The Principled World According to Dick Cheney

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“From kindergarten to graduation, I went to public schools, and I know that they are a key to being sure that every child has a chance to succeed and to rise in the world.”
– Dick Cheney

In high school, I had a tutor, and she was a nice enough lady, even if she was narrow minded, conservative and a tad too religious for my tastes. But, this was Centerville, Ohio and to expect a tutor who was an intellectual progressive would have been to believe in unicorns. Even after all this time, one of her lessons still resonates with me, the difference between principle and principal.

I had made that grammatical mistake in a paper I had written and she pointed out “the easiest way to remember the difference is that a principle is a belief and the principal of your school is your pal.” While I became instantly aware of the difference, under no circumstances was my high school unit principal, Mr. Durnbauugh, my pal.

If white collar marginalization is the adult equivalent to waterboarding, then high school is a teenagers introduction to both marginalization and torture. And every Monday morning in high school I was blasted with that as I would wake up with the dread of knowing I would be met with a pink slip from my homeroom teacher telling me to go visit Mr. Durnbaugh. It’s not like I was some sort of hellion who was blowing things up, mouthing off to teachers or truant to the point of expulsion, I was way too high to care about most of that stuff. Come to think of it, weed was mostly responsible for those visits. It would seem that at one point during the previous week, one teacher or another would report me for being “out of sorts” (stoned) or tardy (pot heads are not known for punctuality). Those were my only infractions, outside of typical sullenness, which wasn’t a punishable crime at that point. Invariably, I’d walk into home room, not even sit down, grab my pink slip and go visit Mr. Durnbaugh. Who would dole out Saturday school to me. And for those of you wondering if “The Breakfast Club” was real, it did exist. And thanks to Mr. Durnbaugh, “The Breakfast Club” hit pretty close to home for me when it was released.

Thankfully, the guy who monitored the 7a-12p Saturday school sessions was my sophomore English teacher, who either liked me or was afraid of me, I never knew and never really cared because I was usually WAY too high and felt the punishment was beyond silly. While he was militant with the other kids about doing school work, I usually got a pass reading whatever rock and roll biography I had my nose in or the latest issue of Rolling Stone. Once and while he’d stop at my desk and say “At least make it look like schoolwork.”

But neither Mr. Durbaugh nor that Saturday school monitor were my high school teaching nemesis. That title belonged to David Mark Fife. This guy was barely out of college when I had him for freshman science. Mr. David Mark Fife, with his nicely trimmed beard, solid button down shirts and knight ties and wide corduroy pants, would zero in on me daily and, while I was a wise ass, I am not sure I was deserving of much of the sarcasm of verbal accosting I took from that guy. Little did I realize that I would become as hated to him as Osama Bin Laden was to Dick Cheney.

Back then radio was much different than it is today. And in the little suburban sanctuary of Centerville, Ohio anyone under thirty lived and breathed by the local AOR station, WTUE. This predated the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and syndication so radio stations and their DJ’s were pretty tailored to their markets. And the morning shows were the centerpiece of information, music and humor for cities outside of major metropolitan areas. At WTUE , Jeff Curry and Dan Pugh (who would later find success as ESPN God Dan Patrick) were ours and it just so happened that Jeff Curry was my half brother.

One of the more popular characters created during that time was Waldo Snivels, a dweeby sort of guy who was always unlucky at…everything. Well, they had created a storyline where Waldo met a woman and fell in love. So in the final storyline for the character he fell in love and was to get married. Obviously, given Mr. David Mark Fife’s age, and our class discussions about Waldo, I knew he was a fan of the morning show. The Friday morning before Waldo Snivels Monday morning nuptials, I made a bet with Fife that Waldo wouldn’t get married. Mr. David Mark Fife took the bet, not knowing my inside line. OK, I probably shouldn’t have made the bet, but I wanted to one up the bastard, even if it was only for a Snickers bar.

Monday morning came and during the morning show the Mayor of Dayton had run off with Waldo’s bride, leaving him alone at the alter. So, I walked into Mr. Fife’s class with way too much confidence and announced to the class, and a fuming Mr. Fife, that he lost and owed me a Snickers bar. Unbeknownst to me, someone had told him that my half brother was one half of the creative team of the morning show and after class he pulled me over to the side and from clenched teeth seethed “I don’t owe you shit you little bastard. You knew ahead of time what was going to happen.” He was pissed and I knew enough to shut up.

A few months later while we were all outside for a fire drill, I reminded him he still owed me a Snickers bar and he pulled me aside and said “You’re an asshole Higgons, that’s all you’re ever gonna be, you know that?” Apparently, he was still angry and again, I knew enough to shut up.

My sophomore year I ran into Mr. David Mark Fife in the hallway where he blocked my passage and said to me “Take a swing at me Higgons. I’ll give you a free shot. Go on, just take one swing at me.” This was after lunch so I was pretty high and didn’t take the bait, “No way, I hit you and you expel me.” He smirked and replied “Exactly.” I recall nervously laughing and walking around him, not knowing if it was a joke or not. Either this guy really hated me, had some serious rage issues or I was just a master of cutting sarcasm at 15. Somehow, the first two ring most true.

This was the era of overhead projectors and I knew Fife had all his notes on scrolls and I knew where he kept them. So one day after school in my junior year, I decided to go stealth on Mr. Fife and steal his notes. Well, I didn’t take them so much as just relocate them to another drawer in his classroom. Obviously, the next day there was quite a commotion during first period as Mr. David Mark Fife was in a state because his notes were missing. Being that my class was next door, he came in and asked if anyone knew anything about where they might be. I raised my hand and suggested “Maybe someone just moved them into another drawer in the classroom.” He stared at me and quietly stormed out of the classroom.

The last semester of my senior year it all came to a head. I had gained a little more confidence, surliness, and was beginning to relish in my anti-authoritarianism. I was walking by the lunchroom where kids sat for study hall and a friend threw a piece of orange at me. So I picked it up and threw it back at him and from behind me came “You throw like a girl Higgons, now go pick it up.” I turned and there he was, Mr. David Mark Fife. I replied, “What? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t throw anything.” and kept walking.
“Go pick it up,” he said.
“No.” I said as he trotted up to grab my arm and swung me around.
“I saw you throw that, now go pick it up.”
“I didn’t throw anything and I am not picking up anything.”
“You can go pick it up or we can go to Mr. Durnbaugh’s office”, Fife said.
“Fine, let’s go”, I turned and headed towards the office with Mr. David Mark Fife in tow.

We made it to my princi”pals” office where Mr. David Mark Fife and I argued quite vociferously about what had happened with the orange. (Yep, the absurdity of this all still rings true to me.) It finally ended with me yelling “Why do you even bother to teach if you hate everyone so much?!” Sensing this was a millisecond from becoming a physical fight, Mr. Durnbaugh quickly ushered Mr. David Mark Fife out, saying “We’ll talk later”. He came back in to discuss what happened and I told my side of the story to my “pal”. Someone threw it at me, I threw it back. That was it. Durnbaugh asked who threw it first and I said I didn’t know (I wasn’t then and am still not, a rat). So he called my father and arranged for a meeting with the three of us the next morning.

The next morning as my father, Mr. Durnbaugh and I convened to recount the “orange incident”, I was given the choice of one week of out of school suspension or two months of Saturday school. When I asked what would happen to Mr. Fife, I was stonewalled. Feeling unjustly prosecuted, I opted for the out of school suspension because I felt that would ultimately be less painful. My father strongly suggested I take the Saturday school. He used the argument that “You don’t want an out of school suspension on your transcript.” Given my transcript and the college counselor’s sage “He shouldn’t go to college” advice, I’m not entirely sure it would have mattered all that much.

But then I got to thinking (it really is amazing how much quicker you can think without doing a wake and bake) and decided the Saturday school option was clearly the better choice because the assigned Saturdays took me through the end of my senior year which meant that Mr. Durnbaugh couldn’t add any more on my Monday morning visits for being high or tardy. Ultimately, I went with Saturday school…besides, I had just started a killer Bob Dylan biography.

So, what’s the ultimate point of this story? None, really. I just felt this story is marginally more interesting than the documentary “The World According to Dick Cheney”. If you watch this doc and are looking for some insight into the former Vice President, you won’t find it. And the truth is, I don’t think there is much to the man. He was, for better or worse, a straight shooter throughout his entire political career.

The only thing I took away from this documentary is that Dick Cheney was a deeply principled man and he was never interested in being anyone’s pal. And while I am diametrically opposed to him in every political and philosophical way, I couldn’t help but find myself fascinated by his steadfast commitment to his principles. It really is admirable. I mean really admirable. Sure, his ideals and principles have cost trillions of dollars, tens of thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of lives overseas, shattered our international standing, etc. but he did stick to them. And in politics, that says a lot.

The only thing “The World According to Dick Cheney” left me wondering was what if his principles were different. What if he had actually used that steadfast commitment for good rather than duplicitous back stabbing politics, power, war mongering, torture, war profiteering, bastardizing the constitution, illegal incarceration, lining the pockets of Halliburton and the rich, etc. well, then maybe we’d all have been a little better off.

As for Mr. David Mark Fife? Well, that son of a bitch still owes me a Snickers bar.

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Open Letter to Netflix Haters

May 29, 2013

Dear Netflix haters,

I’d like you all to step away from your keyboards and close your blog window. If you work for an outlet hating on Netflix, take a break and get some coffee or have a smoke. Breathe, relax.

Let me say right up front, I am not a Netflix apologist, employee or shareholder. So, I have no vested interest in what follows.

It seems to me that so many of you Netflix haters are hell bent on seeing their demise. Over the past year, Wall Street ANALyst’s and a huge chunk of traditional media coverage of the company has done nothing but take the piss out of what they are doing. One must obviously acknowledge the monolithic misstep last year of splitting the company and then the piss poor handling of the ensuing aftermath. They paid the price for that, literally. I think everyone can agree on that. We can also acknowledge that it may be best to keep Reed Hastings on a shorter leash than he may like, but I suspect he is smart enough to know this already.

OK, so why is everyone so hell bent on slamming Netflix?

  • Because they are doing things differently (no one likes a rebel)? No, not really.
  • Because they are bucking the system (no one likes a smart rebel)? Nahhhh.
  • Because they are doing it well AND they are winning (believe it or not, we as a society don’t like winners. We reward them, but seldom like them)? Getting closer.

If only it were that easy, but this being the world of multinational corporations, it’s not.

You see the way broadcast media works is, in a word or two, fucked up. We just finished the annual circle jerk (upfront) here in NYC where all the networks preview their fall schedules. “This is the time of year when the most powerful ad execs in the nation stand in line — line! — to get into Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center to hear the pitch…”(1) Even though traditional broadcast viewership continues to trend downward, this annual shit show continues to generate billions of dollars and all networks see year over year increases. (1) Seriously, it defies all logic.

In and of itself, that isn’t TOO horrible. That is presented like any convention, right? Sort of. It’s the lack of transparency that’s a slap in the face. You see, at a convention, you can bounce around and more or less see what everyone is charging, because it’s more or less universal. During the upfront, most advertisers are not aware of what their competitors, or ANYONE, is actually paying because it is all one big ass secret.

The core principle of a free market (which many of these CEO’s would claim to be advocates of) is to let the market decide what the rate would be…for everyone. Under the auspices of the free market, a 30 second unit for Ford in a popular show should, in essence, be in the ballpark of a 30 second unit for GM.

It’s not a free market if CBS says to Ford “I’ll charge you 10,000 for 30 seconds in ‘Two and a Half Men’ but you can’t tell anyone.”(these numbers are totally made up for simplistic reasons, I assure you they are INFINITELY more) and then goes to GM and says “I’ll charge you 100,000 for 30 seconds in ‘Two and a Half Men’ but don’t tell anyone.” The current foundation of media buying is anything but a free market, it is the very definition of dictatorial.

In all fairness, there have been more open systems tried (Google comes to mind) but they failed. They failed because they weren’t encouraged to succeed. There is much more money in the dictatorial model.

For a better understanding to the bullying or dictatorial market that is the upfront, read Jim Edwards article “A Secret Cartel Keeps The Dying Broadcast Industry Afloat“.

The price determined for these commercials is pure speculation and, from the pitch to purchase, the price is directly tied to the fictional rating system known as Nielsen. Simple facts, Nielsen has about 24,000 set top ratings boxes around the country. There are well over 115,000,000 television sets and well over 300,000,000 US citizens. Even for a non-math person or data analyst, I can tell works out to be a pretty small percentage. Furthermore, Nielsen does not factor into account colleges or universities, prisons, etc. where television viewing is tantamount to water.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE! Nielsen, the networks and advertisers are still trying to tell us that the 18-49 demographic is the most important demo, or “key demo” (they even have the data to back it up..HA). First of all, that is a HUGE spread, 31 years! A generation is typically defined by 25 years. That 18-39 demo is like the FBI’s worst profiler “Well, he or she is a white, hispanic or black male, anywhere from 18-49 with long/short sandy brown hair or possibly not, anywhere from 5’0” to 7’0″ tall.” Secondly, millenials and Gen X’ers (that is the 18-49 demo) are not brand specific and our viewing habits are changing daily. They’re certainly not the same as the baby boomers. And thirdly, any half wit can tell you boomers are the “key demo”.

My generation and the generation below me are constantly being told we don’t save enough and we don’t spend enough. You know what? WE DON’T MAKE ENOUGH TO DO EITHER! The baby boomer generation is roughly 78 million strong and controls a big chunk of the wealth in the U.S. (2) so to argue that x’ers or millenials are the “key demo” is to deny that fact, and it’s both ignorant and severely short sighted.

Netflix is a subscription based model, so they are not beholden to Madison Avenue. And the subscription based model not only turns its back on the the ad supported model but also proves to advertisers and networks just how archaic their business model is. People are fine paying for content that excludes commercials. Hell, HBO taught us that eons ago…before it was snatched up by a multinational.

Netflix has been able to attract some a-list talent, which television has great difficulty doing, and they’ve created some pretty good original programming, which television is also having great difficulty doing. And nothing pisses networks off more than competitors success.

“Lilyhammer” was a nice introduction to the Netflix original programming sked, David Fincher’s “House of Cards” was just shy of brilliant, “Hemlock Grove” was a misfire for me, but apparently it did well. And now “Arrested Development”. I am halfway in and it’s a welcome reminder of just how smart the show was and is.

To expect “Arrested Development” to be GREAT would have been foolish. It’s very good and it’s still INFINITELY better than any of the dreck commercial networks try to jam down our gullet.

Netflix is not beholden to Nielsen. At all. They don’t even need to release the number of views for their shows with their quarterly statement, or at all. One could easily argue Netflix is not being transparent with that information. How dare someone not be transparent to the all might multinationals that own cable and broadcast networks! They would never do such a thing…oh wait, they already do.

Netlix releases their subscription information and right now it hovers just under 30 million, all paying on average 9 dollars a month. Now, even for a non-math guy, I can tell that is a pretty substantial revenue flow.

So why is everyone hating on Netflix?!

One, traditional broadcasting got caught with their pants down and they are not handling the transition to streaming very well. In fact, they’re acting like Lars Ulrich did with Napster. In other words, like rich little jack asses throwing tantrums because they thought they were impenetrable.

Two, Netflix’s success is a reminder that traditional broadcast media is being shown up by a young non-traditional upstart, or rebel. And they’re succeeding without their help. Soon, the networks will take their toys (aka programming) and go home. Instead of acting like petulant children, and they had half a brain, they would strike an alliance with Netflix.I mean a REAL alliance, not just an agreement for Netflix to broadcast the first three seasons of “Murder She Wrote”.

Thirdly, there are no less than three industries that Netflix is fucking with, Advertising, Media Buyers and broadcast networks. And those are some powerful players. Almost every major player in those industries is either owned by a publicly traded company or IS a publicly traded company.

This may come as a shock to you, despite the use of the word “public”, publicly traded companies don’t really have the public’s best interest in mind. And yes, that probably includes Netflix.  So, there is simply too much money, spread out over too many places, going into too many pockets for a simple streaming model like Netflix to be wildly successful. It won’t be allowed.

Lastly, Netflix won’t play by traditional rules and release viewership information. And boy does that make media companies and media watchers angry! You can almost see the steam coming out of their heads. I don’t personally believe Netflix to be deliberately withholding information to be jerks. I suspect they will provide that information in time, but in our instant gratification, narcissistic society where we must measure success IMMEDIATELY, any delay infuriates people.

The truth is, nothing Netflix is doing is traditional, so the archaic, or traditional, rules of broadcast television don’t apply. And instead of highlighting all Netflix is doing correctly like the programming, development, handling the bandwidth,  etc. pundits and spoil sports alike are focused on the crap that only matters to a few. And when the few get angry, they PUNISH people. The Netflix stock price has certainly seen its share of punishment over the past 18 months.

So to you Netflix haters, I say “Go ahead, hate away. I’m not gonna stop you.” All I ask is that you take a good look as to why you are hating them. Instead of acting like pouting prissies, explain your reasons logically. Because logically, Netflix is doing a much better job than most other media companies whose shit scraps you lap up as “genius” and “progress”, when more often than not, they are neither.

Sure, Netflix does some dumb shit and makes some wonky decisions, but as far as moving towards a definable future for broadcasting, they’re looking ahead versus trying to cram the old broadcast business model, and content, down our throat.

As a fan of quality, uninterrupted shows available when I want to watch them, there is no better provider than Netflix. I’ve tried a fair number of them and for my money and my time, Netflix does it best. I doubt it will last forever, media is a serious state of flux, but for now:

Rock on Netflix!

Links:

1 – Edwards Article – http://tinyurl.com/pjlxvww
2 – Boomer article – http://tinyurl.com/oujbbxy
3 – NYTimes article – http://tinyurl.com/oqg7hv7

Simple Things

JOHN LENNON

“Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives. I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that. That’s what’s insane about it.”

“Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.”

“As usual, there is a great woman behind every idiot.”

“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.”

“Love is the flower you’ve got to let grow.”

“Music is everybody’s possession. It’s only publishers who think that people own it.”

“My role in society, or any artist’s or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.”

“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.”

“If being an egomaniac means I believe in what I do and in my art or music, then in that respect you can call me that… I believe in what I do, and I’ll say it.”

New Yorker Cartoons Debunked April 8, 2013

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” Even the interpretation and use of words involves a process of free creation.”
– Noam Chomsky

I have lived in New York City for years now and I am still not sure whether reading The New Yorker makes me a snob, an egg head douche, an old fart, someone keenly interested in good, albeit somewhat snotty, writing by east coast blue bloods ivy league twats or just someone who wants to have a look at what is going on in the area. But one thing I DO know is that the cartoons they scatter throughout the mag are sometimes odd, sometimes interesting and sometimes so wildly esoteric that if you admit you don’t understand it, you feel dumb and if you admit you do understand it you are more than likely lying.

For years, I found the cartoons just plain silly, but over the past few years, for whatever reason,  I have begun to understand them. I think. At the very least I have been able to apply some semblance of my life view to them which has allowed me to enjoy them a little more. When all is said and done though, I think the cartoons represent, what I can only presume, is The New Yorker’s demographic. Which from what I can tell is somewhat educated (both traditional and non-traditionally educated), white, middle class and above, left leaning folks.

I selected a few cartoons from this weeks issue (April 8, 2013) and provide a couple of different interpretations.

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LOVE, Part 1

bed

 Interpretation #1 – Marriage and relationships are hard, regardless of gender preference. So anytime you through two people together in close quarters they are bound to fight and sometimes the distance manifests itself in the boudoir. My guess is the illustrator was trying to show that it has been 97 days since the last intimate contact took place in that bedroom. 

 Interpretation #2 – A less likely interpretation would be that the illustrator was making a statement about a serial sex offender in recovery. This interpretation carries less weight as it seems anathema to the New Yorker’s high brow humor approach.

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LOVE, Part 2

lifeTHE CAPTION: “Boy, I hope we never end up like this.”

 Interpretation #1 –The illustrator, without showing the contents of the plate, is indicating that all the food has flooded into each other, making a statement about gentrification by stripping each food of its plate independence. The joke being that the woman hopes she doesn’t loose her independence while being in this relationship.

 Interpretation #2 –The couple is dinning at a cannibal themed restaurant.

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 Cost Efficiency

spoon

THE CAPTION: “The hotel is full, but I’ll see if I can work out a spooning arrangement for you.” 

Interpretation #1 –In an effort to cut costs, big hotel chains are now randomly pairing up people to accommodate more travelers. As the “spooning” comment indicates, all the rooms with two double beds must be full leaving just the rooms with king size beds. Rather than turn the road weary traveler away, and loose the revenue, he offers the new “spoon” package.

 Interpretation #2 –The hotel clerk has placed secret cameras in one room and is in the process of filming an adult orientated “spoon” fetish series for Cinemax.


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Capitalism, Part 1

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THE CAPTION: “It may be the rood of all evil, but it’s also the root of all this.”

Interpretation #1 – A wealthy, guilt ridden, left leaning corporate 1%’er tries to rationalize his accomplishments to his cube dwelling 99%’er college buddy.

 Interpretation #2 –The guy is just a dick.

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Capitalism, Part 2

lackey

THE CAPTION: “This is Abramson, our new pinata.”

Interpretation #1 – Abramson is the new corporate HR executive or PR executive, either way, his future looks grim.

 Interpretation #2 – Abramson is the token new state university recruit at the all virtually all ivy league Goldman Sachs, in which case he may, in fact, literally end up a pinata. 

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Doctors

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THE CAPTION: “It’s either conjunctivitis or twin pools of desire .”

Interpretation #1 –A favorite source of humor for The New Yorker, doctors. This is an attempt at trying to find the lighter side of medical practitioners. Clearly, the doctor knows what it is.

 Interpretation #2 –The doctor is making a pass at the patient.

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Millenials

process

THE CAPTION: “Nobody asked me about my process.”

Interpretation #1 –Millennials are often keen to extol what they do and how they got there in order to receive as many accolades as possible. Completely oblivious to the fact that no one may even care.

 Interpretation #2 –Actually, I am pretty sure that is whats happening here, the only thing missing are the tattoos.

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Nostalgia

noogie

THE CAPTION: The Noogie Kings

Interpretation #1 –The offspring of the original Noogie Patrol.

 Interpretation #2 – What became of Curtis Sliwa and the Guardian Angels.

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Racism

catTHE CAPTION: “Look who’s moved in next door.”

Interpretation #1 –A guarded, yet clever, approach to the undercurrent of racism that permeates New York, and most communities across the country. The two fish represent the ruling white class while the cat in the fishbowl represents every non-white. A bold statement New Yorker, well playedwell played.

 Interpretation #2 –The fish represent every non-white culture and the cat represents the pending gentrification of their communities.

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Esoteric

bearsInterpretation #1 – Bullying is the premise here. You’ll notice there is only one seat available for the bear to fish through the sun roof and with the neighborhood bear bully on his way over,  either the other bear is coming over to rob him of his catch and/or chase him away from his fishing spot. Either way, it looks like the sitting bear is going to have his paws full.

 Interpretation #2 – A sublime statement about global warming because bears are usually hibernating during winter, so the image infers, despite the snow, that it may not be winter. As the bears are ice fishing, this is presumably a pointed remark about climate change.

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2013 Goals

“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”
– Aristotle

Recently, I had my 2012 performance review with my supervisor and it went strikingly well. I mean I’m not shocked, they usually go pretty well. Despite the accolades and praise, the fact that my “merit increase” is less than any sort of applicable cost of living increase negates any sort of verbal praise (and I’d hate to see how lower ranked colleagues fared). Sure, it beats not having a job and it beats a sharp stick in the eye (most definitely) it was still pretty sad, not quite as sad as the reason I was given, but more on that next time.

Nonetheless, I thought some of my personal goals for 2013 were pretty awesome, increase departmental and interdepartmental communication, morale boosting and a redistribution of interdepartmental talent. It was brought to my attention in my review, and made clear that those goals are not necessarily part of my day to day job. This is odd because I communicate across no less than three different departments and I know there are a host of people in my own department who have the knowledge I need to help me function more efficiently, but alas, I was informed that my goals didn’t really fit my title. These were, in fact, potential changes that people of a different professional band would make and perhaps I needed to amend my goals (I declined to do so). Or in less official speak, “Shut up Keith, it’s not your job. We’ll tell you what to do to make your job easier, even if we don’t do it and don’t really know what you do.” The archaic top down management style knows best, I kneel before its all knowing power. However, conspicuously absent from the discussion was perhaps the most important of all my 2013 professional goals?
My spork analysis.

This is from my review:

To help offset any cost associated with my other goals, I have developed one cost saving measure that not only saves money but also lessens our departmental carbon footprint. We use both plastic spoons and plastic forks in our kitchen and by simply switching to plastic sporks (a combination of the spoon and fork for the unfamiliar) we can save over 500% monthly! Based on the most recent Staples catalog, the following information revealed:

spork2

We can no longer ignore the flagrant abuse of corporate finances by purchasing BOTH plastic spoons AND forks! ONE case of 1000 sporks results in over 500% in savings.
In this economy, we must, as a department, lead the charge on cost saving measures while maintaining our civic responsibility.

Sporks, save money, save time, save the planet!

I can freely admit this last proposal was about 30% tongue in cheek. The remaining 70% was in earnest. We’re always running out of things in the kitchen. Plates, spoons and forks are always the quickest to go whenever the sporadic allotment arrives. In fact, just yesterday it was brought to my attention that we are again out of necessary provisions. A colleague came over to this side of the office (a more arduous and security riddled task than it sounds) to pick up a paper plate that she just happened to know was in the conference room over here. There were no paper plates  in the kitchen so the next obvious place was the conference room…on the other side of the office…of course. And from personal experience, trying to eat Lucky Charms with a fork is both a physically and emotionally draining task.

In all fairness though, somewhere around the halfway mark of my review I started tuning out and began singing the lyrics to “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” in my head. For over 30 years now, this is my go to song in times of stress and I need to escape mentally. For equally as long, I STILL can not figure out how Johnny won that battle.

Can a corporation be insane?

nbc-broken-peacock“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
– Albert Einstein

Like any kid growing up in the Midwest, I had big dreams. And while my brother had dreams of being a cop or a stuntman or hockey player, I always knew I wanted to be something different. Something BIGGER. In no particular order I wanted to be:

  • A rock star (I always had the temperament just lacked the discipline to develop a skill)
  • An actor (After seeing Henry Winkler in Heroes, I was sold)
  • A writer (Reading John Steinbeck’s The Pearl and John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire changed my life…what does that say about me)
  • An A&R guy for Columbia or Atlantic Records or Warner Brothers (John Hammond was a hero)
  • For a brief period, a corporate executive (Until I discovered weed and realized I lacked the pedigree, and grades, to get into an Ivy League school)
  • A film editor (I would argue a good editor is more important than a good director)
  • An NBC employee (Two generations of kids were raised on NBC programming)
  • A restaurateur

I knew I couldn’t do all those things, but I knew one place I could potentially do all those things, New York City.  NYC is known for housing many industries, legal and not, and three of the larger legal employment arena’s are Finance, Restaurants and Media. About ten years ago, I moved here with two duffel bags of clothes, one suit and about 500 dollars. It sounds like a cliche’ but it’s the truth. Within two weeks I had landed a temp job at a company called Georgeson Shareholder working in one of the most arcane subdivisions of financial services (proxy solicitation) that it hardly bears defining. That temp job led to permanent employment as an Account Manager there doing a job I simply could not wrap my head around.

Eventually, my misery led to ultimate frustration so I simply quit. I quit without having another job prospect but knowing I could fall back on my skills as a waiter or bartender in the short term. Two days later I landed a job at a place called Tupelo Grill, located right across from Madison Square Garden. Of all the restaurant jobs in my day, this one was the best. Only open Monday through Friday and as long as there was something going on at the Garden, you made amazing money and you were done by 10pm. As far as a stop gap job goes, there was none better.  Two years in NYC and I had already conquered two of the three industries it is known for, Financial Services and Restaurants. I set my sights on Media.

As luck would have it, just as I was getting bored with Tupelo Grill, an old friend asked me if I wanted to work at NBC. He didn’t glorify the position at all and told me straight up what it was. It didn’t matter to me; I had always wanted to work at NBC and figured I could springboard from whatever department it was. I knew all I needed was access and then my insane talents would take me to where I wanted to be. I immediately began planning my career trajectory and jumped at the chance for the job at NBC, in the ass end of television.

When I was hired, their prime time dominance was slipping and my goal was to get to the Programming Department, either here in NYC or in LA, I didn’t care. They needed fresh blood, they needed creativity, and they needed ME! Luckily for them, they already had the chrome dome midget mind of Jeff Zucker who promptly fired programming head Kevin Riley to make room for, not me but, the silver spooned idiot child Ben Silverman. And thus began a complete and total dismantling of what was once a creative and ratings juggernaut.

Zucker and Silverman spearheaded the NBC descent into the cellar of television ratings and programming that remains unparalleled in television history. An accomplishment…of sorts. I would argue that these two knuckleheads were dyslexic because they seemed to have reversed the idea of “shoot for the stars” and as opposed to going UP in the sky with good programming they were going DOWN towards the earth’s core with shitty programming. In any other industry, a performance as disastrous as Zucker’s would have been met with almost immediate termination and yet somehow he remained through the Comcast acquisition. My suspicious mind tells me that Zucker held onto his job because he had pictures of either Jeff Immelt and/or Bob Wright with a pre-op tranny in Bangkok. I can’t prove that…yet.

So Comcast acquired NBCUniversal and the best part about that was the spin. They tried to pitch it as a “merger”. Now I didn’t go to an Ivy League school like the upper echelon of GE, Comcast and NBC, but it seems to me when a company purchases 51% of a company, that is an acquisition and not a merger, but what do I know? Comcast has since purchased the remaining 49% so it would seem to be a acquisition now.

Not surprisingly, after an acquimerger of this size comes a changing of the guard. And new head honcho Steve Burke grabbed the bull by the horns and did his best to instill confidence among the rank and file, like me. He assured all of us that he would make the right moves to restore NBC’s luster, to create shows and products across all networks we could all be proud of and believe in. He didn’t mince words, he said it would take time and money and he seemed ready and willing to make the tough decisions. And for about ten months he did all of that and came to define leadership. He cleaned the executive suites and replaced them with either people loyal to him or, seemingly, competent people. Perhaps the smartest thing Burke did was push out Zucker and his minions (Silverman had already been neutered and replaced with talented but rendered impotent Jeff Gaspin). While Gaspin and Silverman held the title, it was no secret that Zucker drove the bus. Burke didn’t then, and doesn’t now, appear to suffer from the same degree of narcissism or micro-management as Jeff Zucker, which points to his leadership.

Once the Zucker mess had been sorted out, Burke brought in former Fox and Showtime head Robert Greenblatt to replace Jeff Gaspin and head up what had become the very definition of epically inept, the NBC Programming Department. Greenblatt was an interesting choice because he has a mix of programming moxy which includes both shite and blue chip television work (Melrose Place, The X-Files at Fox and Weeds and Dexter while at Showtime), a successful run on Broadway as a producer (9 to 5) and a seemingly solid commitment to return NBC to dominance. By all accounts across the board, a solid, if interesting, choice.

To date, dominance has not been any part of the NBC brand. If you follow these things, you’ve been left scratching your head wondering what the hell is going on here. Trust me, we all are. Seriously. Sure, last fall we did well. For some retarded reason people watch The Voice and we had Sunday Night Football, so that makes sense. But the scripted shows were, and continue to be, simply awful. Animal Practice, 1600 Penn, Do No Harm, the continued spiral of Smash, the failed Dane Cook comedy and honestly, the list is too long to mention.

If you think about it, Greenblatt and Silverman (Gaspin didn’t really do anything) have proven only moderately more successful than me, and I haven’t programmed ANYTHING!

Is Must See TV dead? Yep. It should be. What NBC should do is hold a funeral for it, bury it so we can all move past it. I’m not kidding either. Create a spectacular show where all the stars gather together and have a New Orleans style funeral for Must See TV. If we were to do this, we could let that era go and so could the critics and the public, instead of holding out hope that NBC can regain those years and those programs. It’s time to properly celebrate their existence and MOVE FORWARD. And what better way to do that then to celebrate the Must See TV life?

I still believe in NBC and while I have a modicum of pride about working here, it is rapidly disappearing. However, I don’t feel that hitting the panic switch and doing a corporate shuffle is the right thing. People want to see stability and if you keep replacing the head of programming, no clear network vision will ever be defined. And while the other networks may think Greenblatt is the anti-Christ because he came from cable, he’s not. He understands vision and diversity but for some reason, he’s not sticking with it. My guess is he is too accommodating coupled with the heavy influence of Creative Corporatism.

Some thoughts:

  • Getting rid of Jay Leno is a no brainer and having Jimmy Fallon replace him is also a no brainer, but not now. Leno has to go but the mishandling of this is just imbecilic.
  • Yes, Matt Lauer has to go. Sorry Matt, your number is up. People fear change but you can’t let fear dictate any progress.
  • NBC Spin department, stop the bullshit, OK? Even a six year old knows moving “Smash” to Saturday is NOT a strategic move but really a move towards extinction.
  • Create shows with a defined arc. No need for a show to run 8 seasons if it doesn’t NEED to.
  • NBC Programming, take chances. “Hannibal”, really? Come on. Stop dumbing down the shows. The public can take some intelligence.
  • Writers and show runners are not brands, they are creative people. Diversify your creative pool for God’s sake. And if you feel you already do, do it MORE!
  • Stop relying on the same agents and managers for pitches and shows. There is a SHIT TON of creativity out there for you to harness. Go with your gut. Fight for vision.

Sure, I’ve accomplished one of my childhood goals by getting a job at NBC, albeit at the ass end, and even with my rapidly disappearing pride, I hold out hope. I hold out hope that NBC can do better and hold out hope we will be able to show that. But the way forward is not constantly looking in the rear view mirror.

I don’t pretend to know the intricacies of programming because, well, I don’t work there…yet. And as I write this thinking back to when I was hired it’s funny because even after all these years, NBC still needs fresh blood, they still need creativity, and they still need ME…but my gut tells me they think they have all the answers already.

If corporations are, by law, people, then NBC is surely insane.

Where there is art, there is no hell.

“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”
– Andre Gide

Yesterday, I watched a documentary. And while that, in and of itself, is about as interesting as peanut butter, what I watched was interesting, Born Into This, a documentary about Charles Bukowski.

I first discovered Charles Bukowski from the script he wrote for the Barbet Schroeder film Barfly, starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway. To be fair, it’s been a long time since I have seen it and I can’t recall what I thought of it but given my pathetic attempt at being a film snob and my man crush on Mickey Rourke at the time, I am sure I LOVED it. But I have never seen it again, so I guess that says something.

Thanks to The Red Hot Chilli Peppers I got reintroduced to Bukowski a few years later and read in quick succession Women, Factotum, Hollywood and Post Office. I muscled through those four books and frankly, I hated them. It wasn’t the writing that I hated so much as his characters. They were repellant. I mean seriously horrible people. As misanthropic as I was back then, even I found these people awful.

My contempt for poetry kept me away from the Bukowski poetry cannon. Based on his fiction, I wasn’t keen to dive into a genre I didn’t like with I writer I didn’t like. To be honest though, and to avoid offending any poetry readers/writers, it’s not contempt for poetry I have so much as I just don’t have that kind of brain. I’ve read a lot of it, and even written some horrible teen angst verse, but as a whole I don’t “get it”. And I’m not a good enough bullshitter to pretend to “get it”. For whatever reason, poetry doesn’t have any emotional impact on me…and yet song lyrics do, go figure.

After watching Born Into This, I walked away with a new found respect and appreciation for Charles Bukowski. So much so that on my way home from work I stopped off to purchase a book of his poetry, The Last Night of the Earth Poems. I have to say, so far, his verse is breathtaking.

Admittedly, I’ve grown up a lot since those first introductions and with that growth comes life and experiences, good and bad alike, along with some gray hair. In the process, I’ve come to see the world through a different lens then the one when I first read those books. And as distorted as my lens was then and may be now, it’s not even close to the Bukowski lens. However, in growing up and with experiences, you can begin to see the world for what it is. A fucked up place. With fucked up people. Doing fucked up things. To each other.

Bukowski characters, as deplorable as they are, are real characters. Underneath all that depravity though, are just people trying to do what we’re all trying to do. Get by and find a way to slice off a little piece of happiness pie for ourselves. Sure, they may find happiness in places we don’t understand and can’t respect, but Bukowski shows us time and time again that their journey is our journey.

Clearly, this is an over simplification (I’ll leave the more robust literary analysis to the folks behind the ivy walls with thicker and grayer beards, who study this professionally) but as Longfellow said, and Bukowski shows us, “..the supreme excellence is simplicity.”

Obviously, the legacy of any artist is their work. True art, real art, will speak for years and years, as Bukowski’s does. In Born Into This there is a scene where he is reciting his poem Dinosaur, We (written in 1993) and these lines screamed out to me:

Born into this
Into hospitals which are so expensive that it’s cheaper to die
Into lawyers who charge so much it’s cheaper to plead guilty
Into a country where the jails are full and the madhouses closed
Into a place where the masses elevate fools into rich heroes
Born into this
Walking and living through this
Dying because of this
Muted because of this

To dismiss Charles Bukowski as a simple and misogynistic drunk writer is to diminish not only his artistic contribution but also his message. His was a message for those of us not birthed into any entitlement. It was a message from the underside saying “We’re here too. We exist.” In between all the despicable characters, the women, the booze and the shitty behavior is the one thing that transcends everything, even entitlement, the human condition.

Where there is art, there is no hell, only our own journey. That journey may be hell, and who we seek for armistice and guidance can make that journey easier. Thankfully, we have the work of Charles Bukowski, and so many others, to help us find our own way, creatively or otherwise. And that ain’t a bad thing baby.

DInosaur, We
by Charles Bukowski

Born like this
Into this
As the chalk faces smile
As Mrs. Death laughs
As the elevators break
As political landscapes dissolve
As the supermarket bag boy holds a college degree
As the oily fish spit out their oily prey
As the sun is masked
We are
Born like this
Into this
Into these carefully mad wars
Into the sight of broken factory windows of emptiness
Into bars where people no longer speak to each other
Into fist fights that end as shootings and knifings
Born into this
Into hospitals which are so expensive that it’s cheaper to die
Into lawyers who charge so much it’s cheaper to plead guilty
Into a country where the jails are full and the madhouses closed
Into a place where the masses elevate fools into rich heroes
Born into this
Walking and living through this
Dying because of this
Muted because of this
Castrated
Debauched
Disinherited
Because of this
Fooled by this
Used by this
Pissed on by this
Made crazy and sick by this
Made violent
Made inhuman
By this
The heart is blackened
The fingers reach for the throat
The gun
The knife
The bomb
The fingers reach toward an unresponsive god
The fingers reach for the bottle
The pill
The powder
We are born into this sorrowful deadliness
We are born into a government 60 years in debt
That soon will be unable to even pay the interest on that debt
And the banks will burn
Money will be useless
There will be open and unpunished murder in the streets
It will be guns and roving mobs
Land will be useless
Food will become a diminishing return
Nuclear power will be taken over by the many
Explosions will continually shake the earth
Radiated robot men will stalk each other
The rich and the chosen will watch from space platforms
Dante’s Inferno will be made to look like a children’s playground
The sun will not be seen and it will always be night
Trees will die
All vegetation will die
Radiated men will eat the flesh of radiated men
The sea will be poisoned
The lakes and rivers will vanish
Rain will be the new gold
The rotting bodies of men and animals will stink in the dark wind
The last few survivors will be overtaken by new and hideous diseases
And the space platforms will be destroyed by attrition
The petering out of supplies
The natural effect of general decay
And there will be the most beautiful silence never heard
Born out of that.
The sun still hidden there
Awaiting the next chapter.

Some Rules for Life

It seems as though writer, and everyone’s favorite music industry crank, Bob Lefsetz had an altercation with the post office recently. Which prompted him to write out some rules of life that I thought were worth sharing. While not necessarily all encompassing, there are some real nuggets here.

Incidentally, if you are a person who finds the industry of music interesting and has a love of music or any sort of creative process, you’ll find no better insight than Bob Lefsetz, so you should read him.

In any event, enjoy:

1. Show Up
You can’t make it if you don’t arrive. In person is nice, but e-mail and social networking is cool. Just react. Or don’t be surprised when you end up in your own private backwater, complaining that nobody cares.

2. Don’t Be Late
Unless you want to piss people off. Sure, five or ten minutes is de rigueur in L.A., where traffic is hell and unpredictable, but if you’re gonna go beyond this, SEND A TEXT! An e-mail, dial the phone! It’s EASY! We understand if you make an effort. But if you don’t…

3. Don’t Send Form Letters
We’re overloaded with spam, but you send one of those press releases, to come to your show even though I don’t even know you, and you address it to yourself. Give me a break, you’re just pissing me off.

4. Make It Personal
If you’re going to bother to connect, make it a one-off. Ten personal e-mails are better than a hundred spam bcc’s. If you address it to me, I’ll read it, I’ll pay attention, I know you’ve made an effort. But if it’s to me and who knows who else, forget it.

5. Be Nice
I get it. You’re pissed off you’re not where you want to be. I sympathize. But if you’re going to bother to interact with someone, especially if they’re higher up on the business food chain, your only possibility of gaining traction is to be nice. It’s just like your mama told you, flies are attracted to honey. You don’t have to do it this way, you can fly solo and wow everybody. Be my guest, I love the left field success. But if you want to play the game, cordiality is key.

6. Do What You Say You’re Gonna Do
No one ever does. So you’ll stand out if you do.

7. Finish
Whether it be school or cleaning the house. It shows that you care, that you have pride in your work, that you can be counted on.

8. Spelling Counts
Not in texts, but if you’re asking a favor. How hard is it to run spell-check? And while we’re at it, do your best to employ good grammar.

9. Take A Shower
Show up in your basketball sweats, I don’t care. But if you’ve got B.O. not only does it show disrespect, it makes your counterpart wonder what planet you’re living on.

10. Don’t Ask Before Giving
We abhor takers. But when someone gives, it’s hard not to reciprocate. This is less about gifts and more about favors. Open the door, whether it be physical or metaphorical. Make life easier. We’re all vulnerable to that.

11. Don’t Be A Kiss-Ass
Sucking up never works, certainly not for long. Be respectful, but don’t grovel, don’t manipulate. It may not be discernible at first, but it comes out and people wince.

12. Don’t Sell Until Ready
You rarely get two bites at the apple. Just because you have access, that doesn’t mean you should sell. The pitch is secondary to the product. Only play when you’re ready.

13. Know What’s Important
Go to SXSW to schmooze with your buddies. Don’t go to break through, they only want to take your money to play a showcase that no one will go to, or will talk throughout while drinking free alcohol. If you never say no, you will never get to yes.

14. Say Thank You
It’s easy! A simple text or e-mail. It acknowledges that you’re aware a favor has been done. We love doing favors, it makes us feel good. But when we don’t get appreciation, we get pissed.

15. Listen
You might learn something. If you can’t shut up, you’re not going to go far. You already know what you know, you can learn from others, but only if you LISTEN!

16. Don’t Be A Know-It-All
Nobody knows everything. And sometimes you’re right, and the other person is wrong. But smart people know when to correct mistakes and when not to. If someone’s going to drive off a bridge, or fly in the wrong direction, by all means speak up. But if they say coffee used to be a dime and you know it was a nickel, correcting the other person just makes you look like a jerk.

17. Be Open
Only politicians don’t change their minds. You’re not running for office. If you’re not willing to admit you were wrong and do a 180, you’re never going to swim upstream.

18. Famous Does Not Mean Rich, Never Mind Respected
You think it’s about attention. No, it’s about the work. And it’s a very long haul. Paris Hilton is already a footnote, how long do you think it will be before Kim Kardashian is one too!

19. You Don’t Have To Respect Your Elders
Just because someone’s older than you and more experienced that does not mean they’re right. But chances are you’re not going to be able to convince them of this, you’re going to have to go your own way, do it by yourself. Good luck!

20. Speak Coherently
Talking like you’re from the street will not impress those who never go there.

21. Know What You Don’t Know
Be a sponge, learn from everyone. The street sweeper to the CEO. They all have knowledge to impart. Be a receiver, not a seller.

22. Degrees Don’t Count
Only in professions like health and law, doctors and lawyers. Otherwise, we’re all flying by our wits. Don’t tell us where you’ve been, especially if it’s got nothing to do with where you’re planning on going.

23. Don’t Drop Names
This just makes you look anxious and foolish. If you have mutual friends, by all means mention them. But if you think we’re impressed that you know so and so…you’re wrong. Hell, if you’re that big a player, why are you talking to me?

24. Don’t Lie
The truth always outs. Lie to get a job, everybody does, trump up your experience. In other words, when the game is rigged, forget the rules. But in everyday life the currency is not money so much as credibility and trust. Remember that.

25. Stay Off Business In Social Situations
The exec talked business all day, he wants to relax. Focus on his hobbies or something in the news or… You get through to someone through their heart, not their brain. Someone who’s all business all the time is very boring.

26. Stay On Point And Don’t Waste Time
We don’t want to know where you grew up and what you had for dinner and whether your car is running smoothly, unless all this takes less than sixty seconds. Get to the heart of the matter, no one’s got time to waste.

lef

What time is it? It is now.

banksy

The problem of power is how to achieve its responsible use rather than its irresponsible and indulgent use — of how to get men of power to live for the public rather than off the public.
Robert Kennedy

It’s hard to write about class distinctions on a personal blog without sounding like either a lunatic or an entitled and spoiled twit. Admittedly, I probably skew a little more towards the lunatic side. I’ve never felt entitled to anything, except maybe my last piece of gum. However, I do feel frustrated by the lack of opportunity available to me so maybe I could improve my station. And I suspect I am not alone in that feeling.

To say the American economy is in recovery is to deny the facts. Sure, unemployment is down, but what about UNDERemployment and those who are simply no longer receiving benefits? Why has federal and state welfare spending increased almost 19% over three years? What do we define as recovery?

I did what I was supposed to do. I went to college (actually, I went to A LOT of them) and got my receipt (degree). I even went one step further and got a Master’s receipt (degree). I have the credentials, and debt, to prove it. Neither of my degrees are from an Ivy League nor are they highly specialized. They are both in the Liberal Arts world, which should indicate I am a well rounded cat. Could it be that no one is looking for a well rounded cat in a rat race?

Before I prattle on too far…left, let me say I am uniquely blessed. I have a job, I make a liveable (barely) wage, I have a roof over my head, I don’t go to bed hungry, I have people that love and care about me and I am very lucky. I shudder to think how many in my country, let alone the world, don’t have such things. I am hyper aware of my good fortune and I should just be happy and shut my mouth, right?

Love. I have people that love and care about me so who the hell do I think I am to bitch? I’m a human.

Feast or Famine. I don’t go to bed hungry and neither do my pets. I am blessed.

Four walls and the truth. I live in a great place and I am ridiculously lucky.

Middle Class (harrumph). I make a liveable (barely) wage. By all accounts, my salary places smack dab in the middle class. And if my bank balance is any indication, I still struggle. Part of that is on me, for sure. I live in NYC, by choice. I have credit card debt and student loan debt. I take ownership of those even if I personally believe credit card debt and student loan debt are almost mandated. But let’s just look at a couple of the things hacking away at my middle class status:

  • FICA tax jumped from 4.2% in 2012 to 7.65% in 2013 for employees and it remains at 6.2% for employers(?).
  • Starting this month, NYC mass transit monthly pass increased 7%.
  • The national average price for a gallon of gas is $3.74 (after nine weeks of increases).
  • Utility bills are increasing nationally for reasons unclear to me (those bills should simply be in Sanskrit, they’d be easier to translate) mine jumped 50%.
  • Food prices continue to go up. Ironically, food that is bad for you (yet, delicious) like pop tarts and all things sugary and fattening remain relatively level. I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy nut, but aren’t a large portion of those companies owned by multinational’s? Hmmm…

Occupy my cube. I have a job. While I may not have a career path readily available to me, in spite of the company size, I do have a job. There are in excess of 100 employees managed by eight people. 88.5% of the staff is managed by the 12.5%, with virtually no management tier. It’s as though it functions as a small family business…until there is a problem or new idea to consider, then the myopic pace of a big company kicks in.

Is this a departmental or corporate mandated structure? My intuition tells me it is simply more of a “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. Make no mistake, it’s busted, but fixing it involves change and change sucks. But even more than that, change is expensive and even in a billion dollar company, money is tight. I recently had my review and it was seemingly quite favorable and yet my contributions and performance for 2012 were rewarded with a pay increase that is less than the national average for 2013. I shudder to think how lesser valued employees fared. I am also looking forward to seeing how our CEO was remunerated.

I suppose I could have gone on record as dissatisfied, but experience has taught me that resistance is futile. I’m more angry about my own apathy.

PART II
Naomi Klein‘s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism cites numerous examples of what happens when a government is overthrown and then placed in the hands of charlatan economic theorists and corporations. In Klein’s cross-hairs is the economic theory designed by University of Chicago Economics guru Milton Friedman and what Klein refers to as “shock & awe”. Sound familiar?

Typically, the first phase, or “shock”, is a revolution (think Chile in 1972 or Iraq, most recently) and is something that shocks the citizens. Then comes the second phase, or “awe”. Economic policies are put into place that benefit, almost exclusively, multinational corporations and the societal top tier. Not surprisingly, built into the economic policy is a long and strong arm of suppression, specifically designed to eliminate dissension. I’m not sure how the “awe” works other then leaving jaw dropping historical proof of its inefficiency, which is certainly awful…horrible pun, I know.

Could it be that the financial crisis of 2007 and its subsequent trillion dollar, and counting, bail out was the American version of “shock & awe”? Of course, the government wasn’t officially overthrown. The bail out seemed to only benefit huge multinationals and the really rich (and continues to do so). Was this crisis designed and this current “recovery” simply the domestic implementation of an economic plan that has proven time and time again to be a horrendous failure for everyone except the few?

I think the fact that we continue to see record corporate profits, record corporate tax refunds, record executive pay, record high productivity numbers, the continued eradication of the middle class, pay increases that don’t cover a cost of living increase, anxiety and depression numbers rising, etc…yea, I kind of think there are some very serious similarities. And I think the 2007 financial crisis gave all corporations the free license to do these things. Legally.

And the fact is that no matter how many people write it, say it, or scream it, it seems as though no one wants to do anything about it. The Occupy Wall Street movement tried and while it was a decent idea it was eventually silenced by the hands of the state and the media.

Let me state this emphatically, I believe in capitalism and democracy which is, presumably, the foundation of our country. Perhaps it’s my own naivete, but I think these two should stand independent of one another. But I will live with that naivete over the cynical acceptance that they are forever linked and we can’t change it.

I don’t believe that corporations should hold our government hostage while the masses suffer. I don’t think corporate leaders should rape and pillage any economy to line their pockets while marginalizing or crushing the population. I am fine with a super rich class, I am not fine with a greedy super rich glass that expands its wealth at the peril of the citizens, the very people expanding their wealth. I am proud to be an American but lately, I am not proud of America.

To ingest the dreck that media companies jam down your throat and present as news is to miss the message. Make no mistake, it is a one-sided conversation controlled by a media oligopoly. “Control the media, control the message” was the famous quote of media theorist and philosopher Marshall McLuhan, so don’t fool yourself, the “news” is presented as information but specifically designed to keep you uninformed.

And please don’t try to make any distinction between mainstream and non mainstream media; it’s ignorant, misleading and wrong…no difference exists. Far left OR far right media is simply extremism and at no point in world history has extremism ever been the answer. The egalitarian nature of the Internet provides a wealth of opportunities to find a more accurate message or, at the very least, different messages for you to form your own opinion. GASP! It won’t always be this way as history teaches us that the Internet will take the shape of the current media landscape.

So, what is my point? It’s OK to say WTF to corporations, to politicians. We should be challenging them, always. Unless we change things, we’re screwed and the following generations are screwed. We all need a collective Howard Beale moment and we need to stand up for what’s right for the people. To let multinational corporations dictate what we will or won’t be or what we will or won’t have and shape our government policies will only continue the income inequality. Without taking action we’ll be complicit in to our own continued marginalization. As a society, as a culture, as a people, we can no longer continue to let corporations do this.

We, as human citizens, have to think bigger and better and force our elected officials to wake the f*ck up. Yes, yes, I realize how naive that sounds but isn’t it better to fight a little then get rolled over again and again? Perhaps collectively we can stop the Facebook and Instagram updating, the tweeting, maybe turn off your television and engage in a conversation, do some research, write a letter, start a book club, do something, anything, to better your environment.

Hell, I’m not writing anything new here. I’m not writing anything most people don’t already know. I’m simply using this as a platform for my Howard Beale moment. This isn’t a question of liberal or conservative, right or left, democrat or republican, it’s about being a citizen and caring for one another. It’s about finding the courage to do what is right for the masses. It’s about questioning the messages. It’s about saying maybe it’s time for something better and then setting the wheels of change in motion.

To think that there is no glass ceiling in our society is to deny the facts. Actually, it’s not so much a glass ceiling because that implies you can break through. What seems more apropos is that it is an invisible force field.

It’s not too late to change things. I promise.

Here is a great video on inequality: http://tinyurl.com/b3jll79.

“A revolution is coming — a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough — But a revolution is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability.”
Robert Kennedy

Songs for Slim

sfssigning1“And we’re standing in the shadows
forever on the brink”
Someone Take the Wheel
– The Replacements

If you’ve never heard of The Replacements then you’ve never felt alone, alienated or out of place. Gob less ya. But if you have heard of them and listened to them then you know they are one of those once in a lifetime bands. But don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with a historical piece about the band. I’ll leave that for some Ivy League editor from a music magazine that’s only worth reading for the articles about anything other than music or some bearded, irony riddled, skinny jean wearing trust fund music blogger putz in Brooklyn.

I just want to tell you about The Replacements new EP “Songs for Slim”. First things first, it is a benefit for former Replacement guitarist Slim Dunlap, who replaced original guitarist Bob Stinson.

On February 19 of last year Slim suffered a serious stroke and, as a result, needs long term medical care. Obviously, this being the American health care system and all, his insurance doesn’t cover all the long term care he needs. So former Replacements manager and Minneapolis music guru Peter Jasperson stepped up and rallied the troops and thus “Songs for Slim” was born.

But “Songs For Slim” is not just a Replacements reunion EP, the concept “was devised to raise money for Slim and his family by having various artists cover his songs, pressing them as a limited edition series of split 7” vinyl 45s in beautiful, numbered picture sleeves and putting them up for auctions.” Artists participating include Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Craig Finn, Tommy Keene among others as well as a host of local musicians, all covering some of Slim’s songs.

“Songs for Slim” is an auction based endeavour, so the fruits go to the highest bidder. On the block first was a limited edition run of 250 numbered copies of a brand new, deluxe 10” vinyl EP package by The Replacements, their first new release in over 20 years. Of course it only made sense that The Replacements had the first release. Turns out, ‘mats fans came a running, raising over 100K on that auction. The EP became available for digital download on Tuesday, so that 100K should continue to trend upwards.

Hearing brand new Replacements music gives me the same feeling I get every two weeks when I get my paycheck. It’s that feeling of the knots and anxiety leaving your stomach, that feeling that “OK, I’ll be able to get by for a little bit longer.” To be clear, my paycheck is not enough to fly to Fiji for the weekend (not even close) but it is enough to keep me alive (albeit, barely). In other words, hearing brand new Replacements music makes the intolerable more tolerable.

The bad news, Chris Mars participated fully, but did not play drums with Tommy and Paul. He contributed a song, did the artwork and was present. Mars has become a rather well established painter and visual artist and, by all accounts, has little interest in playing drums.

The good news, Tommy Stinson and Paul Westerberg reunited for a day last fall and cut some new songs…and it sounds pretty effing good. To be fair, they did reunite for some contractually obligated “best of” that came out awhile back but those songs were pretty mediocre*. These are not.

In typical ‘mats fashion, no one from the band has said much beyond the coy acknowledgement of the “Songs for Slim” existence. For the geeks and ‘matheads, Westerberg friend, touring guitarist and replacement Replacement Kevin Bowe talked a little about it here. (worth reading if you are a fan)

THE REPLACEMENTS
Songs for Slim
Song by song.

Side A
Busted Up (Slim Dunlap)
Having the EP open with a bluesy piano boogie seems about right for the first Replacements recording in 20 years. Sure I wanted some kick ass power chords that matched my excitement, but that would have been completely out of character. “Busted Up” is lyrically pretty simple, it’s about the shitty feeling after you loose someone. ’nuff said. You can almost picture the guys sitting around warming up with this track. It’s a great intro to what follows.

Radio Hook Word Hit (Slim Dunlap)
While Chris Mars didn’t record with Tommy and Paul, he did cover a Slim song. This is that song. The one thing that has always stood out about the Replacements is the same thing that stands out about any great band. The sum is greater than the parts. Which in no way means the parts are inferior, as this song proves. This is a catchy little number that fits nicely here. The title says what its about.

Side B
I’m Not Sayin (Gordon Lightfoot)
Now, THIS is The Replacements. The count in, the chords, the sound, the simplicity and the genius. While it’s not a Westerberg composition, it’s certainly a REPLACEMENTS song. The trademark brattiness, contradiction, irony, playfulness, honesty and soul are all signature markers of a Replacement track and they are present, loud and clear, here. In a perfect world, this would be a hit. We don’t live in a perfect world.

Lost Highway (Leon Payne)
The song was initially made famous by Hank Williams and is a tribute to Slim’s love of rootsy country music. Diehards know it is not the first Hank song the band has covered, “Hey Good Lookin” was a live staple and recorded around the “Let It Be” era. Obviously, the song is rooted in country & western and then put through the filter of The Replacements where it comes out something entirely different. Not better, not worse, just different. It’s fun and playful which brings us too…

Everything’s Coming Up Roses (Stephen Sondheim/Jule Styne)
According to the Kevin Bowe interview, this is the one song they spent the most time on and it begs the question, WTF? Look, hearing the band cover the leather lover Sondheim classic is great. Again, all the Replacement trademarks are there, the irony, the humor, the playfulness, etc. One of the reasons it works so well is because you don’t expect it to work, at all. The Replacements were masters of making shit work that has no business working. This song should be a disaster and it’s not. Quite the contrary and while I remain befuddled by the choice, they did what they always do, they made it their own.

So, is the first Replacements release in 20 years worth the time and money investment? Without a doubt. If you are a fan. If you’re not a fan, odds are this won’t convert you. That’s not to say it’s “only for the fans”, it’s certainly not. The band and it’s die hard fan base (the previously mentioned ‘matheads) share a common sensibility which is “Great, check it out, if you like it, awesome, welcome…if you don’t, bugger off.” But if this is your entry to the wonderful and whacky world of the Replacements, you’ll probably walk away scratching your head wondering what the fuss is about.

But don’t forget, this is about much much more than a Replacements reunion, it’s about helping an ailing musician and his family get the type of care they need and deserve. So, pony up the money regardless you cheap bastards.

Cheers!

LINKS
Songs for Slim
Paul Westerberg
Tommy Stinson
Chris Mars

* – even mediocre Replacements is better than most peoples best stuff.

Some Wednesday thoughts.

You may in fact be richer than a country in Africa.

US government suing Standard & Poor for $5 billion in response to the financial crisis and yet Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, BOA, etc remain untouched.
This is like suing Nielsen for NBC’s “1600 Penn” debacle.

Am I the ONLY one amazed that Radio Shack is still in business?

Jeff Zucker, newly anointed head of CNN, strikes again!
SERIOUSLY, does ANYONE really consider this man a visionary?

Marc Boal on “Zero Dark Thirty”:
“I’m not trying to have it both ways. It is both ways,” Mr. Boal says. “Saying it’s a movie is a fair and accurate description. Saying it’s a movie based on firsthand accounts is a fair and accurate description. That’s what gives it its power.”

Gangster Bankers: Too Big to Jail by Matt Taibbi.
Perhaps the government should simply give out complimentary K-Y.

Competition is often a good thing. In this case, it could be a revolutionary thing.
I am kind of convinced people are publicly down on Netflix but privately watch EVERYTHING they do. You know why? BECAUSE THAT IS WHERE WE ARE HEADED!

My thoughts on broadcast television and its future.

Sorry Sean “Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Diddy” Combs, it is NOT all about the benjamins. Corporate culture rules the day…Stay classy Zappos.

The digital conundrum.
It begs the question, exactly how much money do rich people REALLY need.

Why is Facebook’s e-commerce offering so disappointing?
Umm, because Facebook is relatively useless. Just because you have the eyeballs doesn’t mean you have the engagement.

Well, well, well, perhaps SOMEONE in television has an idea of the future.

Thats all folks

Many thanks to Jason Hirschhorn.

Those People

seth

12.2.13 POST FROM SETH GODIN:

At a recent seminar, a woman who helps run a community college stood up to ask a question.

“Well, the bad news,” she said, “is that we have to let everyone in. And the truth is, many of these kids just can’t be the leaders you’re describing, can’t make art. We need people to do manual work, and it’s those people.”

I couldn’t believe it. I was speechless, then heartbroken. All I could think of was these young adults, trusting this woman to lead them, teach them, inspire them and push them, and instead being turned into ‘those people.’

You know, the people who will flip burgers or sweep streets or fill out forms all day. The ones who will be brainwashed into going into debt, into buying more than they can afford, to living lives that quietly move from one assigned task or one debt payment to another. If they’re lucky.

No, I said to her, trying to control my voice, no these are not those people. Not if you don’t want them to be.

Everyone is capable of being generous, at least once. Everyone is capable of being original, inspiring and connected, at least once. And everyone is capable of leading, yes, even more than once.

When those that we’ve chosen to teach and lead write off people because of what they look like or where they live or who their parents are, it’s a tragedy. Worse, we often write people off merely because they’ve been brainwashed into thinking that they have no ability to do more than they’ve been assigned. Well, if we brainwashed them into setting limits, I know we can teach them to ignore those limits.
__________________________________________________________

F*CK THE PEOPLE WHO CALL THEM THOSE PEOPLE (my thought, not Seth’s)

Business Lessons in “The Walking Dead”

the-walking-dead-wallpaper

DALE
“I like what, uh, a father said to son when he give him a watch that had been handed down through generations. He said “I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire, which will fit your individual needs no better than it did mine or my father’s before me, I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you may forget it for a moment now and then and not spend all of your breath trying to conquer it.”

Business academia and film theorists have often cited “The Godfather” as a film that can exemplify the “top down” business philosophy. And for a long time, that was the standard business practice. In the “top down” world of the Mafia, the decisions pushed down from Vito Corleone, and then Michael Corleone, were then executed (pun intended) by the families underlings. This is pretty much the perfect representation of that type of hierarchical business structure which is all but ingrained in corporate America. But both the Mafia and corporate philosophy have changed so much since 1972. And while the Mafia is still somewhat beholden to the “top down” paradigm, large corporations have attempted to shy away from the “top down” philosophy, albeit unsuccessfully.

There are two upsides to corporations continued inability to adapt and move beyond a militaristic “top down” regimen. One, they have quarantined great minds and two, technology is evolving ever more rapidly which is in turn providing ample opportunity to those quarantined minds. As these technology companies continue to compete with the staid monolithic companies new business ideas and practices are coming into play; ones that are less dictatorial and more empowering to the lower strata.

AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is the perfect cinematic allegory for these new and continually evolving business philosophies. Where “The Godfather” represented the structured classical business model, “The Walking Dead” exemplifies the always in flux and fast moving modern day business model. The zombies represent the drones suffering through the myopic cubicle culture of large corporations and Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his group on the run represents the “on the fly” philosophy of the tech companies or start ups.

Just as Facebook has Mark Zuckerberg and tumblr has David Karp, the zombie apocalypse survivors on the run have Rick Grimes. He is the determined and focused leader who isn’t afraid to step up, accept the challenges, make the hard decisions and lead his group toward someplace safer, if it exists. If there is a better allegory for entrepreneurship on television, I would like to know.

Rick Grimes is the consummate leader. He recognizes the importance of empowering other members of his group, he redistributes responsibility, encourages other members to take risks and work within their strengths as long as it serves to benefit the group. Grimes will make the ultimate decision but not without consideration from the group, like any good leader would.

Some leadership lessons to be learned from “The Walking Dead”:
(This list is neither all inclusive nor definitive.)

  • Lead by example – Subscribe to an ethical and moral code you want your team to have. And then follow it. A title does NOT denote a leader.
  • Empower your group– Let others in your group take charge. Not all decisions are going to work and as a leader you may not like them, but you have to let them happen.
  • Take Responsibility – The decision may not be yours and you may not have supported it, but you approved it…it’s yours. Own it.
  • Teamwork – Gotta have it. You won’t survive in a zombie filled world, or the real world, without it.
  • Transparency – Critical to helping your group stay alive and understand your vision.
  • Coach – Pull you team up and let them in to help them understand what is working and what isn’t working.
  • Get Your Hands Dirty – Don’t rely on your team to constantly dig the graves. Get in there and do it with them.

One thing both “The Godfather” and “The Walking Dead” have in common is that they both suffer from some gender role problems. While “The Godfather” keeps women out of the day to day operations entirely, “The Walking Dead” represents a modest nod to the women’s movement as women are allowed to fight, when necessary, allowed to carry guns but are still expected to cook and clean. Even though Rick Grimes is a modern leader, his trusted right hands have all been men, to date. The difference being, of course, “The Walking Dead” women do fight and contribute to the decision making process, but are not necessarily part of the leadership. This is sad fact of many corporations today; but not all.

The “top down” philosophy shown in “The Godfather” still has some merit as a business practice to people who have family owned business but it should have no place in today’s corporate environment. Unfortunately, whether spoken or unspoken, the practice still permeates that world.

Where corporate culture may not have evolved as much as it should, at least cinematic storytelling has evolved to a point where it can represent some more solid and modern business practices. Certainly, the more fluid and transparent leadership shown by Rick Grimes in AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is representative of a more modern and ideal work place and points to a substantive move away from the “top down” practice of “The Godfather”.

Who says you can’t learn from a television show about zombies?

WD

Zero Dark Thirty

ohb-lobby-cia-memorial-wall-219

Good art has the ability to transcend beliefs and capture emotions. Once in a lifetime a work of art comes along and is able to do just that as well as define a moment in time. Zero Dark Thirty is such a movie. Now, I won’t extol the virtues of this movie because this isn’t a movie review. But I will say:

  • This is the best movie of the year. Make no mistake. I don’t suspect it will be recognized as such because it is too politically charged.
  • How Jason Clark got overlooked for an Oscar nomination is a sin. I suspect this had more to do with the actions of the character more than the performance. Rest assured, this is a performance people will pick apart for years.
  • Anyone kicking up dirt about the torture scenes would be missing the point. It’s a dramatic device used to move the story forward and convey the screenwriter and directors personal philosophy. In other words, it’s art. Did those things take place? Yep. No one denies that. Are the scenes an accurate description? It’s not relevant, it’s a movie.
  • It tells the story we need to hear as Americans. Is it 100% factual? No, it’s a movie. Are there elements of truth? Yes.
  • If you don’t see this movie, you are missing a defining work of art with every artist involved operating at the top of their game.
  • Art should connect with you emotionally and personally and this movie does both.

There is a scene in the movie where the Jennifer Ehle character of Jessica goes to Camp Chapman, a key CIA facility in Afghanistan, to interview a high ranking Al-Qaeda operative in the hopes of getting him to flip and give up Osama Bin Laden.  The scene ends with an explosion. That happened.

On December 30, 2009 seven CIA operatives were killed at Camp Chapman in Afghanistan when a man, who was considered trusted enough by base security not to be searched on arrival at the gate, detonated a suicide bomb in the camp. Some of the names of those killed are:

Elizabeth Hanson
Harold Brown
Scott Roberson
Jeremy Wise
Dane Paresi

Harold Brown hired me in January of 2001 to work for a company called Shareholder.com. At the time I lived in San Francisco and the company was headquartered in Maynard, MA. After a couple of phone interviews and an interview with the San Francisco office Sales Manager, Harold made me a job offer. I accepted.

I flew into Providence, Rhode Island on a Sunday night to begin three weeks of training at the Maynard, MA headquarters.

Over the next three weeks in Maynard and one week in San Francisco, I got to know Harold Brown pretty well. Some of the things I remember about Harold were:

  • He loved country music.
  • His passionate explanation to me of the importance of Dale Earnhardt and why he mattered in NASCAR (and his ability to laugh at my “Isn’t NASCAR just rednecks turning left?” joke)
  • Harold was honest and a genuine God rearing republican.
  • He was a married father of three who loved his family as much as he loved his God and country.
  • Harold was fearless and a natural born leader.
  • He was a man who had faults and was neither ashamed to acknowledge them or embarrassed by them.
  • Harold was always willing to actively listen and engage in a dialog even if his mind was made up.
  • He had a terrific sense of humor and a laugh that was loud and infectious.
  • Harold loved structure.

Easily my favorite personal moment with Harold involved us driving to meet my San Francisco counterpart when she flew out to Maynard one week after I did. He picked me up at the hotel and we immediately got to talking about music. At the time there was a bunch of hubbub about Marilyn Manson being a devil worshiper or something inane like that. Before we got too involved, I had to stop this, so I said “Harold, you and everyone who talks about Marilyn Manson is missing the point. It’s bad music. Done. That is it, nothing more than that. It is musically, artistically and culturally insignificant. It simply doesn’t matter and the more you talk about it, the more credence you give it.”

He thought about it and started again and I interrupted him, “Stop it. It doesn’t matter. There is no value in discussing it. If you simply ignore him and the music, it will end up where it belongs. Nowhere.”

We sat in silence for a minute before he started again. And once again I interrupted him, “Harold, seriously, stop. Wait a minute, do you like the song?” The Harold Brown smile I had come to know over the  past week crept up on his face. I laughed and said “So like it, who cares? It’s a song not a belief system.” But we were apparently not done with our discussion.

Harold shuffled around looking for the song again (seriously, I have no idea what it was) so he could explain what he liked about that damn Marilyn Manson song. He eventually found it and we went back and forth. Harold had an uncanny ability to get me to see and appreciate his perspective, even if I disagreed. On that trip to the airport, I learned a lot about Harold. What resonated the most was his passion and just how genuine and real he was. Not one ounce of pretense. Harold and I were different, wildly different, but I know that didn’t lessen any of the respect or like he had for me or I for him.

About six months after I had started Harold left Shareholder.com to go do something with the National Guard and what it was escapes me but I do recall him wrestling with his decision. About six months after that, I left and moved to Los Angeles. Over the years, I would think of Harold and wonder what path he took, especially after 9/11. I found out in late December 2010 when I did a Google search and discovered he was killed the year before in the Camp Chapman attack. On that day, while I did not know the other six, I can say with complete certainty, we lost one of the good ones.

Did Harold Brown do or participate in things I may find questionable? More than likely. But I feel a little better knowing that he was one of the guys doing them.

I’m learning that if you live long enough, history begins to impact you. For me, the goal should be to impact history.
Harold Brown impacted history.

Untitled Tailgate Series

Tailgate“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.
– George Bernard Shaw

When I came up with the idea a few years ago for a tailgating reality show, I thought I was on to something. The idea came to me when my very good friend took me to see U2 in Boston. We arrived in the stadium parking lot at about 2:30 to meet with her friends, eat and have a drink or two. From what I remembered, tailgating at a concert consisted of warm beer, weed, passing a bottle of Jack Daniels and playing Frisbee. Being that we had all aged out of that behavior, I had no idea what to expect. I presumed just some beer and burgers…turns out it tailgating had evolved.

It never occurred to me that tailgating had progressed beyond sporting events and into concerts and to such a degree that actual meal courses were involved, wine carefully selected and days of preparation. My hosts had what I considered to be a pretty elaborate set up. There was a cheese station and a salad station for us to nosh on while the steak was completing its marinade process, which involved an almost scientific configuration of spices and a “special sauce” that had been soaking for “no less than 48 hours”. My hosts were also kind enough to give me an introductory lesson on wine pairing for tailgating. (HINT: Boone’s Farm or MD 20/20 are no-no’s)

As I looked around, there were other people with more elaborate set-ups and I even noticed some old school trusty Weber hibachi set ups, but by comparison, my hosts set up was par for the parking lot. I started thinking there were stories to be told here. Lots of stories. And while I didn’t necessarily have one of those “AH-HA!” moments, I definitely had a “Hmmmm, this is interesting” moment.

I spent the next couple days thinking about it and doing a little research and found that there were a couple of tailgating shows already, one on deep cable, one on the internet and one in development (all three have since disappeared). So I started percolating the idea and bouncing it around to some trusted people, who told me it was a great idea. After a few meetings, I, along with the help of a couple of friends, decided to shoot a sizzle reel to help put some visuals to the concept.

We set out on a very cold January day to shoot the New York Jets tailgating action. As cold as it was, the die-hard fans were out. There were some pretty interesting folks and we got some relatively decent footage. I knew we didn’t capture A+ footage, I knew we got enough to cut together a decent two minutes.

While we edited, I wrote out a one page treatment and registered it with the Writers Guild of America, just to be safe. I was confident it was a pretty good idea whose time had come.

With the help of one of my former bosses, we began the Sisyphean task of trying to gain access to shop the idea. We had a decent sizzle, a good treatment and an absolutely solid concept. But, as we fast learned, access to production companies and network decision makers is challenging at best, especially if you are an unheard of and untested producer. After a few months of this flagellation, we shelved the idea. Turns out, I should have stuck with it.

Last week the Travel Channel announced Tailgate Takeover, which will be hosted by Adam Richman, of Man v. Food fame, and produced by Sharp Entertainment.
From the Travel Channel press release (emphasis mine):

The series will spotlight the best tailgating across the U.S. at sports, concerts, festivals and fairs, among other events. The network ordered 13 half-hour episodes that will officially debut this summer.”

this is from my treatment:
“The type of people tailgating, be they football fans, NASCAR fans, horse-racing fans or U2 fans vary as much as the food they are pre-gaming with.”

Suffice it to say, I was floored. Is it 100% verbatim? No, of course not. But it is seemingly about 99% the very same concept that I had. Look, I know my idea was not ground breaking, and it was not revolutionary, and I do not profess to be the first with that idea, BUT what separated mine from the others was that it didn’t focus on solely on football and/or sports. My idea idea was to cover any event where tailgating took place. I decided to see if I had any recourse through the WGA or elsewhere.

As I suspected, and learned, the burden of proof would be on me, as it should be, to prove any infraction. One, I would have to prove a link between my WGA registered Untitled Tailgate Series and the Tailgate Takeover producers, Sharp Entertainment. Easy enough for reasons I won’t discuss but it involves a fractured friendship. Two, you can’t copyright an idea. Three, Sharp Entertainment can easily say they had this in development prior to my registration. Four, I don’t have any records of who received the sizzle reel and treatment or any signed confidentiality agreements.

The likelihood that I have any recourse is slim. But more importantly, the probability I would do anything if I did is virtually nil. What would I gain? Nothing. I’m fairly convinced suing someone is not the best way to get a leg up. Sure, it bums me out that Tailgate Takeover strongly resembles my concept, but I find marginal pleasure in knowing I was onto something and that I did everything I was supposed to do. I stand by my concept and still think I could sell it; but if television continues to teach us anything, it is that ideas are only as good as your access.

So, I wish Sharp Entertainment well with Tailgate Takeover and send them an open invitation to contact me directly (keithrhiggons@gmail.com) to discuss other ideas.

Sharp Entertainment press release: http://tinyurl.com/bf66z3g
My Sizzle Reel: http://tinyurl.com/aujtz3u
My WGA Registration at the top of the page.
Treatment upon request.

1600 Penn

1600-penn-3

Quality is not an act, it is a habit.
–  Aristotle

If quality is a habit, “1600 Penn” shows us that NBC seems to have considered quality a bad habit. The stinking pile of dung that was tossed onto the masses last week with “1600 Penn” proves NBC has either renounced quality entirely or is hell bent on destroying the very idea all together. “1600 Penn” is so staggeringly bad it makes “The Big Bang Theory” seem like sitcom Tolstoy. I sat through 44 minutes of the most mind numbingly inane television I have seen in years and watching two complete episodes of this show makes me think it could replace water-boarding as a coercive interrogation device.

Bill Pullman plays Dale Gilchrest, a father of four children who also happens to be President of the United States. Scientologist Jenna Elfman plays the first lady, Book of Mormon alumni, and co-creator of the show, Josh Gad plays buffoonish first son Skip. Skip comes across as the retarded red headed step child of Chris Farley’s “Tommy Boy”, sans the charm and affability of Farley. Martha MacIsaac plays bookish first daughter Becca and the rest of the cast is rounded out by a hackneyed version of a sitcom family and seemingly competent side players. This show is so bad that it is almost as though the dark lord himself, Satan, pitched this idea in an attempt to further push the population down the rabbit hole of mediocrity.

The first two episodes revolve around the bookish Becca telling her father that she has become pregnant after a reckless one night stand. Hilarity does not ensue. In all fairness, this is a pretty solid premise for comedy and in more skillful hands, it may have even been funny. In “1600 Penn” it’s just formulaic tripe. To describe those scenes in any way would take me back to a place I am incapable of going, just trust me, they’re awful. However, the scenes between Pullman and MacIsaac are engaging; in fact, those scenes are the only good thing about the show. Sadly, that accounts for maybe 90 seconds of 44 minutes over the two episodes. The remaining 42 minutes and 30 seconds are filled with pedantic writing and performing, with Josh Gad’s Skip leading the idiot brigade.

It would be easy to blame the three creators, Josh Gad, Jason Winer and Jon Lovett, for this show. But this show is so dreadful that to hold only three people accountable would be intellectually impossible. The lions share of shit heaved onto, into and around this show has got to come from NBC programming “notes”. If history is any indication, this degree of banality has NBC programming octopus prints all over it.  So, the plausibility that three seemingly talented people could be solely responsible for such simplistic dreck is beyond any scope of comprehension. Now that doesn’t excuse the creators because, in the final analysis, the decision to say “no” or “We’re not doing that” rests with them and in failing to exercise that, that makes them ultimately responsible.

I recently wrote about something I call Creative Corporatism and “1600 Penn” serves as a text book example of this idea. As the name implies, it is the concept of Corporatism directing creativity. Hollywood, and television in particular, has a long history of meddling with shows to “make them better” and sometimes it works, like when the note was given to add a female character to “The Seinfeld Chronicles’”. But when those notes fail or seem to serve any purpose, as they seem to have here, well, then it just becomes a shit show. Literally. Corporate shills have one responsibility, nay two, and those are to serve the shareholder and to keep their job; they don’t have a responsibility to create formidable and compelling television. Sure, we all want that, but sadly, I am not convinced they do.

Maybe I am wrong about “1600 Penn” and it will turn out to be a huge hit. I don’t know, but based on the 44 minutes I saw, “1600 Penn” is a giant turd on the face of American television and should be cancelled post haste.