Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Moving

Just in case you didn't get the memo, I'm moving my blog to a new home. With the recent economic situation I've found a nice cheap place over at Wordpress. 

Here is my new address:


Sorry Blogger, it's nothing personal. 

Friday, March 13, 2009

Battle of the Basic Cable Stars


If you've been paying any sort of attention to any media within the last few days you've probably heard of this feud between CNBC Mad Money host Jim Cramer and Comedy Central The Daily Show host Jon Stewart. From what I can gather it all started with this little clip. The entire staff of CNBC seemed to balk afterwards, with this retort as Jim Cramer sheepishly stood by.  Well the entire event escalated into a showdown between the two last night (3/12/09) on the regularly scheduled The Daily Show (which you can watch in its unedited version here, here, and here). After watching the pinnacle of this week long debate, I walked away feeling both parties had good points, and I couldn't help but feel that in the end there was not much more than a stale mate. But before entering into my own comments I want to try to sum up the argument of each opposing side. 

It seems to me that Jon Stewart's main point is that CNBC should act like the resource it is built to be. A news station, aimed at informing the viewer in all things economic. Shows like "Mad Money", "Fast Money", etc... serve to "sell snake oil" to it's viewers, all while disguising itself as "news". He also wags a stiff finger at the network, accusing them of manipulating the economic environment from behind the scenes, all while hiding the works from the public. 

From the Cramer perspective he seems to sheepishly admit that he, and other financial analysts make a mistakes. They try to stay away from making mistakes, but even the best of the best couldn't have foreseen what has happened in the last few months. He also points out that it's part of human nature to want to make quick money. And as long as there is an audience for show like Mad Money, there will be entertainers such as him selling to them. 

My first problem is the argument that CNBC should be a clear cut financial news source. No television station is ever going to be a completely objective source of information. From the interviewee, to the reporter, to the writer, to the producer, to the viewer; there are too many hands a source of information passes through, and therefore can never truly be objective. People tune into The Daily Show for entertainment and receive a side dose of news, and on that same token people tune into CNBC for financial news, but will inevitably receive a side dose of entertainment. That's the stone cold truth about television, it's a vehicle for ads sales, and therefore will always try to attract an audience anyway possible. So in conclusion I agree with Jon Stewart in the sense that CNBC should stop advertising itself as the financial experts, and advertise themselves for what they truly are: entertainment. 

Secondly, I think Jon Stewart puts too much blame on Cramer for brainwashing his viewers in their stock picks. My Dad always says that investing is more or less gambling. You're putting money into a horse that you think will win. Even the best brains on Wallstreet lose from time to time. The stock exchange isn't a sure bet by any means. But I think this argument is much like blaming McDonalds for the obesity in our society: you can only carry the blame so far. If you advertise the investing game as "fast money", you're being insincere. But ultimately it's the 
investor's responsibility to gather information on the company, and the financial environment he/she is placing their money into, not some news anchor "throwing cows through his legs." 

So in the end I think both parties have good points. The stock market is a rough sea to be traversed, and it's completely unpredictable. But at the same time, news stations should not  pretend that they can give superlative maritime charts for any laymen to use. Or as Jon Stewart summed up at the end of his show,  "... maybe we could remove the 'Finace Expert' and 'In Cramer we Trust' and get back to the fundamentals of reporting as well, and I can go back to making fart noises and funny faces."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream during a Recession

Friends often ask me if I see the effects of the recession here in LA. My answer before was, "Not really." More recently I can answer an astounding "yes." All around my neighborhood there are apartments going for rent, houses for sale, and businesses shutting down. Most recently I've noticed the Videohut on my street has been shut down. Bad for them, good for any investor wanting to start a business. As far as commercial space goes, the spot is ideal. It's right off Vermont, and right in the heart of Los Feliz. I think it would be an ideal spot for anyone with a solid business plan. 

While I'm in no place to start a business of my own, I can't help but brain-storm what kind of business would work well there. At first I thought a new coffee shop would do well. It's tough because the resident coffee-shop (Pyshco-Babble) is right next door. But in all honesty I think any coffee shop could put them out of business. Their service sucks, the menu is extremely limited, and the seating is shabby at best(even with newly purchased couches). I'll admit I go there frequently, but only out of convenience. 

I thought a bar or restaurant would do well. But the area is extremely saturated with those services already, and while a few genres of food are missing from the area, I think it'd be way to risky to compete on such a busy street. 

As far as retail stores go, the area is missing a music store, tech store (like an apple store), and a world export/antique type store. But I think opening any type of retail based industry would be an awful idea in a recession/borderline depression. 

I also thought about a gym type service: martial arts studio, yoga gym, boxing gym, etc... But I think the demographic is not quite right for that type of place.

Which leads me to my last idea, which is a great one if I do say so myself: an old school ice cream shop. Brilliant eh? Firstly, it's hot in LA. People are always looking for something to cool down. Secondly, there are tons of yogurt stands and froo-froo smoothie stands, but no good whole calorie artisan ice cream places. Services  like Burger King and Carl's Jr. still compete with their healthier counterparts like Subways and, ummmm, McDonalds? Thirdly, you can use the space for a coffee-shop-type space as well. Los Angeles has more writers than anywhere, and they're always looking for hip-places to congregate and work. Congregating people=business. Just make sure you have some nice coffee to serve. Fourthly, it's a family friendly concept. Build anything that attracts a family atmosphere and you instantly open up your demographic two-fold. It's why G rated movies do so well. Lastly, you could remodel. Place a wall right under the loft, and you'd have space for the register and ice-cream makers. It works perfectly. And my favorite part of the whole thing? Me getting to make up ice-cream flavors...

Adobe Delight- A long time ago my Mom actually won a silent auction prize that enabled us to come up with an ice cream flavor (an owner of an ice cream shop was the father of a kind in my class). This is what we came up with: Coffee ice cream, swirls of caramel, and chunks of cookie crust. Just think mud pie in ice cream form.

Tahitian Vanilla- Everybody loves vanilla. Cause it's vanilla. Just make sure you get high quality vanilla, and add a little of that bean in there. Yum. 

Peppermint- Just take some vanilla and through in some peppermint in there. I had a homemade version of this on an ice cream cake and it was delicious. Plus the way the mint and coldness of the ice cream play on your tongue is wonderful. 

Berkshire Blackberry- There was an ice cream story in Lenox called Bev's that we would often stop at after school. My Mom's favorite flavor there was this blackberry ice cream. It was delicious. And it's a flavor you don't see too often, so I think it would do well. 

Fat Dad- Ok, so this is a poor rip off of Ben and Jerry's 'Chubby Hubby'. But it's one of the best flavors I can think of: vanilla ice cream, peanut butter swirl, and chocolate covered pretzels. If heaven was an ice cream that is what it would be. I think to add a twist I would try putting in crunchy peanut butter. 

Maple Pecan- Something about maple syrup ice cream sounds delicious. And with toasted pecan pralines? yum. 

Bailey's Mint Chip- Why don't they make Bailey's Irish cream anymore? I'd throw some mint chips in there. Who doesn't love mint in ice cream?

Lastly, I would totally offer root-beer floats, served in cool looking soda fountain style long cups, and with long spoons. Or any soda float you want for that matter. Hmm, all this ice cream talk is making me hungry...

What flavors would you make? 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

R.I.P. Molly Madison


I just learned today that our family dog, Molly, was put down. She lived a happy thirteen or so years, and was very loved by everyone who she encountered. 

Dogs show us so much about ourselves. They show us the qualities of the best possible human beings we could ever be. They're loyal, affectionate, trusting, and go out of their way to please others. And in the last days of their life they never bemoan or show regret of any sort. Instead they continue to keep their heads high, regardless of how pained by old age. 

When I was home over the winter I remember hearing Molly whimpering by the two wide stairs that lead to the hallway in our house. While the drop is not very large, her arthritis made even menial tasks too painful to accomplish. I was confused why she wanted to leave her bed when it was so late, but I couldn't neglect an old lady's requests. So I picked her up and helped her onto the hallway floor. She then limped over to the bottom of the stairs by my parent's room. While she could not make it up the large flight, she made sure to protect the bottom of the stairway. It was the most she could do, and nothing could prevent her from doing that. We outlive most of our pets by decades, but their microcosm of a life-time we see the same flighting emotions, moments, and milestones that we encounter in our own life. They show us that life is fleeting, but that it shouldn't stop us from being the best we can be. 

I can remember my first encounter with death. It was when I was maybe four or five. Our family's dog, Margot, passed away. I can't recall if it was old age, or we put her down, but I do remember my mother coming to me and my brother and explaining Margot was no longer with us. We were all very sad. She had been the first dog my parents had (their first "kid") and for my brother and I our first dog. But while we all mourned her departure, my Mom asked us all to write a list of all of the things we loved about her, and the things we would miss. 

Here are my favorite memories of Molly:
  • Even in her old age when she couldn't run to the door to check out domicile infiltrators, she would always bark, and try her best to do her part in protection.
  • Her mad love with the tennis ball. I can remember playing fetch with her for hours with that slimy sphere of yellow felt. 
  • I remember when my Mom and I were making Tiramisu, and we gave her the lady fingers soaked in Kahlua. She got tipsy off them, and walked sideways into the counter top. 
  • Even though we all made fun of her appetite (she often never chewed, and swallowed food in one big bird-like gulp), there was never a better dish-wash-helper.
  • I remember her as a puppy. She would boldly bump into our eldest dog Max, and try to play with him.
  • I remember her tug-of-war games with Mikey. Even though she was not as strong or as energetic, she would stubbornly bite onto the rope, and never give in. 
  • When her arthritis was bad enough that she couldn't take walks in the woods anymore my Dad would place her in the front seat with him so that she could still get the fresh damp air in her face. 
  • She was a kissing fiend. If you gave her any part of your face she would kiss it. I remember holding my brother down, and having Molly lick his face non-stop. 
  • She couldn't walk far from the house to go to the bathroom, so she just went outside on our patio. She would go to the door and bark, and then bark again when she wanted to come in. Seven years earlier we probably would have scolded her for being a "bad dog". But at that point she knew she earned it. She lived a full and happy life, and knew we would understand. 

Monday, February 23, 2009

Five Ways to Fix the Oscars


Well that was it. The 81st Annual Academy Awards. It had a lot of great moments: the recognition of Indian film talent, Sean Penn's moving acceptance speech on civil rights, and Tina Fey and Steve Martin's introduction to the best screen play category (it was a highlight for me). Yet while there were plenty of wonderful moments, the only real magic of the night was when Philippe Petit of Man On Wire performed a slight of hand trick during the acceptance speech for Man On Wire.

In the industry there has been a lot of talk about the lack of interest in the annual television special. Last year the Oscar viewership fell to an all-time low, and while this year rose six percent, it still ranked as one of the three lowest viewed Oscars in history. Over the past few years various producers have been trying to spice things up. A few years ago they began handing awards in the audience (which died soon after), and this year they attempted to keep the presenters secret to lure in viewers. But much like the film industry in general, the Academy needs to re-examine the awards, and figure out what exactly they want out the show. Here are five things I would recommend to the producers and the Academy, for next years show.  

1. Pick a demographic and stick to it Certainly as a television program ratings are the number one priority for the show. But the truth is the show is not for the general public, it's for the artists within the film community. Remember a few years ago when Chris Rock interviewed movie goers and asked them what they thought about the films nominated for best picture? Well most of the public had never heard of any of them. Look at the IMDB box office summary at any time and you will rarely find artistic gems up there. Most likely you will discover main stream block-busters that you will never see in that years Oscars. The Academy either needs to change the program, or come to terms that the show is about the artistry of film, and not about ratings. Either add a comedy category, or keep it traditional. Either keep the historic Oscar moments, or add more animated vignettes to the show (God knows Pixar owes you a few). Either start including Madea films, or come to grips that no one cares about that art house picture. I feel as if the ceremony is sitting on the fence of their own personal values and trying to draw in the public, and the result is a quixotic mix that is hard for either party to watch. 

2. Take advantage of your host Will Smith's jab at Hugh Grant sleeping was well deserved. Aside from the singing and dancing he was hardly seen. Why hire top notch talent when you hide him back stage for the entire time? In my memory, the best hosts were comedians who added their personal color to their opening monologue, could effortlessly ad-lib between segments, and jab the producers for poor program decisions. There is no doubt Hugh Jackman is an incredibly talented performer. But when the majority of his time on stage is spent in long musical numbers, you suck the air out of the organics of the show. There is no room to improvise, and your entire program will make or break on time consuming numbers which require a lot of practice. Also on the "Don't Hide Your Host" note, don't place your host who's in a black tuxedo in front of a black backdrop (with no back light) for two thirds of the show.

3. Celebrate Film They were very close this year. I did like how they tried to keep a theme throughout the night by showing the viewer the various aspects of film production (even though they were very out of order). But making the stage look like a sound stage (just a bit uglier than an actual warehouse), is not glamming up the awards in anyway. People watch to see what is in front of the cameras, not behind them. If you want to show the viewers how movies are made then follow the Golden rule in film: show don't tell. Last year for the best editor category they showed the various camera angles on screens below an actual scene from the movie, showing the viewer how the editor cut it together. This year they showed a scene from a film as a narrator read the screen play aloud. And remember when they used to show the actors actual performance? The more you can reveal about the film making process the better. How about mini-documentaries showing the steps it takes to put on Benjamin Button Style make-up, or the mixer working with foley artists to create gun shots, or even an interviews with the actors on their take for best director nominees. I'd much rather watch these than musical numbers.

4. Flaunt what you got Why do people even watch the Oscars? For the same reasons people buy "Us Weekly" and "People" magazine, the stars. That is why the red carpet is practically a separate event altogether. Show back stage interactions between celebrities, instead of hiding the presenters announce who's going to present the next award, and give the viewer something to stick around for. And why keep it to the show? The Superbowl has ingeniously used the commercial break to create a separate form of entertainment: the Superbowl commercial. Why not use the commercial break to display sneak-previews for the years new movies? Show unseen trailers for the summers blockbusters. Or what about video game commercials (they're owned by the studios mother companies anyways)? Granted no studio wants to do this now due to the weak ratings, and paying for that time slot might not be worth it. But firstly, I think you could easily sell this idea to studios (show movie trailers during a movie show). And secondly, since the ratings are already low the slots should be cheap. Lastly, offering special trailers will keep the Tivoing audience more finely tuned, a win-win situation for the network and their sponsors. 

5. Make the live items more entertaining, and away from the presentations While I did love Ben Stillers bearded Phoenix impression, I found it incredibly disrespectful to Anthony Do Mantle. And I certainly was not convinced by Hugh Jackman that the musical is back. I liked a few years ago when all of the songs for "Best Song" were performed. And I loved the Will Ferrel and Jack Black song on the 'Get Off The Stage' song to set up the "Best Song" category (I do realize I just contradicted myself, but I don't think anybody was disrespected in my latter example). Nobody wants to see a music montage of movies from the year, show them something new and original. Movie vignettes are great, and an excellent wild card for the director, but they show laziness and unoriginality to the viewer. And on that point, when you present the vingnettes show them on the screen, don't have wide shots that distort the lettering, like during Queen Latifah's presentation of the remembrance bit (And on that note, why were they missing the moment of silence?). I say use more comedians. The Oscars may mostly celebrate the dramatic actors, but remember that there were two masks: comedy and tragedy. If you're there to celebrate the dramatic, and least use comedy to keep the viewer interested.

These are just a few ideas I have, but there are definitely plenty ways to spice up the show. For everyone in "the biz" the Academy Awards is still the Acme of artistic achievement. Almost everyone who spoke on that podium recalled a childhood dream where they were once the viewer, and they pictured themselves up on that podium. Don't disrespect that dreaming youth by trying to water the show down for the laymen palette. There are plenty of other creative ways to attract viewers. 

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bah-Humbug


Happy Valentines day!

I'm sure to some of you are out picking last minute flowers and chocolates, and others are cursing St. Valentine and wearing all black. I've always been a bit suspicious of Valentine's day as a holiday. I'm pretty sure it was invented by Hallmark and Russell Stover Chocolates. But this year I'm really starting to dislike this holiday. Not just for personal reasons of singledom, but because I really dislike holidays that force you into a specific sentiment. 

To me Valentine's Day is kind of like New Years Eve. On New Years Eve we are all supposed to gather with friends to celebrate a New Year. But what if we don't really feel like celebrating? What if we really liked last year, and don't want to see it go? Or conversely, what if we just got laid off and are dreading the future? One could argue the same logic with other holidays like Thanksgiving, but I think other holidays differ. Some holidays are specific to historical events (4th of July), or celebrating a particular individual (MLK day), or simple reasons to gather with friends and family (Thanksgiving and Christmas). Valentine's day, on the other hand, forces us to become romantic with our significant other, or create a statement of sentimentality with those we're with not so sure of; and if you don't create that statement, then that is statement enough. All of the above are reasons enough for me to dislike this holiday. I think if you really love someone you should be celebrating Valentines day everyday, so why create a holiday to make us all suffer? 

Romance isn't something that should come once every year, or even whenever it's convenient; if you really love someone romance is something that should be created on a daily basis. From the moment you wake up to the moment rest your head, you should be thinking about what you can do to let her/him know you're thinking of her. You should not perform romantic gestures just because you are evoked to do so, but because it helps create a healthy and strong relationship. And with today's technology all it takes is a little thought and two seconds of your time. Text her and let her know that when she left the bed that morning you couldn't help but grab her pillow and breath in her smell. Or send him a short little e-mail and tell him you think the clock at work is broken because these last three hours are dragging on forever. But of course with the ease of technology the old fashioned gestures are usually the best. Slip a hand written love not in his pocket as he goes to work. Or surprise him with an unannounced visit to his work and sneak him away to a park. 

Forget the annual teddy-gram, pajama-gram, puppy-gram, or heart shaped boxes of chocolates. None of those spell love. A day to day dose of romance is the right prescription for every relationship. So just because you're spending your day today trying to make Valentine's day special don't forget to be planning for tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. Like the wonderful Tanya Tucker tells us, the secret to a healthy relationship is to "love him more today, than you did yesterday."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

You Must be This High To Watch This


So the Oscars are coming up. I haven't talked too much about them, but in the upcoming weeks I'm going to try to be catching up on films, so I thought I'd start doing some movie blogging. While there are plenty of good films in the theatres these days, I thought I'd start with a less then great movie, Super High Me.

You've probably heard of the documentary Super Size Me by Morgan Spurlock. Well just imagine that, except a guy gets high for thirty days straight. Upon hearing the synopsis I thought this film could go two ways - either be very interesting, or incredibly stupid. Sadly, it was the later. 

The saddest part was that the film touched upon interesting topics. The film had him perform tests before and after smoking. It observed him during therapy sessions, and it even attempted to tackle heavier political issues revolving around medical marijuana. Yet the film sadly failed to address any of these topics with anything smaller than a broad-view. 

I believe Super Size Me worked because its protagonist was interesting. He diagnosed the effects his experiment were having on him, and addressed them in serious light. In Super High Me the protagonist was a stoner, and as a result offered no great insight to his experiences. Of course this didn't fully surprise me, but it was sad to see a film with some kind of potential flail about on the screen and turn itself into a mock-up of its own premise. 

One word review: meh. You're not missing anything on this one. I think we all know what smoking does to people. And watching a stoner get high for thirty days straight is about as exciting as it sounds. 

Monday, January 26, 2009

Times Flies LIke the Wind. Fruit Flies Like Bananas

“Who is this?”

“It’s Chris. Your Grandson!”

He smiles. “I don’t know what the hell is going on.”

The statement would have been humorous. Well, it was slightly humorous the first two times. But the third time it became clear it was nothing more than a forlorn act of dementia. Worse than the muddling of his brain was the sad irony of his blindness. He had once made a living as a filmmaking and photographer, and now could hardly make out lights or shapes. At that moment, despite being a naturalist, I couldn’t help but detest Mother Nature for her cruel treatment of the old.

But I’m not so na├»ve as to believe that all instances in the passing of time are negative. Earlier this year I wrote how much I was enjoying getting older. As I get older I’ve become wiser, I’ve become closer to my friends and family, and while my career is still figuring itself out I’ve relished the journey thus far. I read a great quote the other day by Jonathan Swift, “No wise man ever wished to be younger.” But why to we become so attached to the past, and why do we become sad at the prospect of time passing? It’s the attachment to nostalgia. It’s the desire to keep things as they are, even though the only constant in life is change.

When we visit a place, see a friend, or take part in an activity we create a snapshot of that moment if incident in our mind. Whenever we recall that memory we will always go back to that impression. Being back in Taos reminded me of this fact more than anything (The one wonderful thing about having a paparazzi mother is having more than enough photographs to aid your memory). When I was home in December I had the chance to riffle through some old family albums. On the pages were old pictures of me ski racing down an icy hill, holding up my baby brother, and my old cat and dog snuggling together - clearly not aware of the age-old cat and dog feud. I could transport myself to that place and time. Recalling those moments and emotions, while simultaneously aware of the great change that had occurred. When we leave a place we don’t expect time to change. All we know is those snapshots we create, like those photos in the album. When we return we come to the sudden realization that time doesn’t stand still when we leave, and we’re forced to update those snap shots. But this is life.

Before the snow melted into the damp ground I took my dog for a walk in the woods. When I was a boy I knew our forest like the back of my hand. The slope of the hill, a patch of moss, or tree’s particular branch pattern were all I needed to orient myself. But this time its face was different. Between the ice storm damage and my father’s work clearing the woods my forest had completely changed. It saddened me to see old branches that I used to swing from as an infant broken from the tree and lying on the ground, waiting to fulfill their place in the circle of life. Yet at the same time it was reaffirming in a peculiar sense. If something as primordial as the forest is victim to change, then becomes clear that one has not other choice than to open their arms to father time and embrace him. For good or bad.