on an issue.

I’m not sure exactly what I’m trying to get at, but part of it is driven by the discomfort I’m feeling in trying to align with any particular group.

According to one particular poll, I’d be considered a “liberal”, with my score being weighted heavily towards freedom in personal areas (90 percent), but leaning towards government control on the major economic issues (40 percent). I’d be comfortable with that, I think.

The more in-depth Political Compass has me aligned as being in the lower left quadrant of their grid (left libertarian).

I’m left of center and certainly anti-authoritarian, which probably puts me out of the current mainstream in my homeland of America. At the same time, I respect others right to differ with my views, as long as there is some sort of dialogue and rational explanation for their positions.

I’m sure that a lot of this may not mean much or register much importance with others. I’m just finding so much of the shrill baying back-and-forth to be something I no longer have much of desire to take part in. It might be a copout on my part, or just a recognition that a lot of what I’ve been involved in hasn’t amounted to a hill of beans. All I know is that I want to step back from a lot of the debates and try to reconsider what is important to me and the people I care about.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

The Pitchman's Persistent Promotion

Being barraged by advertising is nothing new. Ever since mankind has occupied the planet, “the pitch” has been present. In the ruins of ancient Pompeii, commercial messages and election campaign displays were found, dating back to the first century.

Modern consumerism dictates that the sole purpose of man is to consume goods and drive demand for products. None of this is new. What is new is the daily ratcheting up of the “in your face” quotient of the advertising. More and more, advertising is being foisted upon captive audiences. Almost every waking moment is filled with another pitch for someone elses product. It seems as if slogans are the modern American lexicon.

Never was this more obvious to me than last night while gassing up my automobile. Driving by station after station with prices for Regular at $2.25, I resigned myself to pulling in at Exxon to fill up the tank and empty my wallet. As I approached the pump and began my transaction, the credit card display and information center on the pump morphed into a video screen. Like a prisoner, I was forced to endure a barrage of commercials for products ranging from e-loans, credit cards and God knows what else during my five minute ordeal. In the past, filling the tank was an opportunity for a few minutes to zone out and engage in some modern day mind-numbing that is part-and-parcel of our crass commercial culture. No longer however, can I be allowed a few minutes to just allow my mind to idle. No sir! Some marketing guru recognized that another five minutes of my life was not being manipulated by him and his Madison Avenue mates.

Everywhere one goes, there is a video terminal spewing forth marketing content or some other cultural white noise. Our regional coffee chain, Dunkin’ Donuts, now has CNN Headline News displayed 24/7 on squawk boxes, in every one of their franchises. Obviously, some deal has been struck by this news monolith and said coffee chain. I could go on ad nauseum about the ubiquitous presence of commercials in the public square.

Major league (and minor league) baseball games have become a steady stream of advertisements, as the real competition isn’t between the home team and their opponent, but rather the game itself and the advertisements jammed between each and every pitch.

“That foul ball was brought to you by MasterCard, the official credit card of Barry Bonds’ foul balls.”

The other day, while watching the Red Sox, I found the ads behind home plate at Yankee Stadium annoying as hell. Even the goddamn History Channel had an ad in rotation that was being flashed behind the batter on every pitch.

Maybe we could reach a compromise with marketers. How about they create a device that you could attach before retiring for the evening and they could just broadcast their messages during sleep. Better yet, maybe they could just implant a chip in our brains that would allow them direct access to our impulses and save us all the hassle of watching the damn commercials in the first place!


Somewhat related to the above, I found it ironic, in this age of ever-present advertising and the selling of every inch of space and second of media, that all the major networks and cable news channels broadcast the Pope’s funeral. I can only imagine the revenue lost during this hour of time.

I found it ironic for several reasons; the aforementioned loss of revenue and also, despite the charges of many conservatives and other right-wing spokespeople that say the media is “liberal” and “secular”, the media obviously doesn’t have an issue giving prime media time to the funeral of a religious leader.

Stat of the day:

Ranking of world religions by size (from

Christianity 2 billion (half of these are Catholics)
Islam 1.3 billion
Hiduism 900,000 million
Secular/Athiest/Agnostic/Nonreligious 850 million
Buddhism 360 million
Chinese Traditional 225 million
Primal/indigenous 150 million
African Traditional and Diasporic 95 million

Comment: If a major leader of either Islam or Hinduism, or even a secular or agnostic leader died, would they warrant the international media coverage that the Pope’s death received?

Personally, I found all the adulation, reverance and talk of being "moved" by the eulogy at the funeral all to be over-the-top. I was somewhat offended by having journalists became cheerleaders for the Vatican, at the expense of much of the previous 2,000 years of Church history that isn't very pretty. I understand American's aversion to anything historical, but the sex abuse scandals (of which this Pope was complicit in the coverup) are recent and the Church in my mind, has never come clean on addressing the root causes.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

What was it I said about pitching?

While I'm not ready to jump off a building two games into a 162 game slate, I've also watched enough baseball to recognize issues and needs when I see them. The Boston Red Sox have a need for some starting pitching. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Today's 4+ inning outing by right-hander Matt Clement was a case in point. With a 90-92 mph fastball, great slider and 7 years of major league experience, Clement should be poised to step forward and assume the number two spot in the rotation. His short outing today did little to assure me that Clement is any better than a #4 starter in a rotation. Last season, that wouldn't have been an issue. Unfortunately this year, other than Schillling, this Red Sox staff is a collection of #4 and #5 guys at best.

With the season only two games old, the Sox are going to their bullpen too often and way too early. The other night's opener saw manager Francona use seven pitchers. Today's abbreviated outing by Clement had the skipper once again forced to dip into his bullpen early.

Despite my concerns, I'm confident that a GM like Theo Epstein will do what he needs to do to stabilize the pitching. The problem is that without making a blockbuster deal or trading for unproven talent, there isnt' any pitching out there that will bring the Sox a pitcher the likes of the departed Martinez or Lowe.

Parting shots:

Did you happen to catch Ian O'Connor's (who) article in today's USA Today? I don't know if he's a regular contributor to this McPaper or not, but O'Connor (who writes for that household publication, The Westchester Journal in upstate New York) is quick to pile on the Red Sox. O'Connor, that grisled vet of the sportsbeat has seen enough baseball to conclude that the Sox are full of themselves.

Where the hell does he get that from? With an article full of overused metaphors and cute phrases reminiscent of one writing for his school yearbook, O'Connor shows himself for the pathetic hack that he is.

O'Connor derives great pleasure from lines like these; "The notion that the Boston Red Sox have grown fat and happy on their once-every-Halley's comet parade was fed by the image of David Wells in the opening-night lights, the former Yankee appearing as if he had eaten Central Park for lunch. Even in a 162-game season you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and the Red Sox began defending a world championship in a most predictable way: like a team that hasn't had much practice defending a world championship."

You can usually measure the skill of a writer by the lengths they go in their attempts to be cute. This guy doensn't deserve to write for the local historical society's newsletter, let alone a national daily, even if it is USA Today.

The close:

While I was ready to write the finale, with Keith Foulke on the mound and Varitek's homer making me absolutely giddy, the comeback victory hopes were thwarted by the Yankees "Mr. Clutch", Derek Jeter. With the Sox staging more late inning heroics against Mariano Rivera, this one had a script that read victory.

One of the bright spots that had me encouraged prior to Jeter's walk-off blast, was the work of the Red Sox bullpen. With clutch pitching coming form a trio of veterans the likes of John Halama, Matt Mantei and Alan Embree, the Sox bullpen showed itself to once again be one of the team's strongpoints in '05. Unfortunately, Foulke made a mistake to Jeter, who doesn't usually miss when the game is on the line.

While its cliche to say "it's only two games", the problem is that games that get away in April have a tendency to come back and bite you in the ass in September, when you are battling for a wildcard birth.

Slow versus fast

I attended my first meeting of my local Slow Food Convivia last night, in Portland. I had been invited nearly a year ago to some of the initial meetings of a group looking to explore community in greater Portland, around a monthly meal, consisting of healthy and local food. Obviously, I'm a bit of a procrastinator, as it has taken me a year to finally show up at a gathering. Ironically, the woman who invited me couldn't attend.

For those of you who don't know about Slow Food, it is a movement that was founded in Italy in 1986. Its founder, Carlo Petrini, sought to promote food and wine, as well as agricultural biodiversity worldwide.

Like many aspects of our culture, local food production has been co-opted by market elements, robbing it of uniqueness and resulting in the homogenization of much of what passes for production and preparation of food in the U.S.

While my intial experience of what Slow Food (the movement) was about came from an Utne Reader article, I didn't know alot about what the significance was of the worldwide movement.

I'm still in the process of understanding it, but my initial in-person experience was a positive one. The Portland Convivium (local chapter) had a communal meal, with members (and non-members) bringing various foods. All of us got to try new foods, drink some wine, socialize and then participate in the monthly meeting. As a newcomer, I met alot of new people, many with connections to food; either cooks, owners of bakeries or local markets, as well as others like myself, with no formal connection to food other than being a consumer.

The concept is an interesting one and I'll probably go back again. The meetings are the first Monday of the month and our next one will once again be at the beautiful St. Lawrence Arts and Community Center in Portland, with the meeting set to start at 6PM.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Play ball!

After five weeks of meaningless spring training games played in the surreal surroundings of palm trees and endless sunshine, the 2005 Major League Baseball season got under way in New York. The defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox (doesn't that have a special ring?) opened the season in New York, against their longtime rivals, the hated New York Yankees (aka, The Evil Empire). With the big league braintrust displaying their vaunted intelligence and usual concern for the well-being of the national pastime, baseball opened its season at 8pm in a northern city, with game time temperatures hovering around 40 degrees. Ever-ready to put television ratings above the quality of the game, the lords of the corporate suites decided baseball is best played in frigid temperatures that challenged the endurance of even the heartiest of fans. Ah, but the Sunday night primetime television spot was a TV ratings bonanza, so that takes precedent over anything else.

With two ancient mariners trotting out to toe the rubber for their respective clubs, the overweight and pathetic-looking David Wells for the Sox and the ageless Randy Johnson for the Yankees, the 2005 season opener seemed a contrast in strengths between the two clubs. Gone from the Sox' mound corps are the guaranteed 35-40 wins provided by Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe, replaced by question marks such as the retread Wells and Wade Miller (of the persistent arm problems) and Matt Clement (with his lifetime record of 69-75, 4.34 ERA ). The Yankees, able to spend owner George Steinbrenner's money at will, added future hall-of-famer Johnson, as well as hard-throwers Carl Pavano (former Red Sox farmhand, traded to the Expos in the original deal to acquire Martinez) and Jaret Wright to proven vets Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown. Everyone knows what Johnson is capable of, but its Pavano who could be the real X-factor in their rotation. Last season with Florida, Pavano had the breakout year many have been waiting for, winning 18 games and making the NL all-star team. More importantly, he's only 28 years old and showed the poise and ability that made him the kind of prospect that the Montreal Expos would take in a deal for Martinez in November of 1997. The Red Sox and Theo Epstein actively sought Pavano during the off-season, but as often happens, Steinbrenner's money lured Pavano to the Big Apple.

With Wells looking out of shape and ready for the scrap heap, the Red Sox were trailing in the sixth, 5-1. It's early and no need to panic yet (we'll give it a couple more weeks). But with a starting rotation held together with bailing wire and bubblegum, there are some storm clouds on the horizon. Take for instance that ace Curt Schilling is coming off surgery and will be turning 39, Wells at 41 looks close to being done and then, you add the mercurial knuckleball of Tim Wakefield to the mix and well, Red Sox nation has some real concerns heading into the first month of the 2005 campaign.

Speaking of Major League Baseball; the new steroids policy is proving to be the tough deterrant promised with the first culprit being the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' Alex Sanchez. Alex who? Sanchez, who has hit a combined 128 home runs over his ten-year career, an average of about 12 per season, tested positive under the new Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program of Major League Baseball and will be suspended for 10 days.

The Sox are now trailing 6-1 in the bottom of the seventh and barring some late inning heroics (which you can never rule out with the Red Sox), they'll start the year 0-1. If you remember, the 2004 season also began with an opening day loss, this one coming at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles, 7-2.

Well, one down and 161 games left to go. If there's one thing about baseball that's different than most other sports, the season is a marathon rather than a sprint.

Weekends with Book TV

I don't know how much rain we received from late last night until the latter part of the morning. I'm sure many areas of the state are experiencing flooding. There is still a significant snow cover in much of the state and the melt, combined with the torrential rains must have pushed river levels to flood stage in many places.

In addition to rain, we had gusty winds which knocked out my power. After spending most of my morning without any electricity and no lights on a very dark morning, I realized that I don't think I'd enjoy life without some of the modern conveniences.

The lack of lighting forced me to sit near my window to be able to read my newspapers. With nothing else to do, I actually read a good chunk of a book that had been sitting on the coffee table for about a month. Hearing the whir of my fax machine and the sound of appliances kicking on however, was a welcome sound around noon.

Living in the country, everything is geared to having electricity. With a well supplying my water, no power means no well pump, so you can't take a shower, flush your toilets, or utilize any water other than what you have available in jugs or pitchers.

With the return of a modern convenience I often take for granted, I once more had access to my television. While so much drivel passing for programming, there are still those little gems that are available via this medium. One of my guilty pleasures on weekends, particularly Sundays, is Book TV on CSpan 2. I love the format of their In Depth program, which allows a given author three hours to talk about their work, discuss world events and other issues pertaining to their subject of expertise.

This Sunday's In Depth guest was Robert Kaplan. While Kaplan obviously holds contrary views to my own on the military and politics, I was very impressed with this author. A writer who got his start as a freelancer, receiving payment of $40 for his first published story in The Christian Science Monitor in 1984, Kaplan is now a respected novelist and regular contributor to The Atlantic Monthly.

Kaplan has written ten books, ranging from books about the African Continent (Surrender or Starve: The Wars Behind the Famine), the Balkans (Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History), and his most recent book about the Mediterranean Region (Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History and Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia, and Greece).

Kaplan described his political leanings as being that of a moderate conservative. I found his honesty about America's imperialistic inclinations rare, for someone who self-identifies as a conservative.

What I enjoyed about Kaplan's thoughts on his subject matter was his obvious belief in grounding his research in the history of the regions he writes about. I found some of his discussions about foreign policy particularly intriguing. What was refreshing in listening to Kaplan speak was his enthusiasm for journalism, rare in many interviews with those in the profession. Additionally, Kaplan came across as someone who doesn't start with ideology and then try to force everything he writes (and speaks) about into a box, constricted by being wedded to the constraints of his political leanings.

Like many writers talking about their craft, Kaplan talked some about how he comes to his stories, books and tricks of the trade. By listening to authors like Kaplan, I learn new ways of thinking about writing, pick up new tips and hopefully, glean one or two things that will help me to be a better writer.

As has happened in the past, my initial exposure to a particular writer on In Depth has led me to read their books and gain another author and viewpoint to draw upon and learn from. I will certainly pick up one of Kaplan's books soon and decide for myself if he is a writer I want to add to my canon.

If there are any writers out there reading this, I'd be interested in some of your "guilty pleasures" that pump life into your writing and possibly provides new ideas for the development of your craft.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Leaving comments

I have some concerns about the comments feature here at Blogger. Recently, I've posted comments at other blogs that allow me to preview and then, when I post them, voila!! They disappear and are not posted.

Of late, the comments on this blog have been non-existent. This might be a result of a problem at Blogger, or, it might signify that no one cares about what I write. If it's the latter, I can live with that. If it's the former, I'm kind of irked.

While generally, I enjoy Blogger as a blogging platform, I've heard others complain about issues such as this.

Just curious if you've tried to post comments with similar results as I've experienced. If so, drop me an email so I know there's an issue in this area.


Friday, April 01, 2005

Thank you for shopping at Wal-Mart

From comes this article about Wal-Mart, American's favorite retailer. I don't care what reason you give for stepping inside the walls of your local mega-center, when you do, you are doing your part to kill what remains of any local-based, sustainable model of retailing.

From the article, "Less than two weeks ago, the Beast paid $11 million to settle charges that it used hundreds of illegal immigrants to clean its stores. In February, those nice family-values people from Bentonville agreed to pay a pathetic $135,000 and change to settle charges of child labor violations. Think about it: a corporate culture that tolerates endangering children. As an aside, when the child labor deal was announced, I wrote that the level of the fine was scandalous; the whole sweetheart deal is now under investigation by the Department of Labor’s inspector general.

Wal-Mart is facing the largest gender discrimination lawsuit in history—involving 1.5 million women. I hear the company is deeply engaged in talks to settle the case for obvious reasons: it’s guilty as hell. The depositions in the lawsuit, detailed in Liza Featherstone’s new book, Selling Women Short, make it crystal clear that the company, as a matter of policy, consistently broke the most basic laws of workplace equality.

Not enough? Workers have been illegally fired for trying to form a union, and Wal-Mart spends millions to thwart workers basic rights, giving its union-breaking staff priority on resources (like corporate jets) over even higher-placed managers. In 2000, meat cutters at a Wal-Mart in Texas voted for the union—and Wal-Mart promptly violated the law by shutting down the meat-cutting department in the store and, for good measure, closing every other meat-cutting department in 180 other stores, just to make sure they had stamped out any smell of unionism. Even the National Labor Relations Board—no friend of labor—saw through the company’s actions and charged the Beast with illegal behavior."

[So why is it that you shop at Wal-Mart? Don't you dare tell me that it's to save money or I'll smack you up side 'yo head with a bat! An employer who endangers children, devalues women, and exploits low-skill and low-wage workers is not worthy of anyone's business. Why don't you put away your weak-ass excuses, acquire a bit of back-bone and take a freakin' stand for once in your pathetic lives--now that I've got that off my chest, I feel much better.]

Read the entire article.

On an entirely different note, after being jerked around by the media in their shoddy coverage of the Terri Schiavo circus, now we are getting the first whiffs of the circle-jerk that will be coming down the pike regarding the soon-to-occur death of Pope John Paul II. We'll hear report after report about the historical significance of the Pope, the Church, how life as we know it was brought to us courtesy of the Holy See, etc., ad nauseum. (In the past 15 minutes, I've heard the beginning of the mantra about the Pope's legacy and already have heard him linked with Ronald Reagan, Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher. I'm sure that will begin circulating over the weekend, like a fart in an airtight room.)

I just heard some blow-dried talking head just refer to their particular networks coverage as being a "vigil". This before leaving for a commercial on Wendy's chicken fingers. Oh Neil Postman where are you now?

What drives the insipid, shallow and sensationalistic coverage generated by the likes of CNN, Fox, MSNBC and the other cable wankers is beyond me. Even AirAmerica, which I originally had high hopes for, recently hired Jerry Springer to host a daily program that can only be labeled as a ploy for ratings.

I better stop before I say something that really ticks off the Pope lovers and other religious sorts out there. I know I need to turn off the idiot box and end the drivel spewing forth.