Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Never Cool, Ain't Awesome - The NCAA

I am an not an athlete.  I don't play football, baseball, basketball, soccer, softball, gymnastics, track & field, nor volleyball.   I don't even like watching these sports (except NASCAR....Rest In Peace #3...). I hate college sports especially.  I hate watching how amateurish their playing is (better than me but not as good as the pros).  I hate how people get so gaga stupid over these sports especially during the month of March.  So much of it doesn't do anything for betterment of man.  Yes, some people may strive to be better - be it personally, physically, or spiritually.  Yes, it's fun to live vicariously through those than can do amazing things.  I just don't think losing my mind ever time "my team" hits the field or court is something worthwhile.

I listened to this documentary piece on Bob Edward's Weekend Saturday where they featured a piece entitled Dropping the Ball: The Shady Side of Big-Time College Sports regarding the corruption of the NCAA - the collegiate body that governs most University sports.  I just watched Schooled: The Price of College Sports on Netflix that was a fantastic supplement to that radio program.  It sickened me to hear how students are being screwed by a system that was rigged to make it virtually impossible for them to achieve the compensation they originally were promised - a full ride to work towards an education.  Here are the most egregiously troublesome policies as a whole collegiate sports programs across the country employ:

  •  It's no secret these students don't get paid.  The guise however is that they do this keep the players "amatuers" all the while everyone around them is getting paid professional salaries by businesses, donors, and media outlets.  The people playing do not get a cut of any of the monies being thrown around.  There's an anecdote in the documentary where a student had to call his coach and beg him for some food otherwise he would "have to do something stupid" just to eat.  The coach bought him and his players 40 tacos; even that "act of kindness" is technically illegal under NCAA regulations.  It's considered a "gift" and thus could "sway" a player to play for the "wrong reasons".

  • Students are effectively indentured servants.  They supply labor to a University, receive no monetary compensation, and receive room & board all the while they are promised the hard work they put in will culminate in an education.  More on that in the next one.

  • Students are working anywhere from 40-60 hours a week on their sports training.  A majority of them are pretty much absent the month of March due to their sports obligations.  How can they be expected to carry a full work load of courses to work towards a degree all the while expected to be productive on the field.  I guess is they don't sleep, they can handle 12-15 hours of courses, tests, studying, and homework on top of a regular work week. 

  • Special BS courses are made for student athletes that can't handle a regular workload in order to keep them eligible for play.  These "paper courses" don't meet regularly for the term, don't have tests, and merely require a paper to be turned in at the end of the course which gets graded A or B a majority of the time.  What kind of an education is this?

  • There is a minority of students that are admitted to the college woefully under-qualified to be participating in collegiate studies.  Both pieces speak on having to tutor athletes that can't read, write, do simple math, or have the ability to pay attention for long periods of time.  All that is expected of them is to perform at their sport and bring in the money. I found this disheartening as there are probably students more qualified academically to enter college being denied entry to make room for these athletes who at the end of their run will amount to very little out in the real world.
  • Students are effectively signed to one year contracts where the sports department has final say so as to whether or not that student can return the next season.  If you don't produce, conduct yourself on the field, there's no way you can achieve off the field.
The good news is that NCAA is being challenged to FINALLY allow some concessions in the form compensation for the players.  The most awesome piece of news I heard recently is how students at Northwestern University have taken the first step to unionizing the players to collectively bargain with the NCAA & University.  At the moment, they're not out to "get paid" but rather protect themselves from the incredible demands that are placed upon them to just to keep themselves eligible for their scholarships.  Everyone is against these players from coaches to deans to fans.  The sport and money is more important to them than the welfare of the plays.  What a shame.

Watch the documentary online and let me know what you think about this. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

CNN - Conjecture, Not News

From CNN.com -

"Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a Boeing 777 on the way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, simply vanished from the sky on March 8. In the two weeks since, the mystery of what happened to its 227 passengers and 12 crew members has set off a frenzy of speculation and conspiracy theory hatching..."


I am by no means am a resource when it comes to mass media criticism.  I don't have cable nor even terrestrial TV in my home. I stream everything and read different blogs and websites to get my news.  As a kid, I used to think having 24-hour news channels was such a cool thing.  If you want to watch the news and know what's going on, just turn it on the TV and get what you need to know within 30 minutes.  I couldn't get that with my major 3 networks. I had to wait until 5, 6 or 10 PM CT to get my news

As our society has become more and more demanding of immediacy, news channels have had to turn to different tactics to keep viewership levels up and keep people interested in coming back.  One of those is to make the mundane seem exciting regardless of the consequences.  That's exactly what CNN has done with this plane that has gone missing on the other side of the world.

CNN has done non-stop coverage of the event.  If I were in the news reporting business, this is an incredibly sexy news story; by sexy, I mean perfect - tragedy, death, destruction, human emotion, technological failure, mayhem - everything a sycophant news agency would want to report on.  I am not saying that I get off on stories like these; I am merely stating that news people do because its what the entire American news reporting infrastructure is based on.  I'm not knocking CNN for taking the story because if I were them, I would cover it.  However, I am knocking them for reporting on it for 14 days straight...

...because beyond effectively Day 2, there's nothing new to report.


Here's what we haven't known since Day 2:
  • Where the plane is.
  • Why the plan disappeared.
  • Whether or not the plane crashed.
  • If if did crash, where the flight recorders are.
  • If it didn't crash, where the plane landed.
  • Who was involve din the disappearance.
  • Whether or not government agencies involved in the search and rescue operations are sharing everything they know.  
  • Whether or not the information being gathered is accurate.
If you look at that short list of things we don't know, you would think, "Wow. There's a lot we don't know.  Let's wait to see if they find something and then report it."  Nope. Not CNN.  They've been doing the following ad naseum, 24X7:
  • Covering this story while disregarding more recent, fact-filled news such as the crisis in Crimea, earthquakes hitting California, North Korean missile launches, etc.
  • Bringing on "experts" in related fields to give their opinions on what could've, should've, would've happened given an arbitrary list of scenarios.  They basically sit on a panel to guess and speculate what could have happened.
  • Until recently, they were labeling everything as "breaking news".  I think they've started seeing enough negative reaction that today they dropped that moniker.  They still report on the place like they doing previously but now they're no longer calling it "breaking news" (it's kinda hard to call it breaking news after let's say Day 3 or 4 when they have nothing new to report).
  • Acting as if any and every piece of news is important enough to spend hours rehashing the same information .  Recently they found unidentified objects floating in the water from satellite imagery that are large enough to maybe be parts of the plane.  What they don't stress very often is the fact that the imagery is at least 2-4 days old which means the information is no longer accurate.  It's automatically asking for conjecture to be made to be acted upon.  However, CNN reports on it as if they are close to cracking the case wide open.
  • Asking a lot of rhetorical questions such as "How is it possible something so big can just....disappear?!" or "With all of the technology we have where we can send men to the moon and guide drones remotely, why is the technology on the plane so antiquated?" 
Why is CNN, which I thought was supposed to be a news network, spending an extraordinary amount of time on this?  It's not that the story doesn't deserve any time but based on my won non-scientific, anecdotal watching of the channel, they spend roughly 30-45 seconds out of every hour on a different news story but then immediately jump back to some bullsh*t plane-related story where the would've/should've/could'ves return.   What is the endgame here with CNN doing this?

I realize that all of the 24X7 American news channels are doing the same but CNN seems to be the worst.  By being so flagrant with their shoddy reporting, they've diminished any real credibility as a news organization.  They're basically the TMZ of news porn.  I don't go to TMZ to get news that matters about celebrities.  I go there to be entertained and that is exactly what CNN is doing.  Why?!!

I feel trapped now.  What am I supposed to watch and where am I supposed to get my news?  Should I just stop watching American news all together?  Are the alternatives much better?  If you've got some help in that arena, please comment below and let me know.

Monday, December 9, 2013

How To Be Remembered On and Off Stage

I was sitting at Second City today and couldn't help but to eavesdrop on this group of young guys talking about their upcoming show today (It wasn't too hard to catch the conversation - they were speaking pretty fawkin' loudly).  One was pretty miffed about the way he got cast in the show (number of lines, type of roles he got, stage time, etc.) and wouldn't let it go.  His friend was doing his best to console him but in my opinion almost making the situation worse.  I spent 10 minutes fighting myself on making a comment on their conversation because I didn't want to come off as a know-it-all or as unsympathetic.  Finally, I mustered up the courage to put his situation in perspective.

I walked over to them and said softly, "Guys..."

Their faces froze like they just got in trouble.  Great.  Now I REALLY feel like a old man.

I said, "I couldn't help but overhear your situation and wondered if you would like to get some perspective from an 'old man' in this game."  Surprisingly, the perked up and invited me to have a seat.  I grabbed a seat and immediately went into a lecturing posture.  Cot damn I feel old.

"Dude, I've been in this game for close to 11 years and I have been put into your situation countless times," I assured him. "I know how you feel because I have felt that way many times before.  You're an actor.  You've been put in bit parts before. "  I stopped and looked at him closely.  "How old are you?"

"22," he responded.

I had to catch myself from scoffing at him when he responded.  22?!  C'mon.  It only reaffirmed what I was about to say to him.

"Alright, 22.  You're young, " I said.  "This won't be the last show you're ever going to do, right?  You're gonna keep doing shows and being involved with other people and at some point, you're going to forget that this ever happened.  You won't give two shits about it.  You'll look back when you're on the main stage in three years thinking 'Why was I trippin' over that?  Fuck those guys."  They both laughed out loud.  That was comforting. I wasn't sure if I was being condescending in my approach or not.   I felt like Edward James Olmos - "I'm getting through to deez keedz!"

"The thing to remember, " I continued, "is that people are not going to remember much of anything from this show.  They're not going to remember the dialog.  they are necessarily going to remember each member of the cast.  The thing they are going to remember is how supportive you were in delivering those parts in the best way possible.  Your friend here is right.  You could not have much of anything as far as lines are but you can get the biggest laugh in a scene by delivering that one line in such a way that the audience feels it.  You can rock an entire scene by just committing your heart and soul to that bit part.  People won't remember the tons of dialogue by those other cats, but instead they'll say 'Hey - remember that one guy who came out did that one funny line or thing?  I hope he does that again' and they'll continue to look for you as the show goes on.

Let me tell you a story from my own experience.  I was in a Level 3 show where we did a set of improv.  At the very end of the show, we did a set of musical improv - singprov.  So, I'm in this scene with this guy and the suggestion was 'gingerbread' man.  So, I come out looking like gingerbread man.  I started singing and then my castmate decided to rip my arm off.  I then continue singing as he rips off my other arm.  He then proceeds to rip off my head.  As he did that, I started falling to the floor and right as that happened, the lights went out.  The crowd loved it.  After the show, I never got so many compliments - about how well I fell to the floor at that moment.  Nevermind the 20 minutes of good improv I just did.  My entire acting ability was encapsulated in that 1 second fall I took.  My point is, you can't decide what an audience is going to remember or think about you.  You have to rock every moment you're on stage and hope that some of it sticks when they leave. 

You don't want to be that guy that is always asking for lines and parts.  Don't get me wrong.  You do have the right to question the casting but take it up with your director.  If after your director has made a decision you still get cast in the manner you were before, accept it.  Rock the parts you were given.  The thing people will remember always is how professional you were in accepting your role for a given production.   Take it with grace.  Support your team even if they necessarily reciprocate it at the same level you feel is warranted, because you after that production is done, you'll move onto bigger and better things. 

Now you can decide whether or not to be like me about the situation.  I sometimes tend to be vindictive about these situations and rock those parts to get back at those guys 'Fine. Don't cast me in the parts I feel I deserve?  Well, I'll show you all!'  Or, you can be much more mature about it and take it with grace and realize that this will pass.  I recommend the latter.  You'll be fine.  You look like you know what you want to do.  I know you'll rawk this shit.  Ignore them fools and do the best you can with what you got.  Just know, you're not the only one this type of stuff happens to."

After that diatribe, he let out a big sigh and asked me my name.  I gave it to him and while extending his hand for a handshake said, "Thanks Nelson. I really needed to hear that, man.  I feel a lot better knowing that and gave me a lot to think about."  I shook his hand and felt so good about helping him.

His group finally gathered to go into a classroom so I just iterated some of the key phrases above for him to take with him.  He had a huge smile on his face as he headed off downstairs to the dungeon of institutionalized learning.

Now, this type of sharing I can do all day.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Searching For Fullfilness Within

I had dinner tonight with a friend of mine who I admire and respect.  He's on my shortlist of people I wish I could perform as well as when on stage.  For everything going so well for the both of us, we both have our own respective follies and insecurities to contend with.  I feel we're sort of kindred spirits in that vein.

The thing that I realized I look for is outside validation instead of going within to get it.  It stems from issues I have with never really getting what I wanted from my father.  I wanted to always be loved and accepted as I was by him, but never felt I really got that from him.  so, a lot of my initial motivations are to get to the point people will love me and accept me.  For example, I went through a long week of "creative withdrawl" after my run with Specter of Treason finished.  I took two days off from myself to recover and then on the third day, I felt the familiar twinge of being creative beckon.  Then by the following weekend, I was fighting myself from trying to get into another production.  The motivation behind getting into another production was not because I felt creative unsatisfied but rather because I knew I was doing it to get people's attention and adoration.  So, I basically called myself out a number of times on social media to sort of shame myself into doing the opposite (not the best way to do so but it worked).

My friend is gong through the same thing in his life as well but his need for love and acceptance differ from mine in motivation and result.  The similarities in our situations was so strong that I gave him my "worldly" answer for dealing with his problems:
  • Find Your Passion(s)
    As I've gotten older, I've really started analyzing what it is I want to do with my life and what I wish to spend my limited energy on.  I realized that only those things that I am passionate about are worth pursuing head on.  How do you know you're passionate about something? You're willing to kill, maim, and destroy anything in your path to obtain your goal ;-)  That's how much the desire must burn to achieve the  desired outcome.  Do this first and as soon as possible.  It will frame the next  item.
  • Pursue Your Passion Incrementally
    A great day consists of a series of great moments.  Don't get caught up in planning the path of the outcome necessarily ("the how") but rater focus on the goal ("the what").  Break your pursuit of a given goal into smaller goals and focus on each on o f those goals from the onset.  Don't worry about how you're going to achieve each goal but rather the journey to get there.  This is incredibly hard to do even for me.  I get caught up in the drama of the pursuit of happiness a lot.  I'm working on going back to not planning a darn thing and allowing things to "just happen" again.  I was a lot happier and cherished each moment much more.
After our chat tonight, I know we both feel a tiny bit better about our futures.  Gotta keep working on these concepts and reinforcing them until they're second nature.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Believing What You're Told - Now & Then

As part of the cast of the Specter of Treason - An Oswald Trial performance, I've been asked to talk about the show on Vocolo.org 89.5 FM this Friday.  To add to the honor of just speaking about this show, I inevitably will get asked about the John F. Kennedy (JFK) assassination itself and how it relates to this show.  So, I've begun doing research on the JFK assassination and along the way came to an interesting observation.

The JFK assassination, which happened 50 years ago, has been controversial since that horrible day November 22nd, 1963.  I was born in 1976 and didn't get interested in studying the JFK assassination until 1991.  Until '91, I believed it was Lee Harvey Oswald (LHO) who acted alone in committing this crime as that's what all of my textbooks at the time read.  After seeing Oliver Stone's film JFK, I began to question the validity of what I had been taught.  I ended reading a ton of books at the time that explored different aspects of the crime - the botched autopsy, mafia connections, Cuban reprisal from the Bay of Pigs debacle, CIA's interest in Vietnam and Cuba, the FBIs involvement in in ballistic testing of the Warren Commission's "magic bullet theory", etc.  It was fascinating web of theories that stimulated my mind into trying to figure out all by myself as a high school sophomore :)  I was much more apprehensive to believe to government whenever they told me anything as the "truth".

Fast forward to 2001. 9/11 happened.  After seeing those two buildings falls, I truly believe what I was told from that day - two planes full of jet fuel were hijacked by terrorists and slammed into the tallest WTC buildings which in turned caused them to collapse.  Everything that contradicts this explanation in my opinion only strengthen what I believe I saw happen that terrible day.  Here's an example of one of the mos popular "truther" documentaries on 9/11:

I am not naive enough to believe everything the Government tells me but at the same time, when it comes to proving something contradictory, there has to be some more proof of the alternate theory presented .  For some reason, for the JFK assassination does that for me.  There's enough evidence there for me to say "What I was told was not the truth."  However, for 9/11, there isn't.  Why?  Could it be because I experienced 9/11 myself and have not had the distance away from what happened to consider evidence outside my recollections?  Am I just holding onto what I was told because it's more convenient for me to believe such a simple explanation vs. more sinister complicated plots?  Am I too tied to my experience vs. the facts?  I don't know.

As I learn more about the JFK assassination, I will continue reviewing my own attachment to my own biases.