Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Obama Administration and 2010

Well, it has been no picnic, has it Mr. President?  And why did you want so badly to do this?  Power? Change?  Ok.  With the War on Terror dragging on just like it would have without you in power, it brings to light your comments during the election that mocked the policies at the time. 

And enviromentalists.  You didn't ever think during the election you would have them beating down your doors all hopped up on soy lattes and veggie burgers.  You thought they were in your camp.  That was before you let BP off the hook, let the false security of their promise that their drilling technologies were sound lull you to sleep at the proverbial wheel. 

I, for one, do not fault you directly for either of these missteps.  You inherited some poor situations and haven't handled them any better than your predecessors.  And I wasn't convinced you were going to.  You were doomed, Mr. President.  Superman would have failed.  You have inherited a broken America.  A broken world. 

Health Care? You should drop that for now.  Economy?  Do you really have any control over that? Afganistan?  Worthless cause.  Why are we there?  Why stay?  Why spill blood--good American young men--when everyone else has abandoned the cause?  Why stay when the Al Queda has moved on to greener pastures?

And McChrystal? Wow.  This sort of pistol-toting, flag-waving, snuff-spitting was the exact reason you won the election over McCain.  The McChrystal-Bush clone is a renegade in camo, a wanna-be politician who openly sought to create a new nation through his COIN military initiative, a guy that was already wrapped in controversy and had a history of insubordination. And this was your guy.  After criticizing McCain for not properly vetting his running mate, you assign McChrystal who by all accounts seems intelligent but beligerent and unconcerned with chain of command.

COIN was a few cents short of being a viable military policy.  It has never worked in real life.  Never.  McChrystal is no Alexander or Cyrus the Persian.  He is no Ghengis Kahn.  He is no Napoleon, even. His Waterloo: Marja?  Culture cannot be dictated by artillery and a baton.  It can be defended.  It can be punished.  It can be conquered.  But I wax philosophical.

Mr. President, you have already demonstrated a propensity to bury America in further debt for centuries to come.  You trade immediate gratification and government subsidized quick fixes for municipalities and unfortunates for our grandchildren's future. You are weakening our military position.  You are allowing the Gulf of Mexico to be an epic natural disaster.  You have bowed and cowtowed to corporations, socialists, and special interest groups.  Your ony "victory" to date?  Healthcare.  Really?  Just another vehicle to sink America in the financial quagmire of your confused and destructive policies. 

And you thought your only battle would be the ants at the picnic, didn't you?  Instead, a thunderstorm came and you have elected to stay under the tree as the lightning splits the sky.  God help us all.

Monday, June 28, 2010

On the Change in Agent/Writer Relations

I published this comment on http://theswivet.blogspot.com/ earlier today.  It was in response to the general discussion of a hypothetical question of what would the world look like if writers paid agents to read their work and other such weighty matters regarding the greatly exaggerated demise of the publishing industry (replete with the REM soundtrack: "The End of the World as We Know It")

The product of a writer's work--whether it is marketable as an artistic distillation--is determined by an imperfect system. Often the distillation is malformed or downright unreadable. But, the scary thing that writers everywhere decry is the trust we must put in strangers' judgment. It is often such a small polling of the general interest, we are forced to wonder if this singular judgment is correct. The publishers pay big money to writers/agents that flop, right? Is it unfathomable to think that they also may let a Hemingway slip through their editorial fingers?

On the other hand, agents and editors are inundated with such a large outpouring of potential work--and they sadly cannot print it all--that they must choose what they deem to be the best business decision. They do not want to invest poorly. They are gambling on interest in a creative property. It is more volatile than selling a tangible product via a pitchman on tv.

This means that writers must remember foremost it is not the art, but the marketability of their creation that must drive them. That is, of course, if they wish to be published.

Agents are inserted into the publishing equation as both a "gate-keeper" and a marketer/career manager. Their dual role is sometimes conflicting. They must demonstrate both attraction and repulsion, addition and subtraction. Agents have created more frustration in exchange for taking the onus off of the big bad editors. It is the agents who are often regaled with the constant whine of unpublished, unloved, confused (and dare I say, talentless) aspiring writers attracted to the bright lights of the publishing world by their common passion for the written word...and those fat advances that they are reminded of constantly.

I say all this to say that I feel that the future of books is not doomed. Readers’ tastes and expectations will change as they always have. Eventually, writers will catch up, despite their own reluctance to change.

As we move forward into this brave new publishing world, I think that a shift in the relationships between those who fund the publishing of books and those who produce the works of art will be affected most. The debate over the next decade will not be the mode of artistic delivery. It will be the business model of its production and distribution. Additional "middle men(women)" may be inserted to ease the strain of submittals (which I predict, God forbid, will increase exponentially), and a more hands-on approach will be invested to ensure the quality of the material publishers are buying is secure. Editors will enable agents better as to what the market trends are, share more openly with the potential writing clients their needs and much of the mumbo jumbo hocus pocus of writing will be removed.

This will produce a more sterile, more-informed-but-less-personal writing style with mass-market appeal that will prove effectual until another invention will force us to concentrate on greater artistic forms and deeper human communication.

Whew. Sorry for the long comment.

I wanted to write more, but I will save it as fodder for posts later this week. And I heavily edited this after I originally posted the comment.  The author of Eats Shoots and Leaves would have choked on her raspberry scone if she was browsing the comments section today.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Writing on Hold--a Choke Hold

I am in a writing rut.  I'm not.  And that essential part of me has been replaced by the obsessive/compulsive video game playing part of my personality.  And it is getting a little bothersome.  My inner nerd has hooked onto first person shooters (like Call of Duty:  Modern Warfare 2) and I can't seem to care about anything else.  Trash needs taken out?  Wait until I am in the pre-game lobby and rush out and do it.  Dinner needs cooked? Just hope I don't burn stuff between games.  Need a shower or use bathroom?  All these must wait until the right moment. Writing?  Who, me? Nope, I gotta get this acheivement before I go to bed.

Sad, but true.  It is my meth, my cocaine, my habit.  I doubt I will ever kick the habit. I can truly see myself kicking Major Buttocks against my grandchildren.  But, I am working hard (in my head, where it counts) to gain a balance.  I need to pursue that which drives me (writing) and put away that which is driving me (video games).  It is the tumor I must excise myself.  But, chances are, it is benign. 

I think that part of me wants to write about games:  video games, board games, Dungeons and Dragons, etc.  I suppose I could dedicate part of this blog to that or to start a blog specifically for that...and I have just decided.  That is what I am going to do:  start another blog just for gaming.  I promise I won't be the first or the best, but if you like gaming, come join me there. 

The best thing about a gaming blog?  I get to write about my obsession.  That's like obsession squared or something.  Wish me luck.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Irony of College Conferences

What a roller coaster week of college football--and no one even put on pads.  Well, maybe Nebraska and Texas did, but who wants to see Dodds and Osborne go at it?  If you weren't glued to ESPN or orangebloods.com over the past week, then you probably aren't a college football fan and that is alright.  But for us die-hard followers of the amatuer pigskin classic, it was a wild week bordering on apocalyptic proportions.  That is overstatement, to be sure, but the topsy-turvy world of conference alliances was on the verge of a drastic change that would have meant the loss of a major conference and the fattening of another. 

To me, it was odd to note all the ironies that developed or that almost developed. 

All of this change was predicated by the rise in interest of college football.  More people watch, more people buy tickets, more people diligently follow college football now than ever.  As more alumni graduate, as television draws in the masses of Americans dedicated more to pursuits of entertainment than any other single thing, as the pockets of universities, television networks and marketing companies are filled with more money than anyone ever dreamed, "more" has become the buzzword of college athletics. 

Six major conferences (Big Ten, Big Twelve, Pac-10, Big East, SEC, and ACC) hold the keys to the National Championship vehicle.  They also hold keys to television revenue vehicles.  Some, like the Big East, are driving a late-model Cadillac, while others like the Big Ten, are driving a brand new Aston Martin.  So, as the television contracts for the Pac-10 and Big 12 end in 2011 and 2012, these conferences (as well as the SEC and Big 10) are looking to draw in more television sets to sweeten their deals.  The logic is that if a conference can draw 10% more viewership, the payoff could be exponentially larger than the previous television agreement. 

Two ironies occur in this thinking.  First, although a larger conference may be able to attract a larger television agreement, the pie is being cut more times.  The second irony is the assumption that adding a Nebraska to the Big 10 would drive more revenue than the Big 10 Network is currently getting is a large risk.  The same would be true for almost any one university to any particular conference.  For example:  Colorado is not going to financially improve a television network deal when they were more than a non-factor in the Big 12. 

So, besides the television money, what else is at stake here?  Well, the NCAA requires that a conference have twelve member institutions in order to have the privelege of hosting a conference championship game.  The Big 10, Pac-10 and Big East conferences have been criticized over the last few years for the lack of a "title game."  After Alabama earned a national championship berth through winning the SEC championship game against Florida, conference commissioners saw the wisdom in pairing the best two teams in their conference.  The formula would seem to be:  Conference Champion = National Championship Game= more money for the conference.

The irony of this, of course, is that the formula doesn't always work. If Ohio State plays Penn State or USC plays...wait, that won't work for another three years.  The point is, sometimes the way the conference divisions are laid out, the best two teams in a conference may be in the same division.  In addition, if multiple conferences have undefeated teams that go on to win the conference championship, we still may not have a concensus.  Take for example the 2003-2004 season when Oklahoma played LSU for the national title. OU actually lost their conference championship game for their first loss of the season and USC played Michigan in the Rose Bowl.  LSU beat OU handily and USC complained that they (at 11-1) were more deserving to play LSU than OU.  But a better example was in 2004-2005 when Auburn, USC and Oklahoma were all undefeated.  Auburn and Oklahoma won their respective conference tournaments but the championship game was decided to be OU vs USC, a game that due to NCAA rules violations, USC had to vacate the win and no champion was awarded.  Ironic, huh?

If all of this isn't enough to make your head swim, this week has probably done it.  The aggressive growth of the Big 10 to incorporate 12 teams and the surgical removal of two teams from the Big 12 to bring the conference to 10 teams has created yet another irony.  Due to the "branding" of these two conferences, it is likely that neither will change their name. 

So, this all boils down to money, really.  Even though the Big Twelve is sticking together right now and saying it is to ensure regional rivalries, in the end it was the promise of money and preferential treatment of the conferences two biggest revenue earners that was the glue that adhered these universities.  And, money will continue to drive the decisions from here forward.  If the SEC is as aggressive as the Pac 10 and the Big 12, it will raid the poor ACC or Big East and take as many televisions and revenue as it can.  It already has a championship game, but adding regional rivals like Virginia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina or Louisville to the mix would certainly improve their lot. 

The landscape of college athletics has not changed as dramatically as the prophets and pundits had predicted, but I can still see Kansas from here and Colorado is still wrapped in its mountain fog (or is that cannibis smoke?).  Note that during much of these discussions, dollars were what moved universities to sit, think about moving or go away.  Very little was thought of competition or titles.  And almost no consideration was given to why these schools exist in the first place:  education. 

We may see more movement in years to come, but I doubt it will be movement toward equity.  Money will still be the impetus and irony still the humorous backdrop.