Sunday, November 19, 2006

I Don't Even Know What To Say

One of my annual client obligations is attending a national leadership conference for one of my clients in the health care industry. All this entails is sitting around all day with a bunch of doctors listening to clinical discussions, about half of which I understand. Then I perform my magic and turn these into newsletter articles for this company’s newsletter.

I’ve been doing this for about six years now and one thing they always try to include is motivational speaker of some type. I freaking hate these guys because I look at them as hucksters. These guys come in, crack a few jokes, spout a few clich├ęs gleaned from the business book du jour and pick up a nice check.

Anyway, my client usually brings one of these guys in soften up the docs for the all-day beating about to ensue. The guy they had this year really ripped it for me.

He’s this mid-fiftyish white guy who is telling us about how his Marine drill sergeant dad kicking his ass made him a better person and how it will work for you too. The part that got me was this:

He picks up this little American flag. “I take this with me wherever I go because I’m proud of this flag and I’m tired of people running down the flag.”

Wild applause.


I don’t know what country he lives in, but I live in the reddest part of the reddest state in the Union and I don’t see anyone running down the flag here. I just see flags in front of lots of houses and flags on every freaking SUV right next to those stupid yellow ribbon stickers. It’s not like the Republic is teetering in the balance around here.

But it gets better.

He then talks about how he’s tired of the media running down the proud American fighting man and he gets thunderous applause. You’ve got to be kidding me?

Here’s a great example of those damn libruls at the LA Times running down the American fighting man.

Here’s another great example from my friend Tom Pennington. He’s been to Afghanistan and Iraq several times. He’s got more combat experience than W or Dick Cheney and he doesn’t carry a gun, only a camera. The same for my old college friend John Moore who hasn’t been afraid to show the war up close and personal.

Never mind that more journalists have been killed covering Iraq than World War II.

What kind of chance do we have as Americans when people don’t want the truth? Journalists put their lives on the line to get the story and are doing just as much to defend the American way of life as any soldier. The Founding Fathers seemed to understand that a free press was essential for democracy, but somewhere along the way, that’s gotten lost.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Message from Bill

I wouldn't be so presumptuous as to call Bill a friend, but I've met him a time or two. He's written an essay in the Star-Telegram about his favorite book, A Message To Garcia.

Take a moment to read it, because although he's talking about someone else, he could very well be talking about himself -- although he would be far too humble to do that. Bill exudes character and integrity like a Frank Capra hero, and, if anything good can come out of Iraq, it will be because of dedicated professionals like him.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Guitar Hero

Funny little Unfair Park item on Clark Vogeler, former Toadies and Funland guitarist who is now nominated for an Emmy for Project Runway.

Now here's my Clark Vogeler story:

I went to see Dale Watson at the Sons about, oh, 10 years ago with my friends Joel and Mary. Mary brought this guy who she used to date freshman year at UT. So we're hanging out in the bar downstairs, shooting pool, having a beer, making small talk, when I ask this guy what he does.

"Oh, I play guitar for the Toadies."

Clark Vogeler.

Now how do you top that one?

Identity Crisis

Mark Cuban says newspapers do "dumb-ass shit." Well, I couldn't agree more.

Actually, Mark is very right on about what's wrong with newspapers -- they don't know what they have or how to adjust to an online delivery platform. The process will be painful, but most newspapers will make it through because they really are indespensible. They can make themselves more so by good writing and reporting.

Day of Reckoning

Forget the mid-term elections and Iraq, global warming and all the other burning issues of the day, Slate has gotten down to dealing with one of the largely ignored topics that we must resolve RIGHT FREAKING NOW: who was the greatest rock band of the 1980s, R.E.M. or U2?

The article reminded me of something from those days. "Either you loved U2, or you liked them fine. Either you loved R.E.M., or you hated them." I liked U2 just fine, but I LOVED R.E.M. I remember buying Fables of the Reconstruction when it first came out in the summer of 1985 and listening to it over and over. Those were the days when finding anything "alternative" was like going on a secret mission. You had to drive to some record store in Dallas like VVV or Metamorphasis or Bill's to find the stuff half the time. The only way you could hear it on the radio was to tune in to KNON or George Gimarc's Rock and Roll Alternative.

And, of course, if you were listening to R.E.M and not, say, Night Ranger or .38 Special, then you were pretty much considered a freak. But when you would tune in to Shaggy on KNON and hear "Driver 8" or "Green Grow the Rushes", I always felt a little less freakish. The music was somehow healing.

To quote the article:

For all of their ambition, in the 1980s, R.E.M.'s music was willfully obscure. Much has been made of Michael Stipe's mumbly lyrics, but it wasn't that you couldn't make out the words of early R.E.M. songs—you just didn't know what the hell they meant. Neither did the band. "I still have no idea what that song is about," Stipe writes about "Pilgrimage," and bassist Mike Mills says the same about "Gardening at Night" (while drummer Bill Berry claims it's based on a euphemism for peeing along the side of the road during an all-night drive). The lyrics could mean anything, and therefore they meant everything, weighted as they were with mystery, resonance, and passion. "It's not necessarily what we meant," writes Mills, "but whatever you think." A friend once gave his sister, for her birthday in 1988, a complete collection of R.E.M. lyrics, painstakingly hand-transcribed from repeated listens to the songs. Were they right? It hardly mattered.

Even R.E.M.'s "political" songs of the era, like "Fall on Me" or "Exhuming McCarthy," are tricky to parse. "Fall on Me" could maybe be about acid rain, or maybe air pollution in general, or maybe, uh, missile defense? Whereas U2's political songs of the 1980s are a little easier to work out: "Pride (In the Name of Love)" is about Martin Luther King Jr., for example, and "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" is about Bloody Sunday. Stirring as those songs are, there's very little a listener can bring to them; they are Bono's take, not yours, unlike "Fall on Me," which, for me, in 1987, was a deeply personal song about the crushing whatever of existence.

To me, the music I listened to then made the crushing whatever of existence a little easier to bear. And know some of that was the oppressed, adolescent worldview that has always been and always will be. But I still listen to R.E.M. today. Fables is still on my turntable at home right now. And I do take issue with the article in one regard, I though Around the Sun was a great album. Michael Stipe is a little less obscure than he used to be, but the lyrics still seem as malleable as ever.

So put me in the R.E.M. camp. No offense, Bono. Love the debt forgiveness and red iPods. I guess I just lean more toward elegies than anthems.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Thanks, Kinky!

Kinky says thanks, but we are the ones who should thank him. Kinky, you made a bunch of Texans proud. Thanks for everything.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Is This For Real?

Scarlett Johansson covers Tom Waits! Believe it! I guess I am the last person on earth to hear this. But this blog's photo of Scarlett (NSFW) makes it worthwhile.

Tom Waits Coming To A TV Near You

Tom Waits will appear on Letterman on Nov. 27 and the Daily Show on Nov. 28 to promote his new album, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards.

The early buzz on the album is fantastic and based on the MP3 posted on the Anti Records Web site, I can't wait to hear the rest of it.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Five Lessons I’ve Learned This Fall

I’ve been flying under the radar for most of the fall, busier than ever with work. That’s good because it has kept me distracted from the travails of a home purchase and remodel that seems like it will never end. Now that I am in a position to come up for air, I want to apply some of this hard won knowledge.

Lesson 1: You can lead a client to water but you can’t stop them from pissing in it. Sometimes a client is bound and determined to take a good idea and completely fuck it up. You can explain your position, give them good reasons not to do it and gently nudge them – all to no avail. And that is why God invented Martinis.

Lesson 2: It’s never the problem you expected that bites you in the ass. I swear I thought those were hi-res photos. I had no idea that my plumbing contractor would take a job in Saudi Arabia in the middle of the project. I swore that mailing called for pre-sort.

Lesson 3: I would join any club that would have me as a member. I’ve gone door-to-door for Kinky Friedman. I’ve made sandwiches at the Presbyterian Night Shelter. I worked a booth at my daughter’s elementary school carnival. I’ve taught Sunday School. I have tried hard to be a good citizen. But I just plain suck at it. It doesn’t come easy, I’m selfish, and I think these people deserve better than me. In my heart, I’m just a crusty old bastard who hates everybody.

Lesson 4: Remodeling is as hard as people say it is. It takes longer, costs more money and frays your nerves more than you expect. I’ve bought existing homes, built a new home and remodeled an old one, and this is by far the hardest.

Lesson 5: Lawyers have nothing on contractors when it comes to being evasive. You can ask a contractor a direct question, like “When will you be finished?” and get a completely inconclusive response. Where do these guys learn this? I only hope that bin Laden didn’t use a contractor to train his guys in interrogation techniques, because no amount of waterboarding will get an answer out of those guys if so.

Red State Blues

A slice of partisan cheese from my friends Russ and Jill.

This Is Why I Am Voting for Kinky Friedman

According to Rick Perry, aka Governor Goodhair, you are going to hell. It's not enough that has taken record amounts of "contributions" from companies looking to "influence" legislation. It's not enough that he consistently puts his personal agenda and party politics ahead of education. It's not enough that he cost poor children in the this state hundrend of millions in healthcare dollars. He wants to send all of those non-Christians to hell, too.

This is Texas. I wish I could say things would be different on Wednesday. But they won't. Kinky is right. This state is morally bankrupt, and you need only to look at the Governor's mansion to see why.