Friday, November 28, 2008

Ebert Bids Newspapers Adieu

Our friend Roger Ebert has weighed in on my favorite topic -- the demise of newspapers and the increasing ignorance of the non-newspaper-reading public.
His ending particularly hits home:

"Perhaps fearing the challenge of reading a newspaper will prove daunting, papers are using increasing portions of their shrinking news holes in providing guides to reading themselves. Before the Chicago Tribune's new design started self-correcting (i.e., rolling itself back), I fully expected a box at the top of a page steering me to a story lower on the same page.

The celebrity culture is infantilizing us. We are being trained not to think. It is not about the disappearance of film critics. We are the canaries. It is about the death of an intelligent and curious, readership, interested in significant things and able to think critically. It is about the failure of our educational system. It is not about dumbing-down. It is about snuffing out.

The news is still big. It's the newspapers that got small."

For Roger's full column, go to here
Thanks to the NH Irish Twins for originally blogging on this. If you can't get there from here, go to their blog and click on their link. It works because, despite being Irish twins, they're smarter about this stuff than I am.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Here are some random thoughts as I'm coming down from the turkey high:
I watched The Mentalist the other night just because I find Simon Baker so interesting (handsome). Aside from Baker, there is nothing to recommend about this show. The same formulaic plots, trite scrips and bad acting typical of all those cop procedural shows that dominate the three major networks' primetime schedules. Too bad, because Baker is adorable. Although he looks a little uncomfortable to be in such a lame show.
Is he adorable enough for me to waste an hour every week watching this weak show? No.
I guess they can't all be The Wire.

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, mostly because of its simplicity. You get together with people you like, you eat, you drink. You listen to Alice's Restaurant.
Why do they have to muck it up by making the whole thing about "Black Friday"? Isn't Christmas commercial enough without letting it creep over to Thanksgiving? Ugh.

Elderly. Can newspapers and TV stop using this meaningless adjective when there's no point? An elderly woman was hit by a car...An elderly man was robbed. The story will say their age at some point, so why does "elderly" have to go in the lead?
It's rarely germain to the story. When it is, use it. When not, what's the point?
Also, sometimes the reporter's grasp of "elderly" is a little loose. Is 50 elderly? 60?
Man, just leave it alone.
As they say in Strunk&White: Omit unnecessary words.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

No tip for you.

I didn't get my Boston Globe this morning. Again.
After several minutes of wandering around my yard in the rain in my slippers holding a raincoat over my head, I had to give in to the fact it wasn't there.
In the nearly 13 years I have lived in this house, the Union Leader has been on my back stoop or in the storm door every single day.
The Globe? Not so much. Last winter I had to dig around in the snow countless times before finding the soggy, barely readable pile of pulp. Many days, I have to look through the bushes or out at the front of the house (where I rarely go) before finding it. Sometimes, I secretly suspect it's been delivered to a neighbor instead. I've actually looked around their porches while walking the dogs.
Unfortunately, my favorite part of the day is the hour or so I spend drinking coffee and reading my papers in the kitchen, with New England Cable News on the TV, before getting going on whatever I have to do.
No big revelations here, no big philisophical point or anything.
Just, damn it, as long as newspapers are still being printed, I WANT MINE. Is that too much to ask?

Dan Fitts, don't read this.

I just watched the final episode of The Wire the other night. Took me a couple days to recover enough to write about it. In fact, this post isn't going to do it justice.
I can say, as someone with 40 solid years of TV watching under my belt, that The Wire is the finest show that I have ever watched.
I won't give away any plot points here -- for Dan and the rest of you that may not have seen the entire series, but plan to.
The show was flawless. No, it's not just about drug dealers. No, it's not just about cops. And the final season -- no, it's not just about the Baltimore Sun.
The acting is fantastic. A lot of the actors are "real people" from Baltimore and it lends the show an authenticity no other show has. The scripts are fantastic. The two creators, David Simon, a former Sun employee and Ed Burns, a former Baltimore cop and school teacher know their stuff.
But the greatest thing about the show is its depth. When the first season begins, it seems like just another cops and drugs show. By the end of that season, it's obvious things are more complicated than that. There are bad people, there are good people. There's corruption, there's hope. Not just on the streets and the cop shop, but in City Hall, the courts, the schools and in the fifth season, the newsroom.
I would argue the biggest villian of the whole series is the weasly mayor of Baltimore -- SPOILER ALERT -- not the first mayor, who was what he was and everyone knew it. But the second one. The weasly white guy who promised he wasn't like all the others while single-handedly running the city into the ground on the back of his gubernatorial hopes.
In the end, the show is positively Shakesperian. A modern-day Shakespeare, 70-hour play.
Why didn't it get the recognition from Hollywood that it should have?
Who knows?
Speculation is because it took place in Baltimore, was created by a couple of Baltimore guys and had a cast that was about 75 percent black might have had something to do with it.
That's a shame. Because I firmly believe if everyone in America were to watch this show -- and get it -- we would understand what the problems really are and maybe make some progress towards fixing them.
In fact, I've been told that it's Barack Obama's favorite show. That's a good start.

P.S. For all you newsies out there -- the fifth season, which concentrates on the Baltimore Sun is the best portrayal of inside newspapering that I've ever seen on TV or in movies. And there's one scene in the last episode, where the city editor (Clark Johnson, above photo, in a pitch-perfect performance) is saying goodbye to a reporter who has been farmed out to a bureau that for anyone who works for a paper and is already nostalgic about an industry that's no longer there, is hearbreaking. No big melodrama or anything, just one simple scene from the heart about what it means to be a journalist.

Monday, November 17, 2008

You can't jump a jet plane...

Here they are. Gord and Bobby. What do you think they're singing? Could any two guys be more cool?

I listened to "Early Morning Rain" earlier tonight and couldn't help but think what a perfect song that is. Lyrics, music, sadness. I love it when he sings "the liquor tasted good and the women allllllll were faaassttt...well there she goes my friend, she's a rolling down at last..."

If Gord's so uncool, why's everyone want to sing his songs?

Sports thoughts

Good weekend for my limited sports following world.
Holy Cross beats St. Joes in OT. That's in men's basketball, folks, the only true Holy Cross sport. I know no one but me cares, but that's a HUGE win for the Crusaders. NCAA Sweet Sixteen, here we come.

And my new love, Everton, ties Middlesborough, 1-1. Yaku got a point for the Toffees against his old team. Looks like his bruised heel is healing just fine.

Who can this brave young horseman be?

Today is Gordon Lightfoot's 70th birthday.
Here's to you, Gord.
You were never "cool." But yet, you're soooo cool.
In fact, even though you are not loved by the great unwashed throngs, you are loved by the coolest of cool, Bob Dylan.
I have loved you for a long, long time.
Long before "The Wreck of the Edumund Fitzgerald," a song that always gives me chills, but surely not your greatest song.
In fact, I am so uncool that I have "Alberta Bound," "Cotton Jenny," and "10 Degrees and Getting Colder," among others on my workout MP3 program.
There are few things that make me feel better than driving along in my car singing along to a Gord song. I was driving through that long stretch between Albany and the Mass. border in a rainstorm a couple years ago -- you know where I'm talking about? (Maybe you don't Gord, since you live in Canada) -- anyway, I was listening to crummy Sunday morning radio and what came on but the Canadian Railroad Trilogy. It was a Sunday morning religious experience.
When I drove to Minnesota from New Hampshire last summer, you better believe there was a healthy dose of Gord on my MP3 player. How can you hang out on the shores of Superior, the big lake they call Gitchee-gumee and not listen to Lightfoot?
Your songs want to make me laugh and cry and be back in 1977 all at the same time.
I wish I could give you something for your birthday, Gord, to pay you back for all you have given me.
Folk on, man. Folk on.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I got your leaf blower right here...II

OK, after let's see, what time is it? OK, after about nine straight hours of listening to neighborhood leaf blowers today (after dark? c'mon people!) I just had to make one more point.
It's OK to not destroy every leaf that's on the ground. Leave some. Oooo, doesn't that feel good? The world won't come to an end. In fact, it will last a little longer, since the earth needs its waste in order to regenerate.
When exactly did it become fashionable to have completely barren lawns? And don't even get me started on lawns, nature's least natural item.
Here's my philosophy on leaves. I rake once in the fall. Once most of the leaves have fallen but before it snows. If it snows before I get to them, too bad. Any leaves I miss just stay there on the ground. There, I said it. Do what you will.
And yes, I sleep just fine at night.

Autumn leaves

Ahh, November.
A beautiful sunny holiday. The air is brisk, it smells like fall -- woodsmoke and winter in the air.
And nothing adds to a beautiful November day like the chorus of leaf-blowers than woke me out of my sleep at 8 a.m. and still continue now at 1 p.m.
When I was a kid we had a storybook record called "Too Much Noise." It was about a cranky old man who couldn't stand all the noise around him. I think in the end he learned his lesson -- noise is good or some weird 1960s thing like that. I can't remember. All I can remember is that the noise in the neighborhood made him nuts.
I am now that old man.
My summer days were shattered by chainsaws, hammering, tile-cutters (maybe the economy's bad, but the fine citizens of my neighborhood still seem to have plenty of dough for home renovations), lawn mowers, skateboards banging, basketballs pounding, car engines gunning. And of course there's the angry day-care lady a block over whose constant "Get ovahh heahh," "Shut up NOW" and "OK, that's a time out," is traumatizing a whole generation of Manchester toddlers not to mention the quarter-mile area that has to listen to her all day.
But nothing rips through my brain more than the sound of a leaf-blower.
We're not talking giant lawns here on Manchester's West Side. Nobody's living on the Biltmore Estate. Yet my neighbors -- and yes leaf-blowing seems to be almost an exclusively male enterprise -- are out there on their tiny lawns and driveways, waving their noisy wands....
Oh wait a minute, I get it now.
Never mind.

Monday, November 10, 2008

No free lunch...

As I watched WMUR-TV's feel-good puff report tonight on "what the change to DTV means to YOU - THE CONSUMER," I couldn't help but notice they buried the lead.
Not so much buried it as hacked it to death, dismembered it and scattered its pieces throughout a giant landfill, never to be found.
In other words, they never touched on the most important point of the whole thing.
Those people who have analog TVs and get their converter boxes will be able to get the digital signal. But channel 9, and most of TV, is skipping over the whole part about how bad many channels will now look to those who still have analog TVs. Some "free" channels won't be available on analog sets.
Eventually, probably not too far away, cable will be required to get in any channel decently.
Airwaves that have been free for nearly a century, no longer will be.
Put your rabbit ears in that, folks.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Still thinking of England...

OK, so Simon Baker's an Aussie?
He still counts as a guy from and English-speaking country that's not America playing an American on TV.
And I left out Julian Ovenden, who played adorable Andrew Foyle on Foyle's War. I hear he's on "Cashmere Mafia." A show I would never watch under any circumstances, so I don't know if he's playing an American or not.

Lie back and think of England...

My many readers have probably been wondering why I haven't blogged about Tuesday's historic happening.
It's because I just don't know what to say about it that a million others haven't said, only better than I could
But, aside from all the big, huge thoughts that I've been having over the past several days, there is one recurring theme.
Maybe now everyone else, particularly the English, won't think we're such a bunch of dorks.
Why do I care what the English think? I'm not sure. But it stems from watching a whole lot of non-American TV shows and movies lately, thanks to the magic of Netflix.
It's pretty interesting, and frankly embarassing, the way Americans are portrayed when they think we aren't looking.
For instance, the fantastic movie "In Bruges," which I highly recommend, is pretty tough on Americans. In particular, one hilarious scene that sums up exactly what they really think of all of us: fat, obnoxious, rude and stupid. Ouch.
And of course, to top it off, the guy is wearing a Yankees hat. Figures.
So anyway.
Does Barak make us cool now?
He's pretty damn cool and I'm hoping I'm cool by association.
I'm hoping maybe the English will think we're cool because we elected him and won't think we're rude, stupid Yankee fans anymore.
We can always hope.
You wanted maybe great insights? This is what you get at 4 in the morning.
And speaking of he English, what's the deal with all these English guys, or rather British Isle guys, playing Americans on TV?
And, if they think we're so dorky, why do they want to be us?
And these are guys who are not the pastey, inbred-for-centuries, get-me-to-a-denist-
STAT! British that we're used to.
These are absolutely hunky, want-to-eat-them-up adorable guys.
It started with "The Wire." Dominic West (OK he's Welsh, but same dif) and the guy who played Stringer Bell.
Then there is that blue-eyed, blond-haired angel Simon Baker. I don't know what show he's on, but I keep seeing ads for it. The first time I saw one, I knew he wasn't one of us.
Then there's Matthew Rhys, the only interesting male character on "Brothers and Sisters." Ok, he's Welsh, too. But still. I just want to eat him up.
Then there's the guy on "Life on Mars." Irish, I believe. But c'mon. Still the same basic DNA. Srumptious.
So what's the deal? The UK sends all it's hunky guys over here to infiltrate our TV and try to win back what they lost 200-plus years ago? Because they know the only real way to get into the brains of Americans is through the TV screen?
I say, bring it on, Nigel. Let's see what you've got.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Strange new big box world

In an attempt to make some extra money, I recently applied to some big-name retail outlets.
And I'm here to tell you that if you have an education, an IQ over 100 or have ever questioned anything in your life, don't bother.
Apparently all hiring is now based on on-line psychological tests that measure how much of an automoton you are. The less a thinker, the better. The tests ask about 100 questions and have you "strongly agree, agree, don't know, disagree and strongly disagree." The questions are everything from "it's wrong to steal," (come on folks, let's all strongly agree), to "when guilty people go free it maddens me" (oops, I'm just not sure if it's that word 'maddens' or what, but I don't strongly agree). And the questions run the gamut in between.
A coworker who used to be a manager at a Borders' bookstore told me that they are looking for "strongly" no matter what you answer. They don't want people who see areas of gray, who see nuances. They want people who only see in black and white and don't question the corporaton.
No thinking outside of the big box.
He said that they instituted the tests after he was already hired -- they made all the managers at his store take the test and they all failed.
Several of my siblings have also applied for jobs taking these tests. We've all failed.
My sister who did kitchen design for years for a competing store failed one for another store -- no hire despite her experience.
My brother who teaches high school Latin and Greek took one for Borders, failed. No job, despite the fact my mom has worked there for years.
And I, who promise you, Borders, and the other stores I applied to, that I won't steal, I'll show up on time, I'll be helpful and knowledgable to customers. Hell, I was an English major and am a huge reader. You sure you don't want me Borders?
The last time I applied for a retail job -- granted it was 30 years ago -- you walked in, asked for the manager, he or she gave you and application. You met and looked eachother over. You filled out the application. Talked again. They decided whether you were the kind of person they wanted working there. You were hired -- or not.
Now, it's all based on a computer test designed purely to week out anyone who can think for themselves.
And I'd like to add, I was recently in one of the stores I took the test for -- not Borders -- and the employees were acting like total idiots. Goofing around in the aisles, yelling insults across the store to eachother. But they must have passed the test.
The more we evolve, the worse we get.