Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Dead man watching

I watched a man die. His family, friends, and I have been watching him die for the last 5 years. I went to visit him in the hospital...in a hospice room...on Saturday. I walked into his room and greeted him with a smile, thinking I was there to provide support or comfort or I-don;t-know-what kind of positive presence to honor him or, at least, to not upset him . And what does he do? He offers me an orange!

He was diagnosed with intestinal cancer 5 years ago. It's the same disease that killed his father early. We watched as he fought it, on and off, through two courses of 'cure'. Only to watch as it came back, determined to beat him down. And it seems it has won. Or has it?

I sat next to him in the little chair pushed next to his bed. The morphine made it hard for him to keep his eyes open and slowed his speech into a soft whisper. I asked if he was in pain and he said no...I held his hand and he told me that the disease had won. "I tried to fight this, but it has taken over. I can;t eat anything. All I have is this cold, clear water...so clean and beautiful."

He told me he was so grateful for everyone who had helped them though this. "If it had been you, we'd have helped you out the way you have helped us out" he said. "Remember the little things...the littlest flower, it's beautiful petals." He squeezed my hand as my eyes welled up with tears. "I don;t have much to offer" he began as a tear slowly dribbled down his right cheek..."but I am thinking about an orange that is sitting on the dining room table. Please ask [his wife] to get that for you...I hope you like oranges...and when you peel into it and eat it, feel the cool tasty juice in your mouth, I hope you will take time and enjoy it".

He was beyond the cares of time and place that had occupied his regular life and that seem to occupy all of we temporary survivors...and sharing that state of grace, he freed me...perhaps he knowsand was understating just what he had to offer...poetic in a way that seemed natural...even supernatural.

I grasped his hand tighter and told him we would look after things for him...that I would look forward to seeing him again, in another place to come. And if it is true that we all see what we beleive, then I see him living, even in death, in the hearts and minds of everyone he has touched.

Goodbye...for now.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Seedy Tournament

We played our friendly scrimmage and, after having 3 goals scored against us in the first half, came back and scored 3 goals in the second to the opponents 1...progress...especially given that this was the first time we had 8v8. So we went into the tournament feeling good about our chances.

We came out of the tournament 3 and 3, the last game delayed for an hour by rain...and the boys looking sluggish and distracted. The league organizes teams into Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Red divisions in an attempt to group by skill. By all rights, we figured bronze maybe and red maybe...so we went to the seeding meeting...what a farce!

Another team from our club, a new team with no record, was seeded 7 spots above us and they did not even play in the seeding tournament. Throughout the meeting the League President kept reminding everyone that these were 10 year olds and slotting wasn;t that important, that if the coaching salary really mattered he'd consider movement...of course the reality is that it DOES matter...to the boys, to the parents, and given the relative value of the metals involved in division descriptions, it would seem to matter to the league...I mean why not name the divisions Orange, Blue, Yellow or Grape!...and then, the League president proceeds to arbitrarily agree to move or to ignore requests from the coaches...like some self-appointed UN chief, for whom it is the appearance of process that matters...for whom the ability to lecture the coaches about how silly they are for worrying about seeding...why have the meeting then? Because this is about the appearance enabling a civilized patina for what is the most base exercise of personal power...and a quest for cash (yes, the league gets $400 per team for the tournament...82 teams...$33,000 for one weekend!).

And so we are now seeded at the top of the red division...a team we beat 5-1 in the tournament is seeded above us in the bronze division...and the team from our club that did not even play in the tournament is in the silver division. We will play this season to earn our way into bronze...and we coaches will have learned another valuable lesson about how adults operate in the world of youth soccer.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

An unnatural act

Soccer...er, futbol, isn't natural. At least not for boys. The game is supposed to be played with disciplined energy...with patience punctuated by explosions of energy and motion. 9-year-old boys, though, well they aren't realy about patience at all...so I guess that's what us coaches are for. To get the kids to do something they wouldn;t otherwise be inclined to. That's the coaches theory anyway. The practicum demonstrates that what the kids really listen to is each other. There is an amazing amount of peer pressure that gets mvoed around the field as play begins. Not overtly critical, but someone calling for the ball and not getting it...then not delivering it when they do. Boys passing where they think they might get one back or where they think the recipient will be able to, well, receive it without error frankly. It's also interesting how even the players are picking out who the 'best' team mates are.

They think they will be playing for at least Silver division status in the seeding tournament. Me, I'm thinking bronze. We'll see Thursday what might be possible after our first friendly scrimmage!

Thursday, July 27, 2006


Travel soccer team started practice this week. We have the usual mix of coachable and more, um, 'spirited' 9 year old boys...all of whom are masters, stars and studs by their own ready admission. Of course that doesn;t stop them from making excuses for not being able to execute a rake or platini move!

Of course some of the boys are lazy. Can;t coach that, but maybe peer pressure can.

Apparently, we aren't even supposed to be practicing until Aug 1, but what sense does that make for a new team when the seeding tournament is Aug 4 and 5? We'll just keep our stealth pickup games under the radar...take a risk...the capitalist way!

Monday, March 06, 2006

The futures of Advertising

With much teeth gnashing and finger gnawing among the ad industry intelligentsia (an oxymoron for certain), the future of the business is being debated. You see of course that all manner of technology and social forces (maybe even genetic ones too!) are conspiring to place control of one's attentions in one's own hands, rather than the formerly homogenous and concentrated media outlets.

iPods, Satellite radio, the web and bloggers even let you see what you want to see, hear what you want to hear, say what you want to say...when you want. So what's a poor ad exec to do when the job search goes nowhere? Invent the futures of advertising of course!

WTF? Well, let's start with seemingly absurd futures ideas. Here's what the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has to say about weather futures:


"It is estimated that nearly 20 percent of the U.S. economy is directly affected by the weather. As a result, the earnings of businesses can be adversely impacted by summers that are hotter than normal or winters that are much colder than anticipated. Conversely, revenues of power providers and utilities can suffer from either balmy summers with less need for air conditioning or mild winters with less heating demand from consumers.

CME created a weather derivative market which enables those businesses that could be adversely affected by unanticipated temperature swings, to transfer this risk. Just as professionals regularly use futures and options to hedge their risk in interest rates, equities and foreign exchange, now there are tools available for the management of risk from extreme movements of temperature. This sector of hedging and risk management products represents today’s fastest growing derivative market. "

So, using this as a model, one could replace certain of the precepts with the word 'attention'. What are people paying attention to? When? Where? And how much of it can be predicted? Each day every individual has 24 hours...that's fixed. So subtracting out all the statistical averages for time sleeping and other 'unattentive' moments, you get a market of potential attention. MOst of that attention will be given over to the routine daily habits of life: flipping on the radio, firing up the laptop, browsing your favorite chat room...all the usual suspected places to capture or engage someone's attention...the places where advertising (in it's most general sense) already tries to make headway. But what about the unanticipated events that capture collective attention...HurricaneKatrina, Acts of Terror, Alien Landings ?

The unanticipated presents risk to the advertisers who bank on the relative proportion of attention they can gather in the normal course of a mass audience's day via the accepted and emerging vehicles available to them. So why not a future's market for attention...to be used by advertisers? You could literally buy and sell the future value of blocks of attention through various vehicles...maybe the massive vehicles (e.g., cnn.com, FoxNews, the NYTimes) get priced at a premium for these futures...maybe they get priced down as people race to their favorite small-time chat room to discuss what's going on with those who are there...no intermediary necessary. That's not my call, let the future's market decide. The benefit to advertisers would be a more uniform pricing model for units of attention...no more of the BS impressions...they also get a way to hedge the risk of consumer attention being diverted by unforeseen events...again, putting a more consistent, long term view on the value of attention in the marketplace.

But that's just the beginning...at some point, it changes the mechanism of advertising from a need to get attention, to the need to sustain attention...and there is no way advertising will ever compete with real life for that...30 seconds out of my 24 hours doesn;t register, the awards winners notwithstanding.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Hero's end

Just finished reading a book by Neil Peart, "Ghost Rider, Travels on the Healing Road". The drummer for the rock group RUSH lost his daughter and wife in the span of 18 months and the book chronicles his journey around North America in search of a reason to live.

I've been a Rush fan since 8th grade when the odd-time-signatures of Cygnus X1, Bastille Day and the like made me stop and listen...and work to buy my first set of drums. So in no small way is my attraction to this book driven by Fanboi-ism. But if the start was getting to know one of my hero's a bit better, well, the outcome is, as he says in the book, getting the thing done. Part travelogue, NP has provided a nice image of landscapes in Quebec and along the Southwest and West coasts. Part self-indulgent autobiography, I also have a more complete image of Neil Peart as a man.

Peart at once seems to embody the contradiction of us all...he's a nice guy and an a-hole. He loves people and he despises them. He says one thing, and yet he does another. In the end, his story tells the tale of a man who fails to find meaning in the tragedy that enveloped him (or who, at least, fails to reveal it to the reader!). What befalls NP forces him to question his prior life's philosophy of "Give good, get good". And yet, his 'give good' seems described mostly as supporting various causes with donations of money. Missing in his descriptions are the giving of generosity of thought, of benefit of the doubt to those who don;t, in his system of beleifs, 'measure up'.

He seems completely at ease with his soul-mate friend Brutus, the subject of many letters in the book, who is incarcerated for possession. And yet, he has no tolerance for the flawed individuals he describes so generically as 'Fat Americans' and the 'Sheep' among the tourists who've chosen a different construct for their travels. One wonders how he might view the tragedy of someone whose own child succumbed to the tragedy of drug abuse and how that might change his acceptance of his best friends flaws? Or perhaps being "a citizen of the world", as one of his rock lyrics suggests, is more an ideal than a reality.

Tragedy befalls us all in time, in our own definition. What we learn about ourselves, our friends and of those 'others' that we tolerate during tragic times is that we are truly "strangers to each other, each one's life a novel noone else has read"..and yet, having read NPs novel, it seems to me that it's the generosity of strangers that makes our stories worth the read.