Friday, October 06, 2006

Because I said so!

Like many Americans, although far fewer since the advent of things like reality television, I have been enjoying the Major League Baseball Playoffs. It's exciting stuff, with the Detroit Tigers holding their own against the Evil Empire, and the Mets and Dodgers mixing it up in the National League.

One thing that I always see and never understand is arguing. A guy is called safe when the fielder is sure he tagged him out, or is called out when the runner knows the other guy missed the tag. The player yells at the umpire, the umpire yells back, the manager gets involved, and things either calm down or someone gets ejected.

Someone, anyone, tell me WHY. Never in the history of major league baseball has a call been changed because a player argued. The call is made, the guy is out or safe, and it's over. It's DONE. Yet every year, hundreds of players and managers get into it with the ump.

Why do they do it? To blow off steam? What would a manager do, I wonder, if an umpire listened attentively to the manager's arguments, nodded thoughtfully, and said "you know, now that I think about it, you're right. SAFE!"

Most likely the manager would stand there in stunned silence while the manager of the opposing team and all his players charged out of the dugout screaming at the fickle ump.

For that matter, why does the umpire engage the manager or player at all? He's under no obligation to explain himself and we all know the call is going to stand. Why doesn't the umpire just walk back to his position, yell "play ball!" and be done with it?

I suppose these guys fight because posturing is a part of baseball, and it gives the fans something to get worked up about during all the slow moments. This is probably why there are so many brutal fights during soccer games, since there are about 100 times as many slow moments.

I propose they organize a replay system like the one they have in football. Give each manager three challenges he can use during the game. If he doesn't like a call, he can send it to replay. If he doesn't, he can shut his mouth and stay in the dugout.

That'll never happen. Baseball is about tradition, and there's nothing more traditional than two guys yelling at each other over a stupid game with no resolution anywhere in sight.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

You Wanna Know What You're Playing For? To Sell Doritos, Most Likely

The Survivor saga continues. The latest is that several sponsors have pulled out, not wanting their products to be affiliated with what Mark Burnett dubs as "a social experiment." This is the most hypocritical thing I can imagine. If you think for an intstant that these advertisers do not have massive, highly paid departments dedicated to segregating people by race, to figuring out what black people will buy and how much, to knowing when Asians are watching t.v. and which shows, you are kidding yourself.

In fact, maybe that's the problem. Maybe the advertisers don't know who they are marketing to on Survivor. Are they to show some African American room mates enjoying a cold beer, or the Japanese couple who can't eat just one potato chip? Seems like these things shouldn't really matter, but they do, a lot more to the advertisers than to the people behind Survivor.

I've seen the first episode and it's relatively benign. There's a bit where the African American group talks about their duty to "represent," and in fact, they seem to be the closest knit group, until they lose the immunity challenge, at which point, like all good Survivor participants, they turn on each other like wild dogs. There's the fact that the Asian group doesn't feel like a group distinguished by race at all; a great point that might enlighten a lot of people. Asia is a big continent, and the "Asian tribe" has Koreans, Phillipinos, and Vietnamese in the mix. It's the equivalent to mixing the Latino tribe with the Caucasian tribe since they are all technically "American," as in, hailing from the Americas. For that matter, I didn't notice any Egyptians or Afrikaaners in the African American tribe either. At any rate, there was certainly nothing on the order of one tribe expressing any kind of racial hatred for any other, or the show presenting a particular tribe to appear more lazy, or conniving, or hostile than any other.

I for one, am curious to see how it develops, and I applaud Mark Burnett for not being afraid of the "P.C. Police," when deciding to try something new, although I grant it is easier in the modern era, where the almighty dollar seems to trump any kind of cultural sensitivity. I'm a little disappointed that the tribes are not split evenly according to gender; some tribes are 3/5ths men, the others 3/5ths women. Perhaps the next twist will be to segregate tribes by race AND sex, with eight tribes competing to survive. As long as everyone in the group is ready with a big smile when they win their reward of a new (Insert Brand Name Product Here), and they make sure the product logo is facing the camera, I'm sure the advertisers will come around.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Crocodile Hunter No More

Steve Irwin, television's fabled Crocodile Hunter, has been killed at 44. As you might have guessed, he was killed by a poisonous animal. Ironically, experts are suggesting that this was a fluke, that Irwin was killed by one of the least dangerous of the animals he performed with, the stingray, and that in fact if the stingray had struck anywhere but Irwin's heart, he would probably be alive today. Nevertheless, I contend that Irwin should be alive today, for this simple reason. He is a father.

Irwin has two small children; Bindi, 8 and Bob, 3, who achieved fame a couple of years ago when Irwin seemed poised to feed poor Bob to a crocodile. (In fact, he was only taking Bob in to accompany him on his visit with the croc, a move that still earned him heavy criticism from the media.) If you are single, you should certainly have the right to risk your life in whatever way you want, as long as it does not endanger the lives of others. Even if you are married and your spouse knows what they are getting into, I think it's okay. But those kids didn't sign up to grow up without a father. Perhaps the family prepared them for this eventuality, but I doubt it. If it was discussed with Bindi at all it was probably to say something like "what daddy does is dangerous for most people, but he is well trained and always in control of what he is doing, so he is perfectly safe." After all, that's what he told the public after he risked his son's life.

People praise Irwin for his brave attempts to promote the welfare of animals, but in the end, his death was a result of his own selfishness. It would be different if Irwin needed to do the job in order to provide for his family, or if there were an important life goal that he had not met. But given his frequent television appearances it is likely that Irwin was already fairly wealthy, and if his goal was to work with and promote awareness of dangerous animals, well, he had handled hundreds of poisionous animals on television and communicated that message all over the world for years. Some will say that he was doing so much for conservation that he had to heroically continue to risk his life in order to keep such efforts alive. Personally, I didn't send any money to reptile rescue during his career, did you?

Even if it is the case that Irwin did a tremendous amount to raise animal awareness, he could have done plenty more behind the scenes, trading on his name and knowledge of the animal world for years to come, all the while making sure his two children grew up with two parents.

I suspect those children will be traumatized for some time. I'd be surprised if you saw them wading even in a swimming pool any time soon. Being killed at 44 in a freak accident is a tragedy to be sure. But so is neglecting your children.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Tribe Has Spoken....

The word is out. In the latest edition of Survivor, the tribes are going to be separated according to race. This is causing quite an uproar. Those involved with the show have been asked if this is simply a publicity stunt.

Of course it's a publicity stunt. The whole point of reality t.v. is that it is one giant publicity stunt. But as with most things, this one isn't going to live up to the hype. Here's why.

1. They're all American.

While of course race distinctions exist in the United States, these people are still all Americans, with a common language and a common culture. If you really want some fireworks, get a tribe of Communist Chinese, a tribe of Iraqi Shiites, a tribe of Taliban, and a tribe of Bush supporters, none of whom speak the same language. Then you'll see some serious action.

2. It won't last.

The way this game works these days is that tribes are mixed up and merged at a moment's notice. Tribes that have been separated according to age or gender have only remained segregated for a few episodes at least. These tribes may last a bit longer but by the time it gets really good, the tribes will probably not be recognizable as "racial tribes."

3. Survivor is racist already.

If you've ever seen Survivor, black contestants are inevitably portrayed as lazy, petulant, non team players who can't swim. Throw in an occasional Zen master or female participant who can't stop using sex to get what she wants, and you've got all the elements for a nice stereotype stew. With tribes evenly divided according to race, every group should have a lazy player, an overachiever, a sexpot, etc. and race should be much LESS of a factor than in earlier games.

So although I'm hoping for an exciting season, I'm not too worried about this new element. After all, when you're a native insect at a reward challenge, one human mouth is as unpleasant as any other.

Friday, August 11, 2006

All That Glitters Is Gold

Jamie Gold is the 2006 World Series of Poker Champion. This fact continues a somewhat eerie 21st Century tradition, as the last four WSOP champions have now been named Gold, Moneymaker, Hachem (a Hebrew word for The Almighty), and Raymer (German for "clearer" or "cleaner" as in, "cleaning you out"). If your name is not Joe Silver or Tommy Cash, you probably should not even consider entering next year.

Gold took a massive chip lead to the final table, making for what I suspect will have been a typical Pay Per View event, that is to say, massively overhyped, ultimately disappointing and of only marginal interest. My personal rooting interest was for David Einhorn, who pledged if he won to give the 12 million dollar first prize to charity. This is a good way for any poker player to get me on their side. If I can't get that 12 million, I would much rather have Parkinson's researchers get it than some smart-assed 23 year old kid with a good Internet connection on a lucky streak, or some loud mouthed egomaniac who overrates his own talent and/or bad luck by leaps and bounds. Still, I have no reason to hate Jamie Gold just yet, he seems to be a self made success with little pretention. Then again, I reserve judgment until I see him in the flesh on ESPN.

The biggest surprise for me was the appearance of Allen Cunningham at the final table. Not because I think he lacks talent, he is an enormously gifted tournament player, but because he clearly has it. I was so sure that with the stacks of weak players willing to put their tournament lives on the line the first time they get a nine high flush draw going crashing into each other, the donkeys would generate such enormous chip counts that pros playing proper strategy would not be able to keep up. For the most part, I was right, however, Cunningham could easily have proven me wrong. I guess pros can get lucky too.

What will be interesting now will be to see what is next. Gold seems to be a rising star in Hollywood. Will he put this victory on the shelf as a treasured but tangential moment, or will he toss aside his Hollywood aspirations for the poker tour? Will he go the other way, using his WSOP victory as fuel for his Hollywood cache? And what will his legacy be? Chris Moneymaker seems to have fulfilled his promise as an amateur who got lucky, financing his poker career with his PokerStars sponsorship, but Greg Raymer and Joe Hachem have already proven worthy to be among the ranks of professionals. Will Gold shine as WSOP champ, or will he be a flash in the pan? Time will tell.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Tournament Poker is for Sissies

If you're a fan of poker, and you haven't been watching High Stakes Poker on GSN, you're missing out on the truest poker game you will ever see. While most tournament final tables are little more than edited sideshows featuring mostly lottery winners, High Stakes Poker shows a REAL poker game, with real serious money on the line. If Todd Brunson busts out of a WPT tournament, he's out $10,000, which is pretty much what he probably gives away in tips while he's at the casino. No big deal. However, watch Todd call off 40 or 50 grand in a live poker game, and see him transformed from an even tempered ambassador of poker to a snarling beast, yelling at those slowing up the game while he's stuck. Just like the game at your local casino! This is a game where you see professionals in their element, and you see who can really play. You find out who has the heart of a lion and who can't take the heat. No satellite qualifiers here, this is the real deal, and no one is in a big hurry to risk $100,000 of real money on a pre-flop coin flip with AK.

You can also see, here like nowhere else:

The legendary Mike Matusow blow up:

Due to traditional coverage of poker, most viewers are led to believe that Matusow is some kind of clown who managed to stumble into a few lucky tournament situations. In fact, Mike is a brilliant poker mind who made the final table of the WSOP main event twice, and went deep a third time, in the era of massive WSOP fields. He can instantly calculate outs and has an incredible sense of whether another player is strong or weak. He also has a tendency to play too long, get tired, and make big mistakes. These mistakes typically are in the order of seeing flops with the same kind of trouble hands that he handled brilliantly earlier in the session, and getting in the kind of disastrous trouble that makes most players never want to play these hands in the first place (I identify a lot with Mike). On High Stakes Poker, you can watch the entire dramatic arc, from success, to a chance at redemption lost (leaving the game at the right time), to the tragic conclusion.

Antonio Esfandiari's Frustration:

See Antonio take brutal beats and get his bluffs picked off at every turn, leading him to consider quitting poker and taking up a career in furniture sales. Who among us hasn't felt this way? Isn't it nice to know the poker demigods do too?

Tournament poker, while fun and exciting to watch, isn't that relatable. Making a high stakes final table is something most of us can only dream about, and once you get to the final table, frankly, the hard part is over. GSN's High Stakes Poker is just like the game you and I play, and the players act just like we do. They joke around when they're winning, they get moody when they're losing, and they agonize whenever anyone puts them all in. The poker stars are human after all. Which is comforting, and more than a little educational too.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Superman Returns...As a Political Tool.

I've seen Superman Returns. It's pretty good. Unlike "Batman Begins," this movie is not an attempt to update the movie hero legend for a modern age. It plays like yet another sequel in the Christopher Reeve series, and in fact its star, Brandon Routh, seems to be channeling Reeve at times. Ditto Kevin Spacey with respect to Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor. Although it retains much of the cheesiness of the original, it works, because in the end, Superman is a fairly cheesy hero. That is to say, he is far too good and pure for anyone to take him completely seriously. That having been said, there's something about Superman that represents what movies were always supposed to have been about. Taking you away for a few hours from a cruel world where the bad guys usually win (and then stack the Supreme Court) and justice is often in short supply, to a place where good always triumphs over evil, and everyone can tell the difference.

In any event, like this movie or not, everyone can agree that it is a relatively harmless popcorn flick. Or can they? Incredible as it may seem, the Right Wing media has adopted a pet crusade against the Superman movie for being endemic of the evils of Hollywood and their twisted values of "hating America" and "promoting the gay agenda."

As far as the latter, I don't know where anyone got it from. Sure he's pretty and wears a tight costume (see my previous post), but I didn't see Superman behave in this movie any differently from the way a heterosexual male would act, assuming they legitimately were raised with the values of a boy scout. Somehow, however, both sides of the political spectrum have seized upon Superman's having a secret identity as somehow being a metaphor for being in the closet. In point of fact, no closets appear in this movie, and Clark Kent usually changes into Superman by tearing off his civilian clothes wherever he happens to be, counting on his super speed to blur the vision of any witnesses. I'm assuming that this whole issue is coming from the Left's desperate need to grab onto allies wherever they can find them, and the Right's desperate need to generate bogeymen in the same fashion (I mean, can you imagine if Superman really were gay? He'd push that homosexual agenda through in a hearbeat...if only anyone knew exactly what it was.)

The other issue is that Superman is no longer OUR hero. He is an international hero, and his credo to stand for truth and justice is significantly absent the "American Way" that traditionally ended his famous phrase. This signals the Right Wing that Hollywood hates America. I suspect, if they hate anything, it is what the American Way has become, which is certainly quite different from what it was in the 1940s and 50s, and at least half the country will agree it has very little to do with truth or justice.

When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman in 1939, the American Way (in theory) was that everyone, be they man, woman, black, white, jew, christian, gay, straight,rich, poor, etc. etc. had equal rights and opportunity in this country. That ANYONE for example, could marry their loved one. That ANYONE could get rich. That ANYONE could become President of the United States (these days it seems like anyone can, in a lot of ways, but that's not quite what is meant). It stood in contrast to the German Way, which was unilateral power uber alles, over all, with the rights of certain citizens abridged out of necessity in order to preserve the German way of life and the security of the German state. Sound familiar?

The thing that saddens me the most is that I'm fairly confident that the Right Wing doesn't want "Superman for America" because of his strong, middle American values, because he fights for what he believes is right, or because he's a hero. They want him because he can kick ass while draped in a facsimile of the flag. Well that's not really what Superman is about, and that I think, is why the creators of Superman Returns were not so sure that "Superman" and "The American Way" fit together so well anymore.

But conservatives, don't worry. You've still got Captain America. No one can take him away from you.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

You're Not Going to Want to Miss Bat-Thanksgiving THIS Year...

There's been a lot of excitement lately over which super heroes are and are not gay. While some may argue that anyone who would get dressed up in colorful tight leather/spandex and hit other similarly garbed people could not be anything but gay, let's assume that most are motivated by a genuine desire to fight evil and move on.

Of particular interest these days is the reintroduction of Batwoman as a lesbian (seen above). Now, lest this already send you into an uproar, be sure not to confuse this character with Batgirl (seen here in comic book and TV form).

Batgirl was Barbara Gordon, daughter of Police Commissioner James Gordon, who fought crime (often alongside Robin the boy/teen wonder) until she was paralyzed by a bullet from the Joker and became an aide to Batman from behind the scenes as "Oracle". She was played by Yvonne Craig on T.V. and rode a nifty motorcycle. She is not, and has never been, a lesbian (well, she may have experimented in college a little bit...)

On the other hand, the original Bat-Woman was someone who today would probably be deemed a mildly offensive character, a vivacious lass with a hideous costume who followed Batman around using such items as a "utility purse" and "charm bracelet handcuffs" and generally seemed more interested in getting Batman to marry her than in fighting crime. This was a character desperately in need of an update. Further complicating matters is the presence of two other "Bat-Girls", One a mute martial artist(really) and the other the boy-crazy niece of the original Bat-Woman, who chased Robin around in a similar fashion to her Aunt's pursuit of Batman.

All that bookkeeping aside, what does the reintroduction of this character mean? I don't believe that it is a cheap publicity stunt of the kind seen commonly on television these days, throwing in a gratuitious gay character to boost ratings. Comic books have often been on the cutting edge of current events. DC comics dealt front and center with counter culture issues such as drugs and civil rights in the late 60s and early 70s in books such as Green Lantern/Green Arrow and the Teen Titans. Marvel Comics similarly has dealt with the issue of racial discrimination for decades in their X-Men titles, and in its "Civil War" series, is presently attacking the very current issue of how much right the Government has to invade our privacy in order to protect its citizenry. (I think our founding fathers would probably say "none" but unfortunately they aren't around to ask).

So I don't have an issue with Batwoman "coming out". Except she's not really coming out. Kathy Kane, the Batwoman, has been a defunct character for around 40 years. If you want to make a statement, how about having Batman come out as gay? Or Superman? Or the Flash? OK, maybe it's too big a risk of the mainstream audience to take their flagship characters in such a direction. But did they at least consider giving Aquaman a boyfriend?

This could be a personal bias, since I always feel that comic books, and even T.V. shows, miss the boat when they're making a major change, hedging their bets, as it were. When they decided to kill off Superman (of course they brought him back), did they have the dastardly deed pulled off by Lex Luthor or Braniac, who had been taking their shots at the Big Red S for years? No, Superman met his fate at the demise of a hulking alien brute named Doomsday. When Bruce Wayne's Batman was taken out of the picture for a year, did the Joker mastermind the scheme? Nope, his back was broken by a musclebound clod named Bane. My point being that often these publishers are willing to take chances, but too often they're not willing to go all the way (Lex Luthor or the Joker could never really BEAT their arch nemeses, could they?)

While I applaud the efforts by major comics publishers to shake things up, I expect in the case of Batwoman, the press is making a mountain out of a molehill. If she even gets her own title, I imagine most of it will be about fighting the good fight, and fairly little about not being allowed to marry her significant other. Now that I think about it, that's probably as it should be.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


Well the World Cup is here, and I for one, couldn't be more excited. Which is unfortunate, because right now I'm not excited at all. Now, I apologize in advance to all the soccer fans out there, but this sport is just not interesting. A lot of people will say "well, you just don't understand it; you're a typical fast food nation American who refuses to appreciate subtlety." What subtlety? Just because there's no scoring in a game does not make it nuanced, okay? Auto Racing is not nuanced. You want to know a sport that is internationally loved, has tons of screaming fans, and no scoring? Dwarf Tossing. Which is not a fair comparison, because there's action in Dwarf Tossing. Seriously, soccer looks like it was invented for the Special Olympics. You can't use your hands, which is great for people who don't have any or are too developmentally delayed to know what to do with them. The clock counts up instead of down, and continues to run after the allotted 90 minutes until a referee seemingly arbitrarily decides that the game is over, and during penalty kicks, proper strategy is to protect your private parts.

I can see why we Americans are thought to be too barbaric to appreciate soccer. After all, if a coach gives a referee a hard time after a tough call in an American sport, the referee throws that coach out of the game, when as we all know, the proper, mediated, soccer response would be to KILL HIM. Here's the other thing about soccer. People in other countries go absolutely ballistic about this game. They literally kill themselves and each other over every goal. Why? Here's my theory: Penis envy. You heard me. You know how it seems like the guy who crows the loudest always has the least to crow about? How the most insecure among us feel the need to tout their accomplishments so everyone can hear? "Oh, you wish you were me, I'm having a great time!" That's soccer in a nutshell. These people know that American football is a far superior game. They just hope if they leave enough blood in the stands, no one will notice.

But the most offensive thing of all about soccer is how it forces me to stand with the traditional jingoistic "America Rules!" types that I despise. I'm the last person to blindly insist that America is superior to other nations because of our military might or economic strength. That's not who I am. None of that matters. America is superior to other nations because we get excited about cooler sports. Oh, and that First Amendment thing is good too.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Self Evident Truths

George Bush is going after gay marriage again. While it is clear to everyone that this is a last ditch attempt to curry some small bit of favor with the Republican party that he has tainted with his antediluvian policies by mobilizing the most intractable of his fundamentalist base for the midterm elections, it is still a little hard to believe that it is okay in the 21st century to run on a platform of discrimination and bigotry. It is even more ludicrous that people who respond positively to this kind of hate-mongering are referred to as "Values Voters." Let's put this very simply. If you favor an amendment banning gay marriage, you are a bigot. Period. There are three "explanations" for why a gay marriage amendment is necessary (and by the way, did you notice it's always Republicans who feel the need to screw around with the constitution since "activist judges" have an annoying habit of ruling according to its principles? Yeah, so have I.) each explanation more contrived and embarrassing than the next. They are: 1. Marriage is a cultural institution and we cannot allow our oldest cultural institutions to be tampered with. 2. Allowing gay marriage will be a gateway to unrestricted marriage and render the institution meaningless. 3. Gay marriage is undermining the sanctity of marriage and endangering marriages that already exist. I'd like to look at each of these in turn.

Marriage as a cultural institution must not be tampered with. This is Bush's favorite because it's the kind of vague doublespeak that has no meaning and therefore doesn't really need to be defended. Or does it? Here are a few other American cultural institutions with rich histories that politicians and judges did not want tampered with at the time:

Slavery (Jefferson had them!)
Whites-only country clubs (Chief Justice Rehnquist was a proud member!)
The Ku Klux Klan (Harry Truman and virtually any politician who wanted to get elected in the south!)

Gateway to unrestricted marriage. A lot of these right wing tv/radio garbage spewers offer this compelling argument. "If we allow gay marriage, pretty soon you're going to have men marrying fish! Women marrying bicycles!" Now, I'm as aware as the next guy of the rash of marriage crazed piscophiles waiting for the flood gates to open so they can become man and trout and flip off the world, but am I the only one that finds comparing homosexuals to fish more than a little offensive? I'm pretty convinced that the only reason these people understand that an amendment against whites marrying blacks is wrong is because they have the benefit of history telling them so. What would the reaction be if Bill O'Reilly came on TV and said something like "Whites marrying blacks! If we allow that, you'll have white men marrying monkeys in a heartbeat! Women living in sin with watermelons!" I suspect he wouldn't get away with it (although Ann Coulter probably would), but is it really any different?

Gay marriage threatens to undermine good marriages that already exist.This is a great example of right wingers taking pleasure in ruining the lives of people and somehow thinking they have saved their own way of life, even though they will never come into contact with these people. If your marriage can't withstand two people you don't know who live a thousand miles away and will never meet you also being married, you probably shouldn't have gotten married in the first place. The reality though, is that neither Bush nor his cronies are concerned one whit about undermining marriages. Do you disagree? Let me know when that amendment banning adultery hits the Senate floor, because I'm fairly confident no one can argue that THAT doesn't threaten to undermine marriages.

Now, I'm pretty sure I'm preaching to the choir about this, but I feel better anyway. If your ire has been raised, and you have more time to waste, check out They'll ask you for votes and money, but you can ignore all that and send out a one-click asking all your local elected officials to impeach Bush. It won't happen, but it's the thought that counts.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

What Are Friends For?

Joe Bartholdi is the new World Poker Tour Champion. After perusing the article by Richard Belsky about him in the latest Cardplayer Magazine, I've discovered that his main talent is in borrowing money: “I’d be broke, then get $100 from Dad" "I’d have all of this cash, and then I’d go broke in a big game." "I’d sit down and play well, but lose $1,000. Then, not being used to that kind of loss, I’d tilt out and blow another $4,000." "Dutch(Boyd) took his $80,000 winnings from the WSOP and funded (the crew, a team of players including Bartholdi), and Bartholdi was on board." "I just basically tilted off all that money. I felt sick about it.""Few things are worse for a professional poker player than going broke. Despite Joe’s familiarity with the experience, losing the $250,000 was a tough pill to swallow...Joe Cassidy was that angel investor who got Joe back on his feet." I've heard this story many times, of a star player losing hundreds of thousands of dollars and then getting a loan enabling them to recover. Frankly, I'm not impressed when a guy makes a few WPT final tables and then loses all that money in a cash game before the year is out. They say these guys are able to play like the money doesn't mean anything. Well, if you can get a pal to put you in the next $10,000 event as soon as you go broke, why should it mean anything? Show me a guy who had to get a job when he went broke and then won a million dollars, not a guy who hit up Doyle Brunson five or six times for cash. This does not stop these players from talking like they're the greatest poker players ever and everyone else is a donkey of course. But hey, if their friends have this much faith in them, why shouldn't they? It really dilutes my impression of some of these guys. That having been said, if anyone out there wants to be part of my personal cinderella poker story, now would probably be a good time.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Query Letter Blues

I've just completed the thankless task of sending queries to agents about my latest work. I'm always fully prepared to query hundreds of agents if I have to, however, after pulling out my trusty 2006 Agency guide and paring from the list of Agents all of the ones who don't operate in L.A., who take unsolicited queries, and who have ever represented someone who has sold something, I am left with about fifteen solid options. We are told when coming up in the screenwriting world to go for the gold and only query the very best agents, as they are likely to get you the very most money and the very best jobs. This idea was reinforced recently when I received a phone call from a representative of Fade In: Magazine. Since I had finished 2nd in their contest of about 2600 scripts, they had some questions about me regarding representation I might currently have or had in the past. I told the very nice woman that one of the scripts had been represented for about a year, and went into some detail about the nature of said representation. The woman was frankly horrified at how I'd been treated, and asked how I got attached to this particular person. When I explained she had found me through, a resource for screenwriters, producers and agents, I could actually hear her turning up her nose over the phone line. "Oh," she said unenthusiastically. "Is there a problem with Inktip?" I asked. "Well..." a sympathetic pause " you really want to be represented by bottom feeders?" Clearly I do not. However here is what happens if I attempt to send even my name and the date to a top agency. In a few weeks, a very official looking letter will come in the mail. Enclosed will be a letter from the agency's legal department explaining "This letter is being returned to you UNREAD." This is followed by some more language that explains, essentially, that "no one within five miles of the building has even looked at the stamp on your letter. Do not ask us if there were flowers or a flag on that stamp. None of us know. The fact that you might even suggest that we know horrifies us. What do you want us to get SUED???" There is no way around this. I have sent a release form. I have opened my letter with promises not to sue. I have even sent letters with no original material and asked how they would like me to proceed. I always get that letter. I once got that letter from an agent who had already reviewed previous material from me and somehow managed to miraculously avoid a lawsuit. Guess she didn't want to find out if lightning could strike twice. From what I understand, the way to get represented by a top level agency is to sneak into the agent's building, follow them until they are alone, then ambush them, drag them into a laundry closet, and lock them in with your screenplay until they have read it, at which point they will become so impressed with your moxie that they will take you on on the spot. Unfortunately, this is not really my style, so instead I send my queries and hope for the best. In the meantime, I pursue other avenues, and hope to find a producer that can actually get my movie made. Then, in my fantasy, I thumb my nose at all those high level super agents eating their hearts out as I pocket that half million dollars that could have been their commission. "Who needs you!" I shout with glee. "I've beaten the system! I did it without you, and I'll do it again and again! I laugh at your contacts and your packaging skills! HA HA HA!" The following day I sign with CAA.

Brown Bashing

Ok so I've decided to succumb to the call of the zeitgeist and write a blog. If anyone is reading, I want to assure you that I feel very very dirty doing this. And as long as we're on the subject of dirty secrets, I'd like to take this time to reveal another one: I liked the Da Vinci Code. Not the movie, the book. It seems the popular thing now is to bash Dan Brown's literary credentials. Everyone and their mother can now tell you that while Dan Brown writes a great page turner, his actual ability as a writer is virtually non-existent. I'm not quite sure when everyone in the country became such a perceptive literary critic. Up until this week I didn't even think most people could read. What does it mean to be a "bad" writer? Having attended the Professional Writing Program at USC, I encountered many of them. Some qualities of bad writing for me include: continuity errors, that is, things that just don't make any sense, extraneous prose, sections that don't move the story, bad grammar and spelling, unrealistic dialogue, self-indulgent conceits, and being boring. While I didn't read the Da Vinci Code critically so much as for entertainment value, I didn't discover a whole lot of these problems either. I think that people assume that just because a story is entertaining and reads fast, the writing is bad. Which is sad, because the corollary is that for a book to be written well, it has to be slow, plodding, and boring, and I think that today's educational system promotes this concept, pushing "classics" on students without putting them in any context which might cause a young person to find them interesting. Dan Brown may be no Hemingway, but he wrote a story that was not only accepted by a major publisher, but was then devoured by millions of people, in a culture that does not exactly put reading at a premium. In my mind, that's something that takes talent. If you don't agree, you try it.