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.