Saturday, March 29, 2008

EARTH HOUR: Turn out the lights tonight at 8PM!!!

Sydney, Australia has just started doing it today (as I'm writing to you in the Pacific Standard Time zone), and more cities are to follow.

For 60 minutes tonight, March 28 at 8PM local time, everyone is supposed to shut off their lights and "power down" for an hour.

I don't think that means unplugging your refrigerator or anything like that, more than it means turning off all the lights in the house and not using appliances.

Here's the website for details:
Earth Hour US - Earth Hour 2008. The event is being sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, here's a link to their site too: WWF - Endangered Species, Wildlife Conservation, Animal Habitats. They have some really slick animal adoption programs available that allow you to take ownership of saving species...definitely worth your time to check out...I adopted a Siberian Amur Leopard for my folks as a $50 gift for the holidays.

Sorry, digressed there. So if
you want to put some simple and easy environmental stewardship into action, the Earth Hour is an excellent way to do it!

I hope this starts to become a recurring event. S

Friday, March 28, 2008

On cologne...and friendship

I'll admit it...I'm a bit of a cologne junkie...but I never sat down and analyzed why, or what's behind it.

Until recently. Interested? Read on...

...but first, a little about me.

In describing who I am, one person was once quoted as saying:
"...he can tell you EXACTLY what's on his mind...which is not always pretty...but it comes straight from the heart."

Sure...that's probably pretty accurate about part of me. While I can have my "animated" moments, off-color humor, progressive political opinions, seething anger about the state of the planet and environment, and deliver brutal honesty at times (which isn't always a bad thing in the larger picture, and necessary at times), for the most part I consider myself to be a rather mellow, down to earth guy.

I can also tell you what I am not. I'm not into glitz and glamour, as I don't envy the "Hollywood lifestyle"...even a little bit. Most of it makes me want to vomit; the affairs and divorces, the constant spotlights and lack of privacy, the ugliness of bad behavior and addiction, the entitlement attitudes, and that whole selling of the soul thing. The whole whirlwind of it all and how many families it destroys. Very very sad stuff.

So all that being said, as I wouldn't consider myself "high class" or "foofy" (whatever that means, but it sounded appropriate), the variety of colognes I have in my medicine cabinet do have a special value in my life.

For me, they're attached to memories and people I know. That translates into moods and what I'm feeling on a certain day, and that dictates what I pull out of the medicine cabinet.
I have a rotation of about 10 varieties.

Some are what I'd call my "top tier" colognes, and I tend to gravitate toward what I refer to as the "musky" "water-based" and "sea salt" types of
scents: Hugo Boss, Azzaro Chrome, Davidoff Cool Water, Nautica Latitude-Longitude, Alfred Sung (I like the purple color of it too), and a old favorite discontinued many years ago by H2O Plus, called Waves.

My "second tier" ones I tend to prefer less due to the nature of the scent (usually gifts, and unfortunately just not my type), but I find ways to use them...they're what I might wear when exercising or for more casual situations: various scents from the Avon's men's line such as
Far Away and Tempest, a Garden Botanica brand called Botanika (my personal fav of my 2nd tier set), a brand called Santa Fe, and an old discontinued brand from the 80s called Emotions.

So there it is, the whole world can now judge me on my cologne collection...but before you make any snap judgments, there's something running a bit deeper here.

I can count the number of TRUE friends that I have on probably one hand...I'm talking
about people who you'd risk your life for...who you'd put your reputation on the line for...who know your faults and secrets...who knew you when you were a scrawny little shit. That kind of friend.

With these friends, our history typically goes back many many years to high school or college, and in some cases even elementary school. Many memories, many fun times...and definitely some dark times too. They're the people I weathered many storms with, and whom I safeguard many subjects with in confidence.

There's only one nagging issue with a majority of these friendships, however, due to no fault of anyone. While we keep in close touch through phone and email, and plan visits and vacations together, we all happen to live far apart from each other. We're scattered across several different states, and we all seem to be travel junkies as some of us leaving the country for months at a time is becoming a recurring pattern. All this is a testament to the individuality, success, resourcefulness, and desire for an enriched life experience of everyone involved.

So recently, one of these friends I speak of, who I met in college and was currently living 5
minutes away from me relocated to his hometown out of state. While I'll miss him, it was a healthy move and something he needed to do. For his going away dinner, I was trying to think of a gift for him, and recalled the days when we lived together in Arizona and a cologne he used to wear, Davidoff's Cool Water.

He actually introduced me to the stuff...and it came on the market in 1988, the year we first
met. How 'bout that. So while I realized he had probably moved onto other colognes, I decided for nostalgia's sake to pick up a set of the old stuff for him.

So the thought occurred to me today, as I was putting on some Cool Water enroute to no special event or place of particular importance, of how a scent can remind you of an old friend. For me, that's what my cologne collection represents...memories and friendships. It's almost more about the memory than it is about the actual scent.

So as the day goes on, the scent might fade a bit, but the friendships and memories only grow stronger.

I'll end this post with an appropriate passage that's very dear to me; a read from The Prophet by Kalil Gibran.

On Friendship
Kahlil Gibran

Your friend is your needs answered.

He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.

And he is your board and your fireside.

For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the "nay" in your own mind, nor do you withhold the "ay."

And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;

For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.

When you part from your friend, you grieve not;

For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.

And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.

For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.

For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?

Seek him always with hours to live.

For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.

And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.

For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Educating the masses: the PLANET EARTH dvd series

"I'm only focused on the economic aspect... I don't want to recycle... I don't care about pollution... What's in it for me?"

We all know someone like this. There's one in every family or group of friends. Here's a chance to try to do something about it.

For less than $50 on DVD and $65 on high def Blue-Ray, you can purchase a gift "to educate that someone we all know" with the BBC series Planet Earth (see the trailer embedded in this post). For those of you who saw clips of it on TV last year and were annoyed by Sigourney Weaver's narration, rest assured that she's missing in action on the disc series... Sir David Attenborough gives it an added touch with the English accent.

...or if you haven't seen it yourself, pick it up. It's worth every penny, and you'll watch it repeatedly. S

Monday, March 17, 2008

RED ALERT! Some etiquette at the market, please?

Shopping at Whole Foods yesterday for organic vegetables, I noticed what has become a recurring pattern in our urban society.

It's called rudeness and lack of consideration... and nowhere is it more apparent than at the market these days.

In some ways, I see it as a reflection of the downward spiral of our society in general... everyone out for themselves... nobody willing to compromise and work together for the greater good.

Does that sound like a primary election that we're having? Could it be that the hornet's nest demeanor of the market mirrors our political landscape? Can it be? How can it be? Wow!!! (yelling out loud, with jaw wide open for at least 5 seconds, like the scary screaming face on the Pink Floyd - The Wall poster)

I blame it in its parts to a reaction to more compact urban spaces, general selfishness, lack of awareness and social skills, pure stupidity, more lack of agility and fat folks, and a general inability to see the larger picture of how "working together, we both succeed."

Let me repeat: "Working together, we both succeed."

One more time: "Working together, we both succeed."

Just to be annoying: "Working together, we both succeed." Theeeere you go... now, all you dummies, go off to market and find your success!!!

...but not without some general rules of etiquette for you to follow... just in case you forget my catch-all phrase of the day.

Rules at the supermarket:
  1. Plan what you want to get BEFORE going to the market... it will go a long way. Thank you.
  2. Say "pardon me" or "excuse me." Take a chance, it might actually work... and at the same time start a "pay it forward" chain reaction. Thank you.
  3. Try a little awareness of your surroundings... if you can move your cart to the side and out of the way, PLEASE do so. Thank you.
  4. Whenever possible, try shopping in a tandem of two, and consider actually using it to your advantage... one person should "drive" and commit all their attention to cart etiquette while the other "fetches" the goods. Thank you.
  5. Get familiar with your market layout... and do it quickly. It's totally worth your time and will eliminate future annoyances for everyone, including yourself. When moving to a new area and seeing which stores you'll be going to, it might even make sense to go on a "scouting mission" to get familiar with the layout. Thank you.
  6. To the effect of the prior point; venture through the market aisle to aisle in an organized manner; running to and fro will only make you that much more annoying to others. The ONE exception to that hard and steadfast rule: the frozen section, which is typically the last one you hit, right before approaching the register... That's the home stretch... there's a reason the frozen section is where it is. Thank you.
  7. When running into others you know; if a conversation ensues (what I refer to as a "tea party"), step to the side of the aisle, preferably in a place that's out of the way... or if the conversation gets really involved, decide to meet for coffee afterwards... or at a motel room... whatever works. Thank you.
  8. If the thought of adhering to ANY of these rules and guidelines makes you seethe at the teeth, I'd consider going to the market during non-peak hours, when nobody else is around... that might be a healthy thing for ALL OF US. Thank you.
  9. Or, if you're simply too busy, "market shy," don't like people in general, are teetering on the edge of shooting up a place, or if I've convinced you to avoid the market and you have now decided to poo-poo the idea of going anymore --- you can avoid the whole shebang by having your groceries delivered. Stores do it now for a modest fee, and they'll even bring them into your house... they won't eat them for you however; that's up to you. Thank you.
  10. Try this phrase: "Thank you." It produces pleasant and interesting results. Thank you.
ANY violation of these rules, perceived or real, may result in one of the following, or a combination thereof, occurring around you, at you, or on you... henceforth:
  1. Hearing "excuse me" or "pardon me" directed at you excessively... that means you've caught the market on an unusually "good day," and YOU are the aisle annoyance for everyone else.
  2. To the effect of the prior statement, if later at home you feel stomach pain or other body pain... that means other shoppers made a voodoo doll of you and are poking you with needles or other devices of torture.
  3. A banana being jammed into your ear.
  4. A rutabaga being thrown at your head.
  5. A random stranger sneaking up behind you and pissing in your pocket.
  6. A lasso and dragging around the grocery store by the Lone Ranger of your "tea party" if you and yours are blocking the aisle.
  7. A shopping cart crashing into your cart that's in the way (or YOU, if you're in the GODDAM WAY [chances are is hasn't been the first time, either.])
  8. Lots of dirty looks from passers by if you haven't planned in advance, and are holdng up the vegetable aisle "debating" between the Brussels sprouts and broccoli.
  9. Excessive staff questions like "Can I help you find anything?" or "May I pick that up for you?" if you're turning the aisle into a train wreck.
  10. Or no help from the staff at all... or perhaps when you ask where the water chestnuts are, they'll point you to the chopped liver aisle just to "get even" with you.
Good day, and good luck...

One more time... "Working together, we both succeed."

(bowing to a KeyArena crowd of 21,000) Thank you! Thank you... Thank you very much. Thanks so much. Thank you! You're too much! Thank you. My oh my, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. S

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A nature lover's winter in Quebec

Here's a beautiful read from Neil Peart, one of my favorite musicians who has a deep connection with the Laurentian Mountains in Quebec, Canada where he has a winter home.

Go to:
NEP News - Tales from the Trail. Peart has a very easy flow to his writing, with a warm personal touch.

He's authored several books, focusing mainly on a variety of personal travel experiences; his works include
The Masked Rider, Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, Traveling Music, and Roadshow: Landscape with Drums...

They're all worth your time to check out.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Something new: careers in cartoon voice-overs

Here's an interesting article I stumbled on this morning... don't ask me how it happened, it just happened.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact I'm in the middle of a career change and looking for ideas.

You can see the folks here to the right performing voice-overs for The Flinstones... can you tell who Wilma and Barney Rubble are? I'm sorry, that's "Betty Rubble."

Uh, it might help to get the characters right BEFORE performing the voice-over. huh... maybe I'll be heading up to Vancouver sometime soon.

For those of you out there who've ever dreamed of being the next Yogi Bear or Bugs Bunny, this is for you. S

Taken from the "Point of View," by MarkEvanier... originally published 9-27-1996

In the last four days, I've received three letters and two phone calls from people who want to get into the field of doing cartoon voices. One of the calls almost stunned me with its nonchalant assumption that this is an easy-entrance business. This lady seemed to think it was like signing up to earn frequent-flyer mileage. I imagine her deciding she wants to be in the movies, then calling up Martin Scorsese and saying, "Hi. I'm a clerk-typist here in Dayton, Ohio. Is it okay if I star opposite Robert DeNiro in your next movie?"

It would be wrong to tell these aspiring voice artists that what they want is impossible. In show business, nothing is impossible, except an honest accounting of profits. Not all that long ago, Conan O'Brien was a writer and bit-part performer. If he'd told me he wanted to take over for David Letterman on NBC, I'd have gone, "Uh-huh, well, I wouldn't bet on that ever happening."

Still, when folks ask me about something like getting into cartoon-voicing, I feel I'd be doing them a disservice not to clue them in that it might not be all that easy to attain. Is it possible? Of course. But then so is winning the lottery.

The first cartoon voice artist was probably Walt Disney. He made the first sound cartoons and he cast himself, altogether appropriately, as Mickey Mouse. Many of the early makers of animated talkies looked no further than their own staffs, conscripting artists and secretaries to stand, often trembling, before the microphones.

Which is not to say they were all bad. Walt was fine as Mickey — a task he kept for himself until he became too busy with studio matters. Jack Mercer, the long-time voice of Popeye and other characters, was discovered in the Fleischer Studios art department. And one of the all-time great voice artists, Bill Scott (voice of Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right and umpteen others) was first and foremost a writer and producer.

The first actor to make a living primarily doing cartoon voices was probably Clarence "Ducky" Nash, voice of Donald Duck. Disney heard him on a radio show in 1934 and quickly signed him to what turned out to be a lifetime gig. When "Ducky" wasn't speaking for The Duck, he was the studio's goodwill ambassador, making personal appearances with a ventriloquist figure of Donald.

Then in 1936, Warner Brothers gave a shot to a beginning radio actor named Mel Blanc. Smart move.

Blanc billed himself as the Man of a Thousand Voices — good p.r. but probably not an accurate count and certainly a misassessment of his talent. It wasn't quantity that made Mel great, it was quality. His "voice characterizations," as the credits called them, were rounded, fully-developed personalities — with comic timing and delivery as skilled as the best radio comics of the day. The cartoon acting field had found its Olivier.

Soon, a few other masters happened along, including Daws Butler, Stan Freberg, Paul Frees and, in a class by herself, the incredible June Foray. Butler — the man Blanc himself called "my only rival" — would later voice Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound and most of the early Hanna-Barbera characters.

Between 1950 and 1970 (all dates approximate), a relatively small talent pool supplied most of the cartoon voices in Hollywood. Butler, Blanc, Foray, Frees, Hans Conreid, Don Messick, Allan Melvin, Howie Morris, Janet Waldo, Joanie Gerber, Hal Smith, Dick Beals, Walker Edmiston, Julie Bennett, Lennie Weinrib, Shep Menken, John Stephenson and a few others probably handled about 75% of the work. In 1969, a young impressionist named Frank Welker began doing voices and quickly became ubiquitous. If anyone were to ever tally who since then has logged the most hours making silly sounds before microphones, Frank would be the easy victor.

Since about '70, there seems to have been a rush of new voice performers. Some hail from the comedy circuit and from various improv troupes. Others come out of disc-jockeying or on-camera acting. Most grew up on cartoons, dreaming of someday being Mel Blanc or Daws Butler.

Between 1970 and 1990, the field became flooded with new performers and, since then, it's only gotten more crowded. As a result of Disney features, The Simpsons and a general depression in Screen Actors Guild employment, it is no longer unfashionable for on-camera actors to do cartoon voice work. Many animated shows have rushed to cast actors who are best known for their work on live-action TV series on the questionable (I think) premise that employing these folks elevates the cartoon to some higher level.

Some of these TV stars are as good as the full-time voice actors, many are not, and at least one producer has openly admitted that he doesn't care. For reasons of promotion and prestige, he'd rather have a "name actor" delivering a mediocre performance than a good job by a professional voice artist whose name most folks wouldn't recognize. (Most of them are working for S.A.G, scale, so the celebrities don't cost any more.)

The end result of all this, of course, is that the field keeps getting more and more overrun with talent. Like all forms of professional acting that have ever existed on this planet, the number of folks who want to perform will always greatly exceed the number of roles that could possibly exist.

Cartoon voices are almost always done before the pictures. The animation is done to the voice track. (One exception was at the Fleischer Studios where they usually animated first and voiced after. This order of business is what led to Jack Mercer doing all those wonderful under-his-breath mutterings as Popeye.)

For theatrical cartoons, it has usually been the practice to record the dialogue a line at a time. The actor does multiple takes of each speech, doing it over and over until the director is satisfied. Often, when two or more actors are involved, they're recorded at separate times...or, when one actor does multiple roles, they record one character at a time. Mel Blanc would sometimes perform Tweety one day and Sylvester, the next.

Television cartoons are almost always recorded like a radio play, with the entire cast gathered together in one room, everyone doing his or her lines in sequence. The few instances wherein the actors aren't all together, it's usually because someone wasn't available, not because the producers wanted it that way. Usually, the actors all record together and when they can, the procedure goes something like this...

1. The first thing that happens, of course, is the casting. On a new series, they usually have auditions for the recurring roles. Actor after actor is brought in and recorded reading a few lines of copy, then the producers (or network folks or whoever) whittle down the pile and make their selections.

Each episode also has non-recurring roles — one-time characters who are usually cast by the voice director without an audition. Whenever possible, to save money, they'll try to have the regular actors double. The Screen Actors Guild contract says that, for the basic session fee, an actor can do two roles, plus he or she can do a third for a small increase. If an actor does four roles, the "count" starts over and they get paid the basic session fee again.

Not all actors can double. Some are hired for their one wonderful voice and can't really do a few lines as Man #1 or the Policeman in Scene 22. But to the extent possible, the voice director will have the show's regulars cover other roles, then hire as many other actors as necessary to fill out the cast.

After the actors are booked, everyone gathers at the specified time at a recording studio and the real work begins.

2. Voice actors work from scripts that contain all of the dialogue but little, if any, description of the visuals. Each line is numbered. Sometimes, they may be shown a storyboard or other artwork, especially if the episode contains a new character whose voice must be invented.

The director assigns roles and explains the action. He tells the actors what their characters are doing when they go, "Yow" or whatever. He takes them through the script and may have them read it aloud once or twice. (On certain shows with certain actors, there is a value to not doing this. You let them read it the first time with tape rolling, just in case magic happens. Actors have been known to do things on a first read that they cannot replicate once they know what they're doing.)

Actors will usually mark their scripts as the director explains things. They all have their own mysterious codes and symbols. Don Messick, who is unparalleled at switching voices and playing nine people talking to each other, carries an array of colored markers. He'll highlight one character's lines in yellow, another's in green and so on.

3. The actors are placed at individual microphones in a studio. Each has a few pages of script spread out on a music stand before them. It's not a good idea to have the actors turning pages during a recording. Good takes have been ruined by the sound of paper rustling.

4. The director, who sits outside the booth at a console by the engineer, will designate a sequence to be recorded. He'll say, for instance, "Let's do lines 1 through 20 this take." The engineer will roll tape and then slate, meaning that he'll record some information to identify the sequence. He might say, "This is [Name of episode], take one, lines 1 through 20." This will help him locate the proper takes when it comes time to edit.

5. The actors will perform their lines in sequence. If someone makes a mistake, the director will stop them and either start over or try to find a natural place in the dialogue to restart.

6. Once the take is done, the director may give them comments and do it again several times. Then he may do pick-ups of individual lines. Once he's satisfied he has at least one good take of every line, he will designate which ones to use. He might tell an assistant, "Let's use 1 through 10 from the second take and 11 through 20 from take three, except that I want to edit in the pick-up of line 15 from take four." Later, the editor — sometimes working with the director, sometimes off the notes — will assemble all this accordingly.

(Some directors will also do what is called a "protection take," meaning that they get what they need, then they record another copy in case there proves to be a technical defect with the first version. As the technology improves, this is becoming increasingly unnecessary and many shows are dispensing with it. On Garfield and Friends, we never bothered — and, in 121 half-hour shows, only once did we have to go back and redo lines later because we didn't have a protection take.)

And that's pretty much it. The "gang" method is generally preferred to the system where the actors are recorded separately. Actors like working with other actors. They draw energy and inspiration from one another and the result is usually a more natural flow. Also, this way, the actors have a bit more control over the timing of the dialogue and the pauses between speeches (although even then, the editors may later shorten or lengthen these pauses to suit the animation).

Which brings us back to that original query of how one goes about getting into the field of cartoon voices. The first thing that should be explained is that the competition is fierce and that you must be very, very good. Just being able to do one silly voice around the dinner table is not enough.

Another must: You must be where the work is. About 5% is in New York, maybe 20% is in Toronto or Vancouver, and the rest is in Los Angeles. (I'm talking here just about cartoon jobs. In actuality, no one functions as a full-time cartoon voice actor. They all do other things like commercial voiceovers, announcing, dubbing of movies, narration, etc. But the point is that you have to be where the work is. It won't come to you.)

Those who think they don't need acting lessons are almost always wrong. Even many working voice actors find it helpful to take classes.

There are teachers who specialize in voiceovers. They're usually located in the same cities as the work but any kind of acting coach is better than none. I'd especially look into classes on improvisational comedy and on cold readings. (A cold reading is when you're handed a script and have to perform with zero time to think through the role and rehearse.) If you can find a good tutor of dialects, sign up immediately.

Then you must have a demo of your work — an audio cassette of 2-3 minutes, demonstrating versatility and professionalism. In most cases, you edit up a little montage of scenes and speeches. Excerpts from actual jobs, if any, are more impressive than homemade stuff but, in either case, it ought to be professionally recorded and edited — in a studio, not on your friend's deck from Radio Shack.

In each city where the work is, there are agents who specialize in voiceover performers. The local actors' union/guild should be able to give you a list of them. You would submit a copy of your demo tape to each and then cross every part of your body that can be crossed, hoping that yours would arouse some interest. The odds are steep: Last year, one of the top voice agents received in excess of 2,000 submissions from novices and accepted a grand total of two as new clients.

If the agent takes you on, he or she will send you to a few auditions to see how you fare. If you audition and the director thinks you're better for the role than Charlie Adler, Frank Welker, Rob Paulsen, Joe Alaskey, Greg Burson, Gregg Berger, Don Messick, Hal Rayle, Jeff Bennett, Maurice La Marche, Corey Burton, Howie Morris, Jeff Bergman, Greg Berg, Neil Ross, Billy West, Brian Cummings, Jim Cummings, Bob Bergen, Bill Farmer, Hamilton Camp, Michael Bell, Nick Jameson, Dan Castellaneta and about ninety other guys, you'll get the job.

Good luck. You'll need it.

P.S. Please don't send your tapes to me and don't write for further advice. Everything I have to offer is in this article. I thank you.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The "other side" of Exxon's mouth

I thought this article from the site Oil Watchdog was worth noting... another example of bad behavior from our oil industry favorite, the promoters of drunken oil tanker slalom racing captains.

If you guessed Exxon, you win a crude oil milkshake with whipped topping and a cherry... I've been refusing to gas up at their locations since the 90s, and also at Mobile stations since the merge.

All of you do realize that Exxon-Mobile hasn't paid ANYTHING in terms of taking responsibility for the Valdez spill in 1989, don't you? It was a rude awakening when I found out about that a few years back.

...but that's a story for another day... S

3-07-08 by dugan

The next time you pump $70
worth of $3.50 a gallon gasoline into your tank, munch on this thought: When ExxonMobil defends its $41 billion yearly profit profit to us angry peasants, it's a mere "10 percent of revenue," just like other big companies and less than, say, big tech companies.

When Exxon reports to big investors, it talks about a much different profit measure.

Exxon's PR department reported this week on CEO Rex Tillerson's speech Wednesday to stock analysts in New York, focusing on plans to "invest more than $125 billion in capital spending over the next five years to deliver major projects to help meet growing world energy demand." More on that later. Buried at the bottom, and not much reported in the financial media, was this:
"ExxonMobil continued its superior performance with a 2007 return on average capital employed of 32 percent, almost 40 percent greater than its closest competitor, and increased its five-year average to 28 percent."

At 32 percent, Exxon is making more than double what U.S industries make on average by the same measure. And about triple what regulated gas and electric utilities make.
Here's a
great piece by consumer columnist David Lazarus (now of the LA Times, previously at the San Francisco Chronicle) explaining Big Oil's deceptive spin when it talks about profits to different audiences. It was written in 2006, but it's just as accurate today:

While the oil industry habitually downplays its profitability when speaking to lawmakers, the media or the public, it sings an entirely different tune when addressing investors and others in the financial community.

In such cases, industry officials emphasize not their relatively benign profits as a percentage of total revenue but their very impressive "return on capital employed," or ROCE -- their earnings as a factor of money spent to make money.

Exxon's chief exec, Rex Tillerson, reiterated this point to Wall Street analysts in March. "In our view, ROCE continues to be the best overall measure of financial performance given the long-term and capital-intensive nature of our industry," he said. "I would be cautious of anyone who tries to de-emphasize it."

As for Exxon's plan to invest $125 billion over five years on exploration, refineries and the like, remember that it's a well-spun announcement, not a promise. Not a penny is likely to go to developing renewable fuels. And remember that Exxon spends more than it invests, on a yearly basis, to buy back its own stock.

Since the end of 2005, Exxon
has announced $60 billion in stock buybacks, money that doesn't do anything but boost the stock price and act as a piggy bank for a company that makes unspendable, and unspeakable, amounts of profit.

Friday, March 7, 2008

THE LARGER P-PATCH -- Ants in Peril

That's sorta how I view our society sometimes, and that analogy can make itself VERY apparent when driving down the freeway...

Maybe there's a better insect out there for an analogy (I considered bees), but the ant comparison seems to make the most sense to me, and probably to most...

Everyone knows the makeup of an ant community, and ants are pretty much about everywhere. They're communal, they create armies, and they "go to work."

Listing the comparisons:
  1. We are community-oriented like ants.
  2. We all make nests like ants.
  3. Buildings can be interpreted as anthills.
  4. Freeways are like the pathways that ants make... and the country roads are for the stragglers... like those wandering ants that appear to have lost their way, but they're probably really carrying out a purpose.
  5. Red cars are bad and attention-grabbers, sorta like those nasty fire ants. Cops are probably like that too.
  6. Like us, some ants are meaner than others, and get into fights.
  7. Like us, ants bite.
  8. Our inter-racial tension is like different types (or breeds) of ants fighting over territory (sorry, I'm not an ant specialist, but my aunt is... doh!).
  9. Like us, ants can alter their environment to suit their habitat.
  10. Like us, ants form armies.
  11. As we get into perilous situations, so do ants.
  12. "Ant peril" occurs when events such as the diabolical maneuvers of a boy with the sun and a magnifying glass, or anthill destruction from exterminators, kills ants or makes them vulnerable to injury. I guess that would be like meteors hitting the earth or terrorist attacks... and when that happens we scurry around to to and fro, panicking like ants in peril.
  13. Serving the queen is a tough one... maybe for us the queen is the Godess of Oil, the Queen of England, or something like that.
  14. A bird's eye view of us reveals an appearance probably no different from that of the way we look down on an anthill.
  15. I'm sure there's more I haven't thought of.
So there you are... try it on for size next time you're fighting the other scavengers in the nasty commute. I find it's a good way to amuse yourself and occupy otherwise boring and aggravating drive time... you get as far-fetched with it as you want.

Feel free to share any and as many ant analogies on this illustrious human existence as you wish... knock yourself out! ...but ONLY if the mood strikes. Heaven forbid you think TOO hard and use your imagination (what are you, a worker ant drone?!?!)

Oh, and while you're driving along, try to avoid perilous situations, and don't piss off any red ants. S