Friday, October 31, 2008

"Where reality can be magical."

WB caught a new ad for Colombian tourism the other day. Yes, Colombia — cocaine cartels, rebel kidnappings, market bombings.... Banish all such thoughts, because now, if you take the family on vacation to Colombia, "the only risk is wanting to stay."

Being products of TV/cinema image bombardment all our lives, it's not our fault that despite all of the pretty pictures and swelling music in the ad, we're nevertheless stuck with an image of Colombia as the place where, in Scarface, Cuban refugee and coke-dealer newbie Tony Montana watches through binoculars as his business associate is hanged by a rope thrown out of a helicopter. Our ears echo with the words of Montana, as played by Al Pacino, simply shrugging and mumbling, "I nevver like dat piece of chit ennaway" -- and his suave Colombian host replying, "I like you, Tony. But don't ever fuck me. Don't you ever try to fuck me."

We're willing to give Colombia the benefit of the doubt here, but we're still gonna wait just a few more years before getting on a plane to verify the ad campaign's claims. Until then, reality can be magical, just as the ad says.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

CultCrit 101: Pride and Glory, or, 'The Wages of Sin Is Death' (Romans 6:23)

Let's get the bad stuff out of the way: Pride and Glory is a paint-by-numbers, "formulaic and forgettable" collection of cop-movie (and cop show) clich├ęs in which "overacting by Jon Voight and Colin Farrell is countered by underacting of Edward Norton and Noah Emmerich," all of which "holds the audience hostage" for more than two hours. Filmed and completed in 2006, it's just now seeing the light of day, even with such marquee-value leading actors.

Corrupt NYC cops? Check.
Irish family with multiple generations of cops? Check.
All the generations of Irish cops getting together for a Christmas dinner? Check.
Good brother vs. bad brother? Check.
Conflicted good cop unsure of what to tell Internal Affairs? Check.
Good cop facing impending divorce over his job, even though his soon-to-be-ex still loves him, but not his job? Check.
Cop living on a boat? Check. (See Clint Eastwood in Blood Work.)

The trailer tells the story:

But Pride and Glory is also an incredibly rich playground for cultural critique. Forget the whole "three generations of Irish cops" angle; that's boring. This movie is about cultural outsiders enacting a vivid illustration of St. Paul's mention to the Romans, a few millennia ago, that "the wages of sin is death."

Warning, spoiler alert: No moral crusaders will be complaining that this is one of those movies where criminals go unpunished, because nearly all the bad guys die. Of the ring of eight cops who've been robbing dope dealers, four are executed by a dope dealer, one commits suicide, one is shot by a local shop owner tired of being robbed by cops, and another is gruesomely ripped apart by an angry mob. But the fascinating sleight-of-hand here is that none of these are really the bad bad guys. They've done wrong, and they've ruined their careers and families and lives, and they've dishonored the badge, but the real bad guys are — Latinos!

Yes, it was a Latino drug dealer who killed the first four cops who came to rob him, and it's a Latino coke whore who helps him kill a doctor, and a Latino father who interferes when the good cop wants to interrogate his son, and a Latino cop who's really really bad because he went to school with the Latino drug dealer, and has warned him about the attempted robbery by the other cops. Do the screenwriters have some kind of attitude about Latinos? As Colin Farrell's bad cop character says: "Just look at how these animals live!"

But movies that vilify ethnic groups this way know better than to let their prejudices and semiotic shortcuts go unchecked. And so we have the Latino former bad guy, who is now a good guy — we know this because he has a family, and is eating dinner with them when the bad cops come to beat him and threaten to burn his infant son — even though the former bad Latino guy knows where the really bad bad Latino guy is, so he's not completely good. Still, it's this character who gets to enact the ultimate revenge in the film's climax, when Ferrell's bad, bad, bad cop is executed at the hands of an angry mob, incited by the wronged, and thus mostly good, Latino man.

And you know, it's really all okay, what happens to the evil and nasty bad cop, because Ferrell's character was never really part of the three-generations-of-Irish-cops family anyway. We know that the family patriarch (Voight) is a good guy, because he says that the only money he ever took was "checks with the city's name on them." We know that the oldest son (Emmerich) is a good guy, because he loves his wife and she's dying of cancer. And we know that the youngest son (Norton) is a good guy because everyone says it a dozen times. But Jimmy (Ferrell) isn't part of this group of good men and good cops. He's the brother-in-law — an outsider. The family has let him in by allowing him to marry the only daughter in the family, who happens to be a doctor. As Voight's family patriarch says at Christmas dinner, his eyes filled with tears of pride: "Look at my family. We raised the bar high." Brother-in-law Jimmy has wrecked it all by lowering that bar straight into the mud. So of course, he has to die.

Moral cautionary tale, passion play, triumph of good over evil, tribute to New York's Finest; Pride and Glory has it all, and that's what makes it a totally rewarding workspace for cultural analysis. And if that's not enough, it even comes with a trailer for Clint Eastwood's upcoming Gran Torino, otherwise known as Dirty Harry is 90 Years Old Now but Still Kicks Punks' Asses.* (And the punks are Hmong. Discuss.)


* And he drives a cool car. Hope it doesn't get destroyed in the film!

Monday, October 27, 2008

What's wrong with this picture?

Jewely Del Duca, a 4th grade teacher in Littleton, Colorado, is battling stage IV colon cancer. Without experimental surgery, her chance of surviving the next 5 five years is roughly 10%. However, her insurance company will no longer pay for this necessary treatment.

And then we have the current financial crisis, where a bunch of CEO's, financial advisers and Wall Street types got a little greedy and "accidentally" sent the entire planet's economy into the crapper.The world's governments graciously rushed in to save them all, and the U.S. government's bailout even ensured that those that caused the fall would receive hefty severance packages or continue to work for 6-8 figures. The slide presentation below explains the situation:

So, you tell us: what's wrong when a dying teacher who is using her illness as a lesson in compassion and empathy can't receive a life-saving surgery, but the greedy bastards responsible for the Burning of Rome - Part 2 can enjoy $40,000 spa treatments? We kinda think it's not just the economy that's screwed up.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Extinction-level event

O may I join the choir invisible / Of those immortal dead who live again 
In minds made better by their presence: live / In pulses stirr’d to generosity... 
To make undying music in the world / Breathing as beauteous order that controls 
With growing sway the growing life of man.
       - George Eliot

The next 25 years will see a tragedy of unprecedented scale in human history. Although it will happen incrementally and not all at once, the end result will be devastating, leaving a hole so vast and deep that it can never be filled. An essential resource, a one-time gift that the world will not see again, will be lost forever as the pioneers and architects of loud, electric, passionate, innovative, complex, soul-filling rock 'n roll music face the inevitable end of their time with us, and shuffle off this mortal coil.

These are the musicians who grew up on jazz, blues, and classical music, making their understanding of compositional complexity much different from the kids who grew up to form cookie-cutter punk/alternative bands writing three-minute verse-chorus-verse songs. The classic artists' knowledge and appreciation for music, not just rock music, gave us intricate and immortal headphone masterpieces like the Allman's "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," Clapton's "Layla," Elton's "Funeral for a Friend," the Stones' "Can't You Hear Me Knocking," Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," Traffic's "Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys," and Loggins and Messina's "Angry Eyes." All are not so much songs as they are musical adventures.

The evidence for the coming tragedy is overwhelming and irrefutable. Looking only at the rock titans who graced the stage at the original Woodstock music festival, there's The Who's Pete Townsend, 63, and Roger Daltrey, 64; guitar gods Johnny Winter and Alvin Lee, both 64; soul man Sly Stone, 65. Stephen Stills and Neil Young are both 63, as is John Fogerty; Joe Cocker is 64; Carlos Santana is 61. Richie Havens, the first musician to perform at the legendary concert, turns 68 in January. Grace Slick, whose voice fueled the Jefferson Airplane, will be 70 next year.

The same numbers haunt the British Invasion. Led Zeppelin: Robert Plant is 60, Jimmy Page 64. The Rolling Stones: Mick Jagger is 65, and Keith Richards turns 66 in December. Charlie Watts is 67; Ron Wood, the baby of the group, is 61. The Beatles: Paul is 66, Ringo 68. Eric Clapton (Cream) is 63, Steve Winwood (Traffic) 60, Ray Davies (The Kinks) 64, Jeff Beck (The Yardbirds) 64, Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple) 63, Robert Fripp (King Crimson) 62, Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) 61. David Gilmour and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd are 62 and 65, respectively. Jon Anderson and Steve Howe of Yes are 64 and 61.

The second wave of Rock Brits is no different. Elton John is 61. Dave Edmunds is 64. Mick Fleetwood is 61 (and U.S.-born Stevie Nicks is 60); Brian May of Queen is 61, Noddy Holder of Slade and Dan McCafferty of Nazareth are both 62, David Bowie is 61, and Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople will be 70 next year. Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi of Sabbath are both 60, and Ronnie James Dio is 66. Lemmy of Motorhead is 63, as is Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music. Brian Johnson, the voice of AC/DC, is 61.

On the American rock scene, we find Tina Turner at 70, Bob Dylan at 67, Iggy Pop 61, Simon and Garfunkel both 67, Lou Reed 66, Steve Miller 65, Alice Cooper 60, Gregg Allman 61, Bob Seger 63, Ted Nugent 60, Joe Walsh (James Gang) 61, Mark Farner (Grand Funk) 60, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith 60. Bruce Springsteen, Gene Simmons of Kiss, and Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill of ZZ Top all turn 60 next year. Clarence "Big Man" Clemons of the E Street Band is 66.

Little Richard, who likes to remind everyone that he's "the original architect of rock n' roll," is 75. And Chuck Berry, whose three-chord "Johnny B. Goode" started it all, is 82.

It's amazing that all of these incredibly gifted artists made it to the ages they are, given their legendary struggles with alcohol, drugs, depression, and STDs. But they can't stay with us forever. Dylan gave us a wonderful sentiment:

May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
And may you stay forever young.

But sentiment always gives way to reality. In addition to the holy trinity of Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix, we've also lost Marc Bolan, Roy Orbison, half of The Beatles; half of The Who and Led Zeppelin; half of the New York Dolls; Dave Peverett of Foghat, Glen Buxton of Alice Cooper.... The list is long and can only grow longer. As Curtis Mayfield sang:

People get ready, there's a train a-coming
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board...

Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner

There's no hiding place from the kingdom's throne.


Friday, October 24, 2008

For seniors: the analog-to-digital switch


For laughs: the SNL Bush endorsement of McPalin

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I know you are but what am I?

While perusing politically-themed videos on YouTube, we've noticed an interesting little development: the insertion of the words "(liberal activist)" after the names of journalists who've refused to cover their interview subjects in whipped cream and strawberries and ask only puffball questions of anyone representing the right.

"Sarah Palin interviewed by Katie Couric (liberal activist)"

"John McCain responds to Jon Stewart (liberal activist)"

"Gwen Ifill (liberal activist) is bored at Republican convention"

What's most interesting here is that, by adding those two words, the uploaders behind the clips are being conservative activists. But they would never agree, because this is how dominant ideologies — or ideologies that like to think of themselves that way — operate. Labeling everything that doesn't fit their doctrine and agenda, they never label themselves. After all, they're the normal and rational ones, while all counterviews are suspicious and dangerous. Why would something that sees itself as being in charge of identifying take time to identify itself?

Apparently the goal is a nation with one party, one ideology. But that sounds like Orwellian totalitarianism to us.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Captain Kirk waaaaay over-explains his feelings about Mr. Sulu.

Asked what he thought about George Takei not inviting him to his wedding, William Shatner had this (and this and this and this and this) to say:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Wasilla: the travelogue, etc.

The Daily Show went to Wasilla, Alaska last night:

Purely as a coincidence, over the weekend Jon Stewart responded to Sarah Palin's "pro-America/anti-America" division of the country with a simple and elegant response.

And Chevy Chase, a member of SNL's founding cast in the 1970s, trashed Palin's weekend appearance on that show.

And Larry Flynt's cinematic masterpiece of political porn, Nailin' Paylin, is ready for consumption, just in time for the election. TMZ has the script, and we've got the promo pic from Hustler:

Yes, this is what American politics have come to. Thank you, John McCain, for "rais[ing] the level of political dialog in America... and treat[ing your] opponents with respect." It's made a big difference, and we're grateful for it.

Oh, damn.

Mel Gibson, 52, will not star in a Lethal Weapon 5, which is not being made.

Ringo Starr, 68, will not sign autographs or accept fan mail after October 20.

Florida Congressman Tim Mahoney's attempt to hush up an extramarital affair with $120,000 did not work.

Axl Rose's mythic Guns N' Roses CD, Chinese Democracy, will not be released in 2008. No wait — it will be released! At least according to sources here and here and here. The disc, which Rose, now 46, has been obsessively tinkering with since his early thirties, will allegedly fill racks at Best Buy stores all across the U.S. on November 23 — appropriately, the beginning of Turkey Week.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Dumbing down (and down, and down, and down)

The CBS show Cold Case (yet another cop drama where detectives solve murder cases from the past that are still open) is so dumb that Litchick solved this week's "mystery" during the opening sequence, before the victim was even revealed. So, WB would like to briefly borrow Stephen Colbert's shtick for the following announcement:

CBS, consider yourself on notice. We understand the reasoning behind formulaic television shows, but when the formula becomes this transparently obvious, it's time to do some serious tinkering. Even the ubiquitous reruns of Friends involve more suspense than the drivel you're airing on Sunday nights.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Equal access

Sarah Palin showed up at SNL as threatened rumored promised. And Alec Baldwin showed that flaming liberals can be decent and even gallant people with a great sense of humor. Now, will the McPalin team lighten up in their attacks against "anti-American" voters?

Oh, and Colin Powell, who served in three Republican administrations, endorsed Barack Obama today too. Rush Limbaugh and George Will, two white guys, claimed that it was all about race.

No Child Left Behind (depending on tax district) — Part Two

Part two of Pinkmingo's investigation of the September protest by Chicago public school students against unequal funding. (Part one is here.)

What the Chicago Public Schools students attempted could easily be portrayed as illegal, since registering and attending a school outside the student’s home district is a crime in Illinois. Still, as mentioned in part one, the CPS schools receive $11,000 per pupil while New Trier High receives $17,000. While Senator Meeks was citing these figures in his protest, he failed to mention that the average per-student funding in Illinois is $9,000, putting CPS above the average. (Considering that Pinkmingo’s high school only received $600—yes, six hundred—dollars per student, complaining about thousands seems a bit unnecessary.)

Also, the New Trier school district only encompasses the two high schools, while CPS is responsible for elementary, middle, and high school education. Stating the obvious, the New Trier district has more money to spend on its high school students because, well, that’s all there is. If New Trier was responsible for all the schools CPS is, the funding ratio would be much closer.

Lastly, the main reason New Trier has more money is because of property taxes. The villages bordering Chicago pay an incredible amount of tax, anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 a year depending on the exact area. Being as far from a mathematician as one can be, Pinkmingo enlisted some help in explaining the Illinois tax system. Enter her future mother-in-law Karen Long, current Winnetka resident and mother of a New Trier graduate:

“In Illinois, property taxes pay for local education, and the bill lists all the taxing authorities separately. For example, an elementary school district, high school district, local village, and mosquito district all set their own tax rates. The high school districts in wealthier communities have more funds because the assessed valuations are higher, and the money goes directly to the taxing school district.” (And yes, there really is such a thing as a mosquito district. Google it.)

In layman’s terms, Winnetka property taxes can cost more than some Americans earn in one year, and that is a direct reason why New Trier High has more money.

For the CPS schools to receive the same funding, property taxes would have to be increased or the state would need to figure out a more equitable way of distributing tax money. Illinois could possibly collect taxes on a state level, then redistribute them among all communities so that every school district has access to the same amount of money. (But float that idea past any state’s taxpayers. Really, try it out. And then be ready to run.)

We wish all of this was as easy as contrasting schools in movies, but sadly, it’s a real-life conflict that shouldn’t be overlooked. WB supports what the protest movement stands for, but because of the lack of discussion of the real reasons “Breakfast Club High” has so much money, we can’t fully agree with it. Even so, we won’t go as far as Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, showing some obvious disagreement at a press conference the day the protests began:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Miracles do exist

In the midst of heavy campaigning and pandering and horrifyingly huge stock market plunges (and rebounds and plunges and...well, you know the drill), WB would like to take a moment to reflect on some of the positive, uplifting events swirling around us.

At a very young-at-heart age of 82 (!), Cloris Leachman is still on Dancing with the Stars! Sure, one can easily make the case that she is certainly not the best dancer (Leachman herself would probably lead the argument on that), but one can't deny her pure entertainment value. Leachman is an absolute riot! And think of it this way: Misty May-Treanor, a gold medal Olympic athlete, recently had to drop out of the competition due to an injury. Leachman is old enough to be May-Treanor's (a mere 31) grandmother yet literally (well, sort of) danced circles around her. Age before beauty, indeed!

Do you know what's happening in the lives of Britney and Lindsay this week? Neither do we! Unless you do some heavy digging or stalking, the two troubled stars have barely made a blip on any news radar in the past few weeks; there's nary a DUI or cropped coiffure between them. Might this fall's hottest trend be turning over a new leaf? WB certainly hopes so, for the sake of the two young celebs who have definitely been through their share of scandal and ridicule.

Last week, Connecticut's Supreme Court narrowly voted to recognize same-sex marriages. The court's ruling noted that the "separate but equal" civil unions, which many argued were not actually equal, directly violated the state's constitution. This means that three states (California and Massachussettes are the others) recognize the LGBT population as full-class citizens, up from zero less than a decade ago. Perhaps our next president will take this under consideration. In the meantime, WB suggests that Home Depot stores across America prepare for this historical event by adding a bridal registry.

The world around us might not look so great right now, but as Mr. Dylan said, the times, they are a-changin'....

Friday, October 17, 2008

Aw, say it ain't so, Joe!

Well, it turns out that Sam "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher is related to the son-in-law of Charles Keating, the man who steered the savings-and-loan ship straight into the rocks during the 1980s and snagged John McCain in an ethics scandal.

But surely there's no connection between Keating, McCain, the Repuglicant Party, Faux Snooze, Rupert Murdoch, and little ol' Joe, who just wants to own his own plumbing business. It's all just one big coincidence.

Rome is burning, so let's all play the fiddle and have a good laugh with SNL's Thursday night special edition of Weekend Update.


Can't we all just get along?

Poll workers clash at Falls nursing home
: Police, elections board investigate alleged assault over marked ballot

Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio — Two elderly poll workers clashed in a physical altercation last Friday at a nursing home when one accused the other of improperly marking a ballot.

George Manos, a 75-year-old Republican, told police that Edith Walker, a 73-year-old Democrat, jumped on his back and struck him in the head three to four times with her fists. Manos said two other elections workers had to pull Walker off his back, according to a report filed with Cuyahoga Falls police.

Walker said in her statement that Manos tried to grab the ballot in question out of her hand. She said he accused her of marking the ballot wrong and she ''apologized to him if I did do it, but he was very mean to me.''

Richard Bader, a Republican poll worker at the nursing home, wrote that he forced his way between Walker and Manos and ''she tried to strong-arm me out of the way, but I held my ground.'' Bader said the incident drew a crowd of six to 10 people.

WB encourages all elderly citizens, including John McCain, to vote with dignity and courtesy for others, and to move all fistfights out to the parking lot afterwards.

Joe the Plumber: a Plant?

And we don't we mean a potted one.

Let's see what we've got here. According to this investigation, Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, age 34, registered Republican voter, is an unlicensed plumber, who never served an apprenticeship and doesn't belong to the plumber's union, but he just happened to be at a Barack Obama event in Toledo with a televised question challenging the Democrat about his tax plan.

That question just happened to get a lot attention on Faux Snooze and generate mega-headlines on the New York Post, another Rupert Murdoch- owned mouthpiece for the conservative right and the Repuglicant Party.

Joe Six— er, "Joe the Plumber," just a regular, everyday guy gettin' ready to buy a plumbin' business for a quarter-million dollars, was then unwittingly thrust into the limelight because John McCain purloined the narrative to hammer a theme ad nauseum in the final debate: "Hi, Joe! You're Captain America!"

Sam "Joe" now claims that he asked Obama the question on an "impulse" because he allegedly wanted a genuine answer to his concerns, and he was tired of politicians "tap dancing around." But when he got his answer, "Joe" still deemed Obama's reply to be "a tap dance... almost as good as Sammy Davis, Jr."

WB is impressed with Mr. Wurzelbacher's knowledge of the art of tap dancing. But we wonder why he name-dropped Sammy Davis, Jr. in particular, when looking for a comparison to Senator Obama. Hmm?

Stay tuned. Karl Rove is behind this curtain somewhere....

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Joe the Plumber and McCain the Panderer

Barack Obama is going to keep Joe Wurzelbacher from being able to buy a plumbing business. That's what Americans learned from John McCain in the last televised debate on Wednesday night this week. The Republican candidate even turned to the camera to talk directly to "Joe the Plumber" (whose last name he pronounced as "Wurtzelburger") and promise not to raise his taxes. When Obama later mentioned "my friend Warren Buffet," in connection to the idea of investing in economic recovery, the elderly Republican snorted and cackled, "We're talking about Joe the Plumber here."

And there it was. Joe Sixpack, Hockey Moms, and Joe the Plumber — the McCain-Palin base. Even Ronny the Racist and Karl the Klansman seem to be welcome members; when Obama called the Republicans out for not silencing fans who threatened to kill him, McCain said he was "proud of the people who come to our rallies."

Obama talked about his plans for the country, and McCain talked about Obama's plans for the country. Neither man seemed interested in McCain's plans. This was odd, since McCain has said that he knows both how to balance the Federal budget within four years and how to catch Bin Laden in the caves of Pakistan. WB wants details, so how come no one else does?

Obama said that offshore drilling will not fix anything, since the U.S. only has about four percent of the world's oil supplies. McCain said that OPEC producers will lower the price of oil "when they see we've got our own supply." He also said that he would buy oil from Canada, but not from the Middle East or from Venezuela. Obama didn't point out that oil is a commodity traded on the world market: no one gets to designate one producer over another as their preferred dealer.

See, the way the Republicans painted him, Joe the Plumber doesn't care about where his oil comes from. Joe the Plumber doesn't realize that if Senator McCain knew how to catch Bin Laden, Bin Laden would have been caught by now or else McCain would be guilty of treason for keeping his location secret. Joe the Plumber can't see that when McCain chooses to attack Obama rather than defend or explain McCain, it reveals strong weaknesses in what McCain chooses not to say. Joe the Plumber doesn't understand that when McCain says Sarah Palin would come to Washington to "sweep out the old boys' network of cronies," this means that she'd be sweeping McCain himself out in the first wave.

In other words, Joe the Plumber must be a drooling imbecile. It's no accident that he's a plumber, because he's too stupid to know when he's having a crock of shit dumped on his head. He wants to pay no taxes for anything, but he expects the country's infrastucture to be fixed now. This will apparently be a big weekend volunteer project, funded by bake sales, because without tax income no country can fix anything, but you can't explain that to Joe the Plumber because it will upset him and make him be less than the greatest worker the world has ever seen.

So, keep everything simple for Joe the Plumber. Call him "My buddy Joe," as McCain did, but avoid giving him any specific details. He can't handle the truth. But then, when it's time to talk about education, say that it's absolutely, critically imperative that Americans become the best-educated people in the world. And you know what? Joe's too simple to spot anything wrong with that picture, too.

Joe Wurzelbacher, we know you really exist, and we applaud you for creating the first presidential debate in history in which the candidates talked to only one person. Congrats, you're a star, and your fame will last from 10:31 to about 10:46 (even though Sarah Palin has made you part of her stump speech now). But dude, you're famous for being a mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging Neanderthal. Don't you want to say something about that?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

No Child Left Behind (depending on tax district) — Part One

Note: Pinkmingo, our resident investigative reporter and fellow adopter of the Chicago area as her "other hometown," reports on a conflict that has often flared up over inequities in school funding, but here becomes even more complex due to its locations and cast members. Part one of two:

New Trier High School
in Winnetka, Illinois is one of the most famous schools in the country. It has its own Wikipedia page, was the high school of many celebrities, has been the school of choice in some “classic” movies, and is located in a semi-famous town. And if you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone.

You probably don’t know Winnetka, either, but you’ve seen it. Nearly every scene in the movie Home Alone was filmed in Winnetka and its surrounding areas. Other movies filmed in Winnetka include Ocean’s 12, and Uncle Buck, with scenes from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 16 Candles, and The Breakfast Club all filmed at New Trier High. The celebrity of the town and school extends through a list of famous New Trier graduates: Charlton Heston, Rock Hudson, Donald Rumsfeld, John Stossel, and two out of four of the members of the band Fall Out Boy, along with many more.

So, it was no surprise when a mass-enrollment of hundreds of Chicago Public Schools students was attempted at New Trier High last month, organized by Illinois Senator James Meeks along with other government officials, students, and parents.

With a resume like this school’s, who could blame anyone for wanting to go there? But for these CPS students, it wasn’t about fame; it was about something much deeper that flows through the halls of New Trier High and down the streets of Winnetka. You see, money sets Winnetka apart from most small towns, and New Trier High apart from most schools. Although just a small suburb, over 92% of Winnetka residents have attended college, and the median household income is over $195,000 (the fourth highest in the country). Not surprisingly, there’s also a financial divide within the Illinois public education system; CPS receive $11,000 per pupil each school year while New Trier High receives $17,000.

Because of this, Senator Meeks led a protest against the funding at New Trier High by urging CPS students to skip classes Sep. 2 and enroll there. The protest made national news, but ended after two days because Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich would not meet with Meeks to discuss solutions while it was in effect.

But the difference between a school like New Trier High and the CPS school system isn’t just dollar bills. Consider the movies Dangerous Minds and High School MusicalDangerous Minds will represent CPS while High School Musical represents New Trier. Both movies evolve around the lives of high school students, but other than that, they couldn’t be further apart. The teachers, students, neighborhoods, and cultures of the surrounding cities are different, and no one sings catchy songs in Dangerous Minds (okay, maybe Coolio). Sure, money could help the school in Dangerous Minds, but students still wouldn't break into song about their basketball team. And while there may not be that many kids wishing to go to a school full of theater majors, we’d bet they would happily go there if the only other choice was a “gangster’s paradise.”

And of course, High School Musical is mostly white and middle-class, while Dangerous Minds has many students in the Other category; and the same can be said for New Trier High and CPS students. Chicago is populated by diverse ethnic groups, while Winnetka is mostly lilly white, like New Trier High students. Economics and geography come together to form an uncomfortable but de facto segregation.

WB believes that all students deserve an equal and quality education, but Pinkmingo also uncovered some aspects about this dilemma that the protesters, news organizations, and some New Trier High supporters failed to mention. We’ll cover those in part two of this post.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pop Cult Nuggets #3

pop cult nugget, n. - a little tidbit of information from the past week's happenings, followed by an even smaller tidbit of commentary.
Jim Beam has a new print ad. It says, "WHEN A CIVIL WAR SOLDIER HAD HIS LEG SAWED OFF, THEY DIDN'T GIVE HIM A VODKA CRANBERRY." We figure this must be a polite way of saying Cosmos Are for Fags. When we go in for our amputations, we'll know what drink to ask for.

Thousands of Metallica fans have begun a petition drive to force the band to re-master its latest CD, Death Magnetic — because it's too loud. They're also trading in the Rick Rubin-engineered version of the disc for the differently mastered Guitar Hero 3 soundtrack version, which allegedly has "100x better" sound quality. Just so we have this straight: Headbangers are complaining that the music is too loud. Satan must have installed ice machines.

In other metal news, the Writers Guild of America is warning its members not to work for the upcoming variety show starring Ozzy Osbourne. The Fox Network will be offering six episodes of The Osbournes: Loud and Dangerous, a 60-minute variety show that'll most likely start as a Christmas special in December and then tie in with American Idol afterward. Yes, when WB thinks of the holidays, we think of... Ozzy and Sharon. But think of the cool possibilities: At the end of The Nutcracker Suite, Ozzy can bite the head off the Sugar Plum Fairy.

The last issue of Rolling Stone had its back cover turned upside down and looking like an issue dedicated to Showtime's Dexter, but now the entire magazine appears to be for sale as one giant ad. The current issue has a fake cover on top of the real cover (left) — it looks like a retro throwback to 1973 and features Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show along with some faux headlines from the time. The Dr. Hook reference is brilliant, since those were the guys who hit the 70s charts with a Shel Silverstein-written song called "Cover of the Rolling Stone," about wanting to see their picture there, and who subsequently did get their picture there when the song exploded. The phony cover/real ad has several layers of meaning simultaneously screaming LOOK AT THIS COVER, and it's all a promo for the new ABC show, "Life on Mars," about a cop who messes with the space-time continuum (note: never do that!) and ends up — yet another layer — thrown back into the 1970s. And we thought it was a bad sign when our last 361-page issue of Vanity Fair contained 317 pages of advertisements.

Newsweek's cover featured a larger-than-life closeup of Sarah Palin's face, revealing that the mayor of Wasilla Alaska governor is in desperate need of some pore cleansing pads for her nose and some discreet waxing treatment for her upper lip. Of course, the magazine could have Photoshopped the image to make it a bit more flattering, but as Ms. Palin herself has said, she wants to be right up front with the American people. Probably not quite this up front, but at least there can't be any photo manipulation controversy....

And speaking of our favorite would-be VP, Larry Flynt and his Hustler crew are rushing production of Nailin' Palin, an "adult spoof" that will "take the viewer on a naughty adventure to the wild side of that sexy Alaska governor." Click left to read the craiglist ad for a lookalike porn star. Meanwhile, we think we'll just stick with wholesome Tina Fey parodies instead — and applaud our favorite impersonator for her recent $6 million book deal, too. As The Boss once said: From small things, mama, big things one day come.

We're pleased to note that a new WB contributor, Thor Heyadoll, has had a hand in writing this post.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Too much coverage?

The times are tough now, just getting tougher

This world is rough, it's just getting rougher

Cover me; come on, baby, cover me.

- Bruce Springsteen

Scenario One: You're a musician whose relevance is fading.

Scenario Two: You're a musician who's run out of ideas.

Scenario Three: You're a musician who admires the influential work of other musicians so much that you want to pay tribute to them.

Scenario Four: You're a musician so skilled at "reinterpreting" others' work that your fans are just clamoring for you to remake some of the classics.

Whatever the scenario, WB has noticed a definite trend. Boomer icon James ("Fire and Rain") Taylor has just released a new CD simply titled Covers — a compilation of varied old classics by other artists (and the world was just crying out for another version of "Wichita Lineman," right, JT?) who, the velvet-voiced crooner claims, had huge influence on his own musical style.

Earlier this year, Ministry — for crying out loud, Ministry! — released Cover Up, a disconnected smattering of reinvented classics going all the back to T. Rex and Golden Earring (and the world was just begging for another version of "Radar Love," right, guys?) that may or may not have had anything to do with Ministry's electro-industrial speed metal sound.

A year ago it was Queensr├┐che with Take Cover, a setlist of covers so faithful to the original versions that there's virtually no difference between QR's take on Black Sabbath's "Neon Knights" and the original song belted by Ronnie James Dio over Tony Iommi's chugging detuned guitar. The saving grace is that this compilation is wildly eclectic, including tributes to The Police, Peter Gabriel, and even The O'Jays ("For the Love of Money.")

A year before those aging art-metalheads took cover, Def Leppard reinflicted its sticky-sweet self on the world with Yeah!, a collection of hits from the wayback machine that included T. Rex (again), The Faces, David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, and even Badfinger ("No Matter What"). This one managed to be faithful to the originals while also tweaking them just enough around the edges to make them new, but it ultimately seems to have existed only to re-acquaint listeners with this semi-forgotten band and create a buyership for 2008's Songs from the Sparkle Lounge.

Before the Leppard boys went mining in the landfill of 1960s hits, punk's Misfits did them one better by looking to the decade when rock began for their 2003 Project 1950. With nicely distorted fuzz guitars and tempos tripled, The Misfits bent cruisin' classics like "Donna," "Runaway," and even Jerry Lee Lewis's "Great Balls of Fire" into ominous doom-punk echoes of the originals. And to keep up the band's traditional connection with goblins and spooky things, they threw in a cover of "The Monster Mash," too.

The king of covers collections is 1998's Garage Inc. by Metallica, a two-disc collection of homages to everything from acoustic Lynyrd Skynyrd ("Tuesday's Gone") to classic Queen ("Stone Cold Crazy") to, ironically enough, The Misfits ("Last Caress"). Reintroducing Thin Lizzy's forgotten "Whiskey in the Jar" (itself a modern reinterpretation of a traditional drinking song) to a new generation of rapscallions and rogues, but also reinflicting Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" on the children of millions of 1970s high schoolers who'd made that their class song, MetCo mostly phoned this one in — and of course, made millions on it.

Covers, covers everywhere... but one place they never needed to appear was in the comprehensive and exhaustive collection of "Louie Louie" covers now available on Usenet. 75+ versions of this three-chord musical version of a Garbage Pail Kid have been assembled — many admittedly forgeries that were never performed by the artists named on the track tags — for someone to download and allegedly enjoy. Given this, we retract all of the jabs above; we'd listen to "Wichita Lineman" and "Radar Love" and even "Turn the Page" for a hundred years if it meant never hearing "Louie Louie" again.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Allegory of the Trains

Meanwhile, on Wall Street...

.From our friends at Adbusters.

Don't be afraid. But be very, very angry.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Alanis Morissette: Flavors of Entertainment

Alanis Morissette, North American Tour, Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor, October 7:
78RPM and Litchik, their partners 33RPM and Funderwoman, and favorite friend and WB contributor Eighth Chakra took time out from a busy midweek to immerse themselves in a loud, energy-charged dose of rock 'n roll Girl Power on Tuesday night.

The show opened with the sudden and unannounced appearance of a quiet, almost apologetic, and genuinely grateful Alexi Murdoch, an acoustic balladeer from Scotland who instantly called up the ghost of Nick Drake circa "Pink Moon." (One of Murdoch's closing tunes was title "Orange Sky." Coincidence?) Telling the audience numerous times that they were "amazing" for listening and applauding, and that he didn't always find crowds responsive in those ways, Murdoch sang beautifully and well, although with far too much silent guitar tuning going on for too long between songs. (Even this wasn't a problem for Eighth Chakra, who said: "He's tall and thin and British. So I love him.")

After an extended interval between Murdoch's minimal-equipment set being cleared away and the lights finally dimming again, Alanis Morissette ran onstage with a supertight five-piece band behind her, ready to treat her audience to a nicely balanced sampling of her full discography including her latest CD, Flavors of Entanglement. Luckily, she chose to forego the dance/techno-flavored tracks from that disc, opening the show with a pair of heavy, haunting, North African-tinged stompers — "Uninvited" (from the 1998 City of Angels soundtrack) and "Versions of Violence" (from Flavors) — that let her prowl every inch of the stage in motorcycle boots while swinging her lion's mane of black hair under a dazzling light display. It was clear that the night of soft ballads had ended when the opening act had exited stage left.

All of the classic monster hits from Jagged Little Pill were in the mix, along with a strong representation from Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, and the audience knew them word for word and note for note, letting Morissette simply hold the microphone out toward the crowd while they sang and she smiled. Although each of the tracks were slowed down and rearranged just enough to make them new and different, they were comfortable reminders that the small woman with the big voice on stage, although only 34, was a survivor of decades in "the industry" and still going strong.

There's a lot of mental room that needs to be made for Morissette's lyrics, especially during songs like "Sympathetic Character" (from Junkie):

I was afraid you'd hit me if I'd spoken up I was
afraid of your physical strength I was afraid
you'd hit me below the belt I was afraid of your
sucker punch I was afraid of your reducing me

Messages like this were accompanied by single words — "No," "Stop," "Me" — shining on a silk screen behind the band, in the technique used by Tennessee Williams in The Glass Menagerie and giving even more power and meaning to the lyrics. The musicians, dominated by powerhouse drummer Victor Indrizzo, never hit a bad note even in the most challenging minor-chord arpeggios, the musical segues between songs were masterful, and the band repaid the audience's clearly expressed gratitude with three separate encores, finally closing with a track from Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, the aptly named "Thank U."

Our thanks to Rosy Romano at for quick and friendly discussion of show details and band info.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Palin Unplugged: now playing nowhere.

The blogosphere happily continues to twitter about last week's VP debate (the real one, not the parody above), so throwing our two cents in at this point would simply be redundant. Instead, we'd like to focus on the disturbing practice that's emerged from both the McCain camp and the media: the unnecessary cloak of protection shrouding Palin from any sort of critical scrutiny.

The headline at left appeared on CNN's site Friday morning, mere hours after the debate. Critics, politicians and pundits alike expressed joy that Palin actually managed not to screw up—just as the fictional debate moderator notes in the SNL parody. For Palin, this is apparently a victory in itself. But why?

Perhaps it has much to do with her recent interviews with Charles Gibson and Katie Couric. Palin clearly appeared way out of her league, a fact neither interviewer actually called her on. Yes, we can argue that Gibson and Couric were tough on her, but both also quickly backed off when Palin floundered too much. Again, the question hangs in the air: why? Palin is vying to become our next veep, a mere heart attack away from the presidency. It's a tough job and requires a tough and knowledgeable candidate. We've had eight years of mediocrity—and look at where it has gotten us.

And maybe that's where the lower expectations come from: the idea that Palin is simply not experienced, smart, or eloquent enough to stand on her own. The problem with this reasoning is that we have clearly had plenty of candidates, both presidential and vice presidential, who fit this bill. Remember Dan Quayle? Not exactly a font of knowledge, but WB doesn't remember him getting a free pass when it came to media scrutiny regarding his qualifications (i.e. lack of them). So what is it about Palin that has everyone rushing to her defense and lowering their standards of expectation?

It's too easy, though not wholly inaccurate, to blame it on sexism. While the fact that she's a woman probably plays a role in the sanctuary she receives, the same did not happen for Hillary Clinton. The CNN headline above is demeaning on more levels than gender alone: one could easily make the argument that class also comes into play, as no one would equate moose-hunting and wolf-slaying Palin with the same "elite" circles Clinton occupies. Palin neither looks nor sounds like most politicians we see on the national stage, a fact that is both obvious and implicit.

Whatever the reason, the time for protecting Palin must end now. She chose to accept the offer to run for vice president. This means a certain level of media scrutiny and criticim, the kind that carefully weighs the qualifications and knowledge a candidate can bring to the table. While this doesn't warrant unfair attacks on a personal level, it does mean that hard questions should be posed equally to ALL the candidates, not reserved for those who can take it. Love her or hate her, Palin showed in her debate with Senator Biden that she is indeed tough and can take a punch like the rest of them.

As the governor herself would say: Gosh darn it all to heck, even the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal has run a headline calling for the Repubs to "Free Sarah Palin." So let's unlock the tower and let the fair damsel out to face the media, and the people. With only a month to go, Americans deserve at least that much.

(And by the way, Governor: It's noo-klee-are, not nook-you-lar. Really. It comes from the word nucleus, and it'd be ridiculous to call that a nook-you-luss. Wouldn't it?)