Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Fantasize This

I was recently invited to participate in a Fantasy Football League by a friend. While it was very nice to be asked, I have been trying ever since to think of something I would like to do less. I keep coming up blank.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sports fan. I love hockey and football. I’ve even been known to enjoy baseball games (though the length of the season makes it hard for me to care about a generic game much before September). I used to be a basketball fan, growing up on Long Island and going to Knick games. Now I couldn’t watch a basketball game for money. Except the playoffs. I could watch just about anything if it means something. Like a championship. Or the setting of a record. Proof positive is that I actually watched the final World Cup game this year. And I’m American. It was the first soccer game I watched from start to finish. Ever. (I’m assuming my seven-year-old’s games don’t really qualify.) I watch the Olympics—Winter more than Summer—and can even plop down in front of televised darts (again, as long as there is a championship, or a costly round of drinks on the line).

But a fantasy league? It just doesn’t do it for me. I don’t get it. I think my fundamental problem with fantasy leagues is the statistics. I just can’t bring myself to care. I have so many more important things with which to fill my head. Hell, I have less important things with which to fill my head. Such as, “hmm, gas was $2.89 a gallon there last Tuesday, then it went up to $2.93 the next day. Is there a pattern at work? Should I buy gas on Tuesdays? Or should I keep driving, hoping to recapture the excitement I felt three Thursdays ago when I caught the attendant at the Shell changing the sign and he accidentally put the “9” on upside down for a second.”

You see? Much less important things.

I know several people who participate in fantasy leagues who scoff that I know so many lines from movies, TV shows, or stand-up routines by heart, but don’t know the batting average for Slugger A, or the number of games saved by Pitcher B, or the Plus/Minus of Defenseman C. A fantasy player once remarked to me that I know lots of useless stuff, like what happened in a particular Seinfeld episode. (Actually I know what happens in every episode, a fact I am neither proud of nor ashamed of, it is just a fact.) Yet he had memorized the pitching rotations of eight or nine baseball teams. I’m not suggesting either data sets are useful—they aren’t. It’s just you choose to know and remember what matters to you. It’s why in my 26 years or so as a newspaper reader I have cracked the Sports section about a dozen times—the general statistics and day-to-day are just not that important to me.

But perhaps I’m not understanding something about the mechanics of the fantasy league, so somebody correct me if I’m wrong. Here is how I understand it works: you “draft” a team for yourself where you pick players for “your team” and then you calculate whatevers based on the players’ individual performances? Okay, I guess I see.

No, wait, I’m confused.

Let’s say I’m playing fantasy baseball and I want to draft a good infielder. Let’s say I pick A-Rod. Great, right? Well, no, because I’m a citizen of Red Sox Nation. I couldn’t possibly pick a Yankee. Could I? And if I were to pick one, that would mean I would, at times, be rooting for a mortal enemy of my team. So what comes first, my actual team, or my fantasy team made up of favorites and villains from around the league. Is this making baseball more enjoyable?

You know what it is making me? It is making me more likely to actively participate in the Professional Sports Industrial Complex. If my real team doesn’t play on a given day I may be less likely to read the sports section or tune in to ESPN. But if I have players on my fantasy team scattered around the league, I will always have a reason to check in with the sports world. (And now we see why the garbage goes out 18% less in a fantasy sports league household than it does in my house. And why the marriage counseling business has been booming since fantasy sports leagues went mainstream.)

So let’s say I eschew all non-Red Sox players AND former players who are now labeled as “traitors,” (Oh, Pedro. Wherefore art thou, Pedro?). Now my fantasy team is starting to look a lot like…well, it looks like the actual team. So maybe I should just root for my team, and forget the fantasy team. Is that not the hallmark of a true fan? Would I be wrong to say a fantasy player is not an ultimate fan, but in fact, a bit of a fair weather fan? Taking the best from my team, but also, the best from other teams as well. Should not the motto of the real sports fan be what my youngest daughter used to tell me all the time, “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.” Relish your team’s victories, suffer their failures. That’s the way it should be. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go think about soup.

922 words.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Different Types of Writing – Mine, His or Ours?

As I’ve sketched out the contents of this blog in my head I’ve begun to think about two types of writing. Writing for myself and writing for another. At the root of this is the question, “if I write a guest editorial for my boss to sign and it is printed in a major American newspaper, can I say I have written something that appeared in the major American newspaper?” On the surface I think the answer is “yes,” I wrote it, they printed it. But there is a deeper question. “Is this writing indicative of my style?” And here I would say, “it is more indicative of my ability and a little less of my style.” Let’s examine.

In my last job writing for the American Forest & Paper Association I rarely if ever submitted anything to newspapers or magazines as myself. I submitted them as either one of our senior muckety-mucks like the Vice President of Forestry, or usually as our President and CEO, himself a major political muckety-muck.

There was, as is usually the case, several games of back and forth in all these writing exercises. First was the back and forth with the truth. That was were I would sit down with the policy experts and discuss what ever the issue du jour was. What did the new regulation really mean for our industry? What did the study really find about our processes? Etc, etc.

Out of this learning experience emerged a First Draft.

Then began the usually lengthier back and forth with the lawyers. We would have stimulating debates, for example—when I wrote something like, “on average, our industry plants more than 1.9 million new trees everyday,” (which is true, by the way), the lawyers would engage me in seemingly endless debate about what exactly I meant by “plants.” I wish I was kidding. I’m not. It was enough to make you spend time coming up with a new lawyer joke. (Why do loggers cut down so many trees when they’re on a job? Statistically, the more they cut down, the better the chance one will land on a lawyer. Okay, it’s not good but I was actually being paid to write about policy, not jokes about lawyers.)

Out of this frustrating process emerged a Second Draft, a headache, and bite marks in my fist from where I gnawed on it as opposed to ramming it down counsel’s litigious throat.

Finally this version would then be submitted to “The Body.” That was the person or persons who would eventually sign the column as his or her own. At this point the piece still was largely mine. While the tone was not as flippant or sarcastic as I would privately write, it still began with my thesis statement, was fueled by my reasoning and logic, and utilized my understanding of our message research, strategic positioning, and the persuasion points for the particular audience for which I was aiming—it was still mine.

And then it got interesting.

I’ve written for many different types of people and I’ve always been able to find his or her voice. Whether I was writing on behalf of a conservative southern Member of Congress, a New England libertarian regulator, the CEO of a major athletic apparel company, a former White House Deputy Chief of Staff, a small town tree farmer, or a high school educated logger, one of my gifts—if I may be so bold—is that I am able to identify with all kinds of people and mimic their style.

So even though I say the draft I’ve written that is going in to The Body is mine, it is really “ours”—mine and the body’s. I’ve put his phraseology into it. For example, my last boss was from Louisiana, a lawyer, a former Member of Congress, a very high ranking official in the Bush (I) Administration. One of his favorite turns of a phrase is one I would never say or write: “ought not.” As in, “We ought not make the same mistake with natural gas we did with crude oil thirty years ago.” I would probably write something far more sarcastic, cutting, and even denigrating to the boobs in Congress about to make the same mistake, (because of course they are going to. They are going to make the same mistake with extreme prejudice. Dolts.)

So now we are at that root question. If I write a column with the phrase “ought not” in it, because I know in my boss’ head the argument calls for one exactly right…there…is the column still mine?

I know when I started writing for my CEO the things I sent in to his office would often come back significantly marked up. He would sometimes strike entire paragraphs or substitute his own reasoning. Obviously I took 95% of his changes—his name was going on the column, and more importantly, it was going on that important bottom line of my paycheck. The only times I would not take his changes was if what he wanted to write was inaccurate, or a full frontal assault on the English language—which as an attorney, he did plenty of times. (The court records in the case of English Language v. Moore are permanently sealed, however I did testify for plaintiff.)

But after more than seven years writing for him, we have our rhythm and he was editing me less and less. In fact, the last two or three years saw most columns, statements, and releases come out of his office without a mark on them, just an “Approved.”

How did I do it? Well, often I would first write one for me. It would be filled with humor, vitriol, sarcasm, and thoroughly disrespectful towards somebody. I’d write that one, show it to a friend or one of the hard core policy “believers,” we’d have a snicker over it, wistfully dream of a day when I could actually submit such a piece, and then I would begin editing the hell out of it to come up with that First Draft to go off to the lawyers. (I admit sometimes, just for kicks, I would send one of my Real First Drafts in to the lawyers. Within minutes this nervous looking lawyer would be standing in my door, holding my column, and looking like a product tester at a Taser factory. I’d play a little game—how long could I keep a straight face and argue that I should be allowed to use the phrase, “self-righteous, ignorant bastards” when referring to members of the radical environmental group D——. Four minutes ten seconds is the record. I think I could have worn him down eventually.)

And now of course I can “publish” all my Real First Drafts here. And yet something in me, some training I’ve received is keeping me from doing it. Obviously I wouldn’t want to post anything truly slanderous or defamatory—well it’s more accurate to say I don’t want to be sued for posting anything slanderous or defamatory, but I guess the lawyers finally wore me down. They would be so happy or proud…if they were capable of feeling human emotion, which obviously they are not.

So what is the answer? The writing samples I post here—the ones I did while gainfully employed—are samples of my ability, but not necessarily of me. And that is why I need to post all new pieces such as this one. Maybe I’ll e-mail this to one of my old lawyer chums for his comments. (Besides the obvious, “what exactly are you trying to say when you write ‘human emotion’?”)

1276 words.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Writing Sample #1 - Energy Column

Here is a column I wrote back in April 2006 for my boss. It was published in numerous trade magazines in May 2006 with his byline.

Act Now or Pay Later
by W. Henson Moore

History is being decided in Congress this month. It will be an interesting opportunity to test the old adage that those who do not learn from history, are destined to repeat it. Congress is debating our current energy crisis—believe it or not, I’m not talking about gasoline prices that seem to be dominating the media. I’m talking about the price of natural gas which is much higher than the price of gasoline. Recent natural gas prices were equivalent to paying $7.50 per gallon for gasoline. It’s seriously hurting the forest products industry.

Natural gas has nothing to do with gasoline; it is a clean, efficient, and formerly inexpensive fuel. Millions use it to heat their homes, schools, churches, and hospitals, and we all rely on it to keep America’s factories and power plants running. But the price of natural gas has climbed steeply in the past six years, far outpacing inflation, and the price is now at least four times its historic average. These unnaturally high prices are hurting manufacturing which relies so heavily on natural gas. Since 2000, the forest products industry has closed 282 mills and permanently lost 189,000 jobs—and high energy prices are often cited as a cause.

So what about Congress? Well, the problem is uniquely one that Congress can completely solve on its own. The reason natural gas prices are so high is that for more than twenty years Congress has been encouraging consumption of natural gas, while at the same time, restricting access to supply. Doesn’t make sense, does it? Well, Congress may be about to fix it by removing some of those restrictions. Senators Domenici (R-NM) and Bingaman (D-NM) have introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate to expand our exploration for natural gas in a small section of the Gulf of Mexico believed to hold enough natural gas to heat 5 million homes for 15 years. In the U.S. House, Representatives Jindal (R-LA) and Peterson (R-PA) have offered their own bills that propose different approaches to increase our natural gas supply. Voting should occur before the end of May, and America badly needs the bills to pass and for the President to sign them.

I mentioned learning from history—well that part does tie back to gasoline prices. Decades ago this country made a general policy decision that even though there was plenty of oil in Alaska and under the ocean off our shores we were not going to go after it in great quantities. We decided to import most of our oil from allies in the Middle East. Well, as you know, some of those allies are now our outright enemies, and none of them feel particularly good about us. And what has happened to us? As we come to require more and more oil, we are increasingly at the mercy of those former allies who can do with the price of oil what they please.

So once again, we find ourselves at a crossroads. We have enough natural gas under our feet and waters to keep America going for a century or more. Will Congress lift the restrictions on supply and allow American companies to go get this American natural gas to heat American homes and keep American factories running, preserving American jobs? Or will they once again say, “no,” and make us look overseas for natural gas? Many countries in the Middle East and Russia have booming natural gas industries, and they would all be more than happy to see us hand our future over to them, just as we did so many years ago with oil.

Congress needs to act now on natural gas or we will all be paying the price later. I encourage you to call your Senators and your Representative in Congress and tell them to put American natural gas to work for America. America’s security and strength depend on it.

647 words

W. Henson Moore is a former Member of Congress from Louisiana and the former Deputy Secretary for Energy. He currently is the President & CEO of the American Forest & Paper Association. He wants you to know you can call the U.S. House of Representatives at (202) 225-3121 and the U.S. Senate at (202) 224-3121.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Introduction to Me

My name is Michael Klein, (hence the cryptic blog name), and I am a writer. Now anybody with a crayon and a scrap of paper can call himself a writer—and while I do have crayons (I’m sure my two little girls would share), and plenty of scraps of paper—I have actually been writing and being paid for it for 16 years.

The thing is, I’ve been writing as other people, and now I’m going to start writing as me. It’s not that I use a pseudonym, I don’t. I have been writing words for other people to take as their own—as a press secretary and speech writer for Members of Congress from Kentucky, Mississippi, Florida and elsewhere; as a spokesman, writer, and speech writer for a state government agency; and as a spokesman, writer, and speech writer for a national environmental trade association in Washington, DC.

I have written and delivered speeches as me on topics such as environmental laws and regulations, environmental activism, marketing and advertising message and public opinion research, and advocacy and the legislative process.

Okay, time to clear the air. I just reread the above it makes me sound like something I am not. In pursuit of Truth in Advertising I should stress that the Members of Congress for whom I worked were all Republican. And the environmental trade association for which I worked was on the business side of the equation—the national trade association for the forest products industry.

Still here? Great. I admire your curiosity—morbid though it may be.

I’ve also written numerous (unproduced, unsold) screenplays—and am now hard at work on a novel for young adults, a few new screenplays, and some spec magazine articles.

I’m going to use this blog to post writing samples of existing work and also to post new material I plan on writing as me and only me.

Please feel free to leave me feedback on me or anything I’ve written. Thanks for visiting and comm with you soon.