Tuesday, March 31, 2015

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

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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

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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.

Eventually.

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

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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.

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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.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Fewer Pixels = better clarity

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The presence of Adam Sandler and Kevin James in the upcoming Pixels made us leap instantly to eleven on the 1-10 "how bad will this be" scale, but then we saw Peter Dinklage and Chris Columbus listed too, bringing the suckage prediction down to 5.

The problem, as anyone who's ever watched Saturday Night Live can attest, is that very funny jokes based on a single premise are very funny the first time. Then, they're funny. Then, slightly amusing. Then, hey, anyone want some more popcorn? Maybe some nachos? I'll go get it, no problem. 

The original film short for Pixels is very, very funny. Especially the Tetris part. See for yourself:


Now, if you're not already one of the 34+ million people who've already seen it, watch the trailer for the Sandler-James-Dinklage full-length movie:


Chances are pretty good that what made you laugh in the short film only made you smile in the full-length version. Maybe even just internally.

Imagine how you'll feel at the 70-minute mark, having seen a single premise beaten into the ground over and over and over—pixellated ground, yeah, but still.

Plus, Adam Sandler and Kevin James. But at least the theater popcorn will be good.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

By the fourth level of meta-bait, our heads literally launched from our shoulders and exploded!

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Clickbait was amusing.

Then it was annoying.

Then it was laughable.

Now, it's alarming—because it's training non-clickbaiters to think in clickbait and not even realize that they're part of the conspiracy.

You know how the original caption goes, of course:  You won't BELIEVE which two former major-league athletes got into a BAR BRAWL yesterday!

And then Sports Blog X shares the link and caption, with a comment:  OMG this is too funny!

And then the local newspaper, decimated and bankrupt and desperate for web content, reposts Sports Blog X's comment and the original caption, with a comment:  Do YOU think these two should be suspended for the season?

And then Average Reader brings it all to Average Social Media, with an opinion:  What a bunch of crap! This is no "bar brawl."

And then Average Reader's friends weigh in:

- LOL if that's a bar brawl then I'm the NBA commish.
- Dude totally should've had his nose bashed in for saying that.
- Wonder how many weeks ESPN will run this story?

The layers of intrigue mount... and mount... until—well, you would have to click here to see what happens next.

It relies on something called the "five Ws" of journalism: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How. The result, for our fabulous free and open Interconnected Network of Computers where everyone's a published author, would be the end of soooo many minutes of wasted reading and viewing time and a return to this:

Michael Barkley and Charles Jordan Briefly Detained After Loud Disagreement in Vegas Casino.

Unfortunately, that kind of clarity and informational "front loading" is antithetical to the easy monetizing of information by withholding key facts for as long as possible. And so, we keep on clicking for capitalism.


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Thursday, March 19, 2015

The whole big ball: An open letter to Ted Cruz

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Dear Mr. Cruz:

It's official: Earth is finishing up its warmest winter since warmth began being recorded.

Even ultra-righty Newsmax acknowledges it, although it ends the coverage in classic let's-kill-our-own-story fashion by saying that "Twitter users had mixed reactions." (No one can say that Newsmax doesn't know how to undermine a serious story that goes against its politics.)

Forget about your mythical "satellites" that you claim haven't seen any data of warming for 17 years. You're making that up, because you're an amoral asshat in service to the denial industry.

As a leader, you should lead a drive to get a definition of "Earth" out into the wider Congressional consciousness, since your Republican colleagues seem to genuinely think that "Earth" means Washington DC. And maybe a little bit of Virginia, across the river. But that's incorrect.

Earth: a big ball with two hemispheres - winter in one, summer in the other, and then reversed. Not just Boston with its record snowfall.

Earth: home to seven billion people. Not just the families and corporate owners of you and your friend James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who somehow managed to pervert irony so thoroughly that he became the U.S. Senate's earth-hating Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Earth: the place that Seth Meyers rightly described to you as "literally on fire" now that it's warmer than it's ever been, only to have you counter that "New Hampshire is covered in snow and ice." Just as Inhofe "proved" that climate change was a hoax by bringing a snowball to the Senate floor. (Again, that whole-big-ball thing defies the Republican mind's ability to comprehend.)

On Seth's show you also pulled out that favorite new talking point from the Republican Denial Club's grab bag of tricks: "Remember how it used to be called global warming? And then magically the theory changed to 'climate change'?"

Yes, Ted, we do. Even though you deniers are trying like hell to pin the language shift on liberals, here's how the "magic" happened: It was Republican Party advisor Frank Luntz who recommended the terminology change, in a memo prepared for George Bush the First: "It’s time for us to start talking about 'climate change' instead of global warming and 'conservation' instead of preservation. 'Climate change' is less frightening than 'global warming.'"

The whole memo is here. (The Internet is a wonderful thing, sometimes.)

Just recite: Big Ball. Many continents.

And then tell your friends. Before you manage to kill us all.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Love Stronger Than Marketing Campaign Induced Ideology

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Watching some show or another the other day, we encountered the 10,000th iteration of this scene:

Woman 1: (puts a stack of papers on a desk, with diamond engagement ring clearly in frame)

Woman 2: "Damn, girl, your man loves you a lot. Look at that rock!"

Which was our cue to commence eye rolling and head shaking, because the facts behind this scene propaganda have been known for decades, but the bullshit just keeps rolling along. Diamonds aren't scarce, they're not valuable, they're not special in any way. They're just evidence of the world's most successful long con, swindling men of "at least three months' salary" (the official measure, according to the diamond industry, of an acceptable engagement ring) when that money could do a whole lot of good elsewise for the newly married couple.

The "salary" is presumably gross, not net. (Don't be a cheap bastard, you cheap bastard!)

So consider: the well-paid junior executive who earns $130K per year "must" set out $32,500 for the token of his love and esteem. And the kid managing a restaurant for little more than minimum wage, let's say $600 per week, "needs" to lay aside $7,200.

For a shiny rock worth maybe 15% of its retail price. (Somebody should get paid for the band and for transporting it from assembly to showcase.)

But speaking of metal: who wouldn't want love that's strong as steel, rather than love that's like a rock? Especially when that steel can never be stained or marred; it would always be pristine and unblemished like the love itself.

And yeah, we're doing advertising talk now, to make a point. The diamond ring up there retails for $975. (Imagine the gross pay, if that's three months' salary!) And the stainless-steel counterpart on the left goes for $7.

That's because there's no stainless-steel cartel to shove any phony "rare and precious" ideologies down consumer throats, as there is for diamonds shiny rocks.

So come on, join the Wildeboomerz movement to start a whole new ideology and bump the tired—and harmful—DeBeers one out of our collective consciousness. From now on, just repeat:

STAINLESS STEEL IS FOREVER. 

SHOW HER YOUR LOVE IS STRONG—
GIVE HER THE GIFT OF STEEL. 

Yeah, sounds strange now. But after a few thousand repetitions (like a DeBeers ad campaign), it'll become easy and natural.

Until then, use that $32,000, or $7,200, or $975, on a house or a car that'll last longer than sparkly corporate bullshit. And if she calls you a cheap bastard, run fast and far, because she never loved you anyway.
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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Importance of Literary Name Choices

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Every once in a while, those of us keeping WB together get to feeling burdened by the needs of others, whose problems—as the late, great Leonard Spock pointed out—outweigh our own as individuals. But then we think of a classic tale, patched together by six writers, of selflessness being its own reward. And we feel better.

We speak of course about It's a Great Existence, the story of Eugene Bailey and his wife Gertrude, who eke out a reasonable living in the little town of Mount Bedford. Eugene runs the Local Citizens Credit Union while Gertrude raises the children, including Jennifer, who puts some rose thorns in her daddy's coat pocket one night (giving rise to the famous scene where Eugene exclaims, "Jenny's thorns!")

All goes pretty well until a day when Eugene's forgetful uncle, Fred, who helps to run the credit union, misplaces an $8,000 deposit in the lobby of a bank run by the Bailey family's arch-nemesis, Mr. Pfefferhasen, who hates the credit union because it offers lower interest on loans. Spying the panicked uncle from inside his office, the evil Pfefferhasen sneaks into the lobby, steals the deposit, and calls the credit union examiner to report the theft—by Fred.

This, of course, is where things start to fall apart for Eugene, who pretty quickly is out getting drunk, starting fights with his friends Josh the cop and Tony the cab driver, and wishing he'd never been born. Luckily, God sends an angel named Ralph to intervene just as Eugene flings himself off the top of Mount Bedford. Through a series of flashbacks, Ralph shows Eugene how the lives of everyone around him would be different if he had never been born.

This is especially true for Eugene's childhood employer, Zlotnik the pharmacist, who would have accidentally poisoned a customer if Eugene hadn't double-checked the label, and for Spike Bailey, Eugene's little brother, who would have drowned during a winter sledding accident without his older brother to save him.

The story comes to a rousing happy ending with Ralph persuading Eugene to live, Eugene running down Main Street and shouting out "Merry Christmas, Local Citizens Credit Union" and festive greetings to Josh and Tony, then singing New Year's carols with Gertrude and the kids as everyone in town comes to give him money. Even his former high school competitor for Gertrude's affections, the wealthy industrialist Herb Wainscot, wires $25,000 over to Eugene's credit union.

Mr. Pfefferhasen is never charged for stealing the credit union's deposit, nor does he repent and give the money back, because the six screenwriters couldn't find a way to work that in. But since he's cleverly named for a stewed rabbit, viewers will understand that he's cooked no matter what.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Date Night at the Big Screen TV: A Cautionary Tale

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"Let's watch a show. I'll go find something, you throw some popcorn into the microwave."

90 seconds later: "Don't hurry—there's a system software update."

6 minutes later: "The new OS dropped our saved logins. What's our Hulu password?"

And then: "It says that's not correct. Can you check your laptop?"

2 minutes later: "Yeah, that worked. But hold off on that popcorn; I'm updating Silverlight."

3 minutes later: "Shit, the computer froze. Rebooting."

4 minutes later: "It's checking to see if any files were damaged. Three minutes remaining."

"Okay, got the browser open... looks like there are two new episodes. Go ahead and—um, hold on, now there are Flash and Java updates, too."

5 minutes later: "Okay, done. You can make the popcorn while I queue up through the credits."

And then: "Did someone mess with the sound? I can't get the surround receiver working."

A moment later: "Nope, still not working. Let me try rebooting it at the power strip."

2 minutes later: "Still no go. Do you remember where we put the owner's manual for this goddamn receiver last time?"

17 minutes later: "I rule! Sound's working now. Come on down, sweetie."

"Sweetie?"
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Friday, March 13, 2015

Supershowrunner Shonda: the new St. Norman

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By Litchik

This post may contain spoilers. Catch up on your Shandows (Shonda Rhymes shows) before reading.

I'm not going to lie: I'm woefully out of touch with the zeitgeist. The only cool points I've earned lately come from knowing that Dora is older and has real friends and I know all of their names.

It's painful to admit that I simply don't have the time or energy to keep up. The snippets of info I get usually come from a quick glance at my Entertainment Weekly, the one non-parenting and non-academic activity I still cling to. That magazine and a handful of TV shows remain my tether to the pop culture spinning around me.

And one of those shows is still Grey's Anatomy.

I neither love nor hate Shonda Rhymes, the creator of Grey's, as well as Private Practice, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. Although I've only seen a few clips of those last two shows, I'm no less confident in my analysis: Shonda Rhymes just might be the most brilliant mind in television since Norman Lear. And the reasons are pretty simple.

First, she knows how to tell a story. This is not to say she is a wonderful writer. Or original. Or creative. Or always on the mark. In fact, the ramp has pulled up to the shark tank a number of times on Grey's, but the show still keeps plugging away. What Rhymes knows best is how to write to a television audience and keep them hooked. She rarely shocks me (was anyone surprised when Dr. Herman woke up from surgery but was blind?), but she does keep me coming back every week to see how everything plays out.

Second, she knows how to assemble excellent casts. Too many shows seem to think that their target audience will only accept white characters (I'm looking at you, Friends) or that having one or two nonwhite characters counts as diversity (I'm looking at you, Big Bang Theory). In contrast, Rhymes casts the best actors for the characters she's created. And those ensembles are always much better reflections of her audience than most shows out there today. She gets that one of the things we crave when we watch TV is a representation of ourselves, and she delivers.

Third, she knows the purpose of the medium. Sure, if you look hard enough, you'll see social commentary trickle through the background of some story arcs. (Olivia Pope telling her kidnappers to auction her off on Scandal? Don't even get me started.) But entertainment is her primary goal. Viola Davis peeling off her makeup on HTGAWM wasn't just a bold publicity stunt to call attention to our ridiculous cultural beauty standards: it was a powerful, raw and captivating scene in a carefully crafted storyline.

Shonda Rhymes has her detractors, but I'll continue to freely give her a few hours of my limited time each month. She's the real deal. 

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Embrace the fake time, better than the real time

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Let's just start with the official WB position on Daylight Saving, typically mislabeled "daylight savings time," or DST:

We're strongly in favor of it. But—only if it could stay in its "long form" all year, the one where summer Midwestern sunset comes at 10pm and winter sunset doesn't happen at 4:15 in the afternoon.

A cacophony of Internet bitching about clock changes erupted this week, and strangely it was not about the hell of short winter daylight that starts after we get to work and ends well before we get into our cars to go home. Instead, the anger's been aimed at the good stuff, the longer days—the "instant spring" as one right-minded online commenter put it—that bring all suicidal SAD-suffering residents back from the brink of despair in northern regions where we only get 80-100 days of full sunshine per year as it is.

That complaining makes no sense. Yet there they were in our news feeds: the Atlantic, the New Yorker, the Times, the Post, the local papers and TV stations, all of them sounding the anti-DST trumpet. Even John Oliver over at HBO, on his show Last Week Tonight, wanted to know, "How Is This Still A Thing?"

Who cares if the idea came from WWI Germany? Who cares if farmers don't want the longer days for planting and plowing? Who cares if there's actually a slight increase in energy consumption, when the whole idea is for energy use to go down?

Well, we do; WB is mean and green about energy use. But should we attack DST over the stupidity of people too lazy to reprogram their light timers, and too afraid of sweat to open an evening window instead of run the damned air conditioner(s)?

Educate the dim, don't terminate the bright.

There's another argument holding that DST isn't "real" time because it's a diversion from Greenwich Mean Time. And that non-DST months unfold in real time, and real is better than fake, so DST is inferior on account of being based on fraud. Plus, the sun wouldn't rise until 9am in some parts of the country, if DST were to permanently replace real time.

Well, it stays dark until 8am now, in real time, and most of us are at work then, having our third cup of coffee behind windowless cubicles, so what's another hour?

In winter, that is.

In summer, another hour is a gift to the human soul, hand-delivered by Apollo, god of light. And it should be revered and treasured as such. DST may be flawed, but sunshine never is.

Here's the horrifying trailer for Daylight Saving: The Movie.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Unwatchable Kimmy Schmidt


Proof that not everything Tina Fey touches turns to gold, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a show that NBC was wise enough to identify as hyperactive incoherence, starring a cast split between intolerable and unlikable, and then ditch.

NBC's loss was Netflix's... er, pickup after the show was found abandoned in a New York alley. It should have been buried in the underground bunker where Kimmy and her three co-abductees (oh, sorry, spoiler alert etc.) were hidden for years.

Fey, whose hand guided the show's creation, tried to clone 30 Rock without anyone realizing she was cloning 30 Rock: Kimmy is Liz Lemon and Tracy Jordan, her roommate Titus is Tracy Jordan and Jack Donaghy, and Jaqueline Voorhees is Jenna Maroney—an easy stretch since both Jacqueline and Jenna are played by the 5% funny Jane Krakowski, whose best work happened 15 years ago on Ally McBeal.

Only two episodes in, we are out. Don't expect Emmy nominations for Best Comedy out of this turkey that's best viewed with foam plugs jammed firmly into your ears and a good book on your iPad to distract you until the pain passes.

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Monday, March 9, 2015

For only $10 trillion per day... (On Obscenity, Part 2)

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Recently on Facebook, a friend raised the prospect of scoring a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 23-year-old bourbon for me.

At a price of $900. For one bottle.

Even if I could, there's no way I would.

First, because the bottle retails for $250 before it goes on the black market. Second, because of a post about obscenity we put up here on WB seven years ago, and a story about a dog inheriting $6 billion.

You know that old TV commercial, where Sally Struthers told us we could save the life of a child for only a few cents a day?  It's been mocked, parodied, satirized, ridiculed, co-opted, and everything else.

But it's also been remembered. So, remember and review:

- The city of Inglewood, California, which will be in the middle of a waterless desert sooner than anyone wants to admit, plans to build a stadium.

Price: $2 billion.

- In Detroit, the Ilitch family, owners of the Red Wings hockey team and Little Caesar's pizza, also plan to build a new arena in the blighted slum they helped create by buying up properties for a decade or more and then letting the new acquisitions rot.

Price: $600 million, likely to reach $1 billion by time it's all done.

- In Saudi Arabia (speaking of waterless deserts), there was talk of a Kingdom Tower—a kilometer-high tribute to Saudi wealth—before the world oil glut suddenly threw Saudi wealth into a tailspin and threatened its AA credit rating.

Price: $1.2 billion.

- Not far away in Dubai, artificial Palm Islands and a World of islands stand (or sink) as testament to a crown prince who can light cigars and blow his nose with thousand-dollar bills.

Price: Billions and billions and billions.

- And in the same region, a certain world superpower has been waging war for the past quarter-century.

Price: $5 trillion and more.

So, back to the kids who've been ridiculed for starving to death for decades on our TV screens, having the incredibly rude manners to let flies crawl across their eyes while we're in the middle of eating popcorn.

It's still true that less than a buck a day can keep one of them alive in many parts of the world. But just for the sake of argument, let's adjust for inflation and make it two bucks, and expand our reach beyond just African kids and Central American kids, to include all-around-the-world kids. Sick ones, hungry ones, freezing ones, homeless ones. Everywhere.

And, again just for argument's sake, let's say that there's really some way to get rich men to quit devoting monuments and wars to their dicks and dollars and democracies.

Now to the calculator. A conservative estimate of roughly $10 trillion for everything mentioned here (including that bottle of Pappy) divided by two dollars, equals...

Enough to save the life of everyone of every age on earth right now, 700 times.

You know that scene in Schindler's List where Oskar Schindler finds out he's spared 1,200 Jews from execution, and then breaks down in sorrow because he didn't save more?

Yeah, South Park parodied that, too.

LOL.








Sunday, March 8, 2015

Endings, List Of



This is not a poem. It's just a list of things I've realized in the past year or two:

I'm an educator at the end of education;
a full-time teacher, at the end of full-time teaching positions.

A writer, at the end of literacy.

I'm middle class, at the end of the middle class;
a union member at the end of organized labor.

I'm a car guy at the end of combustion engines.
A white guy, at the end of white men.
A guy, period, at the end of gender.

I'm a Jesuit at the end of charity, a Buddhist at the end of forebearance, a logician at the end of reason.

An American at the end of Democracy.

An environmentalist, at the end of the world.

This is not a poem. It's just a list. And since there's no use being polite at the end of civility, I'll admit that I am seriously fucking pissed about being so much on it.

And to express that anger, a small LOL going back to our first re-launch post the other day: I'm also blogging at the end of blogs. Trees falling in silent forests, and all that.

- Fin -


Friday, March 6, 2015

First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.


As we think about doing like Elvis next week and driving to Memphis, not to get a peanut butter and banana sandwich like The King used to crave, but some good old Beale Street Barbecue, we're thinking about gasoline, and the oil that makes it.

Black gold. Texas tea. &etc.

"Oil is plentiful. Oil is cheap," wrote Esquire magazine an issue or so back, about the sudden, strange, and permanent decline in world oil prices that's destroying the still-infant Canadian and North Dakotan petrodollar economies.

But hold on. If you skated past that "permanent" without choking, there's a problem. Because the last thing this sudden oil glut is, is permanent.

The title of this post is from an old Donovan song. And here's what's happening, that no one wants to think about because it's so awesome to fill up the tank on gas costing somewhere around $2.50 a gallon, and really, that awesomeness is all that matters:

There was some oil. Then there wasn't. Now there is.

We just woke up one morning to find the numbers on our gas pumps rolled back to the 20th century.  How did this miracle happen?

Who gives a shit? We had only a little oil, and now we have more oil. So, what's the best thing to do with it? Keep rationing it carefully as we were our last remaining supplies of it, when we thought those were our last remaining supplies? Or pretend it's 1870 again, and start burning through the new supply without a care?

Oil's been described by more than one writer as "a one-time gift." When a one-time gift suddenly gives the gift of being a gift a second time, it's moronic to think that the new gift is "plentiful and cheap." And thinking it's permanent is just plain nuts.

But at this, mankind's finest hour of disdain and loathing for science, knowledge, wisdom, and moderation, morons rule the day.  

Next time you're at a hospital or doctor's office, look around at the plastic. Your prescription bottle. Your IV tube and bag. Their plastic gloves. And ten thousand other lifesaving things made of oil.

Returning to the walking and biking and horse-riding days of yore would be a deeply inconvenient burden. But going back to the filthy, non-sterile medicine that went with it would be a nightmare. And that's where the moron parade will lead if this "plentiful and cheap" mindset takes root for too long.

Carpe Diem. Carpe Petroleum. In Nomine Patris, Amen.





Thursday, March 5, 2015

Cultural Criticism... through the eyes of a child

By Litchik

Big changes in the last six years. BIG. For all of us here at WB, but for now, I'll speak only for myself.

I've become a mom. Of twin boys, A and C.

Two moms + two boys = no princesses! This was seriously one of my first thoughts when I found out we were having boys. I was thrilled. But that was way back in 2011. Now they're 3.5 years old. And one of them loves pink and purple, Dora and Friends, Legos and... princesses.

Fucking. Disney. Princesses.

So what did we do? We went to Disney World.

And here are a few survival tips for older parents like me who find themselves at Disney with their very young, very excited children.

1. The princesses are...complicated. On the one hand, they bring great pleasure to many little girls and apparently only a very small handful of boys. A loved them and C tolerated them with good nature, but the princesses GUSHED over the boys for the most part. I couldn't tell if this was an acknowledgement that rigid, oppressive gender roles are finally starting to fade, or if all of the "Cast Members" (all Disney employees are called this) are brainwashed into being well-oiled cogs of the Disney money-making machine. Which brings us to the other hand....

2. Disney doesn't just benefit from free-market capitalism run amok, it has honed and perfected the business model. Be ready to drop a small fortune while you're at any of the parks. Or resorts. Or anything within a 50 miles radius of anything Disney related. What's the "magic" of Disney? Every ride and attraction ends at a gift shop! And these stores are more ubiquitous than Starbucks cafes. The trinkets and baubles aren't cheap, either. I thought a few Elsa and Anna pens would be an easy, affordable way to quench the “princess thirst” for at least a day. Nope. $23 for two fucking Bics encased in cheap, plastic Norwegian princess molds. I could feel my soul being sucked into a corporate void with each swipe of my MagicBand. Speaking of which…

3. Beware of MagicBands. This is a relatively new and evilly ingenious device that lets you access your Disney resort room, park entrances, FastPass rides, dinner reservations, and your credit card in one brightly colored wristband. Just wave it in front of a Mickey Mouse (because of course) scanner and you're good to go.

4. It really is a “small world” if you see it like Walt does, i.e. as white people, and everyone else. As we slowly drifted through all of the countries in the (in)famous ride, I silently repeated the sanity-saving mantra, This is not racist and reductive, it's global awareness for toddlers and Sarah Palin.

The Fantasmic show featured characters from Pocahontas in full American Indian costume. What did they do? Why, they paddled canoes and attacked white people, of course. No fears, though, because big, blond John Smith temporarily saved the day. Until the other villains appeared. And how do we identify villains at Disney? Basically, if you're not blonde or wearing a stunning ball gown, then chances are you're evil. Even Jasmine pointed out that she was the only princess wearing pants at Cinderella's princess breakfast. Guess what? She was also the only one who wasn't white, and had a bare midriff. Hmm.

But take these and the many other disturbing observations you'll undoubtedly make, and stuff them way, way down, because the other thing you’ll notice is your heart melting a hundred times when you see Disney through your child's eyes. The joy in their squeals of delight will make the rest worth every penny.

You can hook them on PBS shows when you get home.

.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Shhhhhh...

We're back (and wearing purple).

Why now, after five six years off? Because according to The Guardian, 2015 is the year of The End of Blogging now that Andrew Sullivan has hung up his keyboard.

In no way do we compare ourselves to Andrew Sullivan. But somebody's gotta keep the dead horse going. Might as well be us.