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.