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Athens, Ohio, United States
"Art and love are the same thing. It's the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you."

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Campaign Parable

There comes a time in every young semi-political blogger's life where he has to stand up and speak his mind.

Here we stand, four days away from the second election of the second millennium, the first one of my voting life and perhaps the most important and potentially historic ever. For more than a year now, every single voice in the media has debated and analyzed and obsessed and just flat out beat to death every single aspect of each candidate. Money has been raised, endorsements have been made and many ballots have already been cast. The election is all but over. There is probably not a thing either candidate can do now to swing the electorate one way or another. 

But still, I am hesitant to reveal my vote. I understand that many newspaper and other media outlets have already endorsed a particular candidate for their readers and viewers. Yet, when I try to use that as a justification for revealing my vote to the world via a mass media tool, I hesitate. The media has long been a paradox. It is an industry and machine filled with passionate, subjective human beings expected to behave and act like emotion-less, completely objective robots. And for the most part they do...except when it comes time to endorse a political candidate or ballot issue. Then it becomes okay to editorialize. Then it becomes okay to persuade instead of enlighten.

 The public does not seem to mind either. In a world where newscasters are branded as biased if they say a word like "liberal" with a different inflection of their voice, people are shockingly indifferent when a newspaper outright declares its support for a candidate. I suppose tradition is just tradition and people just accept it as "the .

I, however, don't have the confidence that multi-billion dollar newspaper chains have and for right now, I will not reveal my vote. Instead, what I would like to do instead is to tell you a story, dear reader. The vast majority of you will probably be heading out to your local ballot on Tuesday to cast your vote. And when you do, I would simply like you to remember this story:

Once upon a time there lived a respectable man named John McCain. He grew up in the classic All-American childhood and got good grades in school. Then he went off to fight for his country in Vietnam. He fought more than admirably; he became a prisoner to the enemy and was tortured by them, yet never gave up his brothers-in-arms nor betray his country in any way. After five years of this torment, the young man returned home as a hero. And a hero he remained for the rest of his life, the rarest commodity in an ever-changing America. 

In his middle age, he began to run into some relationship problems. He divorced his first wife and began to see a woman named Cindy. They soon got married and started a family together. In their generosity, they extended their familial bonds to include a Bangledeshi orphan named Bridget. It was also around this time that McCain began a career in politics.

Elected as Senator of Arizona in 1986, McCain soon came to be regarded as high a politician as he was a soldier. He earned the reputation as an independent or "maverick" based on his tendency to stray away from the party lines regarding certain issues. His Senate career culminated in a bid for the Republican nomination for President in 2000. He put up a good fight but ultimately lost out to eventual 43rd President of the United States, George W. Bush.

And then came 2008.

John McCain decided to seek the office of the President again, despite his uncomfortable brush with national politics in his first bid and his rather old age. He quickly sealed up the party's nomination, beating out men such as Mitt Romney, Rudy Guliani and Mike Huckabee. Then the time came to wait for a Democratic opponent emerge, whom eventually did in the form of Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. Being a respectable man of strong character, McCain promised to run a clean and respectful campaign against his young opponent. But then things started going down hill.

The poll numbers began to favor the charismatic Midwestern Senator Obama and so McCain elected to name a relative unknown as his running mate: Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin seemed to be a gift from the demographic gods: an attractive, charismatic woman with funny glasses, a Midwestern accent and no Senatorial voting record to critique. McCain formerly introduced her to the world during the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minnesota. It was also during this time that McCain's peers began speaking out against Barack Obama's record as a "community organizer".

McCain's promise to run a clean campaign seemed to be in trouble as his Republican contemporaries began touring the country, appealing the the angry, dark side of human nature and their fear of the unknown. "Barack Obama has terrorist ties!" "Barack Obama is a secret Muslims!" When Obama confronted McCain on this fact during their final debate, McCain could not refute, only weakly claim that his campaign had suffered attacks too. 

McCain rallys became a sad scene of anger and hate spilling out of the mouths of the old America. And McCain, could only look on in horror at the monster his campaign had created as if he were The Sorcerer's Apprentice. He attempted to defuse the fire but the inferno of hate and fear had already spread too far. 

The political machine had beaten him. He could not stop the paranoia, he could not stop the hatred and he could not stop the lowest denominator of America define his campaign and his legacy. The Party had won out. It had run the election IT had wanted to run and not the campaign that John McCain promised he would. It had tamed the maverick.

Politics is a dirty game, friends, and not everyone can make it through the Crucible alive.

And that is all I have to say on the subject.

Now go vote.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Because I Love It pt. 2

Note: This is Part 2 of 2 part post. It can probably stand on its own but if you'd like to read the first part, click HERE

I have already vainly attempted to explain why you should follow your art and subsequently your bliss (Seriously, read up on Joseph Campbell if you haven't). But that is not enough to tell you why I read what I read and watch what I watch. And as we already know "because I love it" isn't enough.

The stories that hold my heart hostage are the stories of opposites. Not opposites in nature but opposites in humanity. I love the dichotomy between two men who stand at opposite ends of a spectrum but can still some of themselves in each other. At first I thought this was the literary idea of a "foil" but now I realize that it goes a little further than that. I love the idea of nemeses: two people who exist only to oppose each other and to clash and conflict. They are similar but represent something so entirely philosophically or morally different that it makes them enemies. I know it probably sounds like I am high right now so let me try to explain myself through some of my favorite examples.

Gabriel (Sylar) Gray - Peter Petrelli

My conflicted feelings regarding the show Heroes are fairly well documented at this point. But Heroes could fail as miserably as it wants to at this point and I would still watch it only for the ongoing relationship between Sylar and Peter. Of all the individuals who possess gifts on Heroes, Peter and Sylar are the most powerful. Each man has the ability to acquire and use any other Hero's "power". They are similar in this aspect, their physical appearance and even their bloodline but they each represent something entirely different. In order to use another person's power, Peter merely has to be in their presence and then recall their personality and the way they made him feel to utilize their power. Sylar, however, must murder someone, tear open their cranium and examine their brain in order to acquire a power. This difference highlights the dichotomy between what they stand for. Peter is a symbol of compassion and Sylar is a symbol for consumption 

Batman - Joker

These two foes have been going at it for years. But I am not really a comic book person so I can only focus on the incarnations in Christopher Nolan's absolutely brilliant The Dark Knight. In the Dark Knight, Batman and Joker really should be the best of the fans. As far as the movie is concerned, they are the only two human beings on the planet who do what they do. They dress up in crazy costumes and take to the streets every night representing an idea truly greater than themselves and far greater than any "normal" civilian can. It is a lonely existence being the only "freak" in town but at least they have each other to spar with. And sparring is all they can ever do because as the Joker brilliantly notes Batman won't kill him because of his "code" and Joker won't kill Batman because he views him as a kindred spirit and so fascinating. But they can't quite be "kindred souls". For all their eccentricities and theatrics, Batman and Joker represent two ideas that are completely contradictory. Batman believes in "Order" the organized ways of society and law while Joker lives his life by only one creed: "Chaos". 

Jack Shepard - John Locke

The similarities between these two Lost characters are fascinating. Aside from the obvious "they both crashed on a mysterious polar bear infested island", they share many other traits. Both are natural leaders of men, both have massively disappointing relationships with their fathers that they have had to overcome and both men are viewed with respect on the island. But they are polarizing figures. Despite their similarities, they just can't quite seem to get along. Jack is a Man of Science and Locke is a Man of Faith and this sets them on two sides of the same coin and in permanent conflict with each other. Their beliefs have strained the relations of everyone on the island and eventually broke the community into two groups. Every event that occurs are viewed through both of the perspectives of Jack and Locke. They represent the back-bone of the show and one of its main themes. But still, there is something tragic about the fact that they can't see just how similar they really are.

Those are the big ones and here are a few more that I appreciate.
The Matrix: Neo (Freedom) - Agent Smith (Bureaucracy)
Harry Potter: Harry Potter (Love) - Tom Riddle (Fear)
Unbreakable: David Dunne (Strength) - Elijah Price (Weakness)
Dexter: Dexter Morgan (Discipline) - James Doakes (Passion)
Lord of the Flies: Jack (Id) - Ralph (Ego) - Piggy (Superego) 

And that friends, is how I intellectualize all the literature and entertainment that moves me. I encourage that you understand why you love something but at the end of the day: just appreciate it.

Only then can the explanation "because I love it" make sense.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Because I Love It pt. 1

Note: Today marks something of a Collective(ly) Unconscious first: a two-part post. I have tried (usually unsuccessfully) to limit my posts to the 800-1200 word neighborhood. I understand that blogging isn't necessarily a "story-telling medium" and anything more than that simply ceases to be a blog. Plus, it is mind-numbingly tedious. I know it is unfair to expect the reader to read a 2,000 word diatribe when I tune out if I see too many paragraphs left in most blogs. But today I have found a subject that I am not comfortable cutting down to my 1200 word neighborhood. I feel strongly about it and I feel it is a disservice to the subject to limit the length in anyway. I also believe, however, that it is unfair to expect the reader to read a blog entry that will take up too much of there time. Luckily for me, there is a natural halfway point, so I have decided to post the first half today and the second half tomorrow. Without further ado, here is the first part. Enjoy!

I rarely get to let my "nerd flag" fly.

As an adult trying his best to remain professional to belong in a silly profession, it can be difficult to write a straight-faced article about symbolism in Harry Potter or brag to anyone who will listen that I can name every single episode of Lost ever produced. (This is true. Season 2, Episode 12: Fire +Water, a Charlie centric episode...look it up). Especially, when the occupation that you desire demands constant objectivism and careful analysis.

But at long last, I think I have found a loophole. As a journalist or a writer you are more than welcome to be a nerd...provided you can hide it well enough.  

I can say safely what makes my tiny nerdy nerves spark and my nerdy blood flow faster as long as I "hide" it. One has to hide it under the cloak of "critical reviews" or "research papers" or "objective analyses of pop art". Only then can you rave about what makes you tick and what you obsess over. You have to had what you love and all your obsessions under a mountain of words and analyses.

When a grad student writes a thesis paper on "Superman as an allegory of Soviet Russia" what he or she is trying to say is: "I love comics so much that I want to abandon this mundane life and live within the hallowed panels of my heroes." When a movie critic argues that George Lucas uses Joseph Campbell's theories on Myth successfully in A New Hope, he or she is trying to say: "Star Wars is my life. It is so important to me that I couldn't bear to live without it. I am currently translating the Ewok language to English and have a sign that says 'Death Star' above my bedroom door." When a college professor volunteers to teach a class on classic Western themes in The Lord of the Rings, he or she is really just dying to tell the world: "these books changed my life and everything I believe in. I miss the times when I could explore my backyard, and using a stick as a sword, pretend to be Aragorn cutting down orcs."

As a professional, you have to intellectualize what you love. When the bosses-that-be sign your paycheck, they are doing it expecting you to provide an objective analysis of why something is of quality. You cannot simply say: "Because I love it." "Because I love it." may be the simplest way of expressing how you subjectively feel, but it doesn't pay the bills. That student, critic and professor all read what they read and watch what they watch because they love it. But in the world of pop culture analysis "Because I love it" isn't enough.

But why can't it be? The very nature of art is subjective. Some people love Shakespeare and some people hate it, just as I am sure there is at least one person who insists that Patch Adams changed his or her life forever, while the rest of the world insists that it sucked (and it did).

I think I understand now why "academics" and "professionals" are so hesitant to declare their love for something. It is easy to intellectualize and distance yourself from a piece of art because it is always scary when someone disagrees with you on something you feel so strongly about. When you love something so dearly, it can be legitimately terrifying when someone says otherwise...just ask The Dark Knight fans. They aren't only criticizing a work of art, they are criticizing you to your very core. Because the art you love defines you, as I have previously and clumsily attempted to prove. And when your job requires your objectiveness it can be even harder to simply say that you love something just because...well, you love it. The professional arena is a scary place to be a nerd.

So consider this a journalistic and critical call to arms. The next time that you are asked why you view what you view or follow what you follow, just say: "because I love it." Honesty is at a premium in the days of the Internet. And telling the truth will put you in a lonely place. But it is worth it.

Those nerds have the right idea.

"Tune in" tomorrow when I attempt to objectively explain exactly what "gets" me in art and culture.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Honest Harlequin

This weekend I was forced to face my very mortality- the cable was out.

All of Tiffin Hall was without television for more than 24 hours. It was awful! There was pandemonium, rioting, loss of hope....and quiet. Finally, things were peaceful and the noise had died out. Don't get me wrong: I am the kind of person who has ESPN on every second of the day and yet I still tend to live my life without distraction from the glowing, talking box. Except for when the little red "Breaking News" bar appears at the bottom of the screen (Pacman Jones did WHAT?). It beats the hell out of having my laptop open and leaning over to press "refresh" on MSN's homepage every minute.

The quiet I am referring to then is the quiet that comes when you no longer have to be subjected to the constant harping from "newscasters" or as I like to call them "yammering idiots." The yammering idiots I refer to are the charismatic folks dishing out the "news" on 24 hour news networks such as: FOXNews (still don't know the preferred spelling of that after all these years), CNN and MSNBC. The type of yammering idiots who wear cute outfits, have pretty smiles, yell a lot and do not really concern themselves with that quaint idea of objectivity.

Of course, I don't really need a cable-outage to save myself from their nonsense; I could easily just turn the channel. But try as I might, I find myself watching a few minutes of Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity every week before the horror sets in and I am forced to turn off the TV and go take a shower. The problem is, that even if I never watch a second of yammering idiot television, I have to live in a world of people who do. A world where people excitedly approach me and ask earnestly "did you know Barack Obama has terrorist ties? I saw it on FOX the other day..." or "did you hear that Sarah Palin is going to disown her pregnant daughter any second now. The guy on CNN said so..."

People in the generation preceding my own believe what they hear on TV. It is the medium they grew up watching and trusting, where men like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite told them the cold hard truth while wearing nice suits and a somber expression. Now, newscasters on Cable News networks are simply nothing more than clowns: they exist to entertain. The problem is they still look like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite with the same nice suits and the same somber expressions. 

And here comes the point: instead of watching clowns saying their newscasters, why not just watch a clown saying he is nothing more than a clown. That is what my generation has decided to do.

I am rarely in line with the rest of my generation. Their intentions are pure but it is difficult to enact real change in the world in-between keggers and bong hits. But their is one aspect of their lives that I am right in line with. Back in 2004, a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that as many people ages 18-29 receive their news from The Daily Show as they do from the "usual" news outlets. And I can only say: right on, kids in America.

Many of the traditional media and older folks shook their head in disbelief and wondered "what is our world coming to when the leaders of tomorrow get their news from a comedian?" Little did they know that the rest of the country was also receiving their news from comedians...only these comedians would never acknowledge that they were telling jokes. I mean, how do you not laugh until you pee your pants when Bill O'Reilly berates and belittles a young man whose father was murdered in the 9/11 attacks simply because his political beliefs were different from his own in the name of "objective journalism?" 

The youth of America have grown up with an extremely sensitive "bullshit detector" thanks to the worthless clowns who masquerade as "journalist" who have dominated the airwaves for the past decades. And the youth of America is confident that they can check their bullshit detector at the door when watching The Daily Show. Because The Daily Show is nothing if not fair. Everything is fair game when it comes to making a joke: left or right, red or blue, it really doesn't matter because everything is fodder for ridicule. As a matter of fact, the Center for Media and Public Affairs found that the show made fun of Republicans 98% of the time and Democrats 96% of the time. What do you think the percentages would be like in Wolf Blitzer's War room or Joe Scarbrough's Country (whatever the hell that is supposed to be)? Yep, that's what I thought. Jon Stewart is also very honest about his political beliefs. He sides with liberals the majority of the time but does not let that influence the content of his show or his interviews. Contrast that with Bill O'Reilly who insists that he is a "traditionalist" (a political designation that doesn't exist) and refuses to acknowledge that he holds any political beliefs at all, then goes out to produce the most partisan-politically biases half-hour of television in the history of humanity. Honestly and candor is the key.

And as far as receiving news from The Daily Show, why not? The Daily Show runs only a half-hour a day for four days of the week. I trust a show that takes a 23 1/2 hour break for perspective and accuracy than any show on a network that is live and running 24 hours a day without a seconds break to keep one's emotions in check and gather the facts. 

But, obviously the long-term effects of watching an clown, regardless of how earnest and fair he may be, will be catastrophic, right? I mean how can kids be educated citizens and watch The Daily Show? Well it is not like there is any information out there that says otherwise

See what happens when the cable goes out? It makes you question the priorities in your life and the very world you live in. Makes you wonder why we need that constant noise anyway.

Oh well, I have to go now. There is a Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares marathon on BBC that I just canNOT miss.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday Morning Links pt. 6

I knew this would happen.

I am a late bloomer to this whole coffee thing. I, like most kids, just didn't get it. So there is this black substance that tastes like feces, will make you super hyper and turn teeth brown? And people drink this willingly? But this coffee thing bit me hard. Turns out about 88 packets of Splenda will make ANYTHING drinkable and pleasant. 

I started making fresh brews everyday. Then I found out that Dunkin Donuts had the best of the black stuff so about 1/8 of my weekly salary went to them. And finally, at our After-prom at Dave and Busters, my girlfriend and I used all our prize tickets to purchase a brand new coffee-maker.

And that coffee-maker sits before me right now...beckoning. It wants me to forget that my girlfriend made me a cup this morning and that I had yet another Cup 'o' Joe at the Front Room cafe before dinner too. So here are your links for the week as I try to resist the demon's hazelnutty goodness:

- Are you like me? Does outer space blow your mind? Then this picture slideshow of some of space's most bizarre phenomena should be your cup of.....damn coffee-maker.

- And here is another picture slideshow courtesy of Fox Sports that should drive home the point of my baseball vs. football blog on Wednesday

- From the "question my sexuality" Department- here is an article about Indians's centerfielder Grady Sizemore and how damn pretty he is.

- Five weeks in and the critics are already bitching about Heroes. Listen, Season 2 was awful. Like question your faith in art and humanity awful. Like cry into your pillow at night and wish you could claw your own eyes out awful. But Season 3 has just been plain excellent. And it sends the wrong message to complain about a TV show that is currently producing quality material. Having said that: Entertainment Weekly offers a way or two to improve it.

- And finally, the good folks over at The Dave Burba Revolution (the single best name for a blog of all time) offer a candid look at the most uncomfortable elevator ride you could ever imagine.

Well, that is all I have. Enjoy your morning coffee. I know I will!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Things They Didn't Tell You in High School

I am in a nostalgic mood. 

Does that not disgust you? Well, the blame can be laid solely at the feet of traveling packs of potential High School recruits being given a tour around campus. I remember when I was one of those squirts following around a "tour guide" who was about two years older than me, yet still seemed like a wise Buddhist monk. How do they know all this information about the biggest campus I have ever seen (okay, one of the ONLY college campuses I have ever seen)? Now, I realize that it really only takes a week to learn every single thing there is to learn about a college campus and life. Here is where you eat, here is where you sleep, here is where you learn and here is where bureaucrats decide your future based on state mandates. 

But back then it never even occurred to me to ask questions. I mean, seriously, what do you ask when you don't know anything about college life, whatsoever? That would be like telling an infant to ask questions about the world. They have no concept of what the world looks/tastes/smells/sounds/feels like so they have no questions regarding...well, anything. Also, they're dumb (just thought I should point that out). And God bless them, this High Schoolers are silent as church-mice just as I was. It is so adorable then I want to walk over, pinch their cheeks, hug them and tell them questions they should be asking. I cannot, however, afford to spend a night in jail or the County psych ward this late into the quarter so I have devised an easier and legal-er way to get my message out. 

College bound High Schoolers, listen up- these are the questions you need to be asking and the things you need to know:

  • Know what a locker-room looks like? Good, that is your knew bathroom for 30 weeks. Get used to it.
  • You can never have enough deodorant.
  • Ask about the University's cable services. I get pretty much every basic cable channel plus HBO, but the lack of Showtime is upsetting.
  • Ask if you get into sporting events for free. It is dope, trust me. Also, know where you need to go to get tickets. It took me six weeks to realize that the OU ticket office is at the Convo.
  • If you took AP classes, most of your freshman courses will be child's play. If you didn't take AP classes...God help you.
  • Ask how long you have to get from class to class. I find that 10 minutes is more than enough in the Athens campus.
  • Don't drink the punch at parties. I haven't been to a party, myself, but I have heard from several solid sources that the punch will kill you.
  • And on that note: don't go to parties. Stay in your room and hate humanity so I can have an army of like-minded drones. It was worth a shot.
  • No file sharing services (Limewire)= no problem. Everyone on campus uses the same wireless internet service so every time I log onto iTunes there are three fresh playlists from people in my dorm. I have finally understood the appeal of Panic at the Disco, been forced to admit that The Bravery isn't awful and fallen in love with Against Me! this way.
  • - Find the best food on campus and find it early. I find that my enjoyment of life is directly tied into the type of food I am eating. Treat it like modern day relationships: sample everything early and then settle into your favorite few restaurants.
  • All rooms have a refrigerator and microwave so just chill out with bringing all the food. 
  • If you do laundry every week, you REALLY don't need to bring that many clothes. I would say about half of your wardrobe will do. I am addressing the men here because I know the women won't listen.
  • Kiss asses and take names: I have now come to realize that College is just a $10,000 front to meet influential people and make them remember your name. I think that is the only reason Princeton and the other Ivy League's have such a good reputation. Enough "influential people" have gone there that it is a networking paradise.
  • Get all the rules straight: Can Freshman have cars? What about dorm life? etc.
  • And finally, you don't need to know your major quite yet but you should have a generally idea of where you want your career to go. All majors within a University have graduation requirements in addition to the University's requirements. So you can easily spend a quarter or two simply knocking out the University's requirements but those will disappear fast. Also, some of your colleges requirements will miraculously line-up with the University's requirements. For instance: I needed to take a Stats class for the J-School and a Tier 1 Math class for OU. I found PSY 120: Elementary Stats which knocked BOTH OFF AT THE SAME TIME. This is still on of the proudest achievements of my life and I want my tombstone to read "he knocked out a J-School and  an OU requirement at the same time". This phenomenon may not be able to you, however if you don't figure out your major until Sophomore year.

Well, that is all I have for now. I am sure some of my college peers will add their own. Remember, High School students: you are the future....of college dropouts and problem alcoholics. 

And now the nostalgic mood has passed. 

Mission accomplished.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Scariest Ghost Story

I remember when October was fun.

It was a time to plop down on the couch and watch ABC Family's "Scariest Places on Earth" (not realizing that my future travels would eventually bring me to a town and a college featured on the program), Travel Channel's haunted specials or even The Brady Bunch's Halloween special (look, I know that the ghost was just Greg using a microphone to scare off potential home-buyers but STILL: that was freaking creepy). Come Halloween night, I would rush along the block dressed to the thirteens and grab as much candy as I needed. Then I would retreat right back to my cavern and watch a Sci-fi special about UFOs or another show about Jack the Ripper while stuffing my face full of Milky Ways and Tootsie Rolls. I did this every year at Halloween. And every year, I would go to bed scared shitless.

But now I am a college student. And like my buddy Mick Jagger was said: "What a drag it is getting old." I hear you, brother.

Case in point: this Monday. One of America's premier "Ghost Hunters" Lorraine Warren and her nephew were in town to talk to a hall of anxious college students about their profession. I thought about going but that notion was crushed immediately when I remembered I had class from 7:00-9:30 (I know: what was I thinking?) So I dutifully shuffled off to Bentley Hall and sat down at my desk, waiting for my brain to be filled with knowledge. And I was perfectly content to do just that until my girlfriend began sending me texts telling me that the presentation was in fact, creepy as hell. By the time she gushed about all the disturbing photos she was being shown, I had to pack up my belongings and discreetly leave the classroom.

Some people meet old childhood friends to reconnect with their early self, some open up old yearbooks and some even take up a new hobby...I attempt to scare myself half to death. That is what I hoped to accomplish in attending this "Ghost Hunters's" presentation. I found a seat in the back with my girlfriend and company but not before trampling on twelve people's feet and settled in to watch.

I knew something was wrong from the beginning. As pictures scrolled by on a slideshow and Warren's nephew droned on in monotones, a tiny voice started to speak in the back of my head, a voice that I didn't know existed, the voice of "Mr. Skeptic". Mr. Skeptic found fault with everything these people had to show him...I mean,

"That isn't a lost soul; it is smoke on the lens."
"Those aren't ghostly specters of children; it is an awkward glare and shadow, exacerbated by an archaic camera."
"Those marks aren't the demonic claw-slashes of an incubus; there are some kind of lesion and that poor screaming woman should go to a hospital."

Nothing impressed this voice, nothing at all; even when we were shown the most compelling and disturbing "evidence" of the supernatural I believe I have ever seen. Warren and her cronies warned us that they were about to play a video of the exorcism of a farmer (or something like that). Their set-up was described in brilliant detail: the things that we were about to see and the psychic consequences of those events. About 1/10 of the audience "walked" to the exits as fast as I have ever seen a mob of people "walk." I was tempted to do so myself, such was the stark yet eloquent set-up of this video.

And the people who left were probably glad they did, this video delivered. It showed a man in the throes of an epic battle for his soul, the subsequent pain he endured and then the shadow of evil on his features and darkness overtook him. At least that was my first impression...and then Mr. Skeptic kicked in. I started to think that this man wasn't suffering but demonic possession at all but an extreme psychosomatic illness. As the priest performed the exorcism I began to think: I hope they ditched the holy man and brought this poor guy to a doctor at some point. But, of course, this man was displaying no signs of any mental or physical illness that I was aware of; certainly nothing that made one saw words in Latin backwards. And so the one word crept into my mind that I had never wanted to creep in:


The video was bullshit. And it wasn't because the acting was noticeable, or you could see a boom-mike hanging over someone's shoulder, or the upside down cross was drawn in magic marker on the man's back. The video was well made and betrayed no sign of inauthenticity. But it was bullshit because it had to be. Nothing like that could ever happen or could ever happen.

It was then that I realized that I had become a responsible adult and upright citizen, and it was then that I realized I hated myself. Had someone shown that full video to my ten year old self, I would be a degenerate living on a street corner, clutching a Bible for dear life and taking speed every night so I wouldn't fall sleep and be exposed to the most vivid, awful nightmares anyone has ever endured. But I would be happy. Because to be truly terrified of supernatural phenomena is to connect with one's inner child. At least that is the way I think.

Alas, I am a grown-up now. And being a grown-up means having to become a skeptical, rational being.

But my God, do I wish it didn't.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Biting the Invisible Hand that Feeds

Americans hate capitalism.

I should rephrase that, actually: American sports fans hate capitalism. I am sure there is someone out there who could do quite a bit to prove my former point but I lack the time, verbal ability, perspective and work ethic to do so (I know, I know: hasn't stopped me from making outlandish statements before). 

But for my latter point, I would like to direct your attention to this Peter King article on Sports Illustrated's website. In it, King answers the question that I have been asking myself all season: How can the Dallas Cowboys dish out massive contracts to pretty much anybody who asks for one in Dallas (I wouldn't be surprised if Dallas's waterboy makes a base $2 million a year over 9 years with performance incentives) in a sport that has a "salary cap", meaning that there is a magic amount mandated by the NFL that no team can go over when paying the salaries of its roster. King says that the Cowboys have backloaded most of their players big contracts to kick in for the 2010 season. Why the 2010 season, you ask? Well, that is when the NFL and NFL Players Union labor agreement will end and there very well no longer be anything resembling a "salary cap".

For King, OU graduate and one of the finest sportswriters drawing breaths in the world right now, this doesn't seem to strike him as necessarily a good OR bad notion except for the fact that it increases the exponentially increases the possibility of a lockout of the country's most successful league in 2011 (that sound you just heard was Bud Selig, David Stern and Gary Bettman licking their chops in anticipation). But elsewhere the notion of no salary cap in Pro Football has historically been met with anything from horror to absolute disgust. Just take a second to peep a Detroit Lion's fan board.

All I have to ask is: why? What makes NFL fans so terrified at the proposition of no handicaps? No other sport is played with the need for absolute fairness like the NFL. What if everyone who played with Tiger Woods was allowed to use a handicap to put them on an even playing field? Football is a grown man's game where the men are treated like children. 

This is the NFL's message to every single player in its league: 
"Okay, Johnny, welcome to the NFL! For ten or fifteen years you must dedicate every moment of your waking life to football, the most violent major American sport. You will inevitably be forced to retire at about half the age of any other American professional because within about a decade or so, your body will be so ruined that it will be a miracle if you can walk. But don't worry! Our retirement pensions and rights are so useless and inadequate that you will probably die at age 50 anyway due to the 8 or 9 concussions you received during play. And oh yeah, our salary cap prevents you from making the money that many of your professional athlete counterparts make. We just think it's fairer if you guys all make the same money...what message would it send if we had guys making $15-$20 million a year? Unless of course, they play quarterback and have a pretty face we can market to make more money. Don't worry though, us owners and NFL executives will be making the money that you should be due to the success of this league. It is a good thing that Americans don't care if sports CEOs and executives make a killing but if a "spoiled" and "immature" (re: African American from the sticks) athlete makes more than $1 million they will be disgusted.

Ladies and gentlemen, your National Football League: the most efficient and cold display of pure socialism since the USSR.

How do you care one way or another who wins in football? Why should anyone have cared at all when the Giants beat the Patriots? The Giants weren't underdogs. They had the exact same resources available to them that the Patriots did. They both operated under the same salary cap. And they both were forced to participate in the NFL Profit Sharing program just to make sure that no one had more money than anyone else. So when two teams meet that are on the same playing field, how can be an upset? The answer is: there can't be. No result in the NFL is surprising. Titans beat the Cardinals-big deal. Cardinals beat the Patriots-big deal. Patriots beat the Jets-big deal. Jets beat the.....and I have fallen asleep.

But for some reason, America cares. Every Sunday they flock to their television like sheep and eagerly await the results of games that simply do not matter. The games don't matter because everyone is forced to be the same. The games are just kids playing in a sandbox, and just like playing in a sandbox- the results mean nothing. That is what it meant when the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots: nothing. It meant nothing for the state of New York or New Jersey, nothing for the city and nothing for the fans. The stats just so happened to fall that Team A beat Team B on a certain day...two teams that are absolutely equal under a salary cap.

In baseball, the only half-decent example of a capitalist driven sports organization that exists in America, the teams are allowed  to spend what they want to try to win, as long as they stay within the general rules of the sport. This way, a win actually MEANS something. And it doesn't just mean something to the means something to the owners, the fans and the whole city that they hail from.

Take this years Tampa Bay Rays for instance. Tampa Bay does not have a lot of money. As a matter of fact there is only one team in all of baseball that has less money than the Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa's entire payroll this year was less than $50 million. They had absolutely no chance of keeping up with the rest of the teams in baseball, did they? Because baseball is just an evil entity that subjugates smaller teams at the benefit of the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox.

The Rays are in the World Series right now.

They finished with the second best record in all of baseball. They finished first in their division, beating the Yankees and their $200 million (not a hyperbole) payroll. They beat the Chicago White Sox and their $120 million payroll in the first round of the playoffs. Then they beat the Red Sox and their $133 million payroll in the second round. And now they face off against the Philadelphia Phillies and their $100 million . They are favored to win and if they don't, it certainly won't be because of their payroll.

The Rays story MEANS something. It means that the entire St. Petersburg-Tampa Bay area is vital and successful and the money and time that Rays fans invest in their team is going somewhere. And it confirms to all of us, in our hearts that the little guy CAN win, dammit! Baseball teams reflect the cities that they live in. The fans hearts and souls exist in the confines of every stadium and their capital (regardless of how little) is a part of the very fabric of the team. When a city's economy hits hard times, so does the baseball team. And when the city's economy flourishes, the baseball team's payroll goes up. A football team reflects its city no more than a brick wall. Regardless of what a city feels, experiences or endures, the football team is still there, playing the fruitless and victor-less game in the sandbox. 

What would the Rays story meant in the NFL? Well, that I simply cannot tell you. Because the Rays story would have never existed in a sport that features a salary cap. In the NFL there is no David vs. Goliath. There is only David vs. David because Goliath is just too scary a proposition for their provincial minds to wrap around.

But by all means, let us continue to fear a salary cap-less NFL. Let us continue to fear the very notion of competition and a world that isn't fair. Let us continue to fear the Goliaths. Can you imagine a sport without handicaps and salary caps? Anarchy will reign! 

Oops, I mean capitalism...oh just forget it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Old Dogs, New Tricks

34 seasons. 640 episodes. 11 films based on sketches. Over seventy full time cast members.

Saturday Night Live is REALLY old. 

When it first aired almost 35 years ago, Nixon was still President, the Watergate Scandal was reaching its climax and young Americans were still dying in Vietnam. SNL is the very definition of "old media". Every week a handful of funny and talented people decided to put on a funny, almost vaudevillian but completely current show for an audience...and it just so happened that cameras were there to show the rest of the world the spectacle. The show was a quaint and classic show with an edge to it. That was 33 years ago, however, and this is now. 

My contemporaries and I have only have known two presidents: "Bush or Clinton", the only "gate" we know is "Spygate" and instead of fighting in the orient, we fight in the Middle East. We couldn't be more different from our parents's culture in the way we think, act and speak. But I still watch Saturday Night Live. I watch it frequently and I enjoy it. And as far as I can tell, the rest of America still watches it too. More people watched Saturday Night Live this week than any other show not named CSI or Dancing with the stars. The Josh Brolin hosted episode that featured a cameo appearance from a certain bespectacled Alaskan governor achieved the show's best Nielsen Ratings in 14 years.

33 years in, Saturday Night Live may not be the cultural phenomenon it once was, but it still exists and at times it still thrives. Anyone that has any knowledge of the way the television business works has to have an appreciation for the 33 year old show. It is very difficult to maintain creative energy over a season, it is extremely difficult to do it over a few seasons and once the amount of seasons hits double digits: forget about it, the show is just regurgitating old ideas for the six people who still have the guts to watch it. But 34 seasons. THIRTY FOUR. 3-4...that is just impossible. But they do it and the way they did it is shockingly simple.

They changed. 

I know their are many people out there who are sick of Saturday Night Live and are rolling their eyes as they read this. "They still do the same crap!" "The jokes are lame!" "The hosts suck" "Andy Samberg looks like a more smug Adam Sandler." And to that I decry: "you're right...sometimes." Yes, the basic format is still the same: Host, Fake Commercial, Sketches, Musical Act, Sketches, but within that format, the producers and writers have found ways to keep the shows fresh. 

The cast is an ever-revolving stable of the best comedic talent available. Saturday Night Live producers scout young, talented professionals like the Red Sox scout the Caribbean for kids with a natural swing and a 98 mph fastball. They do a good job too. If someone asked you to name ten of your favorite comedians...or simply ten comedians you know off the top of your head: I would be willing to bet that 7 or 8 of them would be current or former cast SNL cast members.

They have successfully satirized and poked fun at current events for 3o years. Every sitting president since Gerald Ford has a exaggerated caricature of himself in the public's eye thanks to Saturday Night Live. SNL has managed to define election seasons better than any of their contemporaries save for maybe the Stewart/Colbert tag team that exists today. At the conclusion of every debate or press conference, talking heads and political analysts judge the politician's performance by how much material they gave the folks at 30 Rockerfeller Center to use against them. 

Lorne Michaels and company are now finding ways to incorporate new ideas and new technology into the show. Case in point: the SNL Digital Short. I defy you to find someone who doesn't love at least three SNL Digital Shorts. Even people who hate SNL altogether and have given up on it completely have to acknowledge that the Digital Shorts are hilarious. And the Digital Shorts are a by-product of some good old fashioned progressive thinking. Wouldn't it be great if an old variety show starting integrating digital skits and pieces to reflect this new online, viral culture? Well, SNL did and the answer is: yes, it would be awesome. Lorne and friends found a trio of genuinely funny amateur online filmmakers in California called "The Lonely Island." Andy Samberg became a full-time cast member, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer became writers and they are all solely responsible for the phenomenon of the SNL Digital Short

(In case anyone is interested, I will include a list of the Top Ten best SNL Digital Shorts ever. My list is very similar to this Tenspotting user's, although it includes more current Shorts.)
10. Laser Cats: The Trilogy
9. Grandkids in the Movies
7.Natalie Portman Rap
6. Young Chuck Norris
5. Doppleganger
4. Iran So Far
3. Dear Sister
2. Lazy Sunday
1. Dick in a Box

Change is good. It is a cliche to write and a cliche to say and we all feel like we already know that. But for a corporate media entity, knowing that change is good and actually changing your ways of presenting information or entertaining are usually two different things. It is hard for companies and for producers of creative material to change the format of what works. And unfortunately that is what usually needs to be done.

If a show older than the Internet can do it, you can too.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday Morning Links pt. 5

I sat down in my comfy chair at 8:49 to play a few games of NCAA 09 on Wii. 

At 12:11 I looked at the clock and realized that I had spent my entire Saturday night playing videogames. This is what happens when Ohio doesn't play until Tuesday nights. It's okay, I really wouldn't have it any other way. I am not really the most social person ever. This was confirmed to me as I watched The Fellowship of the Ring and saw the hobbits's homes were isolated holes in the ground and thought "Hey! That wouldn't be a bad way to leave!"

Enough hermitry, onto the Sunday Morning Links!

- Dave Karger over at EW has been following the upcoming Academy Awards closely and has some interesting news regarding our favorite dearly departed Joker.

- Go check this out now before they change it! The top two stories from are essays writing about two topics that directly contradict each other. America is too liberal, America is too conservative. Make up your mind, Newsweek.

- Remember when Browns Tight End, Kellen Winslow Jr. was injured last week, although no one would disclose what it was? Consider it disclosed now.

- You are asking for trouble when you name a film Zack and Miri Make a Porno, but even I didn't see THIS coming.

-And from the "I told you so" department...some responsible citizens released a fake news story announcing that Steve Jobs had suffered a severe heart attack. Steve is fine, but what do you think happened to Apple's stock? How are them Skittles sounding now?

That's it for me this week. God help the Rays beat the Red Sox in Game 7...I am starting to have flashbacks from last year.

Friday, October 17, 2008

DNA...The Real Kind

Being an artist is hard as hell.

Just ask Vincent Van Gogh, Kurt Cobain, Virginia Wolf and countless other casualties of reckless passion and life. These men and women feel the sting of existence and all of life's complexities and paradoxes ripping their souls in two. It is a consciousness of ecstasy, pain, sorrow, emptiness, horror and then the cycle starts over again.

Needless to say, I don't want to be an artist anymore. There was a time when I did. I'd like to think that there is a time when everybody thinks they can be. A time when every idea you have seems new and intriguing, every artistic endeavor, plausible; every abstract truth, revealable. We all want to be artists, though few can. Good news is finally on the way for those who can't paint a picture, write a story,  film a scene or play "Smoke on the Water" to save their life.

I have found lately that the artists that I respect are the ones who can't wait to share their thoughts on...well, other artists. Stephen King writes a regular column for Entertainment Weekly in which he shares his thoughts on his favorite television shows (Lost, Prison Break), laments the state of horror in the cinema (aside from The Strangers) and tells you what you should be reading (Lunar Park, Harry Potter). Director Kevin Smith can be found at any moment on a soap-box chanting the names of all the movies you should be watching on DVD. Kanye West and Jay-Z are always happy to talk about their musical inspirations and what new tracks you should be looking forward to hearing this summer.

These artists get "it". They understand that you are not defined by what you make and what you produce, you are defined by what you watch, what you listen to, what you read; you are defined by the art that you love and can't live without. That is the good news: that your are defined by what you love and not what you can do.

We live in an age where there are few mysteries about humanity left to explore. We know the human genome. The physical and emotional aspects of our entire lives are for the most part controlled by tiny collections of cell structures and the existence of nucleic acids and other microscopic material. Your DNA decides who you are. You are bound to these tiny tyrants: your stars and your fates. They control you...but even they can't define you. Only culture can define us.

That is why I list everything. For a long-time I thought it was just my brain degenerating into a compulsive madness (which could still very well be the case). But now, I know why I do it. I make sure I record every single piece of culture or art that I have ever loved or has ever meant something to me. Because eighteen years in, I have found that everything you forget is another piece of you that is gone forever.

I think the most well-adjusted, secure and happy of us know this. They know that the key to happiness or even just plain sanity is knowing your DNA, not the collection of nucleic acids and genetic material that created you but the memories and experiences and images and thoughts and feelings that move you. Your eye color may be "Adenine-Guanine-Thymine-Cytosine-Thymine-Cytosine-Guanine-Adenine" but your soul is "Faulkner-The White Album-Da Vinci-The Godfather- Cheers-Hawthorne-Hepburn-The Taming of the Shrew."

This post is the perfect example of what happens when a slow news day meets sudden access to a whole residence hall's iTunes playlist online. But my message will always be the same: human being, know thyself. If Heath Ledger's Joker's black eyes and grim smile haunted you this summer, never forget it. If Coldplay's Cemeteries of London gave you goosebumps, never forget it. If the last episode of The Sopranos made everything fall into place for you, don't forget it.

Know your DNA.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Vote Plumber/Six-Pack '08

In cased you missed it...

Both men stepped to the podium...I mean 1970's style coffee table and sat on on either side, ready to engage in America's oldest and proudest tradition: yelling at each other. Debate moderator, Bobby Sunshine (okay, it was CBS's Bob Schieffer)  assured America that this won't be one of those wussy optimistic, hopeful and respectful debates when he immediately pitted the political adversaries against each other. Neither man had time to cross his legs at the coffee table of love when Schieffer demanded to know how each candidates economic plan differed from the other.

McCain uncluttered his thoughts and then spoke deliberately and cautiously about the broad strokes of his economic leanings. By the time he was finished and the camera panned to Obama's pretty face the small line graphic that CNN had at the bottom of the screen to indicate when viewers heard something they liked, spiked sharply up for women. I've said it before and I will say it again: the ladies love them some Obama. After America had blinked the stars out of their eyes, McCain began his first rebuttal of the night and subsequently began the first anecdote of the night. Poor "Joe the Plumber" is trying to support his business, but it turns out Obama and his government cronies won't let them. In response, Barack subtly bit his lip and shook his head in Senator McCain's direction as if to delicately say: "you motherfucker." The real nugget of information during this question is that both the Democrat and the Republican want to lower taxes, they just don't necessarily agree on for whom. I guess they can't agree on everything.

Next, Schieffer directed their attention to the current deficit in the government's operating budget. And then the blinking started. Each candidate closed and re-opened their eyelids like a hummingbird  giving us a heads up that they were about to lie and about to do so egregiously. Obama did a good job of providing specific applications of how and where he will apply cuts. It is no small feat for someone fiscally liberal to convince the masses that he won't raise taxes or increase the deficit but Senator Obama did his best to do so...and America promptly nodded its head in approval via "approval lines" at the bottom of the screen. McCain used his time to jump into his previous topic. A smart move, given that he was on a roll. He then assured us that he would be CUTTING GOVERNMENT in his administration by CUTTING GOVERNMENT and participating in CUTTING GOVERNMENT related activities. But just as things almost became serious, tangible arguments, Barack and John rectified the situation by debating the metaphorical applications of hatchets and scalpels.

Then Bobby Sunshine (I definitely prefer that name) lobbed the candidates a softball: their increasingly nasty campaign ads. All each candidate had to do was apologize for the actions of rogue partisan jerks in their respective campaigns and add some more humanity to their persona. Both decided that was not the cool thing to do. McCain said Obama has spent more money on negative campain ads than anyone in history. Somehow this had to do with the increasing subjugation of "Joe the Plumber." Obama said "100%" of McCain's ads have been negative. After Bob turned to Obama and eagerly asked "you take issue with that?" with the breathlessly evil delivery of Emperor Palpatine, it was clear that the only winner  in this round would be my pessimism. 

And then the moose in the room came up: running mates. A nervous tittering of laughter echoed around the group I was watching the debate with. Obama painted his running mate as a Bunyanesque figure. He comes from a small town, is knowledgeable about global issues and is 50 feet tall with laser vision! Then McCain began to wax poetic about his little spit-fire of a role model and reformer! Woman love her, he proudly proclaimed as the orange women's line plummeted like it fell from a plane. 

McCain then further vindicated my theory that this election mirrors the '05 West Wing election when he proclaimed his love for nuclear energy during the Energy and Climate portion of the debate. Obama, meanwhile offered the first and only actual mention of a timetable when he said he could eliminate our use of foreign oil in ten years. He then meekly added something about alternative fuel sources and broached the subject of off-shore drilling. This awoke Johnny Drill Now from his slumber and John McCain began making demands of Obama, Bob Schieffer, the audience and God, himself that THEY. DRILL. NOW. DAMMIT! Then the topic of free trade somehow led to a random tangent about select South American countries. But Bobby Sunshine came to the rescue when he re-focused the wandering candidate's attention on the most volatile issue of the night: healthcare.

The health care portion of the debate was when both candidates finally stopped appealing to the American public and started fighting for the heart and mind of the mythical "Joe the Plumber." Who is this Joe and makes him so powerful? John McCain argued that Joe was better off keeping his money and deciding which healthcare he gets to be taken advantage by. Barack Obama countered by saying that Joe's premiums were being inflated by emergency room visits by those without insurance so universal coverage was the way to go. And each man went to great lengths to assure Joe that the other man hated him and all his Plumbing ways.

Things got ideological with the inevitable Roe v. Wade portion of the debate. Each candidate agreed that picking Supreme Court justices by qualification and not "litmus tests" was the way to go. They were both remarkably civil until Johnny Mac casually pointed out that Barack wants babies to die. Barack just flashed a smile and the orange line nearly jumped off the graph.

Finally, Bobby Sunshine assured us that it was time for the last topic: education. I am not sure how many people thought this would be a prominent topic in the debate, but I know I was definitely blind-sighted. Both spoke the praises of choice and competition in improving the public school system. Obama seemed to favor vouchers, however, while McCain clearly favored charter schools. As a graduate/survivor of a public school, I was pleased to hear each man's stance.

The final statements then followed as such.
McCain: You can trust me with your money, Joe!
Obama: Shit's bad, so we need to do new shit to fix the old shit.

And that, FOXNews, MSNBC, CNN, ABC, FOX, NBC, CBS, is how you recap a presidential debate.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Spend the Rainbow

I have a proposition to make. 

The economy clearly isn't working. Americans are losing their jobs, the Dow Jones has been wildly inconsistent on Wall Street and the national debt is creeping towards ten trillion dollars. It is high time someone fixed that rascal of an economy and I have decided that that person should be me. How will I do this? It is simple: I will overhaul the whole economic system as we know it. 

MSN reported 8 minutes ago that the Dow plunged 733 points today amid fears. That is merely their headline; readers with initiative must dig a little further to find our what these "fears" are. It turns out that the Federal Reserve published a report that provided an "anecdotal" look at the economy, showing that businesses are not faring so well. 

That's it.

The federal government published an "anecdotal" report which stated what every four year old in America already knows and the Dow took the second worst plunge in its history. I don't know about you but I would prefer an economic system where stocks plunge, grown men in suits weep and the entire country comes to a stand-still when a government entity muses that businesses aren't doing so well.

The problem is the currency. It just is not strong enough. It falls victim to inflation, is easily counterfeited and has no standard to back up its value. I am not suggesting that we move back to a gold-based economy either. I am suggesting that we adopt a new system of currency altogether. A currency that doesn't flounder in the face of a falling housing market, doesn't change its value and exists in abundance. My friends, I propose that the United States of America discontinue the use of the dollar and instead use the Skittle.

Yes, I said Skittle. Moving to a Skittle based economy is the solution to all of our economic problems. Think about it, the value of Skittles never inflates or deflates; they are as tasty today as they were yesterday and will be tomorrow. They have a relatively small volume so they can always be carried around as cash. This will entirely eliminate the need for credit and even debit bank accounts. And if everyone is paying the face value of Skittles for a product or service, they will not fall into debt and the credit system will not fail.

The value of each Skittle will correspond to roughly each Skittle's tastiness (because that is all that really matters in the end). So the tentative value order would look something like this:

Green= $10.00
Yellow= $20.00

That is just an early model of what the value system could be. Americans have a little time to work on which flavors they think deserve the most value (although if red isn't the most valuable, I am moving to Canada). And for those of you who think this "Skittle-cash-only" system won't work, an average house payment would only be about seven red Skittles. How hard can it be to fit seven Skittles into an envelope to send to a bank? Wallets could even be replaced by small "Skittle-pouches" worn around one's belt or carried in one's pocket. 

The value of a Skittle is immutable. It will stay the same regardless of the country's direction or climate. A Skittle earned will truly be a Skittle earned. America's Middle Class will not have to worry about their retirement fund drying up, their Social Security disappearing or their bank failing.

Banks will learn to adapt. Instead of safes they will create temperature-neutral rooms with Skittles stored in lock boxes divided by color. ATM's will just be vending machines. Skittles cannot be counterfeited because we all know what a Skittle tastes like. Aside from dye-stained fingers, can you think of anything wrong with the Skittle economic system?

I am officially started my own Skittle shadow economy and I suggest that you do the same. The next time you receive a check from a restaurant, leave a yellow, a green and three purples as payment. Send your creditors a few reds in the mail and see how it goes over. And finally bring some greens and yellows to Wall Street and try to buy stock in Google.

We should all participate in this new economic system. And for those who don't think a Skittle-based economy doesn't make sense, just wait until the C.E.O of a major banking firm suffers a minor head cold and the Dow plunges an unprecedented "900 bakrillion" points.

To me, that doesn't make sense.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ask and You Shall Just Have to Ask Some More

There are those that feel strongly about everything. 

They take sides and argue for or against something until the bitter end. They see terms in black and white. They have their beliefs and identify themselves with their causes.

I am NOT one of these people. After a month's worth of blogging and coming up with fresh ideas that I want to offer my two cents on, I am realizing more and more how entirely impossible it is for me subjective about anything. I suppose I have chosen the right career path for objective minds but I imagine it must be fairly trying for my reader(s). As far as I can tell, this is the the typical post on "The Collective(ly) Unconscious":

Beginning: Ever notice how weird ABSTRACT TOPIC is?

Middle: Yeah, you know what? ABSTRACT TOPIC really IS weird!

Conclusion: Oh well, I don't think ABSTRACT TOPIC is of any consequence anyway.

Aside from being the most basic and unexciting Mad-Lib ever, it is a predictable way to write. But I can't help it! The only questions I like don't have answers. And as far as I am concerned those are the only questions worth asking. Most editorials I read are as boring as someone saying: "Yes, the sky is blue, the grass is green and puppies are great." And when someone tries to answer a question that is more abstract...I just don't buy it. That is when you read editorials that say: "Vote McCain, he is the better candidate." How do you know? Do you know both the candidates? Do you know how either will react to the issues and situations that arise? Nope. Then why bother? Americans of voting age have to decide things for themselves anyway.

So, I still prefer my non-committal ways. But for once, I have decided to not bury the lead under mountains of words. For the first and probably only time I am going to ask all the things I want to know. No prose. No analysis. No extraneous words. And most important of all: no answers. Like I've said before: the only things that are worth asking are the things that can't be answered.

If your loved one's sex suddenly changed, would you still be romantically attracted to them?

How will the 90s be remembered?

If all the states went to war, who would win?

Do all pets have Stockholm Syndrome?

What if those Bostonians never threw a Tea Party?

What would happen if you had four of your strongest friends hold your eyelids open as you sneezed?

If all American's spoke Mandarin or Afrikaans or any other foreign language instead of English would the United States of America developed any differently?

What would Brad and Jen's kids looked like?

What if Mark David Chapman had killed Paul McCartney instead of John Lennon?

Is it more tragic when someone who has experienced nothing but happiness dies or someone who has experienced nothing but pain dies?

How am I different if September 11th never happened?

What is the best way to prepare human meat to eat?

If Sudan was the most powerful country to ever exist and the United States were the poorest and torn apart by disease and genocide, would Sudan intervene or attempt to fix the United States in any way?

If William Shakespeare lived and wrote today would his works be as highly regarded?

If Stephen King wrote in 14th Century England, would he be considered the greatest writer to have ever lived?

What if there was a sixth sense?

Was this post a waste of time?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday Morning Links pt. 4

I love how every year College Football becomes a game of survivor. I, personally, watch every week just to see who is going to drop like flies. I think that later today we are going to see a Top 3 of Alabama, Texas and Penn State. Now, if the season ends that way I don't think I would even mind. That gives you the three best teams from the three best conferences ranked in descending order: Big Ten, Big 12, SEC.

If you care to hear more about my college football nonsense, just mosey on over to Bobcat Blogs, if you are a normal person, just stay right here and enjoy your Sunday Morning Links!

-Being the capitalist swine I am, I rarely take a second to stop on reflect on the poor souls who get left in the machine's dust. The Boston Herald has a great, tribute to the folks at its paper that are being victimized by job cuts.

- I can tell plain and clear by the less than enthusiastic response to my baseball posts that the majority of my readers are not fans on America's Pastime. So here is yet another vain attempt to appeal to that non-existent audience. Indians fans, I demand that you visit this website. If this is not a daily read for you (along with Paul Hoynes and Terry Pluto), then you cannot be a Tribe fan.

- Mark Harris of Entertainment Weekly does what he does best here: write about the reality behind the an entertaining fashion, of course.

- Well gents, it looks like we can't win even in the animal kingdom.

-And finally, Time Magazine wants to know "is Barack American enough" (yep, but read the article anyway).

That's all folks!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Barack Santos v. Arnold McCain

I know who is going to win this election. 

I am not a political polling expert, I do not now nor have I ever had the power of prophecy and I am not a mechanical cyborg from the future. But I do watch TV. And there was this show on a few years back that you may have heard of called: The West Wing. Sound familiar?

I was never much of a fan of The West Wing, but my father was. He would sit down every Wednesday (I think it was on Wednesdays) night and flip the show on. Being the pre-teen that I was, I couldn't really follow the complex storylines of a Clinton-like presidential administration and their political struggles and triumphs in the new millennium. I would watch the opening credits that featured W.G Walden's absolutely brilliant, heroic score while black and white faces of the White House staff were superimposed over pleasant images of The White House and the American flag, and then I would run off to play Pokemon Blue or chat on AIM or do whatever the hell kids do when they are that age.

In 2005, however, Aaron Sorkin and the other producers of The West Wing turned the show's very paradigm on its head. For their seventh and final season, they determined that Josiah Bartlett, the current president, should be living out the last year of his final term in office and they covered two candidates attempts to replace him in the subsequent election. It was an amazing concept and very well executed and for one of the first times in my young life, my tiny adolescent mind was beginning to grasp the intricacies of politics and elections. I had been through two very unique and very bizarre elections and was learning terms like "electoral votes" and "voter demographics" so I finally had the working knowledge to follow The West Wing. And I am glad I did. But the purpose of this post isn't to convince you that Season 7 of The West Wing is one of the best artistic achievements ever aired on television, although it is (seriously, drop whatever you are doing right now and go find it: rent it, buy it, steal it; do whatever it takes). I am here to confirm my original point: Season 7 of The West Wing tells us how the 2008 election is going to end.

Let's take a look at the candidates on The West Wing for a second:

Democratic Nominee:
Matthew Vincente Santos
A young, attractive and charismatic Congressman of an ethnicity disparate of the majority of America who enters the Presidential election as an outsider to change the old, crusty ways of Washington politics. He has a smokin' hot wife and cute kids that he makes sure the press doesn't make too visible. This former "community organizer" beats a previously thought to be unbeatable opponent in the Democratic primary and becomes his party's rock star.

Rebulican Nominee:
Arnold Vinick
This cantankerous, yet loveable old Maverick is a staunch fiscal conservative who isn't afraid to divorce himself from his Party's beliefs on many occasions. He is a forceful personality and a popular Senator from the West Coast who is the GOP's main man in the primaries almost from the word "go". He has experienced many tragedies in his life and considers service to his country of the utmost importance. Many arch-conservatives are wary of his some of his moderate leanings but are ultimately won over by his "town hall meeting" off the cuff manner of speaking.

Do those two sound like anyone we know? In fairness, a writer and producer for The West Wing is on record as saying that Matt Santos is partially based on and inspired by Barack Obama, but there are still aspects of this election that The West Wing writers could not have seen coming three years ago. Both candidates in the show and in reality stress their record of bipartisanship, both engage in personable and respectful debates and both claim to have tried to avoid any type of character bashing of the other candidate in their campaign messages (although this creed in reality is starting to be sorely tested).

So how does this turn out on The West Wing? The Bartlett administration was Democrat and many of the main characters of that administration worked for the Santos campaign. Understandably, the show then tended to follow the Santos campaign more closely because the majority of the show's main characters worked for that campaign and those actors needed screen time befitting of their large salaries.

I was not necessarily shocked then when the underdog Congressman narrowly took the election from his Republican counterpart. That is just "the biz" I thought. The good-looking-down-on-their-luck-heroes always win. And then the almighty Wikipedia directed me to this New York Times article.

It seems that the writers initially intended for Arnold Vinick to win for while Santos was a heartwarming story, they just had to be realistic (something West Wing writers rarely are). But then, fate intervened and the incomparable John Spencer passed away. Spencer played Santos's running mate was the Bartlett administration's respected Chief of Staff and an old Party elder. The writers determined that it would not be creatively and morally satisfying for Santos to lose his running mate AND the election on the same day. So, the history of Fictional America was forever altered and Matthew Santos was elected the United State of Fictional America.

Barack Obama is going to be the next president of the United States of Real America. It wasn't the writers of the West Wing that deemed it so but rather fate. 

So you can take your polls and your swamis and your science. I am going with fate on this one.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ohio: Life in the Center of the World

Many of my friends/colleagues/acquaintances/random-degenerates-on-the-street seem to be a little upset with the solicitors on every street corner, begging them on hand and knee to register to vote. I largely didn't mind them, mostly due to the fact that I am generally out of touch with the rest of humanity. Now, however, that these vote-registering dynamos have emptied the streets, making the environment suitable for human life again, I finally have something to say about their shenanigans. Excuse me while I step up onto the soapbox.

I declare...that I still have no problem with the voter registration crowd. And the reading audience lets out a collective groan. I don't actively campaign for the folks or necessarily support them and I can certainly understand the rest of Athens's issues with them. They were relentlessly annoying and not just one or a few, but all of them. They swallowed up members like a zombie horde; you could be chatting with an interesting human one day and then show up the next to find them prowling the street corners like a predator mindlessly chanting: "Didyouregistertovote?...inAthens?..Coolcoolcool..Didyouregistertovote?...inAthens?...youknowyouhavetoregisterinAthens...right?" And finally, you have to question the political motives of a group who, as far as I can tell, only attempts to register voters on public college campuses a.ka. Liberalville, U.S.A. I am sure you wouldn't find many "activists" in a retirement village, trying to get World War 2 vets and old-timers to register. But none of these things bother me. In spite of all the supposed injustices to humanity these men and women performed, at the end of the day they reminded me of something supremely important: I am the king.

That's right, I'm the king. Chances are the majority of people reading this are kings as well (or at least princes). What does it take to be the king? Well, friend, you have to be an Ohioan. Ohio is American royalty. Men and women have been coming from across the country for years to treat Ohioans like kings. Ohio is one of the few states in the Union where your voice still counts, your opinions still count and your vote still counts. Ohio is the very paradigm of this country and the vision the founding fathers had in mind when they made it. I know it, you know it and the good folks at and every other political organization knows it. That is why every four years, they will descend upon you like a horde of locusts. And that is why you shouldn't mind. 

The fact that all these men and women fawn over my vote tickles me to know end. And if it still bothers you, I suggest you try something. Two years from now as regional and national elections start up again, there will be people walking the streets again, begging for your vote. Instead of ignoring them or giving in to their demands, do this: ask that they take out your dry cleaning and create a human hammock for you to lie on as someone feeds you the freshest and finest grapes in all the land. If they care about their cause, they will do whatever you want them to (short of murder, probably) because you are the one calling the shots.

How did it come to be that Ohio holds this unique position amongst its neighbors and fellow states? Ohio is important because Ohio and the citizens that call it home are committed to the greatest American value: diversity. Ohio as a state is not content to be pigeonholed into one category. 

Ohio is metropolitan, suburban and rural. Ohio is a red state and a blue state. Ohio has hunters and animal rights activists. Ohio immigrants from Portugal to Taiwan. Ohio is for lovers and Ohio is for fighters. Ohio is for blue collar steel workers and for poets. In Ohio you can find tunnels of the former Underground railroad and old Confederate flags.

Now before I collect my check from the Ohio Tourism Board, let me say: Ohio is important but it isn't Utopia. All I am saying is that this is a state that no presidential can ever afford to not win over if they want to win the election. Ohio is one of the last states that can be viewed as an actual model of America, itself. New Engladers, Californians, Texans and every other state are too busy becoming a stereotypical model of themselves to bother voting against the pre-conceived notions that the rest of the country has of them. Ohio decides elections because we as citizens aren't partisan drones voting for the party our state supports. 

A month from now, we will go to the polls and decide an election, no questions asked. That is why Voter Registration Nazis harass you, that is why you see nothing but political slam ads on your television and that is why Barack Obama and John McCain will continue to spend the majority of their time, energy and money wooing the Ohio voter. We decide elections, Ohio.

And that is power befitting a king.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Talking Head: Control Thyself

What does it say about me that I watched the entirety of the the vice presidential debate but only caught the last 1/4 of the presidential debate? It probably says that I am in the majority. The vice presidential debate had miraculous ratings. Nearly 50% of America's television watching audience saw Sarah Palin and Joe Biden's Thurday Chat Over Tea. But the Presidential debate last night drew significantly less. But in fairness, my roommate brought a used $100 TV that decided to enter it death throes right before the debate yesterday evening.

So, I can't offer you my in-depth analysis regarding the content of the debate itself (and why would you want to hear it), but as a hopeful future member of the media I can offer some of my views on John Q. Media's analysis of said debate. And as for those views, I have spent about ten to fifteen minutes scouring my vocabulary trying to find a more eloquent way to say: WTF?, but I haven't been able to find one. 

NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, FOXNEWS, MSNBC, CNN, BBCAmerica: each and every one said the exact same thing following the debate. And that thing was "nothing". They said nothing, at least nothing worth noting. Trust me, I listened to every single one. I felt guilty for ignoring my duty as an American citizen in not watching a presidential debate so I made sure I took in as much information from each and every media outlet I could think of. I gave my girlfriend's remote a workout as I hopped from Channel 7 to 5 to 6 to 8 to 9 to 56 to 58 to 13. I started on NBC, where immediately following Tom Brokaw's tele-prompter issues, the disembodied voice of the Peacock's "political analyst" began to chirp that nothing much of note happened in the debate and that both candidates acquitted themselves equally adequately and made the same number of mistakes. Okay, that's enough from NBC.

I then turned to FOX, whose "political analyst" said  virtually the same thing. FOXNEWS had a diverse panel of 3 old white dudes and a young white woman who all agreed: Barack and John both did equally bad and good. ABC's "political analyst" seemingly had to fight back encroaching sleep while reporting that both had done alright. CNN said the same. ABC said the same. Everyone said the SAME thing. The only network that gets even partial credit from me is MSNBC, whom as little as ten minutes after the debate had a woman from a fact check organization who tested the veracity of every supposedly factual statement both candidates said. Congratulations, MSNBC, you avoid the verbal buzz-saw of righteous indignation this time, but not the other networks.

At first I thought this was a by-product of the immediacy of the TV media world. The second week of the quarter, we had a guest speaker in my Journalism 101 class. He was an African professor in the E.W Scripps J-School and a former CNN reporter named Yusuf Kalyango. Mr. Kalyango stressed that the need for IMMEDIATE analysis in the telemedia world without the time to add perspective dilutes and cheapens the analysis of an event. I thought that was simply what happened with our media friends last night. The program demanded that they offer analysis and perspective immediately following the debate, which is just not possible.

So my incomprehensible rage subsided and I laid myself down to sweet dreams of puppy dogs and rainbows. Then I woke up today and read this on MSN (if you can't tell by now, is my news life-force): A low-voltage encounter for presidential rivals. The article ultimately became more pertinent as it went along, speaking of many important issues that both candidates dodged but the beginning seemed downright disappointed that neither candidate attacked each other.

Is that what "political analysts" have become? If a debate doesn't become the ultimate showdown of good vs. evil in a verbal shootout, it isn't worth watching? If a candidate doesn't raise his or her voice, there is subsequently nothing to report? I want to know what the candidates said, I want to know their thinking behind it. And I want to know if what they plan is plausible and reasonable. I don't want the analysis of a presidential debate to be: "don't worry about it, America, it was boring. You didn't miss anything."

It is frustrating and disappointing but more than anything: confusing. Major corporations pay these men and women for analysis and for well thought out perspective. How can every single "political analyst" for every single network all simultaneously agree that nothing really worth reporting happened during the second presidential debate?

Why don't talking heads talk anymore?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Numbers ARE Our Friends

Math and I are not on good terms. I have done my best to ignore it throughout the duration of my life. And math has been good enough to respect that decision be mine. I spend most of my time with English. We have a good time together. It allows me to write long-winded, flowery and pretentious sentences and pretend that people want to hear what I have to write. It may be an exercise in futility but hey, it is fun!

Then ol' College comes along and tries to ruin everything. My fine public institution of higher learning has this bizarre notion that I should receive an all-inclusive, balanced education to make me a functioning and competent citizen. What the hell, College? Get off my balls! Of course, not wanting to be a functioning, competent citizen I have found the best loophole ever: stats.

Stats. is. GREAT! Math does its best to be boring and inconsequential but its sentry, Stats, has clearly gone rogue. Stats takes numbers and applies them to actual sociological and political situations in the real world. Physicists and Chemists are probably slapping their hands to their foreheads now, wondering how public education could have failed so miserably. Well, I don't care because stats express the only real-life situations that matter: baseball performance.

Mwa ha ha! Yes, I have just dragged you into ANOTHER baseball post! I will give those individuals whom are upset some time to stop rolling their eyes and put their middle fingers down and then I will proceed to speak to the baseball fans of the internet.

Alright, we good? Everyone here (all eight of you)? Good.

No sport, no real-life institution for that matter relies more on statistics than America's past-time. And perversely, that is one of the most appealingly aspect of baseball. When you are arguing with your friends about who is better than who, you can come with all kinds of ammunition. Of course, my five weeks of intense Statistics training has taught me that some stats are better than others. So as the playoffs inch forward (Seriously, Cubs?), I have compiled a list (my favorite thing to do) of the most useful and accurate baseball stats for Pitchers, Hitters. Almost everything that happens on a baseball field can be measured by some mathematical algorithm. But I am only concerned by the pitcher and the hitter; their psychological and physical warfare is the backbone of the entire sport of baseball.

5. Batting Average (AVG)- Pretty basic stuff, but also endlessly useful. As a hitter your job is to hit (duh), so what could be more useful when comparing two players than asking if Player A and Player B both come up to bat 1,000 times how many hits will each get? The only problem is that players rarely come up to bat 1,000 times in a season so hot and cold streaks can skew numbers as can the quality of competition each player faces.
4. Runs Created (RC)- One of mad scientist Bill James's inventions. The idea behind this is very simple: good hitters put runs on the board. Now we just need an equation to express it. It takes the On base factor (hits and walks) times the advancement factor (total bases) and then divides it by total opportunities (at bats). The problem is, it cannot objectively compare eras of baseball.
3. Total Bases (TB)- Gotta love this stat. Baseball is all about advancement and scoring. The problem is, weeding out the individual's successes over the team's skill in advancing him. Still, Total Bases is an effective and simple accumulative statistic that shows how often a hitter is where he is supposed to be: the base-paths.
2. On Base Percentage (OBP)- And this bad boy is a percentile stat that does it even better than TB.  This is simply Batting average...only way better. Per 1000 at bats, how often does a player reach base through either a hit, walk or a hit by pitch? OBP can tell you that, no problem. It still features the same shortcomings of AVG, but it measures so much more.
1. Adjusted On Base+Slugging Percentage (OPS+)- The Mack Daddy of all hitting statistics. This stat accurately measures everything you could ever want from a hitter (contact, power, selectiveness, speed, good decision-making) and adjusts it to put everyone on an even playing field AND expresses it all in terms of how much better than the average hitter they are. Theoretically, under this stat the average OPS+ is 100 and every other hitter's OPS+ is expressed in terms of how much better or worse they are than that 100. Don't believe it is the best stat ever? Check out the OPS+ career leaders:
  1. Babe Ruth
  2. Ted Williams
  3. Barry Bonds
  4. Lou Gehrig 
  5. Rogers Hornsby
  6. Mickey Mantle
  7. Dan Brouthers
  8. Joe Jackson
  9. Albert Pujols
  10. Ty Cobb

5. Ground Out to Fly Out Rattio (GO/AO)- Ground-balls are crucial to a pitcher's success in the modern era of baseball. Ground-balls put the ball in the hands of a team's best defenders, they keep the ball out of the air and subsequently out of the stands and they allow a pitcher to throw fewer pitches. It only stands to reason that in the era of pitch counts and star relief pitchers, the pitcher with an excellent GO/AO is king. Only problem is, the stat doesn't necessarily measure skill, just efficiency.
4. Opposition's Batting Average (Opp AVG)- The mirror image of AVG, only we want this one low (obviously). Usually, this stat is one of the tell-tale signs that a pitcher is either very lucky or very unlucky. If your ERA is high and your OppAVG is low, you are due for some good luck to come your way as is the same for the inverse. This is a powerful predictive stat.
3. Adjusted Earned Run Average (ERA+)- Measuring a ptitcher's effectiveness is much more difficult than measuring a hitter's because his success depends on more than simply his own skill. The pitcher relies on everything from his defense to the weather. So the good folks at Baseball Prospectus have developed a way to strengthen the brilliant Earned Run Average Statistic. If everything were equal among pitchers, who would give up the fewest runs per game? ERA+ is an excellent adjusted statistics, it just can't take EVERYTHING into account.
2. Strikeout to Walk Ratio (K/BB)- Now here is a stat that can measure skill as opposed to efficiency. Your best skill as a pitcher is to make a hitter miss or hit your spots often enough that they strikeout, you have mastered your craft. Also, avoiding the dreaded base on balls is the perhaps the best thing you can do as a pitcher. This is an absolute gem of a stat and yet it is so simple! The only problem is that too many Ks can limit the number of pitches or innings a pitcher can throw, thus limiting his efficiency. A high K/BB ratio with relatively low Ks and a high GO/AO ratio is ideal.
1. Walks and Hits per Innings Pitched (WHIP)- Pitching isn't so much about what you should do but rather what you shouldn't do. It is the ultimate defensive position after all. Now Runs are what we want to avoid. So how do you avoid runs? Answer: Avoid Walks and Hits, those evils that put the dreaded hitters on base and gives them the potential to become runs. This is a simple ratio stat that expresses those quantities per innings pitched. It is simple and it is genius. Have a good ERA? I am not impressed. Have the best WHIP in baseball? You, sir, are the best pitcher in baseball.

Thank you for indulging my random baseball outburst of the day. I swear, it is like crack to me. And I would like to extend an olive branch to Math, as well. 

Math, if you are going to help Cliff Lee win a Cy Young, you can't be all bad.