Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How Dumb Has Our Political Discourse Become?

In a word:  very.

The White House decided to finally appease Trump and his mentally disabled lemmings by releasing the long form of Obama's birth certificate in an effort to quell the drama otherwise known as the birther movement.  And, of course, Trump is now claiming he's "very proud" of himself for having such influence on the President's decisions, as if this was a real controversy to begin with.

But if the White House thinks the release will make this racist movement disappear, my guess is he's sadly mistaken.  Though I look forward to seeing how much money Trump spends to "analyze" the birth certificate in an effort to see how old it's nooks and crannys are. 

Speaking of birth certificates:  Is this hooplah going to change the culture of how we present identification?  I think it sends a dangerous precedent if people have to release decades old documents to prove they are citizens of this country in order to get something as simple as a blockbuster card (I know these will be useless soon, anyway, but you know what I mean).  After all, I wonder what percentage of American citizens even know where their original birth certificate is?  This is all such a frustrating, tremendous waste of time and I have yet to see even ONE compelling argument as to why any of this is relevant anyway. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Corporation of America is One Shitty "Business"

I didn’t really want to give this subject much thought, but as time passes it appears Donald Trump, yes that “you’re fired” dickhead, is gaining relevance in the 2012 presidential election discussion.

But I don’t really want to discuss Trump the man (he’s a fool and isn’t worth serious discussion), but instead would like to comment on why people may consider him a viable candidate.  While listening to talk radio, and even during conversations with my peers, I’ve learned many are under the impression that America should be run like “a business” or that America is “a company.”  And these people are completely missing the entire point of government. 

First off, while corporate interests have great influence within the political community, the federal government is NOT a business.  If it was, it’d be one of the shittiest companies of all time, as it’s not all that amazing at creating profit.  But the purpose of government isn’t to make money and increase the bottom line, the purpose of government is to SERVE its citizens and help create an orderly environment in which everyone has the chance to live free, support one another, and create a stable environment in which society can thrive or, at least, be functional. 

If America was run like a business, then the first order of, well, business, would be to eliminate Medicare and Social Security.  After all, majority of the people taking advantage of these popular programs are retired and no longer are contributing to society in a way that would make a business thrive.  Imagine millions of workers in your office building just dicking around all day, yet still getting paid.  Better yet, might as well round up all these old people and put ‘em off on an ice floe to die so they’d stop eating our shrinking food supply and driving cars that increase our dependence on oil. 

If America were a business, we’d be a lot more imperialistic.  We’d attack Middle Eastern countries simply to control the flow of oil in the name of American profit (something Trump actually wants to do.)  After all, any CEO knows it helps to crush your competitors so the consumer must come to you to buy the product, therefore you can control the price of said product. 

But we don’t do these things because 1) we aren’t a bunch of assholes and have some semblance of compassion 2) the goal of a country isn’t world dominance like it’s a game of Risk. 

So enough of this America is a business nonsense.  It’s not.  It never will be.  It’s a country that should strive to give everyone of its citizens a foundation so one has a chance to achieve a comfortable life.  Our government, for better or worse, is there to protect our interests as a whole and the well being of our people.  Even if you hate government, this is currently its function.  

If America were simply a business, we’d all be on notice…because businesses don’t like anything that resembles extra fat. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose!

Nobody watched it. 

I had shit to do this weekend.  But I also just got the final season of one of my all time favorite shows, Friday Night Lights, on DVD.  I expected to watch an episode or two to break up the monotony of the holiday weekend, but, well, 48 hours after I started I watched all twelve and am now spending time writing about it.  

In October of 2006, NBC premiered a show they figured would bridge the gender gap by providing a unique family drama with the world of high school football as a backdrop.  On the heels of H.G. Bissinger’s best selling book and a movie version with a gross that doubled it’s budget, the TV series bearing the same name was sure to have a following. 

But it never did. 

In fact, after two seasons of horrible ratings, and despite incredible critical response,  NBC pulled the plug on the show until DirecTV swooped in to co-finance it, making it their first produced drama to launch their original programming arm (with NBC agreeing to air it during the summer on friday nights). There is a litany of reasons as to why Friday Night Lights never gained viewership, some blame poor marketing, others bad timing, and it’s a shame because Friday Night Lights was easily one of the greatest shows in television history. 

The brains behind the show knew the core to every good story:  great relationships.  And the relationship between Coach Taylor (played by Kyle Chandler) and his wife, Tami (Connie Britton), was probably the most genuine husband/wife relationship I’ve ever seen on screen.  We fell in love with their connection and banter, supported by the showmakers’ decision to create a loose environment in which the scenes were mostly shot with hand-held cameras and the actors were encouraged to ad lib.  The style created a fly on the wall type of atmosphere that let the actors delve into their emotions without the shackles of dialogue points and over direction.  The two effortlessly challenged each other in each scene to create a genuine relationship with emotion that spanned every complexity a human may encounter, and with incredible subtlety that can only come from channeling real life experience without limits. And it caused us to want to spend as much time in their living room as possible. 

Fortunately for us, every other relationship in the show also took advantage of the style, allowing the characters to pull no punches and for the actors to inject their own personality to give their respective characters more life.  And kudos to the casting directors on the show because they really nailed it with each choice.  In addition to this, the creators brought a sleepy town to life even though it was, what most may consider, a “hick” town, full of bias and racial division, that was way too caught up in high school football.  But through the featured characters and the town’s overall passion, a unique atmosphere was created that breathed life and hope into a seemingly dull area.  Much like the island was a character in ABC’s LOST due to its magical elements, Friday Night Lights’s Dillon, Texas became special due to it’s relatability, even for people who never grew up in a small, poor town.

Ironically, one of the show’s “failures” (its exclusion from the main NBC line-up) probably allowed it the freedom to take chances it normally wouldn’t have been able to.  Had the show been a runaway hit, I’m sure the network would have encouraged the creators to keep the cast in tact, probably forcing them to follow the characters once they left high school, causing incongruous storylines that would suffer the same fate as the many shows that did it previously.  But after the third season, the show turned over the majority of the cast (not to mention the setting) to preserve the integrity and the ability to create fresh storylines with completely new characters, while still giving us small glimpses of the old cast in well appreciated bits and pieces.  This could have easily been its shark jumping moment, but instead they used their new tools to create a fantastic companion to the first three seasons, while tying them both together in the final few episodes. 

I’ve recommended the show to many over the years, assuring them it wasn’t just a show about football.  And it wasn’t.  It was about Community. Love. A small town. Pride. And, most of all, the power of family. 

I encourage anyone who has a beating heart and some time to sit down with all five seasons. It's that good.  

Sunday, April 17, 2011

USA Today the new TMZ?

The USA Today is considering doing something especially stupid, even for a worthless paper like the USA Today.  

As if there wasn’t enough competition in the news world causing sensationalized stories and skewed views, the USA today is considering providing their reporters bonuses based on webpage views. 

As the linked article mentions, the USA Today isn’t exactly known for their hard hitting, in depth stories, but it is still a nationwide distributed news source that some, probably many, no doubt read to inform them of current events.  It is also no secret that “boring” stories about war, government takeovers, and the environment don’t sell as well as juicy ones regarding celebrities’ sex lives and reality TV.  And while more unnecessary stories about these pointless subjects would be a problem, the bonuses will also no doubt lead to over sensationalized stories filled with exaggeration (no matter if the subject is serious or not), not to mention the fact that the reporter will spend less time reporting and more time marketing themselves to drive traffic to their pages.   Additionally, this move may cause the reporters to inject themselves a little too much in the story (to differentiate themselves from other writers) leading to over-opinionated articles within news stories that were originally intended just to provide facts.  Imagine an entire paper of biased columns instead of regular, informative news articles. 

Now,  you may say that if this sort of thing is what the market wants, then who am I (or anyone) to fight the will of the people.  But this is a load of bullshit.  If we encouraged complete autonomy all the time, the nation’s children would always opt for recess over social studies (and I’m not really talking about kids here.)  The media has an obligation to provide the public with accurate news about the world and encourage people to engage in real issues that effect us both socially and politically.

When we live in a world where Snooki is receiving more money to “speak” at major universities than Toni Morrison, it should be considered another step towards the “Idiocracy” that I personally fear will one day soon be upon us.  And implementing a system where reporters now have to “sell” their stories for money will only push us further in that direction. 

At this rate, I look forward to watching Ass: The Movie somewhere around 2016.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tony Soprano: Novice?

You implyin' I dunno where to hide a body?

Funny quote from an article in today’s Times regarding New York’s Pelham Bay Park and its historical use as a body dumping ground for criminals, mob, etc…
“Even Tony Soprano knows — you go to the boondocks to get rid of the bodies,” said Walter Arnold, 65, a longtime resident of West Gilgo Beach on Long Island, more than a mile from where the police found a skull on Monday. “This is the boondocks.”
Well, no shit Tony Soprano would know that’s the best place to dump a body.  It’s Tony!  This is what he did for a living!  Now, the quote would have made more sense had it said “Even Snooki knows…” or “Even Rainbow Brite knows…” 
Next you’re gonna tell me you “could care less.” 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Does Social Networking Make You Feel MORE Left Out?

Interesting article in the Times last week about the personal inadequacy that social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter may tap into; exacerbating a person’s already volatile insecurity and tampering with their fragile ego.  In the discussion of how a plethora of information regarding friends’ social lives or careers appears on your Facebook wall and how it may effect you, the author noted the term FOMO which she describes as follows:
My problem is emblematic of the digital era. It’s known as FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” and refers to the blend of anxiety, inadequacy and irritation that can flare up while skimming social media like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram. Billions of Twitter messages, status updates and photographs provide thrilling glimpses of the daily lives and activities of friends, “frenemies,” co-workers and peers.
She followed up her article with a blog post wondering whether or not FOMO was a pre-existing condition (for lack of a better word) or if it’s a product of the digital age, to which I say, where the fuck have you been?  Jealousy brought on insecurity is hardly a new concept, in fact, it probably serves as basic motivation for most people. 
Regardless of the arrival of the phenomenon, I often do feel the same affliction as the author.  I sometimes find myself quickly skimming my Facebook wall hoping not to come across a friend’s amazing news about career advancement or whatever the thing is that may send me into a moment of self-loathing.  Once this quick scan is completed, I can then take my time and enjoy the Facebook experience without the fear of FOMO.  Perhaps this makes me an asshole, but really all it proves is that I’m an insecure human and this is just another tool to pick at said insecurity (which is probably true for most).  And until I feel accomplished and secure enough in my own accomplishments and social life (if ever), there will always be a twinge of anxiety when approached by a friend that may be armed with some news that may cause envy; and whether I find out said news via Twitter or in person is essentially irrelevant.  This is essentially something I've personally dealt with my entire life, and I'm fairly certain I'm not alone. 
So, sure, social networking may make it easier to access information that I may have never wanted to know, but in my experience, the stuff that would really bother me, I’d probably find out anyway somewhere down the line.  I suppose the immediacy of the information, combined with the volume of it is a possible hazard of social networking, but it’s certainly not a new phenomenon.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Why Do We Root For Tiger Woods?

Prior to 1997, watching golf was akin to an exciting evening of paint drying.  Really, what could be more boring than watching a bunch of old, white men (most of whom were out of shape) hit a small white ball on a course full of spectators who weren’t allowed to speak above a whisper?  I actually even played golf around this time and found no value in watching professionals do it on television.  In fact, I probably opted to watch Lifetime movies starring Tori Spelling with my mother than waste a Saturday afternoon invested in a horrifically long golf tournament.
And then, in 1997, Tiger Woods won the Masters.  He didn’t just win it; he demolished the field by twelve strokes.  And in that moment, me and millions of others started tuning into golf tournaments simply to watch Tiger play.  Even if we couldn’t name another professional golfer, we were eager to see Tiger win decisively, and would make bets on rounds that would pit Tiger against the field.  After he racked up numerous endorsements, an insane amount of media attention, and a huge spotlight that brought along tremendous pressure, he not only performed admirably, he actually exceeded our expectations to the point where we thought he was superhuman.  When his father, Earl, made bizarre claims regarding Tiger’s ability to possibly beat other top athletes at their respective sports, we didn’t doubt it because Tiger was better at golf than most people were at anything.   He was well on track to shred every golfing record possible, he had become a billionaire off a sport no one previously cared about, and then….
November 2009 happened.
And Tiger Woods became human.  Really human.  And his life, subsequently, crumbled due to his own indiscretions.  Now, we can argue the validity of the public judgment, technically he did nothing illegal though his actions were widely viewed as morally reprehensible, but even his apologies for his actions seemed, well, insincere.  And suddenly the infallible Tiger seemed like every other athlete that thought the rules of society did not apply to them.  He took time off, lost a multitude of endorsements, as well as much of the public admiration he had enjoyed for his entire career.  And he, to his own admission, deserved all of it.  Simply put, Tiger Woods seemed like an asshole. 
So why was I, and I assume many, pulling for him this weekend at the Masters? Why did I feel a sudden burst of excitement when I noticed he was tied for the lead on Sunday, and subsequently disappointed when he failed to deliver? 
There’s some kind of cognitive dissonance when it comes to athletic admiration towards people we don’t actually know, and I strongly believe fans struggle to understand why.  We form bonds with athletes because they often defy the impossible and perform in ways we can’t quite comprehend.  Though we don’t know them personally, there is a level of relatability because they, like us, are human.  If they were robots, or even a race horse, there may be a level of interest, but the connection is obviously not the same.  But the truth is, we don’t view athletes as human beings, they are conduits to wish fulfillment and it really doesn’t matter who embodies it, as long as the goal is achieved.
But it’s easy to find grey areas, because as implied, athletes are fallible, display emotion, and often fail before they succeed.  We see the work an athlete puts in to hone his craft, and therefore appreciate the growth when it translates to the playing field.  Additionally, we live in a world with 24/7 news coverage and a plethora of sports story and discussion on the internet (we may even have direct contact on Twitter or Facebook), thus we feel as if we know these athletes on a personal level because we are fed snippets about their home life and background in the media’s (or athlete’s) effort to humanize them.  And even though this exists, we are not actually interacting with them on any sort of meaningful level; we are only ingesting tidbits of an image they are portraying, therefore not actually forming a real, non-superficial bond.  Essentially, we really are only emotionally connected to them, not because we care about them as people, but only how their accomplishments make us feel about ourselves (perhaps watching greatness inspires us to also be great, or maybe it gives us an excuse to not try at all because someone is performing on levels we cannot dream of…but that’s another debate).  This is why we may view a neighbor or family member who has engaged in similar behavior in a completely different light.  The level of personal relationship we have with someone we actually interact with invests us emotionally in their lives, as it pertains to our own, because we automatically define them beyond a skill they possess.  Simply put, we see them as three dimensional, so indiscretions and personality quirks factor into the way we understand them as a whole, which is not the case with athletes because we only associate them with the value of their performance in sport. 
So, when people wonder how someone can root for Michael Vick or Tiger Woods because they have been deemed by society as “horrible people,” it’s simply because they never were “real people” to us to begin with.  They are objects, widgets; essentially faceless, replaceable beings that help us achieve some kind of inner personal happiness/entertainment through performance.  It’s the performance that has value, it’s the accomplishment.  The person who achieves it is actually inconsequential.  And for those who are honestly offended by athlete’s indiscretions, you’re probably just lying to yourself to prove some kind of pointless point of moral high ground. 
So, this is why I was rooting for Tiger Woods on Sunday.  I really just don’t care if he’s a shitty person; the world is full of shitty people.  But I do get personal pleasure watching him win major golf tournaments, and I’m sure me and the rest of America were just trying to recapture that feeling of greatness again. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Abortion and the Right Wing Bullshit Machine

I have a question about the current budget debate and possible government shutdown.  A serious question.  And no, I’m not being facetious with this serious question regarding a serious topic that, once again, is front and center of the serious, current political/social conversation. Seriously.
Do right wing conservatives really care about abortion because of “humanitarian” reasons, or has it just become the ultimate hot button issue they use to irk liberals?
Let’s face it, and this isn’t exactly a newsflash:  Politics is dirty.  Really dirty. Taunting has always been a favorite pastime of Washington.  There are often laws proposed simply to get a rise out of the opposite party; this is common practice (look no further than Republicans symbolically proposing a law to repeal the new healthcare act that they knew would never pass).  But the abortion issue has always represented the main divide between the parties, so it was no surprise when Republicans decided to add a provision in their budget proposal that would defund Planned Parenthood in the name of abortion (even though PP really only uses 3 (or so) percent of its resources to deal with abortion; it’s against the law for them to actually supply funds for the practice.)  But we know exactly why this policy was added:  to piss liberals off.  After all, the defunding of Planned Parenthood doesn’t affect the overall budget and is hardly worth government shutdown.  Why else would it be there? (Not to mention, Republicans also wanted to limit the control of the EPA and the financial regulation supplied by the Dodd-Frank act: two other policies strongly supported by liberals that have nothing to do with funding the government or decreasing the deficit.  Transparent much?)
Excuse me for jumping to conclusions, but the Republican track record on any humanitarian issue has not exactly been stellar.  They never seem to mind cutting education (they threatened to gut the Headstart program in the latest budget, which helps thousands of low income children obtain if that’s what’s causing the deficit), or any social service that may aid the poor for that matter. In fact, the idea of universal healthcare, a program that would overwhelmingly help the less fortunate, is absolute poison to them.  Essentially, the right wing seems to care about babies from conception to birth, and then doesn’t really give a shit what happens to them once they are out of the womb.  Especially poor ones.  So why should I believe they really give a shit about the health/existence of a human embryo?
Plus, don’t republicans consistently request for LESS government control?  At every turn, whether it be gun control or taxes, they live and die by their “small government” motto.  Hell, some Republicans (or Tea Party members) don’t even want the government involved in government programs, as evidence by the memorable “keep your government hands off my Medicare” quote released during the healthcare debate.  The right wing is pretty consistent about this line of thinking until it comes to abortion; then they don’t mind if a bunch of old white men decide what women can and can’t do with their bodies. 
Yes, they cite religious doctrine and beliefs as the reason they feel abortion is “murder.”  But excuse me if I don’t really buy it.  When it comes to competition and winning, it’s easy for humans to dig trenches in thought or theory they may not actually feel that strongly about, especially when it comes to being “right.”  And if they find an issue that really drives the other side crazy, they’ll often double down on the rhetoric in an effort to drive the opposite side bonkers. 
And the anti-abortion stance, especially among politicians, reeks of this.    

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

All Willy Nilly

I heard the following on talk radio yesterday:

“Of course I’m excited, this will be one of the most important days of our time.”

Any clue what this quote refers to?  Perhaps something to do with Egypt’s democratic independence?  No.   Maybe it was some asshole hoping for a government shutdown in hopes to prove some kind of point?  Nope!  Give up?  The ever-important upcoming nuptials between England’s Prince William and his soon to be wife, Kate Middleton.  Though, before I criticize the unironic quote above, I found myself transfixed by a recent Newsweek article about Kate’s new role and her inclusion in this exclusive club, for lack of a better word.  Apparently I have a level of interest (even if its slight), and I’m not positive why. 

Now, the British Monarchy has not been relevant in some time.  In fact, I think they lost their general power sometime in the 18th century, and have held a figurehead role ever since.  Now, obviously, the royals still represent England from a vanity standpoint till this day, as the regal family is still called upon to hold a certain standard all British citizens (and the world) can aspire to.  So, its not surprising why the English may care that Prince William is getting married, but the bigger question is….why do we?  Why does the world? 

Now, there could be a few reasons that are specific to the Windsor family, a few specific to history, and a few specific to the cultural zeitgeist.  Firstly, the British royal family has long been in the public eye, but the tabloidal view towards them absolutely exploded with the marriage of Charles and Diana and the subsequent death of the princess.  She became a world icon (and then maybe martyr) that seemed to win the affection and admiration of the planet, even during her bitter separation from Prince Charles (and despite people knowing little about her).  And since William is the son of Diana, I suppose interest could be generated from there, though I tend not to buy this argument. 

Another possibility is the fact that America was once a British colony, and therefore, under British rule.  Similarly, much of the world was once under the rule of the British Empire (which had influence in six continents).  But the fact that we fought for our independence against the British may actually suggest resentment, not to mention this was over 300 years ago anyway, so the answer probably doesn’t lay there either.

So what is it about this essentially meaningless marriage that has the world so captivated?  The more I consider it, the more I wonder if people would be as interested if William were marrying another royal.  And my best guess is that there’s a certain kinship that “normal” people feel with Kate Middleton considering she comes from a middle class background.  After all, it’s many girls’ childhood dream to become a princess, and the idea that a commoner can achieve the goal may cause the female public to live vicariously through her, but I also believe the engagement feeds into this misguided belief that we are all entitled to greatness (to be rich) which permeates American society and distorts political support.  This could be a similar reason the public was so enamored with Diana and ready to support her without much knowledge of the woman.  I believe the public still has ambivalence towards the royal family, and the us against them mentality actually conflicts with their desire to experience the royal lifestyle.  Regardless, it produces interest in their daily lives. 

Now, I could be completely wrong.  Perhaps people just want to see some pretty pictures or just like the idea of royals marrying, but feeding off the Diana frenzy, it does seem like the world believes this marriage is essentially the royal class embracing the commoner and letting them into their world if only for one day (like Willy Wonka opening the factory doors).  And this is what causes the extreme interest and provokes quotes like the one above, even if it only manifests itself on a subconscious level. 


Monday, April 4, 2011

My All Time Favorite Pieces of American Propaganda

I look forward to our next Iranian conflict so we can bring the above back

One of my all time favorite arcade games.  Best part about it?  If you were controlling the Americans side, it featured a button that triggered a BOOOOOOOO noise to show the Soviet Red Army team who is boss.  If you played the USSR were shit out of luck. 
Nikolai Volkoff.  Thanks WWF for this "Russian" wrestling villain.  When I was seven or eight, I bought a set of "thumb wrestlers," one of which was the gentleman above.  The Iron Sheik gets an honorable mention here.

"If I can change...and you can change...WE ALL CAN CHANGE"  Truer words have never been spoken and while some thank Reagan for the end of the cold war, I thank Stallone.  Though because of Rocky 4, I spent much of my childhood assuming all Russians were blond/blue-eyed thanks to the casting of Dolph Lundgren (above) and Brigitte Nielsen.  Why did Stallone cast a couple of Swedes in the role?  I dunno, Swedes are good looking?

Nuff said.

What's Annoying Me Today?

1)      Is it too much to ask retailers to denote which sunglasses are for men, which are for women, and which are unisexual?  Perhaps I’m an idiot, and when it comes to fashion I’m sure I am, but sunglasses shopping has now become an intimidating experience that has nothing to do with price. Seriously, I find myself cautiously reaching for any pair that might look good out of fear the salesperson will snicker at me for picking up ladies frames.  In fact, I was in Nordstroms this weekend and had to quickly vacate the sunglasses area because I started assuming all the sunglasses were intended for females even though there were some male looking mannequin heads.  But it’s not just me because, in my experience, the salesperson has sometimes even had to consider whether pairs were unisexual or not.  Why?  Because some of them just look identical. Obviously, some frames are clearly intended for female use, but for the rest of them, can I at least get a hint?  I’d really love to avoid a Costanza moment here. 
2)      Coors Light commercials have reached a new low in their attempt to equate the human male to a primal animal.  Have you seen this new commercial that features a dog jumping contest and the Coors Light loving dog?  The one where the guy in the audience is so intent on getting his Coors Light that he disrupts the contest by leaping from the stands to intercept the thrown bottle with his mouth?  Essentially equating him to the K-9?  Nice.  Excuse me while I go to my room to weep for humanity. 
3)      On Real Time this past week, Bill Maher touched on something that’s a pet peeve of mine:  If you post a status on Facebook, you’re not allowed to also “like” it.  This is the internet version of patting yourself on the back.  You wrote it, no shit you like it.   Did you type it, submit it, read it over again, and become so filled with self pride that you tell yourself: “you know what, I did a really good job with that comment.  As a reward, I’m gonna show the world I approve of myself.  There we go, now I feel better.”
4)      People who equate “bold” with “smart.”   I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point recently, people started valuing an opinion with misguided conviction more than a calculated/cautious approach.  I’m not sure when one person’s gamble became a better option than groupthink.
5)      I don’t really have a 5th at the moment.  A good day, I suppose!