Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Christmas, Merry Holidays, Good Night, and Good Luck.

And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain....

If you recognize that line and can attach it to the song and the person who made the song famous — and if you know the name of the buxom woman getting intimate with a happy snowman at left — then congrats, you really are a pop culture trivia hound like the staff of WB.

But now, the founding staff of 78rpm and Litchik have some very big fish to fry in another area, so Wildeboomerz needs to go into cold storage for a bit.

Toward the end here, you've surely noticed that the original emphasis on pop culture was fading away and being replaced by more pressing social and political issues. The Copenhagen climate summit, for instance, and while it's true that pop culture did both reflect and shape public consciousness with the movie The Day After Tomorrow, 78rpm, for one, has lost a little bit of enthusiasm for pop culture even so. Copenhagen was a stunning failure, and half of Americans have no idea where Copenhagen even is let alone what never happened there this month. But by God, they all know who Jon and Kate are.

And while we are saddened by the death of Brittany Murphy, we're more upset about the demise of civility, intellect, accountability, ethics, integrity, honor, discretion, modesty, humility, and a few dozen other formerly bright flowers on the pathway of life.

And so, because of all of this along with a desperate lack of time, after 20,000 very welcome visits by faithful readers, Wildeboomerz is taking a break.

For all of you who've visited this blog over the past year and a half, thanks, and have a wonderful and/or blessed holiday.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Motown Sound — of screaming wallets

WB has been electrically shocked to discover two things in a recent Forbes article about the most expensive American cities to live in. First was the mention of Detroit, where houses sell for $100 — surely that doesn't count as "expensive" cost of living? Second was the explanation:

"[The] Motor City grabs a spot on our list in large part because of the high cost of utilities. Residents pay, on average, $243.56 per month for electricity."

Um... what? Even in winter when days are short and nights are endless, WB's Motown-area total utility bill is about $150 — and that includes natural gas for heat! The electric charge hovers around $80 a month year-round. So, what the hell are those Detroiters doing to get slammed with bills four times larger?

Please understand, you can't run a pop-culture and general rant blog without having lots of computers, TVs, and radios running. And you can't write without drinking plenty of fluids from three refrigerators. And you can't see the controls on the remotes without having a lot of lights on. But —

— you can be smart about all of those. You can stuff the walls and attic and basement rafters full of insulation so that the electric motor on the furnace rarely kicks on. You can check the labels on fridges and computers to make sure they're Energy Star rated. You can replace every lightbulb in the joint with CFLs and LEDs. And then you can plug every cluster of appliances into a power strip with its own on/off switch. Appliances not in use = power strip off.

And... well, that's about it, really. WB headquarters has only done the few things that President Obama started mentioning before he was President: winterize houses and change watt-sucking habits. We did it because we didn't want to pay $243.56 electric bills each month (even though we never came anywhere close to that number before all the changes).

Yep, the CFLs sometimes start out really dim and gradually warm up. Pretty quickly, it stops being a frustrating inconvenience and becomes a harmless quirk. Yep, LEDs cost more — but they're also bright more. Way more. And yeah, all of that insulation can be an itchy mess to install. But a quick shower will take care of that. Sure, it takes time to train yourself to shut off the power strip before walking away from the TV, DVD, Cable Box, Audio Receiver, Playstation, and Wii cabinet, but once trained, it's second nature.

And the net result is, based on the Forbes article, a net savings of $164 each month. Maybe all of the Fox-heads who mocked the President's "green" ideas, and the teabaggers who want government to stay out of their private lives and stop legislating stuff like light bulbs, have that kind of extra money to burn. Around here, we'd rather save it up and use it for something more memorable. But hey, we're just a couple of bumpkins with a blog.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Copenhagen Climate Update: a big "FU!" from North America

Here's a Google Map showing the number of votes that have come in from citizens demanding strong, binding agreements from the "leaders" currently butting heads in Copenhagen.

From Europe, which has experienced killer heat waves: nearly 60,000 people.

From Africa, in the process of being scorched to death: 125,000 people.

From Asia, where coastal nations are likely to become memories: over a million people.

From Australia, in perpetual drought and at risk of becoming a deserted continent: 25,000 people.

From South America, with its glaciers disappearing and many nations having no other water source: 13,000 people.

And from North America, where Fox News reigns in the United States, and where Canadians still see snow out their windows, and where Mexico just wants the drug murders to stop: 7,600 people.

That's roughly the population of New York City back when the United States was being founded.

And that's really all there is to say about this. Climate news is reduced to soundbites, because it's (a) scientific, (b) statistical, and (c) depressing. Therefore, North Americans, currently enjoying all the water they want (unless they live in Vegas, Phoenix, or California), tune out or rant about how Al Gore is behind all this so that he can become fabulously wealthy.

But OMG, have you heard about Tiger Woods? The number of women he's slept with on the side? The color of undies he liked his women to wear? The size of his penis? Hell, there's over a thousand comments about that last detail alone. Run the story for seven days, you've got the same number as the people in North America who give a damn about what's (not) happening in Copenhagen.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

"...and decrease the surplus population"

The Internet, by some arguments, is a wonderful thing — truly a forum for Vox populi, the voice of the people. With everything open to comment, and every comment open to ratings (or metacomments), the pulse of the population can be taken at any moment. Or at least, the pulse of the population that comments and rates.

The Internet is also a place where much more than mere commentary can be found. Whole books are just a search-term away, like Charles Dickens' holiday classic, A Christmas Carol, available here and here and here and here (for starters). It is in this book that we find the classic line where, when told that many thousands of destitute people will die without food and shelter, Ebenezer Scrooge replies: "Then perhaps they should do it, and decrease the surplus population."

Let those words sink in for a moment, before we go back to the Internet.

Okay. Now let's consider a place called Bangladesh, a nation whose poverty was so dire 40 years ago that George Harrison organized a Live Aid-type benefit concert to raise not just money, but also awareness of the people's plight. Harrison also wrote a song about the country:

My friend came to me/With sadness in his eyes/Told me that he wanted help/Before his country dies/Although I couldn't feel the pain/I knew I had to try/Now I'm asking all of you/To help us save some lives

"Relieve the people of Bangladesh
," the chorus went. Five simple words that reveal the compassion and decency of their author.

The other day, MSNBC ran a story about Bangladesh sinking into the sea, about its drinking water turning to salt as ocean water seeps into wells, and about massive humanitarian crisis as crops fail, shelters collapse, diseases spread, and the nation of Bangladesh disappears from history as the first victim of climate disaster. And in response, the first vox populi commenter, Linda from Nebraska, wrote this:

Carbon emissions are not responsible. This man caused [sic] global warming is not founded in science, it is simply a money grab where the few take resouces [sic] from the many.

The second commenter, Douglas from Detroit, added this: "Global warming" is a scientific and academic scam being used by politicians to try to redistribute the wealth of nations. What is going on in Bangladesh is the well known process of economic developement [sic]. But what is going on at the UN is devious, dishonest, deceptive and destructive.

Wave after wave of kindness and compassion followed:

Utter and complete nonsense.... I am sure this country will demand monies form [sic] the wealthy countries, because of sourse [sic] its [sic] our fault....

These folks and their government want money form [sic] America and other leading countries, sad thing is they will get it, where's the supporting science. Unbelievable.

And this one:

These poor people are just contributing to the problem by breathing and using up all the worlds [sic] resources.

Yes, someone actually wrote that. His name is Mike Williams; for some reason, he doesn't give a location. But Gary Roy of Lakeland, Florida, does, and adds this:

The land will not support us and our 36 children, who is coming to save us? The first thing these people need to learn is when you find yourselves in a hole, stop digging. They are reproducing like rodents in a place that is already wall to wall with poeple [sic].

This is what the Internet, and its giving everyone the ability to comment on everything, has created. Ebenezer Scrooge, heartless, greedy, and amoral, is now everywhere. When the story is about dying people, his comments focus on money. He compares the children to rats. And he says, These poor people are just contributing to the problem by breathing and using up all the world's resources

— in other words: They should die, and decrease the surplus population.

Scrooge's heartlessness, his murderous apathy, seeps out of every crevice at YouTube as well. A video simply titled "Katrina Victims" receives this: The problem here is these people will never stop murdering and selling crack. So blame the taxpayer who is paying their way.

The money issue, again.

Another video from a 9/11 documentary, showing a businessman in the World Trade Center desperately clinging to a rope from his office window and then losing his grip and falling to his death, is followed by this:

lol that's what the fatass deserves for eating at mcdonalds everyday lol

There should be numerous "[sic]" notations there. But more importantly, the entire comment is sick.

If you want to see the Internet at its worst, search for the stories about the most terrible, heartbreaking events. Chances are, you'll find this statement at the end of the story: "Comments for this item have been disabled."

It's not because the huge outpouring of grief and sympathy has overwhelmed the system.

It's because the sheer evil of the comments has overwhelmed the moderators.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Yule Log - the Director's Cut

WB is busy with some lots of end-of-semester stuff, so enjoy this special feature-laden version of the cherished Yule Log holiday movie, with commentary from the film's director. Back soon!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Because they didn't make enough from those hit shows

Jason Alexander, aka George on Seinfeld, and Fran Drescher, aka The Nanny, got paid $3 million to host the wedding of someone they'd never met, a 66-year-old Australian doctor marrying a 26-year-old woman... oh, and there was that thing about him hiring a hit man to kill one of his patients, but hey, that was 20 years ago, so forgive and forget — which is what Alexander and Drescher were very happy to do for a price.

Dr. Phil was in on it, too.

This is the kind of thing that makes WB ask itself, more and more, and we like pop culture why?

Maybe because this ain't really pop culture; it's just crass whoring.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

As we were saying the other day...

Extreme times call for extreme communications.

Monday, November 23, 2009

390 going once, going twice - sold!

Last week, Great Britain experienced the heaviest amount of rainfall in a single day ever recorded. By all accounts, the flooding and carnage was terrifying. In fact, the word "biblical" got thrown around, because people were convinced that only Noah would survive.

According to the Associated Press, carbon dioxide levels have now reached 385 parts per million (ppm) — the highest concentrations of the greenhouse gas that Earth has experienced in a million years. And according to CNN, world leaders from 191 nations, who are scheduled to meet in Copenhagen very shortly, have announced that there is "no hope of a major breakthrough over climate change by year's end."

They were supposed to meet and agree to replace the failed Kyoto Accords with a global policy that would bring CO2 levels down quickly and dramatically. Instead, now they say they're "endorsing a new two-step process that aims to use Copenhagen as a stepping stone for a bigger accord down the road."

Uh-huh. Just like they were all prepared for Copenhagen, twelve years after failing to get anything done at Kyoto. Twelve years after having had twelve years to get their acts together and act responsibly and intelligently.

The truth is, world leaders will never, ever, be able to agree on any global policy. Ever. CO2 concentrations are expected to be 450 ppm within 30 years — roughly two and a half Kyoto-to-Copenhagen time spans — but elected officials and dictators will do nothing to try to combat that increase. And as their lakes, rivers, and glaciers dry up, and their people run out of water and die of mass dehydration, they'll say hey, maybe we should've done something about this back in '09 when things were good and we were only at 390 ppm.

Meanwhile, here comes Black Friday as a global day of insane consumption. Happy shopping.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Counting down to the big non-event!

Next Friday, the world has a chance to demonstrate to economics professors, banking executives, retail corporations, government leaders, and especially themselves that "Black Friday" is one big ideological bog of quicksand. Rather than a day of "incredible savings for our customers," as the big-box stores would have us believe, Black Friday is actually a tribute to that dear symbol of the holiday season: Ebenezer Scrooge.

Yes, Scrooge, who is taken to the open-air market by the ghost of Christmas present, sees sellers raking in money, and says with a greedy smile: "There's a lot of buying going on, isn't there?"

WB has been boycotting Black Friday for at least a decade now, and has found it to be one of the most peaceful, restful days of the year. We encourage others to discover how that can be the case for them, too. November 27 is Buy Nothing Day in the U.S., with the rest of the world celebrating on the 28th.

Let the non-shopping begin. The savings (to soul and sanity) will be incredible.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Music with the Masters

Note: this is a massive post that took a long time to write, so it'll be our only one this week because now we have to do all of the other work we ignored while writing this massive post.

Bob Dylan, Fox Theater, Detroit MI: Nov. 6, 2009

Metallica, Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids MI: Nov. 9, 2009

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, The Palace, Auburn Hills MI: Nov. 13, 2009

Last week, the WB ministry of culture had the incredibly good fortune to see three legendary rock performers in the space of nine days. And although each show was radically different from the other two, all three were overshadowed by a nagging sense that this might be the last time any of these acts would be on tour. Rock is a joyful noise, but because of the possibility of "never again," each of these shows was enveloped in an unspoken sadness.

First, Bob Dylan. The folk maestro from the 1960s and musical chameleon through every decade afterward portrayed himself as a member of the band and nothing more. Tucking himself far back at stage right, leaving his lead guitarist to play front center, Dylan slurred and mumbled his way through some terrific reworkings of his greatest hits including "Desolation Row," "All Along the Watchtower," and "Like a Rolling Stone." The new versions of these songs were so different from their originals that some had gone on for several minutes before audience members began turning to each other and asking, "Is this what I think it is?" (Since lyrics were mostly unintelligible, it was the faint hints of familiar chord structures that eventually triggered the a-ha moments.)

The band was tight and followed its cues flawlessly, and Dylan's harmonica playing was energetic, but he only picked up a guitar (electric) for one song, and for most of the night he hid behind a keyboard that stayed mixed too low throughout the show and was easily drowned out by the other instruments - three guitars (including slide, which like the keyboards could barely be heard), bass, and drums. There was no interaction with the audience, who felt like voyeurs watching a private rehearsal from outside a window, and combined with Dylan's well-known refusal to enunciate, the whole show felt cold. This was only reinforced when, precisely at the two-hour mark — almost to the second — the 68-year old murmured deggoomavenns (thank you, my friends) and walked offstage with his band. House lights came up, curtains opened, a swarm of stage hands appeared, and the trucks backed up to the suddenly visible loading dock.

"I guess it's over," one man said a few rows back, but actually, it was pretty clear that for Bob Dylan, the show had been over for several years already.

After taking a couple of days off to rest and prepare, we headed to Grand Rapids, Michigan, the wholesome headquarters of Amway and home of the Gerald R. Ford Presidental Museum, to catch the biggest band in the world — again. WB began 2009 with a Metallica show in Detroit and thought it only fitting to catch another one on the other side of the state, at year's end. Our review of the Detroit show captures most of what Grand Rapids offered as well, with some key differences:

First, while big scary Detroit allowed fans to enter the arena through any of dozens of doors, the Van Andel Arena in little safe Grand Rapids forced fans to line up for four city blocks in order to be patted down by security guards and then let in through one entrance door. Maybe this is what makes a little safe town stay safe, but it also forced 80% of the crowd to completely miss the opening act, the Danish band Volbeat. This was unfortunate since the overriding theme of sidewalk conversation during the four-block crawl tended toward "I'd like to see that band from Denmark, but I couldn't care less about seeing Lamb of God."

Lamb of God was the second warm-up act. Grrr-metal act Machine Head had served as the opening comedy routine for January's show, and the Lambsters brought a similar version of Grrr to the stage, except that their lead vocalist also poured beer on his head so that he could swing his wet hair at the audience while alternately growling, roaring, and screaming random noises that, as with Bob Dylan, sometimes were almost decipherable. Each song sounded just like the one before it, all three guitarists made the same hair-flipping moves they'd already made, and the hardcore metalheads throwing horns (and each other) in the pitifully thin mosh circle had a great time.

Then it was time for the big boys. Metallica's lighting crew have been busy over the past year making the tools of their trade do new stuff, more stuff, and awesome stuff, and the alignment between effects and song notes was matched to the millisecond. James Hetfield's stage patter continues to be profanity-free (it's a shock now to hear the band's 1990s live stuff with James swearing a blue streak between each song) and filled with warm fuzzies about mutual love between band and its "family" of fans. The between-song repertoire is polished to the point where you won't hear an extra word added from one show to the next (trust us, we've got the Metallica iPhone app), although James is careful to call out the city's name whenever he can.

As had happened during a Quebec show just days before (thanks, iPhone app), Kirk Hammet's guitar melted down during "One," but whereas the Canadians had been treated to an all-James, all-rhythm version of the song featuring harmony notes instead of lead, Grand Rapids got one of the sloppiest renditions of the song imaginable. With Kirk hunched over at the far end of the stage so that his guitar tech could fiddle with the transmitter box at his hip, James missed several drum cues and had to play catch-up as Kirk's lead finally returned, most of the time, to the mix. And the thing is, no one in attendance cared about the glitches.

That's because you don't really go to see Metallica for the music. You go for the experience, to be one of tens of thousands experiencing an Event that defies easy explanation. You don't see the house lights suddenly plunge the arena into darkness at start time; you feel it. You don't hear the opening notes of Ennio Morricone's "Ecstasy of Gold" — you feel them. You don't applaud the sudden appearance of the Four Horsemen; you savor it. Because that's what big huge monster bands like this one do; they transcend sound and vision to become internalized by millions around the world.

They do it through many ways, but here's one: Whereas Dylan couldn't care less if his fans saw all of the show mechanisms immediately after he vanished from the stage, Metallica stays on stage after the show, while the house lights are at full brightness and roadies are beginning the teardown. All four members engage with the crowd, dispensing guitar picks and drumsticks, gathering up home-made banners that fans have brought, displaying the banners over the drums and flashpots. And then, one by one, they stand at one of the remaining microphones to say goodbye to the people still in the arena. These guys are all millionaires, and they know they're musical giants just as Bob Dylan is, and they don't have to do any of the after-show interaction — but they do it anyway. It makes a difference.

Coming off of the high of the Metallica show, we had three days to rest up and get ready for a night with yet another Rock Hall of Fame act. The Palace of Auburn Hills is a fitting venue for rock royalty like Bruce Springsteen and the E. Street Band, but after standing for the entire two-plus hour Metallica show (one does not sit at a Metallica concert), we were exhausted just thinking about standing through Bruce’s standard three-hour set. But Springsteen’s infectious energy and charismatic performance style makes it pretty near impossible to resist jumping to your feet and dancing, which half of us did.

Greeting his audience with a big “Hello, Ohio!” Springsteen launched directly into his new song “Wrecking Ball,” written to commemorate the demolition of Meadowlands in New Jersey. Perhaps the crowd thought the Boss was just fooling around with that Ohio crack, but as the new song unfolded with lyrics custom-fitted for, well, an Ohio crowd, it became clear that the "front man’s worst nightmare," as the Boss himself called it, had come true. Little Stevie Van Zandt finally got Springsteen’s attention by whacking him on the side of the head, and a red-faced Bruce ably turned his gaffe into a running Where am I? DETROIT! call and response joke with the audience for the rest of the evening. (To his credit, all arenas do pretty much look alike, the band had just played Ohio the night before, and to cap it all off it was Friday the 13th.)

The centerpiece of the show was a performance of the complete Born to Run album, in the order that the songs appear there. From the opening bars of “Thunder Road” to the closing notes of “Jungleland,” the band delivered a rock masterpiece, and not just because there isn’t a bad song on that album. It’s been nearly 35 years since Bruce wrote the lines “Darling you know just what I'm here for/So you're scared and you're thinking/That maybe we ain't that young anymore/Show a little faith there's magic in the night" — and hearing him sing these words at age 60 created a mass swoon for the audience, most of whom were not that young anymore, either. Each song in the album set moved seamlessly into the next, creating a symphonic effect further enhanced with lush arrangements and instrumentation. As brilliant as the original album is, it’s better live, now. And if only the crowd hadn’t insisted on singing along, they’d have heard that.

Springsteen continued to seek absolution for his blunder during his mid-set "stump-the-band/take requests" component that became a mainstay of his live shows in 2009, paying tribute to local rock legends with Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin Man” and a Mitch Ryder “Detroit Medley” ("Devil With a Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly/Jenny Take a Ride/CC Rider") that the E Streeters once featured regularly in concert encores. Incredibly, the Boss even crowd-surfed for several long (and scary) minutes.

After making it safely back to the stage, he continued to ramp up the show until he and the audience were utterly spent. Springsteen and the E. Street Band have long been known for putting on peerless live shows, and they are still in top form. Even not-really-fans can’t help but be blown away by the sheer energy and extraordinary musicianship this band brings every time.

Dylan, okay, we saw him and now we can say that we did. But Metallica and Springsteen, well, we'd really like to see them come back around just once (or twice, or three times) more before they hang up their guitars for good. Meanwhile, we've got a ton of CDs — and an iPhone app.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Opting out of doubletalk

The statement for last month's credit card bill was almost filed away in the WB records drawer when we noticed something different on the page. In the middle of the reverse side, nestled among the minuscule 4-point legalese, was a box. And in the box, a bunch of slightly larger words in screaming caps.

Clearly, it was important (how had it been overlooked the first time?), and so we read:


Got that so far? Change in terms: we are changing our terms including how we change our terms... so read the information you are reading about our changing terms.

Damn! This wins some kind of Corporate Bullshit of the Year award for executing a linguistic three-point double flip reverse loop.

Whatever that would be. Now, let's go on:


Translation: You can opt out by opting out, but if you opt out, we'll cancel your card.

Translation of translation: You fucking peasants, we've got you by the balls.

Of course, no annual percentage rates have been mentioned "above" — because they've been buried in the 4-point font part of the statement, not in this screaming-caps box.

And what is that new rate going to be?

31% monthly.

It's worth mentioning here that Mafia "loan sharks" typically charge 10% to 20% of the weekly balance (40% to 80% per month), meaning that U.S. banks, with the full blessing of the United States Congress, are now only nine percentage points away from qualifying as hoodlums on the FBI's organized crime watch list.

But we digress.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cross them off

Not long ago, someone on a radio talk show suggested that the current gaggle of Republicans in Washington who vote NO on every proposal, yet have nothing to show as an alternative bill, should get out of their elephant suits and call themselves what they really are: The Christian Party.

The logic appears to hold up at first: if the rabid anti-abortionists, school prayer zealots, and homophobes who now make up the Republican Party were to break off and start their own club, there'd be maybe five or six politicians left behind to rebuild a party with a conservative platform based on low taxes, limited government, and a thriving business base. Nothing else, no bullshit — all of the other smokescreens could be taken up by the defectors. To go along with the current elephant and the donkey political party symbols, the new party could add a crucifix.

But there's a problem with that. While "Christian" became synonymous with lunatic thanks to two terms of Bush and eight years of tyranny in the Name of Our Lord, that definition is neither fair nor reasonable. As we've mentioned before, it's just lazy thinking, an easy sweep-'em-all-into-the-same-dustbin lack of mental effort.

Here's why:

Blessed are the poor, the meek, the broken-hearted, the hungry, the homeless. And blessed are the merciful, the pure at heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for any of these blessings. Feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, clothe the poor, comfort the sick, and befriend the imprisoned.

Those are directions straight out of the New Testament, the field manual for Christianity, words spoken by the Christ who the belief system is named for. And they sure as hell don't sound anything like traumatize the pregnant, persecute the gay, pontificate and proselytize in the name of God until you make unbelievers of those who currently believe. And while you're at it, make a fat, deaf, drug-addicted failed sportscaster, a squinting egomaniacal liar, and an anorexic stick-legged Hitler wannabe your holy trinity — not Father Son and Holy Ghost, but Rush and Sean and Ann.** Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter.

No, those aren't in the Christian playbook. If anything, they're orders of the anti-Christ:

Exploit the poor, ridicule the meek, mock the broken-hearted, banish the hungry and the homeless — but care for the wealthy. And blessed are the merciless, the corrupt at heart, the warmongers, and those who are rewarded for being morally bankrupt. Ignore the hungry, evict the homeless, tax the poor, kill the sick, and increase the imprisoned.

So okay, no; not the Christian Party. The vermin who recite this creed are as far removed from Christianity as Anton LaVay and his Church of Satan. Call them the Anti-Abortion Party, sure. Or the No Gays Party. Or the School Prayer Party. Any of these will do — hell, split 'em up into separate camps, and help the millions of single-cause voters in Amurca line up with the one topic that lets them ignore the other one hundred problems going on during any election.

It might even allow the five or six Republicans left behind to propose some ways to enhance the... you know, the Republic... without ever mentioning religious beliefs at all. There could be actual, spirited, intelligent debate about real issues! Instead of just voting NO, and instead of feeding their followers bullshit like "the people don't want health care" as their rationale for doing their corporate masters' bidding while offering no viable alternative, the newly liberated elephant people would be free to propose genuine plans and join the process of leading and shaping a nation, rather than just keep collecting corporate donations and building stone walls in the middle of every road to the nation's progress.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mixed results from a small budget

Editor's note: WB contributor Nighthand returns from the land of finals, commencement, and job applications!

By now most people have heard of the new movie, Paranormal Activity. If not, here’s the low-down: a girl has been haunted, off and on, by something undefined since she was eight. Her boyfriend, with whom she now lives, knows about this, and a few recent incidents of noises in the night have prompted him to purchase an expensive video camera, microphone, and other detection gear to watch all the time so he can find the root of the problem. Girl is less than enthused with the situation and doesn’t want him to antagonize the spirit. Guy is full of bravado and skepticism, antagonizing the spirit.

But now: what’s up with their house? They have a television larger than the screens of some theaters showing the movie, more rooms than they know what to do with, and an apparently endless supply of free time.

Now, see, this isn’t your typical gore-porn horror film. It’s an honest-to-deity psychological scare. It starts out tame. A door moving slightly in the night. A thud and a moving chandelier. It grows more intense as Guy tries to call "it" out. Antics with an Ouija board ensue. Escalation. Climax. Without spoiling the ending, we’ll just say this: you probably know already.

So what’s the point? Haven’t we all seen this movie before? Not exactly, because Paranormal Activity does a few things interestingly. For one thing, it’s small, by which we mean definitely not large in its resources, filming, production, or cast. There are only four characters: Guy, Girl, Girl’s Friend, Psychic, and the latter appears just twice in the film. The entire story takes place in an opulent house, with the exception of the opening scene in the driveway. Yet, there’s still much to explore. The house is large enough that you never see everything, and two whole spare rooms are left virtually unseen through the majority of the film.

The presentation is impressive. There's no opening, no pre-film credits displaying actor names and production houses. A simple black screen with white text is shown to the audience prior to the actual start. Same with the ending; only an ominous few lines of text and a black screen, no credits. (This was the wrong project for any film crew members who live for seeing their names on the screen.)

But beyond that, Paranormal Activity is pretty much a home-movie styled portrayal of creepy stuff happening, all culminating with a classic horror-style vibe. The various events and their build-up are all basically par for the horror-film course. Every one of them is telegraphed by a thrumming bass noise, almost like an old furnace blowing through the vents, something all of us have at home to remind us of the scary bits.

Ultimately, we think of PA like Cloverfield or Blair Witch meets… well, Blair Witch. Oh look; there are time-codes in the corner counting down to morning, while a gray-blue evening camera lens is accompanied by the thuds of footsteps on the stairs!

Really guys, you should have kept the bedroom door closed. The unknown "it" even closed it for you.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Congress is obstructed — anyone got an enema?

With the Copenhagen world climate conference coming up next month, a bill to initiate cap-and-trade programs in the U.S. to combat climate change continues to crawl its way through the Senate, which can only work on one issue at a time, apparently. After Congress is done shredding all sane proposals for national health care and presenting the American people a turd wrapped in gold foil and calling it "reform," the same group of people is fully expected to throw climate legislation into the same brick wall and piss on it.

According to MSNBC, "Republicans... have characterized the "cap-and-trade" approach as tantamount to a massive energy tax because it would make energy from fossil fuels, especially electricity produced from burning coal, more expensive." And Democrats aren't exactly lining up to take up the let's-stay-alive cause, either. And while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce denies that anything needs to be done at all, the corporations — yes, corporations! — who make up that Chamber have been resigning in protest of its money-first, life-last policies.

Unfortunately, the CEOs of those corporations aren't members of Congress. And so, to the dunderheads who are there, WB offers this review of the basics:

You say that climate change can't and shouldn't be fought because carbon would become more expensive. But you see, that's the point. When things are cheap, people consume them without thinking because there's no need to think. Consider the plastic disposable razor, one of the most wasteful and unnecessary products ever invented. As long as those things work out to about 19 cents a shave, no one's going to stop to ponder what happens to that little chunk of plastic when it's "disposed" of, going to the landfill (or to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch) to join millions of other chunks of plastic that will take hundreds of thousands of years to break down into toxic subparticles.

Raise that razor's price to two or three bucks a pop, and people start to think: Can I skip this shave? Can I reuse the blade one more time, even though it's starting to rip the whiskers instead of shave them? Could I... find some way to keep the handle and replace just the blade?

And bingo, there we are: back at the non-disposable razor.

The one that makes sense.

Why do manufacturers make disposable razors? Because they can. Why do consumers buy them? Because no one stops them. Why do people keep all the lights on in the house? Why do they buy TV sets that suck up five times the electricity of the old set that's still working just fine?

You Congressional climate legislation obstructionists aren't lining up to block climate change initiatives because you're concerned about the well-being of your constituents. You're doing it at the beck and call of your corporate owners who produce all of the products we don't need and the energy we waste to run them.

The good news is, that kind of thinking — and behavior — just can't last. When gasoline prices shot up to $4 per gallon, the world stopped driving. And when the price fell back to $2, our cars stayed parked. Clearly the people know something that you narrow-minded obstructionist legislators never will: living on this planet is about much more than desperately clinging to a job. It's about clinging to life.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Fairly dangerous

We started to notice it the other day while accidentally landing on the main Fox News page during a search for actual news: Rush "Windbag" Limbaugh, the failed sportscaster and drug addict whose interest in buying an NFL team nearly caused a player's strike, had his photo up in the right top corner of the home page over a headline: "Limbaugh Predicts..." (we forget what it was he was predicting; something utterly predictable, though, like a military loss in Iraq or a socialistic takeover of Amurka through health care).

And then today, Fox gave Mr. Assbag 30 minutes of nearly uninterrupted talk time to slam President Obama, just to show that Fox truly is "fair and balanced," in contrast to what the White House has been saying about the network. Rush, of course, is qualified to speak derisively critically about the President because he received a "Defender of the Constitution" award at a conservative convention earlier this year. And he's a big proponent of the notion that Americans (i.e. his five million listeners, not the 295 million other people) need to "take the country back."
The question is, take the nation back from what? From government with a vision? From an Attorney General who's not afraid to say that torture is torture? From actual programs to help citizens, instead of just empty plans for programs that never materialize?

As best we can tell, Rush Limbaugh wants the nation to be "taken back" to a population of helpless victims being "led" by a gang of homicidal religious extremists — i.e. Republicans — working themselves ragged to rape and pillage in the name of Wall Street and the Almighty while distracting the population by pointing at other religious zealots and going to war with them even if it means that American soldiers will get caught in the same shitstorm that's mired every other great nation that ever tried to raise hell in Afghanistan. And this is what the that fat deranged lunatic got a Defender of the Constitution Award for.
This is why Fox gives him headlines on the "news" page and 30 minutes on the Sunday "news" show.

This is why the White House has qualified Fox News as not only unfair, but also unbalanced — as in unhinged. As in dangerous to democracy and sanity. See, there really is a place for conservatism as a political philosophy, and for the idea of limiting government to its roles and duties as the Constitution defined them. Of course, times change, so those roles and duties are going to change by necessity, but conservatism can still operate fairly and logically, and can legislate wisely and collaboratively with other parties — and be respected for all of it.

The problem lies in the very large difference between conservatism as a philosophy and Republicanism as a goal unto itself.

Just don't ask Rush to explain.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween video countdown: #1

Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween video countdown: #2

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween video countdown: #3 (NSFW)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween video countdown: #4

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween video countdown: #5 (NSFW)

Friday, October 23, 2009

In General: The Dangerous Problem with ‘Everyone All the Time’ Thinking (Part Two)

A week ago, a story broke about parents in Nigeria — encouraged by their church pastors — accusing their children of witchcraft and torturing them. Some of the tortured victims have died of their injuries. Forum comments, of course, immediately painted "Christianity" as the source of this evil, and "Christians" as the evil people driving it. Even when Nigerians themselves pointed out that the "pastors" behind the witch-hysteria were just demented privateers using the job title as a way to collect exorcism fees from deluded parents, and that Nigerian culture itself has been dangerously superstitious for decades, and that poverty, not religion, was the driving factor in these atrocities against children, the "Christianity did it" generalizing continued. What should have been a protect the children outpouring became an attack the Christians movement instead — leaving the children twice as damaged, twice as neglected. First by the torture itself, and then by the misplaced attention in response to it.

Thus the subtitle of this post: the dangerous problem with generalized thinking.

The famed linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf made popular the concept of language shaping thought, and so shaping reality. “The dog is by the back door,” for example, is neutral; we might find that statement written on a friendly family note asking us to feed the household pets. In contrast, “the huge, dangerous dog is lurking by the back door” brings a whole new world of reality along with it. And so does “the dead dog is lying by the back door.”

Pretty obvious, right? Now consider these statements, which move from a generalized everyone all the time thought pattern to some very precise and specific revisions of that original thought. Keep track of the italics:

1. Christians are judgmental hypocrites with ridiculous beliefs.

2. Christians tend to be judgmental hypocrites with fundamentalist beliefs.

3. Some Christians are judgmental and hypocritical, and certain denominations within Christianity are more fundamentalist than others, but not all Christians have fundamental beliefs in the Bible as a literal collection of God’s words..

4. Some demented individuals calling themselves "Christians" carry hateful signs at military funerals, and some homicidal Nigerians calling themselves "pastors" advocate the torture of children for a fee. All of these lunatics should be dropped into the middle of a desert to cannibalize each other.*

*(This one doesn't really fit the thought-progression pattern, but we just had to put it out there.)

5. Some Christians, unfortunately, are judgmental and hypocritical fundamentalists—but others fit none of those definitions and instead strive to be like Jesus: tolerant, forgiving, helpful, and hopeful.

6. "Red letter" Christians follow the teachings (highlighted in red text in many Bibles) of Jesus, just as a Buddhist follows the teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama. And they ignore all of the other stuff, because Jesus didn't say it.

7. Christians, like atheists, can be both judgmental and hypocritical, and atheists can be just as vocal about their belief system.

What? Atheists? In a discussion of Christianity?

Well, sure — who do you think it is that gets the most value out of calling Christian belief “ridiculous”? We mentioned Sam Harris earlier. Let's add the names Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher, too. Harris authored The End of Faith, Dawkins wrote The God Delusion, and Maher, thinking for a moment that his name was Moore (as in Michael), made a "documentary" called Religulous. Harris, in person, seems a nice enough guy, and Dawkins is charming. Maher, on the other hand, presents himself as a happy funster in his film, but comes across as a condescending, officious, egomaniacal schmuck on his HBO show, Real Time.

All three men should be smart enough to avoid generalized thinking. But all three slip into it in their arguments, bigtime. Harris, in his zeal to slam Islam and Muslims (all of them), makes sure to slam Christianity and Christians, too (all of them). Dawkins pits Christianity — all of it — as the foil of science (and all scientists), and Maher, whom we've written about before here at WB, is just an asshole whose zealotry is the opposite of Harris's. Out to roast Christianity, Maher throws Islam into the "ridiculous" mix out of fairness.

And it's not just men. Hanna Rosin, on Slate, writes about "evangelicals" and "Christians," too — all of them. And the one time she's careful to qualify, it's in the phrase "most non-Christians."

South Park, probably the most brilliant cultural critic the world will ever see, has done several takes on the Christians (all of them) vs. Atheists (all of them) wars. In one episode, Mickey Mouse derides Christians (all of them) for delusional thinking (all of it) — but does it over a PA system for everyone to hear:

Oops, end of the magical world of Disney — because some atheists (in this case, those in mouse ears) come across as haters.

In an earlier, two-part episode featuring Richard Dawkins, the boys' fundamentalist Christian teacher, Mrs. Garrison, slams evolution as a theory that makes modern humans "the retarded offspring of five monkeys having butt sex with a fish-squirrel." But Dawkins, the brilliant evolutionist, is too stupid to realize that the "Mrs." Garrison he falls in love with was once Mr. Garrison — pretty much looking the same as Mrs. but without the breasts. South Park skewers everyone equally, of course, but the skewering (and one of the boys' moral lectures at every episode's end) always points to the fact that there are exceptions to any "everyone all the time" rule.

But didn't the Christ himself speak in generalities? It depends on how you use the comma here:

GENERAL: Do not pray like the Pharisees, who pray loudly in the temples where everyone can see them.

SPECIFIC: Do not pray like the Pharisees who pray loudly in the temples where everyone can see them.

In the first version, "who" sets off a descriptive clause attached to its preceding noun — all Pharisees. In the second version, there are some Pharisees who do not pray that way, making them exempt from the example Jesus is giving. The syntax structure is the same as Don't hire painters who use red paint. The ones who use yellow or blue, on the other hand, are no problem.

Coincidentally, the example* continues with Jesus saying, essentially, to leave the "look at me" Pharisees alone, because they've got the reward they want: attention. They're not interested in an afterlife among the angels, so let them be. Elsewhere, of course, the same Jesus says that those who aren't "born again" (into faith) won't see heaven. But here, he acknowledges that quite a few folks simply won't care. And the way to deal with this is to love them and tolerate them and not emulate them — and to be at peace with it all.

*(Yes, the whole Pharisees passage is paraphrased; let's not get distracted by translation issues.)

The murderous, deluded Christians who led the Inquisition and the Crusades — atheists' favorite examples of faith gone wild — neglected to follow the directions spelled out by the Christ they allegedly served. The Crusades to control "holy land" were about territory, not faith, as foolish and misguided as Hamburger Hill was in Vietnam. And the Inquisitors followed Thomas Aquinas, a logician who served the Catholic Church, which was a world power. And how did world powers maintain their authority back in the day? (Hint: not with diplomacy or financial aid.)

A church is not a deity; it's a building. A collection of churches? Still not a deity. It's an organization. Inquisitors killing "in the name of God" found a handy slogan to justify their organizationally sanctioned, socially destructive actions toward preserving political power. (We see a similar dynamic today when Republicans vote against giving rape victims full legal rights, or against protecting gay citizens from violent hate crimes.)

To invoke John Lennon, imagine what life on earth could be like if fundamentalist Christians could stop condemning nonbelievers, evangelists could stop insisting on converting the unchurched, atheists could stop attacking Christians for their "superstitions" and illogic, and everyone could collaborate on getting important social-good work accomplished in this life, on this world.

Christians (all of them) could enjoy that as service to God, and atheists (all of them) could enjoy it as service to fellow people. Either way, it's a break from isolated, selfish, paranoid name-calling that gets nothing done.

Unfortunately, no one cares about any of this anymore. Everyone just keeps doing what they've been doing, and nothing will ever change.

But those last two sentences, of course, are generalized crap.

When language reflects tolerance through careful exception and clear understanding, social practice can follow. It all just takes a hell of a lot of work.

Let the retraining in re-thinking begin.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

In General: The Dangerous Problem with ‘Everyone All the Time’ Thinking (Part One)

“Liberals want to see the country destroyed.”

“Socialized medicine doesn’t work.”

“Capitalism is evil.”

All of these should sound familiar, because each one has been “ripped from the headlines.” They represent the way far too many of us think now, which is to say, they represent shortcut thinking. It’s a lot easier to say “liberals” than to say “a certain segment of far-left activists,” isn't it? And it's easier to simply use the word we than to say “far too many of us," which is still abstract — but more precise.

The problem is, we means we all. One hundred percent; no exceptions. And logic dictates that in a society of three hundred million people or a world of nearly seven billion people, at least one person will not be part of that hundred-percent group.

Fringe haters and Sam Harris want to argue that “Muslims are dangerous.” Al-Qaeda leaders want to counter that “Americans believe everything their President tells them.” The kid with the bent bicycle rim complains that “Chinese bikes are junk,” and the white tourist who sees one tribal representative leaning unsteadily against a wall decides that “Indians are drunks.”

It’s not just that all of these are dangerous—and, for sensitive readers, uncomfortable—ways of thinking, but also that none of them is logical. Or, if you don’t care too much about logic, then none of them is realistic. Granted, some people don’t care about reality, either, but most do, and if it could be proven that you prefer to exist in a fantasyland where everything comes in a neat, convenient package, you’d want to prove otherwise, right?

Luckily, it doesn’t take money to mount a strong defense against charges of dangerous, illogical, unrealistic thinking. But it does take time. And it takes… well, more thought to correct old thought with new thought. We'll pick that point up in Part Two.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Since we did so well with the first "new world"....

According to NPR and the BBC, there's a flurry of activity and excitement this week over the discovery of nearly three dozen new planets ("new" in the sense that we've never seen them before, not that they never existed before). Enthusiasm levels have been building for quite a while over this kind of stuff, and not just by Trekkers (a.k.a. Trekkies) — NASA itself has predicted that it's only a matter of time before humans on Earth discover life somewhere else. In fact, NASA has created a list of "five holy grails" that will need to be found, and after that, we're all set.

But all set for... what, exactly? To boldy venture forth into uncharted seas and discover new lands where we can thrive? Just like, oh, that time we left Europe, overcrowded and filthy, and piled onto boats to come to America — where we immediately began to turn that (largely) untouched wilderness into overcrowded filth, too?

All of the telescopes and rockets and unmanned probes on the planet, together, might be able to find the next Earth. But they'll never be able to change the basic mindset that turned life on the original Earth into an unsustainable mess.

That part, we gotta do ourselves. Here, on this planet.

Kirk out.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Energy policies

While perusing the DVD shelves at a local video store the other day, WB glanced at a disposable fin du monde movie about the death of all humankind. The title was obvious and instantly forgettable, but the tagline stuck: Extinction is inevitable.

These days, with the History Channel stuck in a one-note chant of doom and disaster, online discussion boards filled with cynical optimism that an extinction-level event will happen sooner rather than later, and hordes of jaded 14-year-olds announcing to parents and teachers that they're looking forward to the world's ending, one question needs to be asked:

What the hell is wrong with everyone?

Tell someone that their car will be stolen, and they'll park under a light and lock the doors. Tell them that their house will burn down, and they'll install alarms and replace frayed wiring. Tell them their hard drive will crash, and they'll run a backup. But tell them that wildlife are going extinct at an alarming rate, water supplies are drying up, and weather patterns have gone wonky, and they'll invest billions of dollars in tacky straight-to-DVD movies chronicling the end of days, TV shows focused on computer-animated disaster footage and crumbled civilization, and stronger antidepressants to cope with it all.

Even Discovery's Animal Planet tells kids that "extinction is inevitable," while little stories saying the exact opposite are tucked away on niche publications (our apologies to Wired for labeling it that way). Not to be too obvious, but what if all the money going into ad campaigns for shows like After People were redirected to publicizing something like How To Bring The Bees Back? What if the DVD shelves were filled with titles like Preventing Overfishing? What if Discovery and History invested millions not into CGI disaster footage, but into informative programming that told kids how species can be protected rather than wiped out? What if all the money Sony has put into its upcoming disaster movie, 2012, had been put into public service announcements informing the public that the whole 2012 "the end" scenario is utter bullshit?

You know the answer. And it's not pleasant. At heart, humankind prefers suicide over redemption, darkness to light, ignorance over intellect. Becoming informed is boring. Becoming jaded and hopeless is entertaining. Doom sells.

WB would fall into the same trap if we said that nothing will ever change, and that the masses are marching happily off the cliff, having been entertained to death by a pop culture obsessed with death and destruction. But it doesn't have to go that way. Investing the same energy into fighting disaster as goes into celebrating it would be all it takes to start backing away from that dark precipice.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

No rush for Rush

Update: The investment group interested in buying the Rams has announced that Rush Limbaugh is no longer one of its investors. This decision was taken in order to prevent unwanted negative attention....

Rush Limbaugh, the failed sportscaster and admitted drug addict who's been appointed by the Republican Party to be its leader, wants to buy a football team. And the football team doesn't want anything to do with him.

Referring to Limbaugh's frequent racist comments about football players, military generals, and U.S. Presidents, the NFL Players Union has appealed to the league commissioner to keep divisive right-wingnut politics out of football, saying: "[S]port in America is at its best when it unifies, gives all of us reason to cheer, and when it transcends. Our sport does exactly that when it overcomes division and rejects discrimination and hatred."

Taking the protest even further, several key players on the St. Louis Rams team have announced that they won't play for the team if Limbaugh buys it, and other players on other teams have spoken out against the "jerk" who rules the conservative radio waves and the GOP.

WB might ask, "Can't we all just get along?" — but that question was made famous by someone Rush wouldn't respect. So, players: keep piling on.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pity the trillionaires

Saudi Arabia wants financial aid when (if) the world succeeds in burning less oil to reduce CO2 emissions.

No, really. Saudi Arabia, the nation that has made trillions of dollars since the 1930s from the sale of its oil, and that will make trillions more before the oil dance is done, has apparently saved none of its money, and now wants to get in line with Bangladesh, the Maldives, and other dirt-poor nations who'll need some financial help moving into a clean-energy economy.

Maybe if it knocked off building mile-high supertall skyscrapers at a cost of $5 billion a pop, just for the sake of having a bigger... er, tower than those punks in Dubai, we might feel some sympathy. But until then: shameless.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Leading by example

Two good things happened this week: first, frustrated with Congress's inability to think about more than one issue at a time (and even then, unable to deal thoroughly with the single issue), President Obama ordered the Federal government to reduce its carbon output, i.e. greenhouse gases.

Quick history: At the first global climate treaty talks, in Kyoto, Japan, Bill Clinton promised to join the rest of the world in setting targets for CO2 output reductions. Then George Bush II scrapped the agreement, because it had been made by liberal socialist anti-business Democrats. And the rest of the world said, "WTF?"

Now, we finally have a chance to rejoin the planet at the next climate talks, in Copenhagen in December, and the U.S. President said this: "As the largest consumer of energy in the U.S. economy, the federal government can and should lead by example when it comes to creating innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."


But even nicer — because this is America, powered by capitalism and governed by an ideology of "let the free market solve all problems," Apple announced that it was resigning from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of that organization's interference with needed changes to combat climate disaster. (Click on the image below to read Apple's official letter of resignation and protest.) This, even though we've all seen the dumbass commercials now, sponsored by the oil industry, that tell us how wonderful CO2 really is:

And the company isn't alone on leaving the CoC; even Pacific Gas & Electric — a coal-burning, CO2-emitting energy utility — has quit the Chamber over its refusal to acknowledge a warming world that's hurtling toward hell. Slow down and let this one sink in: a power company is saying we need regulations and restrictions and motivations to find a better, cleaner way of turning on the lights.

As Craig Ferguson says: It's a good day for America, everybody.