Friday, August 28, 2009

The Laddie Fancies Himself A Poet

Those famous words from Pink Floyd's "The Wall" once applied to me. In my younger days, I wrote many poems. There was a time when I even dreamed of becoming a famous poet. Hey, it seemed better than working for a living!

My poems usually rhymed, because I happen to like rhyming poems. During my adolescent years, the high school English teachers who read my work often suggested that I focus more on non-rhyming poems. I sensed a kind of snobbery that seemed to suggest that rhyming poems were of a lower order than non-rhyming ones, more suited for greeting cards and other such common frivolities. Hmph! Tell that to Poe, Byron, Wordsworth or even Shakespeare!

Well, I never did become a famous poet and the poems of my youth are now hidden away from the world in an obscure attic drawer ... or, at least, they were until now. At risk of seeming presumptuous, I've decided to use this blog as an exhibit for a few modest examples of what I consider to be among my better poetic works. I thank you, Dear Reader, in advance for your kind forbearance, and I invite your comments, as always.

We begin with a poem that was inspired by something that I once saw. There used to be a derelict CF-105 fighter aircraft rusting away in a field in my home town. I discovered it while riding my bicycle one summer and I immediately clambered all over it. While doing so, I noticed a dead baby bird lying on the ground beneath one of the wings. It seems that its mother had unwisely chosen to build her nest inside the wing, just in front of the aileron. The nest had probably fallen out of the wing and the baby met its fate when some curious passer-by had moved the aileron up and down, dislodging the nest in the process. The poignancy of the sight inspired this:

Brought Down

In a wide and lonely field
A fighter aircraft stands
A touch of glory past it yields
Made by human hands

Its wings no longer touch the sky
Its engines roar no more
The plane which once flew fast and high
Brought down by raging war

Beneath its wing a dead bird lies
In quiet, grassy lands
Eternal peace within its eyes
Made by Gods own hands

Its wings no longer touch the sky
Its body cold as stone
This creature that was born to fly
Brought down by death alone
I'm sure most people are familiar with "Footprints In The Sand", about a person walking along the beach with God. I decided that it would be even better if it were put to rhyme...

Footprints In The Sand

I had a dream the other night, like none I've had before;
I dreamed that I was walking on a beach beside our Lord.
My life flashed by across the sky as we walked hand in hand,
And as we walked I saw that we left footprints in the sand.

And as the story of my life flashed by in front of me,
I noticed something else becoming very plain to see;
We left two sets of footprints during times of joy and fun,
But during times of pain and sorrow, I saw only one.

This troubled me and so I said, "Lord, I don't understand
The mystery that lies behind those footprints in the sand.
You said that, if I followed You, You always would stay close,
So why did You desert me when I needed You the most?"

The Lord replied, "My precious child, I never left your side.
You see two sets of footprints when life left you satisfied,
But when your life was hardest you see one instead of two,
For in those times of suffering, t'was then I carried you."
Here's a short, whimsical verse reminiscent of Ogden Nash, if I may be so bold...


René Descartes: Philosopher. A wise and learned man
Said "I can prove that I exist. I think, therefore I am!"
I'd like to pose a question, though, that puts him on the spot:
A table doesn't think, so does that mean that it is not?

...and, finally, a bit of musing on the dangers of the cold war era, appropriately entitled...

The End

I saw the jets go flying
First one, then two, then three
And found myself admiring
Man's vast technology

I watched them go in wonder
Till I saw them no more
And then, like distant thunder
I heard a growing roar

I saw the mushroom rising
It belched forth scarlet flames
And found myself despising
Those horrid silver planes

Okay, so "New car, caviar, four star draydream" it's not. Still, I hope you enjoyed them.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Norwich Cattle Roundup

Earlier this week, I was listening to one of my favorite radio stations, CKDK-FM (a.k.a. "The Hawk") on my way to work. CKDK-FM is a classic rock/oldies station (yes, I realize I'm showing my age). Because their target audience is mainly baby boomers such as myself, they play heavily on nostalgia. "If your record collection is bigger than your CD collection, then you've found your radio station" boasts one of their promos.

The Hawk's morning show features a daily contest called "Stuck on Forty-fives". The announcer plays a short snippit of some classic hit song which repeats several times, like a scratched 45-rpm record might. Listeners call the station and try to identify the title of the song and the artist in exchange for fabulous prizes.

As I said, I was tuned in when the time for the daily contest came along one day last week. A listener called the station, correctly identified "Clap For The Wolfman" by The Guess Who, and won the fabulous prize ... two passes to the Norwich Cattle Roundup.

I cannot convey how relieved I was that I chose not to call the station and try my hand at their contest. Dear God! The Norwich Cattle Roundup? I try to picture myself returning home later that afternoon, had I called the station and proven successful, throwing open the door and proudly announcing to my wife and daughter, "Yeeee-HAAAAAA!!! Clear yer weekend schedules, ladies! We're a-goin' to the NORWICH CATTLE ROUNDUP!" I would now be either a born-again bachelor or the newest resident of the nearest sanitorium. Perhaps both.

Understand that I had never heard of the Norwich Cattle Roundup before that very moment, but it sure didn't sound like something that I would want to waste two of the very limited number of days in my life experiencing. I don't need to experience certain things in order to know that they're not my cup of tea; things like novocaine-free root canals, prison sex, getting pepper-sprayed and a weekend spent at the Norwich Cattle Roundup.

The prize might have been understandable were CKDK-FM a country music station, but it isn't! I'm guessing that a large percentage of their listening audience would be just as horrified as I to win such a prize. A better strategy might have been to threaten to send the caller a pair of tickets if they incorrectly guessed the record's title and artist, sparing them only if they got it right. Of course, then no-one would have called the station, so the announcer would have to be careful not to spring this on the caller until after he had them on the line and had taken their home address, telephone and social insurance number. In the words of Jack Nicholson as the Joker (yes, I know that was my last post, but I like to milk these things), "Better be sure!"

Now, I pride myself on not judging anything until I know something about it, so I've since looked up the Norwich Cattle Roundup on the internet (as can you by simply clicking the link that I've just thoughtfully provided). The web site proclaims it to be "THE WORLD'S GREATEST CATTLE ROUND-UP" Somehow, I find that less than reassuring. I wouldn't care to go and see "THE WORLD'S GREATEST TOENAIL FUNGUS SYMPOSIUM" either. Some things get acknowledged as the "World's Greatest" simply because the bar had been set pretty low to start with.

The web site describes the event as "The New Seventh Annual Norwich World Roundup". I don't quite follow. If it's the seventh one, then what's new about it? Was there a previous seventh annual Norwich World Roundup and, if there was, then wouldn't this be the eighth annual Norwich World Roundup? Perhaps not a single soul attended the first seventh annual Norwich World Roundup, so the organizers decided to pretend it never happened, which is why this year's became dubbed the "new" seventh annual Norwich World Roundup.

According to the web site, this annual event commemorates a catastrophic fire which broke out at the Vankerrebroeck Ranch back in August 2002. During the fire, 300 cattle escaped into the surrounding countryside. It took more than 15 cowboys over 40 days to lasso the cattle and return them to temporary penning after which someone apparently said "That was fun! Let's do it again next year!" The rest, I suppose is history.

Browsing around the rest of the website, it becomes clear that this event is really more of a rodeo. I humbly suggest that the organizers might improve attendance if they simply called it that. "Rodeo" evokes images of cattle rustling, bronco bucking, bull riding, clowns and other enjoyable cowboy pastimes. "Cattle Roundup" evokes images of watching a whole lot of cows being herded around a field.

I also suggest that the management of CKDK-FM needs to have a heart-to-heart talk with their marketing people.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Who's Your Favorite Joker?

I recently watched "The Dark Knight" for at least the fifth time. It's the character of the Joker that compels me to keep dropping that DVD into my player's tray over and over again.

My daughter watched with me and, as we watched, I made some comment comparing Heath Ledger's Joker to Jack Nicholson's. That was when Jessica pointed out that she had never seen Tim Burton's "Batman" and, therefore, had never seen Jack Nicholson's portrayal of the Joker either. This problem proved easy enough to rectify, as Tim Burton's take on the Caped Crusader also holds a place in our DVD collection. I only was surprised that Jessica had never seen fit to watch it. And so, Jessica and I watched Tim Burton's "Batman", starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson.

When the film was over, I asked Jessica which Joker she liked better; Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson. To my surprise, she preferred Jack Nicholson's Joker. After some consideration, I have to say that agree with her.

In my opinion, Jack Nicholson's Joker is, on the whole, more faithful to the comic book villain than is Heath Ledger's. To begin with, the look is definitely closer to that of the Joker portrayed in comic books. Beyond that, Nicholson's Joker is simply ... well ... funnier than Ledger's.

Heath Ledger's joker is, arguably, the scariest, most sinister take on the Joker to date. He not only kills people, he messes with their minds. He endangers the lives of two people (Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes) and then forces those who care about them to choose which one lives and which one dies. He turns his victims against each other, such as when he rigs two passenger-laden ferries with explosives and then gives each of the detonators to the people aboard the other ferry.

And he knows no fear. He walks into a meeting of underworld bosses from whom he's just stolen millions of dollars and calls them all impotent for letting the Batman erode their power and control. When they attempt to turn on him, he produces a live hand grenade and makes good his escape. He endures a brutal interrogation by the Batman and simply laughs while being beaten. He can't be controlled by the threat of physical pain. After mutilating Harvey Dent, he hands him a loaded gun, giving Dent the opportunity to kill him there and then. He is cold, remorseless and absolutely insane.

His motives are a mystery. He incinerates an Asian kingpin by burning the pile of cash atop which he sits, so he's clearly not interested in money. He compares himself to a dog chasing cars down the street; "I wouldn't know what to do if I ever caught one!" The story of how he got his facial scars changes with each telling. He appears to take pleasure from the misery of others for its own sake.

For all this, however, he's really not very funny. The Joker, as his name suggests, should be a clown; a prankster. Ledger's Joker uses few gags and doesn't crack many jokes. He doesn't even laugh all that much. The closest he comes to a gag is when he offers to show the underworld bosses a "magic trick" and then makes a pencil "disappear" by driving it into the forehead of one of the bodyguards.

None of this is intended as a criticism of Ledger's portrayal of the villain. Both Ledger and director Chris Nolan clearly intended to offer the audience a darker, grittier, more sinister Joker, and in this they succeeded marvelously. I only question whether this portrayal is in keeping with the original character concept.

Jack Nicholson's Joker is much truer to his moniker. He's bristling with gags, from his megawatt joy buzzer to his acid-spewing lapel flower to his handgun with the ridiculously long barrel to his classic telescopic boxing glove. He also boasts a much more amusing repertoire of whimsical one-liners than does Ledger.

"Never rub another man's rhubarb!"

"Can somebody tell me what kind of world we live in where a man dressed up as a bat gets all my press?"

"This town needs an enema!"

"Where does he get those wonderful toys?"

"I'm gonna need a minute or two alone, boys!" (right after shooting his most trusted henchman).

And Nicholson's Joker laughs. From his maniacal laughter after first seeing his own disfigured face in a mirror to his gleeful cackling as he takes his vengeance on Boss Grissom, electrocutes an uncooperative crime boss, terrorizes Vicky Vale and wreaks general havoc throughout Gotham City, there's nary a moment when Nicholson's Joker isn't yucking it up. Even after his fatal plummet at the end of the film, an electronic novelty gadget in his breast pocket manages to keep laughing for him.

Yet, for all of his maniacal humor, Nicholson's Joker still manages to come across as dangerous, insane and frightening. Most of his gadgets are lethal. Even his telescopic boxing glove hits with enough force to destroy a TV set. Scenes such as the one in which he sits in the midst of a collage of newspaper and magazine clippings lamenting "So much to do, so little time" reveal the depths of his insanity. And there are brief moments when he stops clowning around just long enough to let the audience catch a glimpse of his mean streak, such as the scene in which he briefly loses his smile, assumes a dead earnest expression and declares "Wait'll they get a load of me."

Yes, all things considered, I have to conclude that Jack Nicholson's Joker is much more faithful to the comic book vision without seeming campy or ridiculous and, on that basis, I prefer this portrayal of the character over Heath Ledger's.

How about you? Which Joker do you prefer? Nicholson or Ledger? Or perhaps you're an old-timer who likes Cesar Romero's Joker. I would argue that Romero's Joker, like Nicholson's, is truer to the comic book character than is Ledger's. Romero's Joker is, of course, a little campier than Nicholson's but that's because the "Batman" television series for which he was created was itself much sillier and campier than the more recent films. One might even argue that Romero's Joker was the most credible character in the show if only because, as the Joker, one expects him to be silly, unlike Batman and his sidekick.

Let's take a vote. Leave a comment stating which of the three Jokers is your favorite and, if you like, a short explanation as to why.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Two Minute Project Management Seminar

A particularly insightful manager of mine once explained that every project has three basic goals: The end result, whatever the project's purpose, should be of a high quality, it should be completed quickly and at minimum expense. More succinctly, it should be good, fast and cheap.

Pretty self-evident, yes? He then added something that's perhaps not quite as obvious. "Pick any two," he said, "but you won't get the third."

If you want it to be done fast and done right, it won't be cheap. If you want it to be done right without spending a lot of money, it will take some time. If you insist on having it done both cheaply and quickly, you can bet the end result won't be good. Sadly, it's been my experience that this third option is the one that many organizations often end up choosing.

What my discerning manager didn't add is that sacrificing any one of the three doesn't necessarily guarantee that you'll get the other two, although I'm sure he understood that too.