Archive for September, 2008

And Now For Something Totally Different!

Enough politics, insurance whining and dead-writer talk. This blog has started off on the wrong foot, the foot of world-awareness and a general interest in the goings on of others. Ugh, no thank you. It occurred to me this morning, I shouldn’t be writing about any of these subjects, I shouldn’t even be thinking about them. They’re such important, downer issues, so today we’re lightening the mood with two new subjects: world hunger and cancer.

I’ve got two videos here for your perusal, and to be honest, I wasn’t looking for anything about either important subject. I stumbled upon them by looking up Ricky Gervais and Larry David on YouTube. And wouldn’t you know it, but both men have funny videos about serious subjects. These are comedians who deal in, shall we say, less general comedy. Ricky Gervais is hands down, the king of awkward-comedy, while Larry David’s chosen avenue is misanthropic selfishness. Notice, it is not philanthropic, but misanthropic. These are two of my favorite cups of comedy tea, and news flash: I’m a heavy drinker (of comedy). So, if these guys want to actually use their celebrity for a cause, they’re caught in a bind, because the old style of going on a PBS telethon would be useless. Their audience would not be swayed by such a move, because their audience has formed as a result of their style. It would seem like a sell-out. Which means they would be using their celebrity to talk to people who aren’t aware they are celebrities.

Instead, they’ve both made short, hilarious videos, which combine their humor, their style, with helping people out. And I have to hand it to Mr. Internet on this one, because this really couldn’t have been done without it. The internet, and YouTube-type sites specifically, are the perfect medium for these types of charity organizations to get the word out. Art + Charity = Win/Win

For the record, Ricky’s video was part of Comic Relief and Larry’s was a part of SU2C

Ricky Gervias

Larry David


The Obamanator vs. McCain Machine: Round 1

This note pertains to tonight’s Presidential Debate, the first of 3 between the two candidates, not including the Vice-Presidential Debate. Hopefully that sentence did inspire the thought “It’s an election year?”. If you were unable to see the debate and/or did not have the ability to record it, come to my apartment, I will watch it with you.

The two-part questions is, what did you think of the debate and how did you think the candidates handled themselves? Please feel free to disagree with me (of course you will feel free… this is democracy!)

What a much better election we have this time around. In every way, these candidates are superior to their predecessors. Of that I am pleased. I took a lot of notes tonight, which I’ll get to in a moment, and I also kept score. My incredibly scientific method was as follows: any time I think a candidate makes a compelling, interesting or insightful statement, he gets a point. A tally-mark, to be more specific. Written by hand. In pen. On a blue-ish notepad. I did my best not to look at the score during the debate, and I think I mostly succeeded. Essentially, I am treating the debates like a best of 3 series in sports, the winner of which will receive as a grand prize: my vote.

The final score was Senator Obama – 26, Senator McCain – 22

Obama started out with a solid 2 point cushion, and it went back and forth for about the first 45 minutes. He jumped out, and though in the first 10 minutes or so he seemed to dodge some questions and talk around the matter, he quickly hit his stride and made great points. McCain made very good points, but it seemed to me that toward the beginning, his points were more general and vague, while Obama’s had a specificity I found encouraging. The subject was the current financial crisis, and I will not attempt to give a play by play of all the points covered. Suffice it to say, both candidates’ presidencies will be affected by it, and both seem to oppose the idea of a “non-reviewable” $700,000,000,000.00 bailout. Smart men. They also talked about Healthcare plans, both of which I think will be improvements in some way.

In the middle of the debate, McCain actually took the lead. As noted, specificity is important to me. I want details. Details show thought. They reveal insight while generalities (such as this entire blog) seem to have a limited depth of knowledge. McCain’s war experience is, to say the least, impressive. That man knows his stuff. So does Obama, but in this instance, the hype is correct: McCain is more experienced. He’s got decades more than Obama, which means a deeper understanding of a history not merely learned, but lived. It also means he meanders off into storyland a bit too often, detailing that time he was in Russia, or the time he met with…

The most interesting head to head moment was the discussion of whether or not to grant meetings with hostile leaders. Obama’s point: “This notion that by not talking with people we are punishing them has not worked.” He’s right. It hasn’t. McCain counters that to have face to face meetings with these leaders, who espouse hateful doctrines, is to legitimize their cause. He’s also right. You don’t meet with a fanatical loon. You meet with people of power. To meet is to implicitly grant them power and may be giving them a stage. But. In the end, I agree with Obama when he said that the President of the united States has the right to meet with whoever he wants, whenever he wants, and that it doesn’t make sense to meet with enemy groups only after they’ve agreed to change.

From that point on, McCain seemed to lose a step, about the final 30 minutes. He got repetitive. He wasn’t wrong in what he said, it was all fine, some of it was a bit too much like his campaign speeches, but he seemed to get defensive very quickly. At one point, Obama was trying to respond to him, and McCain just cut him off. Jim Lehrer, the Moderator, had already attempted to move on, so rather than take more time, going round and round on a tiny point, Obama just said, “It’s fine. Jim, let’s move on.” He got a point for that.

In general, in terms of ACTUAL spoken, detailed policies, these two men are very similar. The distance between their policies is the time it takes to rewrite the other candidate’s policies with a different sentence structure. Both candidates, I think, are very aware of this, and in order to have something to debate about, they put together teams of interns – hundreds of 20-something idealist left- and right-wingers – to find contextless soundbites of the other candidate to be used to create the illusion of a large expanse between them. A chasm of inches is what it amounts to. It was like an improv scene at times. One or the other would pull a random quotation out of their pocket and then try to weave it into the fabric of the current subject. And every time, the other candidate merely said, no, you’re misrepresenting me, here’s the real story. Mini-conflicts were introduced and resolved in mere seconds. This is called politics.

The real difference, as far as I can see it, is that Obama, at this point, is cooler. He’s more popular. He seems calmer. Every time I see him ON the campaign trail (I hate that term, by the way), he looks tired, his sentences have big gaps in them, he seems to lose his train of thought. I think the ordeal of the Primaries and now the General Election are starting to wear on him. But tonight, he looked well-rested, he spoke clearly, defined his points, did a nice job. If there is one man I WOULD send in to have a meeting with our enemies, it’d be him, because I have the sneaking suspicion, he could communicate with them better than anyone.

On the other hand, McCain may be the smartest man alive. He is very savvy, he has no trouble keeping up with Obama in terms of the manner in which he speaks, how he communicates. And I could not detect one hint of his age hindering him in any way. At least not tonight. He has a tendency to get too heated at times, he can be a bit aggressive; although, this skill just might be handy when you’re dealing with all the daily slog the President goes through. And, if Obama for some reason cannot convince our enemies, McCain will explain to them the details of their impending demise and then enact it upon them. And he won’t screw the pooch the way Ole W. has.

Looking forward to the next debate… 1 piece of advice to both men. Talk to EACH OTHER for a change. Look at each other, address each other. Who knows, you might just get into a bi-partisan discussion!

Topeka. Ramada. The End of Reason.

This hotel sucks, for the record. List of wrong-doings: 1) Room Service: BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger should’ve been described as “containing a faint hint of BBQ” as evidinced by the tiny speckle of it on the bun. 2) Ice Machine broken, here on the 11th floor. Seek ice elsewhere. 3) Vending machine eats 2 bucks, hotel won’t put it back on bill, asks me to walk all the way down to guest services to collect 2 $1 bills (too much pride keeps me in my room). 4) Worst offense – This hotel is in TOPEKA. As the Russians say: If given choice between large whack in face-brain with baseball bat or make livings in Topeka, make sure baseball bat is wooden, not metal, or else deaths inevitable. What it does do, though, is make me really appreciate Kansas City. KC has its problems, but man this Topeka is for the birds – I can’t even explain how depressing it is. Everything is worse in Topeka.

I am here working claims, Topeka got hit particularly hard with, wouldn’t you know, baseball- sized hail. 6 roofs a day. 6 estimates. 6 groups of pictures. 6 business cards. 6 customers. 6 redbulls this morning because I got barely over half of 6 hours of sleep last night. FYI – Working claims=getting on roof, inspecting for hail damage, sketching the roof, writing it all down in nifty computer programs and filing it so someone back in the office can pay it. After 3 days and 18 claims (3×6=18…fun with simple math) I have paid all 18 claims, and my 18th claim, which included giving the family all new aluminum siding, cost a total of $18,000.00

Am I on some numbers kick, what is this?

Maybe so. From Monday, September 22nd through Monday, October 27th, I have the possibility of at most 2 days I will not be working. Yes, I will be well compensated. Yes, I will get paid overtime. Yes, I will be working in Texas with people who have REALLY lost something. Yes, I am sortof looking forward to it. Finally: No, I do not plan on going insane. I leave on the 5th of October. Driving to Texas. I’ve got new CDs from Amazon to keep me company, and I am saving up podcasts from now till I leave, so I’ll have listening material. On the way back I plan to go through Austin, I hear it’s pretty cool. Also, I may take my beautiful big computer down with me for podcasting/blogging/writing/ film editing purposes. More on this decision once it’s made…

Ashamed to Admit but Impossible to Deny

While working late this afternoon, I watched what happened and enjoyed an entire episode of Bravo’s “Project Runway.”

Note: I am not gay.

I’ll be talking about it more on the podcast this week (click here for my site), but compared with most of the reality TV I’ve seen (admittedly, not much) this is more interesting and engaging than the lot. I even felt myself having opinions about the clothes they made. My only real qualm is that the silver-haired male co-host says “Thank You” after EVERY sentence he says. “Designers, you have three hours. Work hard… Thank you.” “I think it’s fabulous, but get the work done… Thank you.” There is a drinking game waiting to happen here, and I know they do marathons, so beware.

Why did I like this show? Why did I even watch it? What is a 25 yr old heterosexual single male doing with this show within five channels of anything he’s watching? (Deep sigh. Moments of reflection.) This is not important right now; that is to say, do not ask these questions – of this or any reality show – for there can be no acceptable answer. It is all tripe, to one degree or another. What I can say is that while I have no doubt the reality is even more interesting, the version they’ve edited seems mostly true. Added drama, for sure, but for once here is a show whose cast is at least as much to blame. It almost feels like they’re more in control that way, less editorial puppetry (all this after a mere ONE FULL EPISODE… for shame, Captain Analysis). Finally, here is a question I pose to us both (aside from, is this the gayest blog he’ll post? If not, how exactly does he plan to top this?): how many shows, reality or otherwise, focus on a creative process like this? On people with legitimate talent, using it each and every episode, all the while being a not-always-equal blend of absent-mindedly hilarious and gratingly annoying? I’ve been looking for another social science experiment, and so perhaps this will be it. I’ll report back after a few more episodes.

Will We Be Infected?

All in the Family…

I was genuinely, wonderfully surprised tonight. In so many ways. It was nice. My family had a (8-days-after) Birthday Party for me. Mom made Italian Shells (delicious!) and there was birthday cookie cake w/ ice cream. I gave them some presents I’d gotten for them in Toronto. And then it came time for my presents, an experience I’ve come to face with assumed disappointment. I gave my mother a list, assuming that none of them would be unwrapped by me. It was, honestly, a list of things I’d decided to postpone buying until after I got back from vacation, or else had been looking for for weeks without success.

So I unwrap, and there they are. The Office: Season Four – easy to find, just hadn’t bought. Next one: Wall-E action figures of Wall-E and Eve. I had looked for these things EVERYWHERE and had no luck. Had been in the Disney Store at least 5 times, in various cities (including Toronto). Now the two join Clyde Drexler, Alan Rickman (as the Sheriff of Nottingham), NEO, and Jack Sparrow on the wall above my computer. And I am happy. Finally: Rushmore, Criterion Collection – once again, UNFINDABLE by my searches, I had even discussed its rareness with a fellow movie-fan. My parents found ONE SINGLE copy at a movie store and snatched it up. That they even went looking for it was amazing.

More surprises: At my parents wish, we watched “Dan in Real Life,” which got decent reviews, and has Steve Carell, so what the heck. Delightful. Not a brilliant, life-altering movie, but a movie that feels like a warm blanket in a mid-October rainstorm, when it’s good and pouring. It’s about family, and populates its movie not with overblown types, but a truly organic feeling mix of people. It is so relaxed, you feel like you’re watching a real reunion. One you could rewatch and rewatch. A movie that inspires not rapture but eternal fondness. 

Now the good stuff: It was like my family decided to be the best versions of themselves this night. Dad left his awkward comments in his other jacket, and decided to join in the conversation. Mom told engaging stories about helping people at work, and asked great questions about Toronto. Both were eager to actually discuss the movie afterwards. Older Brother, heretofore known to equate an opinion with a shrug of universal indifference explained what his favorite type of movie was…and why (and though it is miles away from me, I was too taken aback to mind much). Younger Sister ended the night quoting from Fahrenheit 451, a quote I happened to love as well. She retrieved the book, we thumbed through it together, and then read a selection for my mother. 

These are small things, but for someone who must admit that he is often ready to leave about 30 minutes after walking in the door, this is one of the best nights at home I’ve had in about a year or two. 

Final miracle: My mother had been trying to get me a ticket to see This American Life host Ira Glass in St. Louis, going so far as trying to reserve me a $120 seat+party afterwards. And here’s the thing. She didn’t get me a ticket (which is for the best, as I likely won’t be in the state at the time), but her effort did inspire her to go online and listen to the show…which she really enjoyed. A better gift, I cannot imagine.

Sad Sad Sad

Writer David Foster Wallace was found dead in his home late last week. He hanged himself. He was 46. And today’s blog is brought to you by the letter, why?

There is no answer. Even if there WAS an answer, it wouldn’t be an answer, how could it be? A question wrapped in an incomplete explanation is what it would be. So, a better question might be, now that he has left us, what has he left us with? He was not exactly prolific, there are only 2 novels, and a handful of short story and essay collections. Perhaps you may stumble across an old article of his at some point. So, what does he leave? Most notably, he leaves behind the Biblically-lengthy novel Infinite Jest, a 979-page behemoth of a book, with an additional 96 pages of teeny-tiny foot-notes. What is the novel about, though? And here we are, back to the questions again.

With all suicides, there is that tendency to say either, “We had no idea, he seemed so normal,” or “If only we’d stepped in sooner.” Both are well-meaning, and I’ve thought both recently. To me, reading his work, he seemed incredibly intellectual, and, by his writing, put-together. Then, because he will not leave my mind, I went online and looked some stuff up. Watched about a 30 minute interview with Charlie Rose from 1997. And I was startled by how manic he was. Manic in the saddest, scariest sense of the word. He seemed constantly embarrassed, unsure of himself, apologetic for his answers. Near the end of the interview, Rose mentioned some thoughts of suicide, and DFW said he hated that people talked about that, because it felt so ordinary a thing to feel. Watching it felt eerie. But, honestly, if I’d seen it while he was still alive, I would’ve had a completely different reaction. Would’ve assumed he’d exorcised some demons. Would’ve assumed that was his eccentricity shining through, not a legitimate part of himself.

Fairly, or not, artists are summarized by their work. It is, after all, why they are known to us at all, so there is a posthumous fluency to this categorization. About his life, what really do we know? What is known is what is known publicly. His family and friends are allowed to feel the loss on a deeper, more personal level, but the only effect he can have on us, or at least me, is what his work did personally to me. And in that way, I guess, he lives on, and he does not. For his work will live on, for those who read 979 page novels and essay collections. And the lines like “He seemed to be a writer who…” will amass and disperse into the air.

So, what is there to say about him?

I could list for you all of his accomplishments, the Genius Grants, the Fellowships, the accolades, since many of you reading this likely do not know such trivia. But I didn’t know it either, while he was alive, so what point could possibly be served by it now that it has ceased to matter? I don’t know most of it now, still. I would have to look it up, just to write it down. It would seem much more impressive than it is. A rallying cry to remember a man who I forgot to learn about in the first place, you know, while he was alive…? Remembrance is for those who have a history, a relationship. I read two of his books, both of which have parts that stick out and a stylistic flair, and both of which left me equally as annoyed as elated. Not much of a history. So perhaps this note is much less memorial and much more apology.

At least now I might actually read Infinite Jest.


By Way of Incomplete Introduction…

My reasons for writing this are not yet clear. I write a lot, do a podcast, make films, have a full-time job, far too much reading to do… if only I had a blog to go with it all. And yet that it does not make sense only makes me forge on into the dark, keyboard in hand, hand on keyboard. Yes.

To give an expectation:

I will be writing movie reviews, some political opinions maybe, for about a month or so, random meanderings about countless subjects, as yet to be determined, perhaps a production diary of sorts the next time I shoot a film, and untold millions of sentences of me writing about writing (this is not to be encouraged, and I apologize in advance). And to start off, my work is about to send me down to Texas (I live in Kansas City) due to the recent hurricanes. And so, along with my film camera to document it all, I will be writing about it, too. I’m actually genuinely excited to able (hopefully) to help in some small way. Various projects or sub-blogs will undoubtedly creep into this one. Please, PLEASE, feel free to comment and absolutely disagree with me on any and all points I ineptly make. The other readers will thank you for being the lone voice of reason. 

So it begins.

It Has Come to This

September 2008
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