Friday, February 26, 2010

OK, God.

Last year a co-worker was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. That’s obviously not good. Treatment ensued and things got worse and then better and then ....

Where I work we have little nameplates outside our offices. When I go by her office and nobody is looking, I put my hands on her name and just pray for a bit.

Well, last night, she passed away.

I have a growing list of people with cancer that I pray for almost every day. Instead of the cancer part, now I need to pray for a family that is one person smaller today.

In the meantime, more things about life (and death) I don’t understand.

UPDATE: The office door has been closed for months. Today it was open. I stood there for a few moments and prayed for the kids & family in the pictures around the desk.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Biting the hand …

Years ago I wrote my first (and so far only complete) screenplay. It was a spec script for the TV show “Touched by an Angel.”

I spent a lot of spare time over the next year or so writing agents, doing whatever I knew how to do to get people to read it and hopefully sell it. But nothing serious came of it. I got a few letters and one phone call from a NY agent (which surprisingly enough came after I had long since given up).

Many, many years later I’m still working on screenplay #3. I’m smarter this time and working on an original idea and not trying to do something for a TV show. I should note within a year of giving up on peddling my TBA script, the show was cancelled. Next I started on spec script #2 for "Without a Trace". Guess what happened? Before I could finish, the show was cancelled. Got a TV show you want cancelled? Just ask me to write a spec script for it and poof! It’s gone!

This week I got a letter from a law firm inviting me to opt-in or opt-out of a class action suit against some major movie studios and numerous agents etc. for age discrimination. I’ve heard for years that it’s tough to make it in Hollywood unless you were young (and live there!).

I have no idea how they knew (or know) I was over 40 and also not sure how they got my name as a potential TV writer. Maybe from the WGA or query letters I sent to agents. But it seems odd that they included me since as far as I know, I was not discriminated against (I think my script just wasn’t very good) and I’ve never actually written for TV (and been paid for it).

For now I’ll keep plugging away on my current project. It doesn’t seem right to join in a lawsuit against people I hope someday will read my script. But they are also giving away money!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Musings on Afghanistan

Not sure how this happened but in the last month I've read (OK still reading one) three books with some perspective on Afghanistan. One from a guy who started a not-for-profit building schools, another from a former NPR journalist who ended up in Afghanistan; again running an organization over there and now the book about Pat Tillman (former NFL-er who joins the Army).

I'm struck by a few things or themes that keep repeating; we will never understand their culture completely and if Afghanistan is or could be another Vietnam.

I grew up during most of the Vietnam War and I'm ashamed to say I didn't pay close enough attention but what I can recall is this: slow build up of troops over many years, lots of under-the-radar stuff going on, create a climate of cold-war fear that South Vietnam would fall to communism (oops!) and lots (57,000+) of Americans dead and we eventually leave. And for what?

Maybe Osama bin Laden was reading the same history books. I just realized I'm at risk of repeating a previous post last December so I'll cut this one short and leave with this comment:

In the Tillman book, the author quotes bin Laden as saying back in the 1990s, he wanted more than anything to get America into Afghanistan. He was part (as were we) in beating the Russians out of the country - even though he is not Afghan. I guess he thought and realized he could never beat us here but he could wear us down there over many years and we'd give up. Lose stature in the world and have to lick our wounds at being humiliated by whoever stepped up to the plate over there and kept us involved. And in the meantime he can continue to drum up anti-American furor and fervor worldwide in the Muslim community.

The second thing in the Tillman book and who knows if any or all or just some of it is true but the misinformation put out by our govt. and the military - not just about Tillman and other "friendly fire" incidents but the Jessica Lynch episode too, calls into question what we read and hear about what is happening even now. I guess all we can do is read a variety of sources on the multiple sides of the situation and hope for the best.

OK here's a 3rd thought for free: we seem to place a great premium on capturing (or killing) Taliban leaders, Al Qaeda leaders etc. Obviously this is a good thing but I think it is shortsighted to think that eliminating them (even bin Laden himself) will make much difference. The whole idea behind Al Qaeda or it's name "the base" is the decentralization. There is no real base of operations. No one person runs anything. Kill one leader and another one pops up somewhere else. Maybe some or even many of those who wish us ill follow/worship/revere bin Laden but if he were gone, I doubt it would make much difference other than symbolically; kind of like getting rid of Saddam. That didn't really help much - at least not yet.

OK a 4th thought. Lots of people want to blame George Bush (43) for all this mess he left for Obama to clean up. I don't doubt he left a lot behind. But so did his father (41) and Clinton (42). Just like Vietnam didn't start to be a problem when we sent our first advisors as early as the 1950s, the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan didn't start with 9-11. Plenty of blame to go around.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Tebow ad

I think I’ve finally seen most of the Super Bowl ads – had to watch them on-line in a friend’s office where we had a spirited discussion about one of the more (at least pre-game) controversial spots; the so-called Tim Tebow pro-life ad.

We watched it. Before I say anything else; like them or not, the Focus on the Family people are not stupid or naïve. My guess is they either pre-emptively edited the spot to please the CBS gatekeepers OR gave in to pressure from CBS so they could keep a coveted and sought after slot in the big game.

Now to the spot. Where was the controversial message? Mrs. Tebow talks about her miracle baby. How he almost didn’t make it. But she never says abortion, pro-life, choice or any of the hot button words. Mr. almost-Heisman again Tebow makes only a cameo.

I’m no professional spot writer but we also looked at Focus on the Family’s longer interview with the Tebows (mom and dad) and it seems to me somebody missed the story and a $3 million opportunity to reach more than 100 million viewers.

Mrs. Tebow was 37, pregnant and in a third-world country. Doctors told her she was carrying a mass or a tumor, it was not going to be a healthy child. As Christian’s (they were missionaries – perhaps still are) she said they had already decided years ago what to do in such a situation. Even though Drs. told her the best thing to do was abort her “baby”, she did not. And the result some 20+ years later became a great college quarterback.

But none of this even comes close to being mentioned in the spot.

If I had 30 seconds and several million here’s a thought.

Fade in:

Mrs. Tebow: I was 37 years old and pregnant. Already high risk and living in a 3rd world country. The news was not good. Doctors told me what I should do.

Tim Tebow comes crashing in (as he did in the original spot)

Tim Tebow: But Mom, I’m so glad you didn’t.

Bring in the logos, music up, fade out.

On My Nightstand

If you pay attention to the “What’s on my nightstand” section of this blog with a list of what I’m reading, the book, The American Future: a history, has been on and off it for some time now.

Even though it is taking me forever to read (370 pages) it is a very interesting look at our history primarily through the lens of the 2008 presidential election as a jumping off point. The history is somewhat obscure (meaning I didn’t study this level of detail in my history classes in high school) but revealing.

One thing that struck me in last week’s reading. An excerpt: (edits are mine)

“The trouble with immigrants was that they were clannish … many fugitives from justice …ignorant of the language … huddled together in rickety little towns .. if they aren’t stopped soon, they will swamp the native population and culture.”

Sound somewhat familiar? Well these were the comments from Mexico about all the people flooding into the Texas republic in the late 1820s.

I’m not about to weigh in on the immigration debate but it would seem prudent to study a little border history; heck history in general, before we start establishing or changing policies about who gets to come into the United States and under what conditions.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sour grapes maybe but ...

Last night I was watching back-and-forth between O'Reilly's interview of John Stewart and the real deal John himself and somehow a commercial slipped in for Mercedes for a new (released in 2009) Attention Assist system. Simply put this monitors drivers' behavior and if you exhibit signs of being drowsy, it will alert you visually and then again audibly.

Jump back with me to somewhere between 1978 - 1980. We were living in Virginia and I had an idea. We were making regular trips back to Ohio and on these long trips I would, like most people, get drowsy. So I had an idea of putting some kind of device on the steering wheel that sensed your finger pressure. If you let off for more than a second or two, something would set off an alarm.

Now way back then there was no internet or any quick way to check this out but through the library I found that General Motors had a system for taking in consumer ideas. So I wrote them. I can not honestly say exactly what their response was and I have no written proof of this but I got something back to the effect of "thanks, but no thanks."

Ironic that almost 30 years later, my idea is actually out there in use. Maybe I should have written Mercedes instead.