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Monthly Archives: October 2011

I know so little of the legend of William Shakespeare. I guess he wrote about a million words, of which I can recite about .0000001% of, if that. “To be or not to be.” “It is the east and Juliet is the sun.” Anonymous paints a picture of a trio of men – a playwright, an actor and an Earl – caught in a circle of political and romantic intrigue over two generations during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. It’s an interesting time, when actors and poets were treated as the lowest of the classes and considered by the pious to be practitioners of the occult. Nowadays, they’re treated as the voice of the common man. (Praise be to Janeane Garofalo and Billy Bob Thorton.)

The set design drew me to this movie. London is shown in all it’s cold, muddy despair, with streets filled with vendors and whoring wenches. The hallways of castle and manor alike possess a stillness of a quiet and gloomy England, where the threat of upheaval and insurrection stand nearby, awaiting the calculated signal to strike at a moment’s notice. The theater in the round is both quaint and grand by way of audience interaction and booming performances.

There is an arranged marriage and the suggestion of inbreeding, the stuff of everlasting monarchs and the usual means by which power changes hands. But it is desire and love which provide the substance that makes for the creation of a million words by one man. The power of the quill is entertained and entertaining. Contrast that time to our own, where everyone is blogging, tweeting, etc., billions of words a day and creating a sea of blather, and you might view Shakespeare’s contribution to the English language as immeasurable.

But who was Shakespeare? I don’t think anyone, including the makers of this movie, knows his true identity anymore than that of Jack the Ripper. And how strange that we attribute so much of our language to someone who we cannot identify beyond a certainty. We might just as well refer to Shakespeare as God. The only difference is God demands recognition, whereas the real Shakespeare went to the grave without it.

To deliberately remain anonymous for all eternity is the makings of either a coward or a saint. But would a coward write in such verse that which would captivate the hearts and minds of so many future generations? But would a man of God challenge the throne, ordained by God, with words that might upset the balance of power among the classes? A troublemaker? A political activist? A social reformer? A community organizer? As I said, I know so little of the legend of William Shakespeare.

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You’ll always hear actors or authors proclaiming how their latest release is their best effort ever. It would seem to make sense. For the artist, past mistakes are traded in for knowledge, while time partners with experience. For the media big wigs and investors, there’s always the bottom line to consider as the throttle is open wide during the marketing campaign. Most of us will allow ourselves to get caught up in the hype. Still, sometimes it’s hard not to roll your eyes. What if even Kevin Costner knows it’s going to be a stinker, but he’s just playing all of us?
 
So how does one promote their novel without coming off as an annoying telemarketer or a pushy car salesperson or an even pushier door-to-door solicitor? My wife and I avoid these people like the plague. Phone calls are screened. And why not? They never allow you to get a word in edgewise. A charitable cause is treated the same as the likely over-hyped product pitch, as all ringing doorbells are ignored. A glimpse through the side of the window curtain might reveal a young salesman – sold on the idea of selling by some other young salesman turned manager – walking to the next house with the determination of the Terminator, leaving us worrying whether or not he’ll be back.
 
Is it possible to believe in your work and yourself, yet not believe in cramming it down everyone’s throat? Is it possible to demonstrate faith in your book, to witness like the scripture-reading Jehovah Witness standing on your stoop, by citing your good intentions for having wrote it in the first place? How does one convert another into seeing the light, finding the meaning behind your sacrifice, your sweat and tears?

My publisher likes pushing the book-signing approach. But for an introvert, it’s a tough sell. Besides, my take on signings is they’re for those with built-in name recognition, like Stephen King and Sarah Palin. So I continue to hide out on the Web. It’s the simplest, non-intrusive approach, by far. There are a number of websites where people want to be clued in about what’s out there, fresh and ready to be read. Goodreads.com is about as obvious a choice as any for writers and readers to gather. It’s a place where I’ve managed to garner the interest of over 1400 readers through giveaways, and where at least 300 have tentatively added my novel to their ‘to read’ shelves.

Alas, success may be elusive due to timid marketing. Confidence is hard-wired into some, not all. I’m reminded of a Seinfeld episode. After the ‘keys’ incident with Jerry, Kramer takes off for La La Land, where he peddles his ‘movie treatment’ to the likes of an aspiring actress who’s been offered the lead role in a miniseries about Eva Braun and Fred Savage of the Wonder Years. He believes in his product and longs to make it in Hollywood. But his pitch to Fred Savage is filled with awkward nervousness, and, all in all, very unKrameristic, as he topples furniture and frightens Fred enough to send him running out the door. It reminds me of how I might respond in a public setting. I say, who needs it? Still, I’ll give it a try.

Imagine what sort of footage video and cell phone cameras might have captured had they been around during the sinking of the Titanic. Hollywood’s Titanic shows Jack and Rose courageously fighting for their lives to the very end. But I think actual footage would show faces filled with despair, stupefied by the inevitable. Death and dying looks so much more tolerable and acceptable when it’s well-rehearsed by gifted actors.

Contrast the recent execution of Moammar Gadhafi to that of the police officer in Reservoir Dogs where director Quentin Tarantino creates a scene that is disturbing, yet somehow entertaining. There’s a sinister dance by Mr. Blonde, wielding a blade to the sounds of K-billy Super Sounds of the 70s, followed by the slashing off of the cop’s ear, followed by Mr. Orange repeatedly shooting Mr. Blonde, and, finally, shortly thereafter, followed by intensely-scripted dialogue between potential adversaries just prior to executing the cop.

We know it’s all fake, so the possibility of such violence disrupting our sense of security, and making us question what exactly is going on outside in the real world, is not called into question beyond the usual. But when we see the fumbled recording involving the execution of an international tyrant, where the video shows the crazed expressions of those surrounding, in essence, a whipped dog, who is asking of his captors, “What did I do to you?”, it’s almost like being back on the playground where the school bully is finally getting his. But, this time, it’s to a degree that does not leave open the possibility for reprisal.

Its moments such as these, in the history of planet Earth where, if we are at all human, we should stop and shutter at our own lack of humanity. I found myself caught up in the imagery while contemplating the darkness that seems to obscure the line between justice and just desserts. This was similarly the case when Saddam Hussein was hanged under the shadow of secrecy, a setting that hardly lent to the event’s attempt at official sanctioning. Here again, it’s through the eye of an erratic and blurry cell phone camera that the world was able to see the clumsy and disorganized execution of another modern-day tyrant. And once again, my feelings were those of hopelessness and emptiness. A god that allows the common man to make vengeance a part of the world’s everyday existence is a god who has long since departed.

In the movie The Quick and the Dead, the bad guy hands a pistol to a little girl and gives her one shot to shoot the rope so as to save her father from hanging. Trembling and crying, she fires the pistol, shooting her father in the forehead. That little girl grows up to be a fast-draw gunslinger, eventually coming face to face with her father’s real killer, dispatching him with all the justice in the world behind her.

That’s drama for you. It all seems right. There’s none of the burden found with everyday reality, where people are trying to make a living in peace and security, while unknown to them something is simmering, just waiting to unleash a sort of mayhem most of us believe to be reserved for the movies.

If you had time and opportunity to video record your final moments on Earth, would you imagine yourself stoically and spiritually calm, or would you be stumbling and, perhaps, asking someone nearby, “What did I do to you?”. Odds are you really don’t want it recorded for the whole world to see.

You wonder if there’s an old library like yours somewhere else in the country still clinging to the old style of indexing its inventory of books. A library that time has forgotten and where there’s an aging hardwood cabinet – tall, deep, warm and heavy – next to the main desk, which, by comparison is made of cold gray metal and an even darker gray of rubber edging around its table top, protecting it from wayward book carts. The dark-green vinyl-upholstered chair behind the desk is vacant, revealing a center split sprouting tufts of white fluff, while its squeaky wheels rest quietly, as the elderly librarian is off teetering high atop a ladder in search of a book requested by a telephone call.

The cabinet is filled with long, narrow drawers, each of which is filled with index cards. And when you open one, there’s a strong scent of wood and heavy paper stock that’s a cross between musty old thoughts and fresh new ideas, all waiting to be referenced by minds of all ages, like yours, in search of knowledge. Most of the cards are off-white, aging with antiquity just like all those books hiding in the deep, dark corridors near the back of the library. The odd card here and there is of brand-new white suggesting either a new book has arrived or the old card was torn and in need of a replacement.

You fumble through the alphabetized cards, searching for any books on battleships from the Pacific Theatre. The drawer needs to come out more and more, while flipping through the back end of the A’s, until finally it needs to be pulled out entirely and rested, precariously, upon stacks of books sitting on the librarian’s desk, and near the rotary telephone where the receiver sits, and the caller’s still waiting patiently for the librarian’s response. No need to worry about spilling the contents of the drawer as there’s a long, thin rod that runs through a hole in each card. It’s more secure than a bundle of the Sunday morning edition. And much more so than a pocket full of marbles where a hole is slowly replacing thread.

It’s toward the back of the drawer, once the B’s begin, where you begin to use both your index and middle fingers to move forward through the cards and your thumb to go back. A sort of triple duty when compared to today’s use of only the one finger to surf the web. A muffled flipping sound versus click…click…click. The threat of a temporary paper cut versus the long-term effects of carpal tunnel.

“Excuse me,” says the part-time library assistant with a smile as plain as she is dressed. Her brown hair is pulled back in a ponytail, which swishes when she tilts her head, seemingly gauging your thoughts. “I need to put those stacks of books away.”

With barely a word, you lift the drawer off from the stacks. One stack threatens to spill as she quickly reaches, resettling and reconstructing it as though she were an artisan gifted in the molding of clay. Once filled, she then pushes the cart full of books away in the opposite direction. Even though she is around your age, her movements are both that of ease and elegance. The tall shelves filled with history, and even the warm catalogue cabinet, now appear stiff and lifeless.

You slide the drawer back into the cabinet. Your thoughts are elsewhere now.

How easily distracted you are, both in reality and memories.

Conservative talk radio host Sean Hannity likes to pull a ‘gotcha’ on unwitting liberal callers by backing them into the maxim “To every man according to his need, from every man according to his ability”. Once they agree that the line makes sense and that they also agree with it, he’ll inform them that it’s from the aspirations of Karl Marx. And then he’ll accuse them of being a “socialist utopian”. It makes little difference that some callers are willing to steer the conversation toward some sort of common ground. Hannity’s main objective is to discredit liberalism in all its shapes and sizes.

As much as Hannity likes to suggest that liberalism is an all-consuming force bent on destroying freedom in all its forms, I’d like to posit that deregulated capitalism is equally destructive to those things we all take for granted – e.g., fair pricing – from bread to housing. Hannity’s position is so entrenched that I would feel free to label him as a “capitalist utopian”, i.e., in favor of unlimited wealth. He likes to name-drop, pointing out that some of his best friends are quite wealthy, and suggesting they acquired their wealth through hard work.

Are we to conclude that hard work can be defined to the extent of merely having an idea, implementing it, marketing it to the masses, and enjoying an endless stream of revenue? To this point, does it make sense that the handful of Facebook owners each has a net worth in the billions from an idea implemented and marketed to the masses? Exactly where was the hard work spoken of? What sort of hard work has each investor been engaged in since FB’s inception that would justify a net worth in the billions?

Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, two prominent players and litigants who were part of the original FB concept, settled with Mark Zuckerberg in 2008 to the tune of $65 million. Later, they appealed the settlement citing that Zuckerberg had at that time misrepresented the value of FB. Bottom line: $65 million of NOT hard-earned income proved to be not enough for the Winklevosses.

Whether we as individuals feel entitled to the benefits of either endless government social programs or an endless amount of wealth, the fact remains there are trade offs. Excessive and under-funded social programs lead to discontent among taxpayers at every income level just as much as a concentration of wealth at the top leads to resentment among those who are denied fair pricing for goods and services.

Here’s an extreme example to consider. Imagine the most powerful man on Earth being given the opportunity from aliens to travel to their distant planet to learn more not just about his place in the world but his place in the universe. But in order to accomplish this, he must use Earth as his source of fuel to travel to that distant planet. In other words, he must destroy Earth to become more than who is or what he is at this moment. It’s a moral dilemma. One that should make reasonable people reconsider the benefits of supposed security either through endless government entitlement or excessive wealth.

Even in the case of the most heinous of crimes, shouldn’t witness testimony be enough for the imaginations of jurors without having to refer to photos of the victim’s corpse? Particularly those photos where the body is no longer at the “crime” scene, but rather on a gurney at the hospital or on an autopsy table? Of course, I’m referring to government exhibit 206 in the case of California versus Conrad Murray, a case where the notions of murder, manslaughter, and involuntary manslaugter are all quite cloudy and overlapping when considering the circumstances.

I’m not sure how such a photo’s submission benefits the prosecution’s case. To my mind, it’s about as telling as the Seinfeld bit about how people who couldn’t make it as police sketch artists are asked to create the chalk-line around a victim’s body. And this helps the case how? Yes, I saw the photo of MJ’s naked dead body. And, no, I’m not proud of myself. But I can think of a few others, very close to MJ, who should be even less so. For example, what sort of parent would be willing to expose a child’s autopsy photo for the whole world to see? How does said parent rationalize doing so will help bring closure to the loss of said child?

I don’t intend to speak for MJ, but I can hardly imagine someone of his disposition whispering from the grave, instructing members of his family to avenge his death, to pursue justice, and to find peace. And then adding, “And, by the way, make sure you show my body in its rawest form because it’ll help blow the cover off this caper.” The cynic in me believes this whole circus-like event is being used to maintain the revenue stream for the MJ estate. There. I said it. I think it’s about the money.

The defendant, Dr. Murray, is someone who should seriously rethink his motives and reconsider changing his plea to guilty and finally closing the curtains on this show. Granted, in the beginning he was probably caught up in the whole prestige of becoming MJ’s personal physician. And no doubt the $150K a month salary was nothing to sneeze at. But once the position was accepted, his was a Faustian bargain he probably knew would require his bending the rules of doctor-patient integrity. I envision a house doctor whiling away the days, waiting for his sole patient to request of him to fix this or that ailment or pretty-pleasing him for an excessive dosage of medication. MJ probably wasn’t insisting he be quick about it or he’d be replaced, but there were probably others putting that very bug over and over in the good doctor’s ear. It’s hard to imagine MJ accusing his personal physician of murder after the fact. But it’s also hard NOT to imagine an implicit contract between MJ and his doctor agreeing to go down together in flames as a result of their destructive relationship.

I think most reasonable people will conclude that MJ was his own worst enemy. It’s just a shame that his final show has to be reduced to that of the macabre, haunting and lifeless, and a disturbing endnote to a long, successful career.

What I liked most about the movie Moneyball is that it’s a feel good story within itself. It starts off suggesting that the reason the Oakland A’s lost to the New York Yankees in the 2001 ADLS is because they were out-salaried. Then the team loses three of its big-name players to bigger markets.

The GM, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), can’t convince the owner to increase the 2002 budget, so he takes it out on the team’s collection of seasoned scouts. “Blah blah blah,” he mimics with his hand as they run through the usual criteria used for considering up-and-coming and free-agent players. “He’s seen in Vegas too much.” “He doesn’t have the confidence because his wife is a six, at best.” Billy offers no solutions, but only frustration.

It’s by chance that, while going through his usual motions of horse-trading with another team, Billy stumbles upon a new methodology for ranking players. Enter Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a baseball aficionado and techno-nerd. The analytical data used by Peter is so in-depth it made me wonder where the human element of each player began on paper and the machine element ended.

The season starts out shaky as under-appreciated manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) holds firm on who plays what position in spite of the GM’s insistence that an unorthodox approach needs to be given a chance. Since baseball is a business, Billy is forced to make some heartless trades that force the skipper to do things his way. As a result, the A’s start climbing up the division ladder and even challenge the all-time record for consecutive wins. It’s at this point where I felt the movie was trying to create a special moment. And it does. What’s funny is I don’t recall this historical moment from only nine years ago. (In fact, I think I’ll probably be more apt to always remember that fictionalized moment in the movie Tin Cup where Roy McAvoy holes out, from 250 yards away, the final hole of the Championship tournament.) But for this movie’s sake, the moment illustrates how a bunch of over-the-hill and no-name players can come together, rising above both the excessive commercialism and sanitized tedium that makes up the sport today, and make history.

The team’s record in 2002 was only one win better than the previous season. And they once again lose in the ADLS, only this time to another small market team, the Minnesota Twins. It’s this data that makes me appreciate the movie as merely a noble highlight of the game of baseball rather than as a tale of a revolutionary league-changing strategy.

Billy Beane’s still the GM for the A’s and the team’s record has been average overall since 2002. After offering Billy the highest salary for a GM ever, the Red Sox go it alone, eventually breaking the Curse of the Bambino in 2004 while using both a big salary and sterile computer analyses. I suspect the romanticism of the movie hides the fact that big market teams can still make use of the new system of ranking players to help maintain their continued degree of big-payroll success. And, of course, once every team in the league has adopted this new approach, then it’s back to square one, i.e., trying to find a way to beat a big market team with a low salary.