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Black hole sun

I will get back to the channel-by-channel review of XM radio one of these days, I promise. They’ve changed the lineup a good bit now (bye-bye, World Cup channel — you’ll be missed), and I’m giving a few other “mix” channels a try. The “Hear Music” and “Fine Tuning” mix channels are just a little too mellow, good for about 20 minutes but inevitably dragged down by some fifth-rate James Blunt whining about his lack of a soulmate or whatever he sings about to lure gullible coffeehouse women into bed.

So I was listening to “Sunny” for a while today. At least, I think I was. The mix of mildly upbeat music was just fine, and it wasn’t quite like the “beautiful music” description. Especially when they broke out Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart.

What the … Total Eclipse of the Heart is on the SUNNY channel? Why, because the freaky kids with the glowing eyes in the video represented miniature suns?

I must have been listening to the wrong channel. I had a few reception problems today. Yeah, that’s it.

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Today’s sports section

Yes, I’m switching over to sports today, though in the tangential sense, it’s still “media.” In any case, I have no profound thoughts on music at the moment unless the song was being used in the World Cup or the Tour de France. That’s because I am an obsessive fans of sports that Europeans like more than we do, and I’m not apologizing for that. Don’t give me any guff about NASCAR and how exciting it is to see cars “tradin’ paint.” In cycling, guys are trading elbows while yelling at the cameraman on the motorcycle and generating enough wattage to power Pink Floyd’s lasers, amps and defibrillators.

If you want a really funny daily take on the Tour, check the Tour day Schmaltz. If you don’t watch the Tour, you won’t get it. If you do, you will injure yourself laughing.

Anyway, I was planning to write about myself here, because the research is easy. Today served as a stark reminder of why I am paid to write about sports, edit about sports, go to meetings about sports, write code about sports … but not to PLAY sports. Because, well, I suck.

I played about 30 minutes of soccer today. Soccer stats generally aren’t detailed, but I was able to keep a running tally of what I did:

– 0 shots on goal
– 0 effective tackles or defensive plays
– 0 completed passes
– 2 balls skipping over my foot when I had all day to trap them
– 3 botched traps that gave the ball right back to the other team
– 3 instances in which the ball was passed to me, only to see someone race from a direction I wasn’t anticipating and take the ball away
– 1 outburst (after the last of those three, right in front of the opposing goal) in which I shouted “Somebody tell me!” I didn’t specify what I was supposed to be told, though someone did tell me to move toward the ball. That’s sound advice. Someone else came up and apologized to me for not getting me the ball when I was open earlier. Having cooled down from my pointless scream at no one (or myself), I told him we were better off with the ball going behind me.

This is the third time I’ve played with these guys. Also the third time I’ve played in close to 10 years. So you’d expect the FIRST time to be really rough, with slight improvement. No. The first time wasn’t bad — I wasn’t quite Michael Ballack, but I made a couple of good defensive plays, took a solid shot on goal and completed a few passes. The second time, I scored an own goal (not really my fault) and left all my passes short before running out of gas, though I somehow summoned the energy and skill to make one good play — a chip over two defenders to a teammate who took the ball perfectly in stride. This time, I couldn’t even control the ball long enough to pass it.

I guess next time, I’ll just pick up the ball and hurl it into my own net. At least I could only improve from there.

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Weezer — wheezing

I like Weezer as much as most people, and I’m especially a fan of their marvelous debut album’s hits (Undone, Say It Ain’t So) and hidden gems (In the Garage, Only in Dreams). But if Rivers Cuomo can’t come to grips with life as a rock frontman after all these years, I can only muster so much sympathy.

NME reports on Cuomo’s current Hamlet pose: “I certainly don’t see (my new songs) becoming Weezer songs, and I don’t really see the point of a solo career.”

OK, then — nice knowing you, enjoy your royalties, see you on a VH1 special in 10 years.

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Random song thoughts

A couple of songs that are popping up on my iPod this days:

– The Weapon, Rush: This is one of those songs crying out for an update. It’s from the 1982 album Signals, which along with 1984’s Grace Under Pressure, has plenty of good songs but is forever trapped by its dated synthesizer sound. The Weapon is the best example. Alex Lifeson plays some snappy guitar riffs in counterpoint to the synths, and the lyrics — about fear as a means of controlling the masses — have aged better than a lot of Neil Peart’s efforts to be profound. (“The knowledge that they fear is a weapon to be used against them” is a nice broadly applicable slogan.)

Worn Me Down, Rachael Yamagata: In other hands, this would be a tedious whinefest. She gives an unsympathetic account of herself — one might even say pathetic — as the woman who finally realizes that she needs to back out of this relationship because the guy just isn’t going to get over his ex, to the point that there’s a metaphorical third person in the bed. The reason it works: She gains strength from seeing the situation so clearly, even though she realizes that the situation was, simply put, icky. “No, you’re wrong, you’re wrong / I’m not overreacting,” she sings. She’s resigned to the situation but is leaving with her dignity, and she’ll leave it with a song that rocks a little. Good for her. The song is a little overproduced, with far too many vocal overdubs near the end, but that’s nit-picking.

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Teen … or in this case, adult … angst

It’s “advertise the fall series” time on TV, and there’s a common theme …

They’re all pretty much the same freaking thing. Just like Invasion, Surface, the 4400 and all the other dramas on TV, they’re all various permutations of the “gee, this situation sucks, so let’s see how many complications we can add” formula that has served 24 and Lost so well. You could call it the “sitdram” formatthey’re mostly serials based on that dreary situation and various attempts to get out of it that only lead to secret hatches, murdered relatives, conspiracy-minded presidents and teens who end up realizing too late that the woman they think was their mom actually killed the real mom when the real mom showed up … yes, I’m lumping Desperate Housewives in here, because brief outbursts of comedy and occasional glimpses of Eva Longoria in glammed-up revealing outfits don’t hide the fact that it is, at its heart, another convoluted depressing drama.

Let’s run through the list, as compiled at About.com:

– Brothers & Sisters: “Shocking family secrets are revealed along the way!”

Men in Trees: OK, this sounds different — Anne Heche as a jilted woman rediscovering the meaning of life in Alaska.

The Nine: Our lives are forever changed after being held hostage. How many seasons to they expect to milk out of that premise?

Six Degrees: This could be different and kind of interesting if done right, but my hunch it won’t progress beyond the “Hey, my life could’ve been so different” premise, and I fear they’ll serialize it.

Smith: CBS’ answer to The Sopranos.

Jericho: Oh dear crap. A small town thinks it’s the last outpost of civilization because they think there was a nuclear blast? I’ll assume for the moment that they’ve lost all telephone, television and radio contact with the outside world, but wouldn’t it occur to anyone that someplace in the world — New Zealand springs to mind — isn’t likely to be affected by a nuclear explosion in the United States or any circumstances that could’ve brought that about? “Oh no, they blew up Kansas City! That’s the only other populated area on Earth!”

Shark: James Woods as an on-the-edge DA … OK, that might be worth it.

Runaway: It’s a family drama — the whole family is running from the bad guys.

Vanished: Title says it all, doesn’t it?

Standoff: Assuming they don’t focus on the same standoff all season, this is a least a little different than the serials.

Justice: Part Murder One, part Boomtown — might be interesting.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: I’ve heard about this show. It’s a drama? About Saturday Night Live?

– Heroes: At least the good guys are the ones with superpowers, not the aliens or miscellaneous bad guys.

Kidnapped: Everyone’s a suspect!

Friday Night Lights: Texas football — definitely different.

So I count eight shows that fall into the “serialized tales of woe” category.

Now perhaps the TV programmers aren’t to blame. Maybe these just look alike in the marketing.

But somewhere along the line, there’s a distinct lack of originality, coupled with the belief that in the post-9/11 world, we all want to escape to fantasy worlds that are bleaker than the reality of this decade so far!

Before you say, “Hey, they’re dramas, they’re supposed to be sad,” consider what passed for “drama” back in the ’70s and ’80s. (Coincidentally, we’re watching the new VH1 show on the ’70s, so I’ll have plenty of material without doing actual research.) Here’s a sampler:

Magnum, P.I.: Everything wrapped up in time to get a good zinger between Magnum and Higgins at the end.
CHiPs: “But Ponch, we have to catch the car thief in time to get Billy to the BMX race and throw down some sanitized dance moves in the disco!”
L.A. Law: “But Arnie, you’ve slept with all the women in the firm and all your clients! How am I supposed to bill those hours?”
Dallas: All fun and games until it was time for a cliffhanger, when someone was just gonna have to die.
Miami Vice: The ultimate in style, now fodder for a film that appears from the trailers to have forgotten everything that made the show unique. (And apparently, the trailer isn’t far off the mark.)

Sure, there were thought-provoking serialized dramas as well (Kung Fu, Knight Rider, The Incredible Hulk). But they didn’t dominate the airwaves, and they didn’t seem as determined as these shows to give you nightmares. Some of the ads for Invasion made me so creeped-out I’d have to walk to Chipotle and eat a whole bag of chips to properly re-ground myself in reality.

And what’s wrong with a TV drama that has a sense of humor? Without the snarking celeste music of Grey’s Anatomy?

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How a newspaper works and how it doesn’t

Disclaimer: Yes, I work for a newspaper chain. I’ve worked for four of them, including the NYTimes chain, which used to own the Santa Barbara News-Press.

When people complain about the local paper, the lack of local ownership is often one of the issues, whether it’s relevant or not. These days, folks in Santa Barbara might wish their local paper was still owned by folks in … New York City??!!

A sizable chunk of the news staff walked out this week because they’ve had it with the (local) owner. Some of the complaints are complex. Some aren’t.

Let’s play “You make the call.” Your editorial page editor is arrested on a DUI charge. Do you:

A. Give the story as much play as you gave the DUI arrest of a local politician.

B. Try to squelch the story, then eventually promote this guy to be acting publisher, then give him much more free rein than a publisher should be given to interfere in the newsroom. (Particularly a publisher who used to be an editorial page guy!)

You can probably guess what happened.

The funny thing — up until this point in the story, I just found the whole thing amusing. Here’s where I got mad.

The ex-editorial page editor, current acting publisher and recent DUI defendant (remember, all the same person) published a “Note to Readers” about the situation:

We are fortunate in Santa Barbara to have local ownership and management under Wendy McCaw and Arthur von Wiesenberger. In far too many cities across the United States, a few newspaper chains dominate the marketplace. We are pleased to be an independent voice in Santa Barbara that provides varying and different viewpoints that are not called in to us from Back East, Down South or even another country.

It’s bad enough in my eyes when politicians say things they know to be patently bullshit because they know most people can’t see through it. When an alleged journalist does it, I take that person behind the woodshed.

Let’s explain the function of most newspaper chains, including the News-Press’ former owner, the New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. They buy newspapers because they want to make money. Owning a lot of newspapers also helps a chain create a healthy wire service, and those papers are able to share resources.

The big chains absolutely do not dictate editorial coverage. Not “editorial coverage” in the sense of the editorial page, not “editorial coverage” in the sense of the newsroom. When I scratched out sports columns for an NYTRNG paper, I ran them by the sports editor sitting three feet away, not some guy hidden in an underground bunker in New York.

If someone were pulling all the strings by remote control, the editorial page and the newsroom would both be compelled to follow suit. Let me let you in on a little secret: Reporters and copy editors generally make fun of the editorial page folks. The editorial page speaks for a newsroom as much as a dog speaks for a cat. Sure, they’ll agree every now and then on a simple topic such as whether your food looks good enough to steal from your plate. But that’s about it.

Case in point: Last weekend on Meet the Press, Wall Street Journal reporter John Harwood distanced himself from the WSJ’s recent edit-page rant about the NYTimes (you know, that whole government surveillance story that is Topic A in mediapolitical circles but has barely registered among people who have lives):

First of all, that editorial wasn’t kidding when they said there’s a separation between the news and the editorial pages at The Wall Street Journal.

Secondly, there is a very large gap between the ideological outlook and philosophy of The New York Times editorial page and The Wall Street Journal editorial page. There is not a large ideological gap between the news staffs of those two places, and why would there be? Some of the top people of The New York Times were hired from The Wall Street Journal. What I found shocking about the editorial was the assertion that The New York Times did not act in good faith in making that judgment. I don’t know anybody on the news staff of The Wall Street Journal that believes that. I certainly don’t.

I saw another transcript of the same show in which ex-NYT right-wing columnist William Safire wholeheartedly agreed. Naturally, I can’t find it now, so you’ll all have to trust me, as if you can’t tell from the rest of that transcript how Safire feels about the issue.

Here’s the deal with journalists: They’re generally well-meaning people who try exceptionally hard to get things right and do a good job. Mistakes eat away at their souls and their stomach linings, but they make them. They do not operate in conspiratorial lockstep. Believe me — most journalists already hate their editors and other bosses. They’re not going to follow them off ethical cliffs simply because the bosses say so. If they did, no one would be quitting in Santa Barbara this week.

Mr. Edit Publisher knows people assume otherwise, so he thinks he can make hay with the line about viewpoints being called in from “Back East, Down South or another country.” (Another country?? The only news outlets that spring to mind that have foreign ownership of any kind are Rupert Murdoch’s holdings, and having an Australian at the very top of the corporate food chain
is the very least of Fox News Channel’s problems.) And in saying something so deliberately misleading, he proves that his values are absolutely not those of good journalism. Good punditry, maybe, but that’s an oxymoron.