Friday, August 31, 2007

Click in a Box

Today, I've decided to take advantage of this wonderful new "technology" as part the "Interwebs" that allows you to use your "mouse" and "click" on something to find out more "about" it.

To buy the brilliantly original and transcendentally offbeat notepad novella, "Poison Pad," created by friend and screenwriting mentor, Dave Kunz, as promoted by the guy who used to be the bass player in Low, click here!

To see how Irish people react in the face of a flood, click here!

To stroke my ego, click here!

To buy a super fascinating book that successfully explodes the ego of the entire human species, click here!

To download a pdf of the essay I published in Water~Stone last year, which I only recently found out is available online, click here! (and scroll down to Creative Nonfiction).

To watch the Saturday Night Live faux music video with Justin Timberlake that gives this post its name, and which has now been viewed more than 25 million times and is still funny, click the YouTube thingy below!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

ObserFootballvations

And now, a one-time-only feature on BBS in which I mash-up my football predictions for the only two teams I care about--Notre Dame and the Vikings--with random thoughts and observations from my small world at large.

- Despite Charlie Weis' bristling at the word, this is a "rebuilding" year for ND. With no proven offensive firepower and a brutal first two-thirds of the schedule that includes Georgia Tech, Penn State, Michigan, UCLA, Boston College and USC, we should be reveling in a season with *gasp!* appropriately set expectations.

- Humidity sucks.

- The Vikings will basically be the same team this year that they were last year, with three possible exceptions: Tavaris Jackson will be a little better, Adrian Peterson will give them 25 percent more offense (which will still put them near the bottom of the league), and the secondary will be improved.

- Somebody should come out with a new drinking game: one shot of Goldschlager every time a Republican politician refuses to come out of the closet despite overwhelming evidence that the Grand Designer crafted him gay. (See: Larry Craig)

- ND will exceed expectations in the Saturday opener against Georgia Tech before settling back into a much more difficult reality. Weis' offensive playcalling can only compensate so much for a green quarterback (whoever it is), average running backs and an unknown wide receiver corps.

- It's a profound moment when you pull the last plastic garbage bag out of the Glad box, and then realize it's time to put the box inside the bag. Kind of like the child having to change the parent's diaper.

- If there are stats kept for such things, the Vikings will set a record this year for the highest ratio of defensive to offensive touchdowns.

- If someone were to transcribe actual adult American speech, we would be shocked to realize that we all say "'cuz" and "'n' stuff."

- ND: 6-6, Vikings: 8-8

- Averageosity sucks... 'cuz it's so average 'n' stuff.

Monday, August 27, 2007

It Ain't Altman, but...

It does the trick. This is the music video of one of this summer's best weekends, our trip to Duluth, the Northern Rail B&B and Gooseberry Falls a few weeks ago... set to the tune that gives "Bye Bye Shadowlands" its name.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Deep Reflections on Styx Greatest Hits

A pesky co-worker of mine always plies me with bad music. Sure, we're roughly the same age and work at the same agency. Sure, we both lived Midwestern childhoods played out to the soundtrack of album rock stations like KQRS in Minneapolis and WAOR in South Bend. But we took different paths on Redneck Trail: He to the hair metal bands of Poison, Motley Crue; I to classic rock bands with real musicians, like The Who and Led Zeppelin. I've long since moved on to depressing confessional singer-songwriter Americana folk/rock. He still throws in Twisted Sister.

But there's still a level of crossover and disagreement, and this is where Midwestern rock tastes find that nuance the coastal types will never understand. We both love Rush. We both love Boston. We both love Ozzy (although I stopped at Randy Rhodes' untimely death). I imagine we can agree to like both Pink Floyd, although I stop after The Final Cut. I'm sure we both have weaknesses for Cheap Trick and Triumph. He worships Guns 'n' Roses; I know they were truly good but never really seek them out. We both loved Van Halen, but he prefers Sammy, which is a travesty of musical justice. He takes bands like Tesla, Warrant and Sebastian Bach seriously. 'Nough said.

So anyway, last week he plops Styx Greatest Hits on my desk. This is interesting. Styx for me is one of those bands like Kansas: They were constantly on the radio and even MTV, yet I never really loved or hated them. My older brother and music mentor was mute on the subject. (He normally had very strict rules... no more Journey starting with Escape, no more REO Speedwagon starting with Hi Infidelity, no more Queen starting with The Game, no synthesizer music, period.)

So after a couple of days of staring at the disc, I popped it in and put on the headphones.

It was fascinating. As I moved through "Lady," "The Best of Times," "Lorelei" and "Too Much Time on My Hands," I realized that these guys were definitely underrated. Solid musicianship. Amazing singing on a group level. Deceptively complicated songwriting. Top-notch production values. I was ready to retroactively embrace this band named after a mythological river in Hades, until I met Cerberus himself in the form of track #5.

On some musical level, "Babe" might be a great song. Maybe if the Vienna Philharmonic performed a classical arrangement, I would be wowed by its harmonic transcendence. But I'm sorry, the song sucks.

From this point on, I realized that Styx evolved into a war between rock and schlock, in the forms of Tommy Shaw and Dennis DeYoung, that pop music has ever equaled. "Renegade": great song. "Don't Let It End": suck. "Blue Collar Man," please kick "Mr. Roboto" in the lugnuts. And then the final insult:

"Every night, I say a prayer in the hopes that there's a Heaven." Show Me the Way. Show Me the Suck. Suck Me the Suck. Suck Suck the Suck. The song sucks. Sucks with a capital U and an "x" at the end, as in sUUUUUUUUx. Seriously, it really really sucks.

And now I understand the look on Tommy Shaw's face when, in an interview for Behind the Music, he remembered the day when DeYoung said, "I need you to write songs about robots." Thanks, Brett, you can have your disc back.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Two Genius Ideas

Two things have come to my attention in the last few days that truly deserve to be recognized for their... yes, I know it's an overused word... "genius."

First is the idea behind the new book, "The World Without Us" by Alan Weisman. I learned about it last night when Weisman appeared on The Daily Show, and I bought it at Borders two hours ago. Obviously, it's too early to say whether the book itself is brilliant or ridiculous, but the idea itself is noteworthy. Ever since George Carlin pointed out its inherent stupidity in a stand-up routine (transcript here), I've bristled at the phrase, "Save the Planet." The planet has been around for billions of years, and it will continue to exist until as asteroid smashes it to bits. "Saving the Planet" is really about saving the species. Us. Homo sapiens. A tiny blip in the billions of forms of life that have existed here over time. A species so intelligent, it has figured out a way to exterminate itself.

Recognizing our self-centeredness in imaging that the world was somehow created for us, Weisman decided to blow it up by writing a book about how the world will react once we're gone. For example, once there are no people to man the pumps in Manhattan, the subways will flood and the infrastructure will go down rather quickly. Earth goes on. The only way to save the species is to communicate how indifferent the planet actually is to our well-being. Now that's irony.

Second is this ad campaign. I'm jealous of the lonely copywriter in the corner who thought of it, but more important, I'm amazed at whoever got the client to approve it. Agencies think of stuff this good (or almost this good) all the time, but it usually gets killed. The initial client contact will love it. But as time goes by and it moves up the flagpole, one starts to hear: "Don't you think this is too negative?" "We want something edgy, but this is too edgy." "I like the idea as a whole, but can we tone it down a little?" "You mean you want me to associate my brand with something that looks like Frankenstein? That's not strategic."

They're wrong. Almost every single time. This kind of thing works. The name monster.com has nothing to do with employment; it doesn't matter. Some of the best-selling books in the world refer to their own readers as "Dummies"; it doesn't matter. This is creative and strategic. And just frickin' funny.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Rising Conflation & Another Iggy® Award

The tireless search for logical obfuscation continues, and this week has reaped two gems. Yesterday, Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten wrote about returning from overseas and being shocked shocked! at the political grandstanding occurring over the 35W bridge collapse. Referring to politicians who use their media allies to "blame tragedy on their opponents," she introduced this hard-hitting evidence:

"After [Hurricane Katrina], foes of President Bush launched a cynical campaign to blame his administration, despite overwhelming evidence of less-than-stellar performance by politicians of all stripes and at all levels and despite the sheer unmanageable scale of the damage wrought by the storm."


I love it. The party of accountability and personal responsibility continues to push the art of conflation to new heights. From the people who brought you Osama Hussein comes the idea that the breech of a levee is the same thing as the response to the breech of a levee. I mean, maybe some lunatic accused George Bush of personally taking a jackhammer to a dam, but most people concluded, quite reasonably, that when one appoints an Arabian horse trader to head FEMA, one should be accountable when said person claims to have learned "factually" of the disaster after it had already been broadcast on CNN. The moral: Appoint your cronies to ambassadorships in Micronesia, not to jobs where lives are "factually" at stake.

Next, in a somewhat related move, the Committee on Spectacular Achievements in Profound Ignorance has been moved to present its second Iggy Award. The recipient is Mike DeCamp of Plymouth, Minnesota. In response to a previous writer who observed the double standard that those who criticize Light Rail (transit) for not generating revenue tend to neglect the fact that roads also do not generate revenue, Mr. DeCamp composed the following:

"Wow! Basic economics should be an (sic) requirement in this country before you are allowed to vote! How does he think his groceries got to his neighborhood supermarket? How did his home get there? His refrigerator? His sofa and bed? His shampoo and deodorant? His plumber? His bicycle? Not by light rail!"

In doing so, wrote the Committee, Mr. DeCamp took conflation to astounding new heights. In one brilliant stroke, he redefined the concept of "revenue" from "something that directly generates money" to "something that facilitates any form of commerce." The logic apparently holds as follows: Because a road facilitates the delivery of goods and services that go into a home, and because "demand" existed for those products for which an entity produced the "supply," and because those entities received direct revenue for those items, therefore the roads on which the delivery trucks of that entity traveled also generated revenue.

The Committee draws attention to four facts that make this argument exceptionally ignorant:

1. By this definition, because airplanes and ships also deliver goods for homes, water and air also generate revenue--at a fraction of the cost of roads--in which case we should be lobbying for more air and water.

2. Because roads encourage more driving of cars and trucks, which require fossil-fuel energy, which results in pollution and carbon emissions, the true economic impact of roads is not, forgive the pun, a "one-way street."

3. Because people always develop the ideas that ultimately become products to meet marketplace demands in a capitalistic society, the schools and teachers who provide their education are ultimately the most "revenue-generating" entities of all. Despite this, the Committee doubts that Mr. DeCamp sees these entities as "profitable."

4. Because every person who works in the pursuit of producing goods and services therefore generates revenue, and because thousands of said workers take the Light Rail to work, the Light Rail generates revenue in the same way as roads, but with one important difference: It's more efficient.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Flip Flop!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Un-Antiquated Statutes

I listened last week to the audiobook of Bill Maher's brilliant New Rules book, and today I decided to be hyper-observant while taking James to daycare and driving to a lesser-known Dunn Bros. on Lyndale. The result is this.

Un-Antiquated Statute: Minnesotans Must Learn to Go Around

Closed-circuit to Minnesota drivers: When you're behind someone who's turning left, and there's a nice wide, unused lane to your right, you can go into it. You don't have to wait for all the traffic to go by in the other direction and for the person in front of you to make his turn. No one will arrest you, and you will not receive an electric shock. Go around. Seriously. Go around. Go AROUND!!

Un-Antiquated Statute: The Labor Movement Must Market Its Labor

"From the people who brought you the weekend" is a clever tagline. There's only one problem. You're a labor movement. Labor means "work." When you have a poor public image based on the perception that you enjoy mandated breaks while everyone else cracks open the laptop as soon as the kids go to bed, it's not a good idea to tout something related to not working--especially when everyone else is working over the weekend.

Un-Antiquated Statute: Graffiti Needs to Start Making Sense

Writing "QUACK" on a traffic light pole on Cedar Avenue doesn't do anything for me. I'm just sayin'...

Un-Antiquated Statute: I Need to Learn How to Sing

There's nothing worse than finding a great song like Dan Wilson's "Free Life," thinking it's in your range as you croon into the windshield, and then realizing that you can't hit a single note in the chorus or the bridge. On second thought: Un-Antiquated Statute: Dan Wilson Needs to Write Songs with Only Three Notes.

Un-Antiquated Statute: "Edna Realty" Needs to Learn that It Isn't Fooling Anyone

Yes, you're a real estate company. Yes, one of your colors is red. But everyone knows you're missing an "i," and everyone can see you're located next to the crappy car dealers on East Lake Street.

And finally...

Un-Antiquated Statute: Radio Stations Need to Go Back to Using Their Call Letters

The Edge. The End. The Point. Drive 105. Love 105. Enough already. Go back to "KRAP 103 FM. We're the Shit."

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Delivery Vehicle Diet

I've lost a little weight over the last five months. Fifteen pounds to be exact, and I've actually managed to keep it off. It started some fateful day in February when I enjoyed lunch at a Minneapolis restaurant wonderfully named "Chicken 'n' Waffles," which serves greasy fried chicken and waffles the size of Alaskan feral cats. I walked from that lunch to the nearest Life Time Fitness, bought a membership, and voila.

Sure, the real key to this modest success has been exercise. It's the first domino to fall, and without even thinking about it, you start to eat better, crave less sugar and listen to less conservative talk radio. But I have another secret, and I'll share it with you now.

No, it's not having lots of sex. I put that on the truck to mislead and ridicule you. It's actually this: Once you start thinking clearly about food (because of that exercise thing I mentioned earlier), you start realizing that the true structure of food is one of "drug" and "delivery vehicle." The next time you see "chip and salsa," think "pot and bong," "cocaine and rolled up c-note," "heroin and syringe."

It varies with the splendor of our multi-cultural, multi-personality, multi-faceted melting pot of a society. But for me, chips are a salsa or hummus delivery vehicle. Or, if there is no dip, they are really a salt delivery vehicle. In fact, most things at their core are salt, sugar, alcohol or caffeine delivery vehicles. They're just masked as "pizza," "juice," "cosmo" and "iced quad espresso." Conversely, an egg is a protein delivery vehicle and broccoli is an anti-cancer delivery vehicle. But that isn't as much fun now, is it?

Last night as I spotted middle-aged men raising their hands and saying "hi ladies!" to a herd of college grad females, I realized that bars are so eternal because they are combination alcohol, salt (chips and 'spin dip) and sex delivery vehicles--in their dreams. Some might argue that marriage itself is a sex delivery vehicle. (Bill Maher would argue that it's actually a celibacy delivery vehicle.) Las Vegas is a permissible-sin delivery vehicle. Branson is a music delivery vehicle, sort of. Paris is a romance delivery vehicle. Work is a money delivery vehicle. And delivery vehicles themselves... are John Malkovich.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

MasterDebates!


Introducing yet another new feature here at BBS: Debates with Myself, or MasterDebates, wherein I break down the issues that are important to me, debate them with myself and provide new insights to me. Today's topic:

Politicizing the 35W Bridge Collapse: Too Soon?

Our MasterDebaters today are Bellamy Grant and Grant Bellamy. Gentlemen.

BG: Good morning, Marc.
GB: Great to be here, Mr. Conklin.

Let's just get right into it. Everyone knows what happened to the bridge. The next day, liberal columnist Nick Coleman wrote an article blaming conservatives for being too cheap, while conservative radio talk show host Jason Lewis blamed liberals for diverting funds to transit. Your take, Mr. Grant.

BG: I have to admit, as soon as I saw the Nick Coleman headline, I rolled my eyes. The usual disaster cycle of grieve, calm down, investigate, assign blame then fix the problem just seems to have gotten way out of hand. We're already pointing fingers the next day? Come on. And the same goes for Jason Lewis. I'm only surprised that he didn't somehow blame Bill Clinton, environmentalists, former President Clinton, activist judges or William Jefferson Clinton.

GB: I disagree. There's a fine line between "pointing fingers" and "holding people accountable." The unfortunate reality today is that whoever gets to the media first, that's what sticks with the public. You can sit back and try and be noble. But someone on the other side of the aisle is going to have no qualms about going out there and saying, "Homosexuality is responsible for the bridge collapse." And guess what the Fox news ticker is going to say five minutes later: "Gays: Bad for Bridges?"

BG: Fox is going to do that anyway. You can talk about harsh media realities and being a political pragmatist, but I think it's a long-term loser. In the end, people want sanity. They want someone who will say, look, this is complicated. It's crazy to come out the very next day and start politicizing death.

GB: What about Katrina?

BG: What about it?

GB: The blame for that was immediate, and I don't remember you complaining.

BG: That's different.

He's got a point there...

BG: No, it was wrong to assign easy blame for the collapse of the levees. I'm sure over time there were hundreds of idiots responsible for that. But blame for the lack of response, that's a no-brainer.

But should it have gone all the way to the President?

BG: The President assigned an Arabian horse trader to head FEMA. If I may coin an analogy, that's a little like hiring an Arabian horse trader to head FEMA.

GB: I'd have to agree with that.

BG: Thank you.

But back to the bridge. Someone has to be accountable, right? The families of the people who died or were injured want answers immediately, so what's wrong with asking the next day versus asking the next week or month?

GB: That's a great point, Mr. Conklin. The underlying question for anyone under the microscope is, "What are you afraid of?" Politics is a full-contact sport. If you're the governor, you think you're not going to have people trying to blame you for something you're ultimately accountable for? Same goes for the head of MnDOT and every legislator from both parties who's ever cast a transportation-related vote. You can't take it, go do something cushy, like selling China-produced goods for a 500 percent markup and acting like a business genius.

BG: But that's what causes the underlying cycle. If that's the way politicians have to be, then politics only attracts the kinds of people who go out and do this crap. And those people are precisely the lazy, ADD, reactionary anti-intellectuals who are driving us into the ground.

GB: Are you saying someone can't be tough and smart at the same time?

BG: No, I didn't mean to imply that--

GB: Hey, I'm one of the five people who actually read your blog, and you just fell for your own trap. You're saying intellectuals aren't real men. Did you hear that, Mr. Conklin?

He's got a point there...

BG: No, he doesn't. That's a typical straw man argument, and I... he... doesn't like those either--

GB: Chicken.

BG: What?

GB: You heard me. BAWK BA-BAWK BAAAAWK!

BG: Are you actually resorting to Third Grade playground techniques to call me... who is really you... a chicken?

GB: Stop me. What are you afraid of? BAWK B-GAWK!!!

BG: Cut it out!

GB: B-GAWK!

BG: Marc, can you please do something about this?

He's got a point there...

BG: Oh, shut the hell up.

BAWK BAWK B-GAWK!!!

BG: Not you, too.

GB: BGAAAAAAWK!

BG: We're out of here.

Monday, August 6, 2007

What Was Your Favorite "Oil" Moment?

Six years ago on a trip to Seattle, I sat at the Bumbershoot Music Festival and imagined a plane flying into the Space Needle. That was on Labor Day weekend, 2001. We all know what happened a week later.

Two weeks ago, I was imagining a world where politicians decide that rather than let Lake Superior just evaporate over the next 100 years, we might as well start siphoning it off to Phoenix and L.A so they can flush their toilets.

One week ago, I did a Uey at the 35W bridge, imagining it collapsing onto West River Parkway.

Paranoia is one of my strong suits, so The End of Oil was the perfect gift to myself. For the last three weeks, I've been envisioning a moment in my son's lifetime when he learns that 100 elites have taken off to live in a secret space station, Dr. Strangelove-style, while the rest are left to deal with permanent summers, no electricity, massive food shortages and millions of "water refugees" spilling into the Upper Midwest.

The most terrifying thing about Paul Roberts' book is that it's not the least bit paranoid. For something written by a contributor to Harper's (one of my favorite magazines, but one whose editorial calendar seems beholden to a doomsday quota), it's surprisingly rational, measured and even at times optimistic.

In all seriousness, this is one of the most interesting things I've ever read, and in terms of timeliness, I can't imagine a more important book. Yes, our infrastructure is stressed, we need universal health care, Social Security and Medicare are in trouble, our educational system is underfunded, the bees are disappearing and Osama bin Laden is planning to kill 15 million Americans while we're in Iraq.

But the most immediate, most serious problem the world faces (in the humble opinion of this far-removed creative director in Minnesota) is the catastrophic relationship between population, energy and climate. Period. We can bankrupt ourselves fighting on any number of fronts. If I had to pick one, I would pick this one.

Allow me to summarize this 350-page book in a series of grammatically incorrect sentence fragments. Oil. Running out. Will run out in our lifetimes. Thirty years max for most. Climate change bad. Can't go over 550 ppm CO2 in the next 100 years. Hydrogen good. By end of century, must be hydrogen-heavy. Must find alternative to platinum. Coal bad. Worst fossil fuel. Also most plentiful. China building 60 dirty coal plants a year to make plastic crap for Americans. Very bad. 360 degrees of bad. Natural gas good. Bridge fuel. Need more short term. Must tax carbon. Must allow carbon trading. Public and private sector must work on all cylinders (powered by hydrogen cell). Need to raise CAFE standards and help car companies survive. Must change power grid. Must give China clean coal technology. Must allow localized power generation in U.S. Renewables not a panacea, but good, especially wind. Nuclear good. Has saved ass so far. Must increase safely. Must rebrand "conservation" as "efficiency."

Must send any politician who does not acknowledge the above packing.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

What a Difference 25 Minutes Can Make...

I don't mean to be one of those people who, after 9/11, said things like, "Oh my God, I was five miles away from the Twin Towers in 1995!" But the picture above shows where I drove 25 minutes before the collapse of the 35W bridge. I wasn't on the bridge; I was on the road it's pancaking at around 5:40 p.m.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Difference #2


Continuing my series on the real differences between conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, knuckle-draggers and bleeding hearts... the one that I think is most objective and most important is this:

Conservatives think the world is basically fair; liberals think the world is basically unfair.

This is oversimplifying on purpose, but that's the whole spirit of this thread. By "fair," I probably really mean "just." And by "the world," I of course really mean "America," which to Americans is the world. And by "America," I kind of mean what would generally be described as "the system."

Everybody knows the world isn't perfect. But deep down, conservatives generally think that the people who have wealth and power have earned it, and the people who are poor and powerless deserve it. Liberals, on the other hand, tend to think that those who have wealth and power do not deserve it, and those who are poor and powerless got screwed.

You can't think this without placing judgment on "the system" that applies to everyone. So to a conservative, that system is fundamentally sound. If you work hard and play by the rules, you'll generally succeed. If you're lazy or immoral or expect other people (like "the government") to bail you out, you won't. To a liberal, the system is fundamentally unjust because human nature is fatally flawed and those who have wealth and power will do anything they can to keep it, even if it means keeping it away from other people.

What backs up the conservative position? All the Horatio Alger stories... the true stories of people who came from nothing, had an idea, pursued it, made it happen, improved the world and received much-deserved wealth. On the flip side, the people who move to Minnesota just to take advantage of its supposedly generous welfare system, the people who get out of prison and commit more crimes, panhandlers and whiners.

What backs up the liberal position? George W. Bush. A guy who, if he were born into any other family except the uber-powerful New England elites who were his parents, would have ended up managing a Waterbeds Waterbeds Waterbeds store in Mishawaka, Indiana. And Enron, of course... all the stories of people who come from wealth, don't play by the rules, and still end up with huge real estate holdings in Colorado.

What issue exemplifies the differences the best? Affirmative action. To a conservative, an already basically fair world would be more fair if we got rid of something that by its nature favors one race over the other and puts it on paper. To a liberal, an already basically unfair world would be made even more unfair if we got rid of one of the few systems that tries to correct on paper the unfairness that's not on paper.

To a conservative, affirmative action is legalized discrimination. To a liberal, George W. Bush achieving the presidency is affirmative action.

I do tend to sympathize more with the liberal position, because after all, nothing--absolutely nothing--is more powerful than the motivation of the wealthy and powerful to hold onto or increase their wealth and power. But seriously, who doesn't know someone who "came from nothing" and succeeded in one way or another, and who doesn't know pathologically lazy people who always blame their problems on their boss, their parents or "the system"? The truth is most certainly in the middle on this one, but the fringes, as always, are extremely vocal.