Friday, December 31, 2010

Public Service message, 12-31-10....

Let me suggest that it's time for all of us to get our ducks in a row for 2011....

Happy New Year, one and all!

Letting sleeping turtles lie.

Or, more accurately, sunbathe. Yes, there is a bunch (squadron? gaggle? flotilla? herd? team?) of small turtles that like to lie out on the banks of Duck Creek on clear days and soak up the sun....

There were actually six out there when I first walked by. By the time I had unlimbered the camera and moved within shootin' range, five skedaddled for the water. When this one noticed me inching even closer, he ran like a, well, turtle, too. I hung around for a while, saw one or two li'l heads poke up out of the water, but they are a shy bunch and preferred being submerged to attaining photographic immortality.

Makes me wish I had a longer lens for the camera.

Or a turtle suit, so I could sneak up on 'em undetected....

I'm almost afraid to ask...

...but I will, because I'm all about people puttin' me some learnin'!

 Is there any other kind?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Things I never expected to see...

...Where I Live Now. In fact, a pair of stone lions and two stone pillars flanking the entrance to a shopping center full of Chinese stores -- and one Japanese restaurant -- might be darn near the last things I would have imagined I'd see here.


Let it be said I wouldn't be surprised to see these Where I Grew Up. Yes, when I was a mere yoot, the population was made up primarily of Anglos and Latinos. But sometime in the 1970s the Asians began to arrive. Today, my home town is largely Chinese, with huge conclaves of Koreans, Vietnamese, Japanese and Heaven-knows-who-else filling the surrounding towns. You can drive many blocks without seeing shop signs in English.

But I'm not there anymore. And I hope I'm not going back.

Culture shock is what it is, Jim.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Good Old Things

Saw this during my wanderings today....

It's good to see classic things -- cars or anything else -- cared for and used, which this old Ford clearly is.

I just hope someone thinks it's worthwhile to keep me running when I'm 76!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

I'm all about public service!

As a result, I consider it my duty as a Good Citizen, whose heart is full of concern that all should enjoy safe and happy holidays, to pass along a worthwhile instructional video to help ease any potential stress should the worst happen to you.

I suppose I should warn the squeamish to use the proverbial Viewer Discretion, but hey, I made it through a showing of the immortal classic educational film, "Blood on the Highway," when I took Driver's Ed in high school (every movie I've seen since was downright tame), so you can watch this, too....

No actual zombies were injured in the preparation of this video...I don't think.

Merry Christmas!

Wasn't going to post today, but JohnO's comment in the previous thread reminded me that there might be one or two people out there who haven't heard "The Christmas Song."

So here it is, sung by the composer* himself....

It just wouldn't be Christmas without Mel's tune playing....

* That would be Mel Torme, who was nicknamed "the Velvet Fog" for his smooth music teacher, who knew Mel, called him "the Velvet Frog," but that's another story....

Friday, December 24, 2010

And finally...

...for this Christmas-that-isn't Christmas (here, anyway), my favorite Christmas video!

PARENTHETICAL THERE-ARE-PLENTY-OF-CHRISTMAS-TUNES-IN-THE-SEA (whaaaa?) NOTE: This is not my favorite Christmas song. That would be Mel Torme's "Christmas Song," than which there are none better. But this is the best Christmas song video I've seen.

Hope it brings all y'all a smile or two....

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Time to follow Santa!

Yeah, this is another one of my "Christmas Traditions." Since in recent years I haven't been able to run around dropping off pressies to those I care about, I take a little consolation in watching the Big Fat Dude do his thing.

You can do likewise here.

It was fun last year...

...and I'm sure it will be again this time around.

I'm assuming Santa can get through the TSA checkpoints okay....

One more Holiday ditty...

...for tonight, anyway.

I'm not sure you can exactly call it a "Christmas" song, but it fits the season perfectly.

Even if it didn't, I'd like it, because I love Klezmer music and enjoy listening to spoken (or sung) Yiddish. Wish I spoke it, too.

PARENTHETICAL SHAMEFUL-REVELATION THOUGHT: Yes, I can rattle off a few words and phrases, none of them socially acceptable. Yiddish is just full of earthy aphorisms....

Anyway, this retelling of a familiar tale is entirely socially acceptable, clever and delightful.

I watch it every year.

Christmas Music!

Since it's that time of year, it is also time to do what I've done every Christmas for several years, which is to promote some of my favorite Christmas-related music and, well, things.

I suppose it's a "tradition" -- sort of -- so one or two among my vast audience of three or four may have seen these before. Go ahead, click on the links again...they won't hurt you! And you might even get a smile or two out of 'em.

PARENTHETICAL "Ho, Ho, Ho" THOUGHT: I'm not exactly in what you would call a "Holiday Mood," but if anything can help chase Da Bloos, it's likely to be found among the next three or four postings. I'm trying, anyway.

So watch and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


It has been a chilly, dark day here, entirely appropriate for finding an old prairie cemetery on my walking route.

That's not something you expect to see amid recently built industrial buildings (many now empty) and on the verge of a busy highway.

The cemetery was established in 1855 by Rev. George Blewett. His daughter, Anne, was the first to be buried there. In time, Rev. Blewett joined her there, as did other members of his family. His son -- grandson? -- was one of the last to be interred there, in 1919. Other families have gravesites within the simple iron fence as well.

Given the size of the fenced-off land, I have to assume many grave markers have vanished over the years. Were they stolen, or were there many wooden crosses and plaques that didn't withstand 90 years of neglect?

I felt transported far away from the busy area Where I Live Now. This is the kind of place one expects to stumble across when driving down a lonely back road, a place to be appreciated without traffic noises and other signs of modern life....

For once, I'm a bit sad that I don't use some tricky photo-manipulation program that would allow me to wipe away the trappings of civilization from the background. Buildings, cars and telephone wires have nothing to do with this place.

By the same token, I wish I had some idea of the stories entombed below the remaining headstones....

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas and friends.

I admit I'm not really feeling Christmas this year. I could cite a whole boatload of reasons for that; I don't want to, so just take it as a given.

But a couple of people who have access to my Secret Location haven't forgotten, and they have brightened my spirits considerably.

One sent a couple of wrapped presents which I, with remarkable self-control, have not yet opened. Knowing the person who sent them, there's no doubt in my mind that they are thoughtful, personal and just plain wonderful. The temptation to start rippin' up that wrapping paper is barely tolerable.

The other sent a US Mail box with contents unwrapped. He basically went for the jugular, giving me one of the very few things I've been missing since I left the Former Place....

Sensibly, he didn't try to send the other things I miss, which would have been impossible anyway. In-n-Out Burgers wouldn't have survived the trip; neither would a couple tacos, a burrito and a plate of guacamole and chips from Tito's Tacos.

This dude has me figured out. He knows of my secret jonesing for real coffee -- not the slightly-flavored brown water most people seem to drink Where I Am Now -- and knew about it before I relocated. Either he has become a La Llave pusher and expects me to come crawling back to him, money in hand and begging for more, when this stash runs out, or he wanted to feed the need because he's a good and thoughtful guy.

I'm going with the latter theory.

It's not only the thought that counts. It's the thought behind the gift-giving urge that separates capital-F Friends, those whose mere existence makes your world better, from the rest.

I'm grateful to know both of these people. Their gifts are a happy reminder of how much they mean to me.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lunar-tic behavior... a rare occurrence occurs in the wee hours of Monday Night and Tuesday morning: The winter solstice coincides with a total eclipse of the Moon for the first time in 456 years. Wiccans everywhere have perked up their ears....

All y'all can get the details here.

It has been a few years since the last eclipse I (or anyone else) saw....

Not such a swell shot, but I was making do with the equipment I had.

The next regular eclipse will occur sometime in 2014 if I remember correctly. Maybe I'll have a camera, lens and tripod capable of delivering quality moon-photos by then!

That doesn't mean I won't give it another try Monday night. Not promising any shots will appear here...the delete key may get to 'em before you do!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Crime scene!

Did some gun-totin', Christmas-hatin' galoot do this? Was Santa going up the chimney with more goodies than he came in with? Did he pour an extra tot of rum into his milk -- you know, the traditional "milk and plate of cookies left out for Santy" bit -- and get too rowdy? Did a rival gang of Santas do a drive-by from their sleigh?

Or did someone forget to plug in the Jolly Fat Dude's compressor?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's not only solid objects...

...that catch my eye in my current black-and-white photographic mood....

PARENTHETICAL I-GUESS-WE-SHOULD-BE-LITERAL NOTE: Yes, you could say the island in the far background is very solid. The water doesn't quite fit the definition of "solid," but is far from fluffy and soft.

New photos coming soon. Some even in color...when I have to.

When there's nothing new...

...I still enjoy messing around with the old, as in changing a photo's effect by taking away the color.

It's not so simple. Picking a shot that survives the bleaching-out treatment is a matter of guesswork, really. Several shots I thought would be ideal candidates didn't make it. Others, some of which seemed to depend on color for their interest, worked out pretty well.

Chrome is tricky. So, to my surprise, is near-transparent red plastic. Light-blue metallic paint makes the transition to pewter-like tones quite well. And the subtle, reflective shapes of this '59 Ford's sheet metal keep their sculptural beauty.

Don't mind me. I'm just having a little fun here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

It's that time of year...

...when winter* creates its own black & white images....

Where do all the missing leaves go, ye ask? Why, down to the ground, of course, where I rake 'em and bag 'em. And rake 'em and bag 'em, ad infinitum....

* Yes, I know it's not officially winter yet, but it's close enough to look and feel like it....


That's how I feel today. Maybe it's the season.

Or, just possibly, I'm seeing things differently these days.

Whatever, I'm in the mood to take color out of things....

Revenge, or "art?" I dunno....

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The camera has had a couple of days off...

...mainly because I haven't found a thing I wanted to shoot. It happens. And I don't like it.

That said, one of my interests, black & white photography, has been enjoying a bit of a revival in my head. It has always been there; that's where I started, after all. Add to that my recent thoughts about Will Connell -- which led to my godfather C.K. and my father, all of whom could do wonders with a roll of Kodak Panatomic-X.*  Stir in seeing photos from a dear friend who is a true artist with a camera and can produce compelling B&W images, and I've been moved to start idly riffling through old images to see which would respond well to having their color bleached out (digitally).

Here's one. I liked it when I shot it in color, as the light was grayed and softened enough by overcast skies to have a nice "feel," but I like it better the way I would have shot it on film.** If I had been shooting film that day.

I'm amazed by the change. As taken, the photo was a bit soft and dreamlike, probably due to the pastel effect on the surrounding greenery and the remains of beige paint on the truck. Now, it has a harder edge, and my eye is drawn more to the destructive effects time, missing parts, and rust have had on the poor old Ford.

Yes, this is more to my liking. Fun to do, as well.

* Yet another archaic reference. Panatomic-X was Kodak's best film ever, as far as I'm concerned. It had a slow ASA/ISO rating, which meant using a tripod/flash in anything but broad daylight, but when properly processed, gave brilliant results. It also had exceedingly fine grain, so enlargements were never a problem. I think they stopped making it many years ago. Creeps.

** Or for that matter, if I had known how to mess with color saturation, hue, contrast and brightness on the computer when I took the original.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

I learn something new every day!

At least I did yesterday, even though only I realized it this morning.

And what was this speck of learnin' I picked up?

Ducks are pigeon-toed....

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Mealtime... the Duck Creek Cafe!

From time to time, I have brought a few crusts for the Normal Ducks, Muscovy Ducks/Chernobyl Birds and assorted Unidentified Local Fowl, but these Good Avian Samaritans must have handed out a couple of loaves to the quacking throng. Funny, none of these folks look like St Francis....

There were plenty of satisfied customers after the meal, even if all of them were stuck with the bill....


Friday, December 03, 2010

I'm not really paranoid...

...nor do I wear a stylish tinfoil chapeau.

But there are times when I feel as if I'm being watched....

Thursday, December 02, 2010

In the Arboreal Dell...

...I prefer black & white to green & tan....

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Little House on the...

...used-to-be Prairie!

A little hard to believe that cars were whizzing by 50 feet behind me as I took this photo....

Seventy-five years ago, it was probably in the middle of nowhere, beside a meandering dirt road. Now, it's in suburbia: across the four-lane highway, there's a shopping center; 100 feet to the west, a busy intersection and then an industrial area, and houses -- brick, of course -- on the other three sides.

I think I've exhausted the supply of neat old houses and peaceful country vistas within walking distance. Not a happy thought.

Expect more ducks and any local details I find interesting enough to shoot. We're not talking about ideal choices photographically -- just what I can dredge up. Have to keep taking pictures, you know.

In the meantime, I'll probably dream about this house. As it was. A snug shelter away from all the things that annoy me about built-up "civilization." I'll bet past owners of the place could hear coyotes at night...I'll take that over traffic noise any time.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Cold Duck!

Yesterday, it was over 80 degrees under scattered clouds Where I Am Now. Today, it's solid gray above and 39.

But it was business as usual at a local stream called, appropriately enough, Duck Creek....

PARENTHETICAL GUESS-I'M-TOO-CYNICAL-SOMETIMES THOUGHT: At first glance, I dismissed Duck Creek as something dredged out as a kind of visual bonus to attract customers when this area was transformed from farmland to endless streets lined with endless brick houses, all remarkably similar. Nope...turns out Duck Creek was here first. It has, of course, been tamed a bit, with adjoining pathways, cement walls and little dams to control the flow.

But the ducks are still there by the dozens (sometimes, by the hundreds), along with miscellaneous other species of avian life...

They don't seem as keen on migrating to escape the chill as I would have expected. People feed them here; I suppose that has a lot to do with it.

Free meals wouldn't be enough of a lure to make me paddle around in that chilly water, though.

PARENTHETICAL PICTORIAL "TURDUCKEN" (*retch*) THOUGHT: I have no idea what kind of bird this is, but a flock of 'em hang at Duck far as I know, there is no nuclear waste facility or Secret Gubmint Research/Torture Facility around here....

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

If it weren't for kids with chalk...

...I wouldn't have a picture to post today!*

Walked six miles in the sun and found nothing at all that made it worth pulling the camera out of its carrying-case. I've hinted that this area is singularly dull image-wise, and now I'm out-and-out saying it. It's nowhere for a photographer.

I'll say one thing, though: this kid's a real Texan. Or maybe illiterate.

* Yeah, like you care....

PARENTHETICAL I'M-NOT-A-TOTAL-DUMMY (MOST OF THE TIME, ANYWAY) THOUGHT:  I do happen to know that "dogie" is, as the dictionary reminds us, a Western term for a "motherless calf." I remember "Git Along, Little Dogies," as performed by a bazillion cowboy singers (usually twangin' away on a gee-tar while astride their hosses). I still think this was cute, and kinda Texas-y....

Monday, November 22, 2010

More practice... which I learn that the camera's built-in "black and white" setting is better than monkeying around with the software I have....

I think Will Connell would like this one better, though I'd still prefer a darkroom and the necessary tools to put my knowledge of classic film processing and printing techniques to good use. Software? Phooey!

On the other hand, there are instances when a little color does help, "story"-wise...

One thing hasn't changed from my days of film photography to the Digital Age: I still don't want to mess around much after taking a photo. It has always been my objective to get the shot right in the camera and then do only what's necessary to put the image in viewable form.

PARENTHETICAL HEY-I-FORGOT-WHAT-I-WANTED-TO-TELL-ALL-Y'ALL NOTE: Anyone who loves (or even likes) photography  and history needs to bookmark and go there at least once a day! I know of no other place on the Interwebz that displays such a stunning array of photos. You could stare at the "full-size" images all day, picking out the tiny details. At least I could....

Friday, November 19, 2010

Reading... own work. Well, a fraction of it, anyway. One of my former clients just sent me copies of some* of what I've done for them over the past decade, and it's quite a stack: a box-full of oversized printouts --running from one to six or seven sheets each -- and a couple of CDs containing all the original PDF files, which I can then pass along to potential future clients as samples of my writing and (in some cases) photographic "skills."

Wading through all this is not exactly a thrilling experience. First, and perhaps foremost, I am not working with this company now, and may never do so again. The obvious reasons -- "personality conflicts," complaints about the work itself -- don't apply; it's simply a matter of money. When the coffers run low, freelancers are the first to be shunted aside. Moreover, my "rabbi" there** with whom I worked from first to last, has been promoted to a new role at the company, and doesn't yet know how -- or if, or where -- he can use me.

I'm also not a big fan of rereading work I did years ago. Or, for that matter, months ago. Once it's in print, there's nothing I can do to improve, add, delete or generally mess with the story. As any writer can tell you, that urge is strong; nothing has ever been written that couldn't be improved, no photo has ever been taken that couldn't benefit from a rethink. At this stage, all those urges do is cause frustration.

It wasn't all great stuff. Editors messed with some of the copy***,  photo editors chose less-than-perfect images, layout people made text disappear, and once in a blue moon I screwed up, getting a fact or two wrong or grinding out a sentence so convoluted that editors just threw up their hands in horror and let it slide.

But there are a few winners in the pile, articles that I'll be proud to use as examples of what I can do.

Mind you, that's what I can do when I'm paid for it. Though these people were fairly free with the mazooma, they did have a bad habit of offering me rush jobs that didn't pay well, which I did simply to keep them smiling. I won't make as much anywhere else today, as story rates have dropped considerably.

The worst part of the whole deal is that I'm not doing this -- or any -- work right now. Never mind the fun I had doing some of the articles; not writing at all is painful. That has to change, and soon.

Much of my working past -- particularly in my most recent "career" -- was not all that wonderful. That it was better than now is depressing, and looking back at what I was doing tends to make that worse. If the favor these people did by digging up and sending me this pile pays off, it will be worth the sad moments spent looking at relics from a former time.

Cranky old Henry Ford famously said: "history is more or less bunk." To some extent, I have to agree with him. He might feel more strongly about that if he was around to wade through my past work....

* I'm guessing about 25-30% of the total, which went into three magazines the company published. These all come from one of them; more are said to be on their way soon.

** That's an old Noo Yawk term, likely with some underworld associations. In this case, a "rabbi" is not your spiritual leader, but someone who helps move you, for whatever reason, through a system.

*** In fairness, that seldom happened to me, and less often than normal with this company. Still, a hamfisted copy editor can mess up your whole day....

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Still practicing...

...with the new camera.

I take it wherever I go, of course, but the photo opportunities are somewhat limited here. I'm not the type to say "oooh, another brick house! I must document that!"

Did see the city water tower in a somewhat different light when I walked past it today, so grabbed a shot.

At least I'll know how to use the camera when a worthy photo-op comes along!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Where I Am Now... not, as was previously mentioned, exactly a Paradise for photography. It's not a bad place, just not what you'd call, well, overtly photogenic.

What that means is this: now that I'm again in possession of the necessary image-making device -- and I'm using the word "necessary" both in terms of being required for photography and needed for my mental health* -- I have to do a little hunting for photographic prey.

So what does this unnamed burg have?

Bricks. Lots o' bricks. The red, tan and dark-brown rectangular blocks are the local material of choice for homes, walls, commercial structures and, for all I know, trees and shrubbery**. Surround all the brickwork with cement for roads and sidewalks, and you have an overview of Where I Am Now.

You may notice a lack of driveways. The result in this car-centric*** town is driveways behind the houses, accessed via a network of alleys...

But all is not brick houses and glaringly white streets. If one walks around, and pokes into hidden corners a bit, one can find places that haven't been turned into housing tracts, shopping centers and industrial parks. There are small spots that remain absolutely bucolic, staving off Inevitable Civic Progress...

Moreover, there are one or two houses from the past to be seen, once you find them. They're worth the search, too...

This is not a new area by any means. I don't know when it was first settled, but it only took a walk past a local graveyard to learn that it was quite a while ago...

So, while this isn't precisely where I want to be, or where I intend to end up, it is Where I Am Now (mind you, I'm damn grateful to be able to reside here for now) and, with some walking and the heightened perception using a camera provides, I have to say it has more charms than first expected.

* Yes, I know some may argue that the camera's arrival came too late for that, but what the heck, it's a nice figure of speech....

** I kid, I kid. At least about the latter. The trees shed leaves and the shrubbery needs trimming, which obviously means they're not formed from bricks. I think.

*** More accurately, big ol' SUV or giganto pick-'em-up truck-centric.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I've got my eye back!

PARENTHETICAL ABANDON-HOPE-YE-WHO-ENTER-HERE THOUGHT: This may well be a long, long post. I have things to say, and intend to plod through them 'til I get to the end. This ain't Twitter, you know.

Yes, thanks to a very dear friend who understands me (and understands what drives me), I have a camera again. I couldn't be more pleased -- peering through that viewfinder is like breathing for me.

It has been a long time since my faithful Canon digital gave up the electronic ghost. Nineteen interminable months, in fact. During that time, I've had experiences and have been to places where the camera would have played an important role. But it wasn't there. I have not been pleased. In a way, I felt crippled without a camera.

When my friend -- no mean photographer herself -- told me the camera was on its way, I started doing what I used to do instinctively: I looked around me, searching for things to photograph. Where I Am Now is not exactly a photographic paradise; to be honest, it is dull as tepid bathwater visually.

It didn't take me long to see my first subject, though, and that brings me to Part Two of the story.

My godfather C. K. was a photographer, first as a Navy combat cameraman in the Pacific during World War II, then as a professional, and finally as an instructor at a well-known college for photographers and industrial designers. C. K., who met my father when both were teaching at that school, encouraged my early efforts with a plastic box camera. His advice was all the "schooling" in the craft I ever received.

Not content to pass along his own skill, C. K. showed me the work of a colleague at the school, a man whose talents he revered. That's how I learned about Will Connell; hazy memory tells me I met the man at some point, but it was his book, About Photography, combined with some prints of his work that had ended up in C. K.'s hands, that really grabbed my attention.

PARENTHETICAL FUNNY-WHAT-STICKS-IN-YOUR-MEMORY NOTE: I have always remembered the words with which Connell began the book: "The book will probably do nobody any good, because those who need it won't understand it, and those who understand it won't need it...." That has essentially become my philosophy when I'm asked to teach people how to do things...especially where photography is concerned.

From my fuzzy recollection of Connell, he was remarkably like C. K. Both men earned the old (and now politically incorrect) title of "Man's Man." They were rugged, outdoorsy guys with the eyes of artists.

Connell was famous -- at least to the "art" crowd -- for his sensitive and very human portraits and his photos of historic buildings. But his true genius, as I saw it, was as an industrial photographer who could make compelling and beautiful images from such prosaic subjects as aircraft plants and machines. And powerlines.

C. K.'s advice to me dovetailed perfectly with what I took from Connell's work. First, he told me to start with black and white film: "Color doesn't tell a story," he said. "The image does." This tied in with everything else he told me, the essence of which was that every photograph has to tell a story. Doesn't necessarily matter if the photographer and viewer take different stories away with them, but the story has to be there.

Connell's rich, black and white images of power transmission towers were compelling to me when I was young and impressionable, and remain so today, when I'm old and impressionable.

As a result, I was drawn, new camera in hand , to the local power lines....

Naturally, I've taken many other photos in the days since my new "eye" arrived. Some of them, or future images of wildly differing types and mainly in color, will get posted. I'm back to the habit of carrying a camera with me everywhere. I'll get better with it, too -- we're still getting acquainted.

But my first effort was guided by long-ago, long-gone influences who had so much influence on whatever "good" photos I've taken. So this is for you, C. K., and for Will Connell, the Master.

And for you too, D. You have given me back one of my greatest joys.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It's that time of year...

...when some people get all hung up on political stuff. In deference to a friend who commented on the earlier "The Rent's Too Damn High" post -- and because I'm already past total burnout on the subject -- this won't exactly be a political post. Think of it as a sniffing-around-the-edges-of-politics post. No advocacy, criticism or other stuff having to do with any political party or candidate.

So don't worry. Unless you really want me to howl like a pack of hyenas coming down from a long-term Thorazine habit about some elected official or some particular philosophy, in which case I'm gonna disappoint you.

One of the things that galls me about the Wonderful World of the Interwebz is that every election in every part of the country is getting full discussion among the political junkies.

Do I care what's happening in the tight race for the NY-24 or MA-12 or ND-27.5 districts? No, I do not. I might wish voters in those places were a little smarter*, but other than that I'm down with the idea of ignoring them totally.

Okay. Let's get to the nut of the thing. A new term -- at least new to me -- has sprung up this election time, and just hearing (or reading) it is enough to make me break out in a rash that no lotion can cure. I refer, of course, to the "money bomb," a concentrated period of funds-hustling for a favorite candidate.

If you waste your time reading any of that stuff, you know what I mean: "Supporters of Tim Dogbreath, the Totally Humorless Party candidate in ID-07, are holding a money bomb to help him beat Max Hernia, the eeeeevil Loopy Party hack. Tim needs $100,000 today, so let's get him there!"

Of course people chime in immediately, saying things like "I live in California, but I just sent Tim $100...he only has $97,680 to go!"

Unfortunately, by this point I already know too damn much about Tim and Max as it is, and I wouldn't give either one of them fifty cents, regardless of party affiliation.

PARENTHETICAL YES-I'M-IGNORANT THOUGHT: the only thing I really know about Idaho is that it has a governor named Butch Otter. Since that's just too weird for me to get my mind around, I immediately stop thinking about Idaho.

No doubt my reaction has something to do with the fact that I could use a "money bomb" myself right about now. Hell, I could use a fleet of B-52s dropping money bombs on me right now. Am I going to scrape around in the bottom of my pocket looking for pennies to help pay for some goon's campaign? When/if he wins, I'll get to help pay his salary anyway, along with his expenses, his oversized staff, his perks, his first-class travel. Lucky me. Lucky you.

Not to mention that I'll get to help pay for all the dumb projects he can think up while in office to reward the people who made the Really Big Donations to his campaign.

But it gave me an idea, and here it is: Donate to the Mr Scribbler Money Bomb! That's right, send in the ol' mazooma, as much as you can afford, and more, and do it TODAY!

I only need to raise $1,000,000 for my campaign to not run for office and, since election season will be over (Yay!) next Tuesday, you only have six days to make my Money Bomb a huge success! Yes, I promise that if this works, I will absolutely reject any political ambitions, ignore all the pleas for me to go Straighten Out the Mess in Washington.

Even better, I promise not to give one thin dime from the Money Bomb to any political campaign for any candidate in any district from any party.

Pretty cool idea, huh?

Hey, it has worked quite well for some tuned-in players who have set up Political Action Committees to funnel money to favored candidates. They skim "operating expenses" off the top of the donations (gotta lease that Escalade, keep up the Amex Platinum and pay themselves a half-mill a year) and funnel the rest, then take credit for helping those jackwagons** get into office.

The people who run those committees are known as "Political Experts," and get lots o' face time on the talk shows, write best-selling books about politics, get invited to All the Right Parties, and make fortunes telling candidates how to run for office.

Not me. I'm going with a Political Inaction Committee.

But I can't do it without your help (as the candidates say).

Hurry up, now! Get those donations coming in! Only $999,999.97*** to go!

* Translate that as they should agree with me

** A word from my second-favorite GEICO commercial....

*** I just found three pennies in my pocket and made a loan to my campaign, just to get the ball rolling....

Saturday, October 23, 2010

These days, it's not the same.

With the exception of emails, blog comments and very occasional posts here, I haven't been doing much writing lately. The reason is not a shortage of subject matter; instead, it's a lack of motivation.

The motivational factor, now vanished, was mainly financial. I spent 24 years being paid for a combination of opinion, research and writing skills. That was a good deal all around (at least as far as I'm concerned): I entertained and educated people, and could buy myself space under a roof, a meal or two and, on rare occasions, the odd useless-but-entertaining gadget.

It's not easy to wean oneself off that kind of situation. When I think about belting out a slew of words, I am brought to a screeching halt by the lack of an audience. Yes, a paying audience; people who work hard to develop skills are generally reluctant to give 'em away for free.

PARENTHETICAL ARROGANT-BUT-WHINY THOUGHT: I sometimes read what my colleagues are writing. Some of them have pretty well-paying gigs, too. I never was one for reading magazines (unless they featured one of my articles!) but I do see various websites, usually of a general-interest nature, where my particular subject is covered. Most of what I see displays adequate talent at best, more often a definite shortage of the kinds of knowledge, common sense and analytical/communication skills that separate professionals from amateurs. But those writers seem to know something I don't, which is how to project an image of competence even when there's nothing to support it. They know how to sell themselves; I'm one of those old-fashioned losers who expected a body of good work to sell me.

Worse, maybe, is that I've fallen behind in my field. A lot of things have happened in that world during the six months or more that I've been separated from it. If, by some miracle, someone were to call and offer me a chance to get back in harness, it'd take me a lot of solid study to get back up to speed. Weeks, maybe months, at a minimum. And I would have to find some way to replace at least some of my lost library on the subject.

I've never understood people who are so driven to write that no little handicap -- like crushing poverty, for example -- can stop them. I admire them, for sure, but that's not how I roll.

I love writing. It's a wonderful craft. But, like any craft, if one is good at it, takes it seriously, devotes time and effort to it, works to hone the skills necessary to be considered a "real" writer, some return should be forthcoming.

In my case, it isn't.

Not that there ever was a flood of spondulix rolling my way. Enough (with some prudence) to survive was about as good as it got. That was sufficient, really.

I'm not even sure why I bring this up again. If I had to guess, I'd say that trying to sell myself -- a good, proven product -- to people who simply aren't buying has worn me out.

When one is worn out, all that's left is crankiness.

I'd love to be writing again. I miss it in a very essential, deep-in-the-gut way. I still have plenty to say. And I can say it better than those who have read only my blog, emails and comments can know.

But I'd also like to get something back. Appreciation ain't enough, Jim. Bring money.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why I'm down with "The Rent Is Too Damn High Party"

All the serious political junkies -- you know, the ones who who wish polls were taken every five minutes instead of daily so they could see how their fave candidates are doing at every moment, who read RedState or Huffington Post the way hard-shell Baptists read the Bible -- are making fun of Jimmy McMillan, candidate in the New York Governor's race.

Not me, fellow babies.

Oh, I know the committed*, the True Believers who kneel at the feet of sages like Keith Oblermann or Rush Limbaugh, see McMillan as a joke, a more energetic and charismatic clone of the unfortunate Alvin Greene, the Democrats' Senatorial candidate from South Carolina.

Nuh-uh. Once I caught him on video, I knew Jimmy and his "The Rent is Too Damn High Party" are the wave of the future. Or should be....

Think about it. What he's saying, boiled down, is simple: Life is too expensive for too many people these days, and jobs are disappearing**. If government has any role in our lives aside from national defense and, perhaps, building roads, it is to help people live well. Ideally, this should be done by not putting endless rules, regulations, onerous taxes and other roadblocks in their paths.

Sadly, our government has become a self-perpetuating scam operated by people who think they have some kind of moral duty to "help" various groups (oddly enough, those groups tend to be people who vote in blocs and donate to said politicians' election campaigns) and impose their own particular/peculiar moral and business standards on the common folk.

As individuals, we are all, to some extent, our brothers' keepers. Our government orders us to be so, and chooses the "brothers" whom we are to support. Oddly enough, many are already better-off than we are. That's what political connections will do for you.

Naturally, while they're "serving" us, they're living high, to put it mildly. On our dime. I don't get the impression McMillan would be get as heavily into personal corruption as, say, Charlie Rangel, or become a blowhard, elitist nanny like Mikey Bloomberg.

Though it didn't come out much during the gubernatorial debate -- given the number of ding-a-lings on the stage, it's amazing anyone was able to say anything -- McMillan also seems to be advocating tolerance. I'm down with that, too.

Yes, all the pundits -- including partisan lickspittles like Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews -- think McMillan's a joke.

I don't. If I could afford to move to New York (and had time to register as a voter before the election), McMillan would have my support, you can bet.

I've waited my whole adult life to vote for a candidate instead of picking the one whom I think would do the least damage. This may be the closest I get to that goal since I wrote a letter, so many years ago, urging the brilliant Barbara Jordan to run for President.

Perhaps Jimmy McMillan should change the name of his party to something a bit more universal -- like "The Back to Basics Party" and go national.

I hate to think what the nation will look like in a few more years if the corrupt, self-centered and doctrinaire establishment parties stay in power. We really can't afford to be ruled by self-anointed royalty any more.

"The Rent is Too Damn High," both in our own lives and in America in general.

* Define "committed" how you wish....

** Just ask me....

PARENTHETICAL UPDATED UPDATE-Y STUFF: This morning a friend pointed out some rather unsavory parts of Jimmy McMillan's act which you can read about here. Have to admit I'm a bit disappointed....

Still, it's easy to dig up bad stuff about almost anyone running for office, and I'd rate Jimmy's mild antisemitism and evasions regarding his own living conditions rather lower than the removal-from-office-worthy behavior of Office-Holders "C," "M," "R" and "O" (to name only a few of the many).

What politician or candidate hasn't been a disappointment? None I can think of. I'll still go by my father's voting advice: "When you have a choice between a known jerk and an unknown jerk, go for the unknown."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hey, how about those Chilean miners?

Yes, this is my Big Chance to show everyone how insensitive I really am.

According to various news reports, roughly one billion people are glued to their TV screens as I type this, all engrossed in the spectacle of the rescue of 33 Chilean miners. Every TV channel save the Cartoon Network is relaying the images and providing breathless coverage. Every psychologist who isn't allergic to television makeup, everyone who has ever been within five miles of a mine and everyone who has ever been in any kind of dangerous situation is analyzing the event.

The "analysis" is beyond ridiculous. News anchors who know nothing about what's going on (you might say that about 90% of the subjects they cover) are opining about mining, geology and psychology as if they actually know something. Various shrinks -- who should damn well know better -- are talking about the miners' "problems" as if they had personally treated them for years.

PARENTHETICAL I'M-NO-MONSTER NOTE: I'm really happy for the miners and their families. I can't begin to imagine what they've gone through, and don't want to try. This is the closest thing imaginable to an ideal end to the situation.

But I think turning disaster into something closely approximating a sporting event is disgusting.

ANNOUNCER: "We're waiting for Number 16 to come up now!"

ON-SCENE REPORTER: "Yes, Daniel Silva, age 27, is stepping out of the capsule now!" (sounds of applause, cheers in background)

Fortunately, the miners have apparently spoken to some kind of consultant who has advised them on what to say when the Worldwide Microphone is thrust into their collective faces. They may have landed a book deal, too.

Tragedy as a Made-For-TV Event.

Maybe I am an insensitive jerk. But apparently breathing a sigh of relief that 33 people were rescued from a tragedy isn't enough. No, you have to participate, have to watch the whole thing, talk about it* and treat the rescue as if it were an event of the magnitude of the first Moon landing (I didn't make that up; some TV nitwit said it), make 33 ordinary human beings, humans with strengths and weaknesses, into saints.

The best part of the whole thing? In a few hours, the rescue will be over, and 33 humans will be with their families and friends.

The worst part of the whole thing? In a few hours, the rescue will be over, and the media leeches will have to find yet another tragedy to feed from.

As my journalism prof used to say: "If it bleeds, it leads."

The Cartoon Network is looking better and better, Jim.

* I'm talking about it. Or at least writing about it. Guilty as charged.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Why I'm a Loser, part 23,748.

During my latest financial meltdown (as opposed to all the previous financial meltdowns), several people have suggested that I should -- to use the current terminology, which makes my teeth grind -- monetize my blog. I am, after all, such a great writer, etc., etc., blahblahblah.

All y'all know what that means: pick topics that show up in search engines, run ads, add a "donation" button, write several times a day, engage in endless self-promotion (which means reading, quoting and commenting on a horde of similar blogs, scattering links to me like grains of rice).... Then sit back and watch the ol' spondulix roll in.

It's not that easy.

I did do some snooping around to see how it's done. What I found did not exactly inspire me to take the Big Leap and Put It All Out There for advertisers (and readers) to lap up like a horde of thirsty kittycats gathering around the milk bowl.

I found things I could write about (and, in some cases, have written about). But I also found compelling reasons to maintain my blog as-is, which is as a place where I can vent and write about me when the mood strikes.

So here are the likely prospects, with my take on each:

1. NEWS AGGREGATION: These are sites like the Drudge Report, which exist only to provide links to other peoples' work. Since I don't give a happy damn about gossip and pop culture, I'd miss half the links that seem to be hot for readers right from the git-go. The rest would be repetitions of every other aggregator's links. Not exactly what I'd want to do;

2. POLITICAL BLOGS: Yes, I read some on a pretty regular basis and yes, I do have strong beliefs and opinions. Problem is, what I'd want to say (or could say with the necessary clear conscience and straight face) would not fit the model demanded by readers of political blogs. Liberal or conservative, one must adhere to the Party Line; any deviations produce howls of outrage from readers and greatly diminished web traffic. To me, the result is a kind of lock-step conformity that I simply can't make myself fit into, a case of my-way-or-the-highway absolutism at its worst.

3. MY OWN AREA OF EXPERTISE, now sadly unused by any clients: (I'm still unsure why I can't bring myself to come right out with it. Guess I'm still trying to preserve an anonymity that no longer exists.) The situation on the Interwebz mirrors that of the world of print publications: Amateurs have invaded the scene, all searching for what I used to have (various freebies, including products to evaluate, fancy travel, and so on). They broadcast their opinions which are, in my immodest, defiantly non-humble view, uninformed and badly expressed. The sites I've seen either reprint press handouts (unthinkable when I started in the game) or, worse, talk about the subject without any context or background knowledge. Or, they steal from established writers (like I used to be).

4. HUMOR: I can't draw, so cartoons are out. Likewise, when I'm trying for laffs, I am about as funny as a direct meteor strike on a Big City. Some people got it, and some don't got it. I don't got it.

PARENTHETICAL WHAT-IT-ALL-BOILS-DOWN-TO NOTE: The biggest weakness of the Internet is its instant-communication nature. Both news and analysis/commentary must hit the webs within moments of any event. Neither I nor anyone else can offer coherent and consistent opinions at the speed of electrons whizzing down cables. Information must be processed before it can be understood, must churn around in the brain before the typing fingers go to work. So-called "livebloggers" don't get this.

So there, in abbreviated form (as if my writing is ever "abbreviated"), is why a "monetized" blog would earn me an income in the high single digits. Through heredity or environment, I am constitutionally unable to play the kind of game that would make me successful in a world of short attention spans and acceptance of badly researched "facts" (see: Wikipedia, as massive a source of errors and outright misleading "information" as has ever existed).

I've always been ready and willing to sell out. If someone wants to pay for my take on any subject, I'm on hand. What I can't do is compromise on what I consider the basics: background, real research, taking the time to write well -- at least using proper English and spelling, except when I deliberately violate the rules of style for effect -- and what, for lack of a better word, I can only call integrity.

That doesn't make me particularly noble, of course. Mainly, it means I'm a lousy whore who can't peddle my, well, "product" in the Internet Age.

Being an irrelevant dinosaur ain't easy or fun, Jim.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

You can't lose 'em all...

...and, for once, I didn't lose. Okay, so I didn't actually win either, but I feel compelled to add a final chapter to the Geek Squad Saga.

All y'all read about it below: in essence, my computer picked up a nasty virus, and Geek Squad was supposed to clean it out for me. After I dropped a whole heckuva lot of loot on them, the computer came home and started in on the same old nonsense. I complained (politely) and was essentially told to pound sand. Another company actually came through for me, but I was out a hefty pile of spondulix, enough to buy a decent new 'puter. Geek Squad, via its customer service people, kept on telling me to pound sand.

So here we are. I mentioned having found contact info for a Geek Squad bigwig, and indeed made contact. Mr Bigwig didn't get back to me personally, but assigned someone (higher up the corporate food chain than my previous contacts) to check it out. At some point, the Dreaded Gift Certificate was again offered as a way to smooth my ruffled feathers.

PARENTHETICAL THINK-ABOUT-IT-FOR-A-MOMENT THOUGHT: What is a "gift certificate" worth? It entitles you to buy stuff at the same store that made you angry in the first place, costs them maybe half the face value if that much, and in the end they have the money and you don't.

I thanked the representative for the offer, but emphasized that I would prefer cash. Right now, I need that more than anything I could get at Best Buy. Unless, that is, Best Buy has started selling food when I wasn't looking....

Yesterday, I was advised that a refund was indeed warranted, and was told to call the manager at the offending store. Which I did. He invited me to come up and collect my loot. The only minor drawback was that the sum offered was $60 less than I wanted.

PARENTHETICAL YES-I'M-GREEDY THOUGHT: It was actually more like roughly $250 less than I wanted, but why quibble over details? I can't say the other stuff they did hurt anything or wasn't needed...just that I didn't want to be roped into those services at the time.

Being heavily into my "be polite" mode, I explained this very calmly. In the end, after some to-ing and fro-ing, the manager handed me a pitifully small stack of Jacksons this morning (with a couple Lincolns thrown in to round out the sum I felt was reasonable) and, if I still didn't quite feel all the grief had been worth it, I had to admit the company and manager played fair. We shook hands, smiled at each other like we meant it, and I left.

I'm admitting all this here. I prefer to mete out praise instead of complaints, you know. Don't get as much chance with the latter as I do with the former, though....

Oooh, yeah, before I forget: I'm getting a gift certificate, too, directly from the corporate office. A bigger one than I was offered to shut up and go away. Already have a good use for it in mind....

The whole episode has been an occasion for stress I didn't need, Jim. But it got resolved and I didn't lose this time.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Geeks, don't fail me now!

Oh, wait...they already did....

PARENTHETICAL YA-GOTTA-KNOW-THE-BACKSTORY COMMENT: My computer made the journey from California to, well, here during the last week of July. I set it up, and crawled out onto the interwebz. That's what I do with a computer. Very quickly, it picked up a "trojan" virus, which rendered it useless. Not having the computer-help resources I had in the other world, I decided to play it safe and rely on a well-known name's professionals to restore my poor Compaq's health.

So, I took my box to the Geek Squad at a Best buy store in the next town up the road. They charged me $190 for virus removal, $35 for "cleaning," and $100 to back up my data on CDs. With tax and who-knows-what-else thrown in, the total came to $357.

I picked it up the next day, set it up again, and bingo! back came the same virus. I called the store and was advised that the warranty didn't cover virus removal. I was, they said, welcome to come back and spend another $190. They'd be happy to give it another shot.

Somehow, the notion of paying someone again to fix something they didn't get right the first time didn't grab me. I called a local service firm, which sent a tech out. He removed the virus, installed a superior antivirus (the Geeks said nothing about doing anything like that), installed a couple of useful goodies and restored a few settings the Geeks had messed up. Total charge: $160. No further problems. None.

And so the saga began. No sooner had I again achieved connectivity with Out There than I made sure to drop Geek Squad's "customer service" people a mild email. When I received a response, many days later, it was not what I'd call effective or to the point.

In fact, It's worth quoting from (exactly as received):

Thank you for contacting the Geek Squad. My name is Agent Elorme.

Thank you for taking the time to send me your letter. I rely on direct feedback from our customers like you to let us know how The Geek Squad is doing. If you or anyone you know ever has any experience that is less than perfect, I want to know about it. We care very much about quality and I hope you'll give us another chance.

I apologize for the delay on our response and thank you for your patient. I am sorry to hear you are still having problems with your computer after the in store repair. I would like to offered our Under Cover service as a one time curtsey were an technician remotely logs in your computer and run diagnostic. You will need to have internet access in order to perform the service. I will waive all fee for the service. If you accept my offered please send me a date, time, and phone number where you can be reached. Once again, I do appreciate you as a customer and thank you for taking the time out of your day to let us know what went wrong.

I look forward to speaking to you. Thank you for choosing Geek Squad.

Once I satisfied myself that I understood most of what "Agent Elorme" was trying to say, I fired off a reply, noting that the poor response from my phone call had made me decide to go elsewhere for good service.

That prompted yet another email, this time from someone for whom English is a first or, at worst, second language. Yesterday -- we're now at the 17th of September, you understand -- I received yet another email, suggesting I contact Geek Squad's toll free "consumer service" number about the possibility of a partial refund.

So I did. That was two-plus hours of my life I'll never get back.

It started off well enough. The first person took my information and we discussed various questions she had. She then sent me to another rep, who did the same, and called the Best Buy store in question to see what was what. Then I was cut off.

Naturally, I was on "hold" for roughly half the time involved.

I called back, and went through the same process with two more people. These were a bit more clueless, making me fear that "Agent Elorme" wasn't far away. One couldn't find anything in the records, claiming my name was misspelled. Then I got it out of him that he had mis-typed my phone number after I repeated it three times.

By this time I was no longer mildly irritated, no longer interested in perhaps getting a partial refund. No. Now I wanted at least the $190 back. That's what happens when you irritate a customer by being clueless and condescending, you know. They go from reasonable to angry.

When the final "agent" offered me a $50 gift certificate at the store, I informed her that would do no good. Who needs a gift certificate for a store you never intend to buy from again? She shifted me to her supervisor.

Right off the ol' bat, I knew from the tone of this dude's voice that I was essentially threatening to rob his company, and he wasn't having any. It was my fault, because I didn't take the computer back and give them another chance (at another $190) to make it right. That somehow voided the warranty I had been told at the time didn't apply anyway.

Amazingly, I didn't dip into the vast storehouse of profanity, vulgarity and expressions of rage I have stashed away over the years. I merely told "supervisor" that it was a pretty pathetic way to run a company. The rest I didn't say; I just thought it real hard.

If I had to guess, I'd say my dealings with Geek Squad -- and my subsequent promise (which I intend to keep) that I will never again spend a penny with them or Best Buy -- didn't not result in any hand-wringing at their corporate headquarters. Hell, I'm only one customer; losing me won't require them to park their fleet of VW Beetles or lay off any of their "technicians."

We've all seen people who, when wronged by Evil Corporate America, set up websites (which they fill with page after page of boring details about their woes) and, like conspiracy theorists chasing the Infamous Grassy Knoll Assassin, can quote dates, times to the second, and produce witnesses to support their arguments. I've tended to laugh at such people.

I understand them now. I won't do that -- in fact, I can't think of anything I can do in this case -- but I understand it. There's an evil little part of me that wouldn't mind seeing tires flattened on every black & white VW Beetle in town, but that part remains quiescent, as it has after every other instance when I've felt rooked, cheated, bamboozled or hoodwinked.

Just don't expect me to feel any pity for Geek Squad and Best Buy if they go the way of other less-than-customer-friendly electronics retailers/ service points. Comes to that, expect me to cheer wildly on that day!

If you ever need fast, competent computer service, I can give the highest recommendation to a nice company in my area. And I advise you: avoid Geek Squad and Best Buy under any circumstances.

Revenge it ain't, but at least now you know -- as the late, not-necessarily-great Paul Harvey used to say -- the rest of the story.


PARENTHETICAL POST-SCRIPT-Y TYPE THOUGHT: A few minutes of research (on the computer which has worked perfectly since Not-the-Geek-Squad fixed it) got me a telephone number for a Geek Squad executive. He's gonna get a call from me come Monday....

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Return of "Jim"

My friend Juanderlust suggests (in a comment on a previous post) that I haven't been writing here often enough, and he's right.

It has been a difficult few months, Jim.

But all is not lost. Not all "all," anyway. Whenever presented with an opportunity to smile, I can still manage it.

One prime example is this TV commercial, which makes me smile every time I see it. It never gets old. In fact I am beginning to believe this may be the best TV commercial in recorded history, the absolute pinnacle of the art since Philo Farnsworth invented the Boob Tube oh so many years ago:

PARENTHETICAL IT-AIN'T-LIKE-RIDIN'-A-BICYCLE THOUGHT: Did that work? I've forgotten everything I knew about HTML. Advancing age and creeping senility, I suppose. Or maybe I never really had a firm grasp of the fundamentals.

One reason for my silence -- and I'm always ready with excuses for my multitudinous failings -- is that I am so used to writing for money; when the ol' spondulix were rollin' in* I didn't have much trouble batting out posts for free in my spare time. It was fun.

"Fun" and I don't have much to do with each other these days. My last writing gig was something like three months ago, and efforts to find a local gig -- any gig -- have been met with uniform disinterest.

So I'm nowhere near being Mr Happy Dude right now.**

But I do have some music stashed in my computer to listen to -- a good bit of my CD collection was salvaged during the Big Crash back in April, but is still in L.A. -- and my old photos to look at. Not much, really, but one clings to sanity with whatever resources are available.

I also have access to the "little piggy," who cracks me up without fail when I see him on the Tube.

And I got you, Jim. Wish you'd buy me a drink, like in the old days....

* Okay, make that dribbling in....

** There is one exception to the no-happiness situation, but that's far away from reaching the talk-about-it stage as of now.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

New news

NON-PARENTHETICAL YOU-HAVE-BEEN-WARNED NOTE: For most people -- everyone? -- this will be an exceptionally boring post. Tough. It's what I'm thinking about when I would much rather be thinking about happy stuff. Ain't no "happy stuff" around right now, though....

These days, a majority of the public gets its news from the Internet. That would include me, I admit. It's a big change from a diet of a couple of daily newspapers and half-hour of TV news plus a variety of weekly/monthly magazines, which was my routine 20 years ago.

But being wedded to the computer for work reasons ultimately changed my habits. There are thousands (if not tens of thousands) of sources for news now, all easily accessible.

Most people feel as I did at first: a good library of bookmarked sites can put you in touch with more than you need to know about anything you want to know about. As a "news junkie" from way back, I quickly began to see this the way a kid sees a big toy-shaped box under the Christmas tree.

But now, having seen my own news-related career collapse like a bridge made of toilet paper, I have had to look more closely and see things differently.

What you find when peeping at the man behind the curtain* is that the number of actual reporters -- which I define as people who actually go where news happens, ask questions of participants, do diligent research, and assemble a fact-laden digest of what happened in clear, concise form -- has actually diminished from the days of so-called "old media."

Today, most online news comes from aggregators, people who assemble links to news stories from various more-or-less credible sources. The Drudge Report is a prime example. Drudge is not a journalist, no matter what he thinks. Instead, he (or whatever individual manages his website these days) he is a reader and assembler who works with the electronic equivalent of scissors and paste to put a whole bunch of stolen borrowed stories in a small space.

And the articles you read on other sites? Too often, they are "written" by hacks who are paid $30 by a "content mill" to whip out what is essentially a first rough draft of a real story, one based on a couple of minutes'-worth of Google searches, other online articles or direct lifts from Wikipedia, itself a notoriously inaccurate "source." These people are typists, not reporters.

But hey, it's all free to the reader.

This has two bad effects: first, it tends to perpetuate erroneous information. If x writes something bogus, it is given fresh life when picked up and plagiarized by y. Unless someone actually digs up the truth by talking to genuine experts or people involved in the particular story -- which is economically unfeasible for anyone who expects to make a living as a writer in this climate -- misinformation and outright lies spread like fungus.

The second bad effect is related to that last sentence. And it's where I come in. Or. more realistically, go out. Though I have not had any contact with former clients in the past few months, I still talk to someone who is trying to peddle his wares. What he hears -- and I believe him -- is that the magazines' story banks are full of articles offered up "on spec" (that is, written and submitted with the hope they will eventually be published and -- maybe -- paid for). They are not looking for new articles.

Never mind that the material they have on hand is largely of dubious quality, filled with inaccuracies and poorly written. The stories are of "internet quality" and, for companies that see articles as a way to fill the white space between the ads, that'll do just fine.

We have all seen those internet ads trolling for writers. I have, and have followed up on many of them. What I have found in the fine print are sub-minimum wage payments for writers. I'll give a few credit: they openly admit "you won't get rich writing for us" and appeal to the desire of any aspiring writer to "build a portfolio" as if someone else, somewhere, will actually pay a living wage for your work later.

PARENTHETICAL NEWS-FLASH: I have a portfolio, thank you very much, one assembled over 24 painful-but-successful years. The work therein was vetted by editors, copy editors and fact-checkers, was almost always painstakingly research and smoothed by me before submission. What it entitles me to, apparently, is to apply for (and probably not get) a $25K/year, 24/7 job in an area where a one-room apartment will cost you $30K/year or more. In short, my portfolio has the approximate value of a used Kleenex.

Perhaps this means nothing to you. Stories that play fast and loose with facts, don't even try to hide the writer's personal biases and are sloppily constructed are the norm today, not the exception. This is the "New Journalism" and the thieves who fill their websites with stolen work are the "New Media."

To me it's pretty damn ugly, Jim.

I won't even start on the cable TV news networks and the crap they peddle. Nor will I talk about today's "commentators" who, unlike the giants of the Walter Williams/George Will/Victor Davis Hanson class, deliver reasoned opinion (even when I disagree with them, I can follow their logic and appreciate their informed opinions) instead of adding a sentence or two of their own to links and blockquotes from other "pundits" and calling that "commentary."

As far as I'm concerned, the nut of the whole thing is rooted in short attention spans and a lack of any desire to hear/read anything that challenges one's own opinions and beliefs. Never mind that said opinions and beliefs are built on the same weak foundation of mangled facts and distortions that pepper today's information world. What's wanted is instant gratification, accuracy, quality and coherence be damned.

The "free access" routine plays into this as well. You don't want to pay for news? You think advertisers do that for you? You're half right: advertisers pay the aggregators; very little filters down to the actual producers. That has a negative (to put it mildly) effect on those who churn out the pap you read. In two words: they starve.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Actually I do know what to do, but that's another story. And not a pretty one.

* I'm guessing that's an obscure reference these days. Do people still watch The Wizard of Oz?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day... almost over, slipping past well under my personal radar.

I'm not a father. Well, as far as I know there are no offspring of mine out running around. And I'm sure I would have been informed by now.

PARENTHETICAL CLOSE-BUT-NO-CIGAR NOTE: My ex-wife is a mother, with at least one child. But she waited until after we decided to divorce -- but possibly not before she moved out of our unhappy abode* -- to get pregnant.

All of which is fine by me. By the time the issue of raising bambini came up, I was not against the notion as a general concept. I simply didn't want to make babies with her.

After that, every woman with whom I might have wished to enter a state of parenthood** proved to be either unwilling or infertile. Or both.

And now it's too late. My days of considering making an addition or two to the world's population appear to be behind me, though my enthusiasm for practicing making babies is undiminished. Tony Randall I'm not.

My father has been gone for more than 20 years. I don't miss him. To indulge in a hoary cliche, I missed him when he was alive. I won't bad-rap him, but the past is not changeable, and our relationship was not especially wonderful. Or even good.

I do, however, admire fathers. Fathers have, after all, created all the women I loved/love, people I admire, inventors, producers of great art, music, literature, all my friends.

Of course fathers also cursed our world with mass murderers, crooks, tyrants, malcontents of all kinds, and politicians. Fatherhood does not have a 100% record of success.

On balance, though, I have to take my hat off to all the men who have, at one time or another, earned the honor of being called "daddy." Without fathers, this would be a damn barren planet.

So I'll say it: Happy Father's Day to all.

* I was informed of this by a trustworthy person who admitted having heard it directly from ---- some time after the divorce was final. And, let it be said, she did marry the presumed father....

* Marriage, too...I'm old-fashioned that way.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Writer's block.

For as long as I've had an online journal -- which has been a fair number of years -- I've told anyone who cared to read my words that I'm a writer. A capital-W Writer, thank you very much, one who has made a living -- tenuous, poor and inconsistent, perhaps, but my continued existence more or less attests to it -- grinding out words.

And, despite my wish to step away from the monster that has consumed me for so long, such money as I've earned in the last few months has come from writing.

Pathetic whore that I am, I suppose I would return to it full-time if the opportunity presented itself. I would rob banks if I possessed the necessary skills, too. Money talks. In my case, it screams.

But I've learned something, and it is a bit painful: I will never be a decent fiction writer, one whose books carry the "x Weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List!" line atop the cover and/or get made into big-grossing movies featuring Big Stars.

I guess I've known that for years, but reading a book that bears both distinctions and a Famous Author* has simply driven the point home like a red-hot rivet shot from a pneumatic gun.

Let it be said that I did not sink to my knees in abject wonder while reading it. No, I am not going to sing the praises of this book. Just the opposite, really; I found it poorly constructed, full of interminable paragraphs formed from fast-drying cement and situations that stretch the definition of "improbable" to new lengths.

And that doesn't even take the stereotyped characters, vapid dialogue and predictable scenes into account.

But hey, it sold. Big buckaroons for author and agent. Zillions of people raved about book and movie.

I am a mercenary kind of guy. Writing the Great American Novel holds no appeal for me, unless it brings me into reach of a Great American Fortune. Having been approached on several occasions to write non-fiction books within my own little field (and turning each offer down), I am aware of the financial details attending authorship, particularly as they relate to factual works.

Had I accepted the ego-stroking offers, I would have reached my current state of whimpering poverty much faster.

It is possible that, with practice, I could learn to emulate some best-selling writers, to adapt their vapid, semi-literate styles -- can you say Clive Cussler? -- for my own, and put myself in line for a pile of spondulics. I'm good at mimicry when I put my mind to it.

But I know, deep down, that any discerning reader would swiftly realize that I was faking it, and would be properly scornful. And would put the book right back on the shelf, unsold.

My own "style" wouldn't work in book-land. In writing for magazines, I learned to create economical prose that fits into small, well-defined spaces. The twists, turns and side-trips of a novel are as foreign to my way of writing as producing original manuscripts in Chinese.

Changing my written ways now would be a monumental task, a case of the-leopard-changing-his-spots much more difficult than I can manage while having to deal with all the other negative nonsense life continues to throw at me. Better -- and faster, and easier -- to become an expert on, say, String Theory.

Oddly enough, I have a couple of embryonic plots for novels stewing in my head. One is based on true-life people in a true-life place**, and would become fiction simply because not enough is known about the protagonists' real lives to come up with 40,000 words about them. Someone tried. And failed miserably.

The other is seems better. Coincidentally, I think it has greater commercial possibilities as well. But I can't write it. I am not "in touch" with the main characters in terms of the lives they would have led, the patois they speak in certain circumstances, or how they would react and adapt to the situations the story would set them in.

All is not lost for the latter idea, though. I know a writer who could produce it with grace and sensitivity***. From time to time, I jot a note or two about it in hopes that I can convince this writer (a friend, mind you) to take a stab at it.

If that never happens, these ideas will simply join many others that formed in my brain, blossomed and withered. Unlike the Unknown Soldier, they will never be memorialized, but will simply end up in some anonymous landfill with other artifacts chronicling my existence. "Pas de biggie," as the French are smart enough not to say....

There's definitely another factor at work here, but I won't go into it. I've written about the fallacy of the "starving artist" argument in the past, and don't want to waste a lot of time exploring the psyche of the emotionally starving artist, even if I think that plays a part in my current inability to write dancing, singing, balletic stories. Stories people would read. Would pay to read.

This has been one of those "inside-baseball" posts that no one in their right mind should read. If you've gotten this far, I feel kinda sorry for you.

If I was a better host, I would have filled this space with jokes.....

* Since I have no desire to be a literary critic, or to displease those who may enjoy this writer's work, I will leave the author blissfully -- and well-set financially -- anonymous.

** My original intention was to write a musical about them. But musicals seem to be out of favor these days, so a novel is the only possible alternative.

*** This writer can -- and does -- write rings around me in any case, even when confined to short-form work. I do sink to my knees in abject wonder when reading anything this person writes.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sympathy for BP?

Naaah. Never. No way. They have made a mess the likes of which we have never before seen, one that will have bad effects for decades, probably centuries.

But I came close to feeling a twinge of compassion for BP's Tony Hayward today. Damn close. Poor ol' Tony had to appear before a congressional committee today.

Frankly, I think I'd rather be forced to go out naked to scoop the noxious sludge from BP's shattered well than be grilled by the unprincipled, generally senile, always self-important and beyond-clueless loons who populate the halls of Congress.

I had no idea they are all experts on the mechanics and engineering aspects of oil drilling and disaster preparedness. No inkling that a superannuated hack from Michigan, a public-trough-guzzling drone from California or the rest of these buffoons could manage a pair of shoelaces without help from one of their hordes of well-paid flunkies, much less spout technical buzz-terms so freely.

In fact, they can't. Said flunkies burned the midnight oil to come up with rhetorical questions for their bosses to throw at Hayward. Always in the most self-righteous, angry tone they can muster*. Looking carefully, one could see the Congress-crooks' eyes dipping to the cheat sheets before them when they asked about the details that led up to the disaster.

Meet any one of them on the street and ask about "blow-out preventers" or types of concrete well-shafts and their eyes would glaze over.

Granted, Hayward didn't come out of the hearing smelling like roses. He was evasive, scripted and woefully uninformed about what his company did and is doing. Not my idea of a proper CEO, he came across as slightly lower than a conscienceless P.R. hack trying to excuse massive corporate idiocy.

In his defense, he had Eric Holder, the so-called Attorney General peeping over his shoulder muttering threats about criminal prosecutions**. Anyone in that situation would be smart to take the fifth whenever inquisitors try to pin them to stupid/illegal/unethical activity.

There were two questions within the mental capabilities of the freeloading Lords (and Ladies) of Congress and, so far as I know, neither was asked of BP today:

1. How and when will the damn flow of oil be stopped?

2. How and when will you clean up the foul mess?

No matter how and when, I suspect it'll cost BP far more than the $20 billion they have committed to pony up. Good. Whatever it takes. They made the mess, they must clean it up.

Of course I hope we'll see how that money is doled out. I don't trust anyone even remotely connected to the government to pass it along honestly and fairly.

But what I want to see now is steady, total concentration on the only two goals that mean anything at this time: stopping the flow of oil and cleaning it up before it destroys more of our environment. That attitude is, sadly, beyond the ideologically motivated leeches in Washington who, in the final analysis, care more about advancing their own agendas and covering their own sorry asses than protecting citizens and the environment.

At the moment when the oil rig caught fire and started belching out an uncontrolled flood of oil, BP bore sole responsibility. Now, almost two months later, they share culpability with hideously incompetent jerks in the government who, in a rush to make political hay out of an unspeakable disaster, have dredged up every possible obstacle to a speedy resolution. And have lied, singly and collectively, about their roles.

If anything could divert any of my anger away from BP, it is the unconscionable antics of the president and both parties in congress.

Obama calls this a "war," a meme that has spread like wildfire among the chattering fools in the political world. It is a war he is unfit to lead and Congress is incapable of conducting.

Had these inept partisan hacks been running things in December, 1941, we would have responded to the Japanese attack. By 1950, if we were lucky.

If ever we have needed genuine leaders and doers, it is now. We don't have them. Tomorrow, next week or next month is too late.

* The tone of voice they generally save for members of the Opposition Party or constituents who dare ask them to justify their actions.

** The same threats he has so far managed not to make to some genuine criminals, but hey, the law is flexible, don't you know....

Friday, June 11, 2010

I don't know what the hell gets into me...

...but I was thinking of this song tonight.

The last time I heard it? It was circa 1964, in Flagstaff, Arizona*.

I thought it was funny as hell back then. Now, it has a strange appropriateness....

* Just to show how deeply weird I am, I remembered the lyrics as I listened. All of them. I could have sung along. If I could sing....

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Oil, politics and incompetence.

As a general rule, I try to avoid subjects about which I know little or nothing. While I'm pretty good at looking like an idiot, it's seldom voluntary.

So I probably should avoid saying anything about the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

But it's frighteningly clear that Barack Obama doesn't know a damn thing about the situation either. Neither does his pet Coast Guard admiral who is "in charge." Same goes for Congress and the trained seals of the news media. Neither, apparently, does British Petroleum.

It's not hard to understand the basics: BP and its contractors managed, through gross incompetence, to foul the Gulf. The flow of crude continues from the broken well after nearly two months.

And what is the government's response? It stages media events, the President goes out for photo opportunities, meets with incompetent bureaucrats and yammers about "kicking ass," and Admiral Allen comes on TV daily to sputter about speeding up BP's payments to people affected by the sea of oil.

Excuse me. There are only two vital issues here: the first is to stop the damn flow of oil. The second, is to use any and all means to clean up the oil already spreading from Louisiana to Florida.

It's that simple.

Granted, drilling for oil more than a mile below the surface of the ocean presents enormous difficulties. It may be more problematic than "rocket science." If a company chooses to do so, they had bloody well better have emergency techniques developed and ready for use.

BP didn't. They created a gooey, stinking Frankenstein's Monster, and they should be doing more to fix the damage. They must pay for the mess they've made, a mess they should not have been allowed to make in the first place.

But the response from our President, a man who, in my view, has proven himself a grossly incompetent leader, totally unqualified for his job, has so far been disgustingly political and completely unacceptable. He is wasting time -- and our money -- on hollow posturing.

We don't need babble about "developing new energy sources," face-saving "investigations" into possible illegal activities on BP's part, Justice Department meddling into BP's business operations and endless meetings that don't provide either actions or solutions.

If we had a real President, he or she would have gotten on the horn to BP executives 50 days ago, and would have sent them the following message: stop the oil flow from the well, and clean up the mess. Now. Said executive would have mobilized all governmental resources instantly, would have accepted all offers of assistance from private individuals and countries that have dealt with similar, if smaller, crises in the past, and would have suspended or streamlined government regulations that slow emergency actions.

Instead, the Chief Executive has thrown hundreds (if not thousands) of desk-bound, politically motivated bodies at the crisis and has made endless, repetitive speeches. Action? He seems not to understand the word.

The time for palaver and political calculations ended when the oil platform exploded.

Numerous methods for both capping the well and soaking up the oil have been put forth over the past 50 days. Wasting time letting government officials and members of Congress discuss them (in front of TV cameras, naturally) is pointless; those that don't increase the possibility of worse damage -- and that includes almost all I've seen -- should have been put into action immediately. Most strike me, a non-expert, as sensible. Even if they don't work as well as their proponents suggest, any improvement would be better than the current disaster.

Once the flow is stopped and the oil is sopped up, the recriminations can begin. At that point, Obama can point fingers, assign blame to everyone but himself and make excuses for his inability to lead to his heart's content. BP can makes excuses and its CEO can tell us how sorry he is. The company's cash can and should be distributed to those demonstrably hurt by the mess.

All those things are important. But they pale in comparison to the immediate issue, which is that oil is flowing, uncontrolled, from the ocean floor. It must be stopped, by any means necessary.

BP and our current government have failed miserably. Until people who put reality ahead of politics, action ahead of image, and humanity ahead of personal advantage are put in charge, we can be sure the BP disaster is only the beginning.

Those responsible should lose their jobs. That includes those in charge at BP and the company contracted to run the platform and the government officials who have mishandled the situation. Sadly, the President bears sufficient responsibility to merit dismissal as well. Gross incompetence is intolerable in a situation where lives and the environment are at stake.

After the damn oil flow is stopped and the mess is cleaned up.