Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Behind the meltdown

Total collapse. Complete loss of confidence. Little faith in even the idea of a bailout.

No, for a minute, we're not talking about the economy and the mess in Washington and Wall Street, but that other horrific collapse: the Seattle Mariners baseball team.

Upon revival of the M&M morning news meeting last week, regular commenter Jason assigned a story in a comment thread: "I'd like a column on how to save the Mariners and where they rank against some of the other pathetic MLB franchises."

Excellent idea, and I've been watching the local papers with an eye out for just such an analysis. No luck.

First, if you haven't followed Seattle's dismal baseball season, the Mariners set a new record for futility: Their 101 losses weren't the most ever -- the not-yet-lovable Mets of 1962 still hold that honor, with 120 -- but the M's were the first team to lose in the triple digits while also paying their players at least $100 million. Do that for 7,000 straight years and you could pay for the Wall Street bailout, but I digress.

Anyway, last week the Seattle Times seemed to promise the kind of takeout Jason suggested with a five-part series, "Rebuilding the Mariners." But what a disappointment. (The P-I, which seems to have given up on baseball coverage, didn't even attempt a meaningful season wrap-up. And U.S.S. Mariner, a blog with the best local baseball coverage, hasn't taken a comprehensive stab either.)

In the Times, instead of doing what the series title implies, breaking down the team's strengths and weaknesses and mapping some sort of route out of the woods, writer Geoff Baker burns through many expensive pages of newsprint to make some obvious points: Big contracts will make it tough to reshape the team; the Mariners don't have enough good hitters; they do have a couple of promising pitchers; the ownership group hasn't been brilliant, but it isn't going anywhere; the field manager, promoted at midseason, brought a little old-school discipline but no more success than the guy he replaced.

OK, fine. Anyone who has spent more than three innings at Safeco Field or tuned into FSN this year knows all that already. So now what? Baker doesn't get much beyond noting that that will be a big challenge for the next general manager, to be hired soon.

Baker also ruined much of his credibility as a reporter, at least in my eyes, by writing last week that the Mariners' franchise player, Ichiro Suzuki, is so disliked in the clubhouse that team meetings were convened and at least one player had to be held back from fighting him. Trouble is, Baker attributes all this to one unnamed "clubhouse insider." When the story was predictably denied Baker offered the lamest defense: "You'll just have to trust me on the anonymous source."

Trust me: Anonymous sourcing is weak, in sports no less than in politics, and hanging a story -- especially one this explosive -- on just one unnamed "insider" is unacceptable. Go back and watch "All the President's Men":

Ben Bradlee: Bernstein, are you sure on this story?
Carl Bernstein: Absolutely.
Ben Bradlee: Woodward?
Carl Bernstein: I'm sure.
Ben Bradlee: I'm not. It still seems thin.
Howard Simons: Get another source.
But back to baseball. Anybody who has seen my fantasy-team moves up close, and that includes at least three of our regular readers, knows that I'm no more qualified for drafting a Mariners blueprint than Bill Bavasi, the moronic general manager they just fired.

But I'm no less qualified either. So here's my prescription.

When faced with a massively bad team like this one, there are three basic options: Blow the team up and start over, which usually means a long, slow painful "youth movement"; try to win right away, usually by hiring a couple of genius free agents to fill holes and turn things around; try for some modified, middle-course rebuilding program.

Baseball's full of success stories employing all three strategies. I'd go here for Option 3, mostly because the M's have too many overpriced and under-contract players to pull off a full-blown, Florida Marlins-style nuke job.

My basic principles would be that, with a few exceptions, no player is off limits if a decent trade becomes possible; no jobs are guaranteed; and the rebuilding plan should emphasize pitching and defense first. I'd look to dump salary where I could, and not mislead fans with happy talk about being "competitive" this coming season.

Given that, the untouchable players on my Mariners would be promising young pitchers Felix Hernandez, Brandon Morrow and Ryan Rowland-Smith, along with Ichiro. Whatever Geoff Baker says about him, Ichiro is one of the few Mariners who can put fans in the seats, and at 200 hits and 100 runs scored a year for eight years (the only other player to do that was Lou Gehrig) he's no slouch on the field.

Elsewise, around the horn, I'd try to make the best of a bad situation at catcher, where the Japanese ownership insisted on a three-year, $24-million contract for the inept Kenji Johjima, by making Johjima the backup to up-and-comer Rob Johnson. Move another catcher, Jeff Clement, to first base, giving up on midseason call-up Bryan LaHair (who was an improvement over the hated Richie Sexson). Keep Jose Lopez at second and Yunieski Betancourt at shortstop, with the option of moving either of them if needed, and hang on to Adrian Beltre at third base. Expensive he may be, and somewhat disappointing at the plate, but he's a rock defensively, never misses a game and remains one of the few power threats in the lineup.

In the outfield, look to trade left fielder Raul Ibanez, even though he's the team's most productive hitter. He's got value on the trade market, which is rare on this team, and he'll be too old to be useful by the time the team is good enough to win. Move Ichiro to center, whether he likes it or not. Give Wlademir Balentien a chance to win the right field job, with Jeremy Reed, Mike Morse or open tryouts all available as backup options.

Build the rotation around Felix, Morrow and Rowland-Smith, with the other spots an open competition among Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva, the disappointing acquisitions from last winter, along with Ryan Feierabend, Jarrod Washburn, R.A. Dickey and whoever else shows up next spring with a pair of cleats and a jar of Ben-Gay. The bullpen can sort itself out from the dregs and the hungry prospects in camp.

Will the team win? No. It's pretty much the same gang of losers who have been out there all season, with the subtraction of a couple of lameos already discarded and, one would hope, the motivation that no job is safe.

As for the second part of Jason's assignment, comparing the Mariners' prospects to those of baseball's other bad teams, I presume he means his hometown nine, the Washington Nationals. I don't know much about the Nats, except that Michelle and I saw them play this year at their new stadium, along with Jason and his girlfriend. Not a great-looking team.

I do know that even in their ineptitude the Mariners are inept: Incredibly, they won the last three games of the year to finish a game and a half better than the Nationals and thus not quite the worst team in the majors. Meaning Washington and not Seattle will be rewarded with first pick in the upcoming amateur draft.

So, with the second pick, some patience and maybe a giant rescue plan from Congress, I suppose it's possible the Seattle sports pages will be worth reading again in a couple of years.

In the meantime, a final suggestion for the Mariners: Keep the hot dogs. They're pretty good.

Here's what I'm talking about

Harry Shearer, on Huffington Post: "As an American typically ignorant of the arcane ways of the financial wizards, what was missing for me in the scare talk last week was somebody who could put the danger in concrete terms."

Good piece, with a nice title: The Failure of 'Because I Say So.'

Monday, September 29, 2008

That's a lot of zeroes

As we speak the House just rejected the big bailout plan and congressional leaders are trying to line up a second vote. I'm no economist but I'm sure not convinced that this plan is a good idea, and I still haven't seen anyone attempt the story I suggested last week, explaining in simple terms what would happen if we taxpayers don't give these well-dressed thieves $700 billion or more of our money.

There were a couple of smart op-ed columns in the New York Times last week at least raising questions about all of this.

Thomas Friedman made the good point that one of things weakening the U.S. economy is that it's built on fluff, not stuff:

We need to get back to making stuff, based on real engineering not just financial engineering. We need to get back to a world where people are able to realize the American Dream — a house with a yard — because they have built something with their hands, not because they got a “liar loan” from an underregulated bank with no money down and nothing to pay for two years. The American Dream is an aspiration, not an entitlement.

And Maureen Dowd had a smart observation: "Who would have dreamed that when socialism finally came to the U.S.A. it would be brought not by Bolsheviks in blue jeans but Wall Street bankers in Gucci loafers?"

What I do know is that $700 billion is a lot of money. That's $700,000,000,000. A 7 with 11 zeroes. Yike. Here in Seattle, where officials and voters have been wringing their hands for years about how to replace the crumbling highway on the downtown waterfront, you could buy 300 new viadcuts for $700 billion.

As Jon Stewart famously put it last week (mocking a real TV news report, actually), that figure amounts to 2,000 McDonald's apple pies for every man, woman and child in the United States. Michelle and I don't eat at Mickey D's, but putting it in terms that matter to the M&M economy, our "apple pie" share of the bailout equals 10 buy-ins to our regular poker game, 10 bottles of Bombay Sapphire (the good shit, in the big bottle), 50 pounds of Starbucks French Roast and one iPhone for good measure. Each.

So, like, a couple of weeks of fun.

I know the world financial markets may hang in the balance, but I'm not sure it's a good trade.

In case you missed it, here's Stewart's riff from last week:

Update: Oh my god, I watched this and found myself agreeing with George Will. "We're getting dangerously close to the truth," he said in this panel discussion, "which is that the sainted American people are the problem here."

Will mentions the 105 billion credit cards held by Americans, the self-reported credit card debt of $12,000 per household, and the fact that total household debt is 139 percent of household income.

"The refusal to defer gratification is a fundamental attribute of childishness," he said.

This show, "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," was pretty good show all around. More clips here. I wonder whether now that Russert's gone Stephanopoulos will take over as the must-see Sunday morning news show.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday news meeting, comedy edition

For the second week in a row, the opening of "Saturday Night Live" last night was an all-time keeper featuring Tina Fey's dead-on impression of Sarah Palin. This one, recreating Palin's interview last week with Katie Couric, is funny not just for the impersonation and the jokes, but also because, if you saw the Couric interview, it's only barely an exaggeration.

Pretty good trick when you can make the news funny without even changing anything. Check them both out here.

We also watched Chris Rock's new HBO special last night, "Kill the Messenger." Rock's in-your-face, politically incorrect and often X-rated humor might not be for everybody, but he totally cracks me up. In this concert film, culled from appearances in New York, London and Johannesburg, Rock hits a lot of his favorite topics -- racism, relationships, politics, music -- always with sharp points that everyone else somehow seems to have missed.

Barack Obama, he said, "is so calm and cool sometimes I think he doesn't even realize he's the black candidate. Like he thinks he's gonna win this thing fair and square! Like he thinks having the most votes is gonna mean something!"

And: "Is America ready for a black president? We should be. We just had a retarded one."

Rock snuck in a bit of his concert material last week on David Letterman's show, when he followed an appearance by Bill Clinton and hilariously made the point that many others have noticed: Clinton's support for Obama seems pretty soft.

Check that out here.

All in all, a good week for political comedy. The late-night shows had a field day, with highlights captured here on Huffington Post.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A cool hand

Presidential debates come and go, but there will be only one Paul Newman. I find his death to be far bigger news today than the snoozefest that was last night's McCain-Obama matchup or (espeically) any of the post-debate analysis.

There are a lot of good Newman remembrances out there already. I especially like Manohla Dargis' slide show at the New York Times, and I'll point you also to my friend Jason Bellamy's nice look back at The Cooler.

As long as the spirit of debate is still in the air: What is your favorite Newman film, or what do you consider his best role? I hope you'll answer in the comments, M&M'ers. Here's Newman's IMDb page for reference.

Jason's already on record at his site with "Hud," from 1963. A good one, for sure. I noticed an online poll at the L.A. Times that, when I last saw the results, had "Too many good choices to pick one" with a sizable lead over "Cool Hand Luke" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." (The above picture is from a scene in "The Sting.")

I like all of those, but I think Michelle and I will probably kick off our Newman retrospective film festival tonight with "Cool Hand Luke," which we happen to own on DVD. "Butch Cassidy" is also queued up on the Tivo so that will get a viewing soon too. And I'm always ready to pair up "The Hustler" and "The Color of Money." But what I'm really looking forward to is going back to see three of his middle-to-late period movies again that are among my favorites. I really appreciate Newman from about the late 1970s on, because his looks have faded from godlike to merely extraordinarily handsome, and so he's forced to rely a bit more on his great charm and intelligence and other skills. I can relate.

And so, in this period I recommend "The Verdict" (1982), his incredible portrayal of a washed-up lawyer hoping to salvage some self-respect; "Absence of Malice" (1981), one of the better newspaper movies and maybe the only one that can make me root against the reporter (Sally Field); and "Nobody's Fool" (1994), which might be Newman's most subtle, affecting performance as an actor.

As for a verdict in the presidential debate, most of the commentary last night and this morning ran along predictable lines, with conservatives praising McCain's toughness and confidence on foreign policy, and liberals touting Obama's cool presidentialness and relaxed intelligence. Fine, but to declare a "winner" in a tit-for-tat talking points exchange seems silly to me.

Going by Judd Legum's guide to scoring the debate, which I linked to yesterday, it's hard to claim the meter moved toward either candidate. Call this one a draw and get back to me, candidates, when you've got an idea about fixing the economy.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

Every day I try to write a page or two after work on my new screenplay project, which I guess isn't all that new anymore. I can't remember exactly when I started it (it's probably noted somewhere here on the blog) but I'm up to 35 pages, and into the first section of the second act.

Right now I'm doing what professional writers call "procrastinating." Still others call it "blogging."

Three weeks ago and counting I sent my last script off to an agent, who promised to take a look at it in "2 weeks."

You know, agents, right? Of course two weeks doesn't mean two weeks. But I can't help myself. At the end of every day I say sadly to myself, my agent didn't call me again today. Sigh.

(I'm hoping that if I keep calling him "my agent" the power of my words will magically sway him across the thousands of miles to actually agree to be my agent and sell my screenplay to somebody.)

Every once in a while I go back and check the cheery email in which he promised to get to my script, like I said, in "2 weeks" just to be sure I'm not mistaking the date. September 3. That's right. At least a whole week more than two weeks.

As a friend at work would say, Chillax! I mean, he'll probably say no, right, so what's the point of getting all worked up?

As you can see, I just can't help myself. Look there. Now it's been three weeks, two days and 11 hours since he said he'd take a look.

Another week gone, and still no call from my agent.


Brain cancer in the news

Kathi Goertzen, from komonews.com

On the off chance that your giant headache today isn't caused by the economic meltdown or presidential politics -- more about both in a minute -- I want to pause briefly to consider brain cancer in the news.

I always flinch when I see stories on this topic. Too much of it is the maudlin, over-the-top "Gloria"-style coverage I can't stand. But even when it's straight-ahead, brain cancer news feels like it's hitting too close for comfort. A couple of months ago, when conservative pundit Robert Novak announced that he had a brain tumor -- and said it explained why he ran over a pedestrian the week before -- a friend wrote to me, full of outrage on my behalf: Doesn't it piss you off that this idiot gets all this coverage and you get nothing, my friend said.

Well, no, not really, but I do get tired of seeing brain cancer everywhere. Is it just me, or is this disease more in the news than it used to be? And often with a kicker that makes me feel bad, one way or the other.

First there was the University of Washington football player who was diagnosed about the same time I was. That killed his football career, but by the following spring, hey, he had recovered and made the UW baseball team! The M&M Pie in the Sky tour hit the East Coast about the same time Sen. Ted Kennedy was found to have a brain tumor, and that news was inescapable for a few days, along with opinions of his "grim prognosis." At Barnes & Noble one day I noticed that Bobby Murcer, the longtime Yankee player and broadcaster, had written a book and I couldn't help rolling my eyes as I read about his brain cancer being a blessing in disguise, or the best thing that could have happened, or some such nonsense. He died in July.

Anyway, this week, the popular Seattle news anchor Kathi Goertzen, pictured above, underwent her fourth (!) brain surgery in the past decade, partially resecting, again, a tumor that keeps growing back. This P-I report says the surgery lasted eight hours. God. For some reason, though, this ongoing story hasn't make me wince like cancer coverage usually does. Maybe it's that I've met Goertzen several times and like her. It's true what they've been saying in the local reports about her warmth and dedication to her craft. She strikes me as a good and brave person, and I'm wishing her well. That's all.

In economic cancer news, I loved these two news-ish takes on the Wall Street meltdown.

First, with typical editing aplomb Jon Stewart compared President Bush's speech on the economy the other night with his strikingly similar warnings years ago about terrorist attacks.

Then, CNN's Campbell Brown dropped all pretense of objectivity in ripping Bush and Treasury Secretary Paulson a new one. Again, the juxtaposition of old and new clips is what makes the case.

Planning to watch the big debate tonight? Now that John McCain has backed back in everyone's back to preparing their debate preview pieces. I've scanned a few of them, and for my money the best guide is this piece by Judd Legum at Huffington Post.

Legum, whose old job was monitoring post-debate punditry for Hillary Clinton's campaign, said the main thing he learned was that pundits are full of it (duh). Turn off the post-game analysis, he advises, and figure it out for yourself. He offers a few useful rules for doing so, with examples from previous debates.

Finally, could any morning news meeting be complete without a little dig at one or the other of my former local employers?

Try this local-front taste test and tell me which lede makes you want to read the story.

Newspaper A:
BLAINE -- The second gubernatorial debate of the Gregoire-Rossi rematch proved to be another bare-knuckles slug fest, this time before a pro-business crowd that gave Republican challenger Dino Rossi a home field advantage.

But while several of Gov. Chris Gregoire's positions received icy receptions -- her support of Washington's estate tax, for example -- she touted her accomplishments with optimism and confidence.

Newspaper B:
BLAINE — Gov. Christine Gregoire and challenger Dino Rossi both pledged Thursday not to raises taxes to make up for the state's projected $3.2 billion budget shortfall.

But even on that point of apparent agreement, the rivals found plenty of room for dispute during a heated hourlong debate sponsored by a business group.

To my eye, the second story, by the Times, gets quicker to the point -- breaking some news with the tax pledge -- and tells what happened instead of characterizing it, as the P-I does with its it cliched "slug fest" take.

My lesson here: Write the news plain, people.

Even blessed with a brain tumor, I can see that much.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Return of the morning news meeting

Flipping through the M&M archives I noticed it was one year ago today that we posted our first morning news meeting, a little pre-workday back-and-forth between Michelle and me about the Seattle papers' front pages: on that day, coverage of the new "Halo" video game, a rant about the Seattle Times' ongoing disease-of-the-week barf-fest and a tandem head-scratch about the P-I's lame centerpiece feature.

Actually, we had dabbled with a morning news meeting precursor a couple of other times. But it was on this date last year that we gave the feature its name, and it was something I kept going pretty religiously for a long time. Eventually, I guess, it began to feel like an obligation and I gave up doing it regularly.

Lately I haven't been doing much blogging at all. I haven't felt well and I just haven't been into it. But in honor of the M&M MNM-iversary, and with all the news out there right now, I decided to cast my grumpy eye on the day's headlines.

Predictably, the local papers and big sites are all leading with some combination of the Wall Street bailout and the McCain debate pullout. As they should. But so far I haven't seen the story I'd like to see someone tackle: What, exactly, would happen if Congress doesn't approve this $700 billion, kingmaking, unreviewable checkbook for Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson? Yes, I heard President Bush say last night that "our entire economy is in danger" without the public money. But how? What does that mean? What are the steps of the implied collapse? I imagine trouble for the last standing investment banks and for big institutional investors. But then what? Do local banks go down, small businesses close, people lose their jobs? Why? How? When? I'm surprised I haven't seen anyone try to run these questions down yet. About the closest thing I've seen is today's New York Times op-ed column by my friend Tim Egan, who does it by implication, retelling some tales from the Great Depression.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, losing 40 percent of its value over a brutal autumn, barely 2 percent of Americans owned stocks. People asked, sensibly: how could this affect me? ... Banks were largely unregulated then, free to gamble people’s savings on stock market long-shots. When the market collapsed, the uninsured deposits went with it. By the end of 1932, one fourth of all banks were shuttered, and 9 million people lost their savings.
While we're assigning stories this morning, how about a piece honestly assessing blame for this mess? And by that I mean not just the piggishness of Wall Street and the blindness of the politicians and bureaucrats who are supposed to be watching it (that's been noted, and rightly so), but also the stupid, irresponsible and unquenchable desire of everyday Americans, millions and millions of them, to have everything they want, right now. Yes, part of that was their easily exploited wish to buy more house than they could afford, to believe that real estate prices would rise endlessly, virtually erasing the risk of both mortgage borrower and maker, or so they thought. But there is also the pull of "the porn," as we call the weekly Best Buy circular around here. There's that gleaming 50-inch 1080p plasma LG staring you in the face -- no payments until 2010! -- but do you really need another TV, on credit? How does the consumer spending binge figure into all this? When the president told us months ago that it was our patriotic duty to buy stuff to help the economy, was that really right?

I mean, I love the porn too. I'm typing this on my trusty MacBook Pro, and I'm sure I'll reread it later on my swank iPhone. But come on, people. If everyone forgoes a purchase or two, is that going to hurt the economy, or help it? I'd buy a newspaper that attempted to answer that question.

In local news, Michelle and I were at the Mariners' historic game last night. It was their 100th defeat of the season (we were also on hand for loss No. 1, on the season's second day), but what made it historic was the fact that the M's are the first team ever to lose at least 100 games while also spending at least $100 million on its players' salaries. That should have been on A1 today. Next year, with Richie Sexson gone and with the ability to fire another overpriced loser or two, it's possible the Mariners could dip below the $100 million payroll mark. I wouldn't bet on the team losing any fewer games though.

Finally, a couple of misanthropic notes in my pet-peevey tightass copy editor mode:

The Seattle Times has a front-page headline today, over a story about a new charitable foundation started by a retired baseball player, that says, "One teacher can impact so many kids." Argh! I know this is a quote and everything, but surely someone on the desk knows that impact is not properly a verb in this sense. Jeez. One dumb headline can impact so many kids. Well, not really, since kids don't read the paper. But still. Shape up, people.

The P-I's Robert Jamieson writes today about crime in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood, and I was with him until I got to this sentence: "Nearby street hustlers howled right along with sartorially attired patrons who'd just left Viceroy, an upscale bar." Um, sartorially attired? Doesn't that just mean they were attired in ... clothes?

Lesson for writers: Don't use ten-dollar words when a two-bit one will do, especially when you don't know what the spendier word means. You can't afford it, vocabularywise. Didn't you hear? Our entire economy is in danger.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ricky Gervais takes his Emmy back

Fishbowl LA calls this the only good moment from the Emmys. Pretty funny.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

overheard @ blogworld

"you define yourself by who you follow."

"and then she comes up with these incredible insights - now you know why you're here."
Context unknown

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Cool Screenwriter Blogs

This post is for Gina, who is struggling with trying to write screenplays in her spare time just like me. I'm on page 17 of my new project while waiting for an agent to get back to me on what he thought about the last one; Gina's starting out on brainstorming for her new screenplay while cutting together the final edits on her last movie -- which she wrote and directed -- Stella.

So for both of us, here's a list of cool new screenwriting blogs I just found tonight:

Going into the story:Big time screenwriting dude, teaches as UCLA Extension, where I used to take fiction writing classes. Great Program, great price. UW should consider starting up something this accessible. (price-wise) This guy recommends you read these 14 scripts in 14 days. (The scripts are online behind this link.)

The MovieQuill: I like this guy. He writes about the life of a screenwriter in screenwriting format.

Unknown Screenwriter: His latest funny post looks at whether his screenwriting habit is an addiction.

John August: Smart looking dude.

Jane Espensen: She used to write for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Cool.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Old School Photo

That's me on the right. That's my mommy holding me. In the middle are my Welsh grandparents. Mia familia, yo. Like, 40 years ago.

Send us your old school photos. We'll post 'em!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Cat Fights Printer

This is all over the internets this week. I thought it was pretty funny, but then I noticed there are many, many cat vs. printer videos on youtube. It's like, a genre. America is weird. Or maybe it's the world.

Watch with the sound ON.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Back to school

Not actually being in school myself, I love the beginning of the school year.

It still feels like summer but it's starting to feel like fall. It means the anticipation of the new, the chance to start again with a clean slate. The kids dress up in their new school clothes, put their new notebooks in new backpacks and, at least around here, pretend disdain for the school part of school while clearly enjoying the friends part of school. Excellent rituals all.

This year is especially exciting in our households because Franny and Gina are both starting at a new school, which means new kids, new teachers, a new routine. The Center School, located at the big Seattle Center public space just north of downtown, is a small, arts-oriented public high school, with ninth through 12th grades but only a couple hundred kids total. Gina wasn't thrilled with West Seattle High last year as a freshman and wanted to transfer this year to Center, where the film program caught her attention. Franny decided to follow along for her first year of high school.

I took them to an orientation a couple of weeks ago and got a good hit off the place. It's small enough that everyone knows everyone, which, the thinking goes, keeps expectations high and performance up and trouble down. Also, with fewer students there's not enough critical mass to support a lot of cliques. And the academic program seems good. Art is integrated into the core subjects like math, science and humanities, everyone learns Spanish, and the electives include filmmaking and other cool stuff that I think the girls will dig.

The teachers I met seemed smart and into it. The principal is positive in a way that borders on the bothersome chirpy, but she's engaged and accessible. All good.

When school started last week I begged the girls to take a first-day photo and send it to me, a tradition we've been keeping in this family since I was in kindergarten, maybe longer. Of course they didn't do it. But this week, with Greta in Los Angeles recording a new album, the girls are here at Casa M&M and I was able to capture the above second-week photo. (By Matassa family tradition, the pic should have been snapped in the morning, on the way to school, but that's too damn early for me, so this was a getting-home-from-school photo.)

Hard so far to get detailed reports on how things are going. I think it's going to be a little bit of a transition because they don't know anybody there except for Franny's best friend Lacaia, who also got in (there's a waiting list).

I'll say this: They're little geniuses at getting up, getting themselves out of here and taking the bus to school without waking up the grownups. On that basis alone, A+!

Here are a couple snaps from orientation day:

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Twitter Testing 1-2-3

If I were twittering, as Clive Thompson seems to be suggesting I should in his NYT piece today -- and as I realized after watching people twitter their way through Gustav, I probably should be, since in the event of big news this is probably the very best way to give people incremental updates -- here's what I'd be twittering today (how's this for a Faulknerian sentence?):

Starting a new screenplay today. "It was a dark and stormy nite..."

67 characters. Well within the 140 limit allowed on Twitter ...

Are you twittering? Tell me why or why not. I'm trying to decide if it's time to take the leap.

Wordle Rocks

Wonder what you're writing about, really? Now you can feed a chunk of words through this awesome tool Wordle, and it will spit out a tag cloud for you. Here's a Wordle of M&M's recent posts. Cool, no?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Heck of a guy

Latest in my semi-retirement victory lap of lunches with old friends and colleagues was yesterday in Olympia, where I was happy to dine with Denny Heck, the onetime boy wonder legislator whose impressive post-politics resume includes becoming business partner of Matassa's favorite journalist.

Incredibly, Denny and I go back nearly 20 years now, to my tenure as a capital bureau reporter for the Seattle Times. By the time I got to know him Denny already had come and gone in the Legislature, having been elected at age 24 as a representative from Southwest Washington and eventually becoming House majority leader. In my time at the Capitol, Denny was chief of staff to the popular Democratic governor, Booth Gardner, and I'd characterize our relationship as cordial but wary -- both ways. He was somewhat aloof, sometimes a source, sometimes an antagonist, always a protective advocate for and adviser to his boss the governor. We had our disagreements about my coverage, I remember that, but I always respected him as incredibly smart and politically astute and -- probably, under that partisan armor -- a good guy.

Somehow we stayed in touch after Gardner left office, I left Olympia for Seattle and Denny left politics to found and run TVW, which is this state's version of C-SPAN. Later, when I decided to leave the Seattle Times and, with my friend Emory Thomas, start my own Web-based news-aggregation business, PersonalReader, Denny signed on as an angel investor.

Without his backing we really couldn't have gotten PersonalReader too far off the ground. High among the many disappointments of operating an ultimately unsuccessful business, I regret I was never able to show Denny a return on his investment.

So, when we reconnected recently via Facebook and Denny asked about the vaguely referenced health crisis that sent me into semi-retirement, I was only too happy to meet him in Oly to fill him in.

That boring subject out of the way, we enjoyed a nice meal at a cool downtown restaurant (new since I lived there) called Rambling Jack's -- turkey sandwich for me, calzone for Denny -- and gossipped and kibitzed about politics and newspapers. He just got back from the Democratic convention in Denver, and he was rapturous.

We also talked about what we both do in our retirement. Uh, I think Denny puts his time to better use. He wrote and self-published a mystery novel, "The Enemy You Know" -- not autobiographical, he says, although coincidentally about a retired Olympia pol who discovers a body at an Eastern Washington lake where the real Denny also happens to own a cabin -- and he has just written and stars in a one-man play, "Our Times," about an older character named Denny Heck who looks back on 30 years of Washington's political past.

Well, write what you know, they say.

There is one more performance of "Our Times" scheduled, in October, and I'm hoping to see it. I've also asked Denny if there are any remaindered copies of "The Enemy You Know" lying around; it's out of print now otherwise.

When he talked about both writing projects, but especially the book, his enthusiasm was infectious. Almost enough to get a junkie gambler off his lazy ass and sit him down at a keyboard. We'll see about that. Denny also claims to be a killer cribbage player. Maybe we'll see about that too.