Monday, December 28, 2009

Boom! There She Was

One of the nicer surprises I received this Christmas was a copy of A Quiet Revolution: 30 Years Of Windham Hill. I'd been on a bit of a rediscovery kick with the old Windham Hill catalog lately, and this box has certainly helped fire up some old memories of listening to WNWV ("The Wave") off and on from 1987-1990. Outside of George Winston's ubiquitous December, I'd never owned much in the way of new age music, then again I was also twenty years younger than I am now and far more likely to seek temporary escape from life by cranking OU812, ...And Justice For All, or Delicate Sound Of Thunder rather than, say, In A Silent Way, Rubycon, or Thursday Afternoon. A lot of new age is pretty lame crystals-and-incense wallpaper, but the better examples of the form provide a nice, reflective break from the relentless fast-forward clatter of life (perhaps even moreso now than in the comparatively carefree 1980s).

Ironically, just as I received this box set in the mail (thanks again, nightscapemedia!), the news came down that The Wave would soon be no more. At noon today, WNWV flipped formats (though apparently not call letters) to the so-called "Adult Album Alternative" category and is now known as "Boom!" I'm not really enamoured with this new nick, but at least it's not some guy's name.

Charting the first six hours of their existence (you can listen online here), Boom! so far sounds exactly like a "greatest hits of AAA radio" with a generous helping of songs seemingly grabbed from my "Juke" mp3 folder. A playlist of these first few hours follows:

SARAH McLACHLAN - Possession
TRAIN - Hey Soul Sister
U2 - Magnificent
OWL CITY - Fireflies
STEELY DAN - Dirty Work
DAVID GRAY - Fugitive
LOREENA McKENNITT - The Mummer's Dance
BONNIE RAITT - Blender Blues
CHRIS ISAAK - Wicked Game
CHUCK PROPHET - Let Freedom Ring
TEARS FOR FEARS - Everybody Wants To Rule The World
DEPECHE MODE - People Are People
COCO MONTOYA - Seven Desires
STING - If You Love Somebody, Set Them Free
JOHN MAYER - Heartbreak Warfare
BARENAKED LADIES - The Old Apartment
DAVID GRAY - Sail Away
KINGS OF LEON - Use Somebody
PAULO NUTINI - Jenny Don't Be Nasty
NORAH JONES - Come Away With Me
BELL X1 - The Great Defector
THE FRAY - How To Save A Life
THE POLICE - Can't Stand Losing You
COLDPLAY - The Speed Of Sound
10,000 MANIACS - Because The Night (Live)
DAVE MATTHEWS BAND - Tripping Billies
JAMES BROWN - It's A Man's Man's World (Live)
DURAN DURAN - Ordinary World
TALKING HEADS - Life During Wartime
AMY WINEHOUSE - You Know I'm No Good
JOE COCKER - You Can Leave Your Hat On
SHERYL CROW - Out Of Our Heads
R.E.M. - Orange Crush
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Live)
JOHN MAYER - Gravity
OWL CITY - Fireflies
FIONA APPLE - Criminal
TRAIN - Hey Soul Sister
ADELE - Who Wants To Be Right As Rain?
SPOON - The Underdog
DAVID BOWIE - Panic In Detroit
DAVID GRAY -Fugitive
PETER GABRIEL - Sledgehammer
MUDCRUTCH - Scare Easy
WILCO - You Never Know
GREEN DAY - Wake Me Up When September Ends
NORAH JONES - Chasing Pirates
SHERYL CROW - Motivation
TIL TUESDAY - Voices Carry

So far, this list offers up a promising start and is reminiscent of the brief period in 1990 when The Wave flirted with a more rock-leaning sound before returning to the safe harbor of lite jazz. The only real criticism I have so far is that I'd like to hear a lot more currents and indie-leaning offerings; right now, too much of this list sounds like a gray-haried version of "The End." The real trick that WNWV will have to pull off to become interesting is to find and maintain a good mix while losing that unmistakeable tang of safe, major label dominated, Starbucks-friendly pop/rock that can all too easily make stations like these a predictable bore.

Since this is only the introduction and/or basically a statement of intent, we'll have to see how WNWV plays out as 2010 gets going and new format-friendly releases begin to arrive in stores. Even if this new format switch ultimately fails (or becomes as soul-killingly boring as the rest of terrestrial radio), Boom! has me actually listening to FM radio for the first time since the middle of 2001, so that has to be good for something, right?

Monday, December 21, 2009


By nature of its themes, characters and construct, Avatar feels like the culmination of James Cameron's career as a director. The exacting attention to detail, the fascination with (and disdain for) the military and corporate tactics and schools of thought, the struggles of man against foreign environments, the strong, warrior-like tendencies of the female leads; it's all on prominent display here in what is, without a doubt, the most technically impressive movie I have ever seen.

In the past, movies based in "virtual reality" used hypothetical cyberspace as a playing field for the characters, pitting good guys against bad guys in an online digital realm. Avatar takes this concept to a fascinating next step by having the characters actually inhabiting the minds and bodies of living beings specially bred for the task. Exactly how this is done is never divulged (which is probably a good thing), though the "puppet masters" are put into a kind of suspended animation while they are "piloting" their avatars. Similarly, the avatars appear to just drop off to sleep whenever their human "pilots" are awakened, which can at times make for some awkward/difficult situations.

There is an awful lot of story happening as Avatar gets going, so I'll relate the basic points: in the middle of the 22nd century, mankind has reached an impasse in their relations with the Na'vi, the indigenous humanoid species that populates an Eden-like moon called Pandora. The humans are increasingly tired of dealing with the hostile locals always being in the way of their mining operations (I take it that the mineral being called "Unobtanium," and the moon "Pandora" are what Cameron considers subtle touches). Meanwhile, the 10-foot tall natives aren't exactly thrilled with the colonial interests of humanity running roughshod over their homeland. In an attempt to defuse the situation via diplomacy, Dr. Grace Augustine (an ageless Sigourney Weaver) has hit upon the idea of interacting with the creatures via the use of these living avatars in an attempt to engender trust and understanding between the species.

However, the RDA Corporation (which runs the entire operation) is growing increasingly exasperated with endless negotiations and scientific nonsense and is pushing for a quick military solution to the problem. What blocks their plans is the lack of good intelligence on the Na'vi, and that is where the improbably-named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) comes into the picture. A paraplegic Marine recently faced with the pointless murder of his twin brother (who was a member of the avatar project team), Sully is offered a ticket to Pandora in the hopes that he can pilot his dead twin brother's avatar and act as a kind of sleeper agent for the military while going through the motions for Augustine and her team.

I'm not going to simply drool all over this movie: while the setup and the introduction to the avatars hold our attention thanks to the originality of the concept, once these impostors meet the real deal, the movie's plot begins to feel very familiar indeed. To be very blunt, it is here that Avatar becomes Dances With Wolves in space: originality is in short supply, the characters are basically cut-outs, everything is nicely black-and-white and environmental/political lessons abound. Even if you are sympathetic to all of Cameron's views, Avatar is a little too predictable to really get behind; there is little doubt of how things will work out in the end, or how little asides to the action will come back to "surprise" us later on.

Having said all of that, Avatar is the first film in years that has me seriously thinking about seeing it twice (or more) at the theater. If you have any interest in this film at all, I highly urge you to see it at the cinema, preferably in 3-D, and ideally in an IMAX-style presentation (though the nearest such venue is over 3 hours away from where I live, dang it all). It feels weird and fanboyish to tell you on one hand what a reheated platter of leftovers the plot is, yet then turn around to proclaim that I have never seen such an incredible spectacle as this ... but it's true.

Utilizing mutliple effects houses and a veritable army of animators, Cameron has basically taken on all of the CGI extravaganzas released over the last 15 years and bested them all. The blending of live and generated elements during the movie is completely seamless; even though you know you are looking at a place that does not exist, it's nearly impossible to tell exactly where "real" ends and "rendered" begins. Even when things aren't blowing up and characters aren't soulfully batting cliches back and forth at each other, it's hard not to feel a sense of real awe at the scale, richness and color of Pandora and its fauna, benign or otherwise.

While I can't imagine how any of this is going to translate when scaled down to a home presentation, Avatar is going to be one of those films that I will own simply to look at it. While I docked a star (and thought seriously about two) for playing it completely safe with the plot, it is the absolutely stunning achievement in visuals that is the main attraction for Avatar, a movie which definitely lives up its own hype (at least as far as "setting the bar for all future effects films" is concerned). If only they had diverted a couple million more to the script ...

Avatar rating- 4/5

Friday, December 18, 2009

We Let In Light And We Banish Shade

Yes, I still exist. It's been a busy month, with the biggest 2 weeks of the year kicking off later today. So, a quick and to-the-point update of what's been happening around here since you last listened to me whine, bitch and pontificate follows ...

* Sarah bought a Wii, which is kind of our early 2009 Christmas present to each other (though I threw in a DVD of Inglorious Basterds, her new favorite film of all time evar.

* Speaking of Christmas, it's gonna be a subtly blue-tinted Yule this year as Sarah will be in Missouri with her folks from December 23 to January 3. I think I'll pass the evenings finally catching up once and for all on Battlestar Galactica, getting lit on Jim Beam Black (note to self: need to refresh stash Monday afternoon), and maybe going to see Avatar or The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus while she's away.

* While we're on movies, The Road has yet to make it to a theater within 60 miles of here. Some kind of "not-so-limited" limited release. Grrr.

* Work is going okay, though sales are a bit off pace for the month so far. Our online sales, on the other hand, have gone through the freaking roof over the last three weeks and I'm reaching the limits of what I can cope with as a one-man operation.

* Speaking of work, Record Den now has a Facebook page. I did this mostly as an attempt to increase our visibility as I feel our total lack of advertising budget (no more label offices in the area to put up the dosh for a Scene or Plain Dealer ad, after all) needs to be offset with some kind of active "new media" presence. The fun part? In order to really do anything with the account, I'm going to have to stick my own antisocial countenance on there at some point. I am not exactly happy with this (my feelings on these sites were posted here this summer), but if doing this helps the store, then it will be worth the effort.

All right, off to finish up some more errands/running around. Incredibly, I have nearly all of my holiday shopping done with a week to go before Christmas. It's a nice feeling ... now I just have to wrap it all up. Wheeee!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Blue Cyber Monday

For about ten minutes, today was a really good day.

Things didn't start off very promising; I'd slept in past my intended target hour and was wondering as I checked e-mail if I was going to get any of the four things I needed to get accomplished that I'd listed out last night:

1. Mail dropoff at the Post Office
2. Fluid top-off/computer inquiry at Valvoline
3. Return/exchange at Borders
4. Cyber Monday orders (if applicable)

Cyber Monday was pretty good for the store this year, and by the time I'd generated the shipping labels for the stuff sold from the store account (and the couple that had sold from my own), it was already nearly 3:30 in the afternoon. Thus, I arrived at the Willowick Post Office at one of the worst times to visit any such place (the late afternoon), and true to form, I lost a half hour of my life waiting in a seven-person line that moved slower than a herd of turtles. Good lord, I hate these places. As I was mailing a couple of international packages for the store, I didn't have much of a choice in the matter and did my best to reach that inner state of Zen I seek whenever I find myself trapped in situations like these. I can't put into words how glad I am that I ponied up for that postal scale back in April and am able to do most of our shipping from work or home: it gets very easy to understand exactly how and why people "go postal" when you are the second person in line for fifteen of the thirty minutes you are in these horrible places.

Despite the clammy, frigid conditions and the barely detectable snow flurries that fell like tiny grains of sand from the slate gray sky, it felt positively wonderful to finally get the hell out of that post office and back on the road, even if it was Vine Street at 4 PM. I made Record Den my next stop, and spent an hour there packaging all of the Cyber Monday orders that had come in by then and ultimately managed to get them all of them ready for our typical 5 PM mail pickup. Two objectives down, two to go.

After spending an extra half hour attempting to wait out the worst of the evening rush hour, it was off to Borders to return a couple of bookends I'd purchased the night before. The traffic on Mentor Avenue was still pretty grating to deal with, but it was at my destination where the day suddenly took a surprising turn for the better.

A bit of background explanation: I am completely out of room for CDs in the office. All of the shelving units behind me are currently packed end to end with music, and there is no more room for any more shelving in here. While selling a few hundred pieces on Amazon had partially eased this problem for a while, but nearly all of my recent online listings had been coming from the boxes of CDs I have stashed in the closet (most of them banished here years before for the crime of only having one good song on them or whatever other reason I could come up with). As a temporary solution, I decided to take the box sets out of their alloted space and move them on top of these shelves for the time being, using bookends to keep them in place.

When we finally came across these bookends last night, I was a bit crestfallen to find out that that they were freaking expensive (at least the cool-looking ones, anyway). After some chin-stroking and frowning over the options, I selected a pair that were by some measure the cheapest models available. Problem was, they were also by some measure the smallest and lightest models available. Upon getting home, I quickly deduced that these little guys were not up to their intended task and opted to return them the next day and use the exchange credit towards a set of more expensive (and weighty) models.

After leaving my too-small set at the front counter with the same clerk who took care of the sale last night, I headed back to their "decor" section of the store to pick out the cheapest, heaviest set I could find. To my considerable surprise, the simple, elegant green marble "triangle" style that I had looked at the night before had magically been marked down thirty dollars over the last twenty four hours to $19.99 a pair. Fuckin' score! Elated, I grabbed two sets and wound up spending only ten bucks on top of my exchange credit.

A bit flush with success, I decided to stop over at Kohl's (as it was right down the plaza from where I was parked), hoping to find some slipper socks and lounge pants for my dad's Christmas gift. While hunting about for the above, I came across a winter hats sale (50% off, natch) and picked out a couple of new "beanie"-style caps for myself as well as a couple of convertible hat/mask thingies for my younger brothers.

From there, I had to make a bit of a mad dash clear across the county to fulfill my last objective: a monthly topping off of car fluids at Valvoline, hopefully along with a resetting of the Saturn's computer. A few days before, my SERVICE ENGINE SOON light had come on and had kindly provided some company for me to and from work over the holiday weekend. Touched by the gesture, I took the Saturn to Autozone on Sunday and had the problem diagnosed as the gas cap not sealing correctly. A problem very easily corrected! Hurray!! Since the Autozone tech could not reset the computer once I had replaced the cap, I took a chance that the Valvoline guys could do it and was pleased that they could and did. With all of my objectives completed, I grabbed some Chik Fil-A and headed home feeling a real sense of accomplishment and of things being in their right place. Hell, I even just beat the train signal on E 305 and didn't even get the red light at the South Marginal intersection. It was a truly wonderful ten minutes.

As I was coming home and maneuvering through the parking lot, I noticed the SERVICE ENGINE SOON light came on again. I was a bit surprised and irritated, but not really worried as the problem had been corrected. The tech at Valvoline had told me that if that light came on again, then I'd need to take the car to a shop to get it looked at, and it was that scenario that annoyed me more than anything else. After dinner, I drove the car to Autozone again just to be absolutely sure that the gas cap was (somehow) still the culprit here.

Great news! It wasn't!

Instead, I was presented with an all-new error message that read "GEAR 1 RATIO INCORRECT," which based on my research appears to be a kind of mechanical shorthand for "your transmission is having minor issues that are not going to go away and will likely become totally fucked at some point in the future."

So, yeah. Great. Wonderful. Coming right smack in the middle of my Christmas shopping (and just after a recent splurge purchase on my behalf on a couple of box sets), this may be my most impressively-timed bit of bad financial news since about August of 2006.

Bah. One of these years, I will enjoy an entire holiday season without once worrying at any point about future insolvency thanks to something inside of a car I own picking that particular point to cease working correctly. Believe me, when this happens, y'all will be the first to know.

NP: Devo Duty Now For The Future

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Google. Learn it, love it.

I am sometimes forced to wonder how many people online right at this moment even know that Google exists (much less how to use it).

It's staggering to me that I am still getting calls from people who are obviously looking for songs to download on their computer (the giveaway is when they ask you to spell out the name of the artist and/or the song).

Worse, these people not only want me to provide them with the information that they cannot find on their own with a simple two-second web search in another window (you can have more than one window open at a time. I checked.), but in many cases, they wind having me use Google to find their songs for them when even I don't know what tune they are talking about.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Thoughts On Synth Britannia

It isn't often that I come across a documentary that hits so close to home for me by zeroing in on a subject I was once truly passionate about, whether we're talking space exploration, oceanography, paleontology, cartography, or, in this particular case, the electronic pop music of the early 1980s.

BBCFour's fascinating documentary Synth Britannia was, for me, a lot like watching a documentary about my own "musical awakening" in 1981 and 1982. Like pretty much every other kid in seventh and eighth grade, I listened to the local Top 40 station and let them relentlessly pound the hits of the era into my skull, but it was that exotic, impossibly perfect, alien-sounding electronic pop music that I could only find on MTV that held me completely rapt back then.

A year later, for a few incredible months, that same wonderful, mesmerizing music actually threatened to become the Top 40 in this country; a time that I will always remember as one of those mini "golden ages" when it seemed like mainstream radio could do no wrong (sadly, I don't think another one of these eras came along until 1990 or so). Synth Britannia covers that magical time period and the years that led up to it, tracking the rise of electronic music as a form of pop music from roughly 1977 to the middle of 1983.

Ever since watching that program, I've been stuck in a bit of a time warp as far as my home play list is concerned. The last two weeks in this office have been soundtracked by the best of the golden age of wireless; revisiting the early glories of Ultravox!, discovering the rich solo career of their forgotten original leader John Foxx, marveling anew at the recently remastered Kraftwerk catalog, taking another stab at Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire (two challenging proto-electronic acts that I last sampled during my early 90s industrial phase) and playing through the entire Depeche Mode catalog while poring over the incredible Beatles Anthology-styled mini-movies packaged with their "collector's edition" releases that cumulatively chronicle their entire existence from 1991-2002 in incredibly revealing detail.

There were many joys and highlights to Synth Britannia, but perhaps the most striking part of the program was seeing these once unremittingly dour pop culture figures opening up a bit and showing that they didn't take themselves as completely seriously as, say, Sting does. OMD bassist and lead singer Andy McCluskey in particular was hilarious, while Human League singer Phil Oakey spins a good tale as well. Both figures offered plenty of pointed (and funny) insights into the electonic scene and their respective roles in it (with McCluskey getting a delicious parting shot at 90s Britpop at the very end). It was also interesting to hear deposed League synthesist Martyn Ware admit his jealousy at Gary Numan's "Cars" and discuss his motivations to challenge the his former band's chart supremacy with Heaven 17.

Now for the inevitable whining blogger complaints ...

The biggest problem with Synth Britannia is that, even at 90 minutes in length, you come away from the program a bit let down in the end since it seems to run full-tilt into a brick wall about 88 minutes in. I can understand and maybe even agree with Mr. Critic's point that the genre turned overtly commercial somewhere during 1983 (and the quick cut from that statement to poor Howard Jones dancing about with Jed The Dancing Mime was admittedly a hoot), yet it felt like a cop-out to end the program by saying "... and then things got really lame. The end." Regardless of what the producers may think of the Thompson Twins, I wanted more, and being told in effect that every synth-based act to come down the pike after the middle of 1983 was another load of bandwagoning crap struck me as irritatingly purist, especially when following the lionizing of Soft Cell, for crissakes.

I was also a wee bit irked that the Walter/Wendy Carlos' soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange seemed to be the lone early progenitor to synthpop, with no mention whatsoever given to David Bowie's Low (an album that, to me, is a far more obviously influential work). This omission becomes a bit more glaring when significant face time is slotted to Numan, whose twin genre classics Replicas and The Pleasure Principle owed an undeniable stylistic debt to Bowie's 1977 masterpiece.

Lastly, there is that inevitable list of bands that failed to make the cut. I'm sure this had much to do with time and budget constraints, but you also wonder if there was some unspoken lumping in of these missing artists with the post-1983 acts disparaged above. Was Thomas Dolby too commercial to count as true synthpop? Talk Talk? Visage? Pete Shelley? Blancmange?

My own geeky grumbings aside, Synth Britannia is definitely worth your time if you're into this kind of music. Here's hoping there will be some more in-depth examinations of this era in the future.

The videos linked throughout this post (and a lot more in the same spirit, including some very cool live BBC performances) can be found here.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

E's List Of "People Who Have Been Kicked Out Of Marilyn Manson"

This list is not from E! the cable network, but E the singer/songwriter and leader of Eels. The following was cribbed out of the liner notes for his Useless Trinkets rarities compilation:

1. Fiona Hinckley
2. Ladybird Bundy
3. Baby Jessica Speck
4. Alanis Mussolini
5. Hilary Rodham Berkowitz
6. JonBenet Hitler
7. Lady Diana Dahmer
8. UnaBarbara Bush
9. Mother Theresa McVeigh
10. Son Of Sally Jessy Raphael
11. Anita Hillside Strangler

Saturday, October 31, 2009

F.U.B.A.R. II: The Quickening

As the much-hyped 9/9/09 street date for The Beatles box sets drew closer, our previously reported stock situation had not improved appreciably; our allotment for the mono box increased from 5 to 10 (after we had originally ordered 70), while our order for the stereo box (which we had also ordered 70 of) was going to be cut significantly. With this in mind, we started looking around for alternate external sources of stock the week before street date in a bid to back ourselves up as much as possible ... just in case.

Surprisingly, our rarely-used secondary supplier came through for us in a pinch; as with our primary supplier, their mono box set order had been brutally shortened by EMI, therefore getting additional copies was not going to happen. However, they were so well-stocked with stereo box sets that they were able to pull aside 15 pieces for immediate shipment right then and there. Greg took this news with a furrowed brow, stared off into space for a moment (as he always does when he's about to go out on a limb), then had me drastically increase our order to 50. Secondary supplier didn't even bat an eye as our order amount soared in an instant from $2700 to $9000; they must have somehow received a far better product fill than our primary source. Lucky bastards. I sometimes wonder if they regretted that sale afterward.

Greg and I had a long talk after placing the order, both of us wondering aloud if we had just jumped in over our heads; the stereo box would be retailing for $220 (give or take), after all, and adding 50 pieces of an item that expensive on top of the 35 we figured to be receiving from our main supplier seemed an almost suicidal move. What bothered Greg more was that we were also staring at a loss of at least half a grand in accrued returns, as we rarely buy enough from our secondary supplier to warrant returning anything, let alone 90-140 CDs worth of unsold product purchased from them. Still, we figured if nothing else that we could break these boxes down and sell off the individual albums if we wound up not selling them; it's the freaking Beatles, after all.

As it turned out, that backup order was one of most prescient calls of Greg's career; two days after securing those extra 50 copies of the stereo box from our backup source, we were informed by our primary supplier that our stereo box allotment had been dropped all the way to ten copies. Suddenly, those 50 box sets we'd ordered from California weren't a possible stone tied around our necks, but a lifesaver. I don't even want to think of what work would have been like over the next few weeks if we hadn't gone that route.

A lifelong poker player, Greg didn't show his hand when we were given this little update, and he raised some hell with our main supplier. His anger was only a partial bluff; both of us were pretty exasperated by now with the way this situation was changing on an almost daily basis and he let them know about it. To their credit, our ire was assuaged by the arrival of 11 additional copies of the stereo set over the next week from their "private stash." We also managed to get in on the ground floor when a second wave of mono box sets arrived at their warehouse just before release date. With an additional 41 copies of that limited set safely behind our counter (and dozens of individual titles on hand for those who didn't want to opt for the big sets), we were still short of our intended stock target as street date arrived, but at least we felt ready to do battle and kick some ass ... which is pretty much what we did.

Here's the really good news: after all of the unending headaches and scrambling about, these boxes proved very quickly to have been worth the chase. All of our efforts (coupled with the timely arrival of some big new releases over a three-week period) resulted in a sales bonanza the likes of which we hadn't seen here outside of Christmas season. Combined sales of the mono and stereo boxes (both in the store and online through our Amazon window) went beyond even our most optimistic expectations. Without getting into reams of boring numbers, let's just say that not only did the Beatles propel us to our best September sales figure to date, but they probably saved our entire year as well. Wooot!

A few weeks later, after all backup supplies on both sets had completely dried up (this has now been the case since early October), our primary sales rep informed us that we were the only account of theirs who had guessed right on these things; everyone else had run out days or weeks before and were screaming for additional product. While our salesman meant well with that statement, the fact that we had been right all along and yet still wound up on the short end of their supply stick (apparently thanks to a desire on their part to make as many accounts happy as possible by using the quantities that we had ordered to do so) made his flattery feel more like a poke in the eye. "Best laid plans" and all that rot ...

As of this writing, we are down to 1 copy of the mono set, having sold our last stereo box earlier this afternoon. As expected, EMI have gone back to the well for a second run of these "limited edition" sets, and we will hopefully have some new mono stock early next week (though our desired quantity is being cut down again as supplies are short of projected targets, ha ha ha). Unfortunately, we get to twist in the wind for a bit as far as the stereo set is concerned; no additional stock is expected until sometime around Thanksgiving. Ugh. For the sake of Christmas, I sure hope EMI can meet their maddeningly-shifting target date, because once you slip past that weekend with no product on the shelves, you are skating on awfully thin ice.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Too Long For A Tweet

Three teenagers are in the store, milling about at the front, picking out sticks of incense with some degree of difficulty (one repeatedly asks her boyfriend: "baby, help me?") . There might be a 100 IQ between the three of them.

"How much for incense?" one asks after a moment or so.

"$1.75 for a pack of ten" I reply.

The teen hands me a packet of sticks. "OK, I think this is ten."

I count the sticks in the pack. "Well, this is actually eight."

"So ... I can get more?"

"Yes. Two, in fact."


As my friend Andy is so fond of saying: "doomed, doomed."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

(Youtube): Synth Brittania Preview

Oh. Oh my ...

The following Youtube clips are all excerpts (or previews) of the forthcoming BBCFour production of Synth Brittania, airing October 16.

Phil Oakey (reminding me weirdly of Christian Bale) illustrates how ex-Human League synthesist Ian Craig Marsh came up with the drum sound of "Being Boiled."

Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode, Yaz, Erasure) shows off a very primitive sampling drum machine.

Andy McCluskey self-effacingly breaks down the sound of the Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark classic "Enola Gay."

Ex-Ultravox leader John Foxx (eventually replaced by Midge Ure) plays around with an ARP synthesizer.

I. Must. See. This.

Monday, October 05, 2009


It bears mentioning early on that despite the apparent promise of another rags-to-riches baseball epic offered by the promotional artwork, Sugar is not really what it appears to be. Yes, there is a lot of baseball going on here, though all of the action takes place either deep down in the small-town level of single-A ball or in offshore baseball academies, which is where we first meet Miguel Santos (nicknamed Sugar because "he's sweet with the ladies").

The early scenes of Sugar are set in a guarded academy in the Dominican Republic, and it is fascinating to watch as groups of talented local teenagers are slowly, methodically shaped into prospects, learning basic English baseball terminology and refining their game under the watchful eyes of coaches and major league scouts. If these prospects perform well enough, they are called up to the U.S. minor leagues where the promise of a career in the majors (and a steady stream of money to send back home) is what drives them to succeed. Should they fail to perform to expectations, however, everyone knows they can be replaced by additional prospects waiting their turn, just as they once were. Watching these scenes, you realize that success in the major leagues on any kind of level is all chance, luck and skill ... and sometimes even the brightest young stars don't have what it takes to advance.

After earning a spot in the Kansas City organization, Sugar is quickly shunted off to pitch at the team's A-level minor league affiliate in Bridgetown, Iowa. Going to spring-training camp in Arizona at least offered a large population of Hispanic people for Sugar to identify with, confide with, and most importantly communicate with. Iowa, on the other hand, might as well be Mars in comparison, and it is there, with Sugar's lifelong ambition finally within his grasp, that his alienation and solitude force the young pitcher to question what drives him in the first place.

Without going into too much plot detail, I watched this movie fully expecting one story arc and was quite surprised when events suddenly veered off in a very different direction: the last third of this movie almost feels like you changed the channel to something else entirely and only at the very end do we get a sense of appropriate closure. What keeps us involved during this transition is the affecting performance by unknown Dominican actor Algenis Perez Soto. Sugar is Soto's very first acting role, and it's striking how believable and natural he comes across to us, both at home in San Pedro, where he is confident and charming, and in the middle of Iowa where he is more tentative, frustrated, and eventually afraid. It's crucial that we believe in Soto's character, because Sugar's sense of loneliness in the middle of a foreign country is the real point of this movie: the quiet, tight-knit, slum-like conditions of Sugar's home and the almost military-school like regimen of the baseball academy can never adequately prepare him or his classmates for Wal-Marts, all-night restaurants, mini wet bars and satellite porn-on-demand.

Sugar rating: 4/5

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Accidental Diet

At the end of February, I stepped onto the scale in the bathroom for the first time in forever and discovered that I weighed 195 pounds: about twenty pounds heavier than I had ever been in my life. A bit horrified at my recent surge towards 200 (likely an unpleasant side effect of quitting smoking, perhaps) and battling with a minor recurrence of Chuck-like symptoms, I decided to change a couple of aspects of my diet in a half-assed effort to keep things from getting any worse and kinda left it at that.

Over the last couple of months, two or three different people at work have asked me if I'd been losing weight. As far as I could tell (based on facing myself half-clothed in the bathroom mirror every day while shaving or brushing my teeth), I looked pretty much the same, so I didn't pay them a lot of mind. It was only when Sarah mentioned that I was looking thinner through the middle a couple of weeks back that I finally stepped on the scale again and was pretty shocked to see that I weighed 177: a loss of eighteen pounds in seven months.

Aside from the unsolicited comments, this new information also explained why some of my t-shirts had been feeling a bit roomier and why my pairs of 34'' x 36'' relaxed-fit jeans had become a bit too-relaxed (necessitating me buying a belt back in June or so). I honestly figured that these clothes were simply getting worn-in and loose, but it turns out that I'd dropped a couple of inches of circumference instead. Now I'm trying to relocate my old pairs of 32" x 36" jeans that had become waaay too tight last year and shelving the 34s until some later date.

Now, what exactly did I do to cause all of these pounds to melt away? I'm not really sure, to be honest. I merely intended to stop gaining weight back in February: losing a bunch of it instead was a completely unforeseen event, especially since I didn't join the gym or start jogging or anything. Thus, it might be a bit before I can figure out if it was just the not-that-drastic dietary adjustment (dropped most of the beef and red meat for chicken and salads, upped my ratio of water-to-pop, started getting bare bones ham-n-cheese sammiches instead of the meat-n-mayo heavy "club" subs at Tommy's), some kind of seasonal swing (we do pack on extra tonnage when it's cold out, after all), simply standing up more at work instead of sitting, the Cleveland Indians playing like absolute crap, my month-long bout of insomnia over the summer, my use of nasal strips to relieve snoring, or some as-yet-unknown factor. Whatever the case, I'll be watching this closely over the coming weeks to make sure this is nothing to end up getting worried about: Goat knows I've had enough of that kind of thing over the last couple of years.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


While this has never been a family blog per se, I still almost feel the need to apologize for the truly vulgar and tastelessly named band in the Youtube link below. If you can somehow get around their name, dig on this hilariously faithful (if you squint your ears) grindcore cover of an old chestnut from that gentle 1977 Christmas special Emmett Otter's Jugband Christmas.

For the sake of comparison, I first offer you the original version:

And now the same filmed performance, with the, uh, revised version dubbed in:

For those who wish to be even more offended/titillated, some additional info and a complete discography (including song samples!) on the band who covered this song can be found here.

Proof positive of some remaining immaturity still rattling around inside this grumpy old man's heart: I giggled myself completely sore while watching this.

Monday, August 31, 2009

People Of Wal-Mart

Here's a new photo blog that should appeal to those of you seeking more visual proof of just how doomed we are as a species.

Lords and saints preserve us.

Sunday, August 30, 2009


Expected local weather over next few days, courtesy of our friends at Weather Underground:

Mostly cloudy. Scattered showers and a chance of thunderstorms. Lows in the upper 50s. West winds 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 50 percent.
Showers and thunderstorms likely in the morning. Partly cloudy in the afternoon with a chance of a lingering shower. Cooler with highs in the mid 60s. West winds 15 to 20 mph. Chance of rain 60 percent.
Sunday Night
Mostly cloudy. A chance of a shower. Cooler with lows in the upper 40s. Northwest winds 10 to 15 mph... becoming north after midnight. Chance of rain 30 percent.
Partly cloudy. Highs in the upper 60s. Northeast winds 5 to 10 mph.
Monday Night
Mostly clear. Cool with lows in the mid 40s. Northeast winds around 5 mph.

GAH. ENOUGH. What the hell is up with the weather this year? I'm not demanding 100 degrees of blast furnace Arizona-style heat every day, but how about more than a mere handful of days in the 80s? Sure, I do appreciate the relative ease in which Sarah and I can take care of our power bills these days, but it seems like I spent all of June and July waiting for the real summer heat that finally arrived partway into August and hung around for, oh, two weeks.

If I sound unreasonable, hear me out for a minute: summer is the one season all year where I can sleep at night with the windows open and wake up in the morning without spending five minutes sneezing my head off or feeling like my sinus cavities have been packed full of rubber cement. Even more importantly, summer is supposed to be the one season all year when I can take a walk, drive or bike ride at 1 A.M. and feel completely comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt. Even if all of the days this past summer had topped out at 85 degrees with no humidity and not a cloud in sight, the near-total lack of evenings with the conditions as I described above leads me with no other choice but to proclaim the summer of 2009 to be the Lamest Summer In History (my history, anyway).

If I have to deal with six months of godawful weather starting in November, the least I can ask in return is an actual summer and not three months of what felt like early autumn instead. Here's to the warmest September/October ever.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


"If this isn't the biggest bag-over-the-head, punch-in-the-face I ever got ... GOD DAMN IT!" - Clark Griswald

Really bad day at work today.

The most infuriating part of this whole mess was that we knew this was going to happen and we did everything we could to think ahead and attempt to circumvent this problem before it ever came up, yet we wound up getting screwed anyway. Unbelievably frustrating.

So, what happened, you ask? EMI happened. Yes, the worst record company on the planet is in the process of royally screwing up their biggest release of the year: the twin Beatles box sets, which are set to release on September 9. The ripple effects of this latest cock-up should pretty well sabotage the grand kick off to our fourth quarter, and torch what should have been our best weekend (and non-Christmas month) ever. To say we're "infuriated" is putting it nicely.

Here's the set-up: I'm not quite sure how much of this is ultimately tied into the general downsizing of the music industry apparatus over the last five years or so and how much was simple modern-day corporate thinking, but right now only two major labels, Sony and UMG, still own the means to press and distribute their own product. The remaining majors, WEA and EMI, long ago sold off their pressing plants and attendant pipeline outlets and now farm out these operations to outside companies (including Sony and UMG).

With sales levels being as depressed overall as they have been over the last few years, this new compacted production scheme runs relatively smoothly, only running into a bump here and there if an album suddenly explodes around Christmastime (Straight No Chaser) or if some unforeseen event has a drastic effect on sales (the entire Michael Jackson catalog going completely nuclear in the weeks following his death). Another cause of problems with this new system is the launch of items with bulky, complicated packaging like, say box sets.

As many of you I'm sure are aware, it's not the 1990s anymore, and CD boxed sets aren't the sales-driving juggernauts they once were. That said, once in a while you do get a long-awaited collection from a Neil Young or a Genesis (or, uh, the Beatles ... you know, the single biggest act of the entire rock era), that will create some noticeable sales ripples. With artists more involved than ever in the creation of these sets, and with label catalog departments all trying to create something with a unique design and multiple design-specific components to wow the people who still buy these things, the production of these sets requires significantly more effort (and, more importantly, time) to create than simply duping a couple hundred thousand Miley Cyrus discs and booklets.

The recent distribution history with nearly all box sets has not always been a pretty sight, and we've become used to these things almost immediately running into short supply. To ensure that we would be the only store that had any Beatles box sets in stock after everyone else had blitzed through their supply, we deliberately over-ordered, especially on the limited edition mono box (which would attract the most ardent Beatles fans who also happen to make up a sizable portion of our customer base). Thus, when the word came down a few days ago that there were production/supply issues cropping up with these sets, we didn't worry terribly much: we'd ordered enough that even if our initial order was cut (as we were pretty sure it would be), we'd still have plenty of stock to work with.

Well, we got word of our allotted amount from our supplier this afternoon and were very surprised indeed to learn that while we had ordered 70 mono box sets (by far the most of any account in our supplier's system), we would be receiving a grand total of 5. That's right: 5. I figure that amount should last us a whole two minutes from the time the box comes through our front door. Gosh, what a sales bonanza that will be.

Oh, it also turns out that our stereo box set orders will likely be slashed in half as well. Great. I guess a 50% fill beats the pants off of the 7% fill we're getting on the mono set, huh? Anyway, if this figure holds up, that would leave us with 35 pieces of the stereo set, which would then necessitate us having to buy up separate copies of all of the original albums as our strategy of sourcing the individual album sales from our planned glut of stereo box sets just flew out the window.

Looking into this disaster, it appears that some genius at EMI's sales department did his research and figured on a limited outlay of 13,000 copies for the mono set. This number was arrived at before any orders had even been placed, which is standard operating procedure for most labels as they can fine-tune their shipments upwards or downwards from target as orders come in during the solicitation period. Well, it turns out that this genius guessed a tad low: orders for the set topped off around 46,000, nearly 3.5 times the size of the intended production run. Oops.

Now, when this happens (which is hardly ever since most people in sales departments have at least a basic grasp of what the fuck they are selling), you generally have two options as a company: 1.) you delay the release of item a couple of weeks to allow for production to try and catch up to demand, or 2.) you stick with the release date and allocate shipments so that everyone gets something to sell, just not the quantities that they'd ordered. Locked into this September 9 street date since April 7 for crissakes, EMI felt they had no choice but to go with the latter option. A decision was then made to fulfill all the remaining orders before cutting the piece off once and for all. Thus, the mono set appears to still be limited ... to 46,000 units. At 270 bucks MSRP, one might figure that supply should last for a pretty good while. The stereo set, which is priced cheaper and actually has more CDs in it, will be available in perpetuity.

Of course, catching up to these remaining orders is going to take some time. Since they cannot press their own product, EMI has to stand in line along with everyone else, which means that retailers won't be seeing refreshed supplies of these sets for anywhere from 2-6 weeks after street date. In our discussions before we arrived at our order figure, I opined that these sets would get a pretty good second wind around Christmas time, but I didn't exactly figure on them being COMPLETELY GONE until then.

So, this is the way we sell things in the 21st century: set a release date months ahead of time, whip the media and the marketplace into a froth with wall-to-wall hype, and worry about whether you can actually meet said date sometime later on. Don't worry: by launch date, people will want to be the first to own your product so badly that it barely matters if you didn't make enough to go around or that there might be some mislabeled discs or perhaps a couple of packing errors during the assembly of the piece (whoops! I have an extra copy of Abbey Road instead of Yellow Submarine and my Please Please Me CD actually plays Rubber Soul instead!). This whole fiasco feels more like the launch of the Playstation 3 than something dreamt up by the music industry. Perhaps I miss the point when I wonder how this can be anything but a PR disaster, especially considering that the record industry has a vested interest in people buying their products, and this is generally helped greatly when that product is actually in stores when they say it's going to be.

Until today, we were really looking forward to these sets as there aren't many bands that create excitement amongst music people of all ages like The Beatles. Now, we're kind of dreading having to explain everything I wrote above time and time and time again. There are going to be a lot of very unhappy Beatle nerds running around on September 9 and the days afterward, and there aren't many things in customer service that are worse than dealing with unhappy nerds. Bravo, EMI.

Monday, August 10, 2009

That's Just The Way It Is, Baby

Looks like a few of my recent twenty questions were answered over the last couple of weeks, eh?

Despite a few misgivings I had with the idea going into last weekend (all of them to do with the present state of the team), my brother and I took in a Tribe game this past Thursday, and it was a corker: the Cleveland Indians held the slap-hitting Minnesota Twins to 1 run while managing to score just 2 of their own. This was the kind of tense match up where every pitch and every runner could be the difference in the game (the best kind there is, really), and we had a great time.

Normally this narrow margin of victory does not hold up over nine innings in such a hellish parody of expectations as this season has been, yet the Tribe somehow prevailed. As rickety as it looked at times, Fausto Carmona's second major league start since being sent all the way down to Arizona ball two months ago was better overall than I could have expected, though he's still walking far too many batters for my liking. The difference now is that Carmona doesn't seem to rattle as easily as he did before, and he now appears to have reacquired the ability to limit damage when base runners are in scoring position (Minnesota's only run for the game was scored on a wild pitch) without throwing an extra dozen pitches in order to do so. Carmona may not be the invincible, unhittable phenom he was in 2007 anymore, but this is absolutely an improvement on his early season form.

The bigger story here is that the team that we watched last Thursday afternoon was not quite the same club we saw barely two weeks before. First baseman Ryan Garko, pitcher Carl Pavano, outfielder Ben Francisco, relief pitcher Rafael Betancourt, pitcher Cliff Lee, and catcher Victor Martinez (arguably the heart and soul of the team, and in many peoples eyes the true face of the Cleveland Indians) are gone now, mostly traded away for desperately needed pitching prospects after the Indians front office was forced once again to look towards the future in realization that the present just ain't gonna fly. While the pace of retooling may have slowed since the hectic end of July, the surprise recent move of Pavano (ironically, to the Twins) signals that we're not quite through with moving assets around just yet. It definitely wouldn't surprise me to see other players such as Kelly Shoppach, Jhonny Peralta and Jamey Carroll dealt in the off-season, if not before.

I have no desire to see Eric Wedge at the helm of this team at the start of the next season and I have serious misgivings with various aspects/levels/tenets of General Manager Mark Shapiro's organization, yet I do not believe that these moves were made lightly and with any malicious or lunk-headed intention. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the last two weeks on a personal level is the apparent belief by many fans that I talk to at work that Shapiro, Wedge and team owner Larry Dolan are simply "being cheap" and refusing to put a decent team on the field for whatever nefarious conspiracy-minded reason sounds good at the time.

Incredibly, local columnists, talk show hosts and sports desk anchors feed into this simplistic ignorance of reality rather than actually try to explain why these trades had to happen. I'm not sure of the reasons behind this decision to pander to the mob: it's not like this is discussing neurosurgery and you don't need a master's degree in business to figure out that most of major league baseball is being held in a financial headlock by the 5 teams at the upper end of the financial pyramid. These teams are able to use their vast resources to cherry pick their future starters from the remaining 25 clubs, all of whom are forced to rely on smarts, guile, timing and not a little bit of luck to put together what they hope are contending teams on a comparatively shoestring budget (and hoping to God they don't have to write off the inevitable busts, which is nowhere near as easy for a small-to-mid-market team as it is for Boston, Chicago or New York).

It is this frustration with the misdirected vitriol of the fans that has spurred me to write about the current economic state of major league baseball in the hope of at least instilling some basic understanding of why "it is what it is" (as the players are so fond of saying). It's okay to be mad: hell, I'm furious over losing Martinez (the closest thing to a hero I've had over the last few years) for lack of anywhere to put him and being stuck with 3 more seasons of Travis Hafner instead, but fans need to be focusing their anger at the system instead of the people doing the best they can to work within its boundaries.

Fans are at least partially correct on the "spend the money and win" angle: with only a few exceptions, the teams with the most dosh to spend are the ones who usually wind up in the postseason. These teams may not always win it all, sure (just ask the New York Yankees, who in of the rare instances of poetic justice in modern life, have spent over a billion dollars since their last World Series title and still have no follow-ups to show for it), but they can certainly get most of the way there before letting the dice fall where they may.

The top 10 pro baseball teams by 2009 payroll, preceded by payroll amount in millions, and followed by their current standings (sourced from ESPN):

  1. 201.5 New York Yankees (#1 AL East)
  2. 135.8 New York Mets (#4 NL East. Ow.)
  3. 135.0 Chicago Cubs (#2 NL Central)
  4. 122.7 Boston Red Sox (#2 AL East. 6 games behind NY)
  5. 115.1 Detroit Tigers (#1 AL Central)
  6. 113.7 Los Angeles Angels (#1 AL West)
  7. 113.0 Philadelphia Phillies (#1 NL East)
  8. 103.0 Houston Astros (#3 NL Central. Whoops.)
  9. 100.5 Los Angeles Dodgers (#1 NL West)
  10. 98.9 Seattle Mariners (#3 AL West)

The only team at the top of its division that is not listed above is the NL Central St. Louis Cardinals, who are 13th on the list with 88.5 million (that said, the Cubs trail them by only 2 games). The Cleveland Indians, for the sake of noting, are 15th on the list with a 2009 payroll of 81.6 million, which only further underlines just how badly they have underperformed this year.

Many fair-weather Indians fans have been screaming themselves hoarse over the last 2 weeks, proclaiming that they are "through" with the team and that they "never going to another game again" and sundry other expressions of disgust, blaming the Dolans (and/or Shapiro and Wedge) for the sinking attendance numbers at Progressive Field games this year. Apparently, many of these fans have failed to notice that the Indians have ranked near the bottom of the league in attendance totals for some time now, averaging only 22,500 people per game this year in a stadium that can seat twice that amount. Even during the magical 2007 season, the Tribe's first playoff berth in six years, attendance only really surged over the last two months of the regular season campaign, when it was clear that the Tribe were post-season contenders. Even considering that the team made it to within one game of the World Series, 2007's year-end attendance rating was still 9th in the American League with about 28,500 per game (the ranking was the same last year, though the per-game figure was closer to 27,000). While these numbers are, incidentally, improvements over the rebuilding years of 2003 and 2004, it can be safely extrapolated that even with a contending squad on the field, the glory years of 455 consecutive sold-out games are long gone, not to mention the once-surging local economy that powered that impressive statistic.

Attendance and merchandise sales are vital parts of any club's revenue stream, but the real separator over the last decade has been cable television networks, and the cold demographic realities of advertising and subscription revenue is what truly weeds out the men (New York, Boston and Los Angeles) from the boys (everyone else). Ever since the Atlanta Braves started pulling in big money from revenues generated by team owner Ted Turner's cable station WTBS in the early 1980s followed by ESPN's acquisition of broadcast rights at the dawn of the 1990s, the transition of baseball away from broadcast stations has gathered speed to the point now where one can hardly ever see a baseball game outside of cable television. While the popularity of the sport may have waned over the years, a lot of people still watch baseball games at home (or at the bar) rather than attend the games in person (certainly a lot of disgruntled Indians fans do this, judging by their posts to various discussion forums), and if baseball owners were to get a cut of the fees people gladly put up for cable/satellite TV packages, it stands to reason that there is an awful lot of money to be made.

Eventually, many cities with big league sports teams launched their own regional sports networks (a kind of homer mini-ESPN, in effect), and the combined revenues/subscriber fees from those networks could then be used to fund operations, pay salaries, obtain free agents, et cetera. With at least 162 games played by each team annually, most of them lasting three hours in duration, baseball quickly became the dominant sport (read: "cash cow") of the RSNs. For many smaller teams, these networks offer at least some measure of financial competition with the mega markets ... but when you're comparing the audience cume of, say, Tampa Bay with that of the New York City metropolitan area, "some" is nowhere near enough.

Just how unequal is this distribution of newfound wealth? According to Forbes magazine:

"For the 2008 season the Yankees received $80 million in rights fees from YES (note: the team's RSN, launched in 2002), more than double the local cable revenue of every team but the Angels and the New York Mets, who earned $52 million through its RSN, SportsNet New York. In fact, it was more than the entire media revenue (both national and local) of all but six teams: the Mets, Atlanta Braves, Dodgers, Cubs, Angels and Red Sox."

Another revelation from the same article: Cleveland's own haul from their SportsTime Ohio isn't listed among the Top 10 in baseball (even the Washington Nationals make more from their RSN, for Christ's sake!).

Things were bad enough with disparity ten years ago, now they seem to be getting completely out of hand. Without some form of revenue sharing or (only slightly more realistically) a salary cap, it's difficult at best to imagine how these financial imbalances will ever keep from hobbling five out of every six teams in baseball to the benefit of the remaining sixth.

What has to happen in order to force a change towards a level playing field? A strike? Who, exactly, is going to strike over this? Certainly not the players, whose union would gladly shut down the game instead over any agreement that might drive the ludicrous salaries of the game's biggest names down rather than up. While I'd love to imagine long-suffering baseball fans across the heartland states finally realizing they've been ranting at the wrong people for the reasons why their middle-market team hands over all of the best players to the coastal organizations, what would they actually do about it? Unsubscribe en masse from cable television? Cease going to ballgames? Oh wait, they already did that. Uhhh, large demonstrations outside of said ballparks in an attempt to reach those who are still going and teach them the error of their ways? Sure, yeah, but come on man there's a Cavs game on tonight ...

So, that leaves it up to the owners. Well, some of the owners, anyway. I don't see Theo Epstein or the Steinbrenner Brothers ever assenting to an agreement that would theoretically erase their biggest advantage over the rest of the league. So, would the owners of the bottom dozen teams come together and bar their teams from playing until a fairer system can be hammered out, in effect holding the entire season hostage? I suppose this stunt has some element of plausibility, but also seems extremely unlikely. So much for the owners. Barring some kind of sea-change of incalculable magnitude from within or outside the sport (or a major redrawing and redistribution of the current luxury tax system as it affects the sport's payroll), the playing field looks to remain tilted for the foreseeable future. Insert pithy "ain't that life" remark here.

Bah. All of this is a bunch of crap that proves nothing, the fans reply. The Dolan's need to step aside and sell the team to someone who is not afraid to spend some money so that we can compete with the big guys.

OK, first off, what billionaire is going to be the prospective buyer of an overvalued baseball team (Dolan bought the Indians from the late Dick Jacobs at a quite-frankly ridiculous price) that has just announced that it will be losing sixteen million dollars this year? Who is supposed to buy this team and then just toss a hundred million dollars into the wind and see what happens, even though the club doesn't draw consistently (even when performing well), and hasn't since the end of the last century? Anyone? Anyone?

Even if the most fevered dreams of Dolan haters came true and Cleveland Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert decided to add a baseball team to his portfolio, what reasons does anyone have to believe that Gilbert intends to spend money willy-nilly when the economic realities of major league baseball have very little in common with those of professional basketball? This is what it all comes down to, people: like it or not, owning a baseball team is a business proposition and the owners (and shareholders, if applicable) intend to profit from their venture, and you don't profit by spending freely when there is no hope for a return on your investment. Therefore, unless the underlying money is there (and it is not here for reasons I detailed above), literally no one outside of the Red Sox, Mets or Yankees can afford to pay C.C. Sabathia 23 million dollars a year for six years or drop fifty million dollars into the toilet just for the right to take a look at Daisuke Matsuzaka's pitching (nevermind actually signing him). Hell, the Yankees pay 5 players on their squad a total of 106 million dollars a year (this is more than the total payrolls of 22 other clubs). So. Anyone out there know of any prospective owners who feel like matching that out of their own pocket (since it sure isn't coming from anywhere else)?

Oh, before we move on, there is one last little fact that gets lost in all of the back and forth: the Dolan's actually spent 3 million more on payroll this year than they did in 2008, and nearly twenty million more this year than in 2007 (this despite the relatively low upswing in attendance in 2007 and subsequent drop in 2008). So much for being "cheap" ...

While the loss of so many familiar (and trusted) faces is crushing for those who regularly follow the Tribe, it's also an exciting time as the Indians roster is presently overrun with kids now jockeying for position on the Opening Day roster for the 2010 season. Among these new faces: catcher Wyatt Toregas is getting an extended look while Shoppach is given some time off (ostensibly to regather his swing), super-utility man Chris Gimenez will play at odd spots around the diamond (as well as behind the plate when the need arises), Andy Marte will man first base, and Trevor Crowe will patrol left field while occasionally spotting Grady Sizemore (whom I suppose has now become the undisputed face of the Indians) in center. These new names may not have the effortless grace and presence of seasoned veterans, but they play with heart, they've greatly improved the team's speed on the base paths, and they all have something to prove.

While the full impact of all the recent trades may not be known in most cases for a few years yet, there have been a couple of optimistic portents visible at the major league level thus far. First and foremost, the performance of Justin Masterson in two appearances has already made some people feel a little bit better about the Martinez trade. Masterson, acquired from the Boston Red Sox bullpen, made a great first impression in relief and then again in an abbreviated start as he is gradually stretched into the Indians' starting rotation. Also showing considerable promise is fireballing reliever Chris Perez, who was acquired last month in the Mark DeRosa trade and is just now being summoned into games in high-leverage situations.

So, the Indians' 2009 season continues to play itself out in a relentless march to Boston in the first week of October. Perhaps the Indians will continue their expected post-All Star Break winning tear and finish the season with a .500 record as they did in 2008 (hey, how about we move the break into May next year so these guys can at least have a fighting chance of contending by early August?). Maybe there will be some good news concerning the rocky rehabilitation of Jake Westbrook and the continuing, evolving Rorschach Test that is Travis Hafner. Maybe Eric Wedge will (finally) be let go in the off-season in lieu of someone like Red Sox pitching coach (and ex-Indian) John Farrell. While we won't be looking forward to October once again, we still have at least some reason to keep listening or watching, as frustrating as this year has been.

Finally, I'd like to offer a few words for a couple of dearly departed Indians. From a pure fan standpoint, the final week of July was the worst time to be an Indians fan since possibly the end of the 2007 ALCS, if not Game 7 of the 97 World Series. Sarah wasn't happy to see Betancourt, Garko or Pavano go, but the terms of their departures were at least understandable on a gut level. The loss of Lee was a significant blow to our morale as we have lost one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, and with Jake Westbrook's future presently in a state of stomach-churning doubt, the Indians pitching staff now seems particularly rudderless for the first time in 3 or 4 years. Cliff may not have been the most personable, affable player on the team from a PR standpoint, but he was a model of staggering consistency and focus and he will be sorely missed.

At least Lee was shipped over to the National League, where I can cheer him on to beat C.C. Sabathia in the World Series this year (assuming, of course, that the Yankees can power their hefty lefty past the ALCS). Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Victor Martinez being traded to the Red Sox (the Red Sox! Jesus!), the final announcement of which was almost too much for me to bear. I could ramble on here for a long while about how much Martinez meant to the Tribe, to the fans, and to Cleveland itself, but there are others (such as Jay, Andrew and Ryan over at Let'sgotribe) who did an incredible job of delving into the enormity of this loss from all angles, so I'll link you to their work instead. Believe me, these guys express far more eloquently what I cannot at this time without sounding like a big ol' sissy.

P.S.: My personal attendance record is now 17-11 (.608). Yeah, that's right. I bring victory, bitches. Someone clue the front office in and land me some season tickets. I'll do my part.