Friday, December 30, 2011

Free Ink Squiggles on Smashed Wood Pulp

The generous souls at Ravenna Press headquarters in New York or Paris or Spokane or wherever are giving away a brand new, free, unscribbled-upon-by-small-children copy of my book, Magnificent Mistakes, via Goodreads. If you want in on this action, click here, then find the "enter to win" button somewhere around the middle of the page. (While you're there, would you please add my book as one you want to read? Thanks. You're a peach.) Or, if you'd rather cut to the chase and buy a copy, you can make your purchase at Ravenna Press or Amazon. Come to think of it, skip the corporate big guy and go straight to Ravenna Press. As I said, they are generous souls. They deserve material rewards. Plus, I get a bigger slice that way, too. And you get a book! We all win.

Or, for a signed copy of Magnificent Mistakes, send me an email and we'll work out the details. I've gotten pretty Paypal savvy in the past few months. I also take good, old fashioned paper checks. Happy reading in the new year! Thanks for supporting a small, independent press and one of its authors.

The Birds of Leaving Call

It's official. I'm quitting Facebook and fantasy football, as of this weekend. This has been a long time coming. One year ago tomorrow, on the verge of leaving Facebook, I conjured up what turned out to be a fantastic project. It arose from a discussion with my friend Axton, probably here on this blog (which was largely abandoned as a result of the project). So I launched a Facebook group called "P.I.G.S.T.Y.2011," or the Project for the InterGenerational Swapping of Tunes in the Year 2011. I invited some friends. Axton did too. Our friends invited more. The group grew to around 120 members by year's end, yet the project stayed manageable. The sheer volume of songs posted in the group overwhelmed some members (and, I suspect, they considered many to be lesser-quality songs), but I found it a warm and engaging conversation about music past and present. Anyway, I imagine this makes fascinating reading for precisely no one but me, so I'll move on.

Suffice it to say that P.I.G.S.T.Y.2011 enabled my already established Facebook addiction. I could rationalize Facebook visits in the name of sharing music. Inevitably, though, I got sucked into reading friends' status updates or clicking on interesting news links, and following the endless stream of clever, viral, sloganeering graphics. Oh, and I am hooked on the little red boxes that flash when anyone clicks "Like" on one of my posts or comments. You know the drill. Facebook is addictive.

This is not news to me. Here I am, a couple years ago, talking about the same things, yet apparently not ready to quit:

Around the time I joined the book of face, I also got hooked on fantasy football. For those not in the know, it's a stats-based game in which each player picks a team of all-stars and lesser stars from around the NFL. Each league typically has ten or twelve teams, and the manager whose all-star team performs the best wins. Usually. This game appealed to my inner sports geek. Hell, it brought that geek roaring back to life. As a child, I collected and traded baseball cards, followed the Milwaukee Brewers and Green Bay Packers religiously (seriously--they were the closest thing to religion in my life, back then), and tracked league leaders in batting average, passing yardage, etc. Though I've heard rumors that fantasy baseball can be even more fun, I stuck with football. And, competitive as I am, I really got into it. I started tracking NFL news five, six, seven days a week. In year two, I joined nine leagues. (Nine!) Last year I scaled back to three. This season, two. And in the past two years I've won three of five leagues and finished second in another. I'm a fantasy champ. Hooray for me.

Over the course of four years, I devoted countless hours to that stupid game. I saw grown men engage in flame wars that occasionally escalated into full-on cyber-bullying. In some leagues, arguments broke out over the dumbest things. I didn't do any flaming or bullying, but I sometimes got as angry as the next guy. And, as I said, I threw myself fully into the competition. At times, the first thought in my head when I woke was something like this: What can I do, right now, to strengthen my fantasy team? I'd hop out of bed before dawn just to scour the news sites and player pools for an edge. I cringe to think what I might have accomplished if I had devoted that time and energy to, say, my own writing. Or to reading books. Or to meditation. Or to reducing clutter around my house. Or to making money. Or to reducing world hunger.

Plus, there's the whole worshipping-false-idols angle. Sports stars tend to be, by and large, out-of-touch, rich, spoiled jerks. Sure, there must be many exceptions. No doubt a lot of them set up charities and do socially constructive work. But, generally speaking, professional jocks do not seem to be the kind of people I'd want to hang out with. Nor do I look up to them. Nor would I want them running the world in which I live. Here, for instance, is LaDainian Tomlinson's answer when asked whether he would play another season for the New York Jets at the league minimum salary for a veteran:
"I've got kids, man," he said with a laugh. "I mean, I don't know. It would be hard for me to do that. It's never been about the money for me. It really hasn't."
It's not about the money? Then why scoff at $925,000 for a single season's work?! I've got kids, too, and I make fairly near the median income in my state. It would take fifteen or twenty years for me to earn what Tomlinson could make as a second-string player on a team he seems to enjoy. And his attitude is typical of pro jocks. So why follow their careers so closely? Why give a damn about whether Tomlinson or Marion Barber or Ricky Williams or whoever might revive his season the right matchup? I have given way too much of my life to professional sports. It's sickening.

So, near the top of my list of New Year's resolutions, I vow to quit Facebook, cold turkey, for a minimum of three months. After that, I hope I will have the will to stay away. And--though the actual decision looms months in the future--I'm vowing now to take a pass on fantasy football in 2012 and beyond.

If I'm wise, I'll never look and back.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

How to Argue for Occupy Wall Street

When G.O.P. strategist and wordsmith-in-chief Frank Luntz advises Republicans, I listen. Why? Because every piece of advice he gives them reveals the winning arguments that he (and they) fear most. In this case, it's especially interesting, because, rather than giving anti-Democratic talking points, he's giving anti-Occupy Wall Street talking points.

Yahoo News just published a list of Luntz's tips to the Republican Governors' Association on how to talk about Occupy Wall Street. You can click through and read those, of course. Luntz and the Republicans in power have a lot on their minds. Here I'll flip Luntz's points on their heads to identify the perhaps obvious but effective rhetorical strategies one can use in Favor of the Occupy Wall Street movement:

1. Talk about "capitalism." As Luntz says, the public still prefers capitalism to socialism, but people generally believe that capitalism is immoral. It is.

2. Argue for "taxing the rich." It's the right thing to do, and it's fair. Luntz would have us believe a just tax rate for those who can afford to pay more amounts to theft. If anything, they are the thieves, and they have gotten away with it for far too long.

3. Fight for the "middle class." That's a fight Republicans know they can't win, which is why Luntz wants to change the subject to "hard-working taxpayers."

4. Talk about jobs. Luntz says Republicans shouldn't talk about "jobs" because people don't want jobs--they want careers. And in some narrow sense he may be right. So why not talk about careers, too? Employment is a lose/lose topic for Occupy Wall Street's opponents.

5. Talk about the value of a social safety net. Luntz would have everyone believe that government does nothing but waste taxpayers' hard-earned money. Emphasize the humane potential of a system where everyone could have access to health care, food, and career opportunites--you know, like most people do in the rest of the industrialized world.

6. Don't give in. In this instance, Luntz advises Republicans not to talk about "compromise," because it's seen as selling out and giving up. And on this, he may be right. Occupy Wall Street does not need to compromise with Wall Street. Why would anyone accept a "compromise" in a call for justice and fairness?

7. When a Republican says, "I get it," don't believe her. She favors G.O.P. policies in response to the problems highlighted by Occupy Wall Street. Those policies got us here in the first place. They're not suddenly the solution.

8. Talk about entrepreneurs, big business, and corporate fat cats. They're the ones with the most to fear from a movement toward economic justice; and they're the ones widely viewed as exploiting the rest of us.

9. Emphasize sacrifice. We have all made sacrifices in this economy--well, almost all of us. Wall Street firms still report record profits. CEO's still rake in massive salaries and bonuses that send executives around the world into fits of envy. The big boss at Wal-Mart allegedly makes $16,000 per hour. It's time for the 1%--especially the top tenth of that one percent--to share in the sacrifice.

10. Keep the focus on Wall Street. When Republicans try to change the subject to Washington and the Obama administration, remind people who pulls Washington's strings.

Sound good? It should, because this list is exactly what Frank Luntz does not want people to hear.


And while you're here, please support my small business. It's so small, in fact, that it's just me and my friend George.