Friday, May 30, 2008

Al Green: Lay it Down

"The Reverend Al Green has provided the soundtrack to some of the sexiest moments in the lives of most people of a certain age ..."

Read on ... and check out the cool new redesign of the Weekly, as well.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

In other news, the Earth is, in fact, round

I'm shocked, shocked, to find that propaganda is going on here!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Recommended: Ray Ratto

You might have noticed my "Other Good Reads" list of links on the leftnav, and you also might have wondered who those people are and why I recommend them so highly. So occasionally I will tell you a little bit more about them.

Today's subject: Ray Ratto, sports columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and Why do I like Ratto? I've never met the guy, but he seems like the kind of person I'd enjoy talking to. His writing style is conversationally formal -- i.e. he sounds smart without sounding like a professor. And his sense of humor comes shining through in every column. My earliest recollection of a Rattoism was his mention of a streaker at the Oakland Coliseum, "wedding tackle dangling in the breeze." I thought that was clever, and pretty bold for a mainstream newspaper, especially in the sports column. Plus, he's a tubby, cynical sports guy, so you could say he's somewhat of a personal role model of mine.

Here's a recent column
from Ratto's Chronicle archive that helps illustrate what I like about him. It's about the possibility of Major League Baseball adopting some form of instant replay to correct umpire mistakes. Here's the lede:

Rumor has it that Major League Baseball is attacking its current spate of blown calls in a fascinating way - by flirting with the idea of using replay in the Arizona Fall League.

Which is to say that in its forward-thinking view, baseball thinks the way to test the efficacy of replay is to use it in venues where few people care about the original call, let alone a second view of it.

Other gems include his notion that the controversy is again a hot topic because the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez lost a home run to a missed call last week ("if a Yankee or Red Sox player sneezes, someone wants to make antihistamines mandatory"), as well as his description of player/manager/umpire arguments: "angry men in knickers who believe they have been wronged act(ing) as though wasp hives have been forcibly inserted in their delicates."

See? Who wouldn't like a regular dose of that kind of prose? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mr. Ray Ratto!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

It's getting all hot up in here

We just came off a three-day stretch of record high temps here in the valley. And we're not just talking about a degree or two. On Monday, we reached 108 -- the previous record was 102 (registered just two years ago). That's the equivalent of Mark McGwire raising the bar from 61 to 70 home runs in a season.

Someone oughta look into this. All I'm sayin'.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Wrong on so many levels

On Monday night, the Twins became part of a disturbing trend in professional sports by offering an "all you can eat" promotion. For 33 bucks, fans could gorge themselves on all the basics -- hot dogs, pretzels, popcorn, soft drinks -- from the time the doors opened until the end of the eighth inning.

Now, I'm going to try to avoid coming across as a fun-killing prude here, because I know teams and their fans are always looking for ways to inject a little fun into the game experience. But this is just wrong on so many levels. First off, do Americans (especially sports fans) really need to be encouraged to eat more junk food? The fattest nation in the world does not need an incentive to stuff more hot dogs down its gullet. And trust me, I've eaten in the Metrodome many times -- this isn't a fine-dining experience. Quantity trumps quality at the Dome even if you're only having a bite of one pretzel.

Let's not even get into the whole "kids are starving in Myanmar and we're being gluttons" angle, because this food isn't going to go to Myanmar if it doesn't get eaten by Joe from Apple Valley. It's not that this is bad for the starving children (and adults) around the world, or even in our own back yard. It's bad for anybody who participates in this promotion. And it's a bad sign that professional sports are encouraging and enabling obesity among its fans.

Check out some of the anecdotes from the Strib story, including the guy who bought a brand new pair of cargo pants at the Mall of America before hopping on the light rail to go to the game. Yes, he wanted to make sure he had enough pockets available to stuff with pork products and empty carbs so he wouldn't actually burn some of those calories walking back to the concession stand more than necessary.

Or the foursome that had hammered home 15 hot dogs before the game even started. Or the family that took their kids "to dinner" at the game, but started with hot dogs so the children at least got their protein.

And finally, because the game went 12 innings but the promotion ended in the eighth inning (so the vendors and counter staff could clean up and get home), we get this post from a slob who apparently thinks "all you can eat" is false advertising (scroll down to 9:20 a.m.):

"The all you can eat promotion was shut down 4 innings before the game ended. Extra innings or not, they need to be open until the game is over. That’s horrible cusotmer (sic) relations. If you want to save $$$ by closing down in the 8th inning, then tell your bullpen to throw strikes and tell your overpaid RF to learn how to hit with men in scoring position and less than 2 outs."

Another fine example of the "it's all about me" crowd, which is exactly who this promotion is targeting. In an instant gratification world, stuffing your face with endless crap food feels good right now, so let's do it, regardless of whether it's good for you in the long run.

I can hardly wait for the lawsuits to start trickling in against the Twins when the fans who purchased these tickets start dropping dead of cardiac disease in the next few years. That's the logical next step -- well, that and a section of double-wide seats for these fans at the new ballpark.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Et tu, iPhone?

Editor's note: I'm really swamped with work right now -- two massive projects, the biggest of the year, are both due the first week of June. As a result, the blog will be updated sparingly during the next three weeks. I apologize to my regular reader(s) -- but I offer a money-back guarantee if you're not satisfied.

I don't know why this story fascinated me so -- divers in the Rhone near the city of Arles have recovered a trove of ancient artifacts, including this life-sized bust of an aging Julius Caesar that may date to 46 B.C., roughly two years before the dictator's death.

Aside from the obvious historical significance of this previously sunken treasure, I'm struck by how it serves to humanize this legendary leader. And really, that's literally what Caesar is -- legendary. We have no "proof" of what he did or how he lived, other than historical record, based largely on stories handed down from one generation to the next, and often transcribed by people who lived centuries after he walked the Earth.

But look at the fine points in this sculpture. The wrinkles, the receding hairline, the lines of time etched on all of our faces, recreated in hauntingly vivid detail. This is better than a photograph -- it's a three-dimensional representation that helps us better understand the man himself, a record of Caesar upon which you can lay your hands. Nobody's telling you what Caesar looked like -- you're seeing it, from any angle you wish to take.

Put it this way -- if a similar bust of Jesus were to be unearthed, we might have to declare a week-long holiday to celebrate, and the line of people hoping to see it would stretch from Jerusalem to Iowa City and back.

I guess what really strikes me is that we consider our modern ways to be so superior in every aspect, but especially in the field of communication. Everybody's got a cell phone camera, and everything from grandma's birthday party to baby's first BM is quickly posted to YouTube to share with the world, captured for posterity and dutifully recorded in the annals of online history.

But you can't convince me that any video, picture or podcast can help me understand you better than this image of Caesar. Simplicity trumps modernity, even in 2008.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Twins breakdown: Delmon Young

Time to continue the Twins breakdown series with a look at the team's new left-fielder, Delmon Young.

The good: Apparently, he's a pretty good actor -- at least, he holds his own with Twins legends Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Tony Oliva in the video above. He's got a strong arm as well, as evidenced by his four assists from left field. He seems to run OK -- not a speedster, but he won't hurt you on the bases, either.

The bad: Where's the power? Preseason predictions of 25 home runs seemed a tad optimistic considering he hit only 13 last year as a rookie in Tampa Bay, but it sure looked like he'd be a bit more proficient with the long ball. Instead, some of his swings have had a dead-fish quality to them. He's also hitting just .256, more than 30 points below his rookie average. Young appears to be pressing a bit at the plate -- I wish I were around the clubhouse so I could get a feel for whether he's the type of guy who might put too much pressure on himself to perform, especially in a new setting. Because from here, that's what appears to be happening.

The ugly: Is there a less athletic-looking 22-year-old professional ... uh ... sports player than Delmon Young? (I almost said "professional athlete," but that doesn't really fit given the start of the sentence.) He lumbers around the outfield with Frankenstein legs, like he's got no flexibility in his hips, and he doesn't look comfortable in the batters box, especially when trying to make adjustments to different types of pitches. At least he hasn't thrown a bat at an umpire or caused any controversy in the clubhouse yet.

The verdict: The jury is still out on whether he's a middle-of-the-lineup kind of guy. He's batting seventh right now, which is about where his production merits. Until he starts showing some power, he'll be much less valuable than the player the Twins thought they were getting.

Monday, May 5, 2008

MMM: Breaking news in a Sept. 12 world

Last week, I was putting in 45 minutes on the elliptical machine at the club and half-assedly monitoring the bank of TV screens above my noggin when ESPN News flashed a bright red "BREAKING NEWS" graphic along their crawl. The "breaking news" that followed was that Larry Brown had been named head coach of the Charlotte Bobcats.

Funny thing, though -- I'd heard that exact same story four hours earlier, on ESPN Radio, no less! If news is at least four hours old, and it's been reported on one of your own media platforms, how exactly is it "breaking" news?

This has been a pet peeve of mine for awhile, going back at least to the time when TV news directors started lining up with the "if it bleeds, it leads" crowd in an effort to drive ratings. Time and again, I'd see the "BREAKING NEWS" graphic on screen, only to be shown a car chase along an LA freeway, or a house fire in a distant suburb.

For me, there are two types of misleading done by these media charlatans. In the case of Larry Brown's hiring, it was certainly news, but it certainly was not breaking -- at least, not four hours after it had been first reported. And in the case of the car chase or the house fire, it certainly was breaking, but was it news? That is to say, if it hadn't been going on during the half-hour newscast, would they break into programming to report on it, or even report on it at all in a later telecast?

This really started to irk me in the months after 9/11. I was working in the Internet news world at the time, and we kept a constant vigil on the various cable news networks to make sure we had wire copy on our site whenever a new development in the search-and-recover efforts arose, or a new threat had been uncovered. Our heartbeats would race whenever one of these networks splashed a "BREAKING NEWS" graphic on the screen, and in the wake of that horrible day, most of them were very responsible in limiting the use of that ploy to when they actually had something both newsworthy and timely to report.

However, it wasn't long before big media went back to their typically sensationalist ways. Soon, it felt like they were using me, playing on the raw nerves still exposed in the months after the towers fell to pimp their latest non-scandal scandal. They knew that, like Pavlov's dogs, all they had to do was ring the bell and flash "BREAKING NEWS" and I'd fly to the screen at full attention to hear what they had to report.

Sadly enough, that ploy even crept into the advertising world. I specifically recall a TV commercial that aired in late 2001, with two fake news anchors breathlessly stating, "We interrupt this broadcast to bring you this breaking news ..." only to find out the "news" was a big sale at the local auto dealership. Given that we'd just spent a couple months living in fear of a follow-up terrorist attack, and that the news organizations actually did report on 9/11 and the ensuing developments in this very way, this type of ad was craven at best and positively cruel at worst. And the suits at the TV stations who accepted this kind of ad in the months after 9/11 ... well, there's a special place in Hell reserved for them.

Which brings me back to ESPN News. Sure, their "news" isn't as serious as a terrorist attack or an anthrax scare, but given that ESPN reports solely on the sports world, shouldn't the "BREAKING NEWS" tag be saved for something that's actually breaking, and actually news, at least in the context of the sports world? If you cry wolf often enough, you won't be able to reach your audience when you actually have something newsworthy to report. And I probably won't bat an eye the next time I see the bright red graphic on ESPN News.

Then again, we're talking about a network that invested hours upon hours of SportsCenter to determine "Who's Now?" so nothing they do should surprise me anymore.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Creative paralysis

I've been immensely enjoying the new R.E.M. album "Accelerate," which to me sounds very much like a throwback effort from the Athens trio. After a trio of lackluster discs that I just couldn't connect with, "Accelerate" combines the raw power and dark, sociopolitical fury of their 80's work.

In trying to figure out why this resurgence seemingly came out of nowhere, I just came across an article that makes perfect sense. On their last few albums, guitarist Peter Buck said, singer Michael Stipe and bassist Mike Mills preferred to spend so much time in the studio, jamming and rewriting and tweaking the dials in the search for perfection that the creative process turned into so much navel-gazing.

According to Buck, "I never liked that ... I always complained and I always suggested that we work quicker and more spontaneously. The other guys weren't into it. I think maybe the reception (to 'Around the Sun') got kind of shocked them and made them realize ... I was right, we can't work like this any longer."

Each of the songs on "Accelerate" sounds like a first take, natural and unrefined and from the gut, kind of like a John McCain soundbite circa 1999 -- while their recent work has sounded much more like a McCain speech of more recent vintage, overthought and prevaricating and trying to be all things to all people.

For me, the creative process always functions best when I've got less time to work. It's not the best way to run a business, as life can get pretty hectic around deadline time, but I do my best work under pressure when I know I don't have days or weeks to pore over every phrase, every sentence, every idea to make sure it's fully fleshed out. In other words, when I trust my gut, or don't leave myself any other choice but to trust my gut, that's when my work shines.

For example, I'm not much for giving speeches, but I was chosen by my high school classmates to deliver the commencement address at our graduation ceremony. I had at least a week to write the speech, but thankfully our administration didn't require that I turn in a rough draft for their approval, so typical of my preferred style, I didn't write it until the last minute.

And I mean that almost literally. The ceremony started at 7:30 p.m. on graduation night, and at 5:30 p.m. I figured I'd better at least put my thoughts in order on paper. I knew all along what I was going to say -- I based my speech on Robert Fulgham's classic piece "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," long before that became a cliche. I just didn't put pen to paper until two hours before I stepped up to the podium. And the speech, if I do say so myself, was awesome. I haven't written anything that poignant or relevant since. (OK, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it sucks to peak at 18.)

Anyway, that's how I work best, and apparently, that's how R.E.M. works best, too. Kudos to them for figuring it out.