Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Prairie Home Frustration

A Prairie Home Companion
Fox Theater, Detroit,
May 30, 2015

WB likes a wide range of music and used to listen to the radio to hear it, until radio became a giant computer playlist stuck on 12 songs from every decade. Now, pretty much all radios in our cars/offices/houses are set to NPR (which itself can get into repetition ruts, especially with the news).

Prairie Home Companion, an American institution and NPR staple, isn't exactly a favorite and certainly isn't "must listen" (we stopped having "appointment" shows long ago when entertainment became just another consumable). But what it is, is comforting. Reliable. One of those shows where, when it's gone, you feel a hole in the universe, much like exists now that Dave Letterman has retired. In 1987 when Garrison Keillor thought he'd retire and retire his show along with him, that rip in the time-space continuum happened and weekends felt a little sideways. Order was restored two years later when he brought the show back.

All of which is to say that when a live taping of the broadcast happens close by, we go. And although it was worthwhile with local Detroit connections and a comic theme of college graduations happening nationwide, this particular show on May 30 just wasn't up to Keillor's usual standards for two main reasons.

First, the guests, which along with Lake Wobegon stories and rhubarb pie make up the backbone of the show. As part of the tie-in with Detroit, Keillor brought in a trio of teenagers from Ann Arbor who played great traditional instrumental jazz — if you like instrumental jazz. He also brought in a group of Arab musicians* who played the kind of discordant, atonal music produced in and around Lebanon, with two guest vocalists who sang discordant, atonal Arabic lyrics. To be clear, we have nothing against discordant atonality — Djivan Gasparian's long and heartbreakingly lovely duduk solos are favorite listening — but the unfortunate result for Keillor was that both musical acts became the equivalent of extremely long interstitial music passages on NPR.

* Dearborn, which borders Detroit, is home to the largest Arab population in the world outside the Middle East.

A nonmusical guest, Jim Daniels, who is billed as a poet but whose "poems" function much better as micro-stories, also appeared twice to tell short tales of factory work (including, this being Detroit, work on the auto assembly line) and blue-collar family life. One poem, "Wheels," ended with a devastating line about a brother's death by Harley accident, but the audience only had a few seconds to absorb the meaning and feel the impact before Daniels had to move on to the next poem, silence being "dead air" on radio. (WB reader bonus: for a completely over-the-top critical reading of the "Wheels" poem, see this analysis.)

But the second reason for a C- evening out was only partially Keillor's fault. Taylor Swift was in town at the same time as the Prairie Home taping and finding parking in the downtown Motor City was a madhouse situation, plus it was raining, so several hundred people arrived well after the "On Air" light went on, blocking the view of the stage while they stumbled around in the dark looking for their seats. Even worse came halfway through the show when Keillor announced a "short intermission" and the house lights came on, indicating to hundreds more people that they had 15-20 minutes to leave the theater, even though they were at a live taping of a radio show that contained only a four-minute break for news and station ID.

The result, for the second half of the show, was beyond ridiculous. All of the idiots who thought they were at a Broadway play came creeping back inside over the next half hour, again blinded in the dark theater after being in the bright lobby. Many just gave up on finding their seats and went back out. Which leads us to offer this tiny bit of advice for Mr. Keillor and the PHC troupe going forward:

It's not a "short intermission." It's a "three minute radio break." Even with an NPR audience, in the confederacy of dunces that is modern America, literal definitions will beat genteel showbiz slogans every time.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Gracelessland, Part 1


Yep, we went there. And now, against the sentiments of millions of Elvis acolytes around the world, we're going here:

Graceland isn't a shrine; it's a zoo.

It isn't an experience, it's an ordeal.

And if it's a busy weekend then you're not a visitor, you're a cow in the slaughter pen being herded through a series of gift shops while you wait 2-3 hours for the truck (bus) to transport you to the killing floor (unremarkable house, frozen in 1970s kitsch decor, across the road).

That's because no one gets to pull up directly at Graceland, tour the home and grounds, and leave. You first get dumped into Graceland Plaza, a hideous strip mall facing the hallowed ground on the other side of Elvis Presley Boulevard, where you buy a tiered ticket. What do you want to see? Just the estate (two hours from now)? Estate and airplanes? Estate, airplanes, and cars? Everything there is?

That'll be $35 to $75, per person. Remember, Elvis's family has taxes and upkeep to pay for their house. That's what got Graceland opened to the public in the first place, way back in '82 when Lisa Marie and her mother were looking at $500K in back taxes on the property. So thanks for doing your part in keeping the millionaire heirs from having to dip into their own savings now.*

* Do the math: 600,000 annual visitors times an average ticket price of $55 equals $33 million per year.

 Graceland Plaza: Artist's Tranquil Rendering

But it's not like you get nothing for your contribution. Here, look at some of these Memphis mementos and tsotchkes. Read about how Elvis's mama loved him so much that he was literally filled with excess amounts of love, and had no choice but to share that love from the stage with his fans. (Really, the display says that, forcing you to imagine Elvis bursting asunder in an explosion of love gas rather than just pitching over quietly while at toilet.) Now exit through that door and buy lots of souvenirs before you go into the next display and exit into the next gift shop.

Eventually, after creeping slowly forward in a packed — and in summer, sweltering — line holding five different tour groups at once, e.g. 3pm Group 1, 3pm Group 2, 3pm Group 3, etc., you're handed an iPad and a set of earphones to plug into the audio port. You will now be guided by the voice of minor celebrity and major Elvis fan John Stamos of Full House fame. (There are no audio back/forward controls on the iPad screen, only play and pause. You've got one chance to get synchronized, and if you miss it your tablet quickly gets stuck in either the previous room that you foolishly went through faster than Stamos's narration pace, or in a room you arrowed ahead to accidentally, haven't seen yet, and aren't seeing now as Stamos tells you all about it.)

 Graceland Plaza: Wretched Reality

Look right, and there's the living room. Left, the dining room. As you'll hear expressed by many of your fellow cattle, both are far from "mansion" sized, and the olden-days TV sets in each room (and the little music room further down) are unintentionally comical. Now look straight ahead — see those stairs? Yeah, you can't go up them. According to the Internet, this is because:

     a) the stairs are not structurally strong enough to hold dozens of people at once

     b) tourists would all pile up at the top of the stairs to gawk at The Bathroom Where The King Died, and then the people behind them on the stairs would fall to their deaths in the basement when the stairs collapse from their weight

     c) an elderly pair of Elvis's aunts lived in the upstairs rooms when Graceland first opened, so the tour was designed to keep their quarters off limits and maintains that design now even though the aunts are gone

     d) Lisa Marie and her family still use the upstairs when they come and stay at the house sometimes, like at Thanksgiving some years

     e) Nicholas Cage is the only tourist to have ever set eyes on the upstairs in person* — but he had to marry Lisa Marie to get there

* To see the rooms Nick saw, view the first few minutes of This Is Elvis, a 1981 documentary sanctioned by the family.

According to John Stamos, the upstairs is closed "out of respect for the family and because Elvis never received guests upstairs; he always came downstairs to welcome his visitors." So now you get to feel like members of the King's entourage did, back in the day, if they had 20 other cows and steers ahead of them, another couple dozen mooing up behind, and an in-person tour guide encouraging the herd to move along in a smooth and orderly fashion.

Coming in Part Two: Rooms & Realizations

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A snowball's chance - in hell

It was February when the chair of the U.S. Senate's committee on environmental issues, James "Douchenozzle" Inhofe of Oklahoma, brought a snowball to the Senate floor to prove that no climates are changing nowhere on the planet. Because he could make a snowball, in February, in Washington DC.

Mr. Douchenozzle will surely be back again next winter, too, perhaps with an icicle this time. When he does, it might be good to hammer him with today's trilogy of headlines:

1. A heat wave in India has killed over a thousand people due to temps as high as 122 degrees. As  Midwesterners who think we'll die during the 2-3 days every 3-4 summers when the mercury hits 102, we can't begin to imagine 20 more degrees than that. It would be like roasting inside an oven. Which is exactly what's happened to the thousand-plus who've died.

2. India is near the Alps, where scientists are concerned that ancient mountain ice might all melt before they've had a chance to research it thoroughly. So they're sending some mountain ice to Antarctica, which is also melting rapidly. The ice race is on.

3. The New Yorker linked to a new long-form article about Mars with the caption: "Our Backup Planet." Because after all of the fucktards like James Inhofe have gotten done taking care of the environment here on Earth, humankind will naturally take the same good care of our next planet too.

Why? Because we learn from our mistakes. We remember history. We strive to do better. And we are a very smart species—which is why when aliens test our intelligence, they shove probes up our asses.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

They're SUPPOSED to do that

There's been a flood of "Cops Are People, Too" memes and sentiments (sentimemes?) lately, in response to the explosion of bad-cops-killing-American-citizens news this year. The viral "good cop" stuff tends to have headlines like this puke-inducing one on MSN, and photos like the one on the left here, accompanied by sappy explanations that Officer Suchandso was called to the scene of a thisandthat and actually helped the citizens involved, instead of murdering them. And boy howdy, ain't that awesome?

Actually, it ain't. It's fucking lame. When police officers are called to a scene and do not kill people, that's not supposed to be news. It's not exceptional. It's not remarkable. It's how police are supposed to respond to citizens. Even citizens who might be shouting, or running, or shaking a fist, or selling single cigarettes without being licensed tobacco dealers.

Just a tiny bit of critical thinking will be enough to realize that the equivalents to "good cop doesn't kill anyone" stories are things like This Mom Did Not Bathe Her Baby in Acid and This Teacher Did Not Inject Her Third-Graders With AIDS-Laced Heroin. Worse yet, the "good cop sentimemes" are blatant distractions to take people's eyes off the actual issue, which is too many bad cops killing too many citizens, especially Black citizens. That's the only focus that matters.

If cops are pissed that only their negative actions—and only their murderous colleagues—are getting coverage and discussion, then there's a way to fix that: work really hard to keep those blue guns and tasers and nightsticks holstered.

But otherwise, unless they seriously want citizens to say "Thank you for not killing me today," cops and the people who post "good cop doesn't kill" memes should expect to see no coverage for a job that's only being done the way everyone expects it to be. No news is the best news, for all of us.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Stop the Eye Torture

(Or, A Tale of Two Highways...)

It's become a national joke that the Michigan legislature is such a group of incompetent ignoranuses (no sic there) that it has let the state's roads tumble to dead last in per-person maintenance funding. And that it refuses to even entertain the possibility of joining the tollway (i.e. pay-to-play) systems of its neighbors in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. And that it allows grossly overweight semi truck traffic to pound into rubble, without fee, what little remaining intact roadway is left. And that, just for good measure, it sees no need to regulate or punish drivers who choose to commit attempted homicide by texting at the wheel.

You've likely seen one of the gorgeously produced "Pure Michigan" ads, soothingly narrated by Tim Allen, showing pristine woods, rivers, little scenic towns, even (finally!) downtown Detroit. But what's overlooked in those ads is the somber fact that getting to any of those locations requires dodging millions billions trillions of undercarriage-ripping crevices and craters.

Bad enough, that. Then add to it yet another highway matter that the state's government is legislating at a snail's pace: the number of billboards bombarding the psyches of drivers on any of the main highways near any of the main cities and metro areas. Basically, the driving brain goes through these gymnastic routines:

Speed limit 65 watch for slow trucks entering SWERVE! POTHOLE! McDonald's Wendy's Taco Bell Burger King have you talked with God today he is listening DANGER! DRIFTING TEXTER! Joe's Radiator a good place to take a leak SWERVE! POTHOLE! Holiday Inn Rodeway Comfort Motel 6 next exit $39 single CAN'T SWERVE! BRACE FOR AXLE IMPACT! talk with your kids about drugs....

Add a talk show on the radio and it's complete mental mayhem. A 20-minute drive can leave you exhausted and with a pounding headache, and ready to take one of those $39 rooms to avoid having to make a return trip.

We write bitch about this topic today because the WBmobile has been meandering around the southern U.S. recently and enjoying highways in Kentucky and Tennessee with billboards that look like this:

That's right—there aren't any. Now, granted, there've been a lot of semi trucks. A frightening number of them, in some places. Like, claustrophobia-inducing numbers. But during one 350-mile stretch of major interstate, there were exactly two billboards, and one of them was buried so deeply in trees that only its first word was visible.

The impact of this lack of language—the mental quiet that comes from having nothing to read while blasting along among the consumer goods stashed in thousands of semi trailers racing along with you—is nothing short of blissful. You can look at hills and valleys and rivers and all of the pretty-nature things that Pure Michigan ads want you to pay attention to, but in states that aren't Michigan. And the roadway looks pretty much like it does in the photo up there; i.e. smooth, unbroken, and not at all terrifying.

Michigan's official motto, translated from Latin, is "If You Seek a Pleasant Peninsula, Look Around You." Thanks to its do-nothing, know-nothing state government, that needs to change to "Forget About Peninsulas—If You Seek Something Pleasant, Look Elsewhere."

Monday, May 18, 2015

Game of Groans

(Spoilers etc.)

The Atlantic came through with a pretty good commentary this morning about last night's installment of Game of George R.R. Martin's Sadistic Rambling Plots on HBO. Bottom line: another rape. And all the other plot lines are becoming threadbare.

It's true that Peyeter Petyre Peter "Littlefinger" Lord Baelish is a scoundrel—but in real life (that place where all TV viewers hang out, even while watching TV), someone who scounds just for the sake of scoundreling becomes annoying. There has to be a trajectory, a long view, an end game.

The whole point of Game of Thrones used to be that all of the minor players who thought the Iron Throne rightfully belonged to them were coming together in one place to claim it. But Little Peter, er, Littlefinger, just spins around making deals against past deals to secure future deals. As a pimp, he was interesting, especially when played against the Costello to his Abbott, the portly Lord Varyss. But now he's just confusing. A character who's loathsome solely so that viewers can loathe him has no real purpose. He pimped Sansa out to Ramsey and Ramsey treated her awfully; when there's no shock, no outrage, only a disgusted "here we go again" (as one member of the WB viewing party put it), your show's in trouble.

And to be honest, GOT lost its mojo a while ago. Having killed Ned Stark, The Hound, the Brienne-and Jamie sexual tension, Theon "Biggus Dikkus" Greyjoy before he became a zombie, and all of the other good actors, roles, and subplots, we're now left with:

- a Mother of Dragons—i.e. the only character and throne claimant who possesses tactical nuclear weapons—who's just been sitting around watching her dragons become rebellious teenagers while she chains them up in a dark cave instead of training them to fly hostile fire missions on her command.

- a brother of the "real" king who had a chance to ally himself with a fierce tribe of warriors who've survived endless winters, but instead had their leader executed because the guy wouldn't "bend the knee." (You want allies to support your odds-against position on the board, seems like your knees should be bending, not theirs.)

- Cersei Lannister, aka the Woman Who Always Looks Like She's Smelling Shit, still powerful even though she has no father, brothers, or sons to support her, and still alive even though the religious fanatics she allowed to seize her power know she's an incestuous temptress.

Remember the "Red Wedding" fan reaction videos, made by GOT fans who'd read the books, filming fans who didn't know what was coming in the wedding reception that killed off much of the remaining likeable cast? Gasps, screams, horrified no-no-no-no-no-no-nos, covered eyes.... But turn a camera toward the WB staff on Sunday night and it'd be mostly rolled eyes, shaking heads, and groans of disbelief as a once-proud show takes yet another wrong turn.

However badly things are going, we pledged way back in Season Two to stay with the show, for better and for worse, as long as one character remains. When he's out, we're gone. Although diminutive, for five seasons of ups and downs he's been a constantly colossal narrative high point—and thanks to last night's episode, we now know that not all of him is small. We're talking, of course, about The Dinkles.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

On the Derailment of the Species

Having taken plenty of Amtrak train rides plenty of place including across the country, we know the terror of a sudden screech, lurch, tip, and every other slow-motion American passenger rail equivalent of airplane turbulence.

But we don't know the terror of full derailment, which happens way too often with 1950s American train technology, and which has happened again, this time in Philadelphia, killing eight passengers and injuring more than 200 others.

There's plenty to say about this. The accident provides a perfect launching point for a "national conversation" (whoever started that goddamned phrase needs to be tarred and feathered every day for a decade) about the embarrassment that is rail travel in the United States. And about the embarrassment that is Congress, formerly a group of elected leaders put in charge of funding services—like, say, rail travel—for American citizens. And about a president who's been croaking "infrastructure, infrastructure" for seven years with no one listening. And about the number of deaths and injuries yet to come from more rail derailments, bridge collapses, road disintegrations, systems failures.

The Internet, of course, could be a perfect device for conducting such a conversation. That is, if only the Internet were made up of human beings capable of conversing.

But instead, we get this: a former Congressman and military veteran who was on the derailed Philadelphia train, Facebooking a photo of his knee which appears to have a superficial scratch and a tragic amount of leg hair.

To be honest, we had the same response as the first person to comment: You gotta be kidding. Eight people die and you show your scratched knee? And that would have been the end of it, had we been in charge of the Conversation About the Knee Photo.

But we're just bystanders when it comes to civil Internet "discussions" which are never civil nor ever discussions. So we could only watch as the comment thread devolved into this:

Group A: This guy is a Tool who Literally maked me Gag by showing this pitcher of his Knee that is only Scrached.

Group B: You are a Tool who Literally made me Gag by not relizing that He wants to show how lucky he was in camparison to those who went threw much worst, e.g. that they Died.

Group C: You are both Tools because this guy is a Military Vetran and he can show what ever he God damnit wants to show because he Served our Country and survival this train crashed.

Etc. Ad Nauseam. 

The former Congressman posted the pic without a comment, so of course the Facebook community can't be blamed for trying to divine his purpose and intent in posting.  

(a) He's a selfish prick who thinks anyone cares about this scratch.

(b) He's a selfless hero who wants to show how lucky he was to have received only a scratch.

(c) My mother in law makes $800 per week working just two hours a day from home! Ask me for details.

Meanwhile, the eight people who died, and the 200+ injured, and the fucked-beyond-recognition national infrastructure, and the embarrassing, dangerous, deadly 1950s technology, and every other vitally important aspect of the story are all gone.

The Internet has proven one thing: Given an amazing technology that lets us communicate in real time with anyone in the world about everything that matters to all of us, humankind prefers to jump around on its keyboards like retarded chimpanzees instead and fling turds at each other.

We are all passengers on a rickety 1950s train destined to derail and explode. The end will come in a hail of stupid selfies, but at least no one will be able to comment about them before blessed silence arrives and our screens go dark for all time.

We deserve no less for the stupidity of our simian species.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Blacklisting - the new shark jumping?

We really, really don't want to say this, but NBC's The Blacklist is really starting to grate. (Get ready for spoiler spoiler spoiler etc.) The first season was the Search for the Father, which ended with a resounding syllable dropped into the phone by Raymond Reddington: "No." And now it's the Search for the Mother. Plus a whole bunch of back story.

The saga so far:

A wanted fugitive turns himself in and says he'll give up dozens of global criminals if the FBI lets him work with a newbie profiler. Sharp viewers quickly recognize this as the FBI being hired to act as the fugitive's personal hit squad. But no one in the FBI notices this, so it's okay. The fugitive tells the profiler that her super-nice husband is a bad guy. She doesn't believe him, even when evidence appears under her floor. Alan Alda shows up. The profiler wonders if the fugitive is her father. (See: "resounding syllable dropped into the phone," above.)

And that's when things get shark-jumpy.

The husband is a bad guy. The profiler hates him! But then she loves him again because he's only bad in a good way. Meanwhile, a super-secret device that will bring world governments to their knees if it's ever put together starts coming together piece by piece. The profiler finds that her brain has been erased. David Strathairn shows up. The device comes together. Nothing happens to world governments. Various nasty villains appear and are killed, including some Nazis who are very, very evil. The profiler hates the fugitive for hiring her husband, whom she hated but now loves again, so why even bother being pissed at the fugitive?

For all of this, The Blacklist set a record in the new era of recording TV ratings, for having the most viewers who watched within three days, or something.

And that's even before the super-awesome series finale, which promises incredible plot twists, because there haven't been any so far.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Revolution will be televised

"Summer's coming."

Just like its opposite warning about impending winter on Game of Thrones, this one needs to be taken as a looming reality just as ominous. Because "unrest" starts easier when it's hot.

Summer will bring revolution. Maybe not this summer, but a summer. A Baltimore City Council member explained that the "unrest" in Maryland right now isn't just about one more Black life that didn't matter to police. It's about... everything.

Shit pay. Shit jobs. Shit schools. Shit politicians. No jobs. No chances.

Or, as a fellow blogger puts it:

When the free market, real estate, the elected government, the legal system have all shown you they are not going to protect you—in fact, that they are the sources of the greatest violence you face—then political action becomes about stopping the machine that is trying to kill you, even if only for a moment, getting the boot off your neck, even if it only allows you a second of air.

The boot is getting heavier and heavier. Right now, enough Americans still believe in the idea of America, and the promise of democracy, to mask the truths that both concepts are dead, their empty husks sold to the highest bidder. But the blindness will only last until reality affects the blind firsthand. America is a wonderful place until it breaks you into pieces and rips your guts out.

Then you get angry. Then you want justice.

For yourself and everyone like you.

But if you're young, you know that acting on your anger will label and dismiss your entire generation. (Think of Occupy, those na├»ve little hippy kids thinking they could change the world by camping in city parks.) If you're Black, you know it will reinforce one of the root problems needing to be eliminated. And the problem will push back by wanting to eliminate you. (Just read the web comments.)  If you're a patriot disgusted by the corruption and decay of your once-proud nation, then you're either deranged and dangerous or stupid and socialist.

So you wait. And wait...

But summer's coming.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

At a Loss for Words

Lewis Black, The Rant is Due Tour
Fox Theater, Detroit
April 25, 2015

The index finger writhing like a snake. The blub blub blub sound of lips sliding back and forth on a head shaking in fury or frustration. The sudden vocal change from quiet narration to deranged sandpaper shouting. The word "fuck" peppering sentences like buckshot.

All were present at Lewis Black's show at the Fox Theater in Detroit—performed just a few steps away from another theater where Dave Chapelle was giving Lew a run for his money with a simultaneously scheduled show at the Fillmore. And the competition for limited leisure budgets showed, with the rear third of Fox main floor seating going unfilled. (David Sedaris was also in town, a few blocks over.)

As always, Lewis's friend, traveling companion, warmup act, and Michigan native John Bowman was funny and profane, and then the thundering opening riff of the Black Keys' "Lonely Boy" assaulted audience eardrums as the main act walked out on stage.

It was a bad sign when the opening jokes were general paint-by-numbers rants about shitty weather. Things improved a bit after that, but then the second half of Black's 90-minute performance began to fizzle into a mildly amusing ode to Tahiti followed by a quiet and disturbingly unfunny non-rant about current politics. It's not that Black was lecturing the audience; he just wasn't turning the material into anything close to its potential. Current politics: government is accomplishing nothing. Yeah, Lew, we knew that. Now how about going off on the specific lunatics holding the country hostage? You know, ranting? The amount of idiocy our "leaders" provide daily could be gold in the hands of a sarcasm-and-bombast master like Black, but he went nowhere with it.

The show closed with some audience-submitted questions read from an iPad and then given spontaneous and mostly unfunny answers. Why do hipsters like Pabst Blue Ribbon? I don't know, because it tastes like crap!

By now, the only thing working in Black's comedy was the index finger writhing like a snake, the blub blub blub sound of lips sliding back and forth on a head shaking in fury or frustration, the sudden vocal change from quiet narration to deranged sandpaper shouting, and the word "fuck" peppering sentences like buckshot. (And sometimes that last didn't even work, as at one point Black just tripped and stumbled over non-sentences that went nowhere before uttering "Well, what can you say?" As punch lines go, that was certainly unique.)

Those still got laughs from the part of the audience that wasn't already leaving to get to its cars before the show let out. But two buildings over, Dave Chapelle was probably relying on jokes instead of body movement and voice inflection for his comedy. By the end of the night, we sort of wished we could've been over there instead.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Go Fund Ourselves

So this kid kisses a cottonmouth snake on the head and the snake bites the kid in the face. The story goes viral, because this kind of thing is always news. Plus, the kid's a shirtless hat-wearing rebel flag-waving version of Miley Cyrus with his tongue hanging out in every photo. So, he's easy to ridicule.

That gets boring quickly, though, so we had just a tiny peek at the comments after one of the versions of the story and saw this:  

"Don't tell me: someone's already made a GoFundMe for him."

Compassion fatigue.

Is it because of the kid who duped 7,000 donors into giving him $55,500 to make a potato salad?

The black woman asking for $135,000 to "buy some White Privilege"?  (330 people gave her $6,000 for it—enough to make a down payment, at least.)

Or because the son of a man beaten nearly to death went on a strip club bender that may or may not have been paid for by the 4,600 donors who raised $189,000 for his dad's medical expenses?

Or the 44,000 donors who gave $4 million so that Super Troopers 2 could become a film instead of a sad fantasy?

The beekeepers who asked for $70,000 on Kickstarter and ended up with $12 million instead? Their invention is very, very cool—and anything that helps bees and beekeepers is just fine with us. But after the $12 mil came in, they stopped taking orders?

The "Walking Man" from Detroit whose $25,000 campaign to buy a decent car netted him a free car (donated by a dealer) and $350,000 instead? Whereupon his girlfriend immediately tried to shake him down for "her share" of the money and became so threatening that he had to move out of the city?

Compassion fatigue doesn't create itself. It's created by crowdfunding stories that are weird, stupid, alarming, that create jealousy and judgment, that take on a "celebrity" status of their own and show up over and over and over and over in our newsfeeds.

But here's the thing: Steve Utash, the man beaten nearly to death after stopping to see if a kid he'd hit with his truck was okay, and had no insurance, and got nearly $200,000 to pay for his hospital bill, said this when he went back to work:

"Everything about what happened to me was worth it, to feel the love of mankind in its purist form."

We shouldn't hate the crowdfunding game; we should hate gullible funders. And not be one of them. But not let them make us so weary of crowdfunding that we miss the key part of what the Man Beaten Nearly to Death said: Everything about what happened to me was worth it.

Let the love rain down like dollars.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Emergency Workers Selling National Parks to Poisoned Children!


So, this meme showed up in our newsfeed again today. "Again" because it's been floating around for a while, and came back because of the Indiana religious blah blah bill that exploded the country's collective head because the governor signed a bill that was pretty much an echo of a federal law passed some time ago, and the signing was a big act of symbolism and solidarity with bigots, and boy did the governor get blowback from the rest of us who aren't bigoted.

Michigan actually didn't do what the meme says and hasn't done it, but you can't blame the meme — here is what CBS News said about the situation:

Except that it wouldn't. As one patient reader/commenter pointed out after the story, "the objector would have to have a specific religious objection to the requirement that they treat the patient, not a general objection with the patient."

In other words: if you're an EMT, your job is to respond to emergencies and save lives. You would need to object to this requirement because it might include the possibility that some of the lives needing saving could be LGBT lives. So you use religion as a basis for challenging the basic job requirement. You want the job to grant you discretion and autonomy in choosing what to respond to, who to save.

And, you lose. Because that's not the job.

We've already talked about clickbait here, and now we're talking about Web headlines and news coverage, period. For example, Is Germany Going to Charge George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as War Criminals?

As this analysis calmly points out, no. That headline is based on wishful thinking and ultra-liberal fantasy, and it comes from taking a few basic facts, putting them in a blender, and laying them all together on a baking sheet to blob together afterwards. And when that happens, the analysts explain, then liberal/progressive "news" sites are no better than their nemesis, Fox News.

Okay then, what about THIS headline?

Yeah, no. While the bill is written by horrible people who belong to a horrible political party, it actually says that it's about "initiatives to sell or transfer to, or exchange with, a State or local government any Federal land that is NOT within the boundaries of a National Preserve or National Monument..." (emphasis ours).

Note that it also is about the federal government making deals with state governments. No "Private Industry" to be found — unless, of course, the state chooses to involve Private Industry afterwards. And since a lot of states are governed by horrible people belonging to a horrible political party, that might actually happen.

But this headline, above, did not happen.

One last example:

This is about a boy in Michigan, whose parents said that there were no more signs of his cancer, so he was cured and there was no more need for him to stay on the maintenance chemo that his doctors prescribed. In fact, the doctors said, without that maintenance chemo, the boy had a 70% chance of the cancer recurring, and him dying of it. So the state got involved.

And look at how it involved itself! Forcing the poor parents to poison their child! Committing "medical terrorism" with this family as the victims! And who cares what evidence the state's case was built on, after all that!

And then this happened:

And the family explained its response to the cancer's return this way:

That's spin, of course; but who can blame them for wanting to avoid national embarrassment? The doctors and the state said the cancer would return, and it did, and the parents and their lawyer had been wrong, but what mattered now was saving the boy's life. And everyone got busy doing that. Last we checked, he's still doing great.


And since we know now that about half of online readers don't read the whole story (hell, we've probably lost half of you who started to read this post), or don't even click the headline to read the story at all, the headline is the story. Making it a thousand times more imperative that the "news" organizations online get out of the click-scare bait & switch business and put some facts into those headlines.

Factuality can be boring as hell, but it's necessary beyond belief. Otherwise we're just standing ready with pitchforks and torches at our keyboards, waiting for the first person to scream a false accusation that we can share and re-tweet and help make viral to the point where it becomes a fact.

And if you're gay, remember: No medical personnel in Michigan have to help you if you get beaten up for slander. A new bill says so. We read it on the Internet.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Records from the little guys

It's true that music is a mess now. Albums gave way to CDs which lost to digital downloads that are losing to streaming. Ownership isn't the goal, just listening is. Music has become the ultimate disposable commodity, and the era of filthy rich musicians, songwriters, music label execs, everyone—appears to be history.

Whatever. For millions of other music fans, complete collections are still desirable, and not just as words on iPod screens. Physical music. Discs. Vinyl albums, even. (WB thinks the whole "vinyl sounds warmer" argument is BS, since we've had plenty of experience with the eventual snap, crackle, and pop of "warm" vinyl. But we also validate the fact that recent mixes of digital music have been much like concerts are now—all top end, no bass.)

And for those people, as well as those who've never experienced what it's like to physically discover physical music by holding it in your hands, not just reading it on a screen, tomorrow is a great day for a road trip to any of the small independent surviving record stores participating in Record Store Day.

Some good music is coming out by some very good artists, too, to mark the date and occasion.

Go, be part of the celebration, the event, the cause. Lift up the little guys. And feel the music—in your hands as well as your soul.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Seven years later, they are still the anti-Christs.

As we go through the old posts and update their tags, we're finding that some of them are just as relevant in 2015 as they were "back in the aughts," as the old-timers like to say. Here's an example. Hurricane Gustav was bearing down on New Orleans, 2008, and Republican fundamentalists were asking God to drown the city again, because sin. Instead, the storm turned course and threatened to drown the Republican Convention going on in Florida. Our story picks up there:

We're gonna run through this one more time: God is not a member of the Republican Party or affiliated with the conservative movement. In His earthly form as Jesus of Nazareth, these were some of the extremely anti-Republican sentiments He expressed:

"Blessed are the peacemakers.... love your enemies, bless those that curse you, do good to them that hate you." This would refer to Barack Obama's plans, ridiculed by Republicans, to meet with world leaders on the "enemies of the U.S." list, talk with them, and listen to them in the interests of creating peace.

"In the same way you judge, so will you be judged in equal measure." Those who are obsessed with enforcing select passages from the third book of the Torah while overlooking the third book of the New Testament — "Guard against all kinds of greed; a person's life does not consist of the abundance of possessions" — should be extremely careful here. Somewhere along the line, Republicanism and conservatism became about protecting corporations while condemning everyone and everything else. God doesn't appreciate having His name associated with that. He's going to be one very Annoyed Almighty when judgment comes.

"Sell what you have and give to the poor.... When you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind." Here, the Lord was referring to basic health care for all of His people, which is what's been threatened with termination for years now by a wall of Republican social Darwinists who paraphrase Ebenezer Scrooge in discussing the poor and uninsured: Let them die and decrease the surplus population. That's not Christian, it's Satanic.

"When you pray, do not pray as the hypocrites do: for they love to pray standing in public, where they may be seen by others.... When you pray, shut your door and do it in private." This one might resonate with the Misery Megachurch crowds who like to squint their eyes earnestly in front of TV cameras and entreat the Almighty to smite Democrats for letting homosexuality and abortions cause any large-scale destruction and desolation that comes along.

An excellent open letter to conservative Christians by Rev. Gary Vance, written in 2004, bears repeating here. In it, Rev. Vance points out that there is a "long history of liberals who have labored for the betterment of society and the furthering of God’s Kingdom.... No average American would have a fair wage today if it weren’t for liberal Christians and labor activists. Liberal Christians and civil rights activists fought and still fight against conservative America for racial equality. Child labor laws were enacted because liberals fought for them. Medicare and Social Security exist today because of Liberalism. 'Bleeding heart liberals' have long advocated for the homeless, the hungry, the less fortunate, and the disenfranchised...."

WB senior staff have parochial-school educations in their pasts, and can cite Scripture with the best of them. And we are damned well certain that not a line of it calls for leaving the least of God's children to fend for themselves. As Rev. Vance politely sums up, while Democrats and liberals have been taking on a wide range of highly Christian issues, Republicans and conservatives focus myopically on exactly two: gay rights and abortion. For a while, gay rights attention eased up when a  Republican ultra-conservative Vice President of the United States [Dick Cheney] turned out to have a lesbian daughter, but now it's back in full force as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on gay marriage rights. As for abortion, the pattern is clear: the unaborted are born and then left uninsured, untreated, uneducated, underpaid, unemployed—and condemned for being drains on decent, hard-working society.

Which brings the American Taliban fanatics in Washington to a third focus in their Holy Trinity of causes: killing the poor. 

As Jesus himself pointed out in that verse about not being able to serve both God and man: You can't have it both ways at once. Sometimes, when praying (privately and quietly) for deliverance from evil, it's good to realize that the evil is much closer than those devils and sinners parading for sinful rights on national TV.

The evil is in the mirror.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Cute Hybrid-Celebrity Name Eludes Journalists Everywhere

By now we all know that Barry Manilow has married his manager, Garry Kief.

Which is great. But there's a problem.

Kim Kardashian + Kanye West = Kimye

Brad Pitt + Angelina Jolie = Brangelina

Tom Cruise + Katie Holmes = TomKat (and then TomDivorcedAgainBecauseOfScientology)

Bill + Hillary Clinton, in a hybrid that's sure to come back any minute now as Ms. Clinton hits the campaign trail, = Billary.


Barry + Garry = um...


Friday, April 10, 2015

Nothing can possibly go wrong with this plan

Small story on Wired today about Amazon drones moving low (400 feet) and relatively slow (no faster than 100mph) and getting FAA clearance to fly.

The future has arrived.

What's most awesome is that there's a zero percent chance of any criminals blasting the drones out of the air with their own criminal drones, or their shotguns, and absconding with the contents of the Amazon Drone Bin™.

Because we live in a utopia where wealth is equal and there's no temptation to steal anyone else's shit, Amazon will be able to zoom its little delivery squadron around in peace, making all of our lives better one undisturbed stop at a time and helping to do to the UPS/FedEx/USPS delivery services what it's done to brick-and-mortar stores.

We can't wait to order a new WB Parrot drone from Amazon and then wait to have it delivered by another drone. Multivalent dronage!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Detroit Agonistes, Part Three: Money Men


Meet the Three Horsemen of the Post-Apocalypse in Detroit. The guys with the big money that does (from left) lots of good things, no good things, and some good things.

Dan Gilbert (left) has been buying downtown as a hobby and keeps a scale model of it in his office so that when he buys another skyscraper, the model of it lights up. He owns Quicken Loans and the Cleveland Cavs and will probably own the Detroit Pistons too when they're up for sale, because it makes more sense to own the hometown team than one in Ohio, which to southeast Michigan residents is enemy territory.

But here's the thing: when he buys a new building, he gets busy cleaning it up, or restoring it, or remodeling it, and then getting it on the active market so that businesses, including his own, can come in and occupy it. And bring employees back to Detroit from the stupidly far-away suburbs where they've exiled themselves. He also brought the first construction cranes in years downtown to build an actual new building, and then hired artists to make it a unique building, too.

This is a different business model from Matty Moroun's (center), who likes to buy gigantic structures like train stations and book depositories and international bridges and then let them either rot (train station and book warehouse) or become such a pain in Michigan's and Canada's asses (bridge) that those two parties decide to just build a new bridge of their own. He has enough money to turn Michigan Central Station into something bold and beautiful, but he doesn't have any leadership or vision, so the place sits adding one window every six months or so to its 1,000 broken-window holes.

The windows were intact when he bought the place. He didn't bother securing the building or its grounds, so now he and the city have one of the world's most notorious modern architectural ruins. And much as the state and Canada are building their bridge around him, the Corktown area of Detroit is reviving itself at lightning speed around that hulking wreck.

In Moroun, Detroiters have their own version of Dr. Seuss's two Zaxes, standing still and arguing while the rest of the world moves on without them. Except that they didn't erect a giant bombed-out temple of neglect as a monument to their uselessness.

So that leaves Mike Ilitch (right), owner of Little Caesar's Pizza and the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers. He did a good thing by bringing the baseball team downtown to a new stadium. A really good thing by restoring the Fox Theater downtown and turning it into his company headquarters. But then he did a shitty thing by announcing he'd make the city tear down a perfectly good downtown hockey arena and make it pay most of the cost for a new downtown hockey arena, built on land that his family quietly bought up for years and then left empty and undeveloped, giant patches of blight for the city but jewels of "future development" for Ilitch.

No doubt the new hockey arena, thanks to the Ilitches, will be a huge improvement and bring massive energy to an area that, thanks to the Ilitches, has been an echoing patchwork of tumbleweed lots for decades. But Mike could have built it without extorting funds from a city fresh from bankruptcy and still struggling to get a decent fire department put back together before too much of the non-downtown area burns to the ground.

Of the three Big Money Barons, it's clear that Dan Gilbert is the main mover, shaker, and evangelist for the city. And while that's awesome, it's also terrifying, for a reason that should be painfully obvious: When so much for one city is done by one man—one mortal human being whose health could break or whose car could crash tomorrow—how fucked will we be if anything bad happens to him? Those who love Detroit pray for Dan Gilbert's safety and drink to his health several times daily.

But there are other, lesser Barons in Detroit, too. Kid Rock, although he's a colossal assbag and Ted Nugent wannabe now, comes to town regularly and plays for working fans who pay minimal ticket prices for the shows. (He also buys lots of hats for himself and his band/entourage at downtown's Henry the Hatter, supplier of fedoras for some of WB's staff, too.) Jack White bailed the Masonic Temple performance venue out of financial hurt over back taxes. Teams of wealthy business owners kept the Detroit Institute of Arts out of the hands of idiot politicians who wanted to sell the DIA's holdings, and quiet donors helped settle the musicians' union strike at the Detroit Symphony. Monied power brokers made it possible for light rail to start getting built down Woodward Avenue, the main Downtown-Midtown artery. And massive credit goes to every small-business entrepreneur who decides to trust the Big Rebound enough to set up shop in the Big City, not its outlying cookie-cutter 'burbs.

It's kind of like the ending of It's a Wonderful Life, which may be WB's favorite all-time central metaphor for community involvement. Moroun played the part of Potter the evil banker, but other pro-Detroit people got together and said Hey Mitt Romney, watch this, we're going bankrupt just like you said—but not how you meant.

The city's still in trouble. The city has always been in trouble. The city will never not be in trouble of some kind. It's the Motor Motherfuckin' City, after all.

But trouble has stopped being the main headline. And that's more than good enough for the moment.

Now this:


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Detroit Agonistes, Part Two: Raising the Dead in the "Skyscraper Graveyard"

 With our newsfeeds filled with almost daily updates of new restaurants and businesses coming online in Detroit's Downtown, Midtown, New Center, Corktown, and now even Southwest neighborhoods, it's hard to remember how empty, how cold, how... hopeless things felt in the years between Wall Street's 2008 implosion and the end of the Great Bankruptcy Drama.

But not all the way through those years. Remember, we're a resilient people who don't know how to wave a white surrender flag. So stuff kept happening around the edges of the cold empty hopelessness. A soon-to-be-famous barbecue joint opened on a dismal block near a giant empty lot that used to have a baseball stadium on it. A crazy Venezuelan businessman bought the Packard Plant, and almost immediately started actually cleaning it up. ABC came to town to film a series called Detroit 1-8-7, featuring an episode in which two detectives go searching for a bullet casing from a street shooting and find dozens of other casings too, because hey, it's Detroit. Also, the lead female cop, played by Natalie Martinez, was smokin' hot.

And the media coverage continued. The Los Angeles Times encouraged its readers to move to Detroit because it was "America's Great Comeback City." In Berlin, another wealthy crazy man talked of restoring another abandoned auto factory and turning it into a giant techno dance hall. (In his defense, the Motor City does host a pretty good world-class annual EDM festival, so the clientele is there.) AMC, confident it could do better than ABC, not only set a new cop drama, Low Winter Sun, in Detroit, but also pinned the network's hopes on that show to become a hit as huge as Breaking Bad, which was wrapping up, and to bring BB's audience along with it. Didn't happen, but the showrunners did demonstrate how to tell a story with Detroit as a main character, rather than a backdrop as it had been on 1-8-7. Also, the lead female cop, played by Athena Karkanis, was smokin' hot.

And we converted this:

Into this:

And the Broderick Tower, an empty 34-story embarrassment that loomed over the new Tiger Stadium baseball field downtown, stopped being empty and was converted to residential apartments that sold out as soon as they were done. The Broderick is smack in the center of downtown, and on national television during Tigers games, so it's about as good as a symbol of rising from ashes can get.

And we turned this:

Into this:

Because every major city should have a castle as one of its prominent downtown features.

And all of that resurrection, restoration, rebirth is awesome. But there are some specific markers to watch before the "Great Comeback City" label bestowed by the LA Times will be 100% accurate.  There's the east-side Vanity Ballroom and its fadingly-famous west side sister, the Grande Ballroom, which used to be the legendary site of rock shows by an amazing roster of artists and is beautifully documented here. In Midtown there's the Lee Plaza, once an upscale residence for upscale residents but now a see-through hulk. And downtown, there's the Book Tower, as ugly and weird as a tower can be, in desperate need of power washing (the porous limestone facade has sucked up decades worth of dirt, turning the building from its original hue to an unpleasant shade of fecal brown), and with a hideous exterior fire escape that no other major skyscraper around it has. The Book will take several tons of work.

But the #1 indicator of Coming Back is the giant Symbol of Ruin sitting on Michigan Avenue in Corktown, owned by an eccentric billionaire who's in no hurry to do much more than offer promises about planning to rehabilitate it. Assurances of new windows resulted first in sheets of plywood on the ground floor that were painted to look like windows (we can't make this stuff up), and then in at least 8 actual glass windows appearing among the 1,000 window holes needing to be filled. Like we said: eccentric.

Yes, the world's most notorious train station.

But look: if we can bring back the Wurlitzer Building downtown, a little tower notorious for pelting pedestrians with bricks from its crumbling facade, and if the toxic Metropolitan Building—a former jewelers' enclave where hazmat jewel-processing materials once flowed like wine—can join the Wurlitzer in rebirth, then The Train Station From Hell can come back, too.

When that happens, the agony of Detroit Agonistes will officially end. So we're making this call: the buildings heralding the beginning of the end of The End will re-rise in this order: Book, Lee, Vanity & Grande, Michigan Central. (Keep in mind that if the Lee, Vanity, and Grande are just flattened as part of the great Blight Removal campaign, we're gonna consider that a good sign, too.)

And then Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus (We Hope for Better Things - It Shall Rise From the Ashes)—

—will change to Nos Retro, Iniucundum Populus (We're Back, Bitches!).

Coming in Part Three: The Barons

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Detroit Agonistes, Part One: On the Perpetual Verge of Potential

There's a specific point in time, for those of us who grew up within view of the Detroit skyline, when things were looking mighty damned good, and the city was exploding with activity after decades of neglect.

The Book Cadillac Hotel, as complete a bombed-out, gutted husk of a downtown building as could be imagined, miraculously came back on line as a premier destination for top-tier guests. And tenants, too: the part of the place designated as apartments sold out in record time. It wasn't just a renovation: it was a restoration, with the grand old hotel's main features taken back to their original layouts after endless rounds of stupid "out with the old, in with the new" makeovers and drop ceilings through the decades. As a Westin Hotel, the place looked, and looks, beautiful—as a nearly billion-dollar project should.

A few blocks down the street, the Fort Shelby Hotel—another wreck, but maybe just slightly not as destroyed as the B-C had been—likewise came back online as an all-suite lodging and apartment rescue under the Doubletree badge. With a hip and awesomely lit bar overlooking one of the city's main TV studios, and a bright, modernized lobby where warm cookies awaited guests, this was another welcome return to life.

And then the satanic cult known as Wall Street completed its multiple acts of economic evil in the fall of 2008, pretty much simultaneously with the hotels reopening, and everything collapsed. Detroit was at the bottom of the inverted pyramid as banks disintegrated on nations that crushed their states and regions that in turn buried their cities.

Plus, the mayor resigned after being charged with multiple felonies stemming from a sexting scandal.

Almost immediately and to no one's surprise, headlines announced that both of the newly-restored crown jewel hotels downtown were struggling financially. Two of the city's three automakers cried for bankruptcy protection, and stock for the third fell to junk value. Newly opened shops and restaurants closed.

But now let's put aside all the rest of the hyperbolic overdramatization of this "gritty" town and its "resilient" people who were raised on concrete and rust and get their asses kicked over and over but always stand back up for another beating, and an official city motto translating as It Shall Rise From The Ashes, and even the notorious bankruptcy heard 'round the world. Everything that followed the Two Rescued Hotels and the Incarcerated Mayor, through roughly the next four years, is all one epoch of blended chaos.

It was The Time of Struggle.

Detroit Agonistes.

You can look back through our 2008-2010 posts here at WB and see the shows and events we went to in the city during the (literally) dark time. They were great shows (with the notable exception of a Bob Dylan appearance), but required driving through mile after mile of nothing. No residents. No businesses. No movement. No lights. No cops. Up in Flint, Detroit's smaller sister city and fellow industry casualty where much of the WB staff lived and all of us worked, it was the same. Empty darkness was the norm.

But the only thing that really matters is, we got through. We're still here. And although the more racist scumfucks in the region prefer otherwise, "we" is anyone raised in the southeast corner of Michigan. Je Suis Detroit.

You can only imagine how it felt when that "we" slowly started to expand to include New York, California, Europe. World and national media were looking in, asking questions, putting us on the newsfeed radar. They were also getting a lot of the story wrong, focusing on the wreckage, running the same photos of the same husks of former factories, making meta a bizarre micro story of a homeless man frozen to death across the street from a solitary building that had been bought and promptly abandoned by a local billionaire and came to symbolize the whole city.

Didn't matter. All that counted was that the whole world was watching. Let 'em think they were soaking in "ruin porn" at every turn; we knew that those ruins could rise from the ashes. We were always on the perpetual verge of potential. The ballroom of a once-destroyed hotel downtown had proven that.

Coming in Part Two: The Buildings

Coming in Part Three: The Barons

Sunday, March 29, 2015

All About That (Missing) Bass


It's not about the seven years that've passed since the last new album, Death Magnetic. As writers who went six years between blog posts, we know the agony of finding time to feed the muses.

It's not about the fact that Lars Ulrich looks like a little tiny Danish version of Rob Halford now. Or that horrormeister and lead guitarist Kirk Hammett is getting his Vincent Price on with those gray streaks. Hair change happens; we empathize with that, too.

It's not about the obvious cashing-in that this band, which has long excelled at the Art of Cashing In, is doing with its plan to roll out a slow, steady reissue of its entire catalog, going all the way back to the cassette tape that started it all.

But it is all about that reissue—because it means not only will we finally have a correctly-produced version of the Magnetic album (we've long preferred to queue up a YouTube amateur mixer's remix instead of the official release), but we will finally HEAR JASON NEWSTED'S BASS GUITAR on ...And Justice For All, up to now the biggest travesty in recorded-music history.

Thanks to YouTube (again), there've been attempts to fix the auditory destruction that the Little Dane unleashed by turning Jason gradually further down into the mix until he vanished. But nothing beats a proper soundboard-engineered rescue of a shit job at the controls. We long-suffering Metallicats will have our long-delayed day in sonic court.


Maybe by the end of this decade.

James and Lars are much too shrewd as businessmen to give the buying public what it wants, when it wants it. They'll build up the desire until it becomes unbearable lust, and then wait a little more. And then—

We will illegal-download the living fuck out of that album when it finally arrives, and share it with all of our friends.

Jason, the injustice will be avenged!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

When a Rolling Stone stops rolling

The April 9 issue of Rolling Stone has arrived at the WB offices, bearing news of Ringo Starr, James Taylor, Van Morrison, and the Beastie Boys.

Oh, and Kendrick Lamar too, in small print. Also, some new faces in music who are tearing up the joint and calling themselves Alabama Shakes.

But the cover story, the Special Report, is about "Teenage Jihad - Inside the World of American Kids Seduced by ISIS."

And of course it's about the "kids" - because it sure ain't for them. Not with a musician on its cover whose last hit faded out in the mid-1970s. No disrespect to Ringo or his band, but the "kids" aren't clamoring for Beatles music, or even All-Starr Band hits like... um... uh... the ones there are.

Even the Beasties, sad to admit, are 20 years gone.

Rolling Stone is an important magazine that's done some great things for music, culture, and journalism overall through the decades. But it's getting thinner and thinner with each new issue, and it should probably take a good long mirror look before it disappears completely.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

HBO Magnifico

This isn't an advertisement, honest. To prove it, we'll keep it real short and just do a quick run through three statements:

1. HBO Go was awesome, especially with the head of the network saying he was pretty much okay with people sharing their logins with each other (but not really saying that at all). It meant that we could watch HBO on phone, tablet, TV, computer, watch, ring....

2. But HBO Now will be even better, at least after its first three months as an Apple-device exclusive. Because in addition to showing up on all those screens, it will let Comcast haters kick Comcast where Comcast has been kicking customers forever: in the wallet. So long, Comcast: HBO Now doesn't require your cable TV, it just needs your Internet. $14. No sweat.

3. And if what we've been seeing lately on the HBO Go menu is an indication, not only will we have HBO Now, we'll also have HBO then—going back to 2003 by our last quick scan. If the network keeps adding without deleting, HBO Now will be a strong contender as the most impressive archive of top-quality TV ever assembled online.

The only possible drawback we see to that is if Showtime feels the need to go archival, too, and we end up being able to re-view all episodes of the 1980s 20-minute "Soft Porn Yet Somehow Perverted" Workout, which that network cut down to five-minute segments, but even so.