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Wagstaff’s Picks: Weekend of November 19, 2016 November 18, 2016

Posted by Jim Berkin in Football, Writing.
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grfootThe new Wagstaff novel is at the proofreaders/immediate feedback sources. I’m aiming for sometime in January to have it available on Amazon. Watch this space for any updates on that.

In the meantime, this means I can devote whatever gray matter I have left (most likely my internal organs at this point) towards making these picks, right? I keep reverting back to matching a coin flip, however, going 3-3 overall last week to bring my college totals to 18-15-1 and the NFL to 13-9, totalling 31-24-1. 56%. Ugh. I gotta do better than that.

Perhaps my constant trolling of people on Facebook with snark will sharpen my mind. And if not, well, at least I’m getting my jollies.

I think I will take advantage of the Thanksgiving break to design some possible covers for the new book. I’m aiming for something a little flashier than last time, something a little more colorful. The black & white noir thing worked well last time, but it’s time to gussy things up a bit. I have a decent camera and compositing software…. I ought to be able to put something together that’s nice. I have a concept in mind that shouldn’t be too difficult to stage.

Which reminds me… I need to rent a truckload of kangaroos dressed as clowns in bondage gear. Like I said, my concept shouldn’t be too difficult to stage.

In the meantime, in the college games this week, I like Virginia Tech plus 2 against Notre Dame, Temple by 15 over Tulane, Penn State to cover a big 28 over Rutgers, and as much as I LOVE home underdogs in rivalry games, I’m going to go against that and pick USC to cover 13 over UCLA.

In the NFL, I’ll take the Jaguars plus 6 1/2 against the Lions in a game where my cat will have no idea who to root for, the Cowboys by 7 over the Ravens, the Redskins by 3 over the Packers, and since I think it will be a low-scoring affair, I’ll take the UNDER 39.5 in the Rams/Dolphins matchup.

Looking forward to some much-needed downtime this week. I wish you all the same!

 

What Makes Some People Lucky – An Interesting Study August 2, 2014

Posted by Jim Berkin in General, Writing.
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gladstoneYou gotta give action to get action.

That’s what the luckiest person I know said to me about gambling.

And evidently, a similar idea is now backed up by some very interesting research. A British psychologist named Richard Wiseman has identified numerous behavior & personality patterns of people who one would consider “lucky” as well as traits of people one would consider “unlucky.” He also believes you can teach yourself to be luckier.

An interesting idea – go read the article, and then come back here.

Done? Good! I gotta be honest – Wiseman’s theories involving being open to random happenings & observations certainly jibes with the entire M.O. of the Wagstaff novel series I’m working on.  As much as a lot of the material in them (and yes, the second installment is well on the way) is semi-autobiographical, I’m thinking I ought to reduce that “semi” somewhat if I want to improve my luck.

I certainly could have used more yesterday going after a 1.1 million Pick 6 pool at Del Mar. Got wiped out…. so much for that nine bucks.

The winning horse in the final race? The one I didn’t bet? His name was Jimmy’s Date.

A date I shoulda gone on, although believe me, I didn’t miss the Pick 6 by only one race. Del Mar is a BASTARD to bet compared to Santa Anita, at least to me.

But  still – shoulda gone with my gut on that one, even if his past performances were, well… lackluster. And then he won. Figures.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Vegas – the high cost of table games and the legality of advanced deposit horse wagering have kept me from caring about it as much as I used to. I also don’t have a cat sitter I can trust, and the star of Cat Thoughts is somewhat high maintenance. But the last time I was there, like so many times before, I went with a friend of mine who frequents the place much more than I ever would, as well as card clubs and the like. Yes, he enjoys gambling a great deal, and why not?

He practically wins all the time.

Well, at least he seems to win all the time. He certainly hit some big wins whenever I was along for the Vegas ride, which meant getting treated to some nice dinners (thank YOU, gamblin’ Gods!)

He’s the luckiest person I know. I’ve seen restaurants screw up his order & comp the bill or provide free dessert. I’ve heard stories of his airplane flights running out of seats and bumping him into first class. I picked a slot machine at random for him to play and he hit a thousand dollar pull within ten minutes.

And he told me that he thought he’d win a lot simply because he’d play a lot – “You gotta give action to get action,” he said.

Then he signed me up for the club card at the Wynn. He borrowed the card long enough to plug it into a slot machine and load $100 onto it, something he & I knew I’d NEVER do in all my cheapness – and he played the thing for maybe half an hour.

At the end of the half an hour, there was enough playtime on that club card to be registered for some freebies from the Wynn as well as a spin of their comp prize wheel. I spun it & won free buffet brunch for the both of us. And the Wynn has an excellent buffet.

Oh, and his slot play?After that half an hour he was up about two hundred dollars.

You gotta give action to get action. Gladstone Gander might agree. Ron Jeremy would certainly agree, but that’s another story (although I bet he’d love to win that Wynn buffet as well).

Richard Wiseman definitely would agree – but extrapolating his theories beyond gambling and towards opportunity in general, his ideas are quite fascinating. I always remember the line from Robert Evans’ The Kid Stays In The Picture – Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Wiseman has demonstrated how to prepare yourself to find many more opportunities, hence, increase your luck.

And now, back to the racing form…. there must be a horse named Bet On Me You Pathetic Male Crazy Cat Lady or something like that, you know, something to go straight for my gut.

My SMALLER gut, too! Scroll down & read about my no-carb success!

A Resolution For 2014 January 1, 2014

Posted by Jim Berkin in General, Writing.
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secofwar

… is to get back to posting on this blog.

I’ve been away from it a while, busy with a lot of other crap (mostly my big move and subsequent Casa De Wagstaff set-up), but since I need to get into big-time writin’ mode as the second Wagstaff mystery novel is one of my 2014 goals, I’ve resolved to post to this thing at least once a week – might be a film review, a music blog, something about food, sports, TV, more cat comics, a rant, whatever.

Just something to keep things fresh.

The new abode is pretty much set up now & I finally organized a lot of the ENDLESS CRAP I had boxed up to either unpack, stow for future assignment, or begin to (eek!) unload on ebay since it’s not giving me any jollies all packed away. May as well as pay it forward (at a price, of course!)

Oh, and the next Wagstaff mystery? Coming together nicely, thank you very much.

Another Scintillating Online Interview From Yours Truly June 16, 2013

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Writing.
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Cut_To_Wagstaff_Cover_for_Kindle

A while back, I did an interview with the Dan O’Brien Project which can be found here.

Mostly I talk about the Wagstaff novel, a little about some upcoming book releases, and some other stuff.

I’ll be getting on those other book projects now that I’m FINALLY settled into the spankin’ NEW chateau du Wagstaff and have gotten (somewhat) organized.

The kitchen is set up. The cat has explored and found some favorite spots instead of hiding most of the day (this was extremely important), and I’ve begun to organize the tons of books I originally shelved by size only. Art, science, graphic novels, cooking, music, movies, bible and all things JEW have been all sectioned very nicely! History, economics, politics, miscellany and all fiction still need a lot of sorting. But I’ll get there.

Today I fixed a leaking sprinkler head on my front lawn all my widdle self. I must be a real suburbanite now. Either that or I’ll be the reason Home Depot & Lowe’s stocks soar, considering how much crap I’ve been having to get from them lately.

I’m glad I made the move, however… as much as a chore as it was to pack up what seemed like an overwhelming amount of crap I’ve accumulated over the 18 years I spent at my last abode, I’ve got more space now, more privacy, and more peace & quiet, especially after chasing those kids off my lawn with my sawed off shot gun,

Well, not ALL the kids. Did I mention that all the girls in this area all look like budding porn stars? I must be in heaven!

But that’s a blog for another time.

Anyway, enjoy the interview! Here’s the link again!

Been House Hunting… February 17, 2013

Posted by Jim Berkin in General, Writing.
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vpricehauntedhill

… which is the reason blogging has been light lately.

It’s a ton of tsuris to look for a house. I’ve wanted to move to larger digs for a while now, and the recent uptick in the housing market out here in zany SoCal gives me what I figure is a 6 month window to get something decent with my current financial situation.

So I’ve spent a lot of time searching & visiting homes for sale, shlepping back and forth, testing out theoretical new commuter routes, etc. It’s all been very time consuming, both physically and mentally. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the crap to think about in buying a home, selling my present one, moving nearly two decades of piled up Wagstaff archives & collections… oy vey. First I obsessed over the condition of heating and A/C equipment, roofs, windows, kitchen condition, floor plans, cat-friendliness…etc. Then I moved onto financial matters of property taxes and insurance rates and crime rates in the areas I researched. Lately I’ve been poring over natural hazard maps of biblical proportions, dealing with fire & floods & earthquakes & windstorms. All Vincent had to deal with were silly ghosts & plastic skeletons.

I’m hoping I’ll be incredibly happy & relaxed once it’s all done… but knowing myself, I’m sure I’ll find new things to worry about. Bah.

Anyway, I hope to have some Oscar picks posted later this week, despite that I’m totally flying blind & haven’t seen any of the nominees. And I have a few pieces on some old TV I wanted to post. And hopefully an interview I gave to another blog about Cut To Wagstaff will be linked up soon.

So stay tuned!

Call Me Mr. Helpful January 10, 2013

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art, General, Writing.
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helpcat

The other day the Los Angeles Daily News asked for reader suggestions as to how they might retool their comics & puzzle pages in the coming year. So, I wrote them the following email, from which I’ve yet to get any sort of response:

You asked for it, you got it! With today’s football games getting boring, I’ll go ahead and give you my thoughts on your “streamlining” the comics pages for 2013.

For me, the strips that are mostly funny are Pearls Before Swine, and the collection of single-panel jobs which all seem to follow in the wake of the old Far Side weirdness, like F Minus, Brevity, Off The Mark, Rubes, Bizarro and Argyle Sweater. As long as any of those guys are batting .300 with good jokes, there’ll be something worth a laugh each day. Keep ‘em all.

I also make a point of reading specific comics in your paper for different reasons. For example, I’m fascinated by Funky Winkerbean. What started out decades ago as a silly comic centered around dorky high schoolers with jokes based largely on puns and high school marching band clichés has devolved into a maudlin soap opera complete with limbs lost in drunken car accidents, cancer deaths, frustrating career disappointments, parents with alzheimers, and the main character’s constant battles with alcoholism and his abject failure as a father. I’m hoping that Tom Batiuk continues to get more and more depressing and the strip will finally reach its inevitableRequiem For A Dream-type pinnacle in terms of the ways he’s been torturing his characters. In any case, I read that strip every single day, and every day I keep shaking my head. Whatever you do, keep running it. It’s not easy to be amazed, after all.

(more…)

An Open Message To All The Habitual Political Posters On Facebook (A rant) August 26, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in General, Writing.
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The message is: You’re not changing anyone’s mind.

It doesn’t take a university-sponsored cyber-anthropological study to figure this out.  Look at any Facebook political post on your newsfeed, and you’ll see the exact same repeating pattern:

  1. A simple graphic or photo is shared from some other source (usually a Facebook page devoted to politics such as “Being Liberal” or “Being Conservative” that was liked & thereby supplies the stuff)
  2. The graphic/photo oversimplifies the issue and attempts to push emotional buttons via smug self-congratulatory sarcasm
  3. Comments ensue, mostly from the friends who agree with the graphic, sometimes leading to…
  4. One or two people (often the same people) argue the point or discredit the graphic, leading to endless personal attacks and attempts to change the subject, usually beginning with “Yeah, but what about….” and leading to something totally unrelated.
  5. Rinse & repeat when another political post appears.

What I’ve noticed looking at my own newsfeed & after some random browsings of the walls of my more politically activist Facebook friends is that what’s going on is not a debate where someone is trying to convince someone else to adopt a new point of view, or consider new evidence, or rethink an issue. What’s going on is merely the public preening of viewpoint in search of reassuring pats on the back from the safely & comfortably like-minded.

It reminds me of another pet peeve of mine as a film maven. From the time I’ve been in college ’til now, whenever attending a public screening of some old classic movie. At some point, someone in that digitally preserved 1930s world on the screen would spout a line of dialogue ill befitting our own so-enlightened era – they’d describe something as “woman’s work” or whatever – I remember it happening during a screening of the 1936 original Mr. Deeds Goes To Town when someone discusses how “women think differently” – and inevitably someone in the audience would hiss the movie.

Why?

Will the characters in the movie change their attitudes from audience reaction? Are we actually all living in The Purple Rose Of Cairo? Well, no, of course not. There’s absolutely no reason for the hiss except for the mere public demonstration involved – a way of standing up amongst an audience of peers and shouting “I AM PROPERLY ENLIGHTENED!”  without actually getting up and shouting words since there’s a movie playing.

Granted, if the guy hissing only does so in order to con his date into thinking of him as a sensitive beta-male & it gets her to put out, I guess I can forgive him. Otherwise, my reaction is always the same: SHUT THE F UP.

Yes, I know many social attitudes of decades ago are worse than now. Gee, thanks for adding an exclamation point to it. Without the hiss, I’d have NO idea. Thank you SO FRIGGIN MUCH FOR GUIDING ME AS TO PROPER BEHAVIOR. I need to start taking notes., thank you OH so much.

I’m actually more interested in seeing the social attitudes & behaviors in old movies that are the same or close to the same as they are today, despite decades of change. But that’s another story & can always turn up later on one of my regular movie blog posts. Yay!

Those Facebook political posts are the equivalent of those movie hisses:  public preening of opinions safely held within your social circle in search of positive emotional reinforcement. Your Facebook feed IS your social circle, by its very definition.  Chances are if you’re like most people, the majority of your social circle tilts towards your own political beliefs. If you’ve moved in the sorts of social circles I have for most of my life – academia & Hollywood…. well, you can now imagine the tilt of my Facebook newsfeed.

That’s why I started thinking about this – I looked at the endless postings by the same three or four friends in my newsfeed & who regularly commented on them, and realized – These people are only talking amongst themselves.  They’re all reassuring each other that they are in the right, a lot like the macrobiotic cooking group I saw one time all trying to reassure each other how delicious the bland cardboard drek I was eating with them tasted. And it’s not a phenomenon for one ideology as opposed to another – browsing the walls of people with vastly different political stances illustrated the exact same pattern.

I’m sure there’s a social psych study out there somewhere about this.

It certainly makes sense when you stop and consider how friendships form & how networks of friends would only remain networks if certain kinds of consistencies in attitudes were present.

Posting political material on Facebook thinking you’ll change someone’s mind is like standing up in temple on Yom Kippur to shout the ten commandments thinking you’ll convert someone in the place to Judaism.

IT’S POINTLESS, PEOPLE!

And (ahem) I noticed this myself when I posted political material or took it upon myself to comment on others; whether in agreement or in opposition. After a while I had my epiphany, seeing how pointless it was.  Although I will still engage people in political discussion or commentary on Facebook as in real life… and THAT’S the key.

I’ll talk about this stuff with friends on Facebook the way I do in real life. When there’s listening, no shouting, and a respectful attitude all around. It’s where you can shush someone for hissing during a movie because hissing is, well, bad audience manners, unless Snidely Whiplash is on screen.

So, to sum up: No one cares what you think unless they are insecure & are thinking it already. Facebook posts don’t change anyone’s minds.

And that goes DOUBLE for all those baby pictures. I don’t care how adorable your little darling is when he/she sleeps, craps or points to their bellybutton. It’s not convincing me to run out & have kids any more than the pic you shared of some protester’s sign has changed my mind about the issues of the day.

Either way, I’m tuning you out, opening a cold beer & petting my cat. (Sans beer on Yom Kippur… I don’t want to upset Sandy Koufax.)

So there.

Excerpt From Cut To Wagstaff On Frontrowlit August 24, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Writing.
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Frontrowlit, the book blog for FrontRow Monthly magazine, has an excerpt from my novel Cut To Wagstaff posted.

If you want a peek at a lot of Chapter 2, go check it out on Frontrowlit here!

Most of Chapter 1 is available as sneak preview on the Amazon page, by the way.

My Guest Blog, Over At Omnimystery News! August 14, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in Blogroll, Books, Writing.
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I wrote a little entry on some recent encounters with the kind of pop culture synchronicities that inspired the plot engine of Cut To Wagstaff for a blog devoted to all things mystery.
Click on this link to check it out!

Cut To Wagstaff Review & Jim Berkin Interview on The Indie Bookshelf August 10, 2012

Posted by Jim Berkin in Blogroll, Books, Writing.
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The review & interview are here!

It looks like my interview answers went up unedited too… yay!