Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"Word Ripples"

You know, like a pebble tossed in a pond, those concentric circly things emanating from where it went plop.

Some words are intrinsically frightening.   Others are intrinsically not.  “Umbrella”:  Oooh! – Scary. 

No.

For me, words that send the most shattering shudders through my emotional ecosystem come from medical health arena.  I would offer examples but then I would read them and frighten myself, and that is a price I am currently unwilling to pay.  Even for specificity. 

I am thinking today of a third category of word that, in itself, being a word – and “words” cannot break in and wreak devastating havoc upon you and your loved ones, or just damage your property which is considerably less serious although a destroyed six-foot cardboard cutout of Hopalong Cassidy can be terribly difficult to replace – words themselves are intrinsically undangerous.  However, over time and repetition of their negative connotations, these “third category” words have developed an effectively persuasive “scarability.”

One word rising to mind from this category is the word

Socialism.

A brief but relevant side-trip.  Sometimes words convey frightening connotations because we are generically ignorant of what they actually mean.  (Note:  I traditionally make a distinction between “ignorant” and “stupid.”  “Ignorant” means “I don’t know.”  “Stupid” means “I don’t want to know.”  “Ignorant” is curable.  You simply find out.  For example, in the context of this exercise, I Googled the difference between Socialism and Communism.  Truth be told, after reading several entries, I was only minimally enlightened.  Proving ignorance is curable, though not necessarily easily curable.  And also proving that if I don’t wish to be stupid, I am going to have to work harder.)

Socialism – or possibly Communism – or possibly both – has to do with workers owning the means of production and sharing the profits, thereby eliminating class distinctions based on an unequal distribution of wealth.  You do what you can and you get what you need.  Socialism.

We don’t do that, and we don’t want to.  Sparing an examination of the reasons, which may be open to dispute, Socialism has collapsed elsewhere, and before doing so, seems to turn everything in those Socialistic experiments gray.  Still, there are areas, like health care and Social Security that even we, within our capitalist parameters, have adopted.        

My country of origin, Canada, has a legal Socialist party.  (And a legal Communist Party, so, though I do not get it at the moment, there must definitely be a distinction.   The most apparent one being hardly anyone voted for the Communists.  No one was troubled by these parties’ existence.  Like the Mormon evangelists ringing your doorbell you just politely said “No.”)

Despite legal Socialist and Communist parties, Canada’s capitalist economy was not toppled.  In my day, the Socialist New Democratic Party (formerly the CCF party) captured, like, twenty-two percent of the vote and that was that.  As part of a “coalition government”, the NDP promoted and helped pass a Canadian universal health care system so nobody went bankrupt when they got sick, as they do regularly in places where the word “Socialism” prevents a clear-eyed examination of what to do when you are sick and you cannot pay for adequate health care.  Other than succumb.

Being a “middle of the road” kind of a guy, my policy is invariably “pick and choose” – relax on the label and try and determine what’s best.  And if you believe, “What’s ‘best’ in one place may not be what’s best in another place”, remember – sick is sick everywhere.  And other places have embraced alternative solutions to “Tough noogies.”

To defuse its negative connotation, how about offering examples where that vilified word is, in another context, an unqualified positive?

Where, say, in this great country of ours is there a situation in which Socialism is not only not opposed but is instead spectacularly appreciated?

One ready example is an American institution bordering on a religion:

The National Football League.

That’s really American.  Before games, there are jets flying over the field, with, sometimes, red white and blue smoke blowing out of their tailpipes.  What is more “Yankee Doodle” than that!

Maybe you knew this already.  Maybe you didn’t.  Maybe you knew it but it did not register as Socialism.  But it is.  More Socialist, in fact, than anything avowed Socialist Bernie Sanders ever promoted in his Socialisticalest moment.    

Check it out.

There a thirty-two teams in the National Football League.  Each of those teams gets an equal cut of the revenues the league receives, selling NFL broadcasting rights to television. 

Every team receives the same amount of money.  That’s how a team from Green Bay Wisconsin has a chance – and was actually better this year – than a team from New York City.  Lacking any financial imbalance, “large market” and “small market” teams can pursue the same top available talent, producing – at least the possibility of – parity on the gridiron.  

Note:  There is no major league baseball team playing in Green Bay Wisconsin.  Why?  Along with crying, there is no Socialism in baseball. 

Isn’t it great that a small community like Green Bay – population, just north of one hundred thousand people – can participate on the same financial footing as New York City – population, almost eight and-a-half million?  You cannot do that unless you share the dough equally.

And that, sports fans, is Socialism.

A thing is good or bad depending on the example?

Mayhaps, like a kiss is just a kiss,

A word,

It is possible,

Is just a word.


Except for those scary medical ones.

Monday, January 16, 2017

"Horsing Around"

“IDEAS” PERSON:  Cirque du Soleil”, with horses.

FRANCHISE ADMINISTRATOR:  “Sold!” 

“Wait.  French-Canadian horses?”

“Do they have those?”

Mais, Whoa!  Never mind.  We’ll teach them the dismissive attitude.  ‘Sold’, anyway.”

Cirque du Soleil, with horses is the premising concept of Cavalia, a performance of which we recently attended with our grandchildren and their parents.  A more precise description would be Cirque du Soleil with horses, interspersed with human acrobats because there is only so much you can do with horses. 

I am not certain this hybrid confection assuaged either of its participants.

CAVALIA HORSE:  “Why do we need acrobats?  Aren’t ‘synchronized horses’ enough?”

HUMAN ACROBAT:  “We auditioned for the main company.  They said,  ‘We have good news and bad news.  The good news is:  Welcome to Cirque du Soleil.  The bad news:  You’re in the show the show with the horses.” 

CAVALIA HORSE:  “We heard that.”

HUMAN ACROBAT:  “Like we care.”

Did our grandchildren enjoy it, which is the central purpose of such undertakings?  Ever since Ida Bloom who was not “family” but had no children of her own and felt the compulsion to take other people’s children to the circus, I have been aware of the age-old tradition of adults taking children places, the children with no expressed enthusiasm for what those thoughtful adults are transporting them to see.

“It’s an excavation site.  They’ll love it.”

“A public hanging.  You have to introduce kids to novel experiences.”

Five year-old Milo was into the show at an age-appropriate level of involvement, though his attention rose nowhere close to his Star Wars-and-its-endless-prequels- and-sequels concentration.   Two-and-a-half year-old Jack, whom I occasionally calls “Bob” just to mess with his mind and he shows no interest whatsoever in playing along, spent the two-hour duration of the performance raising and lowering his seat. 

Up-Down.  Up-Down.  Up-Down.  Up-Down.  Up-Down.

This leaves the adults, who are on hand primarily because the children can’t drive, evaluating the presentation from their personal perspectives, a limited one for me since, having missed the RCMP’s celebrated “Musical Ride”, this was my first production involving synchronized stallions.  (Which, we were informed earlier, most of the equine participants we were witnessing were.  Stallions, we were additionally informed, are harder to train because, unlike geldings, they are still thinking about mares.)

I have to tell you, for a least half of Cavalia and possibly longer, I was thoroughly enchanted.  (I only wish those horses could know that from this attendee’s standpoint, the acrobats, although skillful, were indisputably in “Second Position.”  I hope they sensed that when I clapped harder for them.)

The imaginative set design morphs ingeniously through various “tableaus” (actually, “tableaux”)– Arabian desert, Monument Valley, African wastelands, one sequence included a rippling pool of water water which, I was, like, “Where did that rippling pool of water come from?”

The stage begins empty.  Suddenly, a string of the perfectly-groomed horses drift hypnotically into view, simulating an ethereal “horse mirage” – without trainers – it’s like these horses just show up and go spontaneously through their paces.   They hit their “marks”, they move in perfectly ordered formations – nobody’s dawdling, nobody’s forging ahead.  It’s like “wind-up” horses, but with no key.

It’s amazing to see horse do that.  The horses I’m familiar with eat hay at a trough and shoo away insects with their tails.  One of them bit me.

These horses weren’t like that.  They were impeccably trained, executing maneuvers that – again, we were informed earlier in an ersatz “Quiz” – took them two to six years to perfect.  Depending on the maneuver, not the intelligence of the individual horse.  I just wanted to clarify that; show horses are notoriously sensitive.

Their consummate artistry went way past Gene Autry’s “Champion” counting with his foot.  If that was “Addition”, Cavalia’s feats of wonder were “Advanced Trigonometry.”  It was definitely the “high rent” district of “horse sense.”

But there was a weird contradiction, it seemed to me – years of practice, making masterfully trained horses look “free.” 

CAVALIA HORSE:  We used to do that before.”

ANOTHER CAVALIA HORSE:  “Yeah, but we probably wouldn’t have shown up for work.”

Though there were slow parts, at its best, Cavalia’s effect was hallucinogenically dreamlike.

On top of which, and maybe most surprisingly…

Nobody pooped.

How do they ensure that?  Kaopectate?  A giant “stopper”?  A programmed signal for “holding it in”?  I’m not saying that was the most amazing trick they pulled off, but I’ve been around horses.  They “let go” all the time! 

CAVALIA HORSE:  What!  We ‘went’ before the show.  And by the way, do you ever say that about actors?  ‘Virtuoso performance.  And she held it in’.”

Sorry.

CAVALIA HORSE:  “That’s ‘Horseism!’”

Lemme wrap this up.

CAVALIA HORSE:  “Fine.  But watch your step.”

I always do around horses – just messin’ with ya.  Anyway, as you would expect for Cirque du Soleil, Cavalia displayed startling flashes of imaginative brilliance.  For me, at least, there were not quite enough of them. 

CAVALIA HORSE:  “Don’t say, ‘Because of the limitations of the animals.’  We’re horses.  You should be surprised we do anything! 

You guys were sensational.  The movements and “visuals” are embedded forever in my consciousness.  There was a tumbler who did about twenty back flips in a row…

CAVALIA HORSE:  “I warned you, don’t go there.”

That was nothing compared to that incomparable company of horses.

CAVALIA HORSE:  “Sorry.  I did not see where that was going.”

No problem.  And great show, by the way.

CAVALIA HORSE:  “Did you notice my mane?”

We were talking about how long and beautiful it was on the way home.


CAVALIA HORSE:  “Really?”

Friday, January 13, 2017

"Belated Awareness"

I’ve had a couple of these recently.  With apologies to the other one, I shall begin with this one.  Bringing to mind the “Jewish Mother” joke, though it may possibly reflect any mother with the applicable temperamental proclivities.

A (whatever kind of) mother brings two sweaters home for her Sonny Boy – this story works less successfully with “Sonny Girls”; I am not exactly sure why – a red sweater and a blue sweater, and she says to her offspring, “Try them on.”  The boy runs upstairs and comes down wearing the red sweater.  To which the mother reflexively responds,

“What’s the matter?  You don’t like the blue sweater?”

You cannot try on two sweaters at the same time (without covering one of them up.
And appearing demonstrably bulky.)  Two “Belated Awarenesses.”  I have randomly selected this one to go first.

No judgments need be inferred.  There were two alternatives; I picked one of them. End of story.

All right.  This one is marginally less embarrassing.

(Did you ever notice that “End of story” is very rarely the end of the story?)

What spontaneously popped into my consciousness not long ago were the words of a Universal Studios television executive I once worked for who, in response to a super late-night rewrite of a Major Dad episode on which substantial changes had been made, observed,  

“You guys ‘punched’ the shit out of that script!”

Clarifying Note:  “Punching up” a comedy script means making it funnier.

I was totally exhausted, pleased with my writing team’s performance, and appreciative of the exec’s acknowledgement.  So appreciative, I chose to ignore its underlying implication – and a not inaccurate one at that – that the script, before we “punched” the shit out of it, had been terrible. 

I simply said “Thank you.”  Or possibly, if I had residual energy for a flourish…

“That’s what we do.”

And I left it at that.

Another Clarifying Note:  There were two functioning Executive Producers on Major Dad.  (The third Executive Producer was the show’s star, but… don’t get me started on that.)  I had no concern about sharing the top credit on the series.  My one requirement was to have the final determination of what went into the script.  I say this, not as a personal “horn toot” but as, actually, the opposite.  If the script was substandard, which occasionally happened, or the rewrites took forever, which happened a lot, it was entirely my fault.

Okay, so I am working on a blog post.  I begin writing around nine, and by close to ten, I have completed a First Draft.  I proceed to take the next three or more hours to revise.  Mostly – bordering on invariably – this process does not involve massively reconsidering the story – its skeletal structure and informational content remain inherently the same.  The subsequent rewrites involve writing the story I have selected to write better.

What does “better” mean?  Clearer, tighter, more evocative – efforts to enhance the overall story-reading experience.  I cannot describe it exactly.  I alter the words.  I “facilitate the flow.”  Whatever it is, it takes at least three times longer than writing the original material.  In other words…

I “punch” the shit out of these blog posts.

And that’s when the light bulb went on.

Other writers, faithful to and sincerely trusting of their original inspirations are convinced they hit the Bull’s Eye the first time.  They are not being lazy, or letting themselves off easy.  Unless, of course, they are.  But those are the hacks.  The best writers I worked with believed in and felt passionately about – giving prepositions a good workout – their original bursts of creativity.  Any Rewrite Room tampering earned the stinging pejorative, “Stabbing the frog.” 

My entire writing approach, I have come to understand, is “stabbing the frog.”  Unlike those “First is best” writers, my original attempt is “in the neighborhood.”  Later, after two or three… or eight subsequent revisions, I nail down the specific address.

Of course, this is all subjective.  Collaborating with another writer, when I offered two possible alternatives and asked him which was better, his response was often the elided “Sixty-one”, by which he meant, “Six of one, half-dozen of the other.”  I philosophically disagree.  There is always a comparative distinction.  Though maybe there isn’t, and I just like to make myself miserable.  As I recall, that other writer was considerably happier than I was.

My “Writing M.O.” is “The Jackhammer” – first, breaking the ground, then boring incrementally to the core.  All writers rewrite.  But that often means going in an alternate direction (for the story or the joke.)  I trust my conceptual impulse.  What I am looking for “conceptual impulse” enrichment.

During those interminable Rewrite Nights, I now belatedly realize it wasn’t that I was deliberate or uncertain or incompetent, or a combination of the three.

I was simply “executing my process.”

(Arguably incompatible with series television production but I am trying to stay positive here.)

And now, because I feel like it, I shall “bookend” this post with a story similar in tone and texture to the one I began with.  (I originally heard this from {now Senator} Al Franken.  It may actually be true.)

A teenaged boy calls up his grandmother and reports, “Grandma, I just made quarterback on my High School football team!”  To which the grandma immediately replies,

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

I look at the clock.  It is nine fifty-one.

I have just completed the First Draft.

And now, Ladies and gentlemen…


The work begins.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

"Media Matters ('Matters' Being A Verb, In Which Case It Would Actually Be 'Media Matter',' Even Though It Sounds Funny"

Yesterday, just for fun – because these things are fun for me – I questioned – which is not the same as “disagreeing with”, it’s just questioning… okay, with a soupcon of disagreement; otherwise, what generated the question? – I wondered, before passing on to more significant matters – man, am I ever going to get through this sentence? – I pondered the possible alternative to “Times have changed”, that being, they haven’t.

Whew!  I made it!

And I am never going back.

As a hypothetical alterative to “Times have changed” – synonymous to many with “Times are worse” – I proposed the possibility that the loosening of content restrictions in movies and television created a perception that world had changed (for the worse), the movies and television of the past impeded from showing us the truth, delivering instead an “unreality” we compare with our current reality and thus consider it “changed” (by which we mean worse), the easing of the restrictions being the actual change, not the world, which is substantially the same.

Whoa.  That sentence was even longer.  I need to be careful here or my respected readers will be deluged by verbiage.  And no one wants to succumb with other people’s words in their mouth.

Here’s the thing… jumping over some thoughts I can use elsewhere so why waste your time expressing them here when they are unnecessary for telling this particular story?  Man!  Even that was too long.  It’s like I’m cleaning out the “words refrigerator” and I have to use them all up before they go bad!

Prior to the media “Content Emancipation” the “Powers That Be” established codes of acceptability that had to be assiduously adhered to or it was “big trouble.”  If not the majority – some of whom objected to the limiting restrictions and a larger “some of whom” didn’t care one way or the other; put them together, it’s a majority – a vocal and mobilized minority supported those restrictions, trying to protect the nation from… seeing itself as it really was, or something. 

Whatever the reason, it was seen by many to be a good thing.  I believe the words “filth and depravity” were bandied about in that context.  Unmentioned was the enforcement of a protective blind eye to intolerance, corruption and the ignoring of the Fourteenth Amendment requiring “equal protection” for all citizens, all of which the sanitizing erstwhile entertainment breezed by, making this a much nicer place than the deprived and disparaged contingent of our citizenry of the time might have reported it to be.

Okay.

That’s one kind of sanctioned distortion.

Here’s another kind.

I once attended a lecture delivered by the internationally-renowned economist Lawrence Summers who, among other lofty achievements, served as a senior economic advisor to American presidents.

After Summers’ remarks, at the end of which he answered audience questions but not mine, I raced out and caught him exiting the venue he was speaking at and I asked him my question, which was this.

“If ‘Supply-Side Economics’ – a belief that lowering taxes raises tax revenues – was economistical bushwah – I did not use those exact words – then why are we still talking about it?

Summers explained that economics professionals are not talking about it, ninety-eight percent of them considering it a thoroughly discredited hypothesis.

“If it is so thoroughly discredited”, I inquired as a follow-up, “why is it still perceived in non-academic circles to be ‘an actual thing’?’

To which he replied,

“Because the media keeps it alive, covering stories about it.”

And there you have it.  A micro-minority opinion – it may not as with the media content restrictions “rule the day”, but still, it remains alive and a viable alternative in the debate (even though it isn’t) because…

I don’t know why.  Because journalism is committed to reporting both sides even when one side is demonstrable “Silly Putty”?  Because as an outnumbered minority position it provides a captivating “David and Goliath” narrative?  Because, having been conditioned by their partisan media outlets, the minority is suspicious of know-it-all “experts” who are not “people like us.”     

So that’s two ways the media provides a less than truthful depiction of the situation at hand – by withholding contrary evidence and by manufacturing “equivalency.”  I imagine there are other ways as well.  All justified by “It’s a business” and “It’s free speech” – the exonerating “get-out-of-jail-free” card for American undertakings, both laudable and otherwise.   

The question we are then left with is,

Being the recipients of such obscuring shenanigans,

How will we ever discover what’s what?

“Look it up”, you say?


Where?