Saturday, November 26, 2011

Comedy is funny unless it's happening to you. Or, apparently, when you simply declare it isn't.

OK, so a guy I know on Facebook posted a simple truism.
"Drunks are funny."
This is fairly unarguable.  Endless classic moments of comedy are rooted in inebriation, either via the scene, the actors, or on occasion the state of the writer when he thought it up. Foster Brooks and WC Fields made millions on the concept.
The conversation continued on for a while until one fellow piped up with...
"Drunks are not funny when they get behind the wheel of a car and kill an innocent person."
Well thank you, Wendy Wetblanket.

This was supposed to be everyone's cue to, you should pardon the expression, sober up, admit that alcoholism was A Terrible Problem, and walk away dour and shamefaced, guilty that they could ever find something so serious could ever be humorous.  I could actually envision the guy's arms crossed, a holier than thou look on his face.

But of course, I was there.  I don't chagrin easily.

After I attempted to call him on his attempt to dictate comedy to the world, he replied with...
"I hope one of your friends or relatives is never killed by a drunk driver like I have had."
But you know what?  I bet he does.  In his secret heart of hearts, the part of his soul he dares never show to anybody, he feels the desire to have others go through what he went through, because That Would Show Them.  It's universal.  It used to be handled by becoming supervillains, not it's done by walking into a crowded room full of happy people and announcing "I think you ought to know I'm feeling very depressed"

If he didn't feel that way, he wouldn't be diving into conversations unbidden and sharing his tragedies with total strangers because they were guilty of the sin of being happy, or finding humor in a situation that he does not, and being so callous to find it funny in his presence.

Years ago, when that kind of thing happened, people did something weird - they'd excuse themselves and leave the room.  And maybe the someone would ask why, and someone else would explain "Oh, Bill's brother was crushed by a piano, so he can't bear to hear anyone play one" and they'd feel bad, and go apologize.  And usually use the phrase "I had no idea" because clearly, they didn't.  But note the way it was handled.  The person who was upset, offended, or simply didn't find it funny would remove themselves from the situation politely, because why should everyone else have a lousy time on account of them? 

Cut to today. Years of empowerment and mollycoddling have left us with a world of people who are convinced that they are the center of the universe, and it must bend to their will.  The laws of physics notwithstanding, this is not possible unless everyone agrees.  The phrase "like herding cats" comes to mind.

So now, if someone finds issue with someones attempt at humor or entertainment s a result of some personal tragedy, peccadillo or simply mood at the time, it's become perfectly acceptable to stand up and announce that this act makes them sad in some way, and therefore it should cease.  Becasue as we know, the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many, especially if the one has a chip on their shoulder.
Q - How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
Sometimes if they don't have their own personal tragedies to cash in, they'll just point to some nebulous sadness ("I don't know how you can find this pie fight funny when there are children in Africa who are starving and would be HAPPY to eat that pie"), cluck their tongues like so many hens and watch disapprovingly for people to realise what callous boors they've been.

Comedy is a tool used to entertain but also to help deal with tragedy.  Cries of "too soon" aside, it's the ability to find humor in even the worst of situation that allow us to keep from putting shotguns in our mouths.

My daughter is autistic, but Gilda Radner's "basket case" character is still screamingly funny  I have lost both my parents, but I have yet to ask Disney to change their films because seeing characters with one or no parents and STILL find a way to be happy just tears me apart inside.  I am an Overweight American, and can still not laugh when I watch one of those guys have to be taken from their home with a forklift.

Becasue I am able to grasp that these people are not aiming this comedy at me individually, and I am able to separate my personal tastes and opinions from the rest of the world.  And on the rare occasions I find something offsides, I sit quietly, or change the channel for a while, and wait for things to be funny again.  Because I realize that I am not so much more important than other people that things that only entertain me shall exist.  In short, I'm not five.

I fear for the day when a stand-up comic will be required to have all attendees fill out a form listing their personal tragedies, religion, favorite foods and allergies so they don't actually start a bit about vacationing in Cabo, only to have a person from the fourth row stand up in tears, complaining that Uncle Olaf died of skin cancer and how DARE you bring those memories up when all I was trying to do was have a little FUN.

Comedy was a lot funnier when we just didn't care about other people's feelings. 

And when other people all weren't the subject of that Carly Simon song.

No not "Anticipation", you knothead...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Thanksgiving tradition comes to a sad end

Remember trading stamps?  No, of course you don't, they happened before you were born, so they mean as little to you as manual lawnmowers, the Pyramids or the crank that you used to have to start a car with.

The way it worked was, you'd buy stuff, usually groceries, and you got x-number of stamps for every dollar you spent.  And you'd save the stamps in these books and when you got enough you could trade them in for damn near everything you could think of; appliances, jewelry, I heard one guy got a car.  You could get, say, a blender with 15 books of stamps.

The trick was, of course, if you counted up all the money you SPENT to get that blender, it was like 400 frillion dollars, and the blender was for sale at the store next door for like 15 bucks. 

But the Trading Stamp industry latched onto a truism of human thought - we will go to great lengths to get something for free.  Even if it's only for "free", and the time and resources spent obtaining it far outbalanced just spending the money.

In our modern world, trading stamps have been supplanted mainly by airline miles, credit card reward points and those saving club cards you get at the grocery store.  They all follow the same model - offer "rewards" for spending money, at a return rate of a fraction of a percent, knowing full well that only a percentage of your customers will even bother to redeem them, but the offer will still be alluring enough that it will cause a good number of people to do business with you anyway.

For example, for every 250 "points" (usually at a dollar spent per point) you earned at the store, you'd get a 5% coupon off your next order.  Your NEXT visit, mind you.  So they've ALREADY got you coming back.  And in your head you're scheming "I'll show them, I'll buy a whole LOT next time, and really make that discount coupon PAY!"  Oh, yeah, brilliant.  Spend twice as you would usually, making the store an extra 95% in sales, and feel like YOU came out on top when you show your receipt that says you saved five extra bucks.  You're a genius, you.

Back in the day, the biggest extra benefit the redemption center got from you was your name and address, which they'd sell to mailing list companies.  Today with the amazing power of computers, your store membership cards allow them to track what you buy, when, how often, what brands you prefer, which size, and so much more data they haven't quite figure out how to analyze it yet.  But hey, ten cents off on gas every other month when you've earned enough points!

Now here's the thing - I don't begrudge the stores the right to grab that data.  I get a few coupons out of it, and I'm just not as paranoid as some people; just cynical.  You'd be amazed how much data TiVo gets from you as well, and I don't see too many people trying to get people to turn their DVRs off.

But there was one time in the year that the whole process didn't just seem worth it, it felt truly rewarding.  Starting at the beginning of November, all your reward points went towards earning a free turkey. No discount towards a turkey, a free goddam turkey. OK, yeah, the store brand, and only a frozen one; if you wanted a name brand or a fresh one, it was only a discount. But I've gotten REAL good at making a frozen turkey taste delicious - props to Alton Brown's brine recipe. And as anyone will tell you, free food always tastes better.

Now again, same rules apply - I spent 300 bucks to pay for that "free" turkey. Plus, once you got that turkey, you spent that much and more for the trimmings, side dishes, throw-away roasting pan, and all the other stuff you need to make that "free" turkey taste all the better.  And come on, you're not just gonna walk in, pick up the bird and go buy everything somewhere else.  And like I said before, there's an indefinable rush as that monstrous bird shows up on your receipt as "$0.00".  Especially if, as I always did, you dug DEEP in the freezer to find the biggest goddam behemoth that the promotion would permit.  Screw those people happy with a 14-pound turkey, this slip of paper says "up to twenty pounds" - I am not leaving with anything under ninteen-five.

So everybody wins, right? 

Apparently not.

I only just found out our local Giant chain was not doing the free turkey promotion this year.  I'm crestfallen.  I just assumed it was happening, so when I asked how close I was to my certificate, and they said they weren't doing it, I literally didn't know how to process the news.

I haven't paid for a turkey since I moved to PA. The free turkey has become as big a Thanksgiving tradition as...well as the turkey.  Yes, I can afford the turkey, but as anyone will tell you, free food TASTES better, even if it's free food you had to spend 300 dollars to earn.

I know in past years the response has been big enough that they've run out of turkeys in many locations.  Doesn't seem to be a problem this year - they were stacked up like cordwood in Whitehall. Likely because people found out they were gonna have to pay for the damn things.

I'm sure this change somehow saves the chain money; the amount of money people needed to spend to shore up enough points probably didn't pay for the turkey this year.  But this strikes me as another one of those short-term smart, long-term foolish moves that a lot of companies have made this year.  It's another one of those "last straw" things that have been making people grow very upset with companies they formerly had very high opinions of.  And if it's companies they already didn't have high opinions of, it was close to an act of war.

Look at the two most obvious examples this year.  Bank of America announced it was adding a five dollar fee to its debit cards, and people reacted as if Hitler had announced that since the thing with the Jews was going so well, he was going to start killing redheads as well.  The country already hated the banks, but didn't know enough about how banking worked to understand why, or exactly what about banking they hated.  This fee gave them a focus, like a magnifying glass on an ant.  The other banks backed away from BoA like it had just punched a cripple, and people started closing their accounts in protest.  A lot more just thought about it, and you know how much big business hates thinking.  So last week or so BoA announced they had changed their minds, and were not going to start charging the fee.  And they had the grapefruits to spin it like they were good guys for doing it - "We heard you".  Yeah, you screamed when we tried to squeeze your testicles all the tighter, and it surprised us, so we stopped, aren't we nice?

Netflix didn't change their mind about their price increase; they just apologized for it.  And so they lost about a million customers (and that, for once, isn't comedic hyperbole) and no end of good will, both of which they had in massive amounts six months before.  Netflix made the mistake of reminding people of one of those charges that sits on their credit cards every month, unnoticed.  Suddenly, people who had no problem getting hit for ten bucks a month heard they were gonna get hit for sixteen, and thought, "Heck, I'm not even using it NOW, why throw more money away?"

It's the perfect consumer transaction - paying for a service that will never be used - and Netflix lost MILLIONS because of it.  It's how Blizzard makes the lion's share of their money - World of Warcraft accounts that people don't use, but keep alive because they mean to as soon as they get the time again.  Would you buy a gift certificate and never use it cause it's pretty? Why do you think the post office is so courting stamp collectors?  Because when they come out with Star Wars or comic book stamps, people buy sheets of them and put them away, never to use them.  More correctly, they're courting NEW stamp collectors, because true philatelists know that a stamp becomes MORE valuable if it's been used.  Often cancellation marks make a stamp even more rare.  But now collectors have the mindset that if they buy a lot of the new thing, in thirty years they'll ALL be worth a lot.  Apparently, the whole "supply and demand" thing got left in the classroom, forgotten as fast as the words to the school song.

So because the chain has decided it's not profitable enough, I'm gonna have to buy my turkey this year.  And I wish I had the fortitude to skip the turkey altogether this year, to prove a point.  But I'm weak.  And I know I'm going to buy the turkey, and the stuffing, and all the brine ingredients and the pies and all, just like last year.

Except this year I'm gonna buy it at Wegmans.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Manipulating fantasy to suit reality

Assuming you're not new to the planet, Amish, or the child of a liberal who wasn't allowed to watch television as a child, you know who Cookie Monster is.  From day one, he was the breakout star of Sesame Street.  For all the jingles and songs that you can still sing today (OnethwthreeFOURFIVE, six seven eight NINE know the rest), you know that Cookie Monster loved cookies.  He is personally responsible for the internet meme NomNomNom.

He is the Cookie Monster. He eats cookies. It is his raison d'etre The word "Cookie" is part of his title.

But at some point, parents everywhere lost the ability to say "no" to their children.  When I Was A Kid, if a child grabbed a box of Oreos and attempted to wolf them down in a onomatopoeiatic fervor,  they were taken away, and the child was punished in some way that made the point, and very rarely resulted in a need for psychiatry.  The same occurred if the child attempted to purchase firearms, tried to make his own french fries (especially if there was no Crisco in the house and he tried to use olive oil instead) and in general, anything that would directly or indirectly cost the parents money.

But today's little darlings are such fragile works of art that the thought of denying them anything sends parents into paroxysms of guilt and fear.  And for those who venture the risk of suggesting that 18 snickerdoodles is not the best choice for breakfast, they are met with the ultimate argument, one that has apparently become indisputable in our modern age - "But I saw Cookie Monster do it on television".

Ah, well that's that then.  There is only one response to such an argument.  Tell the child that you don't care that Cookie Monster did it, he doesn't live in this house, so sit down and eat your turkey bacon and tangerine juice or I won't take you to Gymborama this afternoon.

No, of course I'm kidding, that kind of mouthing off will get Child Services on your ass faster than asking your kid to go to the next aisle in the grocery store and grab a box of tri-color rotini.  No, of course the actual response is to change Cookie Monster.

Cookie Monster now understands that cookies are a "sometimes food", and he cannot eat them all the time.  And as a result, cookie sales have plummeted across the nation, and Nabisco is in danger of being bought by the company that makes Toblerone.  Oh, wait, let me check my, I'm sorry, it hasn't done a damn thing to the cookie turnover rate.

So what did it accomplish?  It gave everyone the feeling that they had Done Something.  We don't actually need to solve problems anymore. we only need to Do Something About It.  The idea is that if, say, a train full of toys need to make it over a mountain to deliver its goods to a village of sick little children on the other side, we don't have to actually provide an easier way to get there, or beef up the little train's horsepower or add another engine to the load, we only need to hold a fundraiser to raise awareness of the issue of train/toy load ratios, and donate the funds to a charity that helps provide paint jobs for freight cars manufactured by the party's primary sponsor.  It's important to show that while we have no desire to help fix the train's problem, we support its efforts.

Allow me to offer an alternate solution.  Child Logic is hard to get around.  It cannot be reasoned against, it can only be fought with equally outrageous logic.

So, when your child opens with "But I saw Cookie Monster do it", counter with, "Cookie Monster is..."

A Monster - Monsters' digestive systems are wildly disparate from human ones.  Observation will notice that Cookie Monster has eaten, in times of great need, typewriters, furniture and an IBM computer. Surely the digestive system of a child cannot be held to that standard.

Fictional - Now, odds are, even at the tender age that your child is at, he's already worked out that what he sees on TV is not real.  But in case you don't want to jump right into the deep end of the pool, you can explain that when Cookie Monster is not performing, he eats a healthy diet, and the cookie binges are solely for your entertainment.

A Celebrity - Celebrities are held to a higher standard in this country.  They are allowed to do and say things that we normal people would never be allowed to, based solely on their ability to stand in front of a television camera and not dissolve into a puddle of chemicals.  So Cookie Monster's diet is a reward for the years of work he put in honing his craft; the endless years as a spear-carrier in summer-stock, the now-embarassing appearances in local haunted mazes and other low-budget Halloween productions, not to mention the half season he spent understudying Lassie.  So when YOU'RE a millionaire with your face on a million t-shirts and bibs, THEN you can eat all the cookies you want, and NOT before.

Hey, they make as much sense as what they actually did.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The subtle difference between predicted and desired results

Please peruse the following video clip, entitled "Bank of America refuses to let customers close accounts"

To make my standpoint clear - I'll be closing at least one of my Bank of America account shortly as well. I considering another 5 dollar fee for using a debit card to be excessive, and will either use a credit card, or cash, or go to a bank with lower fees. 

Many of the things the bank is doing are being done without a thought for the customer.  Yes, the bank "has a right to make a profit", it's the whole purpose of starting a company.  But when a company chooses to make a profit regardless of the needs of the customer, that can become an issue.  And if enough people choose to stop working with said company, they will either choose to amend their practices, or choose to pile MORE fees upon the remaining customers, which will only make the snowball bigger.


In fairness, from what I see, the bank was not preventing people from closing their accounts, as much as they were preventing angry bullhorn and sign-carrying protesters from entering the building.  There's no guarantees that tempers wouldn't flare in such a situation, and result in an incident.  That seems reasonable to me.

What's more I will lay odds that the people who organized this protest knew DAMN well that's what would happen.  They woudn't get as many views of a video titled "Bank of America ALLOWS customers to close accounts.  It's the implication that BoA won't give these people their money that they want to show.  These people were not here to close their accounts, they were there to make noise.  Yes, the  bank played into their hands by keeping them out, but I don't think they had THAT much choice.  Indeed, I'll bet they TOLD the bank they were coming, so they could be ready with the security they clearly had.

I am WHOLLY positive that if these people showed up in ones or twos, or even greater numbers, but not carrying bullhorns and provocative signs, they'd have been allowed in the bank.  I'm sure the bank folks would do anything they could to keep them from closing the account, be it discussion or maybe a free calendar, but they wouldn't be "prevented" from closing them.

Heck, you can, I believe, close your accounts online.  But that wasn't going to get them on the news.

(But fair warning, banks (not just BoA) often keep closed accounts open for a period of time after you ask it to be closed, to "ensure that any automatic transfers are responded to properly".  In other words, if you forget to switch an automatic debit, you'll get hit with another bounced check fee, even though the account was closed.  So keep an eye out.)

Now let's listen to rthe things people were saying (from prepared statements, you'll notice)...  "Bank of America has foreclosed on more homes than any other bank" - that may well be true, but that would be because Bank of America is one of, if not THE biggest housing lenders in the US.  So with all the homes defaulting, it makes sense that the bank with the most loans would have the most defaults.  But the implication the statement is supposed to give is they're somehow doing it on purpose, just taking homes from random people, as opposed to people who haven't been able to make the payments, for whatever reasons. 

I've no clue if the statement that BoA paid no taxes is true or not.  It certainly wouldn't surprise me, considering the tales you hear today, but my knee jerk reaction isn't "That ain't right!" but "Really? can you prove that? If so, It certainly doesn't seem proper and correct."  It's just too easy to throw those wildly provocative statements into the crowd and let them get chewed on like raw steak at a dog fight, but if they are proven incorrect, they only serve to undermine your cause.  So too does the yelling and screaming.

Make your points reasonably, use facts, and people will pay attention to you.  Sit in Wall Street and dress up like zombies, and you'll get a few seconds on the news. You'll get some eyeballs, but not too many ears.

Maybe the problem is I'm too damn old to get outraged over much of anything anymore.  Maybe I'm just too tired of standing in the rain and chanting and rhyming.  Perhaps I still have too much faith in people, and I actually believe that eventually companies will realize that people no longer have the free and ready cash that allow them to buy things willy-willy, or not pay attention to all the recurring fees their cards are racking up.  So when people start cancelling services, or notice that they haven't actually PLAYED Warcraft in months, or that they're not actually USING the DVD-rental part of their netflix Account and cancel that bit, the companies will think "Well, you know what, if THEY have to get by with less, maybe WE'LL have to get by with less, at least until things turn around a bit."

I keep hoping that companies will notice that the more things they choose to make overseas, the less people that can afford to BUY the things here, and make the connection that a child of four could.

In short, Like Anne Frank, I still believe that people are inherently good.  And considering what happened to her, it sounds just as naive coming out of my mouth...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Customer or consumer -- Which Would You Rather Be?

Today, we have a Special Guest Blogger: Becky Barnes, who many of you reading this know and love from her wonderful blog about movies and books, ClassicBecky's Brain Food! Take it away, Becky!

           Customer or consumer  Which Would You Rather Be?

(Notice the pretty blue color and capitalized "C" for Customer, and the less pleasant baby poop brown with small "c" for consumer?  That is my oh-so-subtle way of showing my personal preference!)  

Maybe you have to be in the 50-and-older age range to remember what it was like to be a Customer.  You were treated like an important person.  Department store clerks went out of their way to keep you from waiting.  Items were brought to you and placed on the counter for your perusal.  If you didn't like them, the clerk would continue the hunt until you found what you wanted.  The same system was used in the dressing room.  If something didn't fit, you didn't wander around in your underwear with your coat thrown around you to find other colors or sizes. The saleslady took the discarded garments and brought new ones to you.  Stores hired plenty of clerks, so patience with the Customer was considered a necessary virtue by the managers.  

At shoe stores, you were seated and actually served by someone who knew what they were doing.  The shoe salesman measured your foot efficiently, asked what you were looking for, and brought several boxes to you to try on.  He waited patiently (well, at least he acted patient), helped you to decide whether a particular shoe was attractive for you, and just plain took care of you until you had made your final selection.  Gas station attendants wore spiffy uniforms, cleaned your windows, checked your oil and tire pressure, and did all this even if you were only buying 2 gallons of gas!  That is what was like to be a Customer!

Compare this treatment to our situation now.  We go to Wal-Mart or Meier and are treated as consumers.  To these giant stores, which have taken over the American universe, we are no longer important, individual Customers; we are just a mass, a big, gaping maw ready to consume, to be filled with whatever merchandise can be stuffed down our collective throat.  We are not helped...we are barely tolerated.  If you need a "sales associate" (a nicer name for the clerks of the past who actually earned such a title), you cannot find one.  Sometimes you will catch a glimpse of the blue-shirted or red or whatever color-shirted employee, disappearing around the corner of an aisle, never to be seen again.  Even if you request help, eventually a loudspeaker voice will shriek, "Assistance needed at housewares", and the wait is interminable.  When the sales associate finally comes, he or she is often appropriated by other consumers who latch on like leeches, and you, the original needy shopper, get lost in the shuffle.  Now don't think for a moment that I believe all sales associates are uncaring, slacker types!  Most are decent people who are worked like slaves because the stores are too cheap to hire enough of them, and they are paid crappy wages.  This is another way that corporate sales management shows us we are no longer respected Customers, but just a mob of consumers, and now we are expected to serve ourselves and be the patient ones.

Why can't more businesses treat their customers like Stew Leonard's?
There is a third point to make about this pitiful, low-life cultural shift.  Haven't we ourselves fed into it, moving from the respect that fostered "the Customer is always right" to the indifferent "the consumer is on their own" treatment?  And why?  Because haven't we Americans become greedy people who no longer shop for necessity or luxury, but just plain shop all the time?  The energy we once used to burn up doing the now unnecessary physical work of taking care of our households and each other seems to have been diverted to buying, buying, buying -- it has become a national obsession.  We spend our cash, we rack up huge amounts of debt on credit cards, and for what?  So we can have "more stuff", as George Carlin said in one of his unique monologues about life.  Are we earning the right to once again be treated as Customers, or have we really become just the big open mouth of the consumer, fighting over electronic crap and stampeding over each other to get the best price on a pair of jeans? 

We need a revolution a revolution of people who earn and demand respect from corporate sales hounds by once again becoming Customers.  Let's put the word consume back into its original place, when it just meant eating.  Let's not be a mob willing to chow down on any new thing that comes along, but return to being individuals who spend what is needed to be spent on things we need to have, or sometimes luxuries we would like to have if we can pay for it on our own.  That is the only way to get out from under the crushing boot of corporate control -- by getting rid of our own gluttony for "stuff."  I'll carry a sign and march, and sing "We Will Buy Less Stuff" -- how about it?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Maggin's First Law Of Recursive Tourism

"People seem to love a crowd - the bigger the crowd, the more people show up for it"

I've gone on about this before, in my recent piece on my other blog about Miracle Monday, a work of fiction by Elliot S! Maggin. Long story short, a time traveler comes back to witness a historical event, only to find the hotels are choked to bursting with, as she learns, OTHER time travelers, ALSO there to witness the event.

That idea has sat in my mind since I read it, fascinating me.  It's one line in one panel of a pretty good story, but it's just perfectly elegant.  It should be as big a part of the mythos of time travel, but it's never addressed. 

Think about it - say you give a Christian a time machine.  Assuming he doesn't hack it to bits with an axe for the sin of being complicated, you ask him, what are you going to do with it?  They respond immediately "I want to meet Christ. I want to hear The Sermon on the Mount myself".  And so they go, wisely wrapping their modern clothes in homespun robes of the time and disguising their digital camera as a gourd.  And when they get there, in between sighing at the important words being spoken, they notice that a lot of other people are holding gourds, and self-consciously tugging at their robes.

Before time travel, Jesus probably spoke to about fifty people, tops. The Beatles played to mostly empty rooms at the Cavern.  Shakespeare and Hitler seemed to draw more crowds than all lived in London or Germany at the time.  Heck, Woodstock...just Woodstock.

All time travelers.

It's not impossible that up to 95% of people at important historical events are populated by people from the future coming back just to see what the big deal was.  And since they're only coming to see events that were interesting in the first place, they're not creating the event out of whole cloth, merely magnifying the demand.

And that's only for just coming to SEE the event.  Let's cast the net a little wider.

Only seven copies of Action Comics in existence? Really?  Nope.  Once we get past the date that time travel was (will be) invented, they'll be as common as Goblin Tinker cards.

How did so many pet rocks or any other fad get sold, yet you could never find anyone who actually owned one? Futur-eBay.

They sold like 4 frillion copies of those Image titles. Yet there's not NEARLY as many available as you'd expect.  Where are all those copies of Spawn #1?

Right now, in the 53rd century, a guy has invented an engine that runs on the ink used on early nineties comic books. and he needs fuel.

And that engine...runs time machines.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Conspiracy time - or- "They Saved Bin-Laden's Brain!"

Of all the things people are carping about regarding the death of Bin-Laden, the fact that they buried at body at sea has been taken as gospel.  Some claim that he's not really dead, others that he was killed years ago.  Many purport that they've known his location for months, yet waited for the most politically opportune time to strike.  Cause yeah, right after the Royal Wedding is a political sweet-spot for sure.
But rather than cast suspicion on the idea that the body's just gone, they choose to buy that bit (literally) sight unseen, because it's something better used as a thing to criticize him for. Why did he get rid of the body, how could they get enough evidence so quickly, yammer yammer.

And of all the crazy things the conspiracy folks say, THAT'S the one bit I think they could actually be lying about.

I mean dig, they do all sorts of things to famous dead people. They analyzed Dahmer's brain for abnormalities, They weighed Einstein's brain to see if it was bigger than the average one (It was, IIRC), and Dillinger...well, you know what they did with Dillinger' know.

So I think, OK, they get set to dump the body at sea, have the whole ceremony, get a Muslim soldier to wash him down in accordance with Islamic tradition...and them swap the packages. Everybody takes as read that it's gone (because as I said, they can get more mileage out of criticizing the move than doubting it) and the Government can go over the body with a fine tooth comb unencumbered by publicity. While Al Quaeda is scouring the ocean floor for the body, the CIA is freezing his brain and slicing it into wafers, looking for the place where God wrote "P.S. America Sucks" on it in crayon.

As for the photos, I don't think anybody seriously doubts he's dead. They'll rail about the need to provide provenance to the world, touting the idea of closure...when really, the only closure anyone wants is to "closeure" their hand into a fist, extend the middle finger, and point it at the photo.

Have you seen that pic of him wrapped in his little shawl, fumbling with the remote, looking for all the world like an old woman trying to watch her stories? THAT'S a far better "last picture of Osama Bin-Laden" than any headshot could be.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A topic I wish I could just nip in the bud

Amy Alkon, syndicated columnist, writes The Advice Goddess, which we adore and read to each other weekly, and runs a damn fine blog.  Her linked columns deal with topics like the TSA becoming the primary body groper of the nation, the insane over-paranoia we have about the country's children-to-pedophile ratio, and the general level of corruption and stupidity in the government.  She is witty and acerbic, and is well worth your time.

But she's got a couple of causes she supports that just gobsmack me.  One of them is her zeal against the procedure known as circumcision.  Recently she posted a tragic story about a baby who died after a circumcision went wrong, mainly due to the doctor doing it at the end of the day and not wanting to hang around to keep an eye on the kid afterward.

That's an unarguable calamity.  It's a perfect example of how proper precautions must be taken after any medical procedure, no matter how simple or routine.  People can die from infection, errors during the procedure, allergy to the anesthetic, anything.  ANY medical procedure has an element of risk, however small, so care must be taken, and thought must be given to any and all such procedures.

What flabbergasts me is this is being used as the latest example by some people to show we must stop the circumcision procedure entirely.  Not just because of the (vanishingly small, but still extant) risk of the procedure, but the idea that men are made to feel incomplete, diminished, or otherwise Less Of A Man as a result of the removal of a flap of skin approximately the acreage of an adult thumbnail.

The first I ever heard of this position was a Dave Barry column from 1991, where he discussed an organization called RECAP, which attempted to help men regain what had criminally stolen from them before their eyes could focus.  Penn and Teller dedicated an episode of their spectacular show "BULLSHIT!" to it; they spent a good amount of time showing how the procedure was done, but also spent a fair amount of time quietly jibing people who "literally mourned the loss of my foreskin". They came down on the anti-side of the argument, but they showed that it was something that could be made fun of as well. So anyway, not a new bone of contention.

The statement of Amy's statement that gets my goat the most in her reply is, "I don't understand why we consider circumcision of girls barbaric, yet are so automatic about circumcising boys."

Come come now; yes you do, and so does everyone who considers this such an important cause:

1) A tradition that the majority of the people of the country ascribe to

2) Some measurable hygienic effects, as opposed to none for the female version

3) Aesthetic appeal in this country, shaped mainly by the majority of examples seen being circumcised, making it seem to be the "norm".

Let's hit them one by one:

1) It is traditional (which does not equal "correct" to view one's own religious and social traditions as perfectly reasonable, while seeing others' as barbaric and hideous, especially if they're from Forn Parts.  MY belief that a man was born of a virgin, grew to manhood, performed miracles, was killed and rose again in three days, then floated into the sky forty days later makes perfect sense, while the one about space aliens blowing up the bad emotion ghosts in volcanoes is OBVIOUS claptrap.  So if something Has Been Done For Ages, it is understandable for one to assume that it is done For A Good Reason, and any attempt to have it stopped is suspect.

2) Many of the laws set down in the Bible have some measurable health benefits. The Kosher dietary laws are a pretty damn good set of rules to follow if you're stuck in the desert - lay off the foods that spoil quickly, and stick to the stuff that can be preserved, or made with few ingredients.  Indeed, it is hypothesized that they were placed in the bible to give them weight, so that more people would follow them, as opposed to if they were mere suggested guidelines. 

Similarly, there are some hygienic benefits to a semi-whacked tallywhacker, especially if you're wandering in the desert.  Sand gets EVERYWHERE.  Even today, it can have some small benefit while washing - a bit less to do in the shower, nothing needs to be rolled back to get clean.

In some small number of cases, a circumcision must be performed in adulthood due to issues with the patient's foreskin.  "Prime Time" Sam Roberts of the Opie and Anthony show has discussed at length his procedure, required due to a malformed foreskin that would not retract during the act of physical love.  While it is not comparable to the procedure on a chile, as Mr. Roberts was old enough to consent to The Quickening, it does show that there are cases where it has a medical benefit.

One of the arguments made by anti-brisians is to compare it to the ritual genital mutilations performed by many cultures in Africa and other area that people don't go to or care about because they have nothing we need.  And that's an emotional argument, but a false one.  To make a fair comparison between two things in an argument, they should be what I refer to as mathematically similar: same shape, different size.  The two acts are not similar because in the case of the female, the entire clitoris and often the labia are removed, solely for the purpose of rendering the woman incapable of sexual pleasure, or in some cases, sexual acrtivity at all.  The female circumcision, to the best of my knowledge, has no health benefits, however small.

3) There are many things that we consider the "norm" in this country based solely on tradition and, more often, marketing.  Shaved armpits on ladies is solely the creation of the Gillette corporation, who wanted a new market for their razors.  So they started a campaign suggesting that a shaven underarm was more attractive to men, and damn if it didn't catch on to the point that it's as ingrained in the public mind as the use of table napkins.  That doesn't make it "right", merely what it "is".  Based on the tradition, the majority of penii are circumcised, so that's what most people (read: women) have seen.  So when you are used to version 1 of something, when you see version 2, it will be perceived as "different".  So again, there will be people who choose to get the procedure done based on what is seen as "normal".  It is not right or wrong in and of itself, it is simply what is done.  I've seen babies of astonishingly young age with pierced ears, yet I've heard neither hue nor cry about it.

I am fully aware of the argument that it renders the tip of the Special Purpose less sensitive, and is part of a massive religious conspiracy to deaden the pleasure, and hence the desire, of sexual congress.  Based on circumstancial (and some personal) evidence, one could easily come to the conclusion that it don't work.

Bear clearly in mind, I am not making the argument FOR circumcision per se.  I am simply pointing out the things which people who stand erect against it act as if they have no awareness of.  This is totally an example of an argument that we have come up with because time on our hands.  A hundred years ago, farmers did not have time to think about how much better their life would be if they had an intact cock.  indeed, considering how much they were sweating, and how little they were bathing, the measurable advantages of the circumcision were probably even more pronounced. 

I expect the comment chain for this post to be Homeric.  This is one of those topics that when one writes about, people Find Out About It, and tell others, and before you know it, people who didn't know you were alive are now coming at you with virtual pitchforks.  When they see that usual topics of this blog tend toward gummy bears and underwear, they'll be disappointed indeed.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

"Looks like I'll have to buy The White Album again"...but twice?

Remind me...when I bought a record album, was I required to also purchase the 8-Track tape?

(Kids - ask your parents this and watch their faces get all wistful and misty!)

Do I have to buy both regular and skim milk in twin gallon containers?

Does a new car come with a case of buggywhips?

Do the XBox 360 and PS3 versions of games come in the same package?

Then why in the holy screaming hell am I more often than not forced to pay for a DVD copy of a popular film when I want to buy the Blu-ray?

An inordinate number of new releases come in three packaged versions: DVD alone, a DVD/Blu-Ray "Combo Pack", and the even more pointless DVD/Blu-Ray/Digital Copy Super-Special Combo Pack.  Needless to say, the price increases with each step up.

You'll notice a lack of "Just Blu-Ray" option.

For some reason, the new marketing plan is to require Blu-Ray collectors to shell out extra for the DVD copy of the film.  As opposed to the "Double Dip" where films released on DVD only a short time ago are hastily re-released on Blu-Ray with a smattering of new features to convince hardcore fans to re-purchase them (coughstarwarscough), this is a Double-Dip-in-a-box.  There's nothing on the DVD that isn't on the Blu-Ray; in some cases, there nothing different between the versions at all, save for the better resolution of the newer format.

So, what, uh, the hell?

It seems to be done mostly for animated films right now.  Perhaps the idea is that Mom and Dad don't let the kids play with the expensive Blu-Ray player, so they can use the DVD on the player in the bedroom, while the parents watch the nice high-res version on the good machine in the living room.  Because there's so many adult animation fans with kids that watch the same film in separate rooms.

Maybe it's for the folks who plan to buy a Blu-Ray player later, and don't want to have to re-purchase the film once they do, so they can just re-purchase it now.  This smacks of buying your summer clothes in the winter, but buying them two sizes smaller, in preparation of all the weight you plan to lose in the spring.

And the Digital Copy?  Please.  They put that, usually an AVI or MP4 format file, on its own disc for no purpose other than to be able to say it's a FOUR disc set.  And are there that many people popping Despicable Me onto their kids' Ipod Touch?

No, it's nothing more than a case of selling us more than we need.  It's the Super Big Gulp that we buy cause it's only ten cents more than the next size down but it's SO much bigger, and then we never finish it and it sits in the car and gets all flat and warm and makes the car smell like warm flat soda*.  The DVD copy is the two wings from the 20-piece bucket of fried chicken that nobody wants to it sits in the bucket in the refrigerator until someone fnally eats out of mercy or to make room for the leftover ham from when the mother-in-law comes to visit.

And the Digital Copy? That's that heavily breaded and overcooked piece of back, the part that includes the Pope's Nose, that has no meat on it at all, and how do they even get away calling that a piece, I ask you?

* In the interests of full disclosure, the smell of warm flat root beer is one of my favorite smells ever.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

When you drove in here, did you notice a sign out in front that said, "Dead African-American storage"?

In celebration of the release of the long-withheld Mark Twain autobiography, NewSouth Books is publishing a new edition of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.

And taking out all the "racial epithets".

All uses of the word "nigger" will be replaced with "slave", and uses of the word "Injun" will be removed altogether.  So "Nigger Jim" will now be "Slave Jim", and I guess "Injun Joe" will be referred to as..."Joe".

Jesus Fucking Wept.

OK, let me get this clear - it is bad to call someone a nigger.  It's the nuclear weapons of insults.  It is to black people what "Cunt" is to women, and "Liberal" is to liberals.  I get that, and I'm not arguing it.  I'm also not going to the tired "How come THEY can use the word and WE can't?" because it's as stupid as the overreaction to the word. 

Like all words, depending on where it is used, it has different meanings.  It is used with different intent in different situations.  In the vast number of uses by white people in everyday situations, it is intended to mean "person who I hate, and want to hurt as quickly as possible, and will go to the obvious physical characteristics to effect this injury".  And that's bad. 

But now let's look at fiction, also known as "pretend". In the vast, VAST number of cases, when a character uses said pejorative, it says far more about the character than the person to whom it's being said.  It's a shortcut, like (alas) putting a comic book in a person's hands implied simple-mindedness.  And it's done on purpose, expressly to make that point. In the films of Spike Lee  and Quentin Tarantino, it's used in both the negative and "colloquial" sense, and in nearly every case, it's easy to tell how it's intended by the tone, situation and characters involved.  Now some may complain that QT drops the N-bombs a bit too often, but his friends and castmembers are happy to relate that he doesn't "mean it".

It's called context.  When talking to a person, it's usually easy to tell how a statement is meant, be it as a joke, a serious comment or a wry observation on life.  It is, admittedly, far easier to misunderstand the printed word, as the visual and verbal clues we use in conversation are gone.  It's the reason we are reduced to adding acronymic codicils to our internet ramblings in the form of little smiley faces and short code phrases that if one tried to pronounce them, would sound like they are choking on a peach pit.  So one must take a moment to try to discern the intent of a writer, usually based on other examples of their writing, interviews, analyses of their work, and in many cases, the paragraphs at the end of each summary in the Cliff Notes. 

So in the case of Huck Finn, the argument is that is an impressionable young person were to read the book in an unsupervised environment, such flagrant use of the terms may give them the mistaken impression that they are okay to use.  And that might hold water, if there was a single person under the age of forty who would willingly read Huck Finn on his own, ever.  It is now a book which is read, grudgingly, in school, where there is a teacher at the front of the room, whose job it is to tell the little kiddos what they just read is about.  It is that point that they can be told the following:

The book is over a century old.  In said antediluvian times, such words were used commonly, right or wrong.

The author users the term to throw a harsh light on the fact that people of the time saw black people, slaves or no, as sub-human, a mindset with which he disagreed.  Example, the following snippet:

Anyone hurt?
Nope. Killed a nigger tho.

Right there, the mindset is crystallized.  Black people weren't even seen as human.  And by seeing/reading it, your reaction is meant to be "That ain't right".  "Slave" Jim is the smartest person in the book.  He's the HERO of the book.  The BLACK guy is played as better, smarter and more caring than anyone else in the book.  Before it became a trope that Spike Lee named "The Magic Negro", Twain did something groundbreaking. 

And I suggest that the people planning this new edition don't get that.  Or more correctly, fear that OTHER people won't get that.  It's a common tack to take; "I'm not offended by this thing, but I'm speaking up for the others who ARE, but can't or won't speak out."

And to a degree, they're right, but only because they don't try to "get it".  With no examples that I can think of, there has never been a protest about Huck Finn or any other literary (or filmic) work  by people who have actually read or seen it.  They are almost from people who hear about said work, assume they know what they're about, and go from there. 

Context is the pot in which all the ingredients mix and form a whole.  Most people never get to the pot, because they fly off the handle.